Today is June 10, 1997. We are located in the Old Post Office in Salem, Va. This is an interview with Dr. Walter Hunt, who is a retired principal from Andrew Lewis High School.
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Q: Thank you for being with us today, Dr. Hunt.
A: Good to be here.
Q: Would you begin telling us something about your family background, your childhood interests and anything you would like to share in that regard?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, let's see - I had 7 sisters and 2 brothers. I grew up on a tobacco farm in Franklin County. My father was a tenant farmer on his uncle's farm until we bought the farm, later on. I went to school at Songtag Elementary School, then at Rocky Mount High School. Family Characteristics: Large family, hard working family, got along pretty well.
Q: That's interesting. Being from a large family as I am, was education a real priority?
A: Not really. As a matter of fact, I was the first one in the family to graduate from college. I had sisters to graduate from high school but I was the first one to graduate from college. And I think my father would have been perfectly happy for me to have worked on the farm. But I wouldn't have been happy.
Q: Well, talk about your college education. Where did you to go college and what was your major?
A: I attended William and Mary and majored in mathematics. I graduated in 3 years. I went 3 years and 2 summers. I graduated in 3 years from 1947-1950. It was a fantastic experience for me after I adjusted to being away from home, like everybody, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Q: How did you enter the teaching profession?
A: Well, actually I didn't know I wanted to be a teacher. When I was a junior in college, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I had thought I might want to work in the mathematics field in Hampton at NASA. I decided to be a teacher my junior year and student taught at Williamsburg - student taught at Matthew Waylee High School in Williamsburg. It was a high school then; it is not a high school now. I taught with George Pitts, he was very good. I think probably the reason I wanted to teach math was that one of my favorite people and one of the best teachers I ever had was a math teacher at William and Mary. That's the reason I majored in math. She was so good.
Q: How may years did you teach after that?
A: I taught 8 years - I started teaching my first year in Amelia County, which is about 40-60 miles north of Richmond. Then my second year, I taught at Franklin County High School (back home). Then I went back to work on my Master's Degree at William and Mary in 1956 and found that classes were on weekends or night time, so I decided I would teach again. This was late in September, really, when I decided that. Now that's how the teacher shortage was back then. So in 1956, I taught for one year at New Kent High School.
Q: How did you transition into administration? Obviously, your master's was in math!
A: I got my Master's in School Administration. As preparation for being a principal, I came back to Franklin County for one year. And then one weekend, Orin Counts, principal at Fieldale - Collinsville High School, came by to see me in Franklin County. He said, he was recently employed as principal in Hampton, VA and asked if I would be interested in being an assistant principal. I said, "yes" and told him it would take me about 30 minutes to get packed. I was assistant principal there for 2 years. After he left, I was principal for 4 years until 1964. Orin Counts came to Roanoke County as director of instruction and I became principal of Andrew Lewis High School in 1964.
Q: Would you classify Mr. Counts as your mentor?
A: Actually, the first time I didn't know him that well, but I got to know him. He was a good man, good principal and teacher. I thought he was a good educator. What prompted him to stop and visit with me in Franklin County, I never have known that. I was in Franklin and he was in Fieldale, in Henry County. I was assistant basketball coach and we had athletic competitions. I barely knew him. I think mainly my record. I'm not sure.
Q: That's interesting. Well, you certainly went to Andrew Lewis at a time when things were exciting - in the 60's. What was it like?
A: Actually, I consider the golden age of education - the 50's and early 60's. Education was superb. In my view the best I ever saw was in the 50's and early 60's. The students were well disciplined, receptive and you had almost 100% parental support in whatever program we decided was best. It was not until probably the late 60's that the drug scene hit the schools and things changed a little bit. But actually, the 50's and 60's were the golden age of education.
Q: Well, talk about the drug scene? You were at Andrew Lewis how many years?
A: Until 1970. I was there six years. I was there during the Vietnam War and I was taken to federal court for not allowing a student to wear a black arm band. The judge said, "Well, Mr. Hunt you cannot do that. I would have done the same "damn" thing you did but you cannot do it". Really, what peeved me over this student is he had no interest whatsoever in the Vietnam War. He was just a "devil". And at that time we usually tried to put "devils" in their place. But he was allowed to wear his armband.
