March 11, 2000
Todays date is March 11, 2000. This interview is with John W. Honeycutt. It is being conducted in his home in Blacksburg, Virginia.
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Q: Good morning, Mr. Honeycutt. Would you begin by telling us about your family background, particularly your childhood interests and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Thank you. I was what was called a mill-hill child. Cannon Mills owned the house we lived in. Id characterize us as often broke, never poor, with family interests in sports being great.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching?
A: Well, I entered college as a ministerial student. I was going to be a preacher. I took theology courses, and at that point I went to a junior college before I went to the university. That was a good move for me.
Q: What university did you attend?
A: Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
Q: How many years did you serve as a teacher?
Q: And as a principal?
Q: Would you please talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: Yes. After teaching three years, my wife and I went to Florida to teach. Orlando. And at Christmas, we were homesick, wanting to come back to the Shenandoah Valley. So, in a Christmas card to the superintendent we told him we wanted to come back. Think you can do anything to help me? And got a call: "Come up for an interview." And he offered me a principalship, but it was too far from what I wanted and then he offered me the one I eventually took.
Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship?
A: I believed I could do it and quite honestly it paid more. We were a young couple and needed the money.
Q: How did your motives change over the years?
A: Away from the money and to the accomplishments. I took pride when we did something that hadnt been done before.
Q: Would you take us on a walk through your school? Please describe its appearance and any unusual features of the building.
A: Two story. First floor: A gymnasium and classrooms and library. Downstairs: A cafeteria and custodians room.
Q: How many classrooms all together?
A: Six. Six classrooms.
Q: And what was the name of this school?
A: Singers Glen. Beautiful name.
Q: In Virginia?
A: In Virginia.
Q: How many years were you principal there?
A: Three years.
Q: Three years. What experiences and events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Please discuss these events.
A: Repeat that.
Q: What experiences or events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Please discuss these events.
A: I recognized poverty when I saw it and this school was in the middle of a poverty area. And I wanted to reach them. I wanted to do something about it. And so, for experiences, we took all the teachers on a bus tour of the neighborhood so they could see where the children came from. That helped. I made an effort and stressed with the teachers: "Appeal to their senses. Everyday let them taste something they havent tasted, hear something they havent heard, etc." We wanted to give them experiences and we stressed that from day one and made it so the children enjoyed school. We did a lot of things just for fun and it paid off.
Q: Approximately what year was this?
A: Lets see....In the sixties.
Q: About 1964?
A: 64 to 67.
Q: Our next question: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning and would you describe successful and any unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you were involved?
A: Discipline was a problem. I tried to tackle that. I would take children to the home and let mother watch me spank them and it worked. If they believed I would do it if they misbehaved, they wouldnt misbehave. I took a dozen or more home in the course of the year, the worst.
Q: Did you try anything concerning the faculty and the climate for their work, their morale?
A: Yes. I stressed that teaching was an artis an artnot a science. So, watch facial expressions. Watch tone of voice. Watch that nonverbal. Reach the children. Watch who you call on, etc. And they liked that. Because they werent scientists, but they could be artists.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal." What kinds of things do teacher expect
A: They expect me to secure a substitute when needed; to respond to their calls of "help" in discipline and to keep them in supplies and materials. Those are the basic things. Did that have a second part?
Q: Yes sir. Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal."
A: OK. Just a moment.
Q: If you dont have anything else to say about that, thats OK, too....Well go to the next question.
Q: Would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed upon principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment?
A: The employer expected order. Good record keeping. Dont call any attention to yourself unless its positive. Dont generate any negative publicity. And the community expected the children to be happy in school, to be promoted, and to pass any standardized tests.
Q: How do those expectations differ from todays situation?
A: Well, the Standards of Learning has become the big thing. We didnt have a counterpart to the Standards of Learning. And with the media giving that publicity, the parents have bought into it as the most important thing. We didnt have that.
Q: Do you think that is good or bad?
A: I think as it is now it needs revamping. The idea is OK, but the test itself is not.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and maybe an incident in which your approach failed.
A: Because we were a small school, we could be a team. So we used the team approach. I was the team captain and I accepted that responsibility. And again, because we were small, we could be friends and treat each other as friends. We did things like lunch together on workdays, recognize birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth. And I personally would go around, and if a teacher was having a problem, Id give her a break. Id take her class. "Take thirty minutes." And that seemed to work. Theyd come back with it together.
