The subject of this interview is S. Roger Koontz, a retired educator who lives in Frederick County, Virginia.
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Q: Mr. Koontz, would you please recap for us the chronology of your professional career: when did you become an educator and what positions did you fill through the years? How many years were you an educator and how many years were you a principal? What we'd like for you to do is start at the beginning of your professional career and briefly summarize it for us.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: All right, Larry, now some of the dates of course are going to be foggy... I began in education in about 1951. I began at James Wood High School when it was just opened. It was the new consolidated high school for Frederick County. They took five elementary schools, or five previous high schools, and put them together and made one high school. And I taught there and the first year. I taught government and history, I believe, and I coached. I coached baseball, assistant coach in football, assistant coach in basketball. Also during the years at James Wood I coached the high school debating team which was probably as much a thrill as athletics as far as I was concerned. I moved from athletics to full time history and government, for I was interested in government. And after about seven years at James Wood, I was offered a principalship at Middletown Elementary School. We moved to Middletown, and served there for a period of about eight years, seven or eight years. Matter-of-fact, all of our time periods seemed to go in seven or eight year stretches. I served there that period of time, and from there was offered the principalship of a larger school, the Stonewall Elementary School, in the north end of town. I went to Stonewall and served there about approximately eight years, and at the end of that time we opened a new elementary school in Frederick County... an open school... Apple Pie Ridge. A new concept... a new experience certainly for us in Frederick county. And I was asked to take that school and given the prerogative of selecting the teachers that I wanted to take with me. So I took teachers from all the schools I had been plus other people who had a good reputation and we opened Apple Pie Ridge Elementary School and I think that was in 1973 or 1974, and I served there until retirement three years ago as the elementary principal.
A: I think because you had more control of what was going on ... you had more input into the situation... you had a better overall perspective of what was going on, and I think that this mainly was the reason. Because I think you could see better from the principalship what needed to be done. You had an opportunity to, a limited opportunity to, move people into slots, and you had more of an opportunity to help children. That is, children that needed special help.
Q: Roger, what was your code of ethics as principal? Did you have a model, someone you patterned yourself after?
A: I don't know that I ever patterned myself after anyone, except that the first school I went to, Middletown, had a ... who was then an elderly lady, she's still alive today... a lady teaching second grade, Myrtle Rhodes. She had been there most of her life at Middletown Elementary School, and she began quite early to tell me that if you want to do thus-and-so, that these are the things that you should be doing, this is the way you should respond to things, and I respected her and she gave me a lot of good guidance. She was an excellent teacher, she was a person that could have a class laughing and cutting up, and without raising her voice or changing an eyebrow, could bring it right back to ground zero, and go on with the lesson. She's just a unique individual. I think these people are born; they come along once in a lifetime. In fact she's still alive today. When I went to Middletown, Middletown was on its way down. It was in a lot of trouble, not only the school but the whole community, and I think that with Myrtle Rhodes' help, I think, in the school, we turned that whole community around.
Q: Would you elaborate a bit more on Middletown Elementary School? It apparently was quite different from your lest assignment, Apple Pie Ridge. Would you contrast those two? That would perhaps give us some insight of the 30 years of education that you have been part of.
A: Of course Middletown had totally self-contained classrooms. They were large rooms. They were airy rooms. There was a lot of room there for creativity on the part of the teacher. There was some competition between teachers to see who had the best looking room or who had the most going on in their room. And very early I made it a pattern to ask teachers, 'What have you done today to make it exciting? What has happened today? Why should the children want to come back to your classroom tomorrow? What's going on in your room?' And I think this is pretty important. I think kids have got to want to learn, and I think that once you instill in people the desire to learn they will learn ... they will put forth their own efforts to learn. And so, Middletown was totally self-contained classrooms. And at Middletown, when I went there, there were seven sets of twins backed up to each other, or seven sets of brothers and sisters, backed up to each other, in what was then the seventh grade. Where children had been failed, held back, and we straightened that situation out in a couple of years. I think that once children begin to realize that you did care about them, they take on a different response. And of course that totally contrasted from Apple Pie Ridge, because Apple Pie Ridge was a totally open concept. We had one large room with five classes in it, and of course the building was specially built so that you could teach your children in your corner with a microphone, and outlets that spoke only to your group of children. And I thought it had a lot to offer, it was a good place for outstanding teachers... it was a poor place for poor teachers. One of the things that we instilled early in the teachers was that they would have to work with each other. And on many occasions, I met with a classroom pod of five groups, and I heard one or two teachers say to a couple of other teachers, 'Our pod is pretty noisy. It doesn't look as if your carrying your end of the load in there today. It doesn't look like very much was going on in your group today. The trouble, if there was a trouble with open concept, was you're performing before other teachers all day long. And not many people can take that, because school teachers, just like everybody else, have a tendency every now-and-then, to want to close the classroom door, close the little window, give the kids a little extra something to do, or at least keep them quiet, and rest a little bit. That's been one of the concepts of education since time began, and it still goes on today. But in the open classroom it's impossible to do.. you've got to go pretty much all day long. Now the only way you could do that would be to give teachers planning periods, and we could do some of that using Bible for one hour, and part phys. ed., and so forth, but we just never had the people to really give open education an opportunity to function. You can't put a teacher in a classroom all day long with five classes... you can't perform on the stage all day. But in an open classroom, if you and I are teaching in the same room, if you continue to let your class get out of control, and you're yelling and shouting at them, you're interrupting me, and pretty soon I'm going to tell you. I'm going to say, 'Larry, couldn't you do a little better than that?'
