Interview with Jack Koselak


This is an interview with Jack Koselak, July 26, 1988.

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Q: Jack, how many years have you been a principal or were you a principal?

koselak audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Not an assistant principal, just a principal?

Q: Right.

A: Uhm, 6 1/2 years.

Q: Describe the schools that you were principal at.

A: Both three year High Schools. Both of them ended up on year round school, Concept 6. They ran 2,200 to 2,300 students.

Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?

A: Oh, I decided that when I was in the ninth grade in High School. I was quite certain I could run a school better than what mine was being run.

Q: What was your school's philosophy, the schools that you were principal at?

A: Uh, basically to make life as pleasant as possible for everybody in the building. I didn't want students harassing students and I didn't want teachers harassing students, and I didn't want to be harassing anybody either.

Q: How was that developed?

A: Well, I had a great advantage when I was at West because, uh, I was there for 31/2 years as a assistant principal before I became principal and I was able to put a lot of my programs into place right then. Uh I was selected as principal by a committee of thirteen from the community. There were students on the committee, there were parents on the committee, there were faculty members and they sort of forced me onto the school administration who did not want me to be a principal.

Q: The community?

A: The community forced me in as principal on the school administration who did not.

Q: How did you create a climate for learning:

A: Uh, for one thing I was able to convince the faculty that I wanted them to try new things and that they weren't in trouble if they did and I expected a certain amount of whatever we tried not to work and that was all right. The other thing was that I spoke to small groups in each incoming class, uh, laid out to them what my expectations were. I told them basically that I didn't have to say that I graduated from Arvada West, that was not my school. They were the ones that were going to have to say they had graduated from Arvada West High School and did they want to be proud of where they graduated from or did they want people to say "Oh, you poor soul, you had to graduate from that school?" and therefore whatever happened there was up to them and by doing this we were able to create an atmosphere where we did not have to discipline students. Uh, they took care of themselves. We just flat told people that came in we don't do that here.

Q: Any other leadership techniques that you used in that climate, to create that climate?

A: Uh, for leadership techniques the school was effectively was run by the department chairmen. They made the decisions and spoke for their departments, uh, many times they made a decision that I did not agree with but if that's what they wanted, that I s what we did.

Q: What techniques did you use in or for the recruitment and selection of staff?

A: Well, once again the departments, inasmuch as they could, we have a pretty strong, uh, set of rules here on governing who you can hire and uh, within that frame work the departments decided who they personally would recommend.

Q: How about the recruitment? Did you actually to out? How is that done?

A: Personnel does that.

Q: District wide?

A: Yes.

Q: And then once you selected, did you, uh, how did you have the interview set up?

A: At least the department chairmen were there at the interview with me. Sometimes more.

Q: How did you handle staff development and induction of new staff?

A: Well, we of course had some time in, uh, anytime we had some new people come on board we had some time at the beginning to work with them a little bit. Uh, but mostly it was done within the department. Of course, you know whatever the district had, certain programs. All the Math teachers in the district that were new would need to learn something about the Math program in the district.

Q: So you're saying the district did a lot of the induction type things.

A: They did some things. We had some things school wide and within the departments.

Q: Anything specifically school wide that you did?

A: Well, we would sit down with them and talk in fairly general terms about what the school wide philosophy was and what we expected to happen. Uh, they were given all the, a school handbook and all this sort of thing for teachers and for students. They had some chance to ask questions about the way we did things.

Q: Did you feel that you were a manager of a building or an instructional leader?

A: Uh, I think I came closer to being an instructional leader than the majority of High School principals, uh, a long ways from where the philosophy or theory you get in college puts you. That was one of the places I, uh, decided that I didn't want to be in the job anymore because I could not influence it as much as I wanted to. I am very, very much against this centralized curriculum that this county has. I was trying to lead the school away from that centralized curriculum, lead the district away from it. I don't know if you're familiar with the book that the president of Xerox has just come out with where American education should go but I was fighting for that fifteen years ago and, in fact, the ideas that he's pushing right now, because if we don't go there American education is going to go down the tubes, public education.

