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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background, childhood interests, and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born on April 22, 1935, which makes me 60 years old the 22nd of this month. I was born in rural Halifax County in southside Virginia near a little village called Virgilina. I grew up on a general farm where we raised tobacco, dairy products, and some grain. I have one sister who is nine years older than me. She was a math teacher and a guidance counselor in the public schools before retiring. I attended Virgilina High School which was a school containing grades one through twelve. There were nine in my graduating class. It was the last class before consolidating all the county schools in Halifax County. Having grown up on a farm, I was quite interested in 4-H work and also was interested in church activities. I had a lot of hobbies; horticultural interests, stamp collecting, photography, basketball, and genealogy.-
Q: Would you discuss your college education in preparation for entering the field of teaching and how many years did you serve as a teacher and as a principal?
A: After attending Virgilina High School, I attended VPI, as it was known at that time, from 1953-57 and received a bachelor of science degree in agricultural education. I obtained my master's at the University of Virginia in secondary administration in 1967. One of the most significant areas, I think, of preparation for teaching was a full quarter of student teaching in which I lived in Pittsylvania County in the Dan River community spending a full three months under the supervision of an excellent teacher. We had supervisors who spent full days with us. I taught eight years, two of those being in Orange County High School and six at Halifax County High School in the area of vocational agriculture. Following that, I served three years as an assistant principal at the Halifax County High School which included grades eight through twelve with an enrollment of approximately 2200. Following this, I was in an elementary school for ten years as principal. The first year there were grades one through six and after that, the remaining nine years there were grades five, six, and seven. The remainder of my thirty four years in education included coordinating and setting up a gifted program, and later serving as director of exceptional children.-
Q: I wonder if you would discuss with us those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.
A: Well, number one was when I was teaching in Orange County High School. I was very happy in my situation, but my father became ill and I thought it was best that I return home. I did that and moved into a vocational agricultural slot at the high school. Another decision that I had to make was moving from the classroom as an AG teacher to the administrative level as an assistant principal. Of course, it is always a decision to go into the principalship. That was a good opportunity and I looked forward to it. After ten years, I was excited about being offered an opportunity to set up a model gifted program under a federal project which included one full year of planning, which is normally unheard of, but was an excellent experience. I was very happy to be working with this program and preferred to remain; however, due to financial constraints, it was suggested that I be the director of all exceptional children in our school division. I had some reluctance to move into this direction, but found it to be quite fulfilling. Of course, the next big decision, and one that I do not regret, is taking early retirement. I might just say that in most all of these cases, I didn't seek these changes or positions, other than the initial job teaching in Orange and moving back to Halifax County. The other positions opened up, and I don't think it was any accident; I tend to think it was divine intervention.
Q: Will you please talk about some of the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: As mentioned earlier, I was serving as an assistant principal at the consolidated high school and I was not dissatisfied with what I was doing; however, I was stimulated by some of the classes that I was taking at the University of Virginia. At the time, there was only one secondary school in our division and the principal was not ready for retirement, so I didn't think there was any possibility of moving into that position. I did want to remain in my home area. I was contacted by the superintendent about the possibility of an elementary principalship and I was excited about the opportunity, but I did have some anxiety about moving from the secondary level to an age group that I had not had any experience with. I had some successful experiences in the VO AG program. At that time, the Halifax County High School had the largest vocational agricultural department in the state with five teachers. The school board was interested in the VO AG program. They had noticed some of our accomplishments and were aware of what we were doing, so I don't think that hurt my being offered the opportunity to go into the elementary principalship.-
Q: Being motivated as you were to enter into the principalship, how do you feel your motives have changed over the years?
A: I really had not sought the principalship, but it was at the encouragement of the superintendent and school board. As an assistant principal, I had many experiences and I feel that position offered good preparation to move into the principalship. At the high school, there were two assistant principals for approximately 2200 students, and I had a varied number of responsibilities including discipline, transportation, athletic director, some supervision, and worked with instruction on a somewhat limited basis. The days were long, it was usually eight to five each day and a half-day on Saturdays. With the many activities at the high school and one of the other assistant principals being a lady, I spent many nights at the school. Overall, it was an excellent preparation for the principalship.
Q: Would you please describe your personal philosophy of education and its evolvement over the years of your career.
