Tuesday, November 3, 1992
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Q: Mr. Johnson could you begin by telling us about your family backround, your child interests and development, your birthplace, your schooling and your family characteristics?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I am from Youngstown, Ohio and to characterize my family I would say we had a strong family unit with a strong religious orientation. A traditional family, mother, father, 2 kids and a dog. My dad worked and my mother was a homemaker. My brother and I, all we had to do was to go to school and be good, and as my parents said "be good, and make good grades," for the most part we did that. My strong family church influence, we were literally raised in church, that helped to formulate some of our beliefs. Although I've got to say it wasn't an option. My dad worked in the steel mill and my mom stayed home. To that extent we were quite traditional, which is not what we have toady, a lot of times in today's society.
Q: How about some of your schooling? Where you might have gone to?
A: I went to Thornhill Elementary School and then to North High School, which at that time was a 7-12 building. Some educators don't think that is too functional, because of the wide age span. In those particular times not having any other point of reference we thought that was the way it should go, and not looking for anything negative. We found very few negative things. It worked very well for us. North was a very small school, the smallest in Youngstown and we got along quite well.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of education?
A: I majored in Elementary Education and it's quite interesting in terms of how I became interested in elementary education, because at the time and I might have added to the first question, that I always knew that, I was going to go to college. I had though it would be via a football scholarship, but in senior year I contracted rheumatic fever and so the football scholarship was no longer a reality. I had familiarized myself with books ahead of time, not just during the football and basketball season as a result of that I was fairly well prepared. I went to Youngstown State, because I had heard even back then that there weren't a whole lot of men in Elementary education and so that became an interest of mine for practical reasons. Upon having graduated from Youngstown , my first year I did not get a job, so I entered the service. I didn't enter the service, they called it the "draft." I was drafted for 2 years. In terms of real education my 4 years working at U.S. Steel and my 2 years in the service clearly gave me perhaps more of a foundation that anything I learned at Youngstown State. Learning about life and learning about myself, not to belittle the education that I received at Youngstown, because I was quite prepared when I did enter the teaching field, which was in 1960.
Q: How many years did you teach, serve as a teacher?
A: Well, in terms, of my total career was 30 years. My first 10 years were as a special education teacher, and in 1960 Special Education was in it's infancy. So more often than not those of us who went into class, we were the teachers of the class because they were called slow learners then and the emphasis unfortunately usually on the state level was talking about what youngsters could not do, as opposed to what they might be able to do, and so when we came into the class and started talking about the positive things that were going on, and really it was trial and error back then, but a lot of things worked quite well, and so we were the experts in the class sometimes more so than the teacher.
Q: How many years were you an administrator?
A: I then continued as a special education teacher and also combined as a coach and a counselor, from that point on I had one year as an assistant principal at the High School, Harding and 10 years as an elementary principal and them my last 8 years were a combination assistant High School Principal and Head High School Principal.
Q: I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and reflect how you feel about them now?
A: I guess there could be a lot of those. I'd just like to zero in on 3 or 4. Particularly from a teaching point of view, my parents taught me to respect the teacher. The teachers were good people and they were there to help you. My kindergarten experience just reinforced that. Somehow someone had told me if you raise you hand, that meant you were smart, therefore, you'll get advantages. They didn't tell me that when you raised your hand you were supposed to know the right answer. In kindergarten I raised my hand when the teacher asked "Who can tell time?", and so at 5 years old I raised my hand. The teacher sent me out into the hall, because we didn't have clocks in every room. There was a clock in the major hall. So I went out there, and I must have been out there for days, because I really couldn't tell time and the point I want to make is how the teacher handled that. Rather than saying, "Why, are you wasting our time?" If you didn't know how to tell time why did you raise your hand? I did know my numbers the teacher asked me where the big hand was and where the little hand was and I answered correctly and so the teacher came back into the room and told the class. "Little Cliffie just helped us tell time. He said that the big hand was 12 and the little hand was on".. 2 or whatever. I thought what a nice way to handle that situation due to the fact that I am 56 years old no 57 as of last Saturday and that must have happened over 50 years ago. Obviously it made an indelible impression upon me in terms of how yo handle kids in terms of thwarting their self-esteem, but letting them know that even not knowing all the answers at an early age is ok. I've seen many teachers who did not use that technique and had the teacher put me down as she could have I may not have raised my hand again until graduate school. That was certainly one very positive impression. Another impression I had that was kind of different was in my high school. I had been the president of my freshman, sophomore, junior class, and had been elected as president of my senior class, however, there had been very few if any black president's of the senior class and so a particular English teacher, I found out later, decided we should have another election. There were no black teller's or advisors, and all I know that is, I lost. That made a very indelible impression also on me, however, my life was more positive that negative and so balancing off that negative experience wit so many positive one's was not as damaging with me. It might have been with some others. However, about 6 weeks ago or a couple of weeks ago we had a reunion which would have been my 39th reunion and one of the persons in my class called me and asked me was I on the committee, and that I was going to speak for my class. She said," You know you should be on the committee, because you know you were always the leader of our class with the exception of that stuff that they pulled on you in our senior year." This was a white young lady and this was 39 almost 40 years ago and she remembered the situation and it kicked up the same anger in me as it kicked up almost 40 years ago. I thought that I had long since dealt with that but that certainly was very impressionable. I guess I learned more how not to do things from that particular teacher than how to do. So I had a couple of experiences one positive and one negative, but I had to kind of balance and the kinds of balances throughout my school career that enabled me to have a positive as opposed to a negative outlook.