Q: What did you feel is more important that instructional leadership, is that what you're saying?

A: That's what's important, yes, but uh, but that's not what, how a principal is judged. That's the last thing on what a principal is judged, they could care less if the English program goes down the tubes. The number one thing you gotta make sure is your sports program is good and number two your music program is damn good and everything else can go to Hell, nobody cares.

Q: The time factor spent for instructional and management?

A: Uh I probably spent 60% of my time with the activity program in one role or another and 40%. I refused to get involved in discipline at all.

Q: Who ran your discipline part? The assistants?

A: One of the four assistants or all four depending what organization we were under. Uh, when we were year-round schools there was "All track, "B" track and "C" track so there were "All tract administrator, "B" tract administrator and "C" track administrator. They handled all things with the students in their tracts and then there was an activities administrator.

Q: How did you evaluate teachers?

A: Uh, obviously I went through the formal written process that you had to go through according to the district contract. I thought that was a complete and utter waste of time. Uh, but by contract we had to go through it. I never wrote anything negative on a teacher's evaluation for that formal process unless I intended to fire them and then I would call them in and I would tell them that was my intentions, what I was unhappy about and then I would start writing negative comments. I found that you gain nothing by writing a negative comment for a teacher that you were working with and trying to improve the job in the classroom. Uh, I am not one much for the formal show-and-tell pony show where I let you know that I am coming in to see you on Tuesday, third period and you put on this grand show, Tuesday, third period and I talk to you before about it and I talk to you after about it, I think that's a bunch of bologna. I can see you doing that with a group of teachers within your own department, where I ask you to come in and observe me, I want to, uh, I'm working on this particular area, say question students and I want you to come in and watch me and observe my questioning techniques and critique me and meet before so you know what it is I want you to look for and after so you can help me, but I don't see the administration involved in that at all. As a matter of fact, I feel if our professional organization were doing anything worthwhile in this area they would quit all of this horseshitting around that they do in forcing more and more of this on the administration, instead be saying the administration has no business evaluating, period. They shouldn't even be involved. That's none of their business. But uh, (laughs)...

Q: No, that's fine. Who then would that go to, the areas?

A: Yes.

Q: The curriculum area?

A: Well, it wouldn't have to necessarily be the curriculum area. I worked at Bell Jr. High where we had a multiple, a team established, and we had members from all disciplines and they would go in and sit down and observe the classroom teacher, and uh, we would as a matter of fact even tape them, the observation, and then sit down as a group afterwards and critique.

Q: It sounds more like a peer observation type of a setup?

A: It was peer and I think that's how you improve instruction, uh, I mean let's face it, most administrators, well you have to start back with who goes into teaching. Now, here lately we've been getting a much, much better crop of teachers as far as where they ranked at the university but for years as a group the teachers were the bottom of the university graduates. Their tests scores were the lowest, their grades were the lowest, right down the line and who became administrators out of that group of teachers? The lowest of that. Uh, most of the people that I know that are administrators were not that great of teachers in the classrooms and they are the last person to be evaluating what a teacher does. That's why you have to have tenure for more than any other reason. The administration is so "p" poor.

Q: We are going to get back to some of these points that you've mentioned that's why I'm not following through on those O.K., and I'll follow up on some of those with tenure and some of those other things. But, you're going right along with what I'm looking for. But, how did you handle teacher discipline and non-renewal?

A: Uh, usually when I put the screws on somebody they did one of three things. In this county it's fairly easy to transfer out of the High School to another school and it was easier earlier than it is now but it's fairly easy and, uh, they would do that. I had a number of them that we had a serious talk about whether they should remain the teaching profession, and they got out. Uh, usually I would say it was teacher initiated in my building. They would come and tell me that they could not live up to the expectations and they would either leave the district or get out, one way or the other.

Q: For non-renewal. What about grievances, how did you handle grievances?

A: I had two grievances filed, one as an assistant principal and one as a principal. Uh, the first one as an assistant principal the in-building representatives told the teacher that she was out of line and to back off and uh, we had our little meeting and I said in the manner in which I had addressed her, I apologized, I lost my temper but the facts were still as I stated them with a lost temper which I shouldn't have done and that settled that one. And the other one the head of the JCEA called me up and said "Jack, handle this will you, this is ridiculous". And I did.

