This is June 17, 1997. I am speaking with Mr. Evans King in his home at 120 Cherry Lane, Christiansburg, Virginia. We are discussing Mr. King's experiences as a principal in Montgomery County, Virginia.
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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in a very remote section of Montgomery County, between Pilot and Huffville, 19--March the 13th, 1909. I attended the little one-room school at, over there at a school named Altoona--it's no longer in existence--and I didn't get to start to school when I was of the age you start because there were too many students for the one teacher--it was a one-room school. And, I started the next year. Then they skipped the third grade with me. I went from second to fourth. And...when I got through that there was no was no school, no high school available. Christiansburg, twelve miles away, was the closest and there weren't any busses. So, I went back to the seventh grade at Altoona another year. Then they opened up a junior high at Pilot, which was five miles away, and I walked there. I missed only one day that year, and it was an eight months school. The...when I finished that, there are...were eight, not at that time but later, eight children in the family, and Violet, the only one that is dead now, is...was the next behind me to go to high school. And they knew she couldn't walk to Pilot, there wasn't any way to get there, so we moved to Christiansburg. And by the time my youngest sister graduated from Christiansburg High School, we had the largest number of graduates of the high school of any family that had ever attended there. All eight of us received a degree, a diploma, from seventh grade. Uh...I suppose that the family characteristic, the most outstanding one, is that although my parents and grandparents didn't have too much formal education, they were very much interested in it and were well educated for the kind of schooling that they had. I think that my mother's sister probably learned the most the easiest of anybody I've ever known. She's dead now, died at the age of ninety one. I believe that's about all I have to comment on.
Q: Ok. Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? And then, how many years did you serve as a teacher and then as a principal?
A: I went to Emory and Henry College on a scholarship, academic scholarship for the first year and went to Emory and Henry. Our preacher, Reverend Jesse H. Hobbs, probably influenced me more in the college that I was to attend than anybody else, but there were a lot of people interested in me, that wanted me to go to college. And I did. I graduated from high school in 1930 and went to college that fall and graduated from Emory and Henry in 1934. I went to college with the intention of studying medicine and I completed the two-year pre-med requirement and there wasn't any money then. The Depression had hit so hard that didn't anyone have any money to speak of. And I couldn't go to college, so I decided that I would go to college anyway and get my degree in preparation to teach. Of course, having taken pre-med, I had a lot of chemistry and biology and physics credits, so I had a double major in chemistry and biology, preparing to teach. If money had been available, my family or any other source, I would have gone to medical school instead. I applied to four medical schools and was accepted by all of them, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, Tulane University....can't remember the other one now...wasn't the Medical College of Virginia. How many years did I serve as a teacher? Nine years as a teacher, nine years as a principal, seven years as assistant superintendent, and eleven as superintendent.
Q: What did you, what did you teach when you were a teacher?
A: All the sciences, chemistry, biology, and physics.
Q: And where, where did you teach?
A: All my teaching was at Christiansburg High School, except one year. I started out the first year at Iront o Element ary Schoo l and taugh t the upper four grade s. All the rest the rest of my teach ing was in high schoo l.
Q: And you were principal at Christiansburg High School, as well?
A: Yes. All my principalship, nine years, was at Christiansburg High, except one. I was the principal of Rich Valley High School the first year I was principal. That's in Smyth County.
Q: I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constitut ed importa nt decision point s in your career and how you feel about them now. Of cours e, you'v e already alluded to the situation with medical schoo l.
A: Yes. Well, I didn't have any regrets after I got started into the preparation for education that I had gone into it; and I decided after I'd about my first, my third year, first year beyond the pre-med, that I'd be just as well off there as anywhere. I felt like I could deal with the people and the children, and I knew I had the academic background to handle it all. I finished college with the highest academic average in my class in the major field; and my major field, of course I had to declare one of them, was chemistry. Couldn't anyone understand how anybody could beat all the English and history and language majors, but I proved to myself that I could.
Q: That's impressive. Are there any other important decisions that you've made related to your experience in education that you'd like to mention to us?
A: Yes. I knew before I finished college that I wasn't going to stop with a Bachelor's degree, that I was going on. I've been to several different schools. I got my Master's Degree, all of it, from Columbia University in New York. I went to University of Virginia half way, I'd say, to a graduate degree. I went...took some work at VPI and RPI. You know about RPI, don't you?
Q: Is that Richmond?
A: Richmond Professional Institute.
A: I went there for special subjects to help me in teaching.
Q: Ok. Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship? What drew you from being a teacher into being a principal?
A: Well, I'm just going to be perfectly honest now. Some people aren't. They want to make it sound otherwise. I went partially, part of my decision, maybe more than any other one thing--money. 'Cause I...I started out teaching at $70 a month for eight months, $560 a year. Living away from home, paying $22 a month for board. I...that was the first year. The next year I came to Christiansburg High School and my salary went to $90 a month for eight...eight months, but I...I...knew that I couldn't do what I wanted to do in education, accomplishing anything worth anything that satisfied me at the kind of income I'd have teaching; so I...I was influenced, again, by the money, I guess. I was...the circumstances surrounding my going into the principalship. While I was at Columbia University, uh, in my...I had one more summer school to go to get my Master's Degree at Columbia, I got a telephone call from Bob Williams. Did you ever hear of him?
Q: No. I haven't.