A: I believe in the intellectual, physical, and emotional development of all students in a varied program of studies directed by the most enthusiastic and qualified staff that might be available. I think it is important that we encourage a high level of academic achievement, and also, I believe in a strong vocational program in which I had a lot of preparation. In addition, I feel that you need to develop a strong parent-community-school relationship with emphasis on teacher-parent dialogue. I feel, basically, my philosophy is preparation for living, whether it might be for further education or obtaining work skills. In retrospect, I probably would say that we should emphasize the basics more and that we cannot be all things to all people.
Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school that you were principal of, telling us how it was developed and how it evolved over the time that you were there.
A: I think it is important to begin with that you recruit very good teachers. I was pleased as an elementary principal that over half of our faculty members were male. Every child had an opportunity to spend at least a half-day with a male teacher and a half-day with a female teacher. I think that proved to be a very good arrangement. My responsibility was to create a climate for learning, assist teachers with classroom management, and to involve the teachers as much as possible in the decision-making process. It is my responsibility instruction-wise to provide the tools of the trade, the resources, necessary to teach. It is also a responsibility to involve parents. At parent-teacher meetings we often had small group sessions with parents involving them in making them aware of the curriculum, seeking some input at each grade level. Also, I felt that it was part of my job to provide enrichment activities. We did this in many ways by doing mini-courses that involved all staff and faculty with a lot of school projects pertaining to the academic areas--especially various culture studies. I was not particularly comfortable in offering academic content. I could not help a teacher to teach a child to read. I really didn't know the best methods, but I could put her in contact with others who could assist and make some resources available.
Q: Please discuss, if you would, some of the experiences or events in your professional life that have influenced your management philosophy.
A: One of the primary influences was the principal of the secondary school, Mr. Marshal Swanson, who has been recognized throughout our state as being an exemplary principal. He stressed, and I will never forget, the three F's--fairness, firmness, and friendliness, and to involve those who are affected in the decision-making process- to make sure they have some stakes in the process. It often takes more time to do this, but you usually obtain better acceptance and response. I've also reflected on the principals who I had in high school. There was quite a contrast in individuals. One put on a big front and was seldom at school. He displayed very little personal interest in the students, coached the basketball squad and would come in to the game at half-time and make a big show as opposed to another principal who was very interested in the students individually, provided activities and opportunities in personal contact. There was such a contrast in the two individuals. They had an effect on my philosophy of what a principal should do.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning?
A: Primarily, I think that you have to recognize student achievement. In the school and with the parents such as personal notes on the report cards of students. It is important to recognize student achievement and to encourage them to excellence. I think that it is important to insist on good student behavior and courtesy. There is no substitute for that. There was some limited involvement of students in planning various clubs, activities, and social activities. Also, again you need to provide resources to get whatever you can from central office, community, and anyplace else. I think it is also important that you provide good role models for the students.
Q: As a follow-up to that question, would you agree that, as you mention personalization, notes on report cards, etc., that would also be a good technique for principal to use as notes to his teachers?
A: Yes, I think you could recognize the achievements of your teachers in various ways, too. You could provide them personal notes and other methods of recognition.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? In answering this, could you describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of a good principal?
A: I think, first of all, that a principal needs to provide an atmosphere in which the teachers can teach. That involves many areas. You have to support them in discipline cases and dealing with disruptions. They also need the resources to teach with, they need materials, they need various audio visual aids and accessories in order to do their very best in the various content areas. Also, I think that you have to provide assistance when it is needed and be attentive to the requests of teachers. You may not always be able to get everything or do everything that a teacher wants, but you need to be attentive and try as much as possible to provide it. It is very important to just listen. Often, a teacher needs someone to listen and they will frequently solve their own problems with some reflective listening techniques. A principal, I think, needs to be as democratic as possible. There is no substitute for being interested in each person, not only from their job standpoint, but what's happening to them personally. Make them feel special. Compliment them, express appreciation for the jobs they have done and don't be afraid to tell others about it. Finally, go easy on the criticism.
Q: As a follow-up question, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed on principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment as a principal?
