Warrenton, Virginia. This interview is with Jewel Keroher who by as in Fairfax County for twenty years.
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Q: Would you share with us how many years you were a teacher and how many years you were a principal?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, I was a teacher in Fairfax for five years and, uh, I guess it was five years, and then I went into Chesterbrook and was a principal there for fifteen years and retired in 1977. All of my years as principal were at that one school.
Q: What is your educational background and what lead you to become a principal?
A: Well, I'll give you some of my background, but it had very little to do with my becoming a principal. Urn, but I thought, you know, as I said, I thought I would like to share some of this because some of the things that happened to me as I came along through the school system had some bearing on the way I handled the school when I did become a principal. First of all, I never did like school as a child. I hated school. In fact, when I was in .... my mother sent me to kindergarten when I was probably, a little bit under-aged I couldn't cut the little Santa Claus on the line and I was so ashamed that I couldn't do it that I ran away for six weeks and hid in the barn and then came home at lunch time. And nobody knew that I was running away from school. School was not my favorite activity. But I was a good student, and my parents ... My father was a teacher of physics and worked later on. He taught physics in college and then he worked with the Bureau of Standards. He did some of the basic research for what now is telecommunications. My mother attended college after her children were born. We were very small she put us in the restroom in the college faculty lounge and attended class. And they expected very high performance from us. It wasn't, "Gee, you made an A!" but "Good heavens, what is this B for?" So we had very high demands on my brother and myself both for performance in school. And, uh, the school at the time when I was coming through in my estimation was very limited. And I skipped three grades, so I was eleven when I went to high school and I was fifteen when I went to college. I was a straight A student, but looking back on it, and this is one of the things I think is important, I felt that my, the things that I could have learned during that time, it was so sad because I didn't have an opportunity. We had a music teacher maybe once a month. We had a PE teacher maybe once a month. Boys and girls were separated. We sat on different sides of the room and we were ... we had different playgrounds. We were not allowed to share the boys' swings or the boys' playground. And the girls did nothing but play, jacks and jump rope. So there really was no PE instruction. There was no science instruction. Looking back, as I said, I felt it was a very limited thing. And so rather than mark time, I skipped grades. So there I was, eleven years old, going to high school. I was a straight A student. Later on, as far as my educational background I graduated from the University of Kansas. I graduated in geology. But I had a break between my sophomore and junior year. I'd worked my way through school. There were ... the family had separated, and there was no money for school. I had to work my way through school I work what amounted to forty hours a week. I worked for board and room. And that amounted to Saturdays and Sundays ... no footballs games for me. Between my junior and senior year I taught a country school. I'm one of those do-dos that has been in a country school. An old stone building built in 1865 with wide windows that the snow would drift in. I had 12 students. I had all the baby brothers and sisters on market day. And I had great big strapping boys that I had to get through the eighth-grade county exams. I was eighteen. I had ... I didn't live in the country I drove from town. I drove with another teacher. I had never been to a county school before. I know when I rang the bell and I expected all the children to come in ... nothing happened, no children. But I couldn't imagine where they were. Well, they expected to go to the outhouse when you rang the bell, and then ring the bell again for them to come in. But the children rode horseback to school and the horses would be in the back of the school. You could hear them stomp their feet and whinny. There were rattlesnakes in the woodpile. And I had to go every night and stop by the grocery store some place to get kindling because they did not provide me with kindling. And this was a time when rural electrification was just getting its start and this local school board would not permit the electric company to put a right-away on the school section. This was out in Kansas where the school section, you know. So I had this gasoline light that you had to pump up and I was sure the thing was going to explode. Of course, there were tornadoes. It was a hard time. I know that I thought I would, well, I said I'd swept floors before I ever taught school again. It was a question of survival. Then I went back to the university for my junior and senior year.
Q: Now, was this over a year?
A: No, I just taught the one year. I taught the one year. And, I had found the nitch that I wanted in geology. I was the only woman in the department. That was not the reason I liked geology. Here I was ... Here I had grown up and gone to school with no men at all and no boys and here I was the only, woman in the department, a man's department. Field tripping with men in a field that was a man's field. And, I enjoyed it. I liked the challenge that the field involved, that I had my expertise in was what I called stratigraphy, and micro paleontology. Those are big words. I had a minor in biology. So, basically, was a scientist. Upon my graduation I worked for the Kansas Geological Survey, did research and field work. From there I worked for the Scaley Oil Company, in Wichita and I was somewhat dismayed that they based their leasing on the well records that I ran for them, which was my responsibility. And from there I went to the U.S. Geological Survey. And I guess I had seven years experience as a professional geologist. Of course, I'm married and have children and we bought a small acreage in McLean at a time when people said, "My goodness why did you ever buy in McLean?" It was quite a project. We tried to buy a farmhouse. We wanted our children to have something living.
Q: What year was this?
A: This would have been in, uh, let me see, about '48, I believe. '48 or '49.
A: There wasn't even a stoplight in McLean. There was nothing. My husband went down to what was A B C Wrecking Company,, which is now where Crystal City is, spent the last of our money for beautiful timbers and windows that had come out of some old buildings. $300 worth. It came out and the dump truck upended the haul and spread it out all over the ground. My husband put his arms around me and said, "Honey, there's your house." So we built a house. We got just the shed up just the four walls and the roof on, and promptly moved out with the baby, not quite two years old and another one on the way. No plumbing, no bathroom, no anything. That first summer we cooked over a campfire, heated the water, bath water, whatever, over a campfire. Finally we had a period of rain and then dismal, disgust, and failure. We finally broke down and went down into the town of McLean to get a hot hamburger. Anyway, we put the children in what was then the Langley Private School. It was getting started in a farmhouse in McLean. I don't know what our title was, but it was a euphemism for being the janitor, but that was the way we worked our children's fee, so that they could have the experience of socialization, because there were no other children to play with. It was there that I was approached to teach in Fairfax County. The county was beginning to develop. People were beginning to move out. There was pressure in the school system and they were having problems, what they told me, finding qualified teachers. And I had just taken a year's work in Russian language. I had planned to go back to work because nothing was getting done on the house. We needed the money, badly. My husband was the language expert for the U.S. Geological Survey, Russian and Chinese, and doing research in what has now become the plate theory, or the movement of plates on the earth's crust. But, uh, anyway, but, I was interested in the teaching because with young children I found that I really could not go back to work for the Geological Survey because I would have to leave at seven in the morning, get home late at night. No where to take care of the children in the summertime, so in spite of my feeling that I would rather have swept floors than teach school, I really, took it under advisement. I've seen pictures of myself as I sent in the picture for my application and I was certainly grim-faced. It was not what I wanted to do under any circumstances. I felt really, almost betrayed, you know, by circumstances. And I was surprised when I got the little note in the mail that I, that they accepted my application and I had been assigned at Haycock School which is in Falls Church. And I remember that sick feeling and thinking "Oh my heavens it is almost time." The day that I finally went over to see the principal. We didn't have plumbing, as I said. I heated hot water on the stove. I drove a jeep station wagon and I was, really, felt terribly, how do I say it, ashamed of my circumstances. I didn't have the clothes to wear. Many times after I started teaching I would get to school and I couldn't remember whether I turned the fire off under the bucket of hot water or not. I felt like somebody's really country cousin for sure. I was assigned to Haycock for the period of time until Kent Gardens was completed, which must have been sometime in the fall, and I was given a combination fifth and sixth grade. Not for any reason than the children should have been put together except theoretically, they were the ones who were going to be moved to Kent Gardens. And they were big strapping children. Good children but... I had no particularly difficult with them but I certainly... I expected to be fired before the end of the first, the second month. I really had no more idea of how to get started teaching at all and these children, most of them, were in low reading groups, I'd not had any real feel for working with group instruction but that kind of preparation. I know I nearly drove myself crazy trying to read through the stories and trying to read through the directions for the teachers for all these little groups that I had to deal with. I got no help from the principal. My recollection is that she was a dear person but her main concerns were the keeping of the register. You probably don't even know what a register is. But it was the ... our bible; it was where you kept the attendance. And the registers had to be turned in everyday and she had to initial them and give them back to you. And she wanted quiet halls. There was no time that you could go to the bathroom. You had, if you desperately, had to go, you opened the door, your neighbor across the hall, asked her to watch them, hoping that they didn't kill each other while you were gone. You had to go out with them to PE. There was nothing. There was no equipment, nothing to do. You had to devise your own games or whatever. There was, you had to eat with the children and she demanded that the children had, you know, be very, quiet at lunchtime. There was a decorum, but no life, no ..these were children! There was ... it was so suppressed. And I had little children and I knew what children were like and I felt that I was, this wasn't the way, I felt children should be handled. But anyway, Kent Gardens opened in November ....