Q: Did you have any times when your approach to leadership maybe failed?
A: In one area: Finances. It didnt help therefriendship and rapport. And my financial problem was in the cafeteria. Again, we were a small school, so we couldnt absorb but so much and we were giving 20% free lunches and back then you didnt get any government restitution for a free lunch, so it was in fact free. Nobody paid but the school and we were having a hard time maintaining a cafeteria.
Q: Next question, Mr Honeycutt: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in time. Would you discuss the nature of your student body and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal?
A: We were not a diverse group. We had no, we had no minorities. Our minority was poor, the poor child. We recognized that and tried to deal with it.
Q: And what were some of the triumphs, successes, you had with that?
A: One child, from the poorest home I had, topped the IQ charts. She was in the gifted range and we managed to get her father to let her engage in special assignments we would make for her and have experiences that we had planned for her. We counted that a success. Shes gonna find a cure for cancer!
Q: In those days there was no formal gifted education program?
A: No gifted program. No special ed., except TMR.
Q: It has been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in todays schools, citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now?
A: Well, curriculum was determined by the textbook. The textbook was, in fact, the curriculum, which made textbook selection very important because it determined the curriculum. That made it easy for teachers, easy for students, to keep up. And now the curriculum is addressing the Standards of Learning.
Q: Which do you think is better for the student?
A: Textbook. Let the textbook do itif you make wise textbook selections. Its orderly. Everybody has access to it. It works.
Q: Could you describe your workday when you were principal. That is, how did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours per week you put in?
A: Mine was quite different because I was a teaching principal in a small school. So, I gave half a day to teaching sixth grade and half a day to administrative duties, which included evaluating teachers, record keeping, planning, purchasing. My day was spent in those areas.
Q: About how long was your work day? When did you go to work and when did your day end?
A: I was always first at school and first to leave. I would say eight to four-thirty.
Q: Eight to four-thirty. Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them?
A: My pressure was that cafeteria. How to keep it going? So, we turned to fund raisers. We had auctions and we ended up having dances every Saturday night with the funds going to the cafeteria. We made appeals to civic clubs for contributions.
Q: Describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make.
A: One stands out was a request for free lunch from a mother and I turned it down and she went the appeal route and I tried to hold my ground. And everybody was saying, "Go ahead, John, just one free lunch." But I thought it was principle: They had funds. I knew they had funds. The cafeteria was hurting so much already, I couldnt go deeper, so I denied it. So I went to the superintendent, to my disappointment, and shared with him the situation with my cafeteria, and all he did was funnel more surplus commodities to me. It helped, but it wasnt a solution.
Q: So, did the student end up getting the free lunch that you had denied?
Q: Your denial was upheld?
Q: Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal?
A: The way I related to the children. I liked the children. They liked me. Enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. That and the teamwork approach.
Q: How old were you when you were a principal? In your 20's or 30's or 40's?
A: Early 30's.
Q: Next question: Please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.
A: Alright. Confidentiality was important and the Judea-Christian ethic I tried to follow. It would apply to schools and anything else. So Id say confidentiality and Judea-Christian ethic was the foundation.
Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship?
A: Courses in human growth and development helped me most and least help was curriculum. It was no help.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship and would you describe your feelings, knowing what you know now, about entering the principalship yourself if given the opportunity to start anew?
A: One. I think I would stress observation of other principals and interviews. However, age now prevents any consideration of reentry.
Q: Next question, Mr. Honeycutt: What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions? Comment on weaknesses in traditional programs of training for administrators.
A: I would tell the university to teach teachers how, how to discipline. What are the options in discipline? I would stress that teaching is an art. Again, facial expressions, nonverbal, and not to be so abstract, dealing with things so, abstract, way out in left field so well. They dont help when the teacher gets in the classroom.
Q: Any other things specifically for principalsthat universities should be teaching?
A: The art of teaching as opposed to the science. What constitutes the art? And...Would you repeat the question? Im sorry.
Q: Just anything that you think universities should be teaching candidates for administrative positions?
A: Again, what is the art and how to be an artist. And a great deal of observation. No substitute for that.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: Be the best teacher and look at being a principal as a promotion and to go into it with confidence or dont go, cause you got to make calls and you got to believe.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence?