Q: What about the dress code?
A: Dress code - Girls were not allowed to wear pants and not allowed to wear short skirts. Boys had to wear shirts inside their pants. Boys had to wear long pants. That was about it.
Q: What about hair?
A: In the 60's the "long hair, barefoot" fad hit us. We did not allow students to wear hair long (the boys) and obviously not come to school barefoot. All the time I was principal we could hold to the dress code. You could tell people were testing it and trying it; and it would not hold up forever.
Q: Do you see outcomes of that today in education?
A: Actually, I still believe that you must have a disciplined environment before you can have education and that would be one big criticism I have of public education today. But most everybody knew that what we were doing, we thought was good for them and they accepted it as being good for them.
Q: Did you see any differences in the area or the environment like in Salem, Roanoke County or Hampton?
A: No, not really, I was in New Kent, Franklin County, Hampton, and Roanoke County. All of them were really good educational environments then. I know when I first went to Hampton it was a new junior high school organization and we got students from all over the city. They were not a cohesive unit at first but it was very good.
Q: You have had some very interesting experiences.
A: Yes, we had the Fort Monroe people, Langley people, military people. Fort Monroe was the 2nd Continental army command at that time. So you had master sergeants driving students to school on school buses. I remember distinctly when I disciplined one Fort Monroe student. He had written on the bathroom wall. He had written his name. No, he had not written his name, but names, and I discovered who he was. I required him to stay after school and buy paint and paint the restroom. And he did it. I have a great respect for the military - I remember one of the officers of Fort Monroe didn't exactly agree with what we were doing and the officer of Fort Monroe asked for the name of my superintendent. I said, "yes" and I asked for the name of his commanding officer. He gave me the name of the three star general. I called the three star general and he said, "If that guy doesn't shape up now, I'll ship him out next week." So they were very public relations conscious, very receptive to education, and they were some of the best students we had.
Q: Seems like they acted very expeditiously too?
A: Well, they really did.
Q: They took action.
A: If they don't shape up, then they will ship them out. Just like that.
Q: You talked about your math professor at William and Mary being a person who inspired you to enter teaching. Who inspired you to enter the principalship or to obtain one?
A: First, I want to say something about the math. I want to mention her name - Its Miss Conkins. Miss Conkins is no longer alive. Fantastic lady, excellent math teacher and anything she did as far as I was concerned I considered right. As far as the principalship - I don't know . I wanted to experience more and different kinds of things rather than being in the classroom all the time. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the classroom all the time that I was there. I really had some good students, but I wanted to experience different kinds of things in education and also I was looking forward to advancement.
Q: Being personal for a minute, how did your father look at that?
A: Actually, my father had very little to do with my education and what I was doing. It was more my mother.
Q: I was going to say he was very proud of you, though.
A: Yes, but he would have been perfectly proud of me working on the farm. My mother said in effect, "If he wants to go to school - he goes to school".
Q: Mothers really rule the house. Tell us about your philosophy of education? You alluded to it in some things like the dress code and that you believe the disciplined environment is essential to a good school. Really, in a nut shell, what is your philosophy of education?
A: Really, I think in order to have a successful educational experience, that it must be done in a disciplined environment. I believe that every student can learn unless they are severely mentally retarded and they can learn something. But, we didn't have them in the schools then. Every student can learn and wants too. I felt then and I don't think I have changed my mind much since that era, that students like the discipline. Because there were limits on things they could do. Not all were serious about education but all got a pretty good education. They responded to it and their parents responded to it very well. Going back to Hampton, I can never remember a single occasion in Hampton that you didn't get parental support as long as you were doing something that you and the parents perceived as good for the student.
Q: That's probably true in Andrew Lewis experiences, too.
A: Yes, all the way through. The parents were more - I wouldn't say more school-oriented but they were much more willing to let the school system educate their kids. They believed, truly believed, that schools know what they are doing and if this is what should be done with my son or daughter - do it!
Q: Do you think this is the way it is now?
A: No! I don't think that is the way it is now.
Q: And that is a big difference, isn't it?