Q: What year was this?
A: This would have been '57. I started teaching the first year that my child was in school. Of course, she was in kindergarten then, that was her first year, so she was born in '50. So I had a first grader of my own, but to a different school. I did not want my children in the same school where I taught. It has its advantages. it has its disadvantages. I felt that I probably lost a lot of the ability to communicate with their teachers because I was in the system, but at the same time it was better than having them in the school where I taught. So, I was under an entirely different principal, again not as timid and sure of myself, but somehow she gave me my head. She was encouraging, I had two good supervisors; one was the upper elementary supervisor and one a the primary supervisor, but they worked as a team. All of the sudden, I found that I was enjoying myself. I had a fantastic group of kids and looking back on it, they probably would be called not gifted, but they were bright and intelligent kids, but they were so alive and alert and so challenging and they had so many different abilities. One would be so great in math, but couldn't spell. Another girl was such a tremendous artist, but math was not her strength. It kept me really pushing to keep on top of them, but by being given a certain amount of freedom with the children, I began to really enjoy them. (Pause) The children had what I consider a key weighing edge, and just as an example, one of the things I was permitted to do, but we cannot do it now, but I was teaching and helping them learn about the physiology of the body. I didn't think that they really understood that there were various organs in the body that were separate organs, and so I went to a local shop and bought a chicken that had been killed just for me so that it had all of its entrails, its head, everything intact. I promised the children that I would do it, and each day they would say, "Have you got the chicken yet?" I'd say 'No.' Then the next day, "Have you got the chicken yet?" Finally, I had it and everything just stopped. We looked, we actually, vacillated the chicken, looked at the organs. They had never seen a tendon and seen how it worked the feet and I remember blowing through the larynx to make it squawk. Things that when I was growing up that my mother did, because that's the way you had a chicken. We took the eye out, and looked at the limbs and all those things. So, that was a kind of teaching that I was permitted to do. I was in my element and the children were with me and it was a good experience. I've taught fifth-sixth and sixth, and finally was asked to teach a seventh grade. I had a great deal of concern about teaching seventh grade, but I found that I probably, enjoyed them the most.
Q: Were they at Kent Gardens?
A: Yes, they were at Kent Gardens. During this time also, I had become President of the Classroom Teachers Association, which was affiliated with the NEA. It had been organized the year before, and I was President the second year that it was in existence. In that year, I, we would work very hard to develop a plan for giving the teachers planning time, and in that plan, we won a national award for Fairfax County. That is where teachers now have music teachers, PE teachers, and other teachers, been organized into this planning time; it came from that time and I was very pleased with the response that it got. It was after that that I was asked to be Principal. I had some misgivings about accepting it, because I was very happy where I was. But, again, I'd had five years of teaching and I was looking toward a professional career and I felt that I really had to go in this direction. I had already started on my Masters program at American U., and not only was I handling a family and living in an unfinished house and teaching during everyday, but I was going to school at night. So I had the requisite administrative supervisory courses and was pretty well along on my MED. (You should pause there.)
Q: At which schools were you principal and how long were you there?
A: I was only principal at Chesterbrook. I was principal from 1962 and I retired in 1977.
Q: And this was immediately when you were just talking about being approached, it was for Chesterbrook?
A: It was for Chesterbrook. Chesterbrook.....
Q: Which is located in McLean?
A: Yes it is. It was very close to Kent Gardens and it was ... Oh, to describe it: It was a small brick building, dingy. I found out that it had many, many problems, and the plant was one of them. It had a smoky oil furnace that produced fumes that would make you choke, and I realized that the principal who had preceded me and had gone back into the classroom, I think, from the stories I have been told, had petitioned the School Board Administration a number of times to replace the furnace and had never gotten anywhere and she somehow made the bad judgment to go to the community and I think that was probably responsible for her dismissal from the school. The school was full of problems. I know when we opened the door, the restrooms smelled and when I examined them, urine was thick on the underside of the toilet seats. The classrooms were painted what I call a dirty diaper yellow. The ... I'm trying to remember, because we had several additions later on. The halls were dark, poor lighting. The school had been there for many, many years. I"m not sure when the trailers came, but we did end up I know with at least six trailers in what had been the playground. It had a septic system that certainly could not handle the school population, so we had to have the septic pumped everyday, and the tank truck came on schedule just as we were serving lunch, right outside the cafeteria window. There were four classrooms and a large hallway which we used for the cafeteria. We had children coming into lunch, children going out to lunch, lines of children going to the the restroom, lines of children coming back' from the restroom, lines of children going out to PE, and lines of children coming in from PE. It was madhouse to try to keep some sort of order with the movement of children in the facilities that we had. This was 1962, this was the year of the Cuban crisis. School had been, I had been in that school less than three months. They put an air raid siren, of course, on the school grounds right outside the window. We had regular drills, air raid drills. At first, they had buses pull up and we were supposed to load the children on the buses, which was a fantasy because if one bus didn't have gas or if somebody broke down, it would have stop traffic, but that is what we did. Then we had air raid drills where children were to hide under the desks. At the same time, we had children bring blankets and water and food. We were supposed to, we did promise, that we would stay with the children in the event of a nuclear attack for at least ten days, and not even check on our own families. I understand that in California there was this earthquake the teachers were asked to do the same thing. We had classes in to handle childbirth, we were expected to open up our doors to the community in case of a nuclear attack.
Q: And this was all in 1962?
A: This was 1962 and I had come on board in August. I had tried to get classes organized and instead I had the six trailers, this horrible plant, and a nuclear disaster, shall we say to anticipate. It was on one of those days in October, and it was at lunchtime, and the children were coming and going as I have described, when all of a sudden there was this siren, this noise, and I know later on they told me that I turned white. I didn't know whether it was the air raid siren or what it was and I did not know whether to take the children and have them go under the desks or what. But, I pulled myself together and marched them all out as if it were a fire drill. It turned out that it was a fire drill, it was a fire alarm that had not been used in the building. I had always punched the buttons, as what I had done at Kent Gardens, as what we'd all done, we had to punch the button for an alarm. Some child had broken the glass and activated an ancient alarm system. So then, we did have a fire because the wiring was old. They never send just one company to a school, they send three companies. So, then of course all the parents come running to the school to see what it is, and naturally they are upset because we had the nuclear alert. It was quite an experience. We did get everyone settled back; we did get the fire out and everything settled down. But, that was quite an S497 indoctrination to a new school. Most students would have to expect as new principals that they will not get the plush, new facilities with the nice furniture, all the learning equipment, the stocked libraries, all those good things. Chances are you will get an old facility, lacking many of the things that are really basic to good instruction; you will get a staff that is pretty well entrenched, which I did. It is hard to know how to push ahead to assert yourself and not go too fast. I probably made some mistakes. I remember there were so many things that seemed urgent to do, and I probably pushed. I remember that I had spent a great deal of time selecting which children would go, with the supervisor, which children would go with which teachers, where to assign the teachers, what level to assign the teachers. They were very upset because they had been used to pulling the files out themselves and you take this one and I will take that one approach to setting up classes. They did not like it at all when I had preempted that responsibility from them. The older teachers, I found, had hoarded the art paper. They had little closets where the art paper had really deteriorated and the new teachers could get none. I did get all the art paper in one closet and that created a lot of ill feelings. What were some of the other things that happened? We were under strict orders at Christmas time to avoid religious activities. Of course, one of the teachers, a primary teacher, had always done this little play at Christmas time which was full of angels and all that sort of thing and I said "No, we can't do that." We were not to sing carols unless we did it as . . ., what do you call it?
A: No ... the word's gone from me. As any kind of good music that you would enjoy for its value as a music teacher, not as a religious activity. So that was hard for the teachers to accept. Then my secretary, had been very loyal to the previous principal and she took offense at many things that I did and talked in the neighborhood and created a lot of problems. So it was very hard to come into this kind of a school with these kind of internal problems, and on the external side of it, Chesterbrook had been a school probably been a country school. There was an old residence, the farmers in the neighborhood. There was a little cottonwood street which was a black neighborhood and had been there since slavery days, and then we were getting the new subdivisions, Potomac Hills, where we had diplomats and senators and people of that quality moving into the suburbs. So we had quite a schism between the two cultures, shall I say, in the community. Chesterbrook was one of the first schools in Fairfax County to be integrated. That year, I had eight black children in the school.