A: Yes. I don't think that I varied my leadership style at all. I have always believed that a teacher, a professional teacher, is a well-educated person, and within certain restraints, certainly ought to be able to perform her duties. I believe that a person will perform better when given a wider area to work within. And I pretty much followed that all through school. And I told my teachers very early in the year, that 'You're a professional person, and that these are the things that I expect that you are able to do, these are the things that I expect you to do. Now if you can't do them, or you don't do them, then we'll have to sit down and talk about that. But I'm going to let you teach school as a teacher should teach school. I want you to come to school with enthusiasm. If you've got problems, leave it at home, these children have problems, too. But, you come to school in the morning, ready to work all day long. I want the children in your classroom to be happy. I want those children to like school. I want them to want to learn. And there is no reason that you can't help them to do this. And by-and-large, over the years, the teachers that I have known have responded to that. I've probably have let as many teachers go, maybe a few more then most people in the county, but I've never let a teacher go out of bitterness. The people I've let go, I've sat down with them and said, these are the factors we were going to do to start out with... you haven't been able to do them. But you do have some other qualities that might make you an excellent, maybe shoe salesman, or dress maker, or something. And so, I just believe that.. I want room to work. If I'm going to work for you, I want room to work. And I don't want you down my neck all day long. You tell me what you want me to do and give me room to do it. And I follow that same concept with teachers. I told them what I thought I wanted them to do, and that I would be there to help them, and that I would have an assistant there to help them, I would monitor what they are doing, but they would have the room to do.
Q: I went to zero in on one thing you said, and that would be the dismissal of teachers- You've been involved in dismissing several- Do you remember the issues or the reasons? What would be the most prevailing reason why a teacher under your supervision would be dismissed?
A: Most of the time it was lock of the ability to control children. I con think of several people right up front, that were pretty fair-to-good teachers... they tried hard. I've sat in their classrooms with them, I've talked to them afterwards, but they just did not seem to be able to communicate with their children. And without bitterness, we've been able to sit down with them and say, 'Now, these are the things that went on today. Do you agree or disagree? We can't have these things, can we? What do you need to do better? And pretty soon you come to the conclusion, and she comes to the conclusion, or he comes to the conclusion that, 'This just isn't my bag.' Teaching isn't for everybody. I think that's one thing we've got to get away from. You know, 'If you can't do anything else, you teach,' is a bunch of bologna. If you can't do anything else, you can't teach either. And teaching is probably one of the hardest things there is to do .... to be a good teacher. And a good teacher enjoys what she is doing, and I thing that one of the things that we are taking away from teachers today is the creativity to do what she can do. Everybody can do something. I tried to make the people that work for me feel at home ... feel at ease... to be able to come in my office or stop me in the hall ... and talk about the problems she had, or I had, and go from there.
A: No. I don't think I ever dismissed a teacher for insubordination. I've dismissed teachers for not being able to do... but insubordination... would appear to be a lack of leadership on both parts. If you have to dismiss me for insubordination, you're a little bit deficient yourself... in that you're not able to channel my insubordination into other areas. No, so I've never had to.... I've had to be very frank with some people. I've sat down and told some people that if this can't happen, if this can't improve ... one problem that I think we've had from time to time that one problem that I had with some teachers.. I had a couple of teachers one night that... on a date they were on... made a remark to one of their dates who worked in a factory that 'The kids in my room can't half read!' Well, the next day that was repeated around in the factory, and it got back to me. And we sat down and had some very frank discussions about.. and .... very simply if you can't improve on that then maybe you should look at another profession... one that you're happy in yourself. If your children can't read that means that you can't teach them, either.
Q: Roger, what would you consider to be the major task of a principal?
A: I think the major task of a principal is to get a group of teachers all moving in the right direction. I think... I've seen many schools that were... I don't think anyone knew what direction they were going in. I don't think the teachers knew where they were going. And I don't think the community knew where they were going. Many of our schools have problems relating to the community. I think one of the jobs the principal has is to relate to the community. And he has to relate back to the teachers. He has to be able to get everybody doing the same thing,or at least moving in the same direction... and it takes time, and it takes an effort to do it. But it can be done. There are many very fine schools.
Q: Could you specifically illustrate for us how you conducted, as principal, public community relations? Could you give us some illustrations how you, as the principal, enhanced the school's image in the community?
A: Well, yes ... I think that one way, of course, that a principal can relate to the community, or to his school community... is through organizations such as the PTA, and teacher groups, and that type of thing. This is an excellent opportunity for a principal to relate to the people in the community. But we have many schools where the principal doesn't even come to the PTA. And if he comes to the PTA, he has nothing to say... and he leaves before half the people leave. The principal has to be there first, he has to leave last. He has to be able to sit down and talk with people that are a part of the organization. Also, I think all of our schools are involved in different fund raising affairs. I think this is another way a principal can relate to a community. I think that if you can have a good, wholesome, fund-raising involve-thing going on at your school, you can involve the community. And there are certain civic leaders in every community that have children in your school. You can know, get to know those key children in your school. I think it's very important to get to know some key children... get to know John Smith's children... so that you can talk about John and Mary and Billy and Jane. Not that you shouldn't get to know all children, but you should get to know certain key children in the community. Because, just like there are key children, there are key leaders in every community. And every one of them are concerned about their own children.
A: Well, of course, one big part... one big slice of the pie has to be internally, within the school. Getting to know the people in the school, the other personnel, such as cafeteria personnel, the janitorial personnel. Then you have to get to know the children. . You have to know the children in your school. I think that's one big advantage that an elementary school has over a high school. In elementary school, your kids love you. They haven't been broken away you can walk down the halls of an elementary school... you can walk down the hall at Apple Pie Ridge School... in the middle of the day.... and there may be six children that would come up and put their arm around you... or ask you a question... or walking down the hall going to class the other way would give you "five" with their hand and keep right on going. You can't seem to get that rapport in high school. From what I hear, they may give you "five," but it may not be the same way! And of course, that has to do with the age of the child. But the elementary school principal has an opportunity that no one else in this world has. Because those children... when they're still in elementary school, are the heart and soul of the parents of the community. And there is nothing that could be more open to him than to work through those children to them (the parents). So they would cut a big part of the pie. I would guess that almost fifty percent of your time would almost have to go with your student body. And I think you've got to be fair with children... you've got to be frank with children. I think you've got to punish children when they need to be punished. My father had a razor strap when we were boys, and when I went to Middletown I took that razor strap. And when you would fold a razor strap four ways... bring that long strap back and fold it so there were four pieces of leather... and you hit it on something... or somebody's behind... or against that wall or something... it sounded like a 30-06 had been fired. And get I don't think... I can't ever remember a child getting angry about being punished. I think the child has to know why you are doing what you are doing.
