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Q: I want to know if you would just begin by telling about your family background and childhood interests and education and when did you think about being a teacher and all those kinds of things.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Remember my childhood was a long time ago!
Q: Oh come on!
A: I'm from a large family, a family of thirteen, and I was number six in that group. Sometimes around the late 1930's I started in elementary school in a one-room school. Of course I was born in Franklin County in a tobacco growing area of the county. Came to the one room school, Mom sent me off to school at five years old, as she did most of us, because there was room in school for us, I suppose. I enjoyed the one-room school, there's so many things today that I still remember about the one-room school. The teacher, the books that we didn't have at home, even though there were just these little vinyl covered books, but they were just magic things that you could read and you could take home. I always liked school, and even before going to school and during school and after school hours, playing school was one of our major games. See, we didn't have many commercial toys--most of the things that we played with we made or created, like the dollhouse that we had or the stilts that we walked on, and then sitting on the steps at recess time in school, especially for the girls, the boys would be out doing something else, playing school was the major thing, being the teacher, calling out the multiplication facts, addition facts, the ABC's, and then when I went home, same thing, we would use that as a play activity. So those were probably some of the positives. Now after completing the one-room school, then of course the only high school for the black students in this county was at Rocky Mount and there were two buses. It was fortunate that I lived on the route of one of these buses, which, they were privately owned but they were the means of getting into school, into the Rocky Mount school, so therefore I was able to go to high school. Another fortunate incident in my life, because my family at that time really was not higher education oriented so a high school degree was probably as far as we looked towards education, but Virginia State College gave a valedictory scholarship each year. And I earned that scholarship and as a result of that, I was able to go to Virginia State College. Now when I got to college, we had not had all of the career orientation and I wasn't really bright about college so choosing a major, since my preparations had not begun until I earned the scholarship which was at graduation time, I chose Home Economics, I suppose, because I liked that teacher and enjoyed that class. So, Home Economics it was. However, that was a wonderful program to go in at that time because the director of that program believed in preparing the students as fully as she possibly could and that meant taking enough courses in a minor area to get certification for teaching and I'm talking in the late forties and into--well I graduated in 1950--and at that time twelve hours in any subject area certified you for teaching so that it sort of my early education.
Q: Would you talk about how you ended up being a principal? You always make it sound like it was by accident but I'm not sure that's exactly the case.
A: Well I never aspired to become a principal. I was a teacher. I had taught second grade when I first started teaching. After spending a couple of years out of teaching when my children were born, I came back into the schools and taught home economics. And during those years because the high school was small, you would be assigned a number of classes to teach. I ended up teaching social studies, English, science, Biology, Chemistry, on any particular year until finally I decided to go into science full time and I got my graduate education in science. I received a Master's degree in Science with majors in Biology and General Science. And that was, well it was in 1969 when I received that, but from the middle sixties on, I had taught only the science classes. I was very happy teaching, so I had never aspired nor worked toward getting certification or getting into administration in any manner, and it was a surprise to me when I was approached to become assistant principal in the elementary schools. Like everything else that's happened to me, I assumed there was some reason, maybe I had shown something. Maybe I had done a good job teaching, but there was a reason I suppose for being asked to go so I proceeded to get certification and started taking courses in elementary administration and supervision. Then, after five years as assistant principal, when the principal I was working with decided to do something else, I was approached to become principal at that school.
Q: How did you feel when that happened?
A: Surprised. Each time it was a great surprise. Fearful, because naturally I'm an introvert. I don't think I ever felt just intimidated but I've always believed that if you have a task to do, you get busy and just try to do the best job you can at it. And I guess that came from our rearing at home as well as the other experiences and I've just never believed that life was promised to be easy. You just tackle the difficult jobs and do the best you can. So I think it was that type of attitude that...I did what was asked of me.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education, and how you saw it evolve over the years?
A: My philosophy might be a little difficult to put in good academic terms.
Q: That's okay.
A: Well, first of all, I've always been such a realist. I hopefully see things as they are and try to approach them from there. First of all, I think education, I think, is an ongoing thing, it even begins before birth and continues until death. I don't suppose it goes on beyond that...
Q: At least we don't know about it!
A: Right! And when these little ones come to school, and I'll talk about little ones because all of my administrative work in my last years of working were with little children, but when these little ones come to school, they come already having developed some patterns and attitudes and habits. Hopefully they are positive ones, but then I think the school's mission is to take what they bring us and begin molding, changing, building, but whatever the need is, and our ultimate goal is to develop these young people into productive, happy, useful adults and citizens. And, of course, there again that's a building process that begins when they first, well, from birth, or before, and on through the schools, and we should be concerned about developing to the fullest every potential and every ability that these young folk possess that will take them into becoming good productive citizens. And at primary and elementary, we're concerned about the basic skills because that's where the building blocks are going to start and they have a long ways to build on what they get there. So that, is sort of generally, very general, but I think it's hard to just encapsulate education into such a specific thing.