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: That was kind of interesting because of I guess, I had been teaching for 6, 7, 8, 9 years and in Special Education, truly loving it. Particularly after I had received my Master's Degree and had an opportunity to work as a Home School Coordinator, while still working with Special Education youngsters. However, at about that time some friends of mine were starting to move professionally so I though it was about time that Cliff looked to see what particular opportunities might be for him, in terms of advancement. I went to Mr. Berraducci, who was our Personnel Director and during the summer I had worked at Erie, Pennsylvania as a counselor and I had just received my Master's Degree in '65 in counselling. In 1966, I was working in Erie and I became very, very interested in a place called O.I.C., which is the Opportunities Industrialization Center, which is founded by Rev. Leon Sullivan, who is on the Board at General Motors, and I was about to leave Warren to pursue that particular job and Mr. Berraducci said well Cliff I can't promise you that we're going to be having any openings but I would like you to meet the new Superintendent, who will becoming in, a Dr. Moberly, before you make you final decision. So I met Dr. Moberly. When I met him a couple of days afterward, he knew more about me than I did about him, and he said I can't promise you anything right now, but as soon as I can I would like to look through the system and I'll see what I can do. Having made a semi-commitment to Erie for the entire month of September after school every night I drove that 90 miles to break in my replacement, because I wasn't going to take the job up there. That was kind of interesting too.
Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship? I think you answered some of that.
A: Well, I suspect another motivator, this is perhaps or this is not the greatest thing to say, was money. I mentioned this was around '66 or '67. My and my wife's son was born in '66 and the other son was born in '67, and I moved into a house, and I bought a car. All those kinds of things told me that I would like opportunities that would give me more money. So, that was a motivating factor, initially. However, after having been in the job for a while my reasons starting changing, because I had an opportunity to see what an influencer of policy and ultimately young lives I could be while being in a decision making position. I've had several opportunities to leave education or at least go into education in other fields and other cities, but I really had a unique opportunity in Warren, because I was both the Elementary Principal at First Street School, at a school that ultimately fed the high school where I was Principal. So, I saw youngsters staring kindergarten, and with the exception of their 7th and 8th grade years, I was a part of their educational process all the way through, and that was unique, so my beginning motivation after I realized the realities of what it was all about then that changed.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education, and how it evolved over the years?
A: Yes, I believe as a basic premise that all students can learn. To that extent I believe it becomes incumbent on us as educators to perhaps match our teaching modality to their learning modality. I think that, in addition to being responsible for the basics, and I don't have to go through those, communication & computing, and all those sorts of things that the youngsters shold do. I think that we have to not only speak in terms of making certain that they have minimum skills there, but not stopping at the minimum but stretching to the maximum and that of course means stretching ourselves as educators as well as stretching the youngsters. I don't think that we should put a glass ceiling on what students can do. I say, this regardless of from where they may come from, because to often we predespose what their particular condition is going to be, because of where they live, or those other kinds of artificial barriers as to who their parents were, what side of town they live on, what their economic status is, and my personal philosophy is "Go for the Gusto" to the extent that we try to maximize in every area that we possibly can. Don't even think in terms of minimum's.
Q: You were Principal both at Elementary and as well as at Western Reserve, First Street Elementary. Describe the instructional philosophy of each of the schools and what was involved and developed over the years?
A: I think that in both situations we were perceived as being something less than and we took that particular negative and turned it into a positive. To the extent that we almost were out to prove that we could be not as good as but better than. So, in talking and working with the teachers we were clearly there for the students. They weren't there for us. We always took what we did very seriously, but as a part of my own personal philosophy we never took ourselves too seriously. Students were what it was all about and in working with them in showing the kind of teamwork as a staff, I think it showed to the students that we really cared about them as persons. I guess I should have said that as my philosophy evolved, I guess it evolved from the pure academic approach to the holistic approach to the extent that we were teaching kids, we weren't teaching subjects and so that was very, very important to both of the buildings that I was a part of.
Q: What experiences or events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy?
A: I guess maybe more than anything my love for, involvement in, and understanding of what makes a successful athletic team. I think that everybody has a particular role but, and all roles should be understood, because there is always a place for everybody, if, in fact, the team process is truly understood and followed and so I did a lot in terms of doing what I can team building, and I thought that was very, very, important and I had seen maybe too much of the divide and conquer kind of thing both at some previous schools that I had been in and also out in the community. So, my own personal style was to build a team and I guess if I had to say a philosophy on that would be that no one of us is as strong as all of us, so working together we can accomplish anything.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning?
