This is April 24, 1995. This is an interview with Mr. Paul Hughes in the library conference room at O.T. Bonner Junior High School on his experiences as a principal.
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Q: Thank you for being with us today, Mr. Hughes, I know you are a busy person in your retirement and this is somewhat of a sacrifice for you and we do appreciate your being here with us. I would like for you to begin if you don't mind by telling us about your family background, whatever you feel comfortable with - your childhood interests and development. You might include birthplace, elementary and secondary education, and some family information - do somewhat of a biological sketch.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Alright, I was born in Milton, NC. I am a member of a 14 children family, I am the 13th of 14 children. We had nine boys, five girls. I attended a three room elementary school. We had to walk two miles. The elementary school operated grades 1-7. We worked on a farm. We had a farm and raised most of our food. A good many of the people around me were share croppers. But we were fortunate to have our own farm and we raised all our food and had a-plenty to eat such as we were able to raise.
Q: After you left the elementary school level, what happened at that point? Did you go to college?
A: Well, I entered a high school in Yanceyville, NC. We had to ride a bus about 20 miles; had to walk about two miles in order to catch the bus. The high school had no cafeteria, had no gymnasium so the sports were limited. At that time they did not call it a high school. They called it a training school. So I attended Caswell County Training School. And I noticed most of the schools in that area, most of the counties surrounding me named their schools training schools, they didn't call them just high schools. Person County for instance was called Person County Training School and my county was Caswell Country Training School. By the way, my high school was interrupted by the service. I was drafted to the service. I came back after spending three years of service and went back to the high school and completed my high school education.
Q: When that happened to you, were you shocked that you were drafted; if you don't mind my asking.
A: Yes, I really didn't especially want to go. But you know, I think the army was a good experience for me because when I first started high school, I really wasn't too serious about my work. I never did make the honor roll before going to go high school. I did make it after coming out, I guess because I was more mature. While I was in service, I felt a greater need for an education. So I was much more serious after I got out of service as opposed to education before I went in the service.
Q: After you came back from service, did you work while you were in high school?
A: Well, as I said, I was reared on a farm. My parents were both deceased when I got out of service. So I was pretty much on my own except for a little help I got from my older brother and my sister-in-law. But they helped me and I went back to high school and after finishing my education in high school then I went on to college under the G.I. Bill.
Q: Which college did you attend?
A: I went to what was at that time called Winston-Salem Teacher's College in Winston-Salem, NC. I worked along with the G.I. Bill. I was able to work on campus and sometimes off campus in some of the homes of the professors who gave me a job cleaning. I was able to finish my college education after four years.
Q: I have to ask because we all end up in education for different reasons, when you came back what inspired you - and this is probably a little bit off track here but what inspired you to go into education as opposed to something else? Was that the thing then?
A: Well, my strongest subject even in elementary school and in high school was mathematics - mathematics and science. When I found out that majoring in mathematics I couldn't work with elementary children, and I decided to go to a teacher's college rather than work with small children - that was my first love - working with small children in the elementary schools.
Q: What inspired you or could you tell me a little about what led you to enter the principalship? Were you always a principal? Now when you were at Kentuck - I remember that.
A: You know that was kind of interesting because when I finished college, I was given as a job as principal of Rerun Elementary School and that was my title. They called me - my title was on my contract it was principal. I had to teach the 5th, the 6th & 7th grades during that time. That lasted about five years of my twelve year stay at that school and after that I think it was the state department which motivated the local school division to change my title from principal to head teacher and that is what I was called for the next five or six years that I remained during the 12 years that I stayed at that three room elementary school. My responsibility at the elementary school was to teach the children that I had assigned to me, to do their monthly reports, and to order the materials for the school. But I had no responsibility for supervising the other teachers. We had a county supervisor for that purpose.
Q: When did the principalship as we know it today come about for you?
A: Well, after 12 years you know they consolidated the elementary schools in the county and I became principal of one of the largest schools in the northern part of the county.
Q: And how did you end up at Kentuck? I'm just curious about that.
A: Well, I remained at Mt. Airy for four years and a vacancy became available at Kentuck. It was closer, and it was a larger school and the superintendent offered it to me and I accepted it. He felt that I deserved it with what I'd done at Mt. Airy. He praised me for what I'd done at Mt. Airy. He said I'd done a real nice job and should go to Kentuck and do as well.
Q: Was this before integration?
A: It was two years before integration. It was 1968.
Q: I'm sure that many people that worked with you, the students as well as staff remember Kentuck as being a very nurturing kind of environment and I would like to know if you would share with me some of the techniques you used to create a successful climate. I heard you say the superintendent praised you for the things you'd done at Mt. Airy. What kinds of things specifically did you do to create that kind of environment?
A: We always at Kentuck believed in an open classroom. The parents were always welcome to come. We organized a homeroom- resource teacher approach and this was a situation where the homeroom teacher could give the skills she was going to emphasize for the next week to the resource teacher. And it was a team approach working on these skills. Of course they would interact and any time during that week that they felt a need, the resource teacher would go back to the homeroom teacher or vice-versa. We felt that was a very successful activity.
Q: Could you describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal because I'm striving to become one. And describe (1) the personal characteristics and then maybe the professional.