Q: What year was this?
Q: '62? Oh, my.
A: 1962. So, I had my hands full that year.
Q: Now, were you involved in any kind of special busing, or were you still considered a neighborhood?
A: No, they were neighborhood children and they had no particular problem with the black children in the community. The people in the subdivision were the quality that accepted the black children very nicely. The most hurtful thing was the way the other principals reacted. They would say "Oh, what school are you in?" and I would say "Oh, I'm at Chesterbrook," and they would say "Oh, that's that black school." And, it was from a quarter that I didn't expect it, but on the other hand, just a year before, our Assistant Superintendent had met with all the Principals and had said "never, ever will Fairfax County be integrated." So, it was a trial situation.
Q: You mean what you call a pilot school?
A: It was a pilot school and I think the biggest problem, as I saw it, and it was profound, was that as black children were integrated into the school system, they were considered disadvantaged. Remember, they had language problems. Do you remember that term "disadvantaged?" Later, we had to abandon it because it had certain connotations that were unfavorable. But I found that within the same family that the older children with the same learning problems had been tested by a psychologist and had been certified as retarded and were in special education classes. And here came the younger children in the same family with the same learning problems, but they were then termed "disadvantaged" and were included in the regular program. So, I tried my best to get the other children who had been certified as retarded, to get them reclassified and brought back into the main program, but I couldn't do it. So, they were bused to another school.
Q: Where did they end up going?
A: I cannot remember now where they went, or what school, it seems to me it was Lemon Road, but I cannot remember. It was a large school. To me, it made such a difference to me because I began to feel so strongly that it was important to keep the children, whatever their problems were, the children belonged to the neighborhood school. I felt that my role as principal primarily was to make the school function in whatever way I could to accommodate whatever could be done to keep the children in the neighborhood school, to keep them from being stigmatized and categorized and labelled for whatever the reasons. As I progressed, I still felt that the more we chop off on either end, either gifted or emotionally disturbed or non-English speaking or physically handicapped or whatever the categories, that those are detrimental to the learning program. I had a very exciting experience, at least another experience, which fed into this same concept, that was a a course that I was taking at American U. There were three students in that class, one of them was a girl that had become blind later on in life and two of them were students who were born deaf but who had learned to speak, but could not hear. And the point that they were making was that because people like them with handicaps have been kept away from the main population, then when people are confronted with a person with a handicap, they don't know what to do. Yet, they are a very vital part of our population. So, I vias concerned to keep as many children in the regular program as I could and changing the teaching to accommodate them. As an example, I had a mother come to me mother with a child, a very bright little girl with spinal bifida. The child was in a wheelchair, she had to have assistance in the restroom, and I accepted her in the school. We managed to get her out for fire drills and she did just splendidly. She was in the third grade and she was on the same level as the library and the cafeteria. The next year, she was going to fourth grade. Well, the fourth grade was up several steps. So, I petitioned to the School Board to put a ramp in. Well, they wanted me to move all the fourth grades down to where she was instead of building the ramp, in spite of the fact that the fourth graders were team teaching the way that the rooms were arranged off of what had been the old cafeteria and was the ideal set-up for them and not for the other teachers. And I remembered also that my husband had been an amputee and there were so many places that he could not go because of the steps. He was a Kansas boy and he had always wanted to see Lincoln's face but he could never go up the steps to see it. So, I argued and I fussed and I carried on and finally got the ramp. So I did accomplish one of the things that I had wanted to do. (Inaudible) That was just an example.
Q: That sounds wonderful!
A: Later on, this lead to volunteers in the classroom, I was trying to think of some of the ways that.. At first the teachers had been very reluctant to have volunteers. They thought that they were spring on them. They found that they They became badger one another to get the volunteers. That's the way I used the assistant principal. By this time, my school population had gotten up to almost a thousand pupils and so I had several assistant principals. I had several intern principals, and .. And I utilized them to train the volunteers, to schedule, to test the children, to provide the materials, to oversee the volunteer program, which I still think is one of the most useful ways that the assistant principal can be handled. Then again, in some of mx coursework, I was dismayed to find that there was assumed an adversarial relationship between administration and what they called guidance. And to me, they were part and parcel of the same thing. And I said, my role was essentially, as ... a person who was a counselor with the parents, was a counselor with the teacher, could oversee what kind of instruction was appropriate for these different needs that the children had and oversee that that instruction and materials, and so forth, were there.
Q: There are things that you've been sharing with us sounds like you are leading right into your philosophy, your school's philosophy. Could you share that with us?
A: Well, I think that when you sax the word "philosophy" it's generally an opportunity to pontificate and I just don't want to .... I think that I probably pretty much said what the philosophy that I had developed. When I first started teaching I thought, that they just tell me what to do, I would do it." And it wasn't until I had gotten some experience in teaching and had done what we had to do in the way of problem solving that I realize that there are no answer. That you really achieve some sort of philosophy in the growth that you gain through the problem-solving. So that philosophy is not an individual thing for a school. It has to be developed with the teachers and with the community. And the way that you do it most is by mutually working out problems. To know: Where are your priorities? Where are you going? What is it that you want to accomplish? And sometimes it's very hard to keep those in the foreground. So many things blind you to where You really ... Where are your values? But, just stating a philosophy as such seems very aerodite.
Q: One thing that comes up very strongly is your feeling of "the children."
Q: I hear that very strongly.
A: I think that one of the important things is to keep a child's self-respect. It is something that I think that can be lost and to no one's fault, but it can happen. I think that we, for instance, every child that comes to school expects to read. That's the important. I'm going to first grade, or whatever, learn to read. Not all children learn to read at the same rate and at the same time. And even in grade some children can feel an utter failure because they have not achieved this goal. I think that the grading system can affect children in this way. That we require them by law to come to school, and then we label them failures. So I think keeping children's self-respect, I think keeping teachers' self-respect, is one of the priorities. I don't think anyone operates well under a feeling of failure.
Q: There was an article several years ago that talked about how a principal had to wear many hats: instructional leader, counselor, evaluator, etc. etc. Did you find yourself wearing different hats, and was it hard to go from one hat to another?
A: It's kind of like..I know I've heard that term too. It seemed not some much many different hats, as I was challenged to find answers to so many different problems. I thought of myself mostly as an adult educator. That I was trying to educate my community and I was trying to educate my teachers. I felt myself more as I would if I were teaching, in many cases, teaching a college class. And that I had to keep ahead of my class. And to be sure of where I was going and why I was asking them to do the projects that I wanted. A case in point was the outdoor education program which started out as a way of putting some life and some vibrancy into the science program, cause even though my field was science, most teachers feel very inept in the field of science. And we had a marvelous facility, a church camp nearby. We had volunteers who had many different skills to add to this. And we used the music program. it was a way to stimulate all kinds of singing and guitar playing games and things of that nature. We had all different kinds of physical education contests. It was a marvelous program but it did require that the teachers be away from their homes for two nights. There was no extra pay. I tried my best to get extra pay for the teachers. But I couldn't. And not all teachers were gung-ho for this program. Teachers would trade off with one another. Some of them wanted to do this and others didn't. It was hard to get the support for it that I felt it needed. Once it got going I think the teachers felt that it was worthwhile. There was a relationship between teachers and their students that nothing else, that no other experience could ever duplicate. And because it was so valuable we tried to start it earlier in the year but that I was never able to bring off. I think because of the fourth grade, the fifth grade, and the sixth grade. And because there was from one year to the next and because the children were expected, we literally had no discipline problems. It was a marvelous program. Long reaching ... I still have children, grown now, who remember what we did. And remembered the parents and remember the things that went on. It was not without its problems. I remember the first time we went out and I had been warned of so many things that could go wrong. I really had fear and depredation. And I was a little late getting out because the last bus had left with all the balls, equipment, and bedrolls, and what have you, and I was still coming out in the car. As I drove up to the camp I found out that one of the girls, one of the first things she had done, was fall out of the tire swing and break her arm and I thought "Oh, this is the end of the camping trip," well ... So I went with her to the hospital and I called her mother and had the arm set. And, bless that mother, she brought that child back the next day, and she said that she wouldn't have her miss it. And that was the thing that set the camping trip. It brought the community behind the school. It brought the children into focus with the teachers. It was a marvelous achievement.