A: Ruritan Club, which met at the school. Leading citizens of the village. I was a member and had to clean up after the meeting and set the room up for the meeting, which I did. Which I disliked on oyster night.
Q: That was a pretty bad night?
A: Yes. Fried oysters. Cafeteria was muck.
Q: Were there any other civic groups that met with you or at your school?
A: No. The village was too small
Q: It has been said that--
A: Except PTO.
Q: It has been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and with citizens who were important to the well being of the school?
A: I trusted home visits. I visited with parents to compliment their child and I visited with them to seek their help and they tended to respond. I had Christmas parties where we invited parents, student performances where we invited parents and we tended to have little teas after those features and the parents tended to enjoy it.
Q: Do you think that parental involvement is very important, Mr. Honeycutt?
A: I dont think it is.
Q: You dont think it is? Why is that?
A: Parents, a parent whos going to help you will take the initiative and interact with you. And the parent thats not going to help youI dont know how you win them over. And youve got a limited amount of time, too.
Q: Different subject, Mr. Honeycutt: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: You need at least two different evaluations in any situation. One is un-announced and the other is by invitation and you should give equal weight to those. And in the evaluation, look for the practice of the art as much as the science.
Q: How many times did you try to observe your teachers each year?
A: Twice. A minimum of twice.
Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in such activities?
A: Only one. It came to my attention when this teachers student teacher came to me and said the teacher was incompetent and my observation bore that out. So, I recommended to personnel that she not be given a contract for the next year.
Q: Was she under continuing contract status?
A: No, not at that point and she was not given a contract.
Q: And what was your explanation to that teacher? What did you tell her?
A: That I had done that and, and why. That, that she couldnt maintain order and the children just werent getting any learning.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful schools?
A: Successful schools: Theres a warmth, enjoyment, call it "positive feeling," and the teachers really like the children and the children want to please their teachers. An unsuccessful school is one where theres not much fun in that school and the students are not motivated by the teacher or any outside force.
Q: In the successful and unsuccessful schools, what is the difference in the principals youve noticed.
A: Amount of time theyre in the office. The principal that stays in the office is apt to have a smooth running school, but not a success.
Q: When the principal is out of the office, what kinds of things do you think the principal should be doing?
A: Interacting with students, parents, teachers especially, observing.
Q: In recent years more and more programs for special groups of students have been developed. Please discuss your experiences with special student services and your views on todays trends in this regard.
A: In the early 60's we only had one special ed program. That was TMR because they were so obvious. We had one TMR from our attendance area. That was the total.
Q: There were no other special services? Were those students in the community, but just not served? What happened?
A: Yeah, they were homenot served.
Q: Were they not welcome at your school or
A: They never tried to enroll. I would have accepted. I would have felt bound to.
Q: Who provided for their education?
A: Nobody. The TMRs, now, the TMRs were taken care of. It was the other children that werentEMRs, and LDs, EDs.
Q: They werent served? What do you think about todays trends in special education?
A: I think that it could only happen in America where we spend so many dollars, so much of our resources on the handicapped. I think it is good and right and hes entitled to an education like the law says.
Q: Next question, Mr. Honeycutt: Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school system during your early years as principal and give your views on developments in this area since then?
A: Well, there was a stipend for a principal. And it was attractive. It really, really helped the family economy. Today, I judge it to be underpaid because its relative to what teachers are paid and teachers are underpaid. And I think theres a great need for more aggression from the profession: The principal, the teacher. They need to make their case.
Q: Do you recall what your starting salary was as a principal in 1964?
Q: In 1964 you think it was that high? There has traditionally been a commitment in the country to the principle of universal free public education. Would you give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings on the practicality of such an approach in this day and time?
A: I agree with Jefferson that we have to have an enlightened electorate to makewere a democracy; people make the choices. People got to be able to make enlightened decisions and, as he said, society has a right to protect itself from ignorance. I hold to that.
Q: Thank you. Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paper work and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Would you comment on the situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time?
A: The computer is the key. We didnt have it and I think the key is a good school secretary and I had a good one during my career. I didnt have to push the pencil much. She did. She knew it and I was blessed.
Q: Did you have a separate bookkeeper or secretary and bookkeeper combined?
A: Secretary and bookkeeper.
Q: Was your school audited in those days each year?
A: Yeah. We always did OK.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the Superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school?
A: Very friendly. Cordial, but we were the smallest school in the county and he couldnt afford to give me a lot of time.