A: The time that I served as an elementary principal, I had a superintendent who encouraged me to be innovative and creative. That allowed me to do many things that were somewhat unconventional at the time, but later have been accepted. It was rather humorous in that he allowed us to rock the boat and indicated that we were going to drown and get wet and that we were on our own; but when the time came and we needed support and help, he was always there. One of the best compliments that I have ever received, I heard second-hand. The superintendent said that I was not satisfied with the status quo. He did not tell me, but someone else said that he had made that remark. It was refreshing to be allowed flexibility and just to be turned loose and try to have the best program that you could. The community, I think, expects the principal to be a role-model for the children and the adults, and that is not an unreasonable expectation. I have a sense that principals may not be as free today to experiment as I was allowed under this particular superintendent.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. If you would, please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some of the techniques that worked for you. If possible, an incident in which this approach failed.
A: I made a point of telling faculty at least every year, that I was one of them with a different assignment and I really did not perceive myself as being the boss. I believe in a team approach and, with a small faculty, you can involve teachers in decision-making. I think it is a principal's responsibility to make some suggestions, offer alternatives, to present the pros and cons, but encourage the teachers to give their input as well. One of my professors at the University of Virginia commented on the classes one time that there was rarely an educational decision that needed to be made immediately unless it affected the safety of the children. I found that to be the case. There is usually time for discussion and thought and we don't have to make very many on the spot decisions. Outside of school, at central office staff meetings, the school board, you need to promote your program with those who can help you. You need to show the needs and expected outcomes. As an incident of something that failed, in the early eighties at the time we were first considering floating bond issues, I became a part of a group that was promoting FOR BONDS and set up a meeting at the school. I had set up approximately three hundred chairs and had three people to come. But as a result, one of those three people turned out to be one of the best activists we have had in the area for education. So that was an incident that didn't quite work out.
Q: So even though it appeared to be a failure physically, in the long run, it turned out to be successful.
A: I'd say so.
Q: There are those who would argue that more often than not, central office policies hinder rather than help building-level administrators in carrying out there responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue?
A: I think we often gripe about this and, actually, many of the policies are imposed on the school division from outside sources--state department of education or federal regulations. I have been on both sides of the fence. As director of exceptional children, we had responsibility for screening students for exceptional programs, and there is probably not any program that has more federal regulations and paperwork than this. However, this must be done. But I think a lot depends on the superintendent. Different superintendents handle it in different ways, but a certain amount of policies are definitely necessary. Of course, you have accreditation procedures, short and long-term planning, and without policies you are not going to have consistency in some areas. Education is a business and we have to be business-like in what we do. We need policies and practices for operating.
Q: If you were advising a person who was considering an administrative job, what would your advice be?
A: Be prepared for performing a lot of menial tasks and to pay attention to a lot of details. Also, you have to be organized and need a lot of skills in problem-solving and human relations, especially when it comes to conflict mediation. It is not a job for the introvert. One needs to be flexible, not rigid, and I'd say it helps to be an improvisor.
Q: There are those who would argue that principals should be an instructional leader and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give me your views on this issue?
A: I probably lean toward being a good manager because I did not feel that I was a content specialist. But there are things that I could do as an instructional leader. I could match up the teacher with individuals and activities to receive assistance. I could help send them to conferences. I could provide mentors. I could give them the opportunity to observe master teachers. I could help provide resources and materials and I certainly had some expertise in classroom management. So, as an instructional leader, I could help provide an atmosphere of assistance, even though I could not be a content specialist.
Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those that wished to become principals?
A: I think that a prospective principal would benefit from having an internship of some type and to be matched on the job with a good principal. I think if you can be an assistant principal, that could also be equally as important. I think that it is important that any person who has a principalship first be a successful teacher in the classroom, one who has exhibited exemplary personal and professional qualities. The person also should be respected by his peers and it helps to be creative, enthusiastic, and innovative. In addition, good human relation skills are always necessary.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Especially their involvement with or participation in civic groups and other community organizations. In which community organizations or groups do you feel have the greatest influence?