A: I would suspect that, more than a person who was great in staff development, I was pretty good in terms of staff relations and I did a lot of things that I thought would enhance the school climate. One of the things that I did, of which I was most proud was I developed a newsletter that came out about every 2 weeks called "Johnson's Jabberings", and what we would do, we would poke fun at ourselves, and things that had occurred and in order to do this, of course, I had to get to know the teachers, not only as professionals, but as people, which meant I had to get to know their families and that helped me because they knew that I was definitely interested in them as people and, I guess, if there was one thing that I believed in terms of a management style, was listening to people to the extent that they knew that I cared about them, and then, once that rapport was established there were very few things that I asked of my folks that they didn't do, and I am very aware if the contract because, this is a little aside. In terms of my 4 schools, Market being the first school, the WEA President was there. When I moved to First Street, the WEA President was there. When I moved to Reserve the WEA President was there. However, I believe in the working relationship it was not a confrontational situation. They understood there were some things that I had to get done and they understood that they had their particular areas of interest and so, I believe in working together with, not necessarily succumbing to, but working with and making sure my position was understood and their position was understood and sometimes when we didn't totally agree, we worked it through, but I was not a confrontational kind of administrator. So, my style was try to work with and cooperative, cooperatively.
Q: Were there any unsuccessful experiences in climate building in either building that you were involved in?
A: I suspect there were and I am not trying to be overly egotistical, but that was my strength. I am sure that there were some things that didn't work as well as I would have liked them to work, but there was nothing that I could really remember that was a real failure.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do, based on your experiences?
A: In a nutshell "everything." However, to be more specific, I think they expect us to be knowledgeable. They expect us to be visible, and I suspect both in the school and in the community. They want us to be approachable. They want us to be sensitive. They want us to have a sense of humor, and I suspect we better have a sense of humor, with all we have to deal with. They want us to be fairly well read to be actually an educational leader. They expect consistency, they expect honesty, caring, to be supportive and when necessary to be confrontive, but with a sensitive caring philosophy. I don't think the teachers expect us to allow them to get away with everything, but when we do have to, when there is some conflict they expect us to be able to handle it, not only professionally, but they expect us to be able to handle it discretely, when it's a situation between them and us, not the entire staff.
Q: As a follow-up would you describe the expectations both professional and personal that were placed upon principals by their employees and the community during your career, and maybe contrast that with what you see those expectations in today's situations?
A: Well, given the fact that I started in 1960 there was an entirely different atmosphere in terms of the total respect for the profession of education. They expected us to be the kinds of persons who go in and be models for the kids. Teachers and administrators were key figures in the community, and as that evolved, I think that the respect became less and less partially, because we acted in a less and less professional manner. And so, I think a lot has always been expected of teachers and educators sometime I think that we have been our own worst enemies, and because of our particular behavior less has been expected of us and that goes to everything from the language we use to our basic attire. My opinion is that we are expected to be a step ahead in terms of modeling what is considered to be good behavior whether it's attire, language, just general behavior, and, when we started slipping or changing what we felt was important that was a part of our demise in terms of how we were respected.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques or practices that worked for you in personal leadership.
A: I guess I was open and honest and when I agreed with the teacher, I said so, but when I didn't agree we were always able to discuss that also. And, that was because I think that we developed mutual respect to the extent that, just because I did not agree with the person that did not mean that I didn't like the person, there were very few times when anything personal about that. I thought that by being open and honest and when there were things that I had to do as an administrator, the teacher didn't understand, I did my best to explain my rational because there are just some things you just have to do. Democracy is a fantastic theory, it isn't always practical. So I think that when you do things that don't go the way teachers think they should have, you should have done them with a good reason and to be able to explain them, and for the most part that worked and I had a couple classic examples that it didn't work. I mentioned that I believed in being open and honest and approachable, well in the city of Warren, Ohio and I am an athletic fanatic as you know, however that comes second to being an academic fanatic, being for the kids and I had an occasion where I had to ask both my head football and head my basketball coach to teach a 5th class, which meant that they taught all the up to ten minutes to 12. You know, how could I be so unreasonable and I talked with them explained it to them and even explained that by some manipulating of the schedule, particularly when I had lost several social studies teachers from my building, I was able to bring someone else off the street and normally reasonable people would have understood that. They did not understand and then at that point I had to perhaps go into the mentality that I don't like to be a part of and say that I tried to explain to you but that's the way its going to have to be. That was not a very happy situation for them or me. They got over it and they survived, I brought a teacher off the street and life went on.
Q: There are those that argue that more often than not central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in caring out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue?
A: Sounds like a personal situation to me, but let me tell you how I feel about that Rich. I've always viewed central office people as being a part of my support system. Fortunately in my 30 years, 20 of which were in administration, I can't recall a situation worth mentioning that they let me down in that respect. Now I am not suggesting that they always did exactly what I wanted, but I can say that, I can't recall a situation where they virtually did something that I thought was bad for kids. I viewed them as being a support system and they knew that was how I viewed them. I did not need them to run my building for me. I needed them in some situations to offer support and when I needed that support I asked for it. To the extent that when I thought the classes were too many students in the class and I wanted another teacher, there were a couple of occasions, and those were when financial times were better, that I went down, explained my position, and received the extra teacher. So I have no overt complaint about how I dealt with central office. I thought they were a support system and for the most part they were very supportive to me.
Q: Cliff, If you were advising a person who was considering an administrative position what advise would you give?