A: It's a big difference and I suppose parents are a little better educated than they were then. But they are much more difficult than they were then and frequently think they know more about what the students should learn than the school does.
Q: Think about something. The parents that we're talking about now are the parents you had as a principal.
A: Well, yes and no. Actually the 60's even the generation of students had students in school. But the parents of the students in 50's and 60's - I call my students at Andrew Lewis. We, as I said, were a disciplined school and I have disciplined more than one of them and I have had boys - mainly boys come back and say, "I'm appreciative of the discipline that I got. I didn't think at the time it was so good but it was exactly what I needed." I have yet to have one student come back and tell me that they were mistreated. That was significant.
Q: What did you do to establish such an atmosphere or climate?
A: Well, actually I think you have to fix in your own mind that the most important thing that happens in that school happens in the classroom. That you must have a good teacher in the classroom and keep students in the classroom. I believe in student activities- don't misunderstand me (they are very good), but the most important thing that is going to happen in the school will happen in the classroom and if it doesn't happen there, it isn't going to happen. So if you are going to be a successful principal, the teachers are going to have to be successful. The way to have successful teachers is for a principal and teachers to agree on what should be done and then they support each other 100%.
Q: Would you describe your expectations of your teachers as being very high?
A: Yes, I would. As a matter of a fact, I have had discussions with teachers. For example, the first day I was at Andrew Lewis, the first day with teachers, I made a master schedule and we presented it at a faculty meeting and talked it over. One teacher said, "I'm not going to teach that schedule". I said, "Well fine, you go across the street and tell Mr. Jennings and we'll find someone else to do it." And that was the end of that. She was gone and I had another teacher. So really, a principal did have some control in the school also. And a teacher could not say, " I'm not going to do that".
Q: That really says something about leadership there because apparently the system's central administration - they were giving the principals more power.
Q: Is that essential today?
A: Well, I'm not sure today but I know about Dr. Herman Horn, who was superintendent, when I came to Andrew Lewis. He gave the principals a great deal of power and supported them 100% and expected a great deal from the schools. But he expected you to do it and the teachers to do it. He had other things to do. And we pretty much did it. But I found you support teachers and backup what you say. I cannot recall very many incidents in all the time that I was principal that a teacher was wrong in what they were doing.
Q: That says a lot for your faculty.
A: Well, yes. I'm not saying that they were better than the teachers today. Educationally speaking, they weren't. But I will say - what they did - they did what they thought best for the students and usually, almost 100%, they got the backing of the principals in what they did - 100%. And I'm not sure that you can do that today.
Q: I'm not either. What advise would you give someone about going into administration?
A: Well, I'm not sure. Ever since I have been out of the school system - retired as a superintendent- not as a principal. Ever since I'm been out of education - I have been hoping that the pendulum would swing back to the middle rather than being, so called, to the left. When you have too much student control, too much parental control and I think it is too much parental control. I like to have parents involved in the school, but they need to be directed in what the school is all about. They just don't go out on an tangent about what they want to do. So I was hoping that the pendulum would swing back to the middle sometime.
Q: I think it will have to if the school system will survive.You mentioned being superintendent. Talk about parents - if a parent called the superintendent's office and I'm sure they did when you were superintendent. How did you deal with that? Did you send it back to the schools or did you deal with it?. Or, did it have a different focus when you changed roles?
A: Well, you might be amazed. When I was superintendent of the City of Salem Schools, you wouldn't believe how few calls I got from parents in the way of complaining about what was going on in the schools. I can't think of a legitimate complaint that a parent had. Once, I was going to Salem High School and all the buses had gone and 2 boys were walking home - fighting. I went over and separated them and took them back to the principal. I think one parent asked why I was doing it. "I happen to be the superintendent is the reason I'm doing it". After that, there were no other complaints. I think she was concerned that someone was walking down the street - in fear. I'm not sure, but there were very few complaints - good environment, good location for a student to grow up in, good parental support.
Q: What do you think about teacher grievances? Did you have any of those in any of your roles? I know you left your principalship and became a director of instruction.