A: Uh, Bob Williams was the executive secretary, later, executive secretary of the Virginia Education Association. At that time, he was the superintendent of, eh, Smyth County Schools. He, uh, of course lived in Marion, and he told me he had a job for me as principal of, a, Rich Valley High School. Well, it's grades 1--12...11, then. And he wanted me to come down and meet him. I said, "I can't leave school and come down; but, uh, school'll be out in a couple a weeks and I'll come up." "Oh, that'll be fine." So I went up and had the interview and he took me to the school and I met a few people, including the chairman of the school board, and signed the contract that day to go to Rich Valley as principal of grades 1--12. The next summer, I was at Columbia finishing my Master's Degree. I got a telephone call from Mr. C. C. Shelburne, Superintendent of Schools here in the county. And both of them told me the same thing: "I have contracted...contacted your, uh, superintendent for permission to talk to you, and I want you to come back to Christiansburg as principal of Christiansburg High School." And, I didn't have to think about it long. I didn't tell him then, but I knew that I was coming back home if I had the chance. Now...I came back and was principal of Christiansburg High School and was principal of Christiansburg High School one year in 193---40-41. And then I got the news that I was to join the military. I was drafted into, uh, military service...went into the Air Force and spent between three and four years there, half of it, a little more than half, in the 8th Air Force in Europe. When I came back, at that time they had a...an agreement with the Federal Government that anybody that was drafted into military service, they had to give 'em their job back if they wanted it. Well...it was a unique situation there. Manuel Reynolds, who was later...he was principal at Christiansburg High School before I was and he'd been drafted out. And then they drafted me out, so there were two of us, technically, eligible. Neither one of us wanted it. After the time I'd spent in the military, last part of it overseas training French troops, who didn't have much command of the English language, and I was worn to a frazzle. I didn't...I didn't think I could manage being principal. I came back and I got into special education, distributive education. That's the reason I went to RPI, took some special training in vocational education. And, I stayed there at Christiansburg High School after three years of vocational education, stayed at Christiansburg High School until the Superintendent of Schools here then S. T. Godbey resigned and I was employed as his successor. I stayed eleven years and after the...I don't what they call it...after eleven years as principal and they had just finished up integrating the schools here, I didn't feel like I could go on and do a satisfactory job as principal. And I turned...turned in my resignation to the school board and they...they didn't accept it then. They said, "You gotta think about this"-- that was middle of the year--"until school's out, at least." And, I did, but I didn't change my mind. They said, "Well, we got to keep you here in the county, and don't leave until you tell us what you've been offered and take. So, uh, they'd gotten the Richmond Times Dispatch and they...the personnel...vice...Assistant Superintendent in charge of personnel in Richmond City Schools offered me Assistant Superintendent of Richmond Schools for Finance. I considered that, and I think a lot of my friends did too, that was my strong point, in the field of finance. And he called me then that same morning, wanted me to come down and be interviewed by the Superintendent. I knew the Superintendent down there. And before the day closed, Dr. Martin, who was then the president of Radford College, called me and told me that he had five positions open on the faculty there that I was qualified for. I don't know how he knew that much about me, but that's what he said. He...he did know me, though, and not to do anything until I came up and talked to him and another member or two of the staff. As a matter of fact, he taught me public school finance as a special preparation for the superintendency; and the dean then was Dr. Young and he taught me administration. So, both of them knew me. But then, the superintendent over at, uh, Henry County called me, same day, and offered me the position--he knew me real well and some of the other people over there did, too- position of Superintendent--Assistant Superintendent for Finance in Henry County. And I put all that together and was told to report to the school board at the next meeting which was just a few days away and they said, "As soon as you get the facts and figures on it, give it to us. But, it isn't anybody gonna hire you because we don't pay you enough." So, I made more as Assistant Superintendent than I had been making as Superintendent. And I stayed there seven years, until I reached the compulsory retirement age. Then sixty-five was the compulsory retirement age. I had a total of forty years, including the military service and the state gives you credit for the military service, if you leave in a job, go into the military, and come back to a similar job or the same one. So that added that to being forty years of experience, and I told them what the salary the Assistant Superintendent for the City of Richmond was the highest, but I didn't want to go to Richmond. I had turned down one job with the City of Richmond before that. I came back and stayed seven years until I reached the retirement. Yet,I didn't have to make any choices about retiring. The school board had set sixty-five as retirement age. I don't know whether it's that now or not.
Q: I don't know either. Um...would you describe your personal philosophy of education and how did you arrive at that over the years as you...as you taught and as you were principal?
A: I've answered that several times in, I guess, several ways. A philosophy is a growing thing. Tomorrow it should be a little different from what it is today. And I...I had that at the basic ingredient of my philosophy--that you got to improve as a result of today's experiences and...and especially those in which you fail, to replace the failures with something more positive.
Q: I think you've certainly used the classes you took and the efforts you made to improve your situation over the years. I'm impressed with that.
A: Uh...I guess that I was the best prepared for the superintendency of anybody that held the postition up to that time. Oh, yeah, I left out one thing. I mentioned that Uncle Sam invited me to join the forces. Uh...I had already, before that came about, had worked out a schedule and was pre-enrolled at Columbia University for a Doctor's Degree. And, I had to go in the service before that got implemented. I was in...I got married while I was in the service, and I came back. I wasn't interested in going back to school any more. I wouldn't...I just turned down the idea...just forgot about it. I never did. You can't believe this, but I get a letter from Columbia University about every three or four months wanting to know if I changed my mind. Well, I'm eighty-eight years old now....
Q: That's good. Oh, I like that. How would you describe or would you describ e the instruct ional philosop hy of your schoo l when you were principal? Um... what part did you have in it? How was it develop ed and did you see it chang e as you were principal?
