Today is November 14, 1996, and this is an interview with Mr. Claiborne Johnson in the Community Room of the Buckingham Public Library on his experiences as an elementary school principal.
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Q: Thanks for being here today. Will you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, I am very privileged to take part in this exercise. I guess really I came to Buckingham in 1961 and stayed one year, and I did a variety of activities in the school and school community. Whatever they asked me to do I tried to fulfill it and do the best I could. I was in the classroom for ten years.
Q: What was your subject area?
A: Sixth grade. And in the year of integration I was pulled out of the classroom in October to direct an EASA program which was a federally funded program to assist all schools with the integration process. At the end of that year a principal retired, and I was asked if I would replace him. I had no idea that I would was looked at in that light, but as I forestated I tried to do anything I could do to help out the children or the school system in Buckingham County. So I went to that position and I stayed in that position for twenty-five years. There were a lot of times that it was very trying, but I had a lot of support from the community and the faculty. I enjoyed working with students, so that's the extent of it.
Q: Well, so my next question was going to be what motivated you to enter the principalship, but in a way from what you're saying it sounds as if it was an opportunity that came along, but it wasn't something you had planned.
A: That's correct. I felt that I would always through life, even as a youngster, I felt that I wanted to be a team player. Whatever position that came up if those in authority felt I could fulfill it, I would be more than glad to try it.
Q: And was that your basic philosophy in dealing with your teachers trying to get people to be team players.
A: Yes, it started at a very early age. My mother grew up basically in Augusta County, Virginia. We used to go there during the summer as youngsters. Walking up and down the lanes with older people and just discussing life in general. I can remember one gentleman saying what education was. He says that education is being able to be comfortable with anybody you come in contact with. And I guess I was eleven or twelve years old at the time and that just stuck with me. The fact that my mother was the valedictorian of her class, and her biological parents had died when she was two. She had a full scholarship in nursing to Virginia State, and she turned it down because she felt obligated to take care of her aunt and uncle who raised her. My dad I think finished the sixth or seventh grade, but he was the greatest historian I've ever known. He knew more world history than many professors, than many history professors that I have come in contact with. Both of them were very instrumental in my learning as a youngster. Dad really taught me the states and the capitals when I was in the fourth grade.
Q: This is a little off the topic but why do you think he had such an interest in history. Was there...
A: Well, he was in World War I, and he went and served and they were getting ready to send his outfit overseas, and the war ended. So he swears that they knew he was coming.
Q: He was going to end the war one way or another. I am glad he did it peacefully there. Well, did your motives change over the years? Now we have already said you didn't really think about going into the principalship, but once you got there did your attitude toward the position change?
A: Well, not basically. As I took graduate courses to prepare myself. Well, initially I started out in guidance, and I almost completed a master's in guidance when I got the position. I just shifted over to fulfill the requirements for the principalship. But I guess maybe in undergrad school, somewhere another along the line, I guess in either bull sessions or jam sessions in the room that we as students, undergrad students, wanted to know what we wanted to do in life and why we wanted to do it. So at that time I guess early on I felt that all children could learn. Maybe not the way that we really wanted them to learn, but over time that they could learn. And that all of them should have an opportunity to learn. It may take some a little bit longer, but if we give them the love and care, the tools, the patience and not be so restrictive as adults to be impatient, that they could have success. And I think that in life with everybody, all of us as adults, even graduate classes now, you know we get confused. As we get out of class we say now what did this professor mean by this, so it's and think if we can remember that and structure that with the small child that we can be successful.
Q: I think that is a wonderful philosophy. That is basically what I was going to ask next anyway. I am wondering in your philosophy of education, did the guidance background help you a lot in dealing with people?
A: I don't think so because all my guidance graduate courses were all in theory. So I really didn't put that to practice as a guidance counselor, but I am sure all learning and all experiences have an influence upon me.
Q: The next question I'd like to ask you about is what experiences/events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? I know you've spoken about your parents and the basics that they gave you. Can you think of any specific events?
A: What I can think of would be my experiences as a student teacher at Fayettville State. We were in a training school on campus that was controlled by the local education board, but was staffed by the college, so that every teacher had a masters degree and at least 15 years experience. I was paired off with a fellow from Greensboro, North Carolina, and we happened to draw the quote unquote toughest critique teacher.
Q: Oh, lucky you.
A: So the experiences we had there starting out, we would critique each other, part time classes you know where we would teach individual classes enough to second or third classes and eventually the total classroom. And I can remember we had a lot of army children there. Children whose parents were in the military. And I can remember very specifically one day I was teaching, I think math, and this note went across the room, and I didn't react to it but my partner interrupted it and put it in his pocket, so anyhow when we went home when we had to go back to the campus for lunch, because we didn't have the money that students have nowadays to eat lunch at the school cafeteria, and we went by the dormitory and opened the note. It was a real eye opener, the language, but anyhow something to the effect, "Look at that GD Mr. Johnson trying to teach." So that struck upon me then that once I got out and had my own class, that if I interrupted notes I would never look at them in class. I would put them away and eventually look at them, so that the students didn't know how I would react to it. And then there's the first experience in coming to Buckingham. I had three roommates and all of us fresh out of college, all very intelligent quote unquote. Calculators were a thing of the minority, we didn't have one individually. There were a few stores in Dillwyn who had them. And anyhow the first report, attendance report, at the end of September, we knew we could add, multiply, subtract, and divide, and we did it. And, anyhow, the first report, attendance report, at the end of September, we knew we could add, multiply, subtract, and divide and we did it. I was at one of the largest schools and went and asked one of the veteran teachers to check it. Of course, the thing was all wrong. That was an eye opener. The principal at that time was very understanding, but I would always get a veteran teacher to look over my work before I sent it.