A: I became director of instruction, assistant superintendent of business, assistant superintendent of instruction, then a superintendent. Well, if a teacher had a grievance when you were principal - they came to you. I remember distinctly when we evaluated teachers. This was in Hampton. The music teacher thought my evaluation of her was too low - even though it was a very good evaluation. So she came in and cried awhile and I tried to explain to her, "This was a superb evaluation". She was hurt when she saw the evaluation. But if they had a complaint, they came to you. They didn't go anywhere else. Even if you were a bad principal, usually you could settle a complaint. I had a teacher who had her classroom and didn't want anyone else in her room. I had to put another class in her room. It took her about a year to get over that.
Q: What was the involvement of VEA at that time and how active was it as far as grievance procedures and so forth?
A: No grievances procedure was in effect when I was principal! Grievance procedures happened after that. I was in Roanoke City 1973-83 and I had a teacher grievance when I was there, but we were always able to settle it and had VEA in our conferences. It was settled fairly and VEA representatives were pleased about the decision. I don't think there were as many conflicts. So if you are both in education and trying to do the same thing, there shouldn't be that many conflicts between teachers and principals anyway.
Q: That's true. Do you think the VEA and what they do now are that vital to the schools? Do teachers need them? Do they render an effective service?
A: I think it's nice to belong to an organization. I belonged to a lot of organizations. I think it's nice to identify with your profession and belong to any organization. I belonged to VEA all the time I was a teacher and had a great deal of respect for the VEA. I went to all the conventions. You can get a great deal out of it, like meeting other people. The educational speakers were good. I believe in professional organizations - I think they serve a real purpose. I really do, I don't believe they do anything that doesn't benefit education.
Q: Think about your assistant principals. Were you able to select your assistants?
A: Well, as a matter of fact, no, I had some input after I had been at Andrew Lewis and I had a great deal of input while in Hampton regarding my assistant principals. I suppose you might say I picked one of the two because I picked one of the faculty to be an assistant principal. But some of the assistant principals were there when I got there, and some were appointed when I got to Andrew Lewis.
Q: I know Mr. Counts would be pleased with all that you have done with your life. Think about one of your assistants - possibly one of the most effective. What has happened to him?
A: Bill Setzer - math teacher before becoming principal, then a director of instruction for math in Roanoke County Schools. He retired and he is teaching at Roanoke College and Virginia Western Community College and he is thinking about retiring from those. He is probably the best curriculum oriented assistant principal I had.
Q: That interesting, because I know him also. As you think about schools today - what characteristics would you describe as most effective or which ones are considered the effective ones? I know you were associated with effective ones - the ones you retired from.
A: It is good to talk about school experiences. There I had the philosophy that you are the best and try to instill that into the students. If you play football, you want to be the best, class room quiz or science fair you want to be the best. You want to be the best for a whole lot or reasons. Number one, you are representing yourself and also representing the school. Pride in what you do - Pride in the organization of which you are a part. Sort of like the military. Pride in an organization. All schools that I have known were good schools, disciplined learning environments, dedicated teachers, and usually good principals. Principals who were completely trustworthy and dedicated to task. Usually they were outgoing people. Outgoing personalities, supreme-optimists and thought they could do anything.
Q: Of all the people you have known in education and the leaders who have leadership roles, which one challenged the process and challenged the status-quo and was forward thinking or very visionary?
A: Probably Arnold Burton.
Q: Why do you say that? I do, too.
A: Probably the ideas he had and he did. Another thing about him also - I think Arnold Burton was the most innovative superintendent that I had. On the positive side if he tried innovations that didn't work, didn't prove to be what he thought they were, then he would change them. He was always open to change.
Q: He also had a reputation for being able to select very capable leaders and principals. What made him different?
A: He was very supportive. All of my superintendents were very supportive. Black arm band federal court situation, the teacher at Andrew Lewis that left - she was a Lutheran. The superintendent at the Lutheran home had students at Andrew Lewis and she complained to Dr. Horn who was superintendent. Dr. Horn sent a letter and sent me a copy and in effect said if you don't want the Lutheran children at Andrew Lewis - then pull them out. If you want them there - then they will cooperate with the principal.
Q: You really appreciated that kind of support.