Q: So it never really got into any...

A: Well, I take that back, I'll take that back. There was another grievance, a third one I forgot about and it had to do with declining enrollment at the school and who I was letting go because of declining enrollment and I was covered in writing on everything that I did and the question was, how was the social studies organized at the school? And at West the World History and American History were always two separate departments, they were never the Social Studies Departments like they are in some schools. It had been that in writing for years before I ever went to the school and so I was covered.

Q: And the grievance was?

A: If it was a Social Studies Department I was getting rid of the wrong guy and that brought about the wording, I don't know if you're aware of now in the County, in the agreement that the principal must publish to his staff by October 1st or something what the organization of the school is for that school.

Q: How about disciplining them? Did you ever really have any real discipline problems with teachers that were just defiant or maybe even cross the line?

A: It depends on what you mean by discipline problem, I guess. I had an art teacher that got a girl pregnant, I asked for his resignation. I had a female teacher who was uh, helping one of her male students by giving him oral sex and she came in and resigned, uh, you know. I didn't have to do anything.

Q: They kind of took care of themselves? What about non-renewal? How did you handle that when you weren't going to renew their contracts, either they were probationary or whatever?

A: I didn't get into that problem with any teacher that I hired. Uh, and usually if the district was forcing somebody on me once again I went to work on them and they usually, in fact, a number of them resigned once they found out they were assigned to my building.

Q: I don't know how you want to answer this one. When you say, "when I went to work on them" or "when I put the screws to them", could you take that another step, maybe.

A: Well, I said that normally I would never put a negative comment on a teacher's written evaluation but when it was somebody that I decided this is a teacher I could not live with in my building then that negative section would be very, very specific. You're doing, this, this, this and you're not doing that, that and that, and it might run ten type written pages.

Q: So in other words you accentuated the negative?

A: Very much so and that would be a good interpretation and like I say, once they knew that I was on their case they usually moved on or out.

Q: What do you think of career ladders, merit pay, those types of programs?

A: Uh, I can speak better in merit pay than anything else because I, uh, attended some National workshops on merit pay and as yet there is not a single place that it's not been implemented that it completely destroyed moral. Uh, the career ladder thing, depending on how you want to interpret it, I could see as a possibility. I think there is great room in our ranks for differentiation as to what you want as a career in teaching. If you want to define it as I will come in the last possible minute I can get there in the morning and I will teach my classes and I will do a good credible job with teaching my classes and I will leave when school is out as a nine to five job and that's it, I don't want to be involved in anything else. That could be a salary scale. Or you could look at the person who wants to become very, very much involved in everything that goes on. want to be on the committee that selects textbooks, I want to be developing curriculum, I want to be doing these other things, uh, that could be a different type of differentiation. I tend to agree with the guy that writes from Green Mountain, what's his name, where he suggested a salary schedule, the way it should be organized. Well, he was facetious but I liked it very much. That all teachers should be started at $65,000.00, that's base pay, that every time you do some that takes you away from the students, you lose money. That if you agree to work on a project at the ad building, you lose $2,000.00. If you sit down at parent conferences and you don't know the name of one of your kids and what grade he's in you lose $10,000.00.

Q: But you don' t remember the name of that individual?

A: He writes for the JCEA paper, Stark, is that his name? He's marvelous.

Q: Teacher tenure, I told you we would get back to that.

A: I think we have to have tenure because of two things. if you're in some little po-dunk nowheres, uh, Colorado is a good example. You get out in a poke town where the family members and the school board are related and the superintendent is related to all the members of the school board and the sector is related to everybody else and uh, you couldn't last without tenure. grew up in a small town in Indiana and I know how that operates. it had nothing to do with how good a teacher you were. It was who went to the right Church, who was seen doing the right things during the year. Because of that you need tenure. And the other side of the coin is because of the gross incompetence of administrators in education.

Q: Can you follow up on that?