Q: Well, in your dealing with teachers, which I've reviewed your picture books here, and obviously you're so well thought of, but I'm sure there were good days and bad days. What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do, and are they always reasonable expectations, in your opinion?
A: I think all teachers want to satisfy the administration the goals and objectives of the school, and of the county, but there are pressures for to bear, and I think that if administrators and teachers can look upon each other as people with feelings, emotions with assets and liabilities. If they can discuss those in a very mature way, I think they can be successful at the task at hand. It's very uh--sometimes things come up and you can't always explain as to why it has to be that way. There are certain matters of confidentially that has to be carried out. I think that when teachers and administrators realize this and really understand and trust each other, I think you have the makings for a good school climate, good educational outcomes and mutual respect. I think this rubs off to the parents and the community, also when they realize that if you make a mistake, I think you should admit it. People will respect you more and try to work with you in a positive manner. But if you take the attitude that you know it all, and you're the only one that knows it all, even if you are right, it can make for strained relations.
Q: It was interesting that you brought up parents. I believe that I had had a question later that I wanted to ask you, but it seems to be a good time now. What did you see as the parental involvement in schools today? I mean what do you see as the optimum involvement for parents?
A: Let me reflect back on something years ago. Probably when you were in school.
Q: (Many years ago.)
A: Seventh grade. I think your homeroom teacher used to comment that parents don't come out to PTA meetings, you never get them out to conferences--the ones you need. He left and his wife, both left. Buckingham and went to Albemarle. They became parents, both were working, and there were times when they did not make PTA meetings, so they saw how it felt. So you can imagine parents who in this day and time have to work, both parents usually have to work. Many parents do not have the educational level or the understanding that in a rural area, and sometimes they're threatened to, who wants to come to hear something negative, even when you preface it with a positive experiences, so I think we need to get the trust, the humanist, and the down-to-earthness. Get the parents to feel that they are really wanted, and it may take some ice breakers. When I say ice-breakers, I mean such things as little snacks or meals or games, such as carnivals, special days at school where they're involved, and they can see that teachers are just real people just like I am, only they have college degrees, where I may work in another occupation. I think like on career day, if we can involve some of those parents to come in, and they feel a part of the school, I think that it is an ice-breaker whereby they will support you wholeheartedly.
Q: Excellent, you know we've touched a little bit upon the teachers and the parents. I was wondering about your relationship with your employers, perhaps the superintendent, the school board, and the community in general. Would you touch upon those?
A: I've had four superintendents, I worked under four different superintendents. Each was different. School boards have changed through the years, but I tried through all the years to be up front, not put on a show, whenever they visited or came around. What they saw was what went on on any other normal day. I think that you do not have to tell them what you're doing. I think they can see it. With parents, I've been accused by my wife, of being talking too much, but that's the only way I can find that you can learn things. In a grocery store, at the barber shop, at the little league parks to make people see that you are human, that you are even though you have a position in a rural community that, well, years ago was looked upon being almost a god, that you are human just like they are to make them feel that you care about them, and so forth, and speaking to people even if you don't even know them to grin or to smile when you meet them or to on the highway to just the wave of the hand and this type of thing, I think this all contributes to people you know who they are, and they know who you are they, may, not know your name, but then when things come up you'd be surprised how many of those people remember those little things and come to your aid.
Q: Yeah, that was one of the first things I noticed about you when I came in, I said this looks like a people person, and you just seemed so friendly, etc., and I would have to think that really helped you in the principalship, to like people, you just seem to like people.
A: That all came from early up-bringing, I can remember we were poor, we didn't know we were poor. Both, my parents were hard working, and I didn't even know what welfare was, I had never heard the word. I can remember one day the guy next door was --his family had split somewhat, and the children were with the dad, and the dad had a very modern home. One son was in the same grade with me. The dad worked at the Veterans Hospital, so you know he made good money, and he also was a barber. I can remember one evening, we had in my family, Mom and Dad and my sister, there were four of us, we had four pork chops and the guy next door, who was in my class, came over and happened to be there at dinner time. Dad said to Mamma, and they both agreed, that he was going to eat, so somehow some kind of way we split four pork chops among five people. Mamma got a little bit aggravated at Dad, because she said this guy could have bought us and sold us so far as material wealth was concerned, and Dad said it wasn't the child's fault. That even at a young age, I remembered that as I got older, and so I've tried to do that in the classroom with children who didn't have it. To make sure they did have it, and as an administrator to make sure and to stress to the faculty and staff, if there is a need, we're going to take care of it. Those experiences that those children have at an early age, they may not say too much thank you now, but when they get older they'll remember.