Q: What kinds of things do you think teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: Move mountains! Leap tall buildings! Well really, the elementary teachers expect all things. I used to tell the teachers I worked with, a lot of times, that they have so many characteristics that are similar to the children they teach. And I guess it all comes under the caption of "leadership". But in that process, they want someone to, that will listen to them, number one. They want someone who will support them in what they are trying to do because after all the teacher is where the action is and the teacher's what's important. And I personally always felt that my main role was being a Teacher's Helper. that my mission was to be there to help teachers to do the job that they were trying to do and in that capacity I tried to do all things but there certainly are restraints as far as time goes. But then teachers, at the same time they want leadership, they also want a good team player. They want to be a part of things. All in all, they expect you to provide the materials, the environment, for the best learning situation possible. And you do what you can to get that done. That involves planning, coordinating, directing, and providing materials. And some of these things get beyond your realm but you do what you can. And then one thing that I think that's really important: they want the principal to be accessible. And that was probably one of the main circumstances that helped you to work out in a situation well is accessibility. Teachers want that; then of course parents want it, too. The community wants it. So those are some of the things that I found created a good working environment. Then of course, the teacher wants, if you just come to expectations, they expect the principal to be knowledgeable, to be up to date on trends and policies and procedures, especially policies that are coming down. They want fairness, understanding, and if you have concern for people, those things are not going to be difficult to come by.
Q: Do you think that what teachers want is also what makes a principal most effective, or do you think there are qualities that a principal needs to have to be effective that teachers may not identify as "what they want"?
A: Well I think, in my case, I never got away from being a teacher, or the feeling of being a teacher. So if you translate that into your actions, with your fellow workers, then it's going to come across mutually satisfying.
Q: You never experienced the administrative the administrative "amnesia" that usually happens when administrators make that transition? You know what I'm talking about.
A: It never happened to me.
Q: I'm so glad!
A: Something was missing and I suppose that that's all a part of my wanting to be in the background, never really wanting to be out front. I mean, personality--part of being an introvert. I'll help you, I'll do all I can for you, but I'd much rather you be out there in front.
Q: What aspects of your professional training do you think best prepared you for the principalship and which training experiences were least useful?
A: You know, I don't think I can specifically choose any particular thing because it's sort of a patchwork quilt of many many things. But as far as formal education, I think the habits and the impact that was made on me by the director of Home Economics in my undergraduate program. She was such a dynamic, yet practical, individual, and she did not accept anything from us but real practical reasoning. We could give her a wonderful academic answer that fitted the question asked from the textbook, but then her next question was "What you gonna do with that in the _______community?" So you didn't get by without being able to translate anything academic into reasoning. It's interesting...now that's 45 years ago, 50 years ago, that we were in school and my classmates that I see often--most of them ended up in administration or supervision--of course, we're all retired now...but last year I was at an affair and there were four of us there. Well, the thing that we always go back to is recounting all of those experiences with Ma Hunter. And we all realized that those were the things that made the greatest impact on our lives. Now, for instance in home economics, in those years you...a part of your job was to go out and visit in the homes and she always influenced us that when you go out to visit in these homes, they aren't going to want you there, they're not going to let you in unless you make yourself inviting. So when you get there, the first thing you do is you find something to brag on, you find something positive to say: "Those are pretty chickens in the yard, those are pretty flowers, that's a pretty baby" or what, but something inviting and then you will get invited in and then you will be able to carry forth with what you want to do. Well now, that wasn't just true there, and I think that's a characteristic that all of us kept and all of us remember, that is true in anything, whether it's dealing your parents, dealing with your teachers, dealing with the little students, the big students, whatever, but that has been something that has really just become part of me, and I find the same thing's true with my classmates that went through that process. 'Course there other tough areas and tough things that we went through with Ma--we called her "Ma" behind her back, of course in class we called her "Dr. Hunter"--but she really made it tough on us but then, when we went out of the classroom: "Well, that certainly was a nice thing you said." or "Well, that's a pretty dress you have on"--well, that's something positive and her thing was "I'm just looking out for my girls because nobody else is going to." But, she had a lot of impact on us, but then I remember, too, certain teachers, you know, through the years, and then there were certain principals that, each had his own, or her, his in my case, I don't think I worked under a female principal. But there were certain characteristics that I thought were admirable and worth picking up and using and remembering how to do from each of them.