Q: Mr. Koontz, what do you think teachers expect principals to be? What is their perception of the principalship?
A: I think that the teachers expect principals to be... to be their in-between buffer... between themselves and the outside world... either the parental world or the hierarchy of the school system itself. And I think there has to be a comradeship between principals and teachers that makes the teachers feel like the principal is with them in what they are doing. I think, once again, the principal has to be as firm with the teachers as he does with the child. If she is doing something, or he is doing something, that is wrong, I think you need to call them in and you need to sit down and talk to them and say... 'You know, I think this is wrong. I think what you are doing is wrong. What do you think about it? Tell me why it's right then. You know, you're not spending half the time with your children going outside or something. Or your kids are going out and standing in the corner outside... is there a problem with this? What is the problem? Teachers have developed over the years... and I think that if there is one thing that I have seen happen from Middletown to Apple Pie Ridge... teachers have developed a fear that they didn't have at Middletown. When Myrtle Rhodes and Mrs. Aines, and Pat Bordon, and these people... they were sure of themselves... they knew what they were doing, and they did it. But, somehow, we said, 'We're going to let the administrators run these schools,' and we began to pick away at teachers... and teachers developed a fear of administrators. And many administrators, matter-of-fact probably most administrators, when push comes to shove, stand with the superintendent. Or they stand with one of the many supervisors. And then she (the teacher) stands alone in her entirety. And that just doesn't work. I never will forget, I told Dr. (Melton F.) Wright, he was an outstanding educator in my opinion, that one day he came out to our school... he was upset about something else, and anyway, he went on and on, and by the time he left he had everybody upset... including me. So I then followed him out to the school board office and I told him, 'You know, you spent half an hour upsetting every teacher in my school. It will take three days of my time to get those people back to the place where they were before you arrived, doing a good job of teaching." Of course his response was, 'That's what you're being paid for." But I think that's a problem...you can't walk in and upset teachers, or a class of children and a teacher, and then walk out and think everything is going to be 'hunky-dory.' Human beings aren't made that way. And the principal has got to stand with his teachers. If he doesn't stand with his teachers, then he doesn't stand at all. Because when push comes to shove, he'll find the administration isn't standing with him either. So he's got to make up his mind very early where he stands. You know, do I stand with these teachers, do I stand with the administration, do I stand with the supervisors ... ? You can't stand with everybody, because there are a lot of conflicts that go on in every school. You can't run and get behind this one and then run and get behind the other one because pretty soon everybody is going to put it together and they'll say 'Well, that fellow, he goes with everybody."
Q: You've brought us to another question- As a career principal, with more then two decades of experience, you had to work under three superintendents, if I remember correctly- Right. We'd like to have your views on the office of the superintendency. We'd like to know what you think are the characteristics of the superintendent you found to be most effective, from the perspective of the building principal. What are the characteristics of the school superintendent that you found to be most effective?
A: I think one of the most outstanding characteristics that a school superintendent con have is the ability to sit down and converse with the principal, and tell him very frankly his views on things... and listen to his views from someone else... from the principal. I think he needs to say, 'You know, I'm not... God didn't put me here... make me a superintendent. What do you see as the problem? Many times a superintendent goes into a new school system that they know absolutely nothing about it, and all of a sudden they become... they have all I the word, from el I oyer, how to run it. And they're in trouble... they're in trouble right in the beginning. So the ability of the superintendent to be able to relate to his principals.... And I think that the superintendent has to deal with his principals, rather then with intermediary supervisory staff. One of the big jobs that I see of the superintendent... one of the big problems of the superintendency... we have gone in American education to a supervisor of everything - nuts to bolts. And of all phases of education. And most of these people do not know their authoritative limits either. So it's becoming a big, big, big mess. No one really seems to know who has authority over anyone. For instance, a supervisor may come in and say, "We're going to... We're going to... this room you have here...we're going to make this a special room. We're going to make this a special education classroom in this room. We're going to divide this room in half and put half special education here and half Learning Disabled's over here.' Well, immediately the principal's reaction is, 'Like thunder.' So then you're right back up to the superintendent. And where does he stand? I mean, who... where's his key? He's got to establish who he's working with. He can't work... he can't stand with all these other people. I mean he's got... there's got to be a relationship that goes directly from the principal to the superintendent. And there's got to be a relationship between those two people.
A: I don't ... I don't think so. We had some conflict when we opened the open school (Apple Pie Ridge) about how it should be done. No one knew a great deal about it ... everybody got a few books to read ... there were a lot of different ideas. But in the end, we did it pretty much the way I wanted to do it. I've always been the type of person that...I'm going to it pretty much... pretty near the way I do it... unless you can convince me, not just tell me... now if you con show me, that's fine...but just don't tell me that we're going to do it this way, without having any reason for it. I think that... and the superintendency certainly is an important role... the superintendent has to bring the community in behind the school also. A good superintendent is a good public relations man. I think a good superintendent is meeting civic clubs, meeting key people in the community. I think his job has grown beyond just that of a school person... because the school takes up most of the money in a community. And whether we like it or not, it is the focal point of most communities. And the superintendent who can't relate to the community can't do his school much good.
Q: With the benefit of your experience, what changes could you recommend in the organizational setup of administrative responsibilities, from the superintendent down through the assistant superintendent, down through the area supervisors, to the principal? Is there any organizational change that you could recommend?