Q: Well, what would you say to a person who's considering an administrative job. What would your advice be?
A: Don't take it. (laughing)
Q: Quick and simple, don't take it.
A: Don't take it. No, really I guess you have to be--it's a very complex job. It's a never ending job.
Q: Is it a thankless job at times?
A: At times, but the rewards come from, I think, when you see students who were very mischievous, who didn't seem to fit, but later on, even though they've had brushes with the law, come back and get straightened out. I can think of one young man, nothing we could do for him, it might have been our fault. He didn't have running water, didn't have lights for a while, and very mischievous, but he liked to do manual labor. He liked to help the custodian and so forth, liked to rake the excess grass on the yard. He probably dropped out in middle school or early high school. He got involved with the law, and I guess two years ago, I saw him around Thanksgiving. I was out and about--not it was Easter time--I was just riding around, and I stopped at this particular home. He happened to come down on that same highway, road, and started talking to him and he said, "Mr. Johnson, he said, I'm straight now. It feels good that when someone knocks on the door, it's not the policeman or the parole officer." He had married into a lady with a couple of children, she was a little bit older than he was, and they had conceived a set of twins, but he was very appreciative of what we had tried to do when he was coming along, but he said he felt so good. I feel that he is truly turned his life around, and he's trying to better the life of this mother by setting her up in a home.
Q: It does make it worthwhile when you hear something like that. 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 the issue and describe your own style?
A: Well, I guess personally I think it all depends on the age level of the principal at the time. Your language arts, your reading expertise are more needed, two of the things that are more needed in today's principalship, and many of the older principals were not well versed in those areas as instructors because for the most part they were upper elementary or secondary, so I think that being a manager to be able to provide from your support and provide to your staff those expertise in those areas of language arts and reading that you do not have and to realize I forestated, I think if we realize our assets and liabilities, I think we can overcome those. Now the younger principals, many of the people who've had extensive experiences in theory and probably classroom experiences in teaching reading and who are more up-to-date on techniques than some of the more mature principals. But I think if you can work it out where you realize it's not only in that instruction, well computer, most of the more mature people are computer illiterate, but if you provide, as a manager, if you provide the experiences for in service, I think you can overcome that. For instance, you may be aware that there are two attendance zones in Buckingham County, and the one that we're in where the school was burned in November, the K-3 school burned on a Sunday night. The next morning we had all those students and faculty in our building. We shifted around. You would never had known it. If you had been there that morning, you would have thought they had been coming there all the time. But anyhow a little bit after that that from that point on we had a K-7 population with many abilities. The superintendent asked me about computer network--IBM computer network-which would assist us in dealing with a wide variety of students and levels and so forth. I presented it to the faculty, and I said there would have to be some in service. I went before the school board in December to accept it. I told the faculty now we need to have some dates when do you want to do in service because most likely I'm going to get a call, and I'm not going to have time to poll all of you. They said they'd rather do it after school. So anyhow in January, I think the last day of January we did the first one. Before we set if up we provided them with a full meal after school. They asked how long it would take. I said probably three hours. Anyhow the in service trainer finished up in about two hours and told them they were free to go, but nobody moved. That's how long they had to stay. The second one was the same way. We had some parents in. We didn't really have space for them but they inquired about coming in we didn't say no. Anyhow we were able to make all of those teachers aware of how to use the system, what it could do, and what it couldn't do. Quite naturally, you had some more teachers who were quicker to catch on than the others, but the spirit of not knowing is not shameful, because they felt so close to each other they just asked somebody, how do you do this without being embarrassed or being put down.
Q: So as a principal did you promote a family atmosphere? Consciously or subconsciously?
A: That's what we tried to do. And even when we would get transfers in from other buildings, we would in our initial meetings, we would welcome them and let them know that we wanted them to be a full blooded child and not a step child. Let me back up since you've mentioned this. My mother was a domestic worker for a doctor, and Dad kept the grass up around there, but worked on a farm elsewhere. She and the doctor came to Charlestown in the same year and started out--the doctor started out in his home. They had three children, the girl was three years older than I was. I have a sister five years younger than I am, and sometimes she would answer the telephone. Lots of time she would answer the telephone for the doctor or either the household. The three children, the three of us played together. Well, the two older children the girl was three years older than I was, the middle child, the boy, was one year older than I was, then the other one was five years younger which was my sister's age, but the two older children and I played together. We were real close. They had a St. Bernard, pulled a wagon, he had a trainer, we'd ride through the streets of Charlestown on the St. Bernard and so forth. Then as I got older, the girl went to Duke, the boy went to Duke, I went to Fayetteville. The boy and I in high school delivered papers, the old Washington Star. We were the only two in Charlestown. We'd get promotions for new subscriptions and we'd get points, and we could get football and other games and so forth. Then the carrier would take us to Glen Echo, but at that time Glen Echo, which was in Washington, DC, was segregated. He couldn't understand why he could go, but I couldn't go. Nancy who was the girl, like I say they went to Duke, and they would fly back to Charlestown. I had no desire to fly. It didn't cost but $25 then, but Mamma would have come up with it. She said they would try to influence Mamma to let me fly back to Raleigh, Durham or whatever, but once I got there I didn't have any way to get to Fayetteville. Then as I got older I was in high school and college and Mamma would be working, we would have to wait like on Christmas and Thanksgiving until she got off before we would have our dinner. So I said "Mamma you're not making any money anyhow so let's just forget about this." So anyhow, I promised myself then if I ever got in position--don't get me wrong they treated Mamma ok--but I said if I ever got in a position where we had people all of us would do the same thing at the same time regardless of what title or what position we had. When I first went to our building, and I served, some of the outside community agencies would have activities, and they would pay the custodian and cafeteria person a little bit of nothing to work and they'd get some left overs. I didn't think that was right, so we finally worked on something county wide where it was a fair system for everybody. Then in the building we'd have little Christmas parties after school and before school. I wanted everybody to participate. Even they didn't have to if they didn't want to, but I wanted them to feel a part of it. I think that everybody got the message. There wasn't any resentment to it. The custodian, or the aide, all of the classified people should feel just as important and I think when you read through the articles it is so stated. Whatever successes or failures for that matter that we've had, it's been a cooperative effort. I think everybody feels that they are a part of it, a very special part. See when you get into these activities that go into the classroom, your special projects, where cooking is involved or extra dirt is involved you need these people, and they don't mind it, they don't mind if people come and say, "Will you help me with this? I need this, that, the other." Some people don't want extra work. But I've never known any of them to say, "No it's not my job, or I ain't supposed to be doing this." But everybody realizes that we're all in this together for the good of the children. This is where I think the family thing comes in.