Q: Can you give me some examples?
A: Well, whereas I think of the principal I worked with as assistant principal. His compassion for everyone--student, teacher, parent, whatever--his kindness, are characteristics that I thought were great. I can think of an earlier principal that I worked with, his confidence in his teachers. His attitude was "I know my teachers are going to do a good job whether I'm here or whether I'm elsewhere." And then the space he gave me to do it. Then I think of another principal, his strength! He was in charge and everybody knew it! And yet, it was one of the positives. And these were all people with different personalities and different strengths. But if you use a little bit of whatever fits your situation and of course you are a part of your experiences and all of those things would have had to be a part of me. So you use what fits the circumstance. I don't think you can mimic what someone else does, totally. You've got to be your own person, your own personality. But you certainly can pick up methods and procedures and ideas. You can't live in the world alone, but you still have to be able to control yours...your own self, anyway.
Q: What do you think about your work day? How did you spend your time and what kind of pressures did you face and what kind of hours did you keep as a principal?
A: People. Begin the day with people, I ended the day with people. When...well, the school day...I don't think schools have really changed, good instruction, for instance, is basically the same and a lot of other things, but certainly some conditions are much much much improved. I had anywhere from 500 to 700 students all during those years that I was principal. Some of the years I had part time help from an assistant principal and some of the years I didn't have anyone at all. We did not have a guidance counselor. I used to plead with the superintendent to, well, give me--I don't care whether it's an assistant principal, whether it's a guidance counselor--but someone that you can divide these duties with and have some help. That just really didn't happen during my tenure. After I left, of course, the enrollment is different and the number of personnel is different also but that's progress. But I began my day, when I got to school, I would get there before the buses each day. The secretary would be there and the custodian and then of course the bus duty teachers would come in. But many teachers finally learned that "If I go early enough, I can get in and out, I can talk to her, I can see her." And of course I always kept an open door policy for teachers and parents. Students too if they need it but then of course in an elementary setting they're generally there only sent to the office. Not necessarily for punishment. Many times for good things. Many times for messages or whatever. But the day was full and I never felt that I was a good time manager. But maybe there just wasn't enough time. But all of my paper work, checking lesson plans, general planning, reading the literature, opening the mail--all of that was beyond the school day. I always felt fortunate that I lived very close to the school, not five minutes away, as a matter of fact I could see the building well in the winter time so therefore I didn't carry materials home with me, I came back to the materials. I spent at least a couple of nights a week, because adult basic was in the class in the school at night from Tuesdays to Thursdays. Those were my regular working hours and on weekends most Sunday evenings I was there. But it made me feel good to have spent that time going through the mail, going through the paperwork, lesson plans signed and desk clean on Monday morning. But that was about it for the clean desk time. Monday morning--clean desk.
Q: And then it was down hill from there?
A: Down hill from there. Because at the same time with that number of students, and especially with the advent of special education classes and all of the requirements there as far as the meetings and the IEP's to be signed and of course you must sit in on those meetings and you need to sit in on those meetings. But the school day was just a full day. Full days are great days, though, if you can compensate in some manner for what you weren't able to do during the day.
Q: What were the biggest headaches or concerns that you faced as a principal?
A: You know it's hard for me to just pick out certain things and say "Those were big problems, those were big headaches" because I guess the attitude I had was "If there are no problems, there is no need for you. What's the reason for your being?" So you accept them, you tackle them, you use every resource you can and come up with a resolution hopefully that's good. But I think the things that frustrated me most with all the else I had to do was building maintenance.
Q: It wasn't your thing?!
A: No. Well it probably would've been but I always felt "Now, this is not the thing that's most important. This ought to be taken care of in some other manner." And during those years, the school I was in as well as all the rest of them in the county, had these old dirty broken-down furnaces, and even at best the heat was uneven, someone was roasting and someone was cold.
Q: It still is. Even with all their computer technology, it's still like that.
A: Oh when I go in those clean boiler rooms and they have painted them and put storage...you mean it still is that way?
Q: Oh it still is...
A: Well I just look and think "Oh what a dream this would be!" And then, for a couple of years I did not have really good custodial, dependable custodial help. And now that was just really really frustrating. I have shoveled coal, I have stoked them...
Q: But that wasn't your job.
A: Well I thought it was my job to be sure it was done. It was my responsibility to make sure it was done and so did teachers, when they sent their little notes up "It's cold in my room!" But I really feel even today that it should not be an instructional supervisor...if the principal is the instructional leader, then that should be somebody else's responsibility.