A: The only organizational change that I think I would recommend is that I would make it very clear to area supervisors who.... where the final word was on a particular situation. So that there wouldn't be a great deal of confusion of about what was going to be done. Many times area supervisors go out and make up dates for a test (standardized tests) and bring them then and give them to a school principal, which really doesn't fit his schedule at all. So I think that there needs to be more of a definition of the job of area supervisors. And who they are responsible to...because most of them are running around, not knowing who they are responsible to. Don't know if they can pull a child out of a class or not. It's a constant problem of how many children they are going to pull out for this... pull out for that. And there just needs to be a better definition of an area supervisors' jobs, and I'm not taking anything away from them... they should be under the control of the principal of the school to a great extent. Somebody's got to run that school. When ten, fifteen, twelve, people begin to run it... nobody runs it.
Q: Roger, you mentioned a while ago the role of the PTO or the PTA. What advice can you give to a principal who is trying to maintain a good rapport with the PTO? Did you ever feel threatened by the PTO structure, that they were trying to run the school?
A: No. No. I've never known of a PTO that has taken over a school, except in instances where the principal has abdicated that responsibility. Now I've seen PTO's take over schools, but they did that because of weak principals, or principals who were not in on the sharing and the organization. You can work with the PTO... you can work with their nominating committee... give them suggestions as to who you think a good president... a good hard worker would be. And then you can get in there and help them. A lot of times parents that make up PTO's are very, very, very important people. Now they may plan a fund raiser... and the principal can help them make that a success. Or he can say, 'They planned it... let them do it.' And the thing can be a flop. And that happens a lot of times. And when that happens, the principal bears the brunt of it. Yes, I think the PTO is a good organization. I think... I've never had a PTO that didn't work with me. And I've never tried to control a PTO. But I missed very few meetings of PTO's when they were going to elect key people, or looking for somebody to head the finance committee, or going to nominate a new president, or this type of thing. I don't necessarily say you have to run it, but you need to know what is going on in your building. And I think they are very good organizations. The PTO'S, PTA's... matter of fact we started a PTO at Apple Pie Ridge and we hoped the PTO's would extend on in to high school. I know there is a problem with that in high school... many high school kids don't want to see their parents back in school. The biggest problem I see in school is the transition of the children that leave, say seventh grade to high school, or right now leave fifth grade to come to junior high school. You'll never believe the change that comes over those children. I think one of these studies... and I think it was the first one on education... I don't know which one it was... pointed out consolidation. I think over the years I've come to the conclusion that consolidation was wrong. Probably one of the worst things that happened to schools in America was consolidation of schools. And I think that to consolidate elementary schools is a mistake. I think that children need to be... when you begin to take children out of o community... haul them away... they begin to change. The some thing is true with adults. Go to a teachers convention in Richmond, or Roonoke, or Norfolk, and you'll think you don't even know those people... why, you didn't know that fellow did that... you didn't know those people would take a drink... they're not the same people you knew. But they are... they're the same people. It's when you take them out of their surroundings. Then how can you take a ten-year old out of his surroundings and not expect him to change? When we would see those children leave Middletown, and bring them down to the junior high school, a week after they came back... they were changed entirely. They would cuss you out. Some children. Very some children. So bussing is the curse of American schools, in my opinion... and consolidation. We need to get back to... especially with elementary schools... we need to get back to small community schools.
Q: As principal, you faced a conflict of interest accusation. You had a role, also in the community, for a long tenure as chairman of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors. I'd like for you to comment on that incident if you would, because I believe that was a major issue in the state--- and you, and our later-to-be assistant superintendent, were involved in the accusation of conflict of interest- Would you comment on that, Mr. Koontz?
A: Yes. I don't think there is any conflict with teachers holding public office. I think that teachers are as good as anybody else in the community... matter-of -fact, they're better than some. And I see absolutely nothing wrong with a teacher holding any elected position. I saw nothing wrong with me being chairman of the board of supervisors. The suit for conflict of interest basically.. the first one also had to do with the fact that I was also chairman of the Frederick County Sanitation Authority. Now the Sanitation Authority... board of supervisors... chairman of both... was fairly close. A person... a lawyer... saw a good opportunity to get his name down in Richmond, and he sued. I had already said that I was going to resign from the sanitation authority, but he sued anyway. The conflict as far as... was later brought up... had to do with voting on the budget. Judge Woltz ruled that in his opinion, that there was no conflict... there had been an earlier opinion that a school person, who had been elected to the board of supervisors should not vote on the school budget, because of, naturally, conflict of voting on his own salary. Well, to me this was wrong, too. Because as you know and I know, as chairman of the board of supervisors, I had no more to do with my salary then did being principal of Apple Pie Ridge. But anyway, the NEA backed me in a suit, the circuit court ruled that I could vote on the budget if I so desired. I did not vote on the budget that particular evening of the ruling. It was taken to the Supreme Court... the Supreme Court of Virginia ... held that a principal probably, PROBABLY, should not vote on the school budget. But that's the only issue. You can vote...a school budget is only a small part of the total county budget. You're taking about a 35 million dollar budget. You can vote on all other sections but the school budget itself. And that didn't make any difference to me... that become a political issue with a person who wanted to run for the board of supervisors. Of course, teachers are fair game for everybody to shoot at. But I think that more teachers need to get involved in politics. I think that's where the real strength of the thing lies. I think that when you stand back, and you don't participate, and you take what's handed out, you're not doing a good job... either to yourself, the children, or the people in the community. Now, every good PTO, every good school person I've ever known or worked with, has supported me in every election I ever ran in. Plus contributed to campaigns. And have all said, 'Run, run, run.' And there is now an organization of them that are asking me to run this next round. Which I haven't answered. And I think that school people need to stand up for something. Let them sue you. Let them charge you with what they'll charge you. I think that teachers have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
Q: Mr. Koontz, what do you think of merit pay? In recent years this has been major item of discussion by teacher's organizations. One phase of that, or one aspect of that, is the career ladder for teachers. What do you think of the concept of merit pay?