A: I think it is important that one be active in community affairs as it gives an opportunity to interpret your program and gain personal support. We had a Ruritan Club which met at the school. This was advantageous. Also, I was active in some other county group, the United Way, the local art association, religious groups within my church and association. In addition, I belonged to professional organizations, both administrative and teacher organizations, and served as president of our local association and was also president of the district organization, and served on the VEA board. Of course, the climate has changed today, but at that time that was a very appropriate activity. Oddly enough, probably the group that assisted me as much as any was the Parsons Bruce Art Association. The individuals who were members of this group were often members of the power structure of the locality and had some resources that they could offer to the school. It was a very helpful group which you would not normally anticipate as being.
Q: It has been said that there is a home-school gap. That more parental involvement with schools needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and citizens who are important to the well-being of the school?
A: I think it is important to involve parents in school activities and we often invited them to school for different functions. It was helpful to have many of them present for students to tell about the type of work they were involved in, to show products of their employment or hobbies, and to just generally talk with students. It is also very important, I think, to have parents to become familiar with the curriculum and academic work. I am a little disappointed now that it seems many parents are overly interested in their children being on the honor roll and obtaining all A's and sometimes defending their behaviors, which I don't think is very appropriate. I also do not think that parents should be involved in fund raising. I think it is the duty of the local government to provide the funds and I don't think schools should have to be concerned with this area. Sometimes we have to clarify the role of parents and that is not easy to do. So often the parents that you really need to see are the ones that are not available. One year as a goal, we had all of our classroom teachers to visit in the homes of the parents of their children. This was quite an undertaking, but it proved to be very, very satisfactory. I shall never forget that one of the teachers said, I will never raise my voice again to that child after having seen the home situation. I think there is no substitute for personal contact with the parents. I feel strongly about this because in the vocational agricultural program there was a requirement that the teacher visit the children's homes at least four times a year. You seldom had any kind of discipline problems because students knew that you were going to be visiting the home and talking to the parents, and usually the first question the parents asked was, How is the child doing? Support and rapport were developed through home visitation.
Q: A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay plans, and merit pay in recent years. Would you give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you may have had with such approaches?
A: I have not had that much involvement, but personally, I favor differential pay plans and career ladders, but it does not have very wide-spread support from teachers. I think the real key again is to choose and request a good staff and then to help them be successful. In the small faculty at our school, I have counted about ten who have gone on to be supervisors or administrators in our local system and other school systems. So, without a real plan, there is a way of developing good staff members to advance in their career.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: I think that evaluation should be a procedure to help a teacher grow and improve. It is assisting an individual in realizing their strengths and weaknesses--to build on the strengths and to work on the weaknesses. I was in and out of the classrooms for many reasons and I rarely sat down and did a formal evaluation. But if you have had a lot of contact with your teachers and spend a lot of time out of the office, it is very easy to know what's going on and you're able to offer assistance.
Q: A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?
A: There may be a need to have a formal procedure in place. However, I will go back to my mentor who was principal when I was serving as assistant principal. His philosophy was that any reasonable, intelligent people can usually resolve a problem if they will sit down and discuss it and communicate, and I support that. Principals need to be sensitive to others' needs and, if you are genuinely interested in your faculty as individuals, other than as employees, you'll have an opportunity to share and not have situations where they're going to have grievances.
Q: Without naming a specific teacher, have you been involved in a teacher dismissal and what type of involvement did you have in those activities?
A: Again, I think that if you do the very best job you can in recruitment and offer staff development opportunities, you are not going to be involved in teacher dismissals. As a principal, I can only recall not recommending one individual during my ten years as a principal.
Q: What in your view should be the role of the assistant principal and if you could discuss your utilization of such personnel while you were on the job, if you had an assistant principal?
A: I think it is important that the assistant principal participate in the total school program. It certainly was the case for me. I was very involved first hand with an excellent mentor. To me being an assistant principal is not a terminal position but preparation for the principalship. It may be a time for finding out that a principalship is not what you want to do.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: I contend that you can pretty much walk into a school and determine the effectiveness by the atmosphere. If your faculty and staff including the cafeteria workers and custodians and the children are happy, good things are happening. There are some very cold and unhappy institutions and I think the mood and the tone are set by the principal. It's just not a facade but it must be genuine. Of course, academic achievement is a factor in a balanced program, but a lot will be revealed by the atmosphere and freedom from tension. I don't think anyone learns best in a tense and anxious environment.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students--LD, gifted and talented, non-English speaking students, etc.--have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard.