Q: Well, I think this is a good point where I want to bring up something that I wasn't aware of until you brought this to me. When you talk about success you obviously did have success at Gold Hill Elementary. Could you just briefly tell me a little bit about this award that Gold Hill received?
A: Alright. Well, sometimes you're at the right place at the right time. You fill out paperwork that you don't want to fill out.
Q: Then it pays off.
A: Then it pays off. I can remember the Title I Director asked me to fill it out. You do so much that you just take for granted. You know what I mean. You don't write it down, but you know you do it. You're doing it to help children. It's enough to doing it as it is to keep a log and everything. But the director bugged me. I mean she bugged me and bugged me and bugged the Title I teacher. The Title I teacher said I don't know where the thing is, the application. So, anyhow, we were in a faculty meeting one day, and I think the custodian answered the phone. She was on the phone. I went back, and I was asking what was the name of that project you got us and the PTA counsel voted doing. Getting all that together and getting it in. The other things we were doing school wide, so we submitted it, and we were selected from the state. And we were, as I forestated, I don't think it's on tape right now, but I announced my retirement on March 1st. We received the notice of this award near the end of March. I told the superintendent I'd like to take two teachers. I didn't want to go by myself. If he wanted to go or the Title I Director wanted to go, I said I know we won't have to worry about money. I know I can get the money from the community or PTA, so forth. He said don't worry about that, money was no problem. Then we checked around for air fares and found out there was going to be an increase April 1st, but anyhow it worked out real well, and it was an experience for us. We felt great just going there to represent Buckingham County. All of us think that Buckingham County is special. Like any other place, we do have problems, but we have a whole lot of good going on. We were glad that we could go to represent the county, and our school in particular, and let them know where Buckingham County was. It was even more gratifying that on that Tuesday at 1:00 or 2:00 whatever time the banquet was held as part of the International Reading Association, we walked in this ballroom, and there's more than 800 people. We were seated at a table with one of the schools from Tennessee. There were two teachers who worked in Buckingham probably about fifteen years ago, when the states were recruiting out-of-state teachers for a while, that we had kept in contact with, not me personally, but some other teachers in the county, and we let them know we were coming. One was already a delegate to the International Reading Association, and her sister took off from work, so they could be with us with their cameras, and recorders, and so forth.
Q: Oh, wasn't that great!
A: When they pulled us to line up alphabetically by state to go across, and get the award, I mean your heart fluttered with pride to be a part of that from rural Buckingham County.
Q: To New Orleans. I think that's incredible. I get the impression that you're probably, you were active in community affairs. Would you discuss your influence with that, you may not have had time, but I mean you were obviously very visible in the community I would think?
A: Well, after student teaching at Fayetteville State, we came back and we took a course called "Problems of the Teachers". We would discuss things that happened during our student teaching experiences and so forth. Then I guess we had a group of 10 or 12 maybe 15 students in each session, and our faculty person who led that group told us some of the things we could expect when we got out, all depending on where you went. If you went to a rural area they might expect you to teach Sunday School every Sunday, pray every Sunday, do all this and so forth and so on. So when I came here to work one year, I found that to be here. You get up in church to pray and your knees are knocking.
Q: They thought you were the right one.
A: The roommate was at one of the smaller schools, and one of the parents was close to having a child. They asked him if he could deliver it. He said no, why? They said you are a teacher aren't you? So those things, I learned to expect all that when I came to Buckingham. As I said I never said no if it was for the good of children. I had limited scouting experience myself, but I did work with scouts early on here, more as supervisor. I couldn't tie a knot, and I still can't tie a knot. To go out to Camp Picket and Buggs Island more as a supervisor, and up on what is now Wintergreen, up there with the larger guys, then little league.