Q: Speaking of community, that was one question that I wanted to ask you.
Q: What do principals do to get their communities, how do they communicate, and work with the community, because I know that that is an important aspect of administration.
A: Well, there are so many ways that one has to work with the communities. I think one of the things that I did ... and it sounds silly ... My little office was small. I painted it. I painted my desk myself. I painted it green - I antiqued it. I set up a big peacock chair, you know, one of these old chairs. I put a pink cushion in it. I had children's art, rotating different art. I had frames that would automatically take the size generally of the children's art. But it was...I had plants in the windows. But it was a place where a parent could come in and sit down, and feel special. I remembered "always take another chair." I never had a desk between me and whoever was sitting in that chair, whether it be a parent or a teacher or whatever. And I think the kinds of counseling, the kinds of interpretation of children to the parent or to the teacher was one of the basic things. I remember one of the mothers who came in, and military father, and pressure the mother, of course, because the child was not reading on grade level. And she was really distraught. We talked about the child and all the things that he did. The lovely things that he did at home. The way he, as she said, made his bed, and, you know, the pleasant things that she remembered about him. And I tried to comfort her and to tell her that he was a little boy and he had lots of time to learn to read. He would learn to read. And for right now, just to enjoy him. And she broke down and cried. She had never thought about just enjoying her child and she needed somebody to tell her that he was a sweet youngster. So that's one way. And I felt that the kind of sunny pleasant office that a teacher could come in and drop down in the chair and talk about their problems and talk about the good things. Sometimes there was a problem and I needed to call the parents. Sometimes a parent would drop in and I always told the teacher what the parent had on her mind. There are many other things that you do, of course, there's the PTA meetings; there's the Board meetings. You know, you never go anywhere that someone. You can't go to the swimming pool; you can't go to the grocery store. You're always on call. You're always, you know, you're always there. You are the school. We did an awful lot of fundraising. They would say, "What does Chesterbrook need?" Well, Chesterbrook needed everything. We had spaghetti summers. We had carnivals. We had movies for the children on Saturday afternoon. We had to buy our own cafeteria curtains. We had to buy a rug for the library. "So, you need a rug for the library. Why do you need a rug for the library?" Because you want to get a less formal approach to the library. You want the children to be able to get down on their stomachs and read books. You want a rocking chair and a lamp. This is your philosophy coming out. You have to go to the Board or you have to go and say "Yes, this is what we want for our library." You could have overhead, well, we even had to buy our own drinking fountain. We didn't even have a cold-water drinking fountain. So you have have to have some sort of fundraising, money-raising activities you promote what you need in the school. One of the things I wanted, we wanted, was a videotape. There were, it was hard to schedule the TV programs. At first they were ... well, first they had to buy the TVs. The parents, we had to propose to the PTA why a television program was a good instructional device. Then you had to get the PTA to sponsor spaghetti suppers or whatever, and provide the televisions. Then we had to invite the parents in to see what the television programs were like. Does that give you an idea?
Q: Yes, step by step.
A: Step-by-step. So everything that you plan to do we had to back up first with your teachers, and then the community. First of all, you had to have, like the gleam in your husband's eye, you had to have that little glimmer, of where you wanted to go and why you wanted to do it.
Q: You've talked a lot about your projects and you had talked about, you know, the Cuban Crisis in 1962, any other events that happened that -
A: You mean "crises"?
Q: It could be crises or...
A: One after another! Some of them could've been foreseen and some of them just happened out of the blue. It might be useful just to go over some of them that just seem to be crises and what happened. One I remember that I was very angry about. As I mentioned, Chesterbrook was lacking in many facilities, and one of the things was, I thought our instructional was hampered because we had unmovable chairdesks. From the little size right on up. There was nothing we could do about it. We were trying to get team-teaching going. We were trying to get groups going. No matter how hard you tried, you were still stuck with a chairdesk. And with all my ar ... my trying, I finally got from the school's administration some tables and some chairs. I was so pleased. I put them in this fourth grade, well .... we had four classes that opened up on to this space in the old cafeteria. And we were delighted. We had chairs and tables and we could trade children back and forth, and they could use this big room, and I thought it was marvelous. And I had children in, and they were delighted. Things were going just fine. And this one parent, a man, a senator, called up, angry. His child had to have a desk and his own set of books. And I said, "The school provides the books and when he is ready for another set, or another reader, or math book, it will be ready for him." "No, he's got to have his own set of books." And the upshot of it was, that in spite of my, I thought, very logical explanation of why and what we were trying to do, he called the superintendent. And the next thing that I know, the tables and chairs were gone and we were back to chairdesks. That was one case that I felt was not adequate support from the administration. Another, that I thought was going to be my absolute undoing, came out of the blue. We'd gone to a November instructional seminar-type thing, that we always had during November during the time that schools were closed for elections, and this time we had been exposed to a marvelous group from Arena Stage who were doing creative drama, and we were encouraged to provide this in our school. And they did a little drama on the stage for us and I was quite impressed with them and I thought, "Oh, this will be marvelous. It will be a good experience for the children. And they had some, and we had the children assembled. And I think they had some, they were around second graders, on the stage. And I was busy, I wasn't watching everything. All of the sudden, we had one of our teachers who was a stock Catholic matron, and she had been listening and she was offended by what she had heard. One of the little boys in his creative drama was talking about getting into the dresser drawers in his father's room and finding these little balloons in there! And, Mrs. Fowley, had to really, she started in on one end of the hall and down the other. She had the school in an uproar. I had to stop the drama right there, get the children back to the classroom. I had parents say, parents understood that a tape had been made. If there was a tape it disappeared. It ended up where I had people from all over Virginia, even other states, who were waving banners about sex education, ended up where the cafeteria was overflowing. The superintendent had to come. It blew all out of proportion. And I thought, it was just, it was just awful. Who would ever have thought' The supervisors who had recommended this program disappeared. I was left completely out in the cold. So it can come from, instantly, completely out of the blue. You halve no idea how to proceed. I.....
Q: What does a principal do at that point?
A: Cry. (laughter)
Q: Crawl underneath the pink cushion, right?
A: I never did. I had done nothing wrong. I was infuriated. I was angry. And yet I could see the humanness of what was going on. And strangely enough we had little boy that same year, before that, who had come on the school bus with all these little balloons in his pocket. And nobody thought anything of it. And I listen today to the news of all the instruction that's having to go on and how teachers tool are coping with it. But that was one experience. I should go on: I did something with sex instruction in the school. When I went we were showing one film for the fourth-grade girls called,what was it, "Margaret May's Twelfth Birthday" I believe it was. It was such an anti .... Have you ever seen it?
Q: No. (mumble)
A: It's such an antiquated film you can't believe it. So, I found out from the school nurse that there were some more up-to-date films, and proceeded to get those scheduled, particularly for the older girls. And I had a mother who actually pulled her child out, and left in great disorder. She would not permit her child to see the film. We did show, of course, to the parents first and then had the parents sit with the daughters. But then it became pretty evident to me that we needed to have something for the boys, so I found a good film for the boys on growing up. I showed it to the parents. I had to have signed permissions, and so forth. I showed the film to the boys with their parents after school. That's another area that I think that we did try to handle. I think that one of the things that I feel is that there're so many areas that you are required to handle in a school and yet when you evaluate teachers, or you evaluate a school, you tend to look at test scores. You don't look at all the variety of activities that you either elect to do or you are required to do. It was during the same period that we had before-school breakfast for children; we had after-school day care. We had to have the school open at 7:00 for parents who dropped their kids off on the way to school. Just ... the sex education is another example of the ways schools are required to meet the needs in the community. You're really a community center. Another thing that we did. There had been a drowning. It wasn't at our school, but there had been a drowning. And there was a swimming pool right across the street from the school and so I arranged for the children to have two weeks of, not swimming instruction, but save yourself type instruction in the swimming pool. We got volunteers and we arranged for the children to walk across the street on a schedule. They could learn how to use their clothes to catch air and balloon themselves. How to be, not to panic if their face went under water. For the little black children, even though the swimming pool was practically in their back door, the school, they were never, the pool had never opened their door to the black children. So, for them it was a real triumph for them to actually get in the pool and learn. I had no idea how panicked those little children would be to put their face in the water. So that was another area of instruction that I think, I've often wonder how many lives I had saved by that activity. It was worth doing.