A: Yes. I...I hadn't said much about my philosophy really, but just an item or two. Uh, but I...I think everyone in education, perhaps in other fields too, I know in some other fields, have to have a course mapped out that you're going to pursue...follow...what you're going to do in the job you're in. And, I mentioned that I thought it changed almost daily...and it does. It did with me. If I have a certain kind of discipline problem come up today, I change my thinking about how to deal with that, which is a part of the philosophy. And, I...there's some people I don't think...well, I'll put it this way: The State Superintendent of Public Instruction...the reason I went to Columbia University...told us, a bunch of us who were in school, in graduate school at the University of Virginia, that he had just come from...not Vanderbilt...the graduate school considered the second-best graduate school in education in America at that time--Columbia, first and- What is that graduate school in education? I can't think. At...in Nashville, Tennessee...connected in some way with Vanderbilt. I can't think of it. So... anyway, the dean of the school left there and came to Virginia as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and he told a bunch of us youngsters, who were going to the University of Virginia graduate school, that he knew...had gotten acquainted with them since he'd been there he'd discovered there's hardly a one on the faculty down there that'd had an original thought since horse and buggy days and that, if we wanted to get somewhere in education in Virginia, we'd better consider what we're doing, where we're being taken. Well, I went back to Virginia again the next summer after that; and would you believe there were only five graduates, students, there in education at the university? The big...more went to Columbia University than any one. When I got up there at Columbia, I discovered there were 150 in administration at Columbia University--from, who had been formerly, one time or another, had been at Virginia. And, I...he said, "If you're going to get any place, you can't do it by going to the University of Virginia." I thought that a pretty bold statement to make, with politics being what they are in Virginia, and elsewhere too I suppose. Uh...I went to Columbia. A good friend of mine, who was later the Assistant Superintendent of the schools in Richmond, Francis Sisson, one...called me and wanted me to come to Richmond with him. And, uh, that...he was...he left there for the same reason I was considering. He had been a former student at the University of Virginia. In fact, he had his undergraduate work from Virginia. But I never regretted that decision. Columbia is a pretty big jump for a kid that grew up in the sticks, but I...I made it.
Q: How prepared did you think your teachers were as you worked with them?
A: How prepared were the teachers?
Q: As far as their educational background. Yours...yours was wide and varied and quite strong...Did you...
A: They...they...We, being as close as we were to Radford and VPI, we got a better teaching force--better prepared, had more to choose from--than most any other public schools in this area. I doubt if there were many in the state that were much better prepared teachers. However, it didn't pay much here. Most of the counties and cities paid more; so after they got a little experience, many of them left and we'd get a new...a new crowd coming in every year. Some, every year. But they were pretty well prepared. And we, the supervisors, the supervisor of secondary school and the supervisor of elementary school...they helped in selecting personnel. And I knew a good many of the people at Radford that gave me tips on people that might be worth considering and I got information on the ones that appeared to be the best qualified.
Q: What kinds of things in your opinion do teachers expect principals to be able to do, especially as you were principal...
A: They...too many of them think that their problems, discipline whatever, should have been anticipated by the principal and they're not having to go through with it, but... And that bothered me for a while. Later, it didn't because they...everybody's got to learn. And I told them when I interviewed...
Q: You said that you were not going to take the blame for mistakes they made.
A: That's right. But if you detect that you're having problems and need help, come to me in advance and we'll do...work it out the best way we can. But you're going to have to take the responsibility for what you do in your job. That's what you're being hired for. And I never had any real problems. Some of the best teachers I ever had...you know Helen Simmons Sowder?
A: She's one that I hired. She was a good teacher and she wanted help. There's a lot of them, people around here now, that I talked with and taught for. There's one question here that I don't know exactly how to interpret.
A: What experience or events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Maybe I answered it in a way, but not very satisfactorily.
Q: I think some of what you just told us about what you expected of your teachers I think satisfies that to a certain degree. I think that your management philosophy comes clear as we're talking. You've told us what you think teachers expect of principals. Are there any other additional aspects that you think it takes to be an effective principal...?
A: I think the teachers are, if they are well trained, expect to be helped, can reasonably expect to...a lot of it to come from the principal because he's...he or she has been through the mill and knows what some of the problems are anyway and hardships and all and he should be able to help steer them around it. I think they're entitled to that.
Q: Ok. Let me go down to number ten here I think as a follow-up.
And it says: As a follow up question, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed upon principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment? A: What'd you say? Number 10?
A: Uh... That...I thought about it when I read it...this over two or three times. I...too many parents who want things done for their kids that just wouldn't do--wouldn't help their kid a bit or any to speak of- and I think they expect too much. For example, I want to use one illustration. I had the student in high school who had to...had some kind of a minor operation. I don't remember what it was. She came back to school and she had an excellent phys. ed. teacher. She still lives here. Doris Smith. And...She was good, well trained. And...The father didn't want her to take any phys. ed. Well, I learned something there. And...I don't know whether the father learned anything or not. But, a written excuse from a doctor does not excuse a child from taking phys. ed. It just informs the teacher and principal what the situation is and they...they have to make the final decision. I told him that and he didn't like it. But, Doris Smith was well trained and had considerable experience at that time, and I knew and she knew--I don't know what ever became of the girl; they left here. The father died pretty soon; the mother was already dead. And, I lost track of the girl. I don't know how she came out. But she took phys. ed anyway.
Q: How do you think the expectations today that are placed on principals are maybe different from, or if...if even they are different from, the time when you were principal? From just what you know of folks around?
A: Well, let's see now. I left the principalship in 19 and 56. Ninety seven. Forty-one years that I left. I don't...since I've been retired, twenty-four years, I haven't kept up too much, not a great deal...really...putting that a little too strong...have hardly kept up with the thinking in education today. But, I...I know there was room for improvement when I left. And...uh....
Q: Ok. Let's look down at number eleven, if you don't mind. It says a great deal of attention has been given to topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and maybe something that didn't, an incident in which your approach might have failed. What did you find successful as far as your personal leadership and could you give us an instance of a time of when, perhaps, it backfired on you?