Q: To stoke the coals.
A: To stoke the coals and see that the building is comfortable and, well, clean, the cleanliness, but...I'm on the comprehensive review team and it's still true: schools that have a good custodian are really really really fortunate. And when I did get good custodial help, that was a tremendous relief. You know, you can say "well what does that have to do with instruction?" ...It had much to do with instruction because it relieved me to be able to devote my time to something else. But, ah, that probably was one of my biggest frustrations and, oh, and snow removal. I think this was one of my worst night's ever. The first year that I became principal we had a big snow, we were probably out of school for about a week. I thought that maintenance cleaned the parking lots. I knew my parking lot was still covered, snow had not been removed, and we had a principal's meeting and the superintendent said, "well we're planning to open school tomorrow and I hope all of you have your parking lots clean." I said, "Well they haven't gotten to mine yet." I found out THEY DON'T DO IT! YOU have to do it! Well I left that meeting, I mean I was totally stressed out and I could not find anyone to clean my parking lot. My husband went over with the little tractor and blade that we had and we pushed a little path. But I did not sleep at all that night. But you know, the Lord looked after me or somebody--it snowed again!
Q: And school didn't open!
A: And school did not open the next morning...From that day forth I had a standing contract and agreement with one of the local snow removal people but it was our responsibility. Now that doesn't happen anymore. The school board maintenance people take care of it. But those were things that, oh the wrath of parents, I mean the total wrath comes down on you when you come in, teachers, everybody else, and you can't get in the parking lot. Well, those things, too, pass. Then generally the thing that I probably had more difficulty with than anything else was the placement of pupils. I spent lots of time in the summer, I went over every student's folder. I went over all the test scores, 'course we had already done that before school started, with each teacher, I always went over all the test scores with each teacher. I got from each teacher at the end of school recommendations for placement of students such as, you know, what groups together and...separations, and even, to some extent, it wasn't a thing that was encouraged, naming another teacher, but see because I had anywhere from five to seven classes at each grade level, and I did not accept parent requests.
Q: Why not?
A: I found, well you get no balance. And first of all, the requests tend to go in fashion.
Q: Somebody's popular...
A: Popular person and I finally, and I'm not saying this was the best thing, I thought it was, and I still think it was best for our situation, I'm not sure if parents can make requests now, but I finally was able to get that to an absolute: If you request a teacher, you do not get that teacher.
Q: Well that was good because then they stopped requesting.
A: Oh it was interesting. One year, one parent, let's see there were six third grade teachers, this was well understood be now "if you request a teacher, you will not get the teacher". Now that was one thing that I held to. And it wasn't just being mean or tough, it was being fair. Many parents initially would just call in, write a letter, leave a message with the secretary, whatnot, requesting a teacher. I actually have made a switch to make sure those requests did not hold because it's a matter of being credible. Because first thing when school starts this same parent "well you know I requested Jane Doe and I got her."
A: "All I did was just call in and tell them and I got her." So I tried to stay as credible as possible. But --I almost forgot what you asked me, I rambled--
Q: You were talking about not letting, not accepting requests from parents because it's difficult...
A: Oh I was going to tell about this interesting...I had six third grade teachers and this particular parent, now I had always said "I will accept anything that will help me place a child." And many parents came over in the summertime and talked with me and we, you know, went over circumstances, but just don't name a teacher to me. So this parent called in and named five teachers she did not want...see I was accepting this request NOT to have a teacher because I said "It's unfair to your child and it's unfair to the teacher for the child to be..."
Q: If you don't want...right, right.
A: "in the teacher's room that you don't want" I didn't worry about, you know, I left the parent out, but it's unfair to the child and it's unfair to the teacher. And it was. So I was accepting NOTS with reason. But not when, out of six teachers, she named five!
Q: That you don't want!
A: That you don't want! So that was really outsmarting...that was working the system.
Q: That was talented.
A: Right! That was skillful. But those were the most difficult situations and then, in the fall, or in August, when we sent the notice home, I would not let out the student assignments until the teacher had them, I thought it was the classroom teacher should be the first person to have those student assignments so when teachers came back from the first work day, we had the cards ready for the placements to be sent home that day. Well then there again, that's one of the worst days of my life.
Q: Everybody's upset.