A: I think one thing you've got to know is your community and respect its views. You know, your community can either make you or break you. So, it's very important to know the community and at least respect the views of the community. I don't think you ought to let the community run the school, but you are the principal and you've got to understand what their views are and respect those. Another thing I think is working with your teachers you ought to be fair-minded. That is very important. I know nothing that will interrupt a faculty more than being partial one teacher toward another. Also, you should also be professional in your dealings with teachers, pupils and certain parents. Always be tactful. Tactful I think is very important. Respect the feelings of other people. You know, all of us have feelings. There is an old saying that it's not always what you say but the way that you say it. At this time I can give you an example of a personal experience that I had out at Kentuck but I don't think this is going to hurt anybody. This involved two teachers and you might have something similar to this. This was at the end of the day. I had a teacher to rush to the office. She was almost out of breath and said to me "please would you come down to room so-and-so they are about to get into something there. They are about to come to blows."
Q: And this was two teachers?
A: Two teachers. So I rushed down and I asked one of the teachers "would you come down to the office please, I would like to speak with you." I did that just to separate them - get them away. And I asked the teacher what this was about. And the teacher said, "Well, I only said what are you doing in my room? What are you doing in my room?" Well, I thought to myself that wouldn't cause a person to get upset. But I can accept, I didn't tell the teacher I could accept it. Then I called the other one in and the other one gave me the same words but in all together a different tone of voice. And that it is what spirited the anxiety with the other teacher. She was real upset. And if the first teacher asked her in that tone of voice, I could understand why she would be upset by that. Of course I understand there was a little feeling between them even before this happened. But I think being tactful and the tone of voice are real important because regardless of who you're dealing with, even the children. And everybody is somebody - everybody has feelings and ought to be treated as such. That will help.
Q: As a follow-up question, would you describe the expectations and - I think I covered that question, I'm sorry. Move on to the next one. If you were advising a person that was considering an administrative job, what advice would you give that person, and I believe you just gave us a good bit of advice about respect and treating others as you would like to be treated. Are there any additional kinds of things you would consider?
A: Well, first of all I think I would have to assume that the new principal loved children. I would ask that question anyway. How does he feel about children? Alright, now I'm assuming the person would have a good feeling, a love for children and I think that's important. You've got to love children in order to be successful. The next thing I would advise is to be fair. And always be with children, with teachers, and with parents. I would advise them to involve the teachers as much as possible in decision making. I know there are some decisions that you have to make alone as principal. But as much as possible involve your faculty, because even when a decision is made, if the faculty had a part in making it I think they are much more receptive to remain cool even when things don't go the way that they thought they ought to go, when hardships come. They can take the hardships much better if they had a part in making it as opposed to the principal making all the decisions. I would say don't make radical decisions. Give some thought to decisions you make. Don't make radical changes. And especially, and I'm assuming that this might be an established school like mine was out at Kentuck - you don't go in changing everything. There's an old saying, if it ain't broke don't try to fix it. If it's working alright, you go along with it. Another thing that I would advise a young principal would be to use common sense. And I don't know how to explain that. I don't know how to tell a person or I don't know how a person would know that he's using common sense when he's making a decision. I can tell you something that might happen if you're not. If you're having a lot of trouble with the administration, if you're having a lot of trouble with your teachers, your parents, then something is wrong with what you're doing and you need to take another look. Because common judgement is not taught in books, not taught in universities, it's God given. He's got to plan and that's what we have to ask for. You know one reason I say this is I know of two friends of mine, and one in particular who is almost bred from an academic point of view, but he didn't succeed in one school division, became principal in another school up north and didn't survive there and that was the reason. He was real smart academically, but he didn't know how to use common judgement. He was short on that and he paid the price.
Q: I would venture to call you a man before your time. As Mrs. Carter and I study we hear a lot about participatory management and involving people in decision making and I hear you talking about using that when you were a principal and your advice would be to involve people in decision making. When you were principal did you feel like an island, one of few involving people in decision making or are we just saying this is something new or has this been done all the time?
A: Did I feel like I was alone?
Q: Did you were feel like you were alone in involving your staff and in not being autocratic ?
A: Oh, no. No, I didn't feel that way. Because I tell you I feel I had a good rapport with the teachers. And I think they believed I would be honest and fair with them and I respect their views. You know you've got some smart teachers on all faculties and if you involve them in the right way they can be very helpful to you.
Q: Did you find other principals of that time using that kind technique?
A: Some of them, some of them did. Some of them didn't. Some of them felt that I'm the big cheese. In fact I've heard several principals speaking of making the wrong decisions saying "even if I make the wrong decision I'm going to stick to it." Now that's all together different from my philosophy. I believe if you make a mistake you ought to try to correct it. I don't believe you ought to try to force your mistake on somebody else. A principal's human. He's a human being. He can make a mistake. Now you shouldn't, you better not make too many because that's going to weaken your effectiveness as a leader. People won't have confidence in you. But once in a while if you make a mistake, just tell them "well, I'm sorry, I did it and I'm willing to change."
Q: And maybe if you involve some people in your decisions ...
A: Oh, yes, you involve them in the decision. Well, that's what I'm saying - even if there is a mistake, by you involving the teachers they are part of the mistake and they are going to have to accept that. And they are not going to be as critical. People don't criticize themselves as much as they criticize somebody else. You make the decision and it doesn't work out, they can be oh, so critical of you. But if they are involved in the decision they are not going to come down too hard on themselves.