A: I've had quite a bit of experience in this area with my thirteen of my thirty-four years of service spent in working with exceptional children. Again, with a year of planning to set up a Title-IV-C gifted program for elementary students made for a very enjoyable experience. The program was designed to be a model to be used by other divisions. We were successful in having it adapted by other school divisions and even a school system in Finland used the model and sent a person to view the program and to take back information. After working three years with this program, I moved to director of all exceptionalities, but as a principal there was only one exceptional program available. That was an MR program that was located in a separate building at one of the schools in the division. I think probably we might have gone too far with identification of exceptional children. Ideally, if we could include more of these students in the regular classroom, but I also recognize that in today's climate we cannot tolerate disruptions and disturbances and it would be very difficult. Of course, teachers are going to need a different kind of training from what they have. With the increase in the number of identified students, one of my main concerns is that our expectations of these students are not high enough. -
Q: As a follow-up question, discuss your views concerning the impact on local school budgets by programs offered students with special needs.
A: It's a very expensive program. The number of teachers that are required and the accompanying related services such as transportation, physical therapy, etc. consume many of the school dollars in the budget.
Q: Inclusion is a topic of very interesting concern at this point. Would you discuss your views on inclusion?
A: I think mainstreaming is most valuable and should be scheduled whenever feasible. If an exceptional child can be mainstreamed and receive some resource help in a special class, it would be preferable. But, as mentioned previously, I think teachers do need to be trained differently in order to have many of these students in their regular classes. Class size would often need to be adjusted.
Q: Salaries and compensation have changed a good deal since you have entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation of your school system during your early years as a principal and give your views on developments in this area since then?-
A: Salaries have changed considerably and there is more differential between teachers and administrators than there was when I went into the principalship. I might say that when I first started in a principalship, there was no clearly defined salary scale for administrators. There was probably some informal system of reward for good performance which was not all bad.
Q: Most systems presently have a tenure or continuing contract system for their teachers. Would you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on its' strengths and weaknesses?
A: There was no such thing as tenure when I became a principal, however, I do not see a lot of changes in the system as a result. I do feel that tenure sometimes protects the incompetent and the procedure for encouraging individuals to seek another field of employment is almost too much trouble to pursue. I think more attention should be given to working with beginning teachers. This is often left to the principal because rarely do you get much assistance from the central office to work with a new teacher.
Q: There has traditionally been a commitment in this country to the principal of universal free public education. Please give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings on the practicality of such an approach in this day and time.
A: I am a public educator and I think we need to do everything possible to meet the needs of all our children. However, I think due to societal changes, especially the many poorly structured and dysfunctional family units, the school is not equipped to provide universal free public education. Some type of alternative programs work for some students, but not all. Disruptive students need to be removed from school so that teachers can teach and students can learn.
Q: Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paperwork and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Please comment on the situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perception of the situation today.
A: I think this is an age old problem. There is much complaining and sometimes it's justified. I've been guilty of that, too. I didn't like checking the sewage everyday and checking the time of the arrival of buses and some other tasks which were imposed on us but didn't really appear to be related to education. However, there are other areas which require a good deal of paperwork, such as the Southern Association for Schools and Colleges and accrediting associations. I think that is a very valuable process. It is time-consuming, but you can see results in your instructional program as a result of it. There is also federal monitoring which is a hassle to go through. But I guess, if we didn't have that procedure, some of the protection of due process for children would be lost. It is always important to plan both short and long term, but again, that can involve a lot of time and paperwork. I think that often the principal can do a lot to relieve the teachers if he can be sensitive to their time schedules and not make it a laborious task, then it certainly should be done. It is true a lot of paper is generated that is not very valuable, but a certain amount is necessary and we must accept that as a part of the job. If one dislikes it so much, maybe he should consider some other area. But I think the whole key and the question we need to ask is, 'Is what we are doing improving the teaching process?' If it meets that test, then we shouldn't complain about the paperwork.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?
A: That is not an easy question, but probably one area would be that of being able to devote more of your time to working with the instructional program. Being given the opportunity and resources to experiment with alternate ways of the teaching and learning and to make learning enjoyable and relevant. Another area that I would like to spend less time on is housekeeping and property-management. A third is have the resources available to help students solve personal problems. Often these involve the family. You have an anxious child who has difficulty concentrating on the task at school. It would be helpful if we had more people who could work with children to help solve some of their personal dilemmas. These people need to be very well trained.