A: Well, I guess you hear very rarely do you really pay a lot of attention to graduation speeches, but in 1984 Harding had a graduation speaker who said something to the class from which my son graduated that I've always remembered and have had opportunities to utilize when counseling students and that is that, "If you're planning on going into something take a look at who you consider to be the very, very best people in that particular profession and when you get on the job and when you have an opportunity to observe. Observe the very, very best and observe a number of people whom you consider to be very, very good and ultimately you will shape own philosophy, but you have to find the kind of models that will give you some insight to what its really all about. Talk to people, understand what you're really getting into. Make certain that you have the time. Make certain that you realize that some of your priorities your prior priorities are going to have to change. Make certain that you know about working with teachers and that they don't work for you. Make certain that you are strong enough to put that ego on the shelf,because often times things aren't going to go the way that you want to and when you blow up too often you try to prove to yourself that you're in charge. So you have to understand that particular perspective and make certain that's what you really, really want you want and, as I stated earlier, I went in for perhaps the wrong motivation, but that changed soon. Make sure that you're really ready to leave the classroom because once you leave the classroom I don't care how popular you may have been before you're never again one of the guys or one of the girls. Once you leave you're gone forever.
Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader and those that say just that realistically speaking the principal must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?
A: Without trying to straddle the fence, I think there's merit in both. I probably was more of a manager than an instructional leader and that would be what I would consider to be a shortcoming of mine. However, realizing my deficit in true instruction, although I did understand what good instruction was, I was in a unique position of hiring some folks and I hired people to compliment what I felt my areas needing stress were. So, I hired people who were strong in instructional area and I devoted more time to the managerial area. So, I think there's merit in both.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the assistant principal? Discuss the utilization of such personnel while on the job.
A: First of all I think that the assistant principal or principals have to be given some of the gravy. Too often assistant principals see only those persons who have done something wrong or been accused of doing something wrong, so I think it becomes important that the head principal understands the strengths of the assistant to the extent that each person is doing what he can do best and they're working as a team. I had, once again, the unique opportunity when I came in as a head principal to hire two assistants and these persons were quite different. But in terms of what I viewed the needs of the team were I was able to fulfill those particular needs but not by dumping on either one of them by making certain the persons had at least a piece of that particular portion that they felt they could do best. So they could derive some satisfaction out of the job. And then we met on a regular, regular basis. I mentioned earlier that I believe in the team concept. We used to meet every Thursday, with few exceptions at a certain time of the day, to make certain that things were going as we thought they should be going, but everybody had some of the gravy, and I believe in that.
Q: From that experience, will you describe the most effective assistant principal with whom you've had the opportunity to work with?
A: The most effective, without calling names, was a person who probably was his own worst enemy in terms of sometimes speaking out when he should be listening, and I worked with him very closely. But in terms of skills, in terms of ability, in terms of being able to do a number of things, I am talking about everything from having the knowledge and sensitivity to work with Special Education youngsters to having the acumen to work with computers, to having the savvy to become a good instructional coordinator, and having the overall personality to be able to get along with most kinds of people. Probably this person epitomized what I thought was the ideal assistant principal in terms of having the comprehensiveness of skills which allowed him to do a lot of things successfully.
Q: What became of him?
A: Unfortunately,I believe, unfortunately for the Warren System, he chose to leave the system.
Q: It's 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?
A: Well, it may very well be that from many people's point of view, I was skewed in this particular direction, because, as you know, I've been very, very active in the community. I'll just name a few; I've been Chairman of the United Way, Chairman of Salvation Army, Chairman of the Red Cross, Chairman of the Mental Health Board. I've been involved with the Urban League, Family Services, Fine Arts Council, Rebecca Williams, Northeast Ohio Adoptions, first Black on the City of Health, and many, many other kinds of things. However, let me just say this, rather than just doing all those things to have my name on a letterhead I have to admit there was a bit of selfishness. It wasn't all ultraism. I felt that by being on these particular board's I could have ready access for my kids, without having to go through all the red tape. If I needed something at the "Y", I would call and I had a membership for my kids. If I needed a basket from the Salvation Army, if I needed something from United Way, I knew the people to call and it was done. So, there were selfish reasons for this. I have always been philosophically in the helping mode but it was not just for ultraism there were some reasons there for the kids.
Q: Cliff, it's been said that there is a home/school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be. Would you give your views on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and citizens who were important to the well-being of the school?