Q: Do you recall the superintendents name in Rockingham County at the time?
A: Wilbur Pence.
Q: And you and Mr. Pence got along well?
Q: Please discuss your style of personal management, or personnel management. Excuse me. That is, what approaches you employed that contributed to your effectiveness as a manager.
A: I believed and do believe in sharing information. Let the teacher know whats going on. Sometimes administratively, politically. Keep em informed. Share information. Say it when it needs to be said, but if its negative, stress diplomacy. Be diplomatic. You dont have to be harsh or abrupt, but diplomatic. Try to be fair. I tried to be fair.
Q: Can you think of any other approaches that you employed that helped you be a successful manager?
A: Yes. Recognize anniversaries. Give praise when praise is warranted and dont try to be aloof.
Q: That leads me to our next question: It has been said that good personnel managers encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations on their successes. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal, and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness? Staging celebrations?
A: Just recognizing anniversaries. Ms. Smith is in her, right now starting her thirtieth year or fiftieth year and have a tea.
Q: Did you do anything with staff birthdays or
A: Yeah. I got "Recognize birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth."
A: Have a social. Have one of your teachers; give her that responsibility. Social director.
Q: How much did this effect organizational morale and effectiveness?
A: I think it had a very positive effect. For instance, we wanted something at the school, because it was pretty, not necessarily functional. We wanted to make the school pretty and one of the teachers donated a brand new foyer to the school cause she felt she identified with that school. That was repeated over and over.
Q: Mr. Honeycutt, it has been said that some principals believe that teachers and other staff members are, in general, well-motivated and reliable self-starters. Other feels that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees. What approach did you customarily use during your administrative career?
A: OK. I avoided micro-management. Dont get into little details and look for art in the classroom--the teachers art--and compliment it. And work on it if its absent.
Q: So, do you think its the principals job to motivate the teacher? Or should the teacher just come to work fully motivated?
A: Teacher? I think its the principals job.
Q: And how might the principal do this?
A: Say youre going to put it on displayher achievements on display. It theres no achievements, theres no display.
Q: Do you think the principal should closely monitor the activities of the teachers or just watch from a distance?
A: From a distance. Closely, from a distance if can be.
Q: Do you think the principal should check lesson plans and small details like that?
A: On the day he does his observation, but not everyday.
Q: So is it safe to say that you would just trust your teachers? Do you think thats
A: If theyre not, it will be obvious, without the documents, youll see it.
Q: OK, Mr. Honeycutt. Since you have now had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?
A: Being pragmatic. If it worked, Id stick with it. If it didnt work, Id abandon it and I tried not to let the rules get me down. If I had a goal that was in conflict with the rules, Id bend the rules. For instance, the county had a cap on field trips per class: Two per class. We had eleven per class because we were stressing new experiences. And the wayA childs never been on the elevator. Theres no substitute for it. You have to put him on the elevator. So, we made eleven field trips per class. Airports, elevators, escalators. You name it. Our children could say "I know what that it is!" Cause they had done it; they had been there.
Q: What were some of your strengths in the way you dealt with your staff?
A: Friendships. Because of size, I could be their friend. And I was a true friend.
Q: And what were some of your weaknesses administratively?
A: Id say...What Id call that cafeteria thing?
Q: On the cafeteria: Do you think somebody else could have managed the cafeteria better?
A: Yeah. If he had a garden! Bring vegetables and feed em.
Q: So, with what you had, you did as good as could be expected?
A: Yeah! Try to make a lunchclass A lunch--for a child on eight cent. Thats what I had per child. Its almost impossible! I bought things like shredded chickencheapest meat I could buy.
Q: It was your job to plan the menus?
A: I helped cause I could keep the cost lower than they could.
Q: Had you been trained in any type of business matters related to cafeterias in your administrative preparation?
Q: Can you think of any other strengths or weaknesses pertaining to your administrative style?
A: No, I cant, honestly.
Q: Mr. Honeycutt: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style? Leader or manager?
A: Well, Ive seen a lot of both. I think the most effective is the leader. Gets out front; stays there. You cant have people following you, even your example, unless youre out front.
Q: Were you more of a manager or more of a leader as a principal?
Q: Whats the difference in the two?
A: One catalogs resources all the time, knowing whats available, counting heads, numbers, while the other is activity oriented. Lets do it. Just do it. And he does it first, shows how.