Q: No, we have experienced that. I heard you say earlier that you need to know your community and I was wondering if you could share with us your involvement and participation maybe in civic organizations or community organizations and which of these organizations seemed to have the greatest influence?
A: You know, when I was at a smaller school when I first started teaching I could involve myself more because the community I worked in was smaller. I could get around and visit a lot of the homes and I did, I did a lot of home visitation when I was in the small schools. I also attended their churches. Occasionally I would be seen at the churches and I think that was expected of you especially back in the early part of my work. But as the area became larger and I had a larger school I was limited as to how much we could be involved. But even at Kentuck we organized a parent volunteer program, sent out letters and we had a form. This was very effective, we had a form where the parents could volunteer, fill out to let us know when they were available and what days they were available. And they would come and we would assign them as helpers in the classroom. The only stipulation we had in that is that the parent couldn't work in the classroom where they had a child. And of course we had reasons for that, I'm sure you can see. And that was acceptable to the parents. Parents, when they come in and see what you're doing it gives them more confidence. By all means, you don't ever try to hide anything from parents. Tell them that it's open anytime you want to come. You don't have to call and tell us you're coming, you just come on. I think that gives the parent much more confidence in the school.
Q: It has been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools ... excuse me ...
A: There was one other thing too that we did to do to involve parents, we had a Brownie Club, had parents in charge of that and the Cub Scouts too. We felt that all those activities were helpful.
Q: And that's different because a lot of elementary schools even today and middle schools do not have the Girl Scout and Boy Scout participation. I started at Glenwood in Girl Scouts and that's how I got involved, otherwise I would not have been involved. I don't know. Has your experience been different?
A: Well, when I was at Forest Hills, we sponsored a Boy Scout troop.
Q: Did you want to add anything else?
A: No, that was it. Thank you. I apologize for that.
Q: Again, it has been said that there is a home-school gap, and that more parental involvement with schools needs to be developed. Would you give us your view on the issue and describe how you interact with parents, which you've already done much of this by telling us about home visits and churches and volunteerism and your efforts to get parents involved. How would you, or how did you go about letting them know that it is important that you be here in school, that you be a part of your child's education?
A: That was included in the letter. You see, we had a form. We had a letter to the parents and then attached to the letter was a form or an application I guess you would call it for them to fill out and they could send it back by the child with a telephone number, all the information we would need to get in contact with them. I would like to say one other thing. We used the PTO to explain the program and encourage parents to participate and try to explain to them what it is.
Q: What could a parent that works a lot of hours, what kinds of things could they do? This is a little bit off, but what kinds of things do you think we could do to encourage them to be involved In the child's education?
A: Works a lot of hours during the day?
Q: Some parents, use that, well it's not an excuse, it's a reality. We're working all the time. What can you do? When I was in elementary school, my mom was the mom that could bring the brownies to school, do all the volunteers, and all that kind of stuff for a period of time. But there are some parents who work mill jobs who can't get to school, what kinds of things did you all do to bring them in? Or, could we do today to bring some those parents in?
A: If they're working during the school day, I don't know ... I don't know of anything that could be done if they are really out there on the job during the school day. There is no way you could bring them in unless you organize some kind of a night activity.
Q: That's a good idea.
A: Yes, you could do that to involve them.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add on parent involvement before we go to the next question?
A: I believe not.
Q: Did you ever have an assistant principal? This next question talks about the role of an assistant principal. Have you ever had ...?
A: I've never had an assistant principal, but I do feel that I've heard ...
Q: This is an interview with Mr. Hughes, former principal. My name is Angela Pringle. I am here with Mrs. Thomasine Carter. This is side 2 tape 1 and we are continuing a discussion on the role of the assistant principal.
A: Well, I've never had an assistant principal. I haven't been that fortunate yet to have one. But I have heard it said that a lot of assistant principals are given the responsibility of looking after the buses. Now it seems to me that a person and most of these people have a bachelor's degree or a master's degree, but in addition to looking after the buses that they would have some other responsibility in the operation of the school that would better utilize what they have to offer. I think that they have much more to offer than just looking after the buses and keeping records. These people have bachelor's degrees and master's degrees and I think they could be better utilized than that. That's just an opinion. As I said, I've never had an assistant.
Q: Well, as a former assistant principal, I agree.
A: Where were you an assistant?
Q: At GW High School. Do you want to take up at this time, Mrs. Carter? I tell you I was an assistant at Gibson and we had 13 buses and I did it all by myself.
A: You did, now I didn't know that.
Q: So, I whole-heartedly agree with what you are saying. As you know, as time has gone on, schools have become integrated and civil rights has become one of the biggest issues that we have had to address. Would you describe your involvement in the integration process and also with busing?