A: Yeah. When you get all these calls. But, except for one instance, ...I certainly wouldn't identify...we had wonderful resolutions to all of them. There was one instance when I moved a child from a placement, and only one. I knew it wasn't going to work. It was going to destroy the teacher. The parents were going to destroy the teacher. And it wasn't going to be best for the child, naturally it's not going to be best for the child if the parents don't want them there, so we came up with a way to resolve that and still keep our credibility, and remove the child and place the child in another classroom, and it worked out well. Then the next times that I found, well, they weren't... I didn't dread these so much but I found these to be interesting. Now the first, when school first started, the day that those placements went home, mothers, those were generally mothers, if we mailed, I think we...we always mailed report cards I suppose, seems to me at one time we sent them home, but at any rate, about two days after school was out, you would see the daddies coming and walk these report cards back.
Q: Oh gosh.
A: Now see all during the year, the mothers have been, they had discussed, you know, we believed in conferences, and no child was ever retained without having had a conference with the parent. But when these cards got home, and it wasn't massive, but it was enough to strike you that this is when daddies come and give this last try. But it was all interesting.
Q: What's the toughest decision you ever had to make?
A: As I said, I suppose, I can't think of the, just a specific really tough decision but I think the placement of students certainly I took to be some of the toughest and most important and most challenging decisions.
Q: Did you ever fire anybody?
A: No I didn't. I believed that my responsibility was to help teachers, to make them more efficient, and I got good responses. I fired custodians.
Q: But not teachers.
A: Not a teacher.
Q: Did you ever think about it?
A: I've talked to teachers about, in the process of, you know, of talking over problems, about the possibility of finding something else. I only recall one teacher who resigned because she didn't like working with me. And of course, there again, that took care of the situation all by itself. It was resolved because there were so many conferences and the differences that we had about what...and that was a special ed. teacher, too, which a number of times we didn't see eye to eye. That's why I found that it was almost necessary that I sit in on IEP's, especially when we had these resource special ed. teachers, we had resource LD, resource ED, and, this is when I was there, and then we had an EMR, well, we were receiving ED and LD students from all over the county at that level, and I found often times if I did not sit in on the conference when the IEP was written then the special Ed teacher would just literally write herself out of the program and write everybody else in. And without too much effort in, that was really the problem this teacher and I were having together and, before realizing that that was being done so totally we had to rewrite some IEP's and do some.....(Side A ends)
Q: Well you were saying you'd never had a grievance.
A: Right. I've never had a grievance brought against me. So those came out fortunate.
Q: Now, tell me again, you had you had five hundred to seven hundred students...
Q: And it was K-3 or K-5?
A: It was K-3. This school's always K-3. But, no, that's wrong, it was K-4, we had part of the fourth grade. And then after the middle school, the first middle school was built, then all of the fourth grade left and we became totally K-3. And, that's how it remained during my tenure and that was until 1987 in school.
Q: When you were principal, what were the primary expectations put on you by the school board, by the superintendent, by the community? What did they expect?
A: I always thought that they expected an efficient and effective operation of that school. I must say that I always had good support from the central office and I suppose that translated coming via the school board. I always felt that what I was there for was to make sure that the educational processes were going forth well with excellence and the general operation. That's why I tried to do the best I could with that furnace! To make sure that everything was operating well.
Q: Now you perceive yourself as being very supported and yet, you never got an assistant principal. Was that part of the support you would have liked? Or...
A: Well see, that's it. Yes. Now, let's, I want to be clear, I don't recall what years but some of those years I had part-time, half-time, assistant principal. Well, it was a matter of funding and none of the other elementary schools but, the partner, the school that we fed, had any assistants. But it was difficult to make any comparisons. I used to often wonder how wonderful it would be to place one of the less than two hundred enrollment schools on the site that mine was. That must've been heaven. To have a small school like that where you could interact with the teachers all you want and get into the classrooms and just stay there and do those things, It must've been wonderful. But with the parents, know each student by name, the community, but, that...that's an interesting question. I do believe that they thought that the school was being taken care of, but there certainly could have been, you know, with time, you certainly could have done more things. Now the effectiveness of it I don't know, but there were certainly things I wish I could have done more.
Q: Such as?
A: More time in the classrooms. Probably initiate some additional aside programs, you know, involving community and activity and so forth.
Q: Do you think the expectations of principals are different now or do you think they're pretty much the same, do you think?
A: I think they're basically the same, probably will always be. However I think the dictates of society create differences or different things or different ways of addressing certain things. As I understand it, there are more things that they have to include in the curriculum, or include in the day, now, because of society's problems. But I think, as far as the overall goal, it's basically the same and will be: the efficient and effective operation of the school. And that includes the parents and the community.
Q: A great deal of attention's been given to the topic of personal leadership. Lately, you see it everywhere; educational leadership programs and...I wondered if you'd talk about your approach to leadership and some techniques which worked for you and maybe a time when it didn't work.