A: I never did feel, maybe I wasn't alert to it, but I never did feel that I had any complete failures. I knew that there were situations that I'd worked in...advised teachers in that could be improved upon and I tried to do that next time a similar situation developed; but I don't really...I think leadership comes as a result of respect for a human being's personality, whether it's pupils, parents, teachers, whoever... You can't set out as a goal to please them. Some teachers I've seen do that. It didn't matter a great deal about what kind of education the child got. To them, "Do they like me and do the parents like me?" and that's all they were striving for. I can't accept that kind of leadership. I that think a person's got to prepare himself or herself to do a job and what that job ought to be in terms of the philosophy of the school system. You know, the school board, back when I started...the school board and, to some extent, the superintendent, didn't have any philosophy of education. I mean any formal. They'd never written anything down. They just let the bygones be bygones; and whatever comes up, just handle it with...so that the least problems develop from it, if they can judge that. And, I don't care for that kind of an approach to education. I like to have in mind what is going to be the best for the kids when it's all over. And most, most of the people that I've taught have, I think, gone along with that tremendously. As a matter of fact, I am amazed that so many students, former students of mine, and as a teacher and as a principal, have been as receptive to changing as they were. I can illustrate. This one boy that I taught here in school. He didn't know where he was going or why, but he was a pretty smart boy. I knew his family, knew them. And, he later went to VPI and studied -can't think of the name of it now, but it's a form of engineering dealing with ceramics--and he...I don't feel like that when you punish a child for something, that the child needs to have the impression that he's been browbeaten or beat up on. I think that they are supposed to come out of it with a feeling of "How--why to go...where do we go from here?" I think Bobby Taylor is the probably the one I'm talking about, who later finished VPI in ceramic engineering and got a job with Moscow, Missouri, as an engineering with, I can't remember the name of the company now. Anyway, he stayed with them a good long while...still is if he's still alive. I haven't heard from him recently. But he was made assistant manager of this ceramic company in Moscow, Missouri, which owned properties on all the continents. He came in when I was principal...came into my office one morning and he was on his way...He came by from Moscow, Missouri, to see his parents...spent the night with them and he came up to the high school the next morning to me. And he...he...he was real tickled. He'd been put...he was vice, no, assistant manager in charge of all foreign operations. Well, that's saying right much when six continents and they own some mines or processing or manufacturing or something on all of them. He had just been made...given that position. He was on his way...a tour of the world, actually, to see what was going on, what they had, see what they were talking about in the meetings. And, he said he just couldn't go through Christiansburg without coming to see me. He said the reason is because "of your sincere and very positive attitude about getting an education and getting educated." He said, "It took with me." And he, of course, he was real proud, you know. A big position like that. I guess it...I later learned that he was a millionaire, but that's not the prime considerations whether a person's successful or not. But, it...it means something.
Q: Interesting. Let's go on here. If you were advising a person who's considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: I thought about that since I read it. I wasn't sure how I'd answer it. If your...if the main consideration is for the salary, increase in salary of administrators over teachers, I would suggest rethinking the whole thing seriously. Have a good, sound reason--your point, standpoint, standpoint of the children and their parents--for going into administration, not just that they pay more.
Q: Ok. Let's look at this next one here. It says there are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader and those that suggest by realistically speaking this person must above all be a good manager. Do you have any views on this issue? You have been both a principal and instructional leader. Do you feel that the primary job of a principal is to be instructional in the classroom itself, or instructional with the teachers, or primarily a manager over the teachers?
A: I don't think that's all leadership management if that's all there is. I think of it as a lot more than just managing the situation. I think that the teachers under the principal must feel like the principal is capable of and will give assistance to them in problems that arise from day to day. I don't know if that clarifies it, but I never took the attitude that you're going to do what I tell you or we're going to have someone to replace you next year. I didn't answer anybody to get that feeling as a result of what I was doing and saying to them. That next one, fourteen, is a very important one.
Q: Okay, good. I wanted to hit that one. It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs and please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations and which community organizations had the greatest influence.
A: I think that the person who fails to take an active role in the life of the community is going to be in heartache. You must know what's going on and why. For example, I at one time, while I was, let's see, I guess I was overlapping principalship and a superintendent's role, I was chairman of the building committee for Saint Paul's United Methodist Church. I was superintendent of the schools and responsible for certain actions being taken in building schools. We had a pretty big building program going on with the school at the same time I was chairman of the building committee. Then we had a director in the bank. I learned a lot about the people of the community and what ought to be done and what could be done. At the same time, all three of those were going on and it helped me considerably to have the benefit of legal aid. The school board had the best legal minds available in the building program, bond issues and so forth. The bank had an even figure, but I had less contact them. The Bank of Cambria, I was on the building committee for that. And then later, the real gratification came when the church insisted that I take chairmanship of the building committee for the parsonage. That gave me a lot of satisfaction and strength to carry on. They'd had enough of me in building the church and then, I was the only one ever nominated for that. At the same time, I was chairman, they call it president, I believe, of the board of trustees at the church. I was a member of the Lions Club. I was for thirty-one years a member, and the last thirty of it, perfect attendance at the meetings. That helps you to develop strength in the community. All of these, the dealing not with school particularly, but those people, in the Lions Club, for example, and the bank are still another other than education. You learn from that and you need it to carry on the activities of the school board, the school system. Let's see, the Lions Club, the church...I never hired a teacher that I didn't ask when I interviewed them, "What church do you belong to?" And I never did hire one that didn't belong to a church. I didn't find fault with them if they were Catholic, particularly, or if they were something other than Methodist. That's their business. But if they weren't interested, and didn't belong to any of them, I didn't tell them then, but when the final decision was made. "Why didn't I get it?" I'd tell them then that not belonging to a church is one thing that I considered important and that was negative. I guess that the church probably had more influence on me in education than any other one thing. The church is responsible for me going to Emory and Henry College. I think that was a big plus in my life.
Q: Emory was or still is a...was it a denominational-based school?
A: Yes, Methodist. It belongs to Holston Conference Methodist Church.
Q: You had mentioned earlier that your pastor was very influential in your attending school.