Q: In following up that question, if you could change three areas in the curriculum in the overall operation of American schools, what would they be?
A: I'd like to see more flexibility in the organizational patterns for teaching. Students should spend more time with one teacher, especially at the primary and elementary level, and to experience less movement and program fragmentation. We need to understand that everything in the school curriculum has a purpose or relevance for daily living. Teachers need to be able to answer the child's question, Why are we doing this?
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendents in terms of their general demeanor toward you and your school?
A: I've had four superintendents. My first was a paternalistic grandfather type who I seldom had contact with, but he was encouraging and effective. The superintendent that I had most of my experience with and all my elementary principalship was one with whom I enjoyed an excellent rapport. He allowed for a lot of innovation and flexibility. He was a person who would turn you loose and, as long as everything was going alright, you didn't hear much from him. He almost never came to the school, but he got into some political trouble himself trying to upset the status quo of the school system. My third superintendent was a one termer--a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character--who did an excellent job of ignoring that you existed and, as an individual, you never quite knew where you stood. Staff meetings were used to give blanket reprimands. He was a one-term which was much too long for that person to be here. The fourth superintendent was a very articulate, pleasant individual that I enjoyed a good relationship with, but it was in my last couple of years before retirement. I was very comfortable with the individual. The superintendent is an extremely important position and it means a great deal to the person who is a principal.
Q: Would you discuss your general relationship, rather pro or con, with the board of education, and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general?
A: As a principal, I only had very limited contact with the school board and attended their meetings on an as needed basis. I felt somewhat removed and that didn't bother me. As I started the principalship, the superintendent encouraged me to visit the school board member who lived in my district. This had caused problems for previous principals, so I did not take his advice. As director of exceptional children, attendance was required at the school board meetings. I did not look forward to those sessions. The school board members were not always knowledgeable of their role, but they're nice people.
Q: In following up that question, in your opinion, what relationship needs to exist between the board of education, the superintendent, and the building principal for the successful implementation of a site-based management plan?
A: I think the board should set the broad policies and guidelines. The superintendent needs to work with the principal to implement those policies. The principal needs to be accountable to the superintendent who takes it back to the board.
Q: The Virginia General Assembly has established legislation which allows localities to elect, if they choose, school board members. What if any will be the ramifications of elected school boards?
A: I've experienced two options for choosing school board members. The first, of course, was appointment by the local electoral board and, at the time I experienced that, it would be preferable for members to be elected. However, after that, we moved to a system whereby the school board members were appointed by the board of supervisors and city council and I personally think that is a very poor choice as usually the school board members just reflect the philosophy of the people who are responsible for appointing them, which is not necessarily good for the school system. We will, in the near future, be electing school board members and I am not too excited about the type of individuals who will run. I am afraid that they will have some hidden agendas and limited educational qualifications. So I probably will go back and say that the appointment by the electoral board somewhat insulates these individuals, but allows good people who have a sincere interest in education to be appointed without having them subjected to the pressures of being elected.
Q: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in education. Please discuss the nature of your student body or student bodies in different schools and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal.
A: I interpret cultural diversity to mean racial diversity. I worked in a totally segregated system, a system that had token integration at the secondary and elementary level of less than one percent, and I have worked in a fully integrated system with approximately fifty-fifty ratio. I did not experience any secondary level experience with full integration, but I would say that I feel that the challenge is in direct proportion to the increased diversity. I feel that I have maintained an excellent rapport with the faculties and students in this diversity, but there is no question that the challenge increases.
Q: Please discuss your participation in handling the civil rights situation for integration and describe your involvement with busing.
A: I can remember one specific incident. During the freedom of choice era, I was assistant principal and one of my responsibilities was being in charge of the transportation of the consolidated high school. This was an extensive transportation system covering over 800 square miles and there were the normal problems. About 4:30 p.m. one afternoon, I was visited by six Ku Klux Klan members who came to my office for a period of intimidation about what was happening on the buses. Of course, their information was not factual, but it was not a very pleasant experience. Also, it was not unusual during this period to have leaflets left in my mail box at home saying that I was being watched by the KKK.