A: Well, the majority of the administrators have no idea what they're suppose to be doing, no idea whatsoever. They keep their jobs if they don't rock the boat, if they're lucky enough not to have anything horrible happen in their building, they can go on being a principal until they decide to retire and never accomplish a damn thing. And those are the ones that stay in for 20 years. The ones that try to do something, that rock the boat, they either get fired or they get out and do something else.

Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern?

A: Whether we were boring kids to death.

Q: I guess my next question would be, what did you do to alleviate that concern?

A: I leaned very heavily towards being one in favor of change just for change. Uh, I kept things shook up all the time. I tried to always have something going to keep people on their toes.

Q: Examples?

A: Well, I was lucky inasmuch as when I went to Arvada West as an assistant principal, the very first fall I was there, we had a big parent meeting of what we were going to do about overcrowding and they said we will allow you to go in double sessions for awhile until we can go on year round school so we had all sorts of things to play with year round school. We were cutting new ground all the time and consequently we could do things with curriculum that the county, although they had a heavy centralized curriculum never did figure out what we were doing because weld throw in a course for a quarter, we could name it anything we wanted to, do anything we wanted to, and we did some really exciting things. We had a construction program, hammers, paint and saws in foreign language. We were teaching the history of South America and giving history credit for it in Spanish. Uh, we had Russian plays and dance. We had a hiking trip to the Alps in Austria, so we did lots of fun things.

Q: It sounds it. What I'm going to do is switch over to side 2. As a principal, what was your biggest headache? (Side 2 - 001)

A: Uh, pom pom girls.

Q: Pardon?

A: Pom pom girls.

Q: How's that? Just . . .

A: They're the biggest pain in the ass in the world and you can ask anybody that deals with them in any High School and they'll tell you that.

Q: Did you have a special way to, uh, deal with that?

A: When they got to me too much I always threatened to do away with the organization and I did away with a few. The Flag Team, I did away with one time because I was just up to here with them and they'll be no more Flag Team and that solved the problem, and they knew I'd do it.

Q: If you were going to say you had a key to success as a principal what would it be? Your key?

A: The reason I was successful was because I did not believe in lying to the any of the student body, the faculty or the parents. I told them the way things were. When I was at Bear Creek we were arbitrarily going to let fifty families change track and the Junior High principal called me up and said what are you going to tell the parents, what are you going to put out in print and tell the PTA about the reason you're doing this. told him I'm going to tell them it's a political thing, that there's no good reason for us doing this, in fact, there is very reason for not to do it but it' s a political thing and that Is why we're doing it. And he said Oh, you can't tell them that and I said "Why can't I tell them that, it's the truth". He said, but you have to make up something else to tell them, and I said No, I tell them the truth. Uh, registration is always a bugger. You always have parents on your back about why their kids didn't get in this class or that class or whatever. And I would put in big print to get their attention anything I sent home, if you have a problem with our registration, call us right then, don't bitch about it at the barber shop or the supermarket or the hairdressers. You come down and tell me right then and there when you first find out that there is a problem and it will be fixed and it was. One father was so embarrassed? he brought his two girls down and berated me in the middle of the gym floor about how horrible a system we had going for registration and I said all you have to do is tell me what your girls want, what classes they want and I guarantee this is what they'll have. "Well, we don't know what we want", and I thought he was going to kill his two daughters.

Q: If you were going to list five of the most pleasant principalship activities in which you were involved, what would you say?

A: Working with staff on developing new programs. Uh, talking with groups of students about what they wanted to have happen, or what was going on in their life or whatever. Uh, taking visitors around the school and Arvada West for some reason or the other had almost weekly visitors from around the world at our school. Uh, winning a state championship and an activity or a sport.

Q: That's fine.

A: It's fun.

Q: The follow-up to that would be the five most unpleasant principalship activities in which you were involved.

A: The number one unpleasant activity is dealing with other administrators. Uh, number two would be cutting staff, because of declining enrollment. Number three, uh, the problems involved in athletics. Number four would be graduation. And Number Five would be dealing with censorship kooks.

Q: As far as curriculum, books, those types of things?

A: Anything. There are those people out there that get very upset if you try to educate their child.