Q: I want to take a quick diversion over here, because you had mentioned teacher evaluation. In particular, with what is going on now, how did you evaluate teachers?
A: Formally or informally?
Q: Well, we'll do both.
A: I go back to the statement that I made before that I felt that I was an adult educator. Teachers come at all stages of preparedness to teach and they all have different styles. And I think style of teaching is so important, and it so important to recognize that it exists. I had two sixth-grade teachers, both of them fine teachers, absolutely diametrically opposed to the way that they taught. As I said, both of them, splendid teachers. The way I handled it was, I assigned the children to them. I think as ... if you think of yourself as an instructor and you try to find the young beginning teacher where she is and the teacher who is near retirement. who has quit growing, and the way you lead them on to the way you want the class to develop, it's true: the old thing of positive reinforcement. That's what works. If you recognize what is going on well, if you find the spark and blow on it, it will come. I think the negative things are so detrimental. I don't like it. I don't thrive under it. And I think with teachers you find what you want to accomplish and you work to see that it happens. For those teachers who team teach, I think there is a lot of reinforcement among the teachers who are teaming. For those who are loners, I think that they depend upon the principal to see the good that they're doing. Now, if there are things that I see that aren't good it's the same thing that you do with children. The thing that you don't like you change, but you still like the person. There is a little thing of self-respect. And they have to face the community. And I think that one has to be so careful that every teacher is supported, that every teacher is a good teacher. As I see, the tremendous fallacy in what I understand in the way that evaluations are done, is that if one teacher is superior to another how can you give children the less-equipped teacher? How can you justify to the parent that her child doesn't have a qualified, the best teacher for that particular child? And you yourself have to feel that that child is well-placed with that teacher. And if not, what are you doing about it? But that is something that is your job as a principal to see that that classroom is for that child and the teaching environment.
Q: Did you find yourself doing a lot of conferences. Or..
Q: Did you go in and do observations?
A: We were required to have a certain number of observations signed. So, what we did was to go over what they would like to do, what their objectives. There is no use go to an observation cold, you don't know what the teacher is trying to accomplish. She was free to sit down with me and conference with me about what she was going to do, which children she was going to work with. What she was going to do with the rest of the children, which is important, too. And what difficulties she expected to encounter. And then she would teach, and then we would come back and we'd go over. And it was like anything else. When you bake a cake and you say it falls, you say why did it fall? Children are unpredictable and things can happen. And if you've never been in a classroom yourself you can maybe think that everything is going to go according to plan. But if you've had children of your own or you've taught, you know that they very seldom do. And I think that that was useful. If there was anything to come from it, it was more a learning experience than it was a formal analysis and an evaluation. It was a marvelous learning experience, which is what all evaluations should be. I don't think evaluations should be reward and punishment. Evaluations are, whether they are for children or for adults, should be this is where I am, this is what I want to accomplish, and what is my next step. How do I grow? It is not finite; it is not an end.
Q: What would you do for those teachers that truly excelled? Is there anything particular that you did?
A: They all excelled in various things. They excelled in different things. They had many strengths. They were not the same. They did not all get along even. As I said, these two sixth-grade teachers: One was a splendid teacher with children who had all kinds of problems. And one of the ways she handled them, I shouldn't have known, there was a cat that came over to her window. And somehow that cat got cream from the cafeteria and for a child who was really, itchy and couldn't concentrate, that cat somehow ended in that child's lap. And that child sat there and learned. That was her technique. No one else could carry it off. I couldn't do it. The gal across the hall couldn't do it. But for this teacher, it worked. She had a serious operation; the children loved her so, they bought her a rocking chair so that she could sit in a classroom and be comfortable and rock. They loved her. Her children still come back to her she's in her seventies - and they still keep in contact with her. The other teacher was at first, I thought, somewhat of a martinet. The ... demanding, very academically oriented; her spelling, her handwriting, very precise, beautiful. You couldn't quarrel with a thing. The one thing about her that I did change the way the children, the sixth-graders, were introduced to the seventh grade. At that time we had what was called the seventh-grade cards in which the teachers wrote comments, and I found that all of her comments were negative. If she ... and I sat down with the cards and said, "Noity what good thing can you write about the child?" What we ended up with was inviting the seventh-grade guidance people to a meeting with the sixth-grade teachers where we discussed the children. But I said, " Each one of these children, write down something good that you can say about them," because she was brought up in the old school that evaluation was negative. The old, she was Scandinavian, you know. So ... But she was a good teacher, but not for all children. So, am I talking about merit pay? My feeling about merit pay is that I believe that teachers should be paid for advanced degrees, that is a measurable achievement. Teachers should be paid for additional activities if they coach outside activities, if they go on field trips. Those are measurable activities that they can volunteer or they don't have to. But I think within the classroom, I think that in the area of human relations, I think it's hard to evaluate. And I put another example: I had a fourth grade teacher that was having a horrible time with her classroom. She was in tears. She thought she was a failure as a teacher. At that time, I was taking a class under Nick Long at American U. One of his techniques, I think a class on emotional children, I don't know right now, but one of his techniques was to develop a sociogram, to develop the strengths of the classroom. Now, his techniques, when we used them in the school created some diversion, too, because not only did he have the children write down the names of the three children that they liked the most but also the three children that they liked the least. And from that you drew one set of diagrams of the "like children" to find out who was most liked but you also drew a diagram of the children that were liked the least. And I took, and we did this in that classroom. We took the sociograms to class. And Nick looked, and I told him, and he said, "You're pulling my leg." I said, "No, this is real. We really did this." And Nick said, "You can't be! This can't be real. You made this up!" And I said, "No, this is an actual class." And he said, "Nobody can teach that class. Nobody can teach that class." He said, he pointed out where these children, really had the strength in that classroom, to disrupt that classroom no matter what she did. I think that these are the things that would negate so many things that could make or break a teacher, that are not her fault. There probably no one is really aware of. Human relations are so ... so ephemeral in some ways. That it is hard to put, to even be aware in some cases, what is there and what do you accomplish if you do. What is your purpose? You get back to something that I said earlier to know where you're going and why you're doing it. I think that one of the reasons that merit pay is at least a paramount problem right now is that somewhere the community feels that somehow they are not getting their money's worth out of teachers. Here are teachers who are paid, they have teachers have degrees, many of them advanced degrees, they're paid the same rate as policeman and fireman who have high school educations at that. Those people are on a shift, and when their shift is over, they are through. A teacher goes home with a load of books. I remember picking my husband up at the bus stop at 5:00 and seeing the secretaries getting off the bus, and saying, "You lucky people. You can go home and fix supper and watch TV." I have got an armload of books. There was no end to it. And when I finished I still wasn't through. So, I really feel very strongly that parents are so close to the children that somehow they've got, they have got to feel that ... somehow they feel that they are not getting the truth on what is going on in the classroom. I had this in my school. That parents wanted to visit they classroom. We had a Visitors Day, but that was, you know, pretty much rigged, but they wanted the right to go in the classroom at any time. The teachers were upset and I was upset. Not become the teachers were trying to pull anything on the parents but because You have children who...whose performance in the classroom can stigmatize them and give rise to neighborhood gossip. It was to protect the children. So, what we did ... Also you don't know what a teacher was trying to accomplish if you just went and sat in the classroom. So what we did each teacher was asked to prepare a typical instructional incident ... you know, instructional program and they would put it on videotaped. That way we could explain what she was trying to accomplish. And if there was anything that didn't work out we could do it over. We even showed the PTA. We showed an afternoon program. I did an afternoon program for mothers while their children were there. You asked what we did for the community, that was another thing we did. And I've used these. I had one teacher who came in to me; she flat refused, "I'm not going do it." And I thought, well, now, what do I do. I can't make her if she doesn't want to. So, I said, "OK, I'll do your class.' And I had a ball! We did a thing on growing mushrooms. It had been one of the things out of the science book and it was a simple thing to do. We tasted mushrooms, we cooked mushrooms, we tasted them. We grew them. We did so many things. It was all on tape. But it took the wind out of any....... I won't do it." And it was a very useful experience. It calmed this feeling .... I mean, it was a teaching tool for the community, is what it ended up to be ... a teaching tool for the teachers. So ... but you have to use your ... all the ingenuity that you've got as each thing arises. But, getting back to merit pay, one of the things, as I've been in the schools fifteen years, and I looked down the road I could see merit pay, I could see letter grading coming back. We had gotten away from letter grading and gone into conferencing, which to me was much more to the point because it gave the teacher a chance to talk about the child, what kind of instructional material she was using, how he was doing, what his next step would be, and how the parent could help him.