Q: Next question, Mr. Honeycutt. A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay plans and merit pay for teachers in recent years. Would you give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you have had with such approaches.
A: I think its fair. We dont have a better way, given the numbers were given with, than longetivity [sic]. Make how long you teach the determining factor in your pay.
Q: So what are your thoughts about merit pay?
A: We dont have a good way, yet, of determining the degree of merit.
Q: Have you tried any experiments in your administrative days with anything besides career ladders? Did you ever try any merit pay or suggest it to a superintendent?
A: No. Ive never tried anything else.
Q: Mr. Honeycutt, there are those who argue that, more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help, building level administrators. If you were king, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: I would avoid after-school, county-wide meetings, committees called by the central office. And I wouldIf its important, its worth doing at a time when teachers can be compensated for their participation. Theyre professionals and the county shouldnt ask them to give away their professional services.
Q: Mr. Honeycutt, did you think that central office policies were helpful or more of a hindrance in your days as a principal?
A: More of a hindrance.
Q: Can you think of any "for examples"?
A: A lot of counting. Yes. Lets see. Requested by a certain date that we submit a document giving the readability level of the textbooks we were using. That was hard to do that for all the books and no reason given for why they wanted it. So it was like tits on a boar hog!
Q: Next question, Mr. Honeycutt. During the past decade, schools have become much larger. Discuss your views on this phenomenon and suggest an ideal size for an elementary school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities.
A: Large school is more economical than too small, but too small have their advantages, too. From the students point of view, he can be a president of a club; he can letter in athletics; he has many more opportunities in that small school for leadership than he does in the large school.
Q: How large was Singers Glen when you were principal?
A: 103 students.
Q: Do you think thats too small or a good size? What are your thoughts on that?
A: I thought it was a good size.
Q: Next, Mr. Honeycutt: Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be? Again, three areas that you could change. Three areas of administration.
A: In-service. Id change that.
Q: What would you change there?
A: Make it more hands on and less verbal.
Q: Another area? A second area of administration.
Q: What would you change about discipline?
A: I would have it responded to immediately upon the teachers indication of need and I would stress separating that child instantly from an audience.
Q: And can you think of a third area you would change?
A: Cafeteria. I would make it a part of the curriculum in the sense that I would teach manners; I would teach nutrition and every thing I could work into the cafeteria curriculum, I would.
Q: Thank you. Next question, Mr. Honeycutt. Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did, giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down and retire?
A: It was medical: A brain tumor wrapped around my optic nerve forced my retirement.
Q: And when you retired, were you a principal when you stepped down?
A: No, I was director.
Q: Director of
A: Special ed.
Q: Next question, Mr. Honeycutt. Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish to pass on to todays principals?
A: Be friendly. Interact with the kids. Dont micro-manage and compliment when compliments are needed and say it when it needs to be said if its negative, but do it diplomatically.
Q: Well, since youve had some time now to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?
A: My administrative strength was the way I interacted with children: often, successfully. And a team, as opposed to autocratic; it was a team move.
Q: And Mr. Honeycutt, any advice youd like to pass along to todays principals?
A: I think too often todays principals use problems as excuses rather than reasons. If a childs misbehaving, thats a reason to teach him, not a reason to say "He cant learn" and dont try to teach him." Interact with the children: Often and successfully.
Q: Any other advice for principals?
A: Be aggressive on your salary or you wont get it.
Q: Any thoughts about interaction with parents or community members?
A: Youll have to interact, you wont have to, you wont have to have a special program to interact. Most of them will take the initiative to interact with you. Those who dont, you cant reach anyway.
Q: Mr. Honeycutt, despite my best efforts, to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have concerning administration, school leadership, principals?
A: It has to do with enjoyment: Do you enjoy being a principal? If you dont change. Being a good principal brings joy.
Q: Did you enjoy your career as a principal?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: What did you like about it?
A: The attempt, and the time, and the opportunity to be creative. You could do things. It was fun, especially at a little school103 students. Nobodys going to watch over your shoulder. They got big schools to look after, so I could do what I wanted do. And I did.
Q: And you enjoyed that?
A: Oh, greatly. More freedom than Ive ever had.
Q: And if you could go back in time to those years at Singers Glen, anything that you would do differently to enjoy it more?
A: No, I dont think so.
Q: Very well, Mr. Honeycutt. Thank you and that concludes our interview.
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