Q: It has been stated that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Please comment on the nature of curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools.
A: There were no planned programs for exceptional children, no elementary guidance counselors, Chapter 1; there was some ESAA assistance, no computer classes, sex education classes, drug awareness, and, I would say, less fragmentation of the program. There was more time and emphasis on basic reading, writing, and arithmetic and I know it is impossible to return totally. But there are some advantages to less fragmentation. It is tragic, I think, when pupils are constantly leaving and returning to a teacher's classroom, especially at the primary and elementary level. So much instructional time is lost in movement and getting children settled down so that they can learn.
Q: There are those that would argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Discuss your experience with such testing and give your views on its affect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: Standardized testing was primarily state-directed at grades four, seven, and eleven and there was limited use of the results by the school at the central level, and there was no media coverage or comparison of schools and comparison of what school divisions were doing. Unfortunately, I think that any tests that are imposed by the outside have very limited use in improving instruction.
Q: Student discipline and views on corporal punishment have changed a great deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your reflections on these areas during the early years, and how they changed before you retired?
A: I think I mentioned earlier that one of my areas of responsibility at the high school as assistant principal was to be in charge of discipline of the 2200 students that were enrolled along with many other duties. So you can see with 2200 children and directing athletics, transportation, and supervision, you can see that the frequency of discipline problems was certainly much lower. There was a common practice that when students were sent to me, I usually gave them a choice of going home for one, two or three days, or accepting a paddling which would be witnessed by a teacher in the adjoining office. I would say that probably better than ninety-five percent of the students elected to receive the paddling and return to class. I might add that most of those people didn't come back a second time. A follow-up letter was sent to the parents saying what had happened and that the children were given an option of suspension or a paddling and what their choice had been. I recall one parent being somewhat concerned about it and it was not that the child had received a paddling, but that he preferred to do it himself rather than have me do it. At the elementary school when I was principal, there was no choice given. There were some actions where students received a paddling and, of course, it was only one of a number of discipline methods used. But the parents approved and it worked. Of course, we all know it is no longer possible and, in fact, it has gotten so bad recently that this week an editorial in a state paper noted that a cafeteria in California was declared a no hug zone. The cafeteria manager was no longer allowed to hug the children.
Q: Would you discuss your views concerning violence in today's educational setting?
A: There is violence in the community and the homes and it just spills over into the schools. Due to a number of reasons--both parents are often working, there are some very unstructured environments, poor parenting skills, and dysfunctional families. You can't expect these problems to disappear when a child gets on a bus and comes to school.
Q: As a follow-up to that question, our community is experiencing an increase in students living with extended family members. How do you see this phenomenon impacting on the violence and discipline in our schools?
A: I think it has an impact. Extended family members often, but not always, have less control over the students and I think, as a result, problems often increase.
Q: Would you describe your work day? That is, how did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours per week you put in?
A: I think I mentioned my experience as an assistant principal as practically living at school--night, day, and half-day on Saturdays. At the elementary level, it varied. I was usually at school by 8:00 a.m. The policy for the county was to be there until at least 4:30 p.m., longer if necessary. In my situation, it was not uncommon to be called back to school at two or three o'clock in the morning due to break-ins. It was a little disconcerting, but when law enforcement agencies discovered a break-in, they refused to enter the building unless the principal came and went in first. It is important, I think, that the principal be at the school before the teachers and students and be there after they're all gone. Each day is different. There are meetings, office time, supervision. It would be difficult to say, and I wouldn't even attempt to say the number of hours because it is such a variable.
Q: What would you feel was the key to your success as a principal?
A: I think that love of people, especially children. Also, I was excited about being in a school environment. I enjoyed that. And being an agent that could bring about some kind of change. I feel that I relate to people fairly well and attempt to be flexible and I had an idea that I'd like to have the best school possible.
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them? Maybe some of your biggest headaches or toughest decisions you had to make.
A: The pressures varied from day to day, but if I had to name one, I would say mediation conflict between parents and teachers, students and teachers, bus drivers and students, as being the area of greatest concern. Having conflict is probably the biggest headache, although the biggest frustration I had was with break-ins to the school and dealing with law enforcement agencies.