A: You know, he wasn't even my pastor. He was a preacher. I didn't tell this at the time, I didn't think it was appropriate; but, maybe it isn't. Over at Huffville, my mother was a...they called them Dunkards back in those days. Did you ever hear of a Dunkard? Brethren, today. She and her people were Dunkards and later became Brethren, and when the kids got old enough. My father and his family were Baptist. My father took me with him to the Baptist church; and for the fourteen years that I was over there, I went to the Baptist church, Sunday School...what have you, whatever they had. And I came to Christiansburg and one of my uncles, who had lived over there and was a Baptist, came to my home the night I arrived here and said, "We'll be up for you..." We didn't have an automobile. My family never owned an automobile. "We'll be up for you Sunday morning to take you to Sunday School." Well I knew where they were going, Baptist. Well, my mother couldn't walk--we didn't have a car--she went to the Park Methodist Church and the children went with her, all the rest of them. But I went with my uncle to the Baptist church and the pastor of the Methodist church here in town got after me to come to the Methodist church. He knew both churches and the people in it...he thought it would be for my best. I don't know whether it was or not but anyway, I went with him. He was responsible for getting me a scholarship at Emory and Henry, and I felt like I couldn't go to the Baptist church and Sunday School. One of the best friends and biggest supporters I had, and was later the chairman of the school board, was a Baptist. He and I were the same age together. I went to him and told him what I was going to do...Howard Bane, you knew him?
Q: Yes, I did.
A: I never regretted making that decision. I've known a lot of people to do it, but I never used that as my excuse.
Q: You had mentioned earlier as well that your parents didn't have opportunity for a lot of education, but they were always interested in an education and interested in you and that kind of leads into this next question, number fifteen there. It has been said that there is a gap between the home and the school and that more parental involvement with the school needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and with citizens who were important to the well-being of the school? Did you see during the time you were principal a gap between the home and the school?
A: Well, yes. I think so. I never did think of it as a handicap. My father, I think, finished the fifth grade. My mother finished preschool, which was equivalent, I think, to the seventh grade, maybe. And I went to that kind of a school over there. They were both born...well, my mother was born in Gerard, Illinois, and her father died when she was two years old, or three. They came back to Huffville, and my mother's mother and sister came back to Huffville, and my father lived there in a pretty good size family then. Mother had one sister; that was all. Her father died young, typhoid fever. But I never did feel like there was much of a gap between the schools and my family. My father didn't have much education; but everything that came up in the community, if it was for the good of the people, he was for it. He became the leader in it. I think I may have learned some things from him in that respect...the things that he did. I can illustrate. He went to the school board and got permission to have Sunday School in the afternoons on Sunday in the school building in the community in which we lived. It was about two miles to Huffville from my home and there were others who lived further away and he thought it was for the good of those people, and I do too. Today I still think so. To have a place they could go, only in the summertime...well, from about Easter to Thanksgiving or something like that, and then go in the winter time. But when the weather was bad, it disbanded but reopened. He organized the first, and as far as I know the only, PTA that the school ever had and they elected him president of the PTA. Actually, it hurts me kind of to say this, but actually he was the leader and Mother had the brains. She was a smart woman, but she didn't have enough education. She went to...when she finished preschool there at Altoona, she went to Willis. You know where that is.
A: There was a branch of Radford College...Normal School, is what I'm saying. In the western part at Willis, the western part of Floyd County, she went there.
Q: Continue, please.
A: My mother qualified to teach after preschool, seventh grade today, and six weeks in the normal school at Willis, which is operated by the Radford Normal School. She got married and never did teach but her husband's...my dad's sister did teach. She...I don't know where she taught...anyway, she lived over here. They owned the land there...part of the Farmhouse operation over here...she got married.
Q: Well, there certainly wasn't a gap with your family's involvement. Now when you were principal, did you see other families of your students as involved as your family with their students' schooling, or did you feel that there was a gap at that point?
A: I think some of the times there's a gap between what some of the parents wanted in education. For example, they voted down bond issues...I don't know how many in this county...and there's need for the bond issue that I helped get passed as superintendent that did away with all of the one-, two-, and three-room schools left in the county. There were a lot of them at that time. I think there were twenty-seven, and when we got them consolidated and closed, in new buildings, I think there were...I'm not sure...fourteen or fifteen, something like that...schools. Well now, there were still a good many people who voted against that bond issue. Later we had another bond issue and it got defeated, narrowly. Well now, we didn't have anything near perfection in the way of school facilities. Some of the people wanted it and some didn't. Enough of them didn't want it that they voted against the bond issue. There's a gap also in what should be taught at school. There were a few, not many, but a few who didn't want any reference made to religion, or taught in any way, shape, or form in school...some of them. There were...there was opposition to going too fast...people can't keep up...using that as an excuse for opposing building programs, change of curriculum, and so forth.
Q: Alright, let's look at a couple more of these. And I know it's been a long afternoon, but I'm fascinated with all that you've said...and a lot of history. But if you don't mind, I'll hit a couple more of these and then we can finish. Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and what was your philosophy of that evaluation? Did you do formal evaluations, or...?
A: Yes. I was on...I don't know of anybody that had the opportunity or did any more studies of teacher or principal of evaluation of schools and teachers, and of school systems. When I got out of the military service in '45, I hadn't been home two months until I was asked to serve on the teacher evaluation committee for Hillsville High School. That was the first one outside of my own school system. From then until I retired I must have been on...I don't know, I'll just give a rough estimate...twenty or twenty-five...teacher evaluations...under the supervision of the State Department of Education. I think it's an absolute necessity to...that an objective evaluation be made of teachers and of the school and of its philosophy. That's one thing that got the schools of this county engaged in an active, ongoing philosophy. I was principal of the school the first time it was ever evaluated. Now this question points more toward the principal's responsibility in evaluation. I don't think the principal can do it alone. I know that the fifteen or twenty, whatever membership committee that we had evaluating the schools--depending on the size of them, maybe other factors too, I don't remember now--they were...the teachers reacted more to and were more concerned about what this committee said about their performance than they were about what I said about it, or what I did, or the committee of the faculty.
Q: Do you see that as good or...?
A: I think that's good. I'm...it's not very flattering to hear teachers say, "Well now, I like what the committee says about the teaching of mathematics," when it wasn't any different from what I had been saying before. It's not very flattering. But they just had more confidence in that and yet I think I had as much confidence from the staff and particularly the parents as anybody as I've ever known...in this situation here, not ever, that's...that's not right.
Q: Let's go on down to this next one, it says "a good deal is said these days about teacher grievances." Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?