A: Well my approach was with the thought always that the teacher is the one who's getting the job done, and it's my mission to help the classroom teacher continue or, or to get excellence and the desired achievements in her classroom. And of course to that end, there are a lot of approaches. I think the thing that worked best for me was my interaction with the teachers. Probably helped me a lot, the fact that I had been assistant principal in the same school and during that time I used to spend a lot of time in the classrooms. I even became a part of one of the much much much overloaded classrooms or grade levels, I think it was the third grade, became a part of the team, whereby on a certain day during the week I would have certain groups of students at different times of the day to make for smaller instruction at that time. During that time I was able to have the time to actually relieve teachers and give them some planning time if they needed it or some conference time so...there were several different plans of working in the classroom and working with the teachers that I had done on different years when I was assistant principal so that in itself helped me from the beginning. First of all, I did not have to prove to my staff where my interest was. It had already...
Q: They knew.
A: They knew. So for that reason, I always had wonderful cooperation from the teachers. We did lots of planning together. The structure was generally grade level meetings or grade level groups. Then, as far as the overall program, this was in the early years, then the chairs of those grade level groups became the school committee or the principal's committee. Now in later years with the new superintendent, and we were on very county-wide or division-wide plans, that became the comprehensive school improvement committee. But early on when we were doing our own site things, we called it our school committee. Then of course we did a lot of committee work, we would invite the PTO organizers and interested people in to help us at that stage. Generally it was the collaborative working together with teachers that really made the difference. Now that also was a part of the day because teachers would come with an individual student problem, and not just discipline...[clock begins chiming]
Q: So they would come with a problem...
A: Right and expect to get my attention, for me to be accessible, that we could discuss it, that we could come up with the best solutions or that we could come up with something to try. And that's what I tried to be available, as much as I could, for, and they always felt comfortable coming and doing that. Sometimes we planned an approach to a lesson, we planned approaches to try to get the attention of students when we had not been able to do that. It didn't always work but we kept trying and going over and over, and then there again if it didn't work, the teacher was back again so those were, you know, you don't give up, you don't turn them away. Just as the teacher doesn't turn the student away, I mean, I just don't think the principal...I think the principal should be available and not turn the teacher away. One thing I always felt that I had the advantage in visiting classrooms and getting the opportunity to get in all the classrooms, then you have the advantage of being able to learn from all of them. Then you may be able to share that knowledge a little bit when you have these individual conferences or work sessions with teachers. I just remember sitting there in the office and I had an extra desk, and of course my office wasn't very, it wasn't a very attractive office, then, because it was small and it was jammed up and it was busy, but I had an extra table there that we would sit but I just remember sitting there a number of times with teachers or a teacher and we would be trying to come up with a plan that was workable to improvement either in a certain lesson or with a student.
Q: How did you evaluate teachers and how did you feel about that process?
A: Early on, before the Division had a formal process, my main emphasis was on interactive visits to the classroom, and when I say interactive visits to the classroom, whether they were planned, scheduled, or pop calls, was getting in there and working with the group of students. For instance, if the teacher was doing a math lesson, after she had done her directions and her instruction, and the students were doing practice work or individual work, that I would get with a group and I would work with that group and then, well, see those, that's where the wonders are, when the little fellow looks up and the light came on. But that I liked doing. I liked being visible, and this was a big building.
Q: So you had to be out and about.
A: Right. Which meant I never used the intercom. I delivered messages. I liked pop calls and I personally felt that that was my best evaluation process. Now when the Division came up with the very formal planned one I had problems with it. I had problems with my acceptance of it. Because the focus in that plan was on the teacher only. To go in the classroom and script tape only what the teacher said and focus only on what the teacher is doing, I had difficulty with it. My philosophy tells me that I'm concerned about what the students are doing. Fortunately, I soon came out. I didn't have to work with that for very long. And maybe I would, maybe like everything else, I would have found the...a good comfortable way to work with that. I'm not saying that that wasn't good or that it's a bad procedure but I personally had some difficulty with it.
Q: In your opinion, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools and what features characterize less successful schools?