A: Absolutely. You really need it to be effective.
Q: I know one of the superintendent's biggest nightmares is doing the budget. A scary nightmare is special education. Special education is a big part of the budget and in the 70's, how much did you have to deal with special education versus when you were superintendent, you might say?
A: Going back to the 60's we had special education in Hampton schools but the only special education we had was called mentally retarded. (Educable mentally retarded). They were in the school setting - special classes with a special teacher - a very fantastic special teacher in this case. We only had one class, but in the way of budget, actually special education didn't become expensive until you started pulling people out and had so many categories of special education. Having state and federal requirements on small sizes and how they had to be treated. All the regulations made it expensive.
Q: So that was public law 94-142 and all the amendments thereafter. So now, what percentage of the budget covers special education?
A: That part I do not remember. Very expensive, all the time I was superintendent. When the superintendent and school board presented the budget to city council, - not one penny was cut from the budget and never a rejection.
Q: I would say that is a record, Dr. Hunt. Especially today.
A: We actually didn't have any unspoken requests, we thought we had a good teacher's salary scale and therefore could attract the best teachers. We didn't have anything in the budget that people didn't want.
Q: Think about your salary - when you entered as a math teacher until retiring as superintendent? Have you kept up with salaries today?
A: I made $2,100 in 1950 in New Kent as a math teacher. The first year as principal at Andrew Lewis over $5,000 less than $6,000 in 1964. Now, years later, when I was superintendent - I was paid a little better. Can you tell that principals and teachers didn't make much money? Things have changed since then as you very well know. That is not what the golden years of education is about, because they were underpaid. Hard workers and dedicated people. As superintendent I think I made $65,000. From 1950 - 1989 - $2,100 - $65.000.
Q: Do you think teachers are paid too much today?
A: No, I do not. Absolutely not.
Q: I know you have always been an advocate for teachers
A: Nobody in education is paid too much today, not paid nearly enough. People don't view it with the respect that they should or that they once did.
Q: How can you re-capture that?
A: I was hoping things would go back in the other direction. Back in the other direction. Sometimes in education we go from one extreme to another and somewhere we would hit the middle, which is usually the best. Ten years ago, in Great Britain, France and Germany, people in education were the most respected people in the community by far, even more respected than doctors, lawyers or anybody else.
Q: The Christian Coalition Movement perhaps has impacted education somewhat. Do you think that that the number of students being home schooled today might be an outcome of the societal issues or things?
A: I think it is. There might be a good lesson there for all of us. I'm not speaking locally, just because things are not as good in some places as they are locally. The school system in some places, the public school system is so poor that home schooling is by far better. This may be a wake up call for the public school system. Q: Particularly in Fairfax County where tremendous number of students (4,000) are home schooled. But it's a very large division 4,000 out of 125 or 135,000. A: It is not so much that it is the Christian coalition - it is a Christian coalition but it is more the disciplined atmosphere in the schools than the religious aspect. They still depend on the church as far as religion is concerned. They don't want religion taught in schools, but they want safe schools, they want disciplined schools and they want basic education taught well, So it may be a wake up call for public schools.
Q: That brings up an issue - separation of church and state. Do you think public money should be given to private schools, religious schools?
A: I don't see why not. At the college level we give state taxes to private schools. They educate the citizens of the state. If we have private schools that educate the children, I don't see any conflict there. I would throw up a red flag and say I much prefer that the schools be public and under public control than the different kinds of schools that people are doing.
Q: Let's go back to your years as principal. Let's talk about the toughest conflicts you had to face. Was the arm band - the toughest? No, they took me to federal court but that was not the toughest. The judge said, "you must let him wear the arm band". The hardest thing to get across to the students was they were not going to have a Senior Day. They had had a senior day in the past, and they were not all bad. But for two years in a row, students had gotten hurt. I don't remember how, maybe swimming, cars, etc. We are not going to have a Senior Day, probably was the hardest thing I had to do.
A: That wasn't all bad.
Q: Tell us why you think you were successful as principal? You are held in very high regard by teachers and students who had you.