Q: So, pluses and checks? Or O's, S's, and U's? Or ....
A: We didn't do that at all. We simply sat down with the parent and talked. We wrote. And we sat down with the child if the child was old enough to understand. So, it was useful. And to me, that's the way grading should be, even if it's for a teacher, that's the way grading should be. This is where you are; this is where you excel; this is something that maybe you need to work on, you need to grow on. But it should be a springboard for the next step. Letter grades are reward and punishment. And not only that, but I think, and that's one of the reasons that I cited what I in my growing up and in my education, I think people who go into education programs, for the most part, are people who are verbal, who do well in the typical classroom, and, thereby, they can perpetuate. Therefore, the people, students, who are not verbal, who have other ways of learning, tend not to do well. We don't understand them. And I have a good example of that. There was a young boy, in the fifth grade, he had been adopted by the band teacher in the intermediate school, was in a special group. At that time, if they were below, quote, the low level, and I'm not suppose to say that there were levels, anyway, the low level, therefore he could get no higher than a C no matter how hard he worked. But he was doing wheelies on his bike outside of my office window. Now I didn't learn to ride bikes until after I was fifty, and I certainly can do no wheelies. So here, and I knew that his teacher, Mrs. Allison, certainly couldn't ride a bicycle, let alone do wheelies. And at that time, we had put in a new intercom system at school. We were all a little bit terrified of it. Teachers were certain I could listen in on them, which I certainly could. And they were terrified to make any announcements over it. This child, who was getting C's and D's in reading, found the blue prints for the intercom, figured out how he could set the record player so that it could play the "Star-Spangled Banner," so he could go outside and play his trumpet, so he could raise the flag, announce over the intercom that we were having the flagraising ceremony, play his trumpet, and have the "Star-Spangled Banner" playing! But he got a "D" in reading! He could read a blue print, and his teacher wouldn't, couldn't even punch a button and make an announcement over /,Il@ the thing. So, again, people learn differently, and I think that in schools too much, we put the emphasis on reading, on language skills, and what we ought to be doing is processing information. People get information different ways some of us hear it, others see it, some of us even feel it, too. There are different ways of getting information. And this is what they want the people to process information as necessary can be. And I have something on testing that I think is in that same line, that I think tests are generally of two kinds. They are usually reading and writing tests, which are really tests of how well you can read the question, understand the question, and how well you can put your answer into language and spelling and so forth. Of course you have a good opportunity there to go on and on ... we all know it. And there is the multiple choice. Now it's a known fact, that the more you know about a subject, the harder it is to take a multiple test .... a multiple choice kind of test. I myself can't take them because there are so many fine grays, well, a little bit here or does he mean this, or sometimes, or if ever, or whatever. And also, there's a medically-administered drug called the "Beta block" that if it's administered it can relieve the anxiety, not only for children but adults' test scores, soar if they have taken this Beta block. So, testing is not an end-all, be-all. There are so many aspects of testing that it should be a tool. If you are learning to swim, you say, well, can you float for ten ... which is what I had to do when I was taking canoe, you know, my Red Cross canoe training, can you float for ten minutes. That is a finite test; you either can or you can't. And it's, if you can you can go on to the next thing, if you can't then you have to float.
Q: It's important.
A: By finding where you are, and everybody can accept that kind of test because it's used to go on to the next thing. It's "This is where I am." I remember I was taking Spanish - I was going to travel in some Spanish-speaking countries and I was taking Spanish in the adult education program and a good many of the people in the class had lived overseas and were very well knowledgeable in Spanish and I was struggling because I hadn't had any Spanish since high school. And I remember I went into the restroom and cried because I was having such a hard time. And I finally said to myself, "This is suppose to be fun, you know. I don't have to do this." But, it is very hard to feel comfortable even if you don't have to, if you feel that somehow you're failing the test. And another aspect of testing that I think is my own experience, I think it follows what I am saying. But, a couple of years ago, I took a course on astronomy, something that I'd been very interested in, and primarily I was interested in all the new information that was coming from these new fly-bys of the planets. So the professor had scheduled a night when he was going to show the latest films and pictures and it was going to be followed by a quick little test which we had to take. Well, he didn't tell me that he'd to move the class and by the time that I found the class, not only was the picture was over but so was the test. I was angry; I was in tears. And all he could say was, "But I'll give you a chance at a make-up." And so I said, "Sir, I have my doctor's degree. I don't need another test. What I wanted was the, what I came for, the information." But I could never get through to him that I was taking it because of the subject matter and not the testing. I don't know whether that's useful or not.....
Q: I'm looking for a question.
Q: Ah, here's a good one: Describe your typical workday.
A: Oh. A typical workday. Get there early. Check the cafeteria because when we pulled in students who were dropped off early. See the patrols were on duty. See that there is cocoa for the patrols. You have to have something special for the patrols. There will be telephone messages; check with your secretary. See if any teachers are not going to be present; see that you have substitutes. Check with them to see that they're prepared. Check the heat. Check with your custodian. There always will be a problem; something will not be right. Look in the cafeteria. See if everything is on schedule there. Generally I would stand outside as the buses came in to make sure that there were no cars running pass the buses. Check the buses as they came in. To greet the children as they come in. I generally had my...there were always a pile of papers of things that need to be done. The secretary generally said, "Mrs. Keroher, you haven't finished..." whatever it is. Answer the telephone. I generally had a number of conferences scheduled. I generally had a couple of classrooms to visit. At lunchtime, Generally I spend most of my time in the cafeteria. None of the teachers now eat in their own rooms. In general, there's suppose to be a volunteer managing the cafeteria. But she generally seat the children, and make sure their milk bottles are open, and the garbage gets put where it belongs, and somebody inadvertently leaves their braces and you have to go in the garbage to find them, and one thing and another. But I generally spend a good bit of time in the cafeteria. If it's a sunny day, I may take my lunch and sit on the steps just so I can feel the sun because it's generally dark when I come and dark when I leave. I will ... trying to think what other things..Are you just asking for typical things? This doesn't take into account the writing ... I wrote a good bit for the Red Apple and I would stay at the typewriter and write those things out. Sometimes I had a meeting that I needed to go to ... planning for the PTA, planning for ... So many things had to be planned for, to do. If it was a holiday, those things had to be, you know, what are we going to do for Valentine's Day? Or what are we going to do for, you know, whatever. If there was use for the cafeteria planned for later on in the day, had to ... someone to do that. See, the..when you come there's a problem, something. The heat isn't working, the lights are out. This needs to be cleaned. Something. It could come out of the blue. I know that..just thinking of various things. I know that art from the museum and we'd hung all the pictures in the hall. And I thought they were lovely. And one of the parents spied a little angel that was complete with all its genitalia! And so we had to move all the pictures. (Laughter) There was always something.
Q: Why should we not have been surprised at that, right?
A: Sometimes I would just go and enjoy a class. Just enjoy.
Q: Let's see, I asked you about that. Well, I think you have answered this question but I'm going to ask you, and then you can give me whatever you think I need. What does it take to be an effective principal.
A: You're assuming that I was one.
Q: Of course, you were.
A: It's like how you are an effective V I think you have to be strong in your own beliefs in what you think is right, in what you think is .... the role of your school in your community. It may not be the same as another one, but as you see it. And, it's hard to put in words. It can't just be you all by yourself. It has to be everyone that puts something into it. But you have to be secure in the direction that you go. It doesn't mean that you won't change it, because it would be foolhardy to go forth and be oblivious to new developments and learning. But for what you have at the time, to feel secure in it, and be open to new things, cause, heaven knows, we don't want to teach today as we did fifteen years ago. Times have changed, and it wouldn't be appropriate ... but ... And to feel confident that you can handle whatever comes up and, of course, success breeds that feeling of confidence. And to feel that you have the ability to look at so many different sides. I was talking about handling .... about being confident and handling problems, and I was about to cite an example with team-teaching. There is an aspect of team-teaching that was never brought to my attention, but it's a real one, when you have a fire drill; the teachers are required to account for every child. And she has to know when that child is going to speech, or reading, or music, or PE, or wherever that child is. And we lost one that way. We had a fire drill; and it was after lunch. It was for, oh, I suppose an hour later, that the teacher realized that she hadn't accounted for one child. We didn't think too much about it, but we looked around the school grounds. We looked in various classrooms, which she thought she'd gone to reading but she wasn't there. Finally, after an hour or so, we called the police and we called the parents. We found her. She was out, it was a summer day, a spring day, a lovely day and warm. This was about a third grade, second or third grader, she'd gone down to the creek. She had a raft and she was out in the middle of the creek on the raft. So, you say, how can you be effective? Is to try to look maybe at things that are more, I look at them at more than face value, I look behind it at the problem that it might present because it can happen so quickly and you can be so ill-prepared for it.