A: Well, I think the concept of merit pay... it's a good idea...it sounds good...but, I think it would be pert-near impossible to apply without many injustifications. Primarily because there are many excellent teachers who are never really recognized for their excellence. And, on the other hand, there are many teachers who are mediocre... who are thought to be excellent because they' re good talkers. Now you can say evaluation, and that's fine.... and if we were all fool proof and foul proof... it would work. But being human beings, there are those who would not give teachers credit for what they are doing... merit pay, for personal reasons. Or even maybe just for misjudgment. All through the years, principals have taken teachers from other principals. You may have a teacher that you want to get rid of... or is marginal... and you may end up sending that teacher to me. To me she may turn out to be an excellent teacher. Now if we're to grade that teacher for merit pay, I may say 'Yes, give her merit pay.' You'd say 'No.' Because it's all in the interpretation of what is good teaching. Good teaching is deeper, it can't be... I don't think you can really measure good to excellent, outstanding teaching. It's almost silent.
Q: Well, that leads me to another question that is in the same vein. How do you evaluate good teaching?
A: Well, of course, you should evaluate good teaching. And I evaluate good teaching by observation, by conversation, and by talking with that person... and getting reactions from parents and teachers...fellow teachers for that person. I don't think I could sit down and put down a one, two, three, four, five, and come up with a number of twenty five... and say twenty three was this and nineteen was that. Teaching is more than that. I just think that you've got to evaluate good teaching... you've got to be a good teacher to evaluate a good teacher. And that's another problem we have. We have people that are going to evaluate teachers who have never taught. You know, it takes a painter to recognize a good paint job on a house. Anybody can paint it... but you watch a professional, or listen to a professional talk about that painting, and it's an entirely different story. Or you see a work of art, and hear a professional explain it, and then just an ordinary person explain it. So, I evaluate that person by the feeling and the motivation that she is able to instill in children and people she's worked with. Much of her evaluation will come from how her follow teachers react to her.
Q: Do you think that you can evaluate a teacher when you don't personally know that teacher?
A: No. No, If I didn't know her I couldn't evaluate her. That would be a...that would be impossible to do. That's like grading a test without having the paper. Some teachers do that, too!
Q: Mr. Koontz, in your relationship with teachers, did you ever have a teacher file a grievance against you?
A: No. No, I never had a grievance filed against me by a teacher. I've had a teacher say she was going to... and we sat down talked about it.
Q: What was the issue?
A: Well, she was pregnant, and she thought that I had been harsh in talking with her and maybe upset her to the point where it might cause her to lose her baby. I didn't think I'd been harsh at all... I thought we had just talked about the issues...and of course if she was that pregnant, in that condition I didn't feel like she should be teaching... regardless of what the law said. And after she talked it over with some other teachers... she came back and we are very good friends, and are good friends even to this day. I think she was just afraid she was going to lose her child, and felt like... that I had upset her.
Q: Mr. Koontz, you've spent, as we pointed out a little while ago, more then thirty years as an educator. And at the end of your career, a report came out... the President's commission--- that I believe was very critical of public education - The report was generally known as- A Nation In Crisis.- What was your reaction to this report? Was it a too harsh indictment, or was it something that should have been said a long time ago?
A: No, I don't think it was too harsh an indictment. The legislature... I, at the time was involved with several legislative committees. And I know that... I don't think that the report was presented to the legislature of Virginia. There was never any... at the time I was serving on a committee with Senator Walker, and we talked about it. The harshness of the wording was sort of... qualified before it got to the people that could really do anything about it. Somewhere up along the line in the higher echelon, somebody wasn't satisfied with it. So it really accomplished little or nothing... really. It was stuck away in several places... we've had... the girl... the lady from Fairfax who served on the commission came up here and talked to several groups... she talked to a guidance committee... a state guidance committee in Richmond that I serve on about it. And we talked about the fact that we felt like it was sort of being pushed under the table. And I got the opinion that she did, too. There is a crisis in education. There isn't any doubt about that.
Q: Mr. Koontz, one of the criteria that that report was based on, I believe, was the declining standardized test scores--- the SAT scores--- that students were making as they graduated from high school... the decline in these scores. What do you think of testing? As a principal, you were responsible for testing in your school for a long time. What do you think of testing?
A: I think that testing has a role to play. The SAT scores... I think there were some answers in that we were educating more children... we were bringing a different caliber child to the front. But yes, I think...matter-of-fact I think we need to begin testing very early. Now, way back, when I was at Middletown... we began in the first grade and tested children, and by the time we had a child through the fourth grade, we had Pitner-Cunningham, we had... we had four tests... by the time that child was in the fourth grade. And I had a fairly good picture, and I had all of those test scores on every child. And I could take your child's folder and sit down with you and tell you, 'Larry, here are three intelligence tests we've given your child. He scored seventy on one, he scored eighty on one, he scored eighty two on one. There are a lot of other factors... but, unless something very important happens, that I don't see how it could happen now... he's not going to be probably much more than a "C" or 'D' student through school. You need to accept that... I need to accept it. We need to work with that child. He's just as valuable as I am. He's just as valuable as you are. But we need to recognize that. Now to brow-beat that child, and try to make him bring home 'A"s, and to withhold his allowance until he brings home an "A", and all the other things that you do or you can do... is wrong in my opinion. That's wrong.' And we need to do that with all children... we need to know. And I would hope... if I left early... and that's one thing... I'm sorry I left before we really got into computers. The year I left we were just starting to get into computers. I would like to see us be able to put down on that computer, the complete history of every child in that school. I would like to be able to read off of that computer at least four intelligence tests that that child has had. I would like to be able to read off other test scores that he has had. I'd like to have a picture of that child. One of the things that's wrong between elementary and high school... and I've checked this out myself... I accumulated, everywhere I went, I accumulated luminous studies on children. At Stonewall, we accumulated reams of material on children. We could tell you just about anything you wanted to know about a child. We could tell you who he lived with... about his parental situation... how bad that was, or how good it was. I could tell you about how good he would score on a test. We even made some predictions as to what a child would do, in the future. And we passed those on when the child went to the junior high school. Well it so happened that about six months, I was up at the junior high school, and I asked a teacher about one of these children, and she seemed to know nothing about it. And I said, 'Well, did you see on his permanent record card where he scored thus-and-so?' And she said, "Oh, I haven't seen his permanent record card. Do we have his permanent record card?' I asked the principal, and he said, 'yeah... they're here somewhere...I know you sent them up, cause I've got it checked off here where you sent us all these permanent record cards.' What a horrible waste of all that time that was put into that child! Here we gave you a picture of that child. A perfect picture! What he could do. What could be expected of him. Everything that we had of him... and you tell me that you've lost the picture? Or that you don't want to look at it? Or you don't have time to look at it? And I told Jim Hutton this... I told supervisors this... that they needed to get on the ball and find out where this material was... and why wasn't it being distributed... and so forth. But I still don't think it's being distributed today!