Q: How did you deal with them?

A: Usually I gave them a very short trip. Uh, if they wanted to merely for the thing that their own child to be censored, I usually went along with that because I do believe the parent had the right to say what is proper for her child. But anytime they tried to say what I should doing with other peoples kids, I drew the line, told them they were out of line.

Q: Any good examples of that?

A: Oh uh , almost every year there would be somebody complaining about some book that we used in a department. We put on a student orchestrated written, uh, music program in the spring where they did all the arranging and the music, all the work and one year they did numbers from Jesus Christ Super Star and some parents objected.

Q: If there were three areas of operations for administrators which you could change, what would those areas be, and why?

A: Well, I uh, if I interpret your question right, right now the High School principal in Jefferson County has less power, less to say about what goes on in his school than I did in 1965, so the number one thing that I would do to change in this town would be to get rid of the area superintendents. They have done more damage to Jefferson County than any other organization in that county.

Q: Why do you feel that way?

A: Because when that position was created they had no power, they had no money, they had no power and there was only one place they could get it. The superintendent wasn't going to give up anything so it had to come from the principalship. They now make all the decisions. They make the decisions about what the attendance policy is, in 65 the assistant principal did that. That would be my number one change. Number two, I'd do away with the, what is it called, the department of, the division of instruction in the administration building. I think that first of all should be wiped out completely for at least two years and decisions given to the community and to the school and then I would reorganize the department after two years by making it uh, bringing in a teacher that would be limited to the amount of time that they could serve, maybe three years, elected by their peers, like Social Studies there would be a teacher on special assignment and you would go out and hire an expert and give them a contract for one year, two years or whatever to bring in new blood and to let this district come in contact with what's going o n . The third thing I would change is that I would have magnet schools. If we had magnet schools we could afford to do things in this county that would bring some excellent educations processes in the High Schools. Right now whenever you want to do anything it has to be done in all the High Schools, can we afford to do it in all the High Schools? No we can't so we don't do it and I think that's wrong. We don't have a stage in Jefferson County, there is no stage because we can't afford to put one in every school. But at least one school should have a stage. if you want to make that the performing arts school, then do that. And we don't have a swimming pool in Jefferson County because we can't afford to have one in every school. I say bullshit.

Q: Will you describe the most effective assistant principal that you worked with, characteristics, ingenuity, support, those types of things.

A: His name was David. I was the only person that liked him in the county. The other two principals he worked with thought he was the worst they had ever worked with. Uh I could give him any task, no matter how difficult and he could pull it off. He worked -marvelously well with the students. There was a tradition at West, the night before rehearsal, the Senior's graduation rehearsal, all the Seniors gathered on the roof of the building and spent the night there and uh, the police called me at 2:30 in the morning and said this is getting out of hand, and I called David and I said David go down and take care of it. David went down and got on the roof, got everybody off the roof, cleared the place and had no problems. Just by the force of his personality, he was extremely pleasant, had a good background in psychology. I think the reason the other principals didn't like him was because they felt he was such a threat, a very laid back sort of a principal, good sense of humor but he would get the job done.

Q: If you could change any five areas in United States' educational system, the education in the United States, what would they be and why? You eluded earlier to a book by the division of Xerox.

A: Yes, one of the things he's saying is this magnet school idea, we need more of that and granted you can't do it if your school district is too small. I strongly believe in allowing the students to go to any public High School. I don't believe in vouchers to go to Mullen and tax payers pay for that but I do believe that they should be able to go to any public school they want to and I think the competition would be good for the schools. I think there should be a nationwide licensing for teachers and a nationwide retirement system so that there's not the problem of crossing boundaries as a teacher. Uh, I think there should be, I think that if you're going to put Federal money into education and I'm not that wild for Federal money in education, I'm not at all wild for having a cabinet for education. I don't see the Federal Government in the roll necessarily but it there is to be a Federal roll I think it should be establishing example schools around the United States where the very latest of everything is available. The latest technology, the latest construction techniques, the latest teaching techniques, a model where people can go and see the way it should be done. But it has to be outside of the present education establishment and they would make sure that nothing changes.