A: I don't think the grievances should be ignored. I think they should be discussed out in the open. I don't know whether faculty...faculty meetings are not the best, I don't believe, but it should be done in the faculties. I mean, it started there. For example, teachers don't like the idea of...well, there's a lot of things they don't like...but, grievances. And some of them are legitimate, a lot of them are. I don't like this "hit and miss" way of handling the...this thing. I never did...I don't think, I say never did, but it wasn't my policy to...a teacher come in and say, "The kids are...they don't get into the room on time. The bell rings and half of the students aren't in. You have to wait for them all to get in, close the door, and start the class. There's a lot of time lost that way." Well, that's a grievance. They don't like the way the lunchroom is conducted, they'll say. But group study can bring...get a resolution that is more effective and better than any one person can give, I think.
Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in such activities? Were you ever a part of having to dismiss someone?
A: Yes. I don't remember having any active part in dismissal of but one teacher. She was a...they had open house for parents one night, county-wide, and this teacher made some remarks about.... We were experimenting with selective grouping. There was a better name for it than that, but the top students were in a group, and the next in another group. And at this open house one night, this teacher commented to the patrons who visited her that I had, for the last couple of years, had put only the...I forgot what she called them, "dumb bunnies" or something like that...in her classes. Well, you know how that goes over. And she defended. She said if the situation came up, she'd do it again. Well I said, "I don't think in this situation, in this school. I'm going to transfer you, or recommend the school board transfer you to assistant librarian." We had a vacancy there next year. Her husband was a preacher of some sort, I don't remember. Anyway, their philosophy from the church that they were connected with and that of the way schools were being run conflicted and she left. But I'd had to take the responsibility for her leaving if I had just soft-soaped the situation. But I couldn't take calling the students she had a bunch of "dumb bunnies." The reason she had them--and I didn't want to tell her, I don't think I ever did--was because she really wasn't academically capable of teaching the bright ones...doing the best job. But she knew that...she gathered that...I don't think I ever told her. But she left here, and I don't know...the preacher got transferred and she left. She'd been here three or four years. Now that's the only situation that I can recall now being involved in as principal or superintendent...getting rid of a teacher. I have made reprimands, not threats or anything, but just, "Now look here, you...you're setting a bad example for these kids. You come in here late some mornings to school after the bell has rung. I don't think that's appropriate, do you? Anyway, I'm just telling you what I think right now. You think it over and when you get to the point that you can and want to discuss it with me, I'd be glad to go into it with you further. But don't come in angry and I'm not going to come in the meeting with you angry. We'll see how...what we can resolve." Most of the times, it works out.
Q: It sounds as if you had a personal relationship with your teachers but one in which your authority was clear. Do you feel that that's how it worked?
A: Yes. You can say that when you're dealing with thousands as I did over the forty years...it would be ridiculous for anybody to expect to have things work for that many people to perfection and I don't want to give that impression. But I...generally I'd say that's true.
Q: Just a couple more things I'd like to ask you. I don't want to wear you out, but it says down here on number 20...it says, "During the past decade, schools have become much larger." Would you discuss your views on this phenomenon that suggests an ideal size for a school in terms of optimal, administrative, and instructional activities. What kind of school do you think is too large or what do you think is a good size for a school as far as for the students and then for those who are working with the students, especially administratively?
A: I can't think of the man's name now, but when I was at Columbia University I had a lecturer...he wasn't a full-time professor there; he was employment president of Harvard University, and he wrote chemistry textbooks and lab manuals...edited...audited, no, he was the editor...yeah. And he left that--left Harvard--left that to study something he felt ought to be studied and that's what his subject...that's what he got into. And save my soul, I can't think of his name now, but I had a terrific amount of respect for him and his philosophy and his beliefs. He believed that a school had to have...to be a high school...he made his study of the high school...between a hundred and two hundred graduates to be really effective with the students. Well now, that...if he'd had the say so, that's all they'd have had. I don't know how many...if you've got three years in the high school...but the graduating class had to have between a hundred and two hundred in it, according to him, and he had traveled all over the United States visiting schools everywhere. And do you remember...did you ever...did you have chemistry?
Q: It's been a long time, no I...English was my field.
A: Well, he wrote the high school chemistry textbook and lab manual. They were in use in this county for many years, before I started teaching, and for many years afterward. I can't think of his name to save my soul. But anyway, he said the school with fewer than a hundred graduating is ineffective, and he gave a lot of reasons for it. If there's more than two hundred, it was also ineffective, and he gave the reasons for his conclusions on that. Well, I think that most...maybe ninety percent of the principals of the high schools in the state of Virginia and superintendents want that. I certainly did. I...it's pretty tough on these small places like Craig County and New Castle High School with, let's say, sixty or seventy in the graduating class--and that's in the whole county--are...there are schools that have four or five hundred. And the sad part of it is in my view is that the parents think that's wonderful...when they talk about their school. "Well, we graduated seven hundred and fifty this year." Well, my son graduated from Christiansburg High School...just looking it over the other night...in a class of a hundred and sixty-eight graduates that year. And it just substantiates my feeling that the size of the school...that it was right on the nail-head. He went to the University of Virginia...and pardon me for saying this off the record...I think the best school in the state of Virginia. And I only went there for a few graduate courses. But anyway, he went down there and took the four years and he...his I.Q. incidently and mine are identical...my son's. And he...came out Phi Beta Kappa from Virginia; and that's not easy, not from Virginia. And he accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish...about...in the way of education. He went to law school and made it in an organization that I didn't even know existed, but it exists only in law schools...it came from England centuries ago. It's got a funny name...Order of the Coif. You know about it?
Q: I've heard of it, but I don't know a lot about it.
A: Well, he made the Order of the Coif at William and Mary, the first law school in the state of Virginia to have Order of the Coif. You've got to finish up in the top ten percent of your law school class to be eligible. You don't get in just because you are in the top ten percent. But anyway, he made Phi Beta Kappa...at Virginia...and he made the Beta Club and Honor Society in high school, and so forth. He played football, baseball...a lot of things.
Q: He was president of the student council. I remember I campaigned for him.