A: I guess one thing, I had history on my side. I mentioned that I had the opportunity of working with youngsters who, eventually, in elementary school, eventually became a student at the high school. So I was active in coaching and I knew a lot of parents on other sides of town, but I guess that as a criticism not only of myself but perhaps of other administrators I feel that even though things worked fairly well for me, I think that we should have been far more pro-active in terms of working with parents to the extent that we should have had their input far more than what we did. Too often I think we forget that they were the first educators. They were the first teachers and an extremely important part of the educational process, and very rarely we do things for them as opposed to doing things with them. And I think that with their input and with not with just superficial input but going to them to the extent that we have to go into their neighborhoods, not expect them to come to us all the time. That there is so much more that has to be done pro-actively with parents and I think that is one of the real weaknesses perhaps in terms of schools throughout the country. Not realizing the importance of parents and going out and setting up real programs so the parents could get involved in as early a time as possible. And I'm not talking about just Head Start and those Pre-School types of programs. I'm talking about all the way through. I don't have to tell you that the interest and involvement of the parents wane as they go through the grades. I am saying that with a solid program we should be able to keep the parents involved all the way through, at whatever level they may chose to become, but, I think that we should have a place for them.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: I guess, and this is not, I'm not priortizing any, but clearly vision is very, very important and strong consistent leadership is essential. I think committment to quality, committment not just wanting quality and say it would be nice to have quality, but committment to quality is absolutely necessary. One of our problems is that we have and, that's on the other side of your question, is that we have been too satisfied with mediocrity. And staff development, staff Development, that is so very, very critical. I think that the schools that are successful have those components and many more but those are just a few. Those that aren't quite as successful manage towards, well there's crisis management. There is reacting, rather than pro-acting. There is very little teamwork every person for himself. There are no staff goals. You know, you're just out there going from day to day and there is poor classroom management skills. I chose to say poor classroom management skills as opposed to poor discipline because I think that in many cases with the better classroom management skills the discipline would maybe not disappear, but certainly it would be a lot less that what we have now.
Q: In 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?
A: It would be kind of hard to cut it down to three, but let me just say this. I think that clearly cut down on paperwork and, without being specific, let's just say, cut down on the paperwork. I still believe that there needs to be far more administrative in-service to the extent that it's a hands on kind of thing. For instance and I've not been in the system, since there is site-based management, but a thing that is that radical should have real in-service, so that people who have been used to things being done for them, can move into a smooth transition. The new philosophy I believe that it is absolutely essential to have better evaluations, objective evaluation instruments. I think that evaluations is one of the things that we don't do as well as we should and that I think, from our perspective and from the teachers' perspective, we need to have evaluation tools that can help us do what we need to do. Committment to excellence, committment to excellence for all kids and with the operative word being all. I think that for kids who sometimes are going to make it anyway we help that process and sometimes enhance it, but we aren't really that much, we really don't have much to do with it. I think, however, for kids who are having difficulty, I think that we have to be committed once again, to find out what their learning modalities are and somehow come off adjusting to what they're really all about, as opposed to expecting them always to come up to where we are. And being in my new position and travelling all over the state, I see the need for viable employee assistance programs. I think that there are many employees who, because of the stress of our everyday jobs, need help, the kinds of assistance programs in their particular systems that would allow them to have access to assistance without being ostricized, and be accepted for the fact that they have a problem and they want to work on it. I say that because, my experience is that it has a very negative effect, and I've seen that in my own situation.
Q: Just for information, you're working for ONTASC, which is.....
A: Ohio Network for Training and Assistance to Schools and Communities.
Q: As a follow up question, if you could change any three areas in the curriculum or overall operations of the American schools, what would they be?
A: Once again, there are a number of them, but I'll just choose three. I think there should be more and better counselling at all levels, particulary relative to the Elementary buildings. I think there needs to be, and you can see if you worked on the Elementary level, you can see where youngsters are starting to go astray and usually to some degree. I think we need to have counselling there, as a regular course, not just in terms of crisis situations. I believe that and I'm not saying this because I worked in so many buildings with union reps, but I think there needs to be a very definite improvement in terms of union / management issues. I think there is too much that gets in the way because there are turf issues and we are always in conflict as opposed to realizing that we are all working for, ultimately working for the same product. That product is, are, those youngsters. I think that too often, our own individual interests have very little to do with kids. So, I think that management and unions have towork closer together. An a particular interest of mine, I think there needs to be more cultural awareness. Now, when I say cultural awareness, I am not talking about black / white. That's certainly very important to me, but I am talking about a whole area of ethnicity. That needs to be looked at because that certainly is a first cousin of self-esteem. Regardless of what your particular ethnicity is, it is very important. Those are the three areas that I would touch upon right off.
Q: In your relationships with superintendents, and I'm sure there have been a few of them, would you describe your relationship with the superintendents in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school?
A: I guess the term I would use is laissez faire. By and large, they seemed to have thought that I was doing a decent job, so no one really bothered me. I alwasys felt that if I needed help, I could get it, but no one really ever came around. They pretty well left me alone.
Q: We have already touched on this, the cultural diversity and the great interest and concern at this point in time. Would you discuss the nature of the student bodies you worked with and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal?