Q: Mr Koontz, before we leave the reaction to the criticisms of public education in recent yours, as a result of the report by the National Commission on Excellence In Education, I would like to discuss the report issued by the Virginia General Assembly, in which they enacted what would be called the Standards of Quality.
Q: Did you... what was your perception..- did the action on the part of the general assembly have a monumental effect on education?
A: Yes, I think it did.
Q: Would you tell us... would you explain why you think that the Standards of Quality adopted by the general assembly affected education like that?
A: Well, when the Standards of Quality came into effect, and I think it was in about 1951 or 1952, 1 believe, somewhere in there, I was involved a little bit with the House of Delegates at that time, and with a superintendent in another area. And I was a little bit into the Standards of Quality. The Standards of Quality was the first time that this state had said, 'This is what you're going to do for children. Now up to that time, in Virginia, you just did whatever a locality wanted to do. Yes, I think... now the Standards of Quality have been watered down. The General Assembly has weakened them, and weakened them, and weakened them. Matter-of-fact, the Standards of Quality said that the number of children in the classroom should be reduced. Now I think you'll find the year before last, the General Assembly real quietly passed that up. You don't have to reduce the number in the classroom anymore... you can increase it. You can increase it two students. And that was one part of the standards that I fought for, because I think, along with this early testing that's going to have to go on, I think that you need to get these children up to the first... fifth grade in school, I think you need to establish a pattern about them... you need to convey that pattern to the parents. I think there needs to be parental and school intercourse on their children, like we were talking about.
Q: Mr. Koontz, nobody can argue with the fact that the job of the principal has many demands. How can we better prepare a person to become a principal? The principals of the Twenty First Century... What suggestions would you offer to universities, state certification requirements, those who set them?' What would you suggest that we could do to better prepare individuals to become principals?
A: I think that you could better prepare them... you could be better prepared.. by identifying them. Not everybody can be a principal. I think that even the universities need to identify the people that would have the qualities to become a principal. I think that the schools need to do that. Now, you know, I sat down with a teacher ... who wanted to be a principal, who had taken part of his work already ... and I said, 'You know, you don't have to believe what I'm saying... because I'm just like you... but I really don't think that you would be happy being a principal. I don't think you could do it. And these are the reasons I don't think you could do it. Now, this doesn't mean you can't do it, because a lot of people have heard that and gone on and done other things.' But I think we need to identify people. I've identified people who have been teaching for me, and said to the superintendent. That person would make a good principal.' He needs to go to that person and say, 'You know, maybe you ought to think about taking a few classes.' That's one of the jobs of the principal... I think, is to identify the women or man that works for them. And I have done that over the years. Esten Lambert is a good example of that. I've said I thought Esten would be a good principal, and Esten went back and took the class, and there was a lot of people that said that they didn't think he would. He's in Woodstock now, and they're thrilled with him. Esten will be a good school superintendent... I mean school principal. But I think one... in better preparation first off , they got to do better selection. They got to do better selection. And then in preparation... I don't know much that you can do in preparation... if you don't have the ground work to work with...if you don't have the mold... you can't make the cup.
Q: Speaking along those lines... trying to determine what you could do to improve the individuals who are becoming principals--- what does it take to be an effective principal?. We would ask you to narrow that down and give us, maybe, three traits of an effective principal. What would you say?
A: It takes the ability to communicate with people. Tell me in ten words or less, what do you think about the moon? Tell me in ten words or less, what do you think about that computer? What do you think about anything? Many people can't communicate. Maybe I can't. But many people can go on for half an hour, and when they finish.. and somehow we've gotten to think that that's what the principal ought to be able to do. How many people have you heard walk out of a meeting and say, "I don't know what was said... I don't know what they were talking about... beets me what they said..." So that's one thing you've got to do... you've got to get somebody that can communicate. You've got to get somebody that can listen. The person that is talking all the time, isn't listening either. You don't talk and listen at the same time. You've got to stop talking to listen. You've got to get somebody that can listen, and somebody that can communicate. I think you've got to get somebody with compassion. And I think you've got to get somebody that believes in education. And they're not just in it because... a lot of people go into administration because its the only way you can get more money. And that's the wrong reason. That's the wrong reason. A good teacher doesn't necessarily make a good principal.
Q: Well, I asked you for three and you gave me four. That's fine. What was the biggest crisis you faced as a principal. I do not mean personal crisis... I mean in the school that you operated.
A: I don't know... I really can't think of an outstanding crisis that....
Q: Well, let me...
A: Maybe I didn't recognize it when it was happening.
Q: Let me take it a step further, maybe not the same question... but what was the toughest decision that you had to make, as principal? Is there any one that you can single out?