A: Well, pupil achievement and involvement always I guess would have to be number one and that involves more than just test scores even though I think that we tend to want to assess schools by test scores. But that should involve more. However you can't avoid the test scores. If you go into a school that is attractive and clean and inviting, and inviting to me is seeing student work in the corridors, when you go in the building, being able to see student work. I think it's the most interesting thing, reading what little children have written. Parent involvement would be a good criteria for certainly assessing schools because parent involvement is certainly going to enhance the processes of getting done what the school wants to do. Is there evidence of collaborative planning among the staff and between staff members, that is at grade level or intergrades, I think, I've always believed that all children should have the same opportunities when they come to school. For instance, even like extra activities, field trips and so forth, some teachers are more excited about those, some teachers have more ideas about those, some teachers have more access to places they can go. I don't think twenty first graders out of a hundred should have any advantages over the other. If a field trip is something that is going to be beneficial for first graders, then I think all first graders go. I mean, within a school plan. Then if there's something else that is important that all second graders...but it used to be, before we made these changes, that, for instance, science museum, some children probably went two or three times and others none. So we came up with a plan that each grade level would decide what field trips they would like to take. Then we got together across grade levels and decided which ones would be most appropriate for kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade and so forth. And that worked well for us.
Q: So let me rephrase. Effective schools have a lot of things going on and a lot of people involved with that process?
A: Right. Right. And a lot of those things are obvious, and of course some are not just obvious to walk in the school, when you just walk in a building, some of those things are not going to be obvious, what's going on.
Q: Such as...?
A: Well, many times there's community support. Maybe you can't see just exactly how strong that is nor how weak it is, or the reverse, just by walking into the building. But if you pay close attention and you study the situation, then these things become evident. Or staff morale. You may not see that, you may not be able to determine what that is, you know, as a visitor in the building. If you work there very long, you would.
Q: Given the complexity of the role of school administrator, if there were three things you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be and why?
A: Educational administration is the key and I go back again and I would take the building (laugh)...I would take the responsibilities of general maintenance and custodial from that instructional leader. I don't where I'd put it in the school...
Q: Somebody else would have it!
A: Yeah. Well, then I go back again, if the school was small enough, like the two hundred enrollment elementary school, maybe that can well be taken care of by one individual. But school size is important. And of course, there again, school size for the principal or the administrator and that translates down to class sizes for teachers. I think personnel is the most important thing in schools. I know today, and see I'm not familiar with and I can't make comparisons because I'm getting obsolete in this technology in this technology-oriented world or schools but I still think the teacher is going to be the most important person there and instead of putting all the money on materials and whatnot, if we can keep class sizes small so that each child can get the benefits from that teacher having a small class size, I think that's what's going to make the difference.
Q: When you say "small class size"...?
A: I think at the primary level any time that you get above twenty, each one child multiplies like five. So under twenty I think makes a difference. It's interesting the school that my, well, in that division, that my son's children go to, my grandchildren, they don't have, it's an elementary school, and they don't have a lot of technology. I was appalled at what I consider a rich area that they didn't have all these computers and whatnot. The only computers they have, the PTO or PTA has been trying to buy. But they do have a teacher assistant in each classroom and those classrooms still don't have...generally they run like twenty to twenty-five students. And I'm not sure if that may not be the best approach. It's a matter of where the Division puts its emphasis. That paraprofessional, that other adult in that classroom, especially in kindergarten and first grade, can just make so much difference.
Q: Yeah, I think so, too.
A: Oh, going back to change, and I don't know how this is working now, but I personally had difficulties coordinating my time spent with special ed. demands and the other needs and demands of the school. I don't know what's been done with that, if there's any change or not, but perhaps it is.
Q: I don't know. But it sounds like you think there ought to be if there hasn't been.
A: Well yes, in certain school situations where you had populations that demanded so much time from one administrator. Maybe the solution is a second administrator or whatnot. But that was one of the difficulties that I had, was time.
Q: Do you think that the curriculum is a lot more complex than when you were principal, from what you can tell?
A: You know, I really can't make a good honest comparison there because I've been away from the classrooms seven, eight years. Basic skills, whether it's now or then, I think are, should be the underlying foundation of the curriculum. And I realize that we've gone into technology, we use computers a lot and, goodness knows how many other materials that weren't available and weren't around when I was there plus more funds are available now, but I can't really make a comparison there, or wouldn't like to try.
Q: That's fair. Just--I'm just looking at the time--just in conclusion, in looking back on your career as a principal, what do you feel best about?
A: I feel best about my rapport and relationship with parents, teachers, students, well even the "higher ups", (laugh) the central office. Because I think that's...I think that's necessary to have that in order to achieve what you desire. And I've many times felt very fortunate that I had the opportunity to work with people in that type relationship. Didn't get everything I wanted.
Q: I don't think anybody ever does. What would you do differently if you had to do it all over?
A: I'm not sure I would do anything different. I would...I would...Because if I were going in all over, I would be searching for, you know, the best ways of getting things done. I would be utilizing all the resources, which would be different today. But I can't really go back and think "well, you know, I wish I had done it this way". I wish many times I had gotten better results.