A: Integration, I had a lot of apprehension when I learned that schools would be integrated. And I don't think that I was alone. I think some of the others shared the same feeling that I had. But I think one of the things that we tried to do and I think it was real important was to set the mission tone ... that was important. I was paired with Dan River Elementary School and Dan River was just about three blocks from where my school was located. So what we did, I took the primary grades, grades K-3 and the school I was paired with had 4-7. So we each had four grades. And teachers had to be shifted. In other words, the upper grade teachers had to go to the elementary school and the primary teachers from Dan River came to me. We had no particular problem, no real problem. But I didn't find out about the apprehension that the teachers had about coming to Kentuck until about two or three years later, a couple of years later. As you would realize, our children, the children that we had, the black children, were used to black teachers. And naturally, the white children that were coming to us were used to white teachers. So, we paired the teachers. I put a black and a white together. Our building was situated so that in changing rooms you just go right across the hall from one room to another. And I thought that was good to start with. You know, to start integration. The white teacher would keep them a half a day and the black teacher would keep them a half day. That worked out I thought real well. We didn't have any problem with the children, didn't have any problem with parents. You know that's another thing ... you know your community. You've got to respect their feelings whether they're right or wrong, you've got to respect it and then plan your activity accordingly because you want things to go smoothly. So that was the arrangement that we made in integrating the schools.
Q: Did you find that your parent participation was still as strong as it had been after integration as it was before integration? This is something ...
A: You know, I'll tell you the parent involvement increased. It improved. You had more parents. Because I think the parents wanted to know, blacks and whites, wanted to know how things were going. It was during this time that we continued our parent volunteer program. That was a good thing that we had going and we just continued that and it gave a lot of the other parents the opportunity to come in and see how things were moving and apparently they were satisfied with what they saw.
Q: As you know, a lot of the decisions that are made regarding instruction are based on data and a lot of the data that we collect comes from standardized testing. Can you provide a way to improve instruction? Talk a little bit about how you feel about standardized tests.
A: I can tell you some of the things that we did. We would take the standardized tests at the first of the year and teachers who were teaching those students would pull out the weak skills that the tests, standardized tests, showed they were weak in and they would work on those skills. And by the way, I believe at this time we also had these resource teachers. The resource teachers would also assist. But it was the responsibility of the homeroom teacher to determine when those skills were learned. But we used standardized tests quite a bit to improve instruction.
Q: You know, and I guess that is something that will continue to be used as long as we have schools and children and are accountable for what we do. Could you describe your work day? What were some of the kinds of things you were involved with during the day? I am sure that you were extremely busy and that your hours seemed to get longer and longer as time went on.
A: Well, let me say that I would try to get in at least two classrooms a day. Because I always like to work with children, always loved children and enjoyed going into the classroom. I'd try to get into at least two, now there were some days that I didn't do that because of the office work. I had an awful lot of forms to fill out. I'm sure that some of you are familiar with some of those state and federal and local forms that you had to do. And the secretary could not do all of this, so you had to do some of it. But that and another thing I tried to do, and I thought this was real helpful too. We had a certain time when teachers would bring their children to the bathroom and sometimes there would be three and four classes down the hall and I would try to schedule my day so I could be there to mingle with them, with the children, to interact with them while they were using the bathroom and then also, I was helping the teachers to some extent in supervising these children because a good many times the teachers would have to go to the rest room too. So, I would be there to relieve them. You know you'd be surprised when you interact with children how much they just love you. And I know this is not on that subject that you asked, but I have to tell you this that when children would come to the office, when teachers would send them to the office, I would tell them how much I was disappointed with them. And I've had any number of parents come to me and tell me their child said "Mama, such and such a person did something to me and I wouldn't hit him, but I didn't want to disappoint Mr. Hughes. So it helps a lot to interact with children.
Q: That sounds excellent.
A: And love them.
Q: I think you're right because I think children need to know we're their friend as well as someone that they can come to get guidance or if they have a problem for it to be solved as well. During you day as a principal, I am sure you faced lots of pressures and had to make a lot of decisions. Can you tell us a little bit about how you handled the stress and pressures that you had to deal with? And what would you consider the toughest decision that you had to make?
A: During integration?
Q: Not necessarily during integration, but during your tenure as principal. Is there any big thing that stands out in your mind as being one of the toughest decisions that you had to make or one of the toughest kinds of things you had to deal with during the day?
A: I can think of one during the time of integration that was the toughest that I had to make. And that was shifting teachers. Shifting teachers from one school to the other. We had about 24 teachers. And the superintendent told me I could only keep nine. The others had to go to other ... most of them went around the corner about three blocks from where I was. But then there were others that had to go a little bit further. Furthest person had to go about 10 miles from ... that was the farthest. None of the teachers wanted to go and I didn't want to send any of them and I was hoping the superintendent would do it. I think he wisely chose not to do it himself. He told us that we had to do it. Because to have 250 teachers angry/mad with him I don't know if that would be so pleasant even for the superintendent. He probably wouldn't want. So that was one of the toughest decisions that I had to make and I thought over that thing, prayed over it. Because one thing that was about it was you see I had a neighbor and a friend that was involved and would be involved in the transfer. And made it extremely tough. Because I've always emphasized to my faculty and other people being fair ... you know treat everybody with respect and being fair to everybody. And I heard through the grapevine that my neighbor was one person who was going to stay and she wasn't going to be transferred. But our rooms were numbered: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on down - numerically. And I decided that I was going to keep all teachers from room 1 to 9. And all of those by the way were on one wing - they were the primary teachers. Everybody else had to go. So I lost a friend. But I feel I was fair. I feel good about it even now. I think if I had that to do all over again, I lost a friend for 10 years and a neighbor too and I hated that so bad but I had to do it. I had one situation during the same period where one teacher put the NAACP on me.