A: To tell a supervisor that I'm running this school... and you'll either answer to what I say... or you'll not come back in it. And then taking that decision before the superintendent... who did back the principal.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal, and how did you handle these pressures? You undoubtably were able to determine that there were certain pressures, maybe based on certain expectations of you. Could you identify some of these pressures for us, and how you handled them?
A: In the latter years, I suppose, the biggest pressure was reports that were almost meaningless. I don't like to waste time, and I don't allow teachers to assign waste-of-time work... like write your name fifty times. And I don't like to do work that when you finish, the superintendent or somebody else is going to throw it in the waste basket. I supposed that's as....
Q: So your saying, if I could capsulize that, the pressures of the paper work...
A: Pressures of the paper work. Yes. The demands on your time for things other than children and teachers.
Q: How did you utilize your assistant principal?
A: Basically, I trained my assistant principal to be an instructional person, and confined a lot of his work in the instructional area. I expected him to be fully cognizant of the material that was being used... where we needed to be at a specific time... new material that was coming out... and that type of thing. However, I did, because I wanted him to become a full-time principal, I did take him into the area of general administration, which included everything else. I broke it into academic... strictly academic, instructional materials, and into just general, overall... overview.
Q: What was your greatest success as a principal?
A: Seeing children pass. I think seeing children learn to... and then go on to...other grades, and other schools.
Q: Well, you've probably guessed what's coming next--- What was your greatest failure, as a principal?
A: I think, probably, not being able to relate to everybody... to every teacher. There were certainly some people I had problems relating to. Also, I took it as a failure if very many children failed. I told someone, who's now a supervisor here, one time ... they were talking about.. they were real proud.. in the lounge.. about the fact that I think 51 percent of their children had failed that semester.. in high school. And I never forgot.. then.. you know.. I told him.. I said, " You know, I really didn't think you were that poor a teacher.. that 51 percent of your children would fail." And I've always believed that. Either, you're not teaching the right material, or you're not teaching the right children.. or something. Or either the materials wrong, or the child's wrong.
Q: Mr. Koontz, the literature in education, in recent years, has tended to create a dual role for the principal. And in many cases the label fits you, or maybe it doesn't fit you, as far as the dual role is concerned. The dual role would be the manager of the building, and the leader of the educational program.. the instruction. Which of these roles would you fir into best? What would you think? Were you an instructional leader, or were you the manager of the building?
A: I would like to think that it was both. I think the instructional end of it is why the buildings is there in the first place. And the maintenance of te building has to be secondary to the instructional end of it. I think that just as many children learned in Middletown, as learned Apple Pie Ridge. Give me a good teacher, and a pencil.. and I'll give you a learned child just as quick in a one room shack out here, as you will in the best building that you can build. I think that we spin our wheels a lot of time, when we go out there and we do away with these old buildings.. with their beautiful rooms in them.. and everything that goes with it.. and then we put them in some nice, modern, cinderblock, painted, building,.. What a shame...what a shame.. we've lost track of it. Real teaching comes from a good teacher. I think the thing we've got to do in education, is reduce the number of children per teacher! You know, Mark Hopkins once said, "The greatest learning in the world happens when you have a student on one end of the log, and a teacher on the other." And that's true! And whenever you begin to multiply those numbers...I don't care how much you pay the teachers... and teachers need more money and all the money they can get. But the only thing that is going to help education, is to reduce the number of children per teacher! I think that if you give me... ten children per teacher... in the elementary school ... I'll show you some fantastic education. I think you would all over this country. I think if you gave five,.. six... seven children per teacher, I think that this country would be greater than Berlin ever was..before World War 11. And Berlin was the center of all knowledge then. I think education would flourish beyond our expectations. But when you begin to put fifteen, twenty, twenty five, thirty ..you're fooling yourself. And I don't care what you pay... what you pay the teacher... you can pay me fifty thousand dollars ...andI couldn't do any better with thirty children., or thirty five children, than I could if you paid me ten thousand dollars. But give me five children... give me five children and a room... anywhere... and by the end of the year, I'll show you five kids that will learn and knock you're eyes out. Give me a good teacher and five kids and see what we do with them. Give me a good teacher and thirty kids and I'll show you a frustrated teacher, who will fill in all your monthly reports..and you'll get just what you're paying for... nothing. And we... I think we've got to come to that... some day I hope we do. Those two things I hope we come to in education. I hope we go to the point where we begin to get a picture of children very early in school... certainly by the fifth grade... by the fifth grade we ought to have a picture of your child. And this whole drug scene and everything revolves in that. That whole thing revolves in that. Give me a good elementary teacher, and a half -a-dozen, or a dozen children... and I'll cut the drug problem in half... and maybe do away with it almost entirely. Give me the guidance counselors in the elementary school, that's needed to out into these homes. I think that it's pathetic that we did finally get a guidance person at Apple Pie Ridge... This is where we see them... we see these little, barefooted, hungry, second grade kids coming in from families that are partially broken up... that have all kinds of problems. Where, if I had a guidance counselor... and I did with my guidance counselor... go out and talk to Mrs. Jones. Take the morning and go out there... I'd like to know what's going on in that situation. Maybe tomorrow, both of us will go out there. And let me bring your child in and say to you, 'This is what it looks like to me. Let me say to you, you know, your child looks like he's got a 120, 130 I.Q., and he's bringing home "C's and "D"s. Now there is something wrong in your house... my house... one of our houses. There is something wrong here! That child shouldn't be getting "D"s!
Q: Mr. Koontz, in addition to what you've cited... the reduction in student teacher ration, counseling being made available at the elementary school --- what other suggestions can you give to improve education ... as we are about to enter the 1990's?