Q: Always little league.
A: As a Board of Director, coach, umpire, concession, anything you name with little league, I've done. I was on the Board of Directors when they got the grant to get the Gene Dixon Park going. Special Olympics. Mr. Kaye, the superintendent at that time, had gone up to Lynchburg and came back, he said well I think you coach little league, would you mind working with special olympics? I guess that was twenty plus years. I worked with that very actively. But, to see those children, who are very appreciative, to take them to state games in Richmond, or regional games in Stafford County to the Tidewater area and so forth was very rewarding. Being around all those people, people you've never seen before, they don't know who you are and where you're from, but you have an obstacle, but they just pitch in. When students get stepped on, you don't hear the abusive language, but the excuse me. They are very appreciative of what you do for them. And then to get them wherever we would go anywhere, if there were anything of historic interest, we would make sure we would give them those experiences, such as touring Langley Air, the Norfolk Naval Base and some of the other Naval areas in the area, and going on the actual battleships and seeing the interior. Then on Sunday morning when you're getting to ready pack up to come back home, you hear the kids say, "I don't want to go, home." But you're ready.
Q: You're ready. I remember those school trips I used to take.
A: And then, as I got more mature. I somewhat gave it up. But people used to ask me how can you put up with kids all through the week, but then give up your weekends and leave your family. But I had a very understanding family. And these kids, as I say all of this was done for the children. I wasn't the only one, but I mean, if it's something to see a child smile, I want to be a part of it. Even now, I don't have those responsibilities like I did, I still like to see them smile.
Q: I'm going to shift gears a little bit here. Teacher evaluation is sometimes a touchy topic. What was your philosophy of evaluation?
A: Alright, I think that in education and in some other things you have to have accountability, yes. But I think you have to use some common sense with it. Extreme cases there's no problem. You can document everything, but I think you have to attract people to education, reward them, and I think with that in mind, being human but firm, I think that then the managers and teachers know what's expected, and it makes for a better situation. If you know what is expected of you, if you are person who wants to do that, then you're going to do everything that you can do. There are going to be times when you're not going to be successful and I think that that's when the manager has to step in and support that person, especially when they see that effort there, but it's just a little thing that's blocking that outcome. I think it has to be noted that improvement is needed, but I don't think the managers need to come down on those people, as if they're hardened criminals, because the effort is there. Sometimes the decision early on gradually works and sometimes some of the best decisions are the decisions that aren't made. Sometimes you need to buy time and then when that change comes around for the positive, then you go to that person, they feel relieved too. They say I'm glad you didn't give up on me. I can remember, I didn't have it, but I inherited it--a beginning teacher with a split class. Some people didn't think too much of it, but now like I say, I didn't have it, but I finally inherited that person, but the decision was made that first year. It was a terrible mistake. The person was very conscientious person, very community oriented, they weren't born in the community, and that person was a very good teacher. But I think the accountability has to be considered, but I think it should be a mutual agreement. I think we as managers are responsible to our people--our teachers.
Q: Do you have particular characteristics in mind that you think are associated with most effective schools, or maybe some characteristics that you think of with least effective schools?
A: I guess most effective, I think you need an open door. I know I think sometimes we think we want to try education in the business mode. But we aren't dealing with objects and numbers. We're dealing with people. Don't get me wrong now, I think you can model to a certain extent, but there's a human side you just can't factor in. For instance, there's a policy that if you want to have a parent/teacher conference, you call the school, get a time. But sometimes the situation is of the nature, that your best thing to do is to make arrangements for that, for a number of reasons. It may be a situation that can get resolved without getting more involved because of waiting. If you get, if the staff realizes that you don't want to make an everyday occurrence, but I mean you have to use some common sense with some of the policies. For instance, this situation down in, what, North Carolina with the harassment. I mean you know--
Q: That was out of control, wasn't it?
A: I think maybe it was a good thing I got out of it because I'm a people person, I'm a touching person, and I don't mean anything by it. But you would see me anytime standing in the hall hugging a teacher, not hugging her, but arms around her because they have a problem, the kids are everywhere. I think you have to use common sense with any principal, any policy, law, I mean you can't break the law but--
Q: Stretch them. I want to move down to a couple of things that I think are some interesting features here. What was your workday like? I mean my impression would be that you probably put in a lot more than the eight hours, but what was a normal workday for you?