Q: What in your experience do you find most beneficial in helping you maintain your sanity as a principal?

A: I'm not a principal anymore. I had one thing that helped me more than anything else and that was I did not stay in my office. I was never in my office when school was in session and the secretaries were instructed to never, ever tell anybody that they would put a call through to me because by chance if they happened to catch me in my office people would get the idea that some people could get through to me on the phone and other couldn't so I had the standard that there were no calls. I would always return the calls. And I found that to work very, very well. I didn't care if it were the superintendent of schools or a school board member. The other thing is that I always felt, this had to do with being out of the office, but I always walked around. This accomplished two things, I was out and about and nobody ever knew where I might show up, but the walking also helped keep me calm.

Q: Over the past decade schools have become larger and larger with students populations sometimes exceeding thousands. What do you feel is the best organizational arrangement in schools this large for administrators and teachers?

A: I think schools within a school. I was doing that at West when I got transferred. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, I was going in the direction of what you wanted to accomplish academically. I was trying to get a group of faculty together that crossed discipline lines that wanted to work with a group of students, that were interested in the same thing. There's other ways of doing it, just break yourself up into three or four smaller schools. When we were on year round school, of course, it was fairly easy with the three tracts, then you're operating as three separate schools. But I think a lot of people misinterpret what uh, schools should be at least graduating classes of 100, and be able to offer certain curriculum, I always figured that if they had to be at least 100 why then 1 000 graduating class would be even better. I'm a firm believer in smaller.

Q: What do you feel is the ideal size of the school, for best administrative, instructional leadership.

A: Well, there is a variance here on size because it depends an awful lot on the person but I think anytime that the principal can not know every student by name that it is too large.

Q: Other research points that excellent schools have administrators who are actively involved in leadership for educational expectations. What are some effective techniques or strategies which you have used to help involve yourself to the maximum in educational leadership?

A: Well, I think one thing that helped me a great deal is my varied background, lets say my undergraduate work in Social Studies with a Math minor. I always am qualified to teach health, I'm qualified to teach German. I do a great deal of reading, uh, literature could easily have been one of my subjects. I coached basketball, football and track. I've been in a supervisory position before, lots of different things. I also travel a great deal and have a wide variety of interests. There were very few areas that I couldn't sit down and talk intelligently with the faculty and have some appreciation for.

Q: If you used one or two word description how would you prioritize your activities for most effective leadership?

A: My first question I always asked of any activity in the school is what could they do for students and two, can we sustain it without killing ourselves. My fifteen months I spent in the administration building were the most unhappy 15 months of my career. I was in the foreign language department, but that wasn't what bothered me, what bothered me was that we never, ever talked about students. We went there to see whether they had bigger desks, more secretaries, more square footage in their office and that's not why I went into education.

Q: Do you have a model person you pattern yourself after?

A: Well, there were some people that influenced me a great deal, uh, but in different ways. Uh, Jim Sawin who was a principal at Lakewood Junior is a professor in Texas someplace now had some good ideas that I thought made sense. Uh, Dr. White who is retired now was the principal at West before I went there had some definite ideas about what it meant to be a principal. Forbis Bohomley was the superintendent when I first became an administrator. He called me into the office and said now you going to be an assistant principal and this is what you have to remember, in a good school the assistant principal runs the school, the principal should not be involved in the operation of the school. The principal's role is to set goals and plan and think great thoughts.

Q: What I'd like to do now is to give you a last shot at, if there is anything you would like to add or maybe something I didn't ask.

A: You didn't really ask me why I got out of it.

Q: I believe there was a question and I overlooked it. Why did you get out?

A: Uh, mainly because I did not want name associated with the idea of being a school administrator. I thought they were such a shoddy group of people. I have more pride in my name.

Q: What do you feel then should be done or could be done to administrators who are going through a program like at U.N.C. What can they offer to them?

A: Nothing. Not a thing.

Q: So then where do you think education is going?

A: The same place its gone for the last 100 years, no where. We've got a system that's entrenched and it's not going to change, as much as the president of Xerox would like to see it changed.

Q: I believe that concludes our interview. Thank you.

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