Q: You are kidding.
A: Yes, they did. Said the assignment had to change. I said well, go to the superintendent he can change it. They said no he's not going to change it, you'll have to change it. He said to me I've got to know something by 5 o'clock, and I don't remember if it was the next day or next two days but anyway he gave me a date and a time that he had to know about this reassignment. So I said to him you can have my answer now. There won't be any changes. I didn't know what kind of charge they could bring against me. But I wasn't concerned because I felt I had done what was proper and what was right. Nothing happened. That person didn't stay mad at me. They didn't stay mad long, but my neighbor and friend could stay mad. Gave me a cursing. You know the bad part about it, I couldn't curse her back because I never curse. Never, never let a curse word come out of my mouth so I couldn't curse her back. But that did happen. Sometimes tragedies bring about change. It wasn't until 1977 that we came back together, and her husband passed away suddenly. Right across the street from us. Of course my wife and I rushed to her aid. We didn't think about it. We just rushed to her aid. There was a lot of crying and hugging between my wife and this person. And since then we've been real good friends, real good friends. She works out of town and every time she gets back I get a hug - but my wife is there while I'm getting it. But that was the toughest. You know when you make tough decisions, it helps you on the inside. You can sleep at night knowing you did the right thing.
Q: I'm sure it's awfully difficult sometimes to separate the personal from the professional.
A: Yes, it is.
Q: But having been the outstanding and successful principal that you were, it seems like you handled an extremely tough situation with a lot of empathy and care and respect for that particular person.
A: I have always loved that person. Oh, by the way I took care of her lawn that time she was away. I don't do it on a regular basis. Anything that needs to be done. Of course I'm in that line of work now, I think I told you. Anything that she needs for me to do in connection to her house. Of course I'm right across the street from her and I'll do it at no charge. I won't accept anything.
Q: You have mentioned a lot of characteristics and strategies that you've used as a principal. Would you tell us what you feel like are your keys to success as a principal?
A: Well, perhaps some of things I've already said, but I'll repeat them. Fairness I think is very important. Fairness in dealing with everybody. And that includes parents. Tact. Respecting the feelings of other people. Being careful about the tone of voice of you use when you are speaking to your teachers about improvements that need to be made and being tactful when you are making suggestions that many times the way that you say it. The way you go about saying something giving a suggestion that helps the person, the teacher, to accept it or to reject it, or feel hostile towards you. And you know any time you make a person feel hostile towards you, whether right or wrong, you are not achieving your objective. Your objective is to get results. That's what you want as a principal.
Q: One of the things we have recently implemented here in the Danville Public Schools is a mentoring program. Have you had any experience in being paired with another administrator or have you had someone work with you who was just coming into administration? And is there anyone that you personally may not admire ... but someone that you would consider to have been a mentor to you?
A: I've never had any experience in that. But I think it could be helpful. You know, there is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I know you have heard that. And to see something done as opposed to reading about it I think is much more effective and I think this would do a lot of good. But I think also if the person that you, the neophyte person, suppose the person that he's observing does something wrong, something maybe that might not suit his particular situation, I think that could be a danger if the person observing does not have the ability to sift that out. You know, you take the good and leave, I don't say the bad, but that might not apply to your situation.
Q: I believe that Mrs. Pringle shadowed Mr. McDaniel, Principal at Taylor. Tell us about that.
A: He's a fine man. He was my son's basketball coach. He just loved him.
Q: You know, I think being an assistant principal gives you an opportunity to do exactly what you just said. To sift out. And to have enough logic to choose those things that you feel would benefit you as you continue to grow as a professional. During the past decade, research has shown that larger schools are better. You have some parents that feel that bigger is not necessarily better. What are your views in regards as to what you feel is the ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities?
A: Well, I'm sure research is correct. But I would have to disagree with the research. I think a school can be too large because it doesn't give you the opportunity to associate yourself with as many in the school. The students just become a number if it's too large but I would say roughly 5 550 would be ideal, 550 students would be an ideal number and that way you can get in and interact better with students than you can if you have 2000 students.
Q: The needs of students are constantly changing and as the needs change then we initiate new programs so that we can better provide a quality instructional program for all students. For example, we have students that are placed in LD which is a special education program, we have students in gifted and talented programs, and we are recently getting a big influx of non-English speaking students into the school system. Would you discuss your experience in having worked with special student services and your views of today's trend in regards to meeting the needs of these students?
A: Well, I think today's trend is a good thing. It's a good approach. I think it's something that we should have had all along but during the time I was principal, we had only the EMR class and in the EMR we had emotionally disturbed. We had one child emotionally disturbed. We had an excellent teacher. I never tell a teacher you're the best. I don't think that's a good idea to say to that teacher "you're the best teacher I've got" because if word got around to the others ... all of them are good. We all have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and whatnot. But this was an excellent ... she still is ... I think she's retiring this year. But she was an excellent teacher, period. And parents would tell me this. Black and white parents would tell me the same thing ... they'd say "why, Miss so-and-so would do well wherever she is, she'd be a good teacher." But she had an EMR class and also an emotionally disturbed child that shouldn't have been there. That child shouldn't have been in her classroom. She kept an uproar in the class. I think later on they got classes for emotionally disturbed, but at that time, we had to put the emotionally disturbed class in with the EMR and it didn't work out too well. With reference to the gifted, and to LD, those are programs we should have had a long time ago. I think, especially with the gifted child, this child has been neglected for years. You know a teacher can only do so much. She is only one person. And she cannot meet the needs of the gifted child and do justice to the average and to the slow child. There is just not enough in the teacher to do that. You know I feel that way almost like I do about principals. We go to these meetings, state meetings, and people from the state department and colleges give long speeches about what makes a good principal. And you know what I've concluded. He does not exist. There's no such thing as a principal existing the way they describe him. He can't be all those things. Now, I realize that's something to aspire to just like we strive to perfection, we never make it. It's the same way, I used to hear going to these state meetings ... you work towards it but you never achieve it. You never reach it.