A: Being a principal is hard work. I probably put in 16 hours a day or more counting all the meetings you had to attend. I suppose what success I have had personally I would attribute to dedication, work, dedication to the task, probably being open and completely frank with teachers, being trustworthy and being able to understand each other and know that both of you are going for the same thing - back each other up. Being a principal is hard work. Being a principal - you need to attend student activities, know what students are doing. When I was a principal at Andrew Lewis we had over 1400 students and I could call a student by name because I was in contact with them all the time - in the cafeteria, basketball games, plays, musicals. I attended everything that students and teachers did.
Q: Do you know what the number one characteristic of an effective leader is as determined by a recent survey? Being honest and forthright and those are the kinds of things I was hearing you say. Q: I know that in a class I had, that was the number one choice, too.
A: I'm not really surprised by that. Hidden agendas are no good for me. You might as well deal with it. If you have something to talk about - you talk about it - if you agree on it, or don't agree on it. Think what is necessary to do and if you are a principal, you say, "We'll do it".
Q: Talk about your professional graduate work. Did that help you?
A: I had a fantastic graduate experience. I received my doctorate at VPI and worked with the best people you ever saw. I should mention them. Dr. Parks is one of them. They were good people. They had been principals. They knew what schools were really about - down to earth people. Dr. Hunt is another one. It prepared you, not that you got a whole lot of educational philosophy and things that you might not have fixed in your mind, but you did a whole lot of things that disciplined you to do things. I don't think anybody wants to write a thesis for example, unless you are doing research and you need to write it up. But it's good discipline. It's good discipline to research a topic and find out everything you can about it.
Q: What did you do your dissertation on?
A: Year-Round Schools, and at that time they were not that widespread. You have to find out everything you can about it. In most cases, you need to know more about it than anyone concerning the subject.
Q: What was the result of the research?
A: Actually, I'm not a proponent of year-round schools. The only time I would be a proponent of year-round schools is if you were in a situation where you needed to spend money more effectively rather than build buildings. Then use year round schools with students only going the same amount of time as they are now. Possibly use buildings with air conditioning and heating and all that - I'm not in favor of year-round education for students. They need a break; teachers need a break, also.
Q: I agree with you. I think when you speak of year round schools we can do extended year without going all year. You have to have time to do maintenance on buildings.
A: Well, you're right. I am enthusiastic at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. I like beginnings and endings.
Q: Bring closure. Move on.
A: You accomplished what you started out to do. Now you have finished - now you have done it. Now you start something else.
Q: When you were a principal - would you describe the environment as being tense?
A: No, the environment was not tense. I was around the students all the time - cafeteria, hallways, and also visited classrooms. Not as often as you might think. When the principal visited classrooms you upset things a little bit - things were not as normal as they should be. If you are among the teachers and among the students all the time, I mean after school, everything they do also, you get a pretty good feel for it. It certainly isn't a tense environment.
Q: Did you pay your teachers extra to stay after school those days?
A: No, teachers were not even paid for extra curricular activities. I suppose the drama teachers, music teacher and yearbook advisor and maybe one or two people, possibly a newspaper advisor. The yearbook advisor might have been paid a couple of hundred dollars. The only people paid extra were athletic coaches. All other teachers usually were not and they put in a fantastic amount of really free time.
Q: Cannot get by with that today, can you?
A: No, you really cannot and teachers still do not like to do it. Even when you pay them. I don't know, maybe it's the hours or maybe they need a break from the students. I don't know.
Q: It' s interesting because they are hard to get these days.
A: Some teachers really like the time spent. Your yearbook teacher really enjoys every minute of it.
Q: We are fortunate.
A: Some of them have to do it because it has to be done and they do it.
Q: Now, some days you got rattled, didn't you? Were you all stressed out some days?
A: One time I was angry with a parent.
Q: Did you do anything to maintain your sanity?
A: No, I was very hasty with this parent. Maybe I shouldn't have been. It was a lady and she complained about the treatment of her son and wanted to call the superintendent. She wanted to call in the office and I said, " That's a private telephone, you will have to use a pay telephone if you want to call". She reached for the phone and I grabbed it from her hand. She was angry and went out in a huff. This was the worst scene.
Q: But you didn't do anything physical? You didn't go out running or have hobbies to relieve stress.