A: Well, it all depended on what was going on. I've always been the type of person, and I go back to my family, Mamma was, she could tell time, she was very intelligent, but she'd always be late and Daddy would be running and he'd say, Dorothy I tell you the train is not going to wait on you. So that stuck in my mind. Even in college, and coming up I believed whatever you had to be, be ahead of time. Coaching little league, you couldn't get there with practice at 7 o'clock, you couldn't get there and start to get ready and be prepared. So in education I felt the same way as a classroom teacher. I felt I had to be there before anybody else. I can remember one time when I was at school late with a valid explanation. I didn't get there until nine, and I felt lost the whole day. So as an administrator, I know you have other people who have responsibilities, such as the custodians checking the building, and so forth and so on. They check the playgrounds and make sure everything's safe there and this type of thing. But I felt I had to be there early to see if everything's ok. If I heard about a nail coming out of something, if you couldn't get it back, you'll call maintenance or bus situations. I did have a touchy situation, a few years ago, a good number of years ago that happened at the end of the day. I wasn't aware until after everybody left. I called the superintendent and we met. I might add too that everything that needs to be done that's touchy, or that's an extreme problem isn't done, in my opinion, behind a desk, just two people discussing it. We went out on the ballfield, so nobody would hear us. You know, what we were going to do, and how to handle it. I met that parent, the parent worked, and I met that parent at 6 o'clock in the morning and listened. We got it worked out, and we took care of it. Like I say, sometimes the best decisions are the decisions not made. The teacher resigned before school started the next year. We put him on leave, certified letter and everything, and worded it in such a way that we weren't you know, we were on pins and needles but it worked out. Like I say, how long a day, it all depends. I personally feel that, and see in a situation where you do not have an assistant principal--
Q: So you didn't have an assistant principal?
A: I don't feel it's right to ask somecbody else to do something when they aren't getting paid for it and putting in extra time too. You know what I mean?
Q: An interesting point there.
A: Like field trips. No matter what time they left, I felt obligated to be there when they left, well, before they left, and when they returned. Thank God I was able to do that. Even when I had the heart attack, I had people who did it because they knew that I wanted it done. I didn't call. When I had my heart attack it was on a Thursday night, and I woke up at 3:00 that Saturday morning, the pain was gone, and I started barking orders to my wife again. I said you don't have to make but two telephone calls, and everything will fall into place. That was Memorial Day weekend in May. But the people who were in charge made sure that for every bus trip there was somebody there when it left, and when it got back. I felt as a manager that those teachers were taking time out they didn't have to do that with the class. When they get back if a child has not been picked up, I don't think they should have to stay there for two or three hours. I wanted to be there. I said go on home, I'll take care of it. Even though my day was long too, but they had it was more stressful to be on a field trip with twenty some kids.
Q: I remember those days. What, I guess I probably want to ask about three more things, but I want to give you an opportunity to bring up things that you want to bring up. I do believe that there is a lot of stress in all positions throughout the school, but I would see the principalship as having a lot of stress that other positions don't have because basically in your institution the buck stops with you. How did you deal with stress and pressures?
A: Well, I guess early on, when I first came to Buckingham, I got involved in athletics. Hauling teams up and down the road with no compensation. I was a classroom teacher now. Announced the football games for Carter G. Woodson, and so forth. Then carry over, to consolidation, I'd go to all the games home and away. You know I had young kids too. I guess that was somewhat of a relief. A Friday evening, and you're going to the game at Buckingham County High School, standing out on the football field. I'm not saying that this is my stress relief, but I think that did it and going to the basketball games, and so forth. I guess you really don't some people don't really look at it as being stress. You have a job to do, and you're supposed to do it. Then you look back on what you've done throughout your life, and you find out really there hasn't been anything that's been easy. I can remember working at one time we had two race tracks in Charlestown. I worked on clean up on both of them. One of them required that you, had a philosophy, that after each race, you turn your wide brooms over backwards and go down through and get the heavy stuff after each race. While people were outside looking and then you wouldn't have as much at the end of the day and get overtime. Stress, just about every job has stress, and sometimes you don't even realize it is stress, until somebody tells you it is. But I was thinking back about when I worked at the race tracks. One group felt that if you keep up with most of the trash you won't have so much at the end of the day, and you work a lot of overtime. At used to - I was single then - and I used to tell Mamma, "I'm to tired to spend the money, I've got it, but I'm too tired to spend it." I haven't found a job yet that didn't have some stress in it. I think that I've had teachers tell me that they would go home and be washing dishes and think about some thing from school which I guess is not uncommon. But I'd say you're so young, if you're doing this now, what are you going to be later on? Sometimes you walk and talk to yourself- answer yourself. You know they talked about taking prayer out of the schools, and you can't do this and that. I still contend that you can, maybe can't do it loudly and openly, but many a day I walked down the hall humming. In one of those pictures, one of those teachers mention that she doesn't know what I'm humming, but I am thinking something from a superior being. Sometimes you have to wait to make a decision. Sometimes the thing you think is going to be the very stressful thing does not turn out to be, but it's very much worry for you. You're so relieved when it doesn't turn out in a very negative way. I don't guess there's any one thing that would be a panacea for everybody to relieve stress. At one time the state of Ohio had a high incident of suicide among administrators. I don't know this was twenty years ago I guess, but I think that administrators would realize they have a choice. Nobody's making them. If it's too stressful, I think they should swallow their pride and go to another avenue.
Q: Good point. You brought up something earlier that is not on my question list, and you certainly don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, but I was here, I went to Buckingham Schools. We were talking about this earlier about how I was probably in the room next to you or something at school during the time of integration. I thought it was interesting that you told us that you were put in charge of that massive effort at that time. Would you mind talking a little bit about that era? Was it one of the times during your principalship, well you weren't a principal at that time, but you saw the effects of that. How do you think Buckingham Schools in particular did with that effort, and if you had things to do again, would you suggest anything done differently, or I'm just very interested in that time period. I guess because I think I was in the seventh grade when we went through that.