Q: Did you find that you did a lot of reading, and a lot of coursework, a lot of discussing with, maybe a teachers' committee? Or, things like that?
A: I did a lot of talking with mx teachers, and they were very inciteful and they would bring up problems that sometimes hadn't occurred to me. What if ... you know. I was taking coursework at the time but, I was disappointed. Some of the coursework was excellent. As I said, Nick Long's class was a revelation to me - I got a lot from it. Some of the classwork, as I said, the one in counseling where they proposed that there was a dichotomy, between the administration and the guidance. I thought that my college classes, for a large part, were overloaded with secondary education outlook, and it had little value to me in the elementary school. In fact, when I would pop out and talk about the elementary school I was just barely tolerated. And I felt that it was not ... that it was not that useful to me, to tell you the honest truth. Maybe things have changed. I got most of my help from my supervisors. I had good supervisors.
Q: Now, you've mentioned them before. What ... what..I guess I want to know who specifical, are we talking about the area superintendents?
A: These were teachers, ex-teachers. They were experienced teachers whose job was to visit the school and to assist the principal or the teacher in any way that they felt that they were needed. I think they've done away with them now, which is why you don't know what they are. But they were a Godsend, I felt, because they had the experience, they had the access to materials, they had a background that was an adjunct to whatever you as principal had. They were a third-party that could sometimes help between a teacher and a principal. And sometimes they gave you that sense of composure when you felt that you had failed and they would make you feel that you had done all that you could. If you needed helped, they'd suggest things that you could do. They varied, as all humans do. Some of them were more effective than others. Some handled the teachers the wrong way. That they were a way for the central office to keep track of what was going on in the school, also. As the county broke up into areas, the supervisors took on more of a role of curriculum advisor, that kind of thing, and were less involved in the individual schools and the individual pupils. Unfortunately, but that's what happens with a larger school system. Actually, I think that I had written that the principal had really arisen to the level they had not usurped. They had been put in the position that was formally occupied by the supervisors. That, when I first went into the school system, the principals tended to be more building managers, and the supervisors were more the supervisors of instruction. And as the county grew and became more complex the principals became the supervisors of instruction and nobody, this was just something that you did, you did that also. Yet there is a difference. Now, really and truly, one can not be discrete from the other. The building has to be managed to support the instructional program. But there are furnaces, there are stopped-up pipes, there are strangers that wander into the restroom, there are, you know, failures in the cafeteria, there are dishwashers that get stopped up. All those things. There are traffic patterns, buses that don't run, snowstorms, early closings, heaven knows what all, that go into managing a building. But the basic thing is all of that should support the instructional program. But as I see it, that the principals had that responsibility, but they didn't have the pay or the status that went with it.
Q: The supervisors came when you needn't it, or they were there every Monday .... ?
A: They came, they were on call to you and they also came routinely. But then we had them; I think they were a valuable asset, and I still love my supervisors. They are retired. They were delightful. Also, they had meetings for areas, and brought up new ideas for instruction. They were what kept you growing as an instructor, as a principal. New techniques, new things to do.
Q: And they would come out and share, or they would share with you, and you would share with your faculty.
A: That's right. It was a growing edge for us as principals. And that's where most of the growth came.
Q: (Inaudible) I'll ask this question; I think you've answered this, but I'd like to just ask it. What leadership techniques did you use? And which ones did you find more successful? less successful?
A: Hum, that's a hard question. To identify it as a technique, that's very hard. Urn..... I think a willingness to do anything that I've asked a teacher to do. as I did with the videotape. If a teacher is called out of the classroom, I might have been real sharp, but I could pick up the instruction and I could go with it. I did know the children, and I did know pretty much where they were in the instruction. And I would never ask anyone to do anything that that I wasn't willing to do myself. And I think being confident in your field, to be knowledgeable and confident in your field, so that they respected you and they knew what you were talking about. That you knew what you were asking them to do and the reason for it. I think I asked my teachers to do a lot of things that I don't think they would have done in another situation. But there was ... it's hard to have a camaraderie and yet to maintain a leadership also. It's ... you can't be palsy-walsy, but you can't be austere and apart. And there has to be a feeling of support, that they trust you. And I think trust was probably, you talk about a technique, that probably is the most important thing. That, if a parent came in and complained about them, they knew That I was going to put them in their best light and that I would confide in them what the parent had come for. Together we would work out how we would handle the situation. And the parent also felt that I was with them and that I was doing the best that I knew what for the child. So there was trust. There had to be, for the community and within the school. And I think that without that trust you're lost, and you dare not .... dare not betray it. Maybe that's .....
Q: You've talked a lot about projects that you've done. And, by your facial expressions, I can tell that they were very pleasurable. Is there any others that you can remember, that was a pet project that you had that vias just so much fun?
A: Oh, we did so many of them. We made dulcimers. We got parents and students involved. We had a firm that provided the raw materials and the instruction and it was a marvelous thing for children to learn to play an instrument. I still have mine, and there are still people I know that have their dulcimers that they made. That was one. It was a valuable project. As I said, I had, we had so many things going. We taught teachers to play the guitar. And that was useful. What else did we do? Projects ... Right off I can't think of ... Probably when I leave I'll think of a zillion that we did.
Q: Yes, You gave us a lot. Here's the next question: What was your biggest headache, or concern? And how did you handle it?
A: I don't know what would be the biggest headache. I don't think that-my head really, after I got rolling, I don't think my head really ached over anything. I think I felt very secure in my school. But I think that the thing that didn't do, if you'll have it so, was ... that they 1714 came out with a regulation that if you had been in a school for so many years that you were automatically going to be moved. And the upshot of it was, this was one of the factors in my retirement, because ... I went to the superintendent and she said, "Well, you know, you've been at Chesterbrook fifteen years." And I think ... I cannot remember now what the years were, but it seems like it was six, and I was wax over whatever it was. And they offered me a school, a thousand-pupil school. It already had two assistant principals but they were going to remove one. It was in a latchkey-type of community. And I told her, I said, "You know I come to Chesterbrook when it was full of problems." And I said, "I worked hard. It's a model school." It is. I said, "I don't believe the test scores are a way of evaluating a school, but," I said, "You know, the test scores are one of the highest in the county." I said, 'You know, I haven't got it in me to do it all over again." I didn't.
A: I didn't. I think that's..that's it.
Q: What ways ... I'll start again. What would you suggest to a person like myself who is just starting out to get ready ...
A: To be a principal?
Q: Uh huh.
A: Why do you want to be a principal? (Pause) The reason that I thought I wanted to be a principal was that I thought that I could make a difference. People asked me, why did I want to be a principal? And I was fine as long as I was working under a principal who gave me my head. But had I been working under another type of person, I would let ... But as a principal, I could see the values, that I saw were the values. And I could make it happen. And there's something about the power that goes with making something happen that is worth the discomfort, the nights that you roll and toss, the extra hours that you put in, that the ... the agony that you go through birthing it to make it happen, the care that you take in insuring that nothing go wrong. And then there's that satisfaction: it worked! It's good. You know, it's good.
Q: Is there anyway to prepare for that? Or it almost sounds as if there's just jump right in.
A: Most of us jump in and find that we can swim just fine. I think the kind of problems that you will encounter I couldn't anticipate because times have changed. I think ... I think this is a marvelous type of preparation to get a feel for how problems can just jump out of the woodwork at you. Things that, no matter how well-prepared you are, that they are going to catch you unawares. But that some somehow they won't knock you off balance, that you'll be secure that you'll come through it, you'll figure an answer, and it will go on. And you'll feel good about it because ,-;--u will have handled it.
Q: Did you have a model that you patterned yourself after?