A: In terms of the schools that I have worked at, first of all, there was Market, which was a school for the Special Education kids that gave me I thought real good foundations. The kids were different, ther were very different in terms of their rate of educational learning but that was all. They had the same hopes, desires, needs as anyone else. So I guess I learned how to look at students individually long before there were any I.E.P.'s. So that was very helpful to me. Market was a school that was looked down upon. Then I moved on to my next level, which was First Street Elementary School, 80% minority that also was a situation where you had to work hard to see that the kids liked themselves and therefore could be in a position to like each other and that was something that we worked hard at in terms of getting them to know who they were and to get along with one another and this happens when you are working. Then I moved to the high school and ran into the same situation and I deliberately did not mention my one year at Harding because obviously that did not fall into that category, but in all cases I felt that the self-fulfilling prophecy had a large bearing on the success of a kid so I worked with them to see that self-fulfilling prophecy was a positive one. Rich, let me speak just a little bit more about diversity because, I think that's extremely important both in our society, and in our,obviously in our schools. Let me speak from 2 perspectives. I deliberately excluded Harding, but let me retract that just a bit, because at Harding in terms of socio-economic diversity it was a classic example of that because we had from the most wealthy to those who had the least in terms of material wealth and so just seeing how they got along was a fine study in human relations. We worked hard to try and then do what I think that we ought to be trying to do now and that is celebrating differences to the extent that we bring, that we recognize that everyone has something to bring to the party and that those particular contributions should be accepted equally because that's what makes the party a good party and so that diversity was certainly there. In my other settings there was more homogeneity but in terms of even in terms of homogeneity diversity is there when you think in terms of just males / females. When you think in terms of those who are more able, those who are less able,those who are handicapped as opposed to whatever the handicap might be as opposed to those who don't have a visible handicaps. So I think we have to take all that into consideration when you start talking about diversity and that was I've always believed that there were probably far more similarities than differences, but not to forget the differences. Because differences are what sometimes makes us, us and so while both at Harding or Reserve or Market or First Street the differences were always important regardless of what the differences might be. And there are just so many differences that you have to look at as being a part of the person and accept the total person and try understanding the differences. So, I didn't run into to many of what we considered the traditional problem. The Black/White problem. There were some of those I'am not trying to deny that, but because we accepted youngsters as they were. When there were conflicts they usually were not racial. They were usually because folks just didn't happen to like folks, and sometimes they were black folks, vs. white folks, but it was not considered a racial incident so I thought I should mention a little about my theory of diversity.
Q: As a building principal, former building principal, could you describe your workday? That is how'd you spend your time over a the normal hours per week that you put in?
A: Well, I'm not so sure that the word normal should have been in that question because I'm not so sure what a normal day was. Essentially, my day was about a 7 to 4 day on as often as I possibly could. However, as you well know, particularly on the high school level there were athletic contests. There were concerts, there were plays, there were banquets, and tons, & tons of activities that you had to appear at because the students expect you to be there. It was very, very important for the students to see administrative support. It wasn't just because the teacher who happened to be sponsoring expected you to be there. The kids got a kick out of it, and I think that we can talk about we support you, but unless you we're visibly there then we're "talking a talk, and were not walking our walk," and kids pick up on that in a hurry. In my own particular situations, both while I was an Elementary Principal and a High School Principal, I happened to go to church on the same side of town that both schools were located. So, every Sunday without fail from about 11:00 o'clock until about 1:00 or 1:30 I was over at both First Street and Western Reserve doing some much needed paperwork, because that was not a priority of mine. Perhaps maybe it should have been more, but my priority was working with the kids, when they were there. And it became such a ritual, that my teachers knew that I was going to be there for roughly two and a half or three hours every Sunday and they would sometimes come over there because they knew I would be there. To take care of some work they had to take care of. So, in terms of what was my typical day. I'm not so sure there was a typical day, as you well know. You work, you woek a job like that.
Q: Would you describe some of the pressure's you faced on a daily basis, and explain how you coped with them?
A: Well, certainly in the later years there were the problems, the drug related problems. There were class size problems. There were teacher grievance problems. There were all these kinds of problems and I guess my coping mechanism took two particular avenues. When I was assistant principal, I did something that I personally thought was interesting, and that is that I would start calling students who were assigned to me who had a 3.5 grade point average or above. And started calling maybe one a day down and just talking, getting an opportunity enough to interact with them. As you know, it wasn't likely you were going to have too much of an opportunity to see them. And so, I did that for myself because I needed a balance perspective. I needed that for my own sanity, so I talked with kids who were doing some very positive things and the benefits of that were that I found out even those kids have problems, and I got the opportunity to know and meet them as people rather than just impressive statistics, and then you mentioned earlier in terms of my community involvement. That was an outlet to me. I think that my life was more than just school. School was the single most important thing that I did other than family, but there were other outlets that I needed. And so I did some of those other things even though the school often times received benefits from those things. It did give me an opportunity to get out and meet other kinds of folks and as exciting, and as impressive as educators are I feel that you should be interacting with people from other walks of life, and so to some extent that was my relief. I did not live school, that was very, very, important and while I was there I was total school, but I did other things also.
Q: Of all the involved decisions that you had to make while on the job, can you describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make?
A: I guess when I had to make decisions that might cost people their jobs. When I had to make a decision such as to whether or not to have an extra art or music class, because of the kind of kids who might be involved in those kinds of activities and might not fit as well as others as opposed to reducing an academic subject teacher and therefore putting more of a load on those other teachers. Those were really, really, tough decisions for me. When I had to make, I've only had the opportunity or I guess opportunity isn't a good word, but I only had the occasion to actually fire one teacher, and that was a very, very tough decision for me because even though I did everything that the law required that we do, and even though there was no opposition from the union, because we took every step along the way, I still felt that whenever you had to make a decision, which cost someone a job or it make things more difficult those were very, very difficult decisions and then of course being an athletic fanatic when I had to suspend a star player, that was very difficult, and it wasn't difficult because I was afraid of what the coach might think, or the flak the parents might give me. It was difficult because somehow we in the system had failed the kid as well as he failed himself. I am not suggesting that it was all our fault, but I am simply saying that in those periods where those difficult decisions had to be made I often wondered what more I or the teacher could have done to avoid it getting to that point. I had to do my job, and it was always important for me, when I had to suspend a youngster, whether they agreed or not, but they understood what I was doing and why I did it, but those were always tough decisions for me.