A: I wasn't a big dog at that time. I wasn't called in on some of the things, but everybody was apprehensive. I think everybody was apprehensive. I was president of the VTA which was the negro or black teachers association. I think Mr. Morgan--
Q: Oh, John Morgan.
A: John Morgan was with VEA. There were committees set up or there was a committee. I know I met with at the time, the black principals, Mr. Frank Harris, Mr. Arthur Russell, Mr. Allen Gooden, and Mrs. Carol Jones who was the black supervisor. This was prior to integration now. The what is now the middle school was S G Ellis at that time. At what is now Gold Hill was Washington Carver. We met, I can remember meeting several times in the library of what is now the middle school discussing how to go about it. It was suggested by the black group that the schools would be paired off--primary, elementary, just like it turned out to be, the only difference was as I can recall, and you can check with Mr. Harris to make sure, was that Carter G. Woodson would be the high school, and Buckingham Central would be the middle school. The reasoning for that we felt that Carter G. Woodson was better equipped, the science lab and the gymnasium, but we felt that there would be opposition from the white side, if I might say that, to that. So like I say I wasn't a big dog then, but I remember those discussions. Now what went before the school board I don't know. Of course, everything came out the way we recommended it except the secondary high schools. That summer before integration I guess it was from UVA, I'm assuming it was from UVA, there was a workshop. Teachers participated I guess on what to expect what to do not to do. I was in grad school, so I wasn't here, but when I came back, and school started in September or August whenever, I had a sixth grade class on the second floor of what is now the middle school. Nobody told me, nobody told me, but I felt that my class was stacked with special, with certain people's children. I was supposedly a good teacher. Let me back up before that, but I don't know if you remember but about two years before that you had freedom of choice, where some black teachers were put in white schools and white teachers in black schools. My wife was one of them, she was moved from Washington Carver to Buckingham Primary, this was before integration, I think one year. She didn't tell me at the time, but she said she cried and cried, because she didn't want it, but after she got there and went through it, she was ok. But anyhow we went outside and, I was on the second floor, and a black boy and a white girl got in a scrap. So I had a habit of preaching anyhow, so to speak, you know, that's my style. So after everybody went to the bathroom, they came on back, it was near the end of the day, I said,"Well, close the door. We've had a little problem. I said you know what we had problems when we were separate and I said a boy and a girl got into it, a couple of licks were passed, nobody was hurt. I said the boy happened to be black and the girl happened to be white. And I said I don't want to hear anymore about it. I said I don't want it to happen anymore." I didn't. I don't know whether Mr. Gooden did or not. This girl was your neighbor. Remember Woodall Nancy.
Q: See I knew one of the younger sisters I think.
A: One that is a year younger than you and the guy Perkins.. (We stopped the tape because we had started naming names.)
Q: I have one question that I want to ask about politics with schools. A--Do you think that there is an influence of politics local or otherwise on schools, and B--If so, how did you deal with it effectively as a principal?
A: I think, Miss Mottley, politics play a large part in anything you do in life, but I am not, I have never been politically active in politics. I have my own views. I do generally vote one way, but I don't even let my wife know how I'm voting. I try to look at people. I'm not saying that in the political system we have in America that any one party is better than another. I'll never try to evaluate that. I think there are some pros and cons in belief, but I think the human side of it is what we need to look at. To be more specific, you get questioned sometimes about certain things and you feel that there's a political motive behind it. The way I felt I try to deal with it, and I haven't felt pressured in any way from either side. I try to talk to all people. We've had them to come by school; I've kept them out of school so far as school time, but like after school, if they want to talk to people on a voluntary basis or they come by, we had some to come by on horse and buggy day. I took them inside to see what we were doing. No students there, and mention certain things like we need more funding for like computer education and preschool education. For those people who are in more highly visible or active areas where politics become a very huge problem or situations in the daily running of the building, I think you're in great danger. As I forestated, sometimes, the best decision is no decision and, sometimes, when things come up, you don't have to tell the person, no, or I'm not going to do it, or I don't think it's right. Sometimes you don't condescend to what they want, what they want to try to get about, but I have not through my years felt pressured either way. Like I say to any group that comes by, I try to be courteous, but I don't let them impose personal stuff on teachers.
Q: I wanted to ask you too, I guess I'm interested in this because I'm currently at Virginia Tech as we've discussed, but in your dealings with graduate courses over the years maybe the courses that you've seen your teachers take, etc. What suggestions do you have for university programs? What's needed? What do the universities need to be helping with?