A: As aL principal? I suppose in some ways, Agnes Lawless, who was the principal at Chesterbrook to begin with. She was a tremendous principal and I admired a lot of the things that she did. I didn't do everything the wax Agnes would do it, believe me, but she had given me my head, as I said in the beginning. And I think that I, in turn, gave my teachers pretty much their head. I tried to see them as individuals. I tried to match the children to them as I thought they would relate, which is what I saw Agnes do. Agnes had a good relationship with the children. She expected them to behave. She expected children to be a certain quality of deportment and attitude, and, in response, they were that. And I think there is a lot to, expecting children to behave and expecting children to carry themselves in certain ways, and to have certain attitudes towards the school. And by expecting it it happens. She was, I suppose, in some ways, a model, although my school was different. I was a different person and there was no way that, any more than you could pattern myself after another teacher. There are good things that you see that teacher do and you can't help but pick up on it. But actually, most of the teachers, most of the principals played their schools pretty close to their chests. You really didn't know what was going on in that school even though you went to meetings. A certain amount of ... competition, particularly competition for money. Competition for equipment and supplies. A lot of that hit you. Not real deep-down friendships among the principals that I was aware of.
Q: In other words, sort of like the "good ol' boys" ?
A: There may be. Course, this is one of the things that ... when I came on as principal women had just started coming into administration. When I first came in, there were very few women principals. They were men. A lot of them high school coaches, put down in the elementary school. Had no idea what was going on in the elementary school, but they were men, and they were coaches, and they were suppose to be disciplinarians. And that's why they were put there. And women as administrators were new, and I know at meetings, principals' meetings, the men would go off and have lunch and chin with themselves. Some of the more vivacious women would somehow cluster with them, but the rest of us were left to our own devices. But that's typical of most business associations, not just teaching. It's unfortunate, but it happens, and I don't know how to beat it. But one of the things that was happening, too, is that a good many of the principals, the men principals, were retired military, and one of the things I found happening was that ... well, the man that followed me is a Marine colonel, and he painted that lovely office, painted it orange and brown. But I found that in a lot of ways that the military was ... that the school seemed to be mimicking what was going on in the Pentagon. And that there was a tremendous military influence in the school system. And those of us who were not military were on the fringes, and that would, accounted for a lot of the good ol' boy relationships among the principals because they were also good-ol'-boy military. I think it's a sad commentary but that's the way it was. And they had not only the principal's salary but they had the military retirement, too. Most of them had not had more than a smattering of education classes, just enough to get their certificates. And they really did not have a feel for elementary education, in my estimation. Now, I might be doing them a disservice, because there undoubtedly were good ones in there, but this was just an overall feeling that I had. That it was, there was a good nitch for them as retired military. And they ran the school as a military installation, pretty much. And there the status was on the new school that you got, the new equipment that you got, and the new rugs, the new furniture, that was a status. In fact, I raised sand because every time we had a principals meeting we would go to a new school. And I said, "You know, you never have a meeting in one of these old schools." And so we had a meeting at, naturally, at Chesterbrook. I raised the question. But no one ever got around to see that some of us didn't have all the nice new things that had been put in the new schools. That we had to earn those, that we had to pay for those out of our pockets. And yet, we were trying to have the same instructional program as the newer schools were having. But it was un &-,ar that the pats-on-the-back were the plush physical plants and there was dust in their eyes as far as the instructional program that was going on in the schools. And that was my estimation. And, uh.....
Q: When you retired, was this one of the things that you were not, that didn't make you sad to leave? Would that be one of the things?
A: What, the plant?
Q: The ...
A: Or just the way I could .... I could see things ... the things that I could see coming down the road. Merit pay was one. Going back to ABC grading was another. Too much syphoning off this group and that group: the gifted program. I'm not for the gifted program. It was a ... Children should have an opportunity to learn all these different things, but it should be for everyone, not just children who are identified by test scores. And most of those tended to be on the verbal skills and there are many other kinds of giftedness. Even though the program was initially thought ... they tried to recognize dance and drama and some of the other things, but basic it got down to language skills. As I said at the beginning, those of us who excel], those are the ones who run the programs. The emotionally disturbed, all of those tend to be syphoned off into special programs, break down the neighborhood school. As I saw it. A lot of problems on the status. I don't know why, but a conflict over which schools would feed into McLean and Langley High Schools ended up in my office. And I raised sand because I said that this is strictly between the high schools, why work it out in my office? But it was suppose to depress the property values if they went to one school over another. I'm just looking at the kinds of things that are coming down the road that were disturbing to me and I felt that ... I can't have advocated, for example, conference grading and then go back and get on the same stage to the PTA and say yes, now I advocate ABC grading. I can't backtrack; I cannot do it. I can't advocate volunteers and keeping as many children in the neighborhood as possible, and then say, well, now this group should go to this school, and this group should be transferred over to this school because of test scores. I would have to eat my words to the point that in my philosophy - we get back to that word, pontificate as it may be - would not accommodate what I saw coming down the road. And it was, it's smart to know when it's time to leave. There is no use hanging on till they'll barely put up with you. And again, if you don't believe in it, and you're not truthful, and you're not true to what your gut feeling is you come through as false, and you lose your ability to lead.
Q: My final question: What have I not asked you that I should have?
A: You've covered a lot of things! (Laughter) Well, I had a list here of some questions and "What the issues at the time I was principal?" and I thought I would just write them down the ones that I ... I think I've covered them all: the use of volunteers, use of the assistant principal, the planning time for teachers, special instruction in learning disabilities and both the handicapped, and so forth, outdoor education, television instruction, new math - which is not new math any longer in teaching - , computerization of recordkeeping because you don't even know what a register is any more ...
A: Before- and after-school care, breakfast program, daycare, integration - separation of classes of boys and girls, well that was when I was coming along - sex education, limited administration, drug education. That was one thing that I haven't touched on. I did a program, we were having a problem not with our own children but with the brothers and sisters in high school that were being wiped out with marijuana and what have you. We had a visiting teacher who was a social worker who was working with our children because their brothers and sisters were in dire trouble and families were being hardest to them. And so I had a PTA meeting and had a police officer come in and try to explain how you look for signs of drugs in the children and what the services were available. Their response was, "Do they have drugs in Chesterbrook?" And I said, "Our children are not on drugs but it's in the families." And they were completely uninterested. They had no use .... now they change their minds; I was ahead of my time. But that's..that was one of the problems that we dealt with. And grading. I think I've covered pretty well the things that I saw as ... and they were ... each one of those was a problem of great moment at the time it came up.
Q: You know, I didn't ask you, being in McLean, well, you did mention a senator, did you find that you had to tiptoe around politics? Did the political scene enter the school? Any ...
A: No! I had Tip O'Neal's children. I don't know how many senators' children and people whose names you would know. They were marvelous. They were supportive. It was a different insight into the families than you would ever see. We had some tragedies. I know of one senator- suicide. Didn't mention those. Didn't mention the visiting teacher who was a tremendous aspect to the school she taught me something; she taught me alot. Some of the things that a principal does, and I think I should, it's important to mention that, yes we had, gosh, how many ... A mother who lived in Potomac Hills closed the garage doors, started the car running. Not only killed her but it also killed a couple of the children and left one severely damaged. And what do you do with the family when, you know, this happens? Had another family who the father had found the child had a loaded gun and he through the bullets in the fireplace and they exploded and burned him and blew up his hand. We lost one black mother through a heart attack. And the teachers and I went to that funeral. Never been to a black funeral before. With the nurses and the coffin open, and the children sitting there with their mother in the coffin right in front of them, and they carried her out and put her right in the ground in front of the children. And the nurses fanned the children. And it was beautiful. It was very basic, and I was very impressed. A lot of tragedy in the community. And the visiting teacher worked with runaways, the older brother and sister runaways. Terrible things happening in the family, some of them. But one thing she taught me was the family unit under certain circumstances. There was a little old apartment real close to the school and I can't remember now why we went over there, but I went with her for some reason, I can't think now. But, anyway, there's the sort of surroundings that the circumstances but she pointed out, she said, "The children's work is on the kitchen wall. It's warm. It's clears." And I'd never thought about how important it is to have, to notice that the children's work is on the wall. That was an interesting thing. I've looked at homes so differently since I've been to so many homes with the visiting teacher, and I've looked to see if the children's work is on the wall.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to ....
A: I think that's it.
Q: Jewel, thank you very much and we really appreciate you participating in our Oral History Project.
A: Well, I hope it's useful.
Q: I know it will be.
A: I had a good time, believe me! And I'm having a good time now.
Q: Thank you very much.
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