A: Yeah, you're were one of his campaign managers, that's...I hadn't...I hadn't recalled that. And did you...were you campaigning for him when he was president of the student council or vice-president...?
Q: I don't remember whether it was president or vice-president, I can't remember.
A: This blondie, Moschler girl was his campaign manager for one and you were the other. I teased him a little about it, I said, "I know why you selected those girls as your campaign managers, because there's more girls in the high school than there are boys...and you thought that'd get you elected." But he was not that concerned about it. It wouldn't have hurt him a bit if he'd have been defeated. Either one...either time, both of them. But he got the...this is his, not mine, but he...the presidency of the student body. They decided they were going to...what...were you a classmate of his?
Q: I finished two years before he did.
A: Well, he...they were striking against the lunchroom. Were you there when that took place?
A: And they came to him as president of the student body to take the leadership in leading that strike against the school cafeteria. Well now, he didn't do it...he didn't go. He went on eating that day in the lunchroom with the rest of them. But that has a knowing effect on you. After he got down to Virginia they wanted him to do this, that, and the other, and he turned down everything...that was the leadership role there...he said he'd wait until law school. And he got in law school and they didn't have those opportunities. But he's in a law firm now that has a hundred and fifteen lawyers and a total of four hundred and some employees and he's number two man in that law firm now after...he went there in 1980, it's seventeen years.
Q: He's done well.
A: Yeah, in some respects. Every time he or I either one mention it, I say, "Yeah, but your marriage failed. That's important in life." He says, "I know it." But, I think that graduating class of a hundred sixty-eight, I think...was in his class...I think that that was really important. He had enough there to have competition. There weren't so many of them but what the school could offer them and do for them what ought to be done for a child in educating them...there have been larger classes than that since he graduated. Not much larger. I don't think they've had one of two hundred yet.
Q: Let me ask you one more question before we finish up. You mentioned earlier that you had gone back to school when you were working with the vocational end of schooling, and you kind of coined that as a special education area. Number twenty-one asks a little bit...it says, "In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students--LD, of course, learning disabled; gifted and talented; and non-English speaking--have been developed." Please discuss your experiences with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard. Of course, like I said, you mentioned the vocational end and I have a particular interest too. What was done for those students who might have been learning disabled or what we kind of generally term "special ed."?
A: To tell you the truth, as I see it, understood, we didn't do much. Nothing to compare with what's going on today. I was somewhat shocked when the Federal government made certain regulations and appropriating funds for...for example, they operate a school bus from here to Elliston and all in between, to bring five mentally handicapped children to school...special school...Blacksburg, Christiansburg, or wherever it was. I think that's a fine thing. I'm under the law of our country. They're entitled to it. Some people take the attitude, "Well, they're...maybe they are entitled to it, but they don't have the ability, they can't accomplish it." Well they can't accomplish as much as...for themselves, or society...as the brilliant ones can; but, they're entitled to whatever they can get. And I've seen some of them do pretty well. I like...we didn't have much in the way of special education when I was...fifty-six, I left the school building. That is, contact with the children...daily contact. Fifty six...ninety-seven...forty-one years ago. A lot has taken place in those forty-one years. And I think, for the good of all concerned. I don't know that the others are hurt by it...the brilliant students...and I think maybe there's a little too much talk about the accomplishments of the gifted children...I, I don't know. You could say, "Well, he did a lot of talking about his son, and so forth, the gifted." Well, I don't look at it that way, I don't think. What we did, the state required it then--I don't know if they do today or not--but every student that graduated was ranked from one to a hundred and sixty-eight, on the basis of academic marks. I don't like the idea of talking and doing too much about that, except to them personally. "Now look here, according to your test scores, your grades and so forth, you ought to be doing thus and so, better than you're doing. Why...why aren't you?" If I'm talking to the kids, privately. That's what to say, in a friendly manner, of course. We didn't have anything special for the...just the course itself. For example, we started teaching math in the eighth grade...algebra and Latin. I have a granddaughter who was in the eighth grade this last year. They're moving to Blacksburg and she'll be in the ninth grade over there. They have scheduled her already. She's been in for supervision...for...guidance counselor, for advice. She's going to be taking Algebra II, French II, and subjects like that as a freshman, I call it, ninth grade. And she knows all that. They tell her. I don't like the idea of getting too much emphasis on...on that. I think you can do it, and say as little as you have to about it.
Q: Was there much done with standardized testing when you were principal, or...?
A: Oh me. When I was a student in high school, this school board here- I'll give my own experience--gave Radford University...College, Normal School, I don't know what they called it then...authority to administer tests in the oldest schools of the county. And I do believe that I personally took, as a student one year, fifteen of those standardized tests. Intelligence tests, Army Alpha tests, other subject matter tests, other tests...psychological...I think there was too much of it done then. I don't believe the school board realized just what...when you get down to it, if every student had fifteen of these standardized tests, it gets to the place that it's confusing. It got to the place with me that I didn't care whether they ever got...
Q: Alright, we were talking about the standardized testing. You said you'd gotten to the point where you didn't care whether you got the results or not.
A: That's right, because I didn't see that anything was being done about it. And I didn't know the meaning of them, either, and I wasn't a typical student because I've always been near the top of my class or at it, or whatever, and I felt like I had as much comprehension of what was going on as anybody, about as much although I...I just...my son made, I think his...SAT score, I don't remember exactly what it was, thirteen hundred...or averaging thirteen hundred on the two, or something, I don't know...like that...something. He got down to Virginia in his suite alone, over sixteen students to a suite, there were five that had sixteen hundreds.
Q: Perfect score.