Q: But you believe that the process that you engaged in was the best process?
A: I think so. I've been satisfied with it. Satisfied. Happy to leave with that good feeling.
Q: What advice would you have for today's principals?
A: Well, attitude, I suppose, to keep from becoming disappointed that you're there really, you're just a good helper. (laugh)
Q: To remember that?
A: Right. Just remember you're just a good helper. If you don't become self centered, you can eliminate so many disappointments. I can recall some principals would get so upset if a parent went to the school board office for something that they had addressed already. And that happened to me a number of times. The person taking the issue at the central office would call and would say "Nadine, so and so is here and thus and so happened and so on and on and on" and I would say "Yeah" and came to me and we did thus and so and this happened and generally the superintendent would say "Well why did they come down here?" and I would say "Because people do not feel that they have done a problem justice until they have been to the top, and you are IT." And you know, and I believe that, so it was never offensive to me. It, you know, it was just what people do. And, you don't get offended by it. You don't think that they're belittling you. You don't take things personally. That was the number one thing that I worked on myself for when I was asked to become principal. It was during an era that I felt there would be a lot of resentment toward me and maybe nasty things, I had been warned that people could be nasty. I decided no one was going to ever insult me personally because I would not hear it. And you know they didn't. Now I don't what they said! (laugh) But they didn't attack me because I didn't hear it!
Q: I think that's a wonderful approach. Were you the first black principal in Rocky Mount?
A: No, one other. Am I calling names? I've tried to avoid calling names.
Q: You've done a wonderful job with that but this is history so you can use names here.
A: Rexford Hopkins.
A: Since integration, you're talking about?
A: Right. Rexford Hopkins was. And, then at the time I became principal, it was only one female principal.
Q: I was wondering about that.
A: And she retired a couple of years afterwards, and it was just really...I really really missed her.
Q: It was just you and the guys.
A: It was just the guys and me and...oh well! (laugh)
A: So therefore I was somewhat, by my choice, I was somewhat a loner to some degree. I never felt put out or, you know, left out, or insulted. But when it came to, you know, the little meetings or sessions or whatnot, the guys, you know, were together, and I'd do my thing. And I was so happy when...because Ann [Tyler] was the next female principal.
Q: Uh huh. When you became principal, you inherited a beaurocratic system I assume.
A: Ah...the principal...I would not say he was that beaurocratic. You know, and that's an interesting thing, that I think there's a real difference between a beaurocrat and a professional. The bureaucrat follows the rules. And the professional dares to ...
A: Interpret the rules and also sometimes bend the rules to fit the situation for the best cause. The principal that I followed was, I suppose, middle of the road, middle of the line. Some beaurocrat and much much professional. But that's what disturbed him so. That's what bothered him so, is when he wasn't following the rules, that he believed he had to follow the rules. I'm...there again it's a good thing I'm gone but this is one of the...I'm an introvert but I guess I have a stubborn streak, too...but I truly believed that it was my responsibility to oversee and to take care of the school I was in. I did not believe that personnel in the central office could solve my problems. Now, I wanted their support. I wanted advice, from anybody you can get at times and help, but I felt that many of their solutions would not be a solution that I would make so as a result I did not call down and ask for solutions because I felt like if you give, if you tell me what to do, and after all, you're my superior, if you tell me what to do and I don't do it...
Q: Then you're in trouble!
A: Right. And if it backfires, I don't have any recourse. But if I use my best judgment and I do it, if there is a problem later, then you may help me to solve it.
Q: That's a great approach. Do you think that had to do...Do you think that change in approach, or the different ways that you managed things, had to do with your being Nadine Hawkins or had to do with your being a woman or...What do you think the primary factor is?
A: Well I think it was me. That was me. However I had some of the younger male principals in my last years to believe that I did things my way because I felt secure enough, because I was old, ready to retire (laugh)...
Q: Oh so age brought power!
A: And one principal even said "And you can do it because you belong to the NAACP." I said "Well you can join the NAACP!" But ...that's why I was saying there on the end, what advice I would give to principals...Young principals were feeling so insecure. And afraid to make decisions. And I really just felt, and things might have changed, I mean maybe you aren't site responsible anymore, I don't know.
Q: Oh I think so.
A: But if you can't make decisions and you can't solve problems, you can't take these issues and come to some resolution and hopefully agreeable ones with everybody--and that doesn't mean that you aren't going to need some help, that everything's...everything's not gonna to work out--but if you don't dare to do it, I really just don't see your purpose.
Q: Well that seems a very good place to end. What do you think?
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