A: Well, I've been very fortunate I think to have had graduate courses from a predominantly white university. I got a masters from a predominantly black university. In both instances there were mixed black and white or other nationalities in both situations. The first year I worked in Buckingham, I went out to Indiana University. I took a research course, a psychology course. The research class I think had 500 students in it. You would have lectures. Dr Olaski, he was a visiting professor. I think he was from Purdue, he was a big ten official. But when we had lectures most would go to his section because he was down-to-earth with his lectures and they made sense. He could equate it, take the theory, and present it. The lab sections in research I had weren't that exciting. The first graduate course I had from UVA was before integration in Buckingham County. It was at the high school, survey of exceptional children. That doctoral student was from Vermont and he was down-to-earth. That's where I learned about all aspects of special education from one end of the gamut, of the spectrum to the other. He was very realistic, made sense. Every time you left the class, after each class session, he didn't leave you pondering what did he mean? I guess it may have been a blessing to the guys that I didn't continue or may be I can't compare it because I've never been to a predominantly white graduate program all the way through. But I went to Virginia State. Like I said I was in guidance, not specifically administration. I guess I had a good set of professors in administration. Guys who had been through it from the beginning all the way up. Guys who had started schools, visiting professors, visiting resource people who had been through, who were in the trenches doing it. I think of Paul Henderson who is deceased, he died about a year ago now. He got his doctorate from George Peabody in administration/supervision. He was in the Richmond area. He set up John F. Kennedy High School; he was a military man. I talked to some people who had been in interviews with him, and he had scared them to death. The first class I took under him, I was really scared. I thought if I'm going to go through this graduate program, I'm going to have to get him. So I did a presentation on the Taylor movement. I was very well prepared when I did it; all kinds of charts, handouts, very well versed, nobody could tear me down. Then I figured, after class he asked me about getting a job in Petersburg, so I figured I had him there. Even though I was skeptical when I first got around him, but his experiences having gone all the way through the trenches, setting up schools and so forth. Then a resource person we had I don't know if he's still living now but Elmore Rainey. We talk about the block schedule now. Elmore Rainey was the principal of Peabody High School in Petersburg years ago. They had, I don't know what they called it, but the same thing as block schedule. They had graduation twice a year. He didn't have a computer to figure out who goes where, but he would come into class in with his handwritten, crude program and explain it, how it works, how you did it. Now, it's what block scheduling and everybody goes along with it. Rainey became the superintendent for I guess a couple of years down in Petersburg. But what he did back then, you know having graduation twice a year, helped to alleviate some of the discipline problems because of lack of interest. You aren't just getting rid of them, but giving them an opportunity to, as you said, double up or get advanced. I think here in Buckingham, I was allowed to be around people who had been in it for a number of years. Who gave you opportunities to do things that were administrative in nature. You learned from it. I can remember one year when we did the registers. I think this was right after we integrated, and I think there were twenty-four registers at the end of the year, they wouldn't check out. So we had to take them after everybody left and put them on a big table in the cafeteria and spread them out. Come to find out one teacher found a one number mistake back in October or November, and had changed it, and had not told the office about it, so we found and corrected that. But I had that experience as a teacher not getting paid, and I worked with that. So that taught me some things about registers and so forth and the pitfalls of that, accounting students at the beginning of the year to see how many, you know you have an attendancy roll. You think you know who's coming and who's there. I can remember the first year I worked, see you may have a roll, back then you didn't have a restricted number, thirty-six or thirty-eight. A teacher would say they had thirty-four. But when the reports came in at the end of September, come to find they didn't have but twenty-seven. So that made me when I became an administrator, I would go around to the rooms and count heads.
Q: Do it yourself, if you want it done.
A: But little things like that helped me a great deal and trying to listen to the parents or whomever.
Q: Well, I have really enjoyed our time today, and I have one final question for you. I've reviewed some picture books with you that you had been given, when you retired, with all the teachers there and everything. Just in even speaking in with you today, I can just tell that it was obvious that you were a success as a principal. What do you remember about the experience that you'll always be very proud of, or that you'll feel good about? And how do you think we should judge principals today as to whether they're successful or not, or is there any way to judge that?
A: Personally, I don't think you can really judge or say during a tenure whether a principal has or has not been successful. Good school climate, good teacher morale, high student performance, they're all great and so forth--and everybody would like to have them, but I feel that if we can take what we have as a student, or as a teacher, or employee, and move them to their greatest heights, so that they're satisfied, and that satisfaction will carry on with their life. It may not be instant measurement of success, but if down the line, if there's been a difference made then I think an administrator could say that they were proud to have been part of it. But so far as saying an administrator has been successful or is successful, there are too many variables, and all of us who would like to have perfect school climate, perfect teacher morale, students going above the national level and so forth, but remember that we're dealing with human beings. I can go back, I'm not an avid reader. I read what I had to read and could understand it, but some of these government regulations even they don't understand them. I can remember whatever the spark was for reading didn't hit me until the sixth grade. As I forestated, my parents were poor, I needed a $1.25 for a workbook, we didn't have it. I found an old pocketbook with a dollar, and they scraped up a quarter. I was so happy to go to school that Monday morning and have a dollar and a quarter. I would go to Sunday School, and we'd read along. I'd be so embarrassed to read, because the younger kids could read much more fluently than I could. But whatever hit me in the sixth grade, I guess early elementary I probably would have been classified as LD or some other program, but whatever it is. I think it is the same way with children today. They may not get that spark right away, but whatever it is, as I think Dr. Shuler who's an evangelist on TV (said), "Success is not final and failure is not fatal." Something to that effect. I may not be quoting it a perfect quote. I think if we can think about that as the little Johnnies and the little Marys that comes through us, give them love, a feeling of self worth and do the best that we can, and try many different ways to approach them to learn, I think we've done all we can do.
Q: Well, I want to thank you for your time today. It's been excellent.
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