Q: Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal.
A: Well, I guess if I had success, it was because I knew my staff as people. I never asked them to do anything that I wouldn't do. I was available to them day and night and they knew that. When necessary to chastise or correct, they knew it would be a situation between them and me. But when we went into our office, it wasn't about I was Mr. Johnson, the principal, we were just two people who happened to have a disagreement and in that setting they could say whatever they wanted to and I felt that I could say whatever I wanted to, but once we left there, the disagreement was left there, and for the most part that worked, as you know there were sometimes that it didn't work, but that was my big philosophy I believe that most of the teachers knew that Cliff Johnson was going to support them. Support them wrong or right publicly, but if there were issues that I could not agree with. We'd come into the office and we would resolve those issues, and I would never put teachers down in front of parents or students I was always going to be a supporter up front.
Q: I believe you answered part of the next question, please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career?
A: I guess Spike Lee, had a movie called "Do The Right Thing" and I suspect that was what I tried to do both in terms of modeling behavior both for kids and for teachers in terms of not necessarily having a clock on my day. Coming early, when necessary, and staying late when it was necessary and treating people the right way and being honest and open and not having people wonder what I said after they left. They always knew exactly where I was and without trying to be overly religious, I just kind of treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I know I talked to my teachers and I would tell them yes, I would like for you to be loving and kind to all the kids, but more than that I want you to be consistent. I want the kids to be able to know every day what to expect from you when they come into the room. I believe my teachers knew what to expect from me when they came into the office. When they came to school Cliff Johnson was going to be the same person on Wednesday as he was on Monday or he might be on Saturday. There wasn't going to be vacillation all over the place, and I thought that was very, very important. And I guess I thought that was just doing the right thing, just treating people as I would like to be treated, and I would tell my teachers, "If you treat the kids the way you would want someone to treat your kids you're going to be all right."
Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship and maybe which training experiences were least useful?
A: Once, again without trying to straddle the fence, I can't think of anything that was least useful because there was always some learning experience even if a negative learning experience. Just by all the training that I had, but I suspect that my training as a counselor, my first master's was as counselor and as you can tell I like to talk, but I think it was very, very important to learn how to effectively listen and that carried me through a lost of situations in terms of teachers knowing that I was genuinely interested in what they were saying. So that was very, very, important learning listening skills. Then, of course I think that it is extremely important to be able to communicate well whether verbally or in written communication. And I always took quite a bit of pride in being able to do that reasonably well, and I think that communication is absolutely essential in any form of interaction and if what you are saying can be understood, and the way you want to be understood and vice versa you're understanding what someone meant, then I think it's pretty good communication and that carried me a pretty long way.
Q: If you had to do it again what kinds of things would you do better to be better prepared for the principalship?
A: Well, I mentioned earlier that I was more of a manager than an instructional leader. I think that I would have, would choose to become more interested in instruction and particularly different learning styles so I would be able to help my teachers in that particular manner. I would probably want to learn more about about Computer Science and how computers can help to make the job easier. I would clearly be about setting up more in-service. I believe that there is only so much you can learn within. I think you have to go outside and bring in some different sources to learn. I didn't do nearly as much of that as I would do now. I felt pretty good about what I was able to accomplish, but, of course if I would choose to go back and I'm not going to choose to go back, I probably would do some things differently. I would probably have more attention to legal matters those are the kinds of things that I would do. Learning about legal matters, getting into more in-service, and those sorts of things.
Q: This might be part of this question too. What suggestions would you offer universities as away of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions? You might want to comment on weaknesses in programs or training of administrators.
A: I think that too much time is spent on things that happen far too infrequently in terms of the training programs. Clearly I would get the candidate out into the field as early as possible, because you would have an opportunity to find out whether you really wanted to get into this. I would do a lot more with conflict management. I think that's absolutely essential. I would do a lot more with specific team building activities that would be non-threatening. I believe that there has to be direction for a building or for a school system for that matter and I would have philosophies or goal statements that made sense, were measurable, and attainable and I would build programs geared to that particular area. It would not be, well, I think this is a nice thing to do. I think there would have to be a reason for what we have to do. Those are the things that I think colleges should put more of an emphasis on, because you cannot teach the 60's techniques for the 90's behaviors.
Q: You addressed somewhat in terms of promoting these students being out in the field. This deals with the issue of mentoring, about having the students be with an experienced administrator as a mentor. Was there a mentor in your life, as an administrator?
A: Probably not a positive mentor. I think that I certainly was exposed to a lot of administrators who weren't bad, but I think that when you're talking about mentoring you're not talking about a person who's not bad. You're talking about someone who's good. I would have liked to have been able to spend more time with Dr. Boyd. [Dr. Richard Boyd is a former Warren City Schools Superintendent who also served as the Superintendent of Lakewood City Schools, State Superintendent of Instruction for the state of Mississippi. He currently serves as the Wxecutive Director of the Martin Holden Jennings Foundation, based in Cleveland, Ohio.] In terms of my time in Warren I think there were maybe 5 or 6 Superintendents. He was exemplary in my book, because he combined both social skills and the academic skills I think better than anyone with whom I have had the opportunity of knowing and I knew them all. As a matter of fact Bob Pegues was a very, very close friend of mine. He did a very fine job too, but in terms of being exemplary I would choose Dr. Boyd as having been the person I would have liked to have had the opportunity to have as a mentor.