Q: Please discuss your professional code of ethics and give an example of how you applied it during your career.
A: I have rather strong religious convictions and I strive to practice the golden rule; however, I frequently fall very short. High moral character and integrity are essential.
Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship and which training experiences did you see as least useful?
A: I think that probably, I'll have to say again, was being an assistant principal and having a role-model principal that I really respected. There were selected courses at the University of Virginia that were quite helpful. There was one that was an in-out basket of practical situations in which you were asked to solve and then the class would discuss the decisions that you made on these simulated situations. I thought that proved very helpful. I'll have to say that it was valuable as a part of my undergraduate training to be a member of the Corps of Cadets at VPI. There are certain disciplines and attitudes that you develop in working in a structured military discipline that gives you some support and help in being a principal. Not that you have to be the army sergeant type, but there are other positive attributes. Sometimes, some of the required courses may not have been as relevant as I would like them to be, but I am not critical of the training I received.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?
A: Probably, I wouldn't do anything differently if I had an internship or assistant principal situation like I had. But given the societal changes and related pressures, I doubt that I would be very interested in entering the principalship. However, if I were twenty-five years old, I probably would, but not at the age of sixty.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: I think that every professor who is helping prepare candidates for administrative positions should spend some time in a local school situation at least every five years to know what the realities are. Theory is wonderful, but pragmatism is far more worth while. It is probably unrealistic for me to comment on the current training programs since I am not aware of exactly what is being done presently.
Q: In your view on the mentoring program for new administrators in which an experienced administrator is paired with a neophyte, what experiences have you had with such an approach and was there a mentor in your life?
A: I think it's an excellent idea and there is so much to learn from a practicing administrator. I have made reference again to my relationship with the secondary principal and I would say he was a mentor and it was a most valuable experience.
Q: Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: Well, you need to have a life other than school. You need to develop hobbies and to be active in other community activities. Sometimes it helps to dig a few holes, plant a few roses, and chop a few weeds.
Q: Since you have now had some time to reflect on your career, would you share with us what you consider your administrative strengths and weaknesses?
A: It is difficult, I think, for a person to list their own strengths, and I hesitate to do that, but I feel that I am a people-oriented person. I do not mind paying attention to details. I consider that I have some organizational skills and attempt to be a very flexible individual. I also have the motivation to succeed. As far as weaknesses are concerned, there is a long list. I'll just list three or four. Probably at the top of the list is a lack of patience. I also have some dislike for delegating and have some perfectionistic traits which sometimes causes me to take on more than I should be doing because I think that if I want it done right, then I will have to do it myself.
Q: Please discuss the circumstances leading to your decision to retire at the time that you did and give your reasons and mental processes that you exercised in making that decision.
A: That is easy to give you. The governor offered an early retirement package that one could hardly refuse. There was some pain in making that decision, particularly in that my wife would continue to work full-time. But it has not been a decision that I have regretted. There are numerous things to do and I knew I would not have a problem with that. I have returned to work part-time in the school system assisting a school social worker. But there are so many exciting things to do in life and retirement provides more choices, not necessarily more time.
Q: Please give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice you may wish to pass on to today's principals.
A: I believe administrative service to be a gift that can be cultivated and enhanced. An individual needs a combination of qualities, I feel, to be successful and I've named some of these previously. It has many intangible rewards and some tangible rewards. I personally do not perceive it as a boss position where you direct others to do that you desire, but a position where you can bring the talents of many people together for the purpose of meeting the needs of the most precious resource we have--our children. One must love children to be successful in school administration and you cannot hide the fact if you don't. The work is varied, some not so pleasant, but like most jobs there are always unpleasant areas. A principal has to be an enthusiastic individual and have an interest in the growth of others, not what's in it for himself. Back to Mr. Swanson, I think we have to be fair, firm, and friendly. Humility will go a long way, too.
Q: Despite our best efforts to be comprehensive in the questioning, there may be some areas that we have left out. What have we not asked you, that maybe you feel we should have?
A: Absolutely nothing. If I had seen these questions earlier, I probably wouldn't have agreed to this session.
Q:Thank you and this concludes the oral history interview of the principalship with Mr. Worth Hudson. Mr. Hudson, thank you.
A: Thank you.
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