A: I played tennis and basketball. I didn't play golf then. Teachers use to play on basketball and volleyball leagues, but mainly tennis and basketball.
Q: Did you ever celebrate their successes?
Q: That's wonderful. How did you do that?
A: Some at faculty meetings, teacher days - "All students are nice to a teacher day" but most of the time, when a teacher did something outstanding- they received a lot of praise.
Q: Do you think we need to do more to improve morale? What can be done?
A: I always thought school is successful by what goes on in the classroom because of the teachers and you have to believe that and what they do. They are the most important people in the system. You can't do it if the teachers do not do it. It is not done. The principal cannot do it.
Q: That's true. How much of it is leadership? How much of it is the principal in the building sharing his vision? How do you get everyone on the same team?
A: You don't ever ask a teacher to do anything that you wouldn't do yourself. I remember as a principal at Andrew Lewis I taught Algebra I. 39 students failed Algebra I out of the people taking it (1st semester). We didn't have a teacher free to teach those students 2nd semester Algebra I. So I taught them. I taught Algebra I the 7th period of the day with 39 students in the classroom. Usually back then there were 30-35 students in a classroom. I don't think you should ask a teacher to do something you are not willing to do yourself. If a teacher has 36 students - usually you didn't get much complaint - they usually knew that you were willing to do it if you had to. Q: I know as superintendent you wanted your administrators teaching.
Q: Did this experience influence that?
A: It was a very good experience. You need to know how students respond to the teacher. Out of 39 students who repeated Algebra I - not all of them responded very well. I was amazed how some of them were by repeating it. A lot of A's in the class but I suppose there should have been a few anyway.
Q: Tell me, what are your strengths as a leader?
A: I don't think any leader needs to project himself in the spotlight. If he is a good leader there is enough spotlight on the good things that the students are doing. When they are doing well and project on the good things when they are doing well, believe me there will always be enough reflected light for any principal or anyone. Let the accolades go where they should and be sure the students and teachers know when they do something well and know they did it.
Q: What does a principal need to do to constantly challenge the status quo? Because if you don't change then you cannot keep up.
A: What's happening in education is a result of what's happening in society. A school is just a microcosm of the society of which it is located and a lot of things in society are extreme and people tend to like extremes and we get too many extremes in education. Extremes are not what you want - you want a middle of the road model in public education. You cannot change schools until society changes. Could I do things now that I did when I was a principal? No way. You wouldn't have the parent's support or anyone's support, you would be in court too frequently and you couldn't do what you needed to do. Schools will change when society changes. You cannot change a great deal until you get some sense in society.
Q: You are unique in that you were able to start a whole new school division.
A: It was easy because of the location. Believe me - easy! You remember when the school system started that Salem really only kept the teachers that they wanted. You probably remember better than I what it was like for a teacher.
Q: Oh yes.
A: We got the cream of the crop and setting up the school system was easy. There is not much to budgets - if you're a math teacher. I use to love budgets and I even liked to do a register and attendance. Easy to set up school system.
Q: You obviously had to select some leaders.
A: Well, yes and no. When I was appointed superintendent some very good people were already there. I cannot take credit. I can take credit for some superb people. We had some superb people already in place.
Q: You talk about being easy. What is in Salem that should be replicated somewhere else?
A: Well one thing that I found is one high school and one middle school and parents are already so dedicated and indoctrinated to their school system and to their school. It's so much easier. In Fairfax County there are so many high schools or in Roanoke City, so many neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is really a little community whereas Salem is one community and everyone is involved. Very large high schools are not that good and very large school systems are not good. Research is proving that today.
Q: One final comment about anything.
A: I enjoyed talking with you and would just remind that whoever hears this that I haven't been a principal for a long time and actually haven't been a superintendent since 1989. I am not down on the public school system and believe firmly in the public school system and wish some things in society would change so the public school system could do what it ought too.
Q: You were an advocate for children and for teachers and you still are. You are still active and working for education. Do you think most retired educators are like that - a tie to the schools?
A: I think they would like to still think they are useful.
Q: You certainly are and we appreciate you.
A: Thank you.
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