Q: That's amazing isn't it? Trying to get to the top of that mountain.
A: Well, it gives you something to strive for. And I'm not knocking those meetings. I think they probably were good and well attended. But you know the person just doesn't exist, the perfect principal.
Q: You know when you take those education courses, they talk about students and the student you are going to teach doesn't really exist.
A: That's the reason I say, you've got to use common judgement.
Q: They don't make textbook children do they?
A: No, they don't.
Q: The next question is very much appropriate for this time of year because the school division is currently looking at and working on the budget for next year. Salaries and other compensation for employees have changed quite a bit, I'm sure since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollection of the compensation system of your school system during your tenure as a principal and give your view on development since that time?
A: I might have mentioned to you that I started off as principal of a three room school. That was my title that was on my contract. That was the first job that I got as a principal. I think the reason is they wanted a man badly. They'd had ladies and had so many fights they said the principal and superintendent said they did not want another lady there they wanted a man so I got the job. He gave my base salary as $2,000 a year and he gave me $200 for being principal.
Q: That was a whole lot, wasn't it?
A: The second year I got a raise. That gave me 22 ...
Q: We will finish the answer to my question in regards to salaries.
A: I believe I was saying at the end of the tape that in the second year I got a raise. My raise was $200.00 that year. So my total salary was $2400.00. Then I continued to get raises, from $200-300 a year for the next six or seven years. I believe I already mentioned that I remained at this school for 12 years. And when I was assigned as principal at one of the new consolidated schools over at Mr. Airy, my salary was in 1964 $6,400.00 - yes, $6,400 in 1964. The second year I got a $300 raise in 1967 no, 1965. I believe thereafter, we began to get larger raises. We finally got to the place where we thought we were really doing something. We would get as much as a $1,000.00 raise a year. Plus the principals complained about it. They'd complain about it and then we set up a salary committee after the complaints. You know there's an old saying, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." The superintendent set up a salary committee and it consisted of principals, supervisors, and of course himself. Principals from the different school levels, an elementary principal, middle school, and high school. Then our salary began to increase. We would get as much as a $1,000.00. Some of us would have rated under the schedule more than a $1,000.00. But at that time, the superintendent felt that a $1,000 a year was as much as he could justify to the school board. Which was very good, of course we were pleased with that. We had been getting smaller increases so we thought we were moving getting a $1,000.00 - almost $100 a month more.
Q: Was there a scale, or was tenure or anything a part of that decision?
A: In the beginning it wasn't. But in the mid-60's, because I was transferred to Kentuck in 1968 and I think we had just revised the scale so that the number of students and the teachers would be considered in how much a principal would be paid. Because some of the principals felt that a principal that had 10 teachers did not deserve as much as a principal that had as much as 25 or 30. So the scale was revised and of course when I was transferred to Kentuck. It was a financial gain for me too. It was a larger school. It had more students and teachers and I went up into another bracket. I didn't care that much about the money. I wanted to be closer to home. I didn't have as far to drive. I was getting older and my age was telling on me especially in the afternoon when I'd spent a hard day I could hardly keep my eyes open and I was glad to be closer to home.
Q: After integration, did they work to bring the principals of the black schools' salaries up to that of the white?
A: Yes, they were the same. But I tell you one thing that the whites were not aware of until integration, some of the white principals. We had enough of the deprived children to have these Title I programs. The whites didn't have that percentage. It was not high enough to qualify for Title 1. Of course we had the summer programs and we were responsible for organizing and supervising these programs along with the regular program that we had to work up for the coming year. And when we integrated they were talking about the Title I program that they were going to have and how much more money were they going to get. And we informed them, "man, you're not going to get any more money. You'll get the same salary." They thought that we were subsidized - our salary subsidized by the federal government because we had these Title I programs. We didn't get a penny more. But as far as salary, you know white and black, they were paid the same thing according to the number of teachers and the number of students that you had.
Q: Was the pay the same prior to integration for both black teachers and white teachers?
A: So far as we know. I tell you there was one difference that we learned about after integration that we didn't know about before; when we'd go to these state meetings, for the white principals the superintendent paid their room and board. They'd turn it in and get reimbursed. We didn't know about it. No one had told us so we didn't turn it in and he didn't tell us to turn it in. Because I think it was his responsibility to let us know because we didn't know. Most all of us blacks we were paying our own room and board. I think we did get travel, but as far as the room and board we did not get that until after we integrated. You know you get with the other people and you learn a lot just in talking. Just like they thought we were getting paid for operating a Title I program and we weren't and they didn't know that when the schools were segregated. So we learned.