A: Well, I... of course I think they're the three biggest things that I know of. One of them is to get a picture of the child... you MUST do that! You MUST do it and you MUST do it in the elementary grades... you must do it early. And you certainly got to get that picture... and you got to reduce the number of children per teacher. You can begin it in the elementary school, but until you do that, I don't think an increase in salary for the teachers is going to get the job done. And like I said... I've fought for it all my life and I'll continue to fight for a decent wage to live on. But until you give that teacher a small number of kids to work with... you're still going to have those problems. I serve... still serve on the state committe of elementary guidance... it's chaired by Senator Walker. And we met at five different locations throughout the state, and we heard both elementary and high school teachers decry the need for elementary... especially elementary guidance... people that could go out into the homes... that could give you some idea of what is going on at home. There are many parents out there that want to do for their children, but they don't know what to do either. They have no idea of what to do. And, we did get one law passed through the General Assembly last year, that said the local superintendent had the right to move high school guidance people to the elementary level, if he wanted to. But the story we heard all over the state, was that guidance people are paper shufflers. That guidance people are not doing the job they should be doing, even in high school. It's not their fault ... once again it's higher up, its somewhere in the administration, but ... they're not getting the time to do the job. Desperately do we need guidance people... every elementary school in this state should have a guidance person. Absolutely. Every elementary school should have a guidance teacher. And that guidance person should be used, not as a paper shuffler, but as an aid to students, as an aid to families. I think these three things will turn things around. But the sad thing is... the General Assembly said we could disregard one of the Standards of Quality.. . and that was one of the ones that I remember talking on several times, years and years ago.. I think we had to reduce it two percent, then we had to reduce it to twenty eight, twenty six, down in the elementary school we had to reduce it eventually to twenty two. But then the General Assemble quietly passed a law, at the Governor's insistence, that would disregard that. And now they can go back up, and have it, I think have it up to twenty five again... or up to twenty seven. That's wrong. That's absolutely wrong.
Q: Mr. Koontz, what advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position?
A: Well, of course, I think first of all you have to become qualified on paper. I think that you need to examine yourself, and see how you feel about people. If you don't have a love children... and a love of people... then go to something else. If you don't have a certain warmth about you, that makes you feel good to be around children... and makes you so you want to be around people... then there's more money out in the cold business world. And there's not everybody can... can, as I said, can be a principal. But I think you've got to examine yourself. And I think you've got to decide what you want to do. But first off, you've got to be qualified on paper. But while you're doing that, I think you need to ask yourself, you know, do I want to be surrounded all day long by a bunch of kids? Little kids. Because most of the time the openings are in the elementary schools, and will continue to be... in this country.
Q: Would you become a principal if you had it to do all over?
A: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Of course, I've taken some law classes, I had at one time thought of going into the law... there's many things, including money, involved, that we didn't have (going into education) but I don't regret for one minute going into the principalship. I think the principalship opens up anywhere you want to go. For instance, I went into politics. I think from that position, you can step in any direction that you want to step. You can go wherever you want to go. I never wanted to be superintendent of schools. And I was offered a college job, that was on two different occasions. We considered them and felt, my wife and I, and felt that we liked the community... we're community people... we just like a lot of people. And we were happy with it, and I've no regrets what-so-ever. I just think... I think that principals need to take more of a position in the community on things. I think so often school people are like they are in a different world. You don't see them very often in the things... let's say letters to the editor, or having an opinion about something. You know, there used to be a time when people used to think that school people didn't have enough sense to have an opinion. All these rules and regulations against them. I think that school people have really got to take charge of this country... and they can do it.
Q: I know you've been very busy in your retirement... and you've not spent much time sitting on the swing on the porch... thinking back. But when you do get those moments, or when they do come to you... what do you miss the most? In other words, what are you sorriest to leave behind?
A: I think the knowledge of the children. For instance, the... after I had left Stonewall... for five years... after I had been gone five years... when the children who were then first graders.. had left there and become sixth graders... it was a lonesomeness not to be known by those children. Now, when I go into Apple Pie Ridge... I've been gone there three years ... that means the fifth graders, the fourth graders, the third graders ... it just amazes me that some of the children will say, 'Who's he ... who's that man ... ?' You know the teachers will come up and hug you... and throw their arms around you. And the other day I heard some kid ask Jackie Ruff, "Who is that man?' And she said, 'You don't know who he was? And he said, 'No... Who is he?' You know, I think that... but that's time. And there isn't anything you can do about that. That I know of.
Q: What have I left out that you would like to discuss?
A: As usual Larry, I don't know of anything... I've forgotten everything I wanted to say. The only thing I would say... was that school people need to become more involved in the politics of their communities. They need to be proud of what they are doing. And they need to stand up and be counted. I think that in this country, unless we begin to put more emphasis on education, that we are headed down a long, lonesome dark rood. I thought about writing a book, and I'd started several different books... but I thought about a book in education, and I would entitle it "The American Dream," and I would talk about how, in the early days, how the Americans went out and worked together and did all these things together... and how we worked together in schools... things we fought to do. But over the years, much like the Romans, we have become lazy, we have not kept up with what is going on... we are now for the first time a debtor nation, in finance. In education, Japan certainly outranks us... scores ten, twelve points on practically any test that we give... Japanese children's scores are at least ten, twelve points higher then American children. The West German children have scored higher then American children. And we are such a small notion in number of people that we are going to have education, our intelligence to where there is nowhere for us to go. That's the end of us.
Q: On behalf of Bob Blair, Del Lester, and myself, Mr. Koontz, I would like to thank you for participating in this interview. And on behalf of the Graduate School of Education of Virginia Tech, I went to thank you for your contributions, the historical research being gathered in this project--- on the principalship. I would also like to thank you for the many contributions to the education of the generations of citizens of Frederick County that you have made. And we sincerely hope that you enjoy many years of blissful retirement.
A: Thank you Larry. I also serve on the state committee on block grants. When the President put all the education grants into one... one block grant... they selected twenty four people from around the state that decide how that block grant money is to be dispersed. I do enjoy sitting on that, although every year our President seems to cut that figure lower and lower. Thank you, I appreciated being here.
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