A: He made Phi Beta Kappa, none of the six did. I had a feeling all along that that's about what the...what it amounted to. Two of those, Buddy roomed with one of them his freshman year, they...they were the sons of military officers who had been to all kinds of schools, I think. And they had acquired the knowledge it takes to make those perfect scores. But, they didn't apply it...use it...they got there at Virginia where you had to deliver, and they couldn't deliver. Two of them out of the...that bunch left and went to some...I don't know where they went, I don't remember now. But they went to some other school...withdrew from Virginia. But didn't any of them make Phi Beta Kappa. Bob Poff, C.W. Poff's son, was a classmate of Buddy's in high school, and was a pretty good student. He got into Virginia...alright. And they roomed together his freshman year. Bob said to him one morning, "What time did you go to bed last night?" And Buddy said, "Well I think it was about quarter after two." Buddy said to him, "I know what time you went." "You ought to, you were up when I went." Well, he said...Bob reprimanded him for spending so much time with the books studying. He inferred during the reprimand that if Buddy were as smart as Bob, he wouldn't have to do all of that. Well, at the...Bob never made Phi Beta Kappa. But when the grades came out, Buddy had all A's the first term. I forget whether it was a quarter or a semester. Bob's average was a C. And it was still biting a little bit on Buddy that he had...Bob had that attitude towards him for studying. Now we didn't make him study. I have come in from school board meetings at two 'o clock in the morning and he'd still be up studying on Latin, or Algebra, or Geometry, or whatever. And I'd say, "Where's mommy?" "Oh, she went to bed about nine 'o clock." He'd be in there on his tummy on a big rug. He wouldn't go to bed until he had everything done right. Sometimes he'd get through at nine thirty or ten and go to bed. But he...he didn't go until everything was to his satisfaction. We didn't ever hinder his doing such a thing...having to do such a thing. But, he's the number two man in that big law firm now, after seventeen years of practice. I think that's a success, but then I always say, "Yeah, and you're divorced, too." There's more to living than just money and a promotion and jobs.
Q: I said one more...I do have one more and then we'll wrap up but I saw this one and I think about this myself sometimes. It says, "Principals operate in a constantly tense environment," or it can be tense...
Q: What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions? How did you get away from it, or relax, or what was your way of releasing some of that?
A: Well, of course, maybe you know this, I guess, my wife was a teacher too. And she...I shouldn't say this...but she's not the academic person that I, and Buddy, and a few others are. But she's got more common sense. And I've come home and discussed certain things, certain problems, and she could come up with some pretty good solutions. Put me at ease, really. Understanding of what I was up against. That's what I tried to do, but I had to have help with it sometimes...to relax, and I don't mean by relaxing that I just quit everything and said the heck with it. I...I tried to relax with the situation in mind and promising myself that if I don't get this one worked out just right, I'm going to prepare myself better for the next situation that develops like this. And it got so that I could do that...better, anyway.
Q: Did you have any hobbies or...?
A: Yes. I played about thirty years of golf while I was teaching and principal. When I retired...I retired on Friday and Monday morning, three of my friends and I were on the golf course. And, we were out there three...five days a week, three hours a day for five days a week. I wanted to...what I really wanted to do, hobbies, was swim. I thought that...it's got a lot of things in favor of it, but I developed swimmer's ear. Every time I went in the water I got swimmer's ear again. Doctor recommended that I just quit trying to swim. I got it the first time down at Myrtle Beach. And it got so any time that I got my head underwater, that's what happened. So I started looking for something else. And I...well I enjoyed golf when I was in college, playing. Tried that, and gave it a go. And I just became fascinated with golf, and I got pretty good at it for an old guy. You've got to start when you're about twelve or fourteen years of age to be a good golfer. I've never known anybody to become a good one when they wait until they're thirty years of age to start.
Q: That was a good opportunity to relax some, wasn't it?
Q: Well, we've covered quite a few areas, and I just...
A: We've haven't covered all of them, have we?
Q: No, well, we...I knew we wouldn't...I just put a lot out there to see which way we went. But is there something, whether it's related to these questions or something on your own, that you would like to bring out? Something that you feel that I should have asked you that I've not?
A: No, I remember one question in there about success as a principal. I think that you've got to have some success in order to do a respectable job. I don't think that success in terms of my evaluation or appraisal or what I'm doing or have done. But that, like these evaluating committees who are unbiased, supposedly, and I guess I think most of them are. I tell you, it's always interesting...it made me feel good to say, "Now..." Discipline is a problem for everybody- teachers, principals. How to handle that with the least...upsetting of the apple cart or disturbance among the parents and students, is very important. And I...I think, through the years, that I became more and more proficient at handling...especially discipline problems. The chairman of the school board had a daughter who was among those who came to school late. And I told all of them...just a handful, maybe, fifteen of them, habitually came in late. They'd come half of the time or more, late to school in the morning. And I hit upon the idea of having them memorize the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. And then they got into Addison's Essays on Criticism, one thing or another...and have them memorize them. Well, they didn't like that; but since then, I've been told by parents and kids that that's one of the best things I did for them...at school, they said. Howard Bane was chairman of the school board and there was a man here in town that had two sons that came in late every day. And I gave them a...something to be memorized and recited back to me. They didn't like to memorize anything. I didn't know that...started, but anyway. So he went to the chairman of the board and told him...he said, "Something's got to be done. My boys have to come in and they've got to memorize a stanza every night of..." ...something or other, I don't know whether it was Addison's Essay on Criticism, or something like that. And they were just terribly upset about it. He said, "Why do they have to do that?" He said, "Well, he says they come in late." "I don't say they come in late, the clock tells you whether you're late or not." And he said, "What are you going to do about it?" He said, "Well, let me tell you something," he said, "my daughter's going through that right now, and I'm working with her, and we see to it that she gets to school on time." He said that that stopped it for her. He said, "Why don't you try that, instead of trotting over here and talking to me about it?" Anyway, I don't know...I'm not sure that that's...I don't say that's the best way to do it, but there are other things that I tried...but I broke up, for the most part, coming to school thirty minutes late, or forty-five when they had classes the first period.
Q: Well, thank you Mr. King, I appreciate the time...
A: Well, I don't feel like I've been much help...I don't remember all the things...
Q: Well, I think you've been a lot of help and I do appreciate it. I found the...your insights fascinating. Thank you so much.
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