Q: That's interesting. Most school systems presently have tenure, or continuing contracts for teachers. Would you discuss the situation at the time that you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such a program?
A: You know, I don't think I could think of any weaknesses. Tenure is a thing that I think has been long overdue. We had some horrible experiences. Especially the ladies and it was unfair to women back in the 50's and 60's maybe not the 70's. Ladies they had very little security in a school system especially if you were raising a family. If a married person became pregnant, they were supposed to let the administration know and resign as soon as they found out they were pregnant. Now, you know, I guess you find out you are pregnant when you are two or three months pregnant. As soon as you found out you were pregnant then you notified the school board and they'd terminate your contract. That I think is atrocious. It was a terrible ordeal. As far as tenure contracts, as I said that is something that was long over due. I know of and have heard of a few principals that abused their authority, they abused their authority. And dismissing teachers unfairly - teachers who were doing a good job. But because of some personal feeling, that they did not like - they would either make it so hard for the teacher or have the teacher to resign or they just wouldn't hire them. And this went on. I know of some situations that they just wouldn't get hired and this was terrible. Of course this was mostly black people. Naturally, the one that I know of is black people. I don't fault the superintendent, I mean, I don't fault the principals as much as I do the superintendent. I think I can say that since I am out of the system right now ;they can't nail me for it. I fault the superintendent for allowing them to do things like that. It shouldn't have been done but it was.
Q: Was there any kind of grievance policy at that time?
A: No, there was no type of grievance. I didn't have that authority to recommend when I was in the smaller school or when I was in the three room school. I did when I was principal of one of the larger schools, I had the authority either to recommend dismissal or rehire, of course I never had to do that. I've always felt that if a teacher had a short coming we'd work it out. I had one situation though where I probably wouldn't have recommended but then I'll comment on that later if you need me to. But tenure is good. Tenure is something that should have been all along. Our good teachers shouldn't have had to go through the stress and strain and agony that they went through when dealing with some of our principals.
Q: It's interesting because now that you have principals that say "I have this teacher that's awful, that I can't get rid of because they have tenure." But we have forgotten what the struggle was all about in the beginning. I think we are going through the same thing with affirmative action. We have forgotten why we needed affirmative action and now people want to get rid of it. I just wanted to make that comment.
A: Right. It's just so unfortunate to some of those people that were causing these problems but not experiencing some of the bitterness. They should experience some of the bitterness.
Q: Was there an evaluation system for teachers or was the rehiring pretty much based on your judgment?
A: Well, there was a form, pretty much like a check form that you could check; you could just recommend or not recommend. The teacher didn't have a lot of recourse if you didn't. I believe you asked about the disadvantage or the shortcoming. Well, the shortcoming is just what you just mentioned, if you have a teacher who is not doing what he or she should do then it's harder to dismiss that teacher. But you can still dismiss teachers I think. I know it's hard. If you do proper documentation and show step-by-step what you have done to alleviate this problem, date it, have your supervisor comment, have all that data. At least when I was there I think you could get rid of them. But it's difficult now.
Q: I know it's supposed to be serious. But if they molest or kill someone then you can get rid of them. It's like trying to take your hands and move that wall.
A: I've never had that experience; as I say, if they had a shortcoming we could always work it out - work out the problem. I had one situation where I wouldn't have done it. This was a young white girl. She was educated in the colleges here in Danville, I'm not going to name the college. But I couldn't have recommended her, she was a kindergarten teacher. So I told her, I told her the reason I couldn't recommend her. That's another problem that I had and I agonized over a long period of time about what I should do, what was the right thing to do and finally I just went ahead and told her what I was going to do and why. And she chose to my advantage to resign, she asked me if she could resign. She asked me how I would feel if she resigned. I said "well, it's up to you." I wouldn't advise her for a minute because I realize that could come right back on me. I said "if you wanted to, but why don't you talk to some teacher here that you have confidence in and get her opinion. But I can't advise you." I don't know who she talked with but anyway, she did resign. I found out that her father was a big contractor up in Maryland. And he came down to see me, well he went to the central office first and the central office sent him over to see me. She had told him that of the five kindergarten teachers that we had that I gave her most of the children and that I treated her much differently than the way I treated other kindergarten children. And it so happened when he came and told me who he was, I had to do registers in the office, because you know I had to check them every month make sure that they are right and balance and everything. I took all the kindergarten records and spread them out and said she didn't have any more students than anyone else because I don't do that. Unless it's a certain level/grade, whoever has 23 if the next person has 24, well this person 23 person will get that student. And he could see from these records that they had the same number of students practically. He could also see that her ledgers looked like chicken scratch (this is figurative) compared to the other four kindergarten teachers. And he shook his head and said "well, I see what you mean." But she wouldn't do anything. She wouldn't ... everything I would suggest to her she'd say, "you know that's a whole lot of work." That would be her comment. "That's a whole lot of work." But I learned from his that she was an A student and worked real hard in her high school and along in the latter part she fell off a horse at their farm and had a concussion. They rushed her to the hospital and he said ... . Well, you know I kind of felt bad. I said I wish I had known that. I don't know what I could have done about it, but that was her first year and I think I might have tried, maybe consulted some professional to see what I could have done to salvage her, save her. But I didn't know that. So that didn't make me feel too good, you know the fact that I didn't know that. If you don't know something you can't do anything about it. And this person, this principal, he hired her and he called me and asked me about a recommendation. And I told him she didn't fit in our particular situation because ours wasn't structured. You see in kindergarten, we'd just give them material and they'd have to figure it out ... and I just felt ... and he said "well, mine is structured." I said "well, she might just work in a structured situation but she didn't work in our situation. If I was in your position, I would hire her. I would give her a chance." And he did, but then she didn't work out at that place either. So then I said well, maybe I didn't do too badly after all. But in situations like that you have to look at it from the standpoint of the teacher, she spent a lot of time, effort and money. But then you have to look at the children too and I sided with the children. I always do. I think that's what we're here for. I think in all situations when there is a question, you need to side with the children, I don't think you can go wrong.