Q: Was there an event or series of events in your career that you considered a challenge? What did you do to meet that challenge?
A: Oh, there were some. In my last year, that was the advent of the gangs, and was a really tough and tense time when situations and once again I mentioned that my staff and I particularly my administrative team and I worked as a team. And we did some techniques that I learned in the ONTASC training. We had community meetings. Everybody who was involved had an opportunity to sit down in a neutral site and explain his or her position and I had some particular expectations in terms of what was going to happen at my school. And they either had to adhere to that and the parents understood exactly what the parameters were, if they were going to come back. There was a situation involving one of our top athletes, and for the safety of the school environment, I put him and his primary antagonist out for about 5 weeks in a supervised situation where they were forced to be buddies. And the whole thing is that I believe you had to have the atmosphere safe and conducive for maximum learning. Whenever there were any kinds of disturbances to that particular end then we had to get kids out. However, always without exception, in order for youngsters to get back in school, there were absolutely no exceptions, there had to be a meeting with parents, and it had to be understood exactly what our conditions were. I did not back myself into a corner because, what I said and what I was going to do, I had to leave myself enough room to do it, but because of the years that I had been there and most of the parents knew that I would do what I said I would do they gave me support, but those were some tense, tense times because very frankly a school of 1400 could explode and there would be nothing, anything that anybody the teachers could do. I never wanted a situation where the police had to come and take over, because when they have to take over you've lost it.
Q: You've had some times to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.
A: Well, I think that my weaknesses were the fact that I did not get as involved as an educational leader as perhaps I would like to have. Had I done it again, I would have been far more involved in the academic portion of the whole situation. My strengths were staff relations. I believe that the kids were the ultimate beneficiaries when, in fact, the staff could work well together and so I viewed it as my job to help create the kinds of climate that enabled staff not to be able to work together, but want to work together, and I thought that was what I did best, I got folks to get along with one another.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pro's and con's of administrative service and any advice you wish to pass on to today's principals?
A: Well, I guess that in terms of the pro's it's a great, great, opportunity to serve kids, It's absolutely great. I say that because I never aspired to be anything on the central office level because I always wanted the contact with the kids and I think that if you are in a position to serve and work with kids and sometimes hands on as much as possible so that you really feel you are a part of the process. I don't think there could be anything greater and, if I miss anything about having retired, it's not being with the kids, on a hands on basis. So I think that in terms of being able to establish or be a part of policy that helps kids and to teach them that learning is a process and a life long process and that all that we're doing is playing an important part during a 12 or 13 year period of time, but, if in fact we can instill in them the love for learning, then I think that from a principal's point of view, from an administrative point of view you're in a positition to influence how teachers influence young people. And that's definitely something that I thought nothing was better. In terms of the things that aren't so enviable about the position, there's always the constant concern about funding. There's always a constant concern about parental support; there's always a constant concern about leadership from the top. Is that going to be something that you can live with comfortably? Those are concerns that you're going to have to deal with, but given the pro's and the con's. I think that the pro's clearly outweigh the con's, because if you're in it successfully for awhile, then there is hardly anything new that's going to come up that you haven't developed some kind of a strategy to deal with, and just as when you're working with teachers, they aren't going to like everything, and they have to know that, but they have to communicate to students that life is not going to always be what you want. But you have to take a look at even the worst situation and try and find a gem, something in it that could make it worthwhile, and so I think the pro's clearly outweigh the con's.
Q: Cliff, I've tried to be comprehensive in my questioning, but there's probably something I've left out. Is there anything I haven't asked, that you think I should have?
A: I think that one of the things that possibly we should talk about is what happens to your own family in the process. I think that when you get married and have kids you have to have a balance between where's your school life and your home life and you have to spend the time to explain with your family why you're away so much. And you have to, I think, take the opportunity to involve them as much as you possibly can in your other, your life away from home. And I think that is so, so, very, very important. I think that you have to be, maybe not out in the community as much as I was, but you have to have a strong spiritual life, if not religious life. I personally think that it's better if you have some form of religion, but I think that interacting with folks in church gives you another added benefit, when it comes to dealing with parents. I think that in terms of my having seen all kinds of parents black, white or otherwise in some of my religious activities gives them a notion that Cliff Johnson as a person is somebody you know who is ok. I just don't want people to look at me as a principal or school person. I think that if were trying to develop total kids from the holistic point of view I think we ourselves have to be holistic. I think that and I'm not one who talks about family values, because I think everybody has family values. I think it depends on how one defines family values, but I think that you have to have a strong family life to compliment your strong school commitment and you have to have a balance because skewed too much either way, something is going to suffer.
Q: Cliff, thank you very much. It's been very enjoyable and a pleasant opportunity to share some thoughts with you and with us. I appreciate it very much.
A: I enjoyed it.
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