Q: I think you're right. Now you talked a lot about interacting with the superintendent. Would you tell us about your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his general demeanor towards you and your school?
A: I was ... let me see, well I tell you the superintendent, he always had kind things to say to me and about me. But, I was never close to the superintendent. I would just try to do my work, do what he asked me to do. My relationship was more or less business like with him. I wasn't as close to him as some of the other principals, especially the whites and in particular one black was kind of close to him, but I wasn't that close to him.
Q: Did superintendents during that time visit a lot? Did they come out to the schools? Were they visible and interact with teachers and other employees?
A: I don't think superintendents interacted with teachers, but they did go to the schools. But so far as visiting classrooms and that type of thing, no, there wasn't much of that.
Q: Okay, now let's talk about the circumstances that led up to the decision to retire. I know that you are involved in lots of activities at this time and you keep extremely busy. Could you share with us your reasons for deciding to retire?
A: Well, I had 34 good years. It was my first love. My first love was working with teachers. I think I mentioned before that my strong academic areas were in math. I was real good in math. But I knew that with a degree in math I couldn't work with elementary children so I attended the teacher's college so I could work with small children. I've had 34 good years. I enjoyed every year, except for the one where I had to make the decisions about those transfers that was a problem and most crucial time. And then the experiences that I had after that and really that I didn't think I deserved. But I also wanted to get in real estate, into rental. That's what I what I wanted to do. And I decided after 34 good years I would retire and step aside. I ... one thing, I wasn't shoved out, wasn't forced out. In fact I've had any number of parents to try to get me to stay on "stay two more years till Johnny comes through" White and blacks. But I just felt that while my health is good. I was already in rentals. And I feel good about that. I am providing a service that is helping people. The only thing that I hate about what I'm doing now, when I put a lot of money and work, I don't count my labor as much of course I do almost all of my work in real work, practically all of it, but when you put a lot of money into it you've got to have a certain price for it. And people come in and want it but just can't afford it. And that makes me feel bad. I wish that I could lower it, but I can't. I guess that's gist of what led me to retirement. I could have stayed on.
Q: I certainly admire you. I really do. Because I think that anybody who has the stamina and the strength to stay in the administrative profession for that many years is certainly commendable to you. I wonder if Angela and I will last that long.
A: You will, you will. I know both of you will because I've heard all types of good things about both of you. My wife with you and I felt I knew you too and Mrs. Pringle too.
Q: We want to talk a little about Milton. Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice that you wish to be passed along to today's principals?
A: In administrative work you have a world of opportunity to do good for a lot of people including students. You can make a lot of friends but you will probably make a few enemies. I guess that consists of the pros and the cons. I don't think any of us likes to make enemies but you will probably make a few, just like I made a few doing what I felt I had to do, not what I wanted to do, but what I had to do. I had no other choice. I thought it was fair. I did it in the most fair way that I knew to do it. When you do your best you can sleep well at night.
Q: Well, Mr. Hughes we've addressed a number of issues and I'm sure there's some things that you'd like to share with us that neither Angela nor myself have asked. Is there anything you'd like to share with us that we've not asked?
A: I don't think I do. I think I have already suggested to be tactful, fair, to always use good common judgement. I think I identified that by saying that ... you know a person doesn't know when he's using good common judgement because if he knew, he'd do better, he wouldn't do what you said. But, there is a test that you can give yourself. If you have a lot of problems with the administration, with teachers, with the students you know there is something wrong. I can give you an example of one particular thing that I did when I was principal that I just hadn't thought of. You know the superintendent would allocate certain money to buy instructional material. And for the most part I'd just get that from the office and take my time during the summer time I'd take my time and teachers were off and I'd just go ahead and order it, what I thought was needed. And I had a teacher to kind of say under her breath, this was my special ed teacher that I thought was so good, had so much respect for. She said under her breath that the teachers might want input in spending that money. I never commented, now this was at a faculty meeting. I never commented on it but you know after that I did change. And she was right, absolutely right. She wasn't saying it to me. At least she had enough respect for me not to blab it out to the faculty. But I would have appreciated it if she had come to me and told me that I think we should give the teachers more say in spending their money. She was exactly right and I would have agreed with her.
Q: I would just like to say thank you and I have really enjoyed this. We will have to come to your house one day and just sit down and talk about your experiences. Well, I tell you this has really been an uplifting experience for me because the experiences that you've shared have been just so rewarding I think to both of us. I can't tell you how much we appreciate your taking time to share your information with us.
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