Interview with Elgin Lowe


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Q: Why don't we start off by asking you how many years you were in education as a teacher, then as a principal.

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

A: As a teacher l8 years, as a principal 23 year.

Q: Could you describe your school for us.

A: I'm gonna describe Georgia Tyler school--

Q: Good.

A: as a combined school of grades one through twelve. There were 200 pupils, 45 faculty members and staff, a cafeteria, a gymnasium that seated 150; located on highway 208 at Windsor in Isle of Wight County. I was wondering if you wanted rooms, number of rooms per grade?

Q: I don't think that would be too important since I the number of teachers.

A: Right.

Q: What was your s#hool's philosophy?

A: That's what puzzled me quite a bit--I don't know whether you were there at the time that we developed it or not, but as I recall now, the general philosophy of the school was to create an atmomphere so that learning would take place with the student. And it was developed by a committee of teachers--l think I had one parent on the group to help us get started, and every now and then we would look at it and meet if it needed revising r needed some additions to it. And I don't remember exactly how it read, but I know the main emphasis was on learning.

Q: Why did you decide to become a Principal?

A: That's a good one. When I was at Isle of Wight I was teaching vocational agriculture and I learned that they were building a elementary school in Windsor. And my wife and I talked about it some and she said to me--this is what really got me--she said to me, Do you just want to be a teacher all your life? And I thought about this quite a bit, and then I said to myself, since l'm in education, why not try for a principalship. And shortly thereafter I went in to see the Superrintendent and talked with him about it. And one of the first things he said to me was, "Well now, you're getting a year-round salary on vocational agriulture, but this school will only pay for 10 months. But I could see that in the future it was going to grow and--to be a larger school and maybe there would be a l0-month job out of lt. And when he offered it to me I took it. I think she was the cause of it, I'11 put it that way.

Q: How did you create a climate for learning, and what leader#hip techniques did you use? What techniques were succsseful and unsuccessful? So we'll take the first part, your climate for learning.

A: During my period of teaching vocational agriculture we were open quite a bit to dealing with the public. And we learned that in order to deal with the public you must have a good relationship among your peers as well as the community. And from that I learned to deal with different people in different categories of work. The ultimate result was learning something about community relationships. And so when I was elected principal then we began to work on this philosophy ideA: -l'm a little bit off now, am I not? What was that question?

Q: You're giving me some of the way you created a climate for learning and you're also telling eome of the techniques that you used and also that would be an answer to one of the other questions that we asked about public and community relations. So that takes care of three. Good.

A: I think maybe I can #o a little further with that, we--then coming back to Windsor Elementary school and gathering the teachers together, we sat down in a group, at that time, and talked about some of our goals,and what we would expect. and what we hoped to do. At the same time, we talked with the supervisor of schools--of course you remember Ms. Tyler. I'm sure--

Q: No, I think Ms. Tyler wasn't there when I--

A: She probably wasn't.

Q: She wasn't there when I was--

A: Well she was the supervisor, epecially of Blaok echools--that'm right, you're right, you're right--

Q: I know of her. I know of her in the community, and her community work.

A: and by that we were able to create what we felt, at the time, was an atmophere for learning.

Q: What do you think was the most pressure that you had as a principal?

A: Pressure. Oh Boy! One--I want to name two.

Q: All right. Good.

A: One of the pressures that we had was a very few teachers cared less about what studente were doing or what they could do. And I felt that was wrong. I truly felt that was wrong. When a teacher gets to the point that 'l've got mine and it's yours to get and if you don't get it it's all right with me, that was a real pressure. And the other one was mtudent protest.

Q: Student protest--

A: Student protest. I'm not sure that you were at school at that time, but I think you were. Let me see if you can recall something like this. William Hampton--

Q: Yes. I remember William Hampton.

A: Well do you remember that he and Stokes, I don't remember Stokes' first name. created a protest movement, or led a protest movement at the school. And during that same period of time there was a protest movement among students throughout the country.

Q: Right. That was near the time of--right before schools integrated.

A: Yes. Just before schools integrated. And, as I remember now, their main objective was to have more freedom to go to the lunchroom when they got ready, to participate more in athletic activities- and I don't remember exactly what the rest of it was, but it was a pressure to me. And, one day I had to be in from outdoors and walked into the hall and everything was all quiet as it could be. And I said, "what is it--something's wrong here, at this particular hour of the day. And one of the students came to me and said, the student body is in the auditorium and would like for you to come down." I said, "#hat for?" lt puzzled me. And I refused to go down, knowing full well about other protest movements going on. But I did send them word that I would speak with a group. And I think they selected five people to come up and talk with me. But I didn't go down. We finally resolved it, but that was a pressure.

Q: What techniques were successful and what were unsuccessful while you were Principal--like uh --referring to evaluation of teaohers and handling teachers grievances. Did you have any one successful technique?

A: My most successful technique that I can recall now that I was able to communicate. Regardless of the situation, I was able to talk to people. For example, this group of students that came to me. We sat down in the office, olosed the door, and discussed the issue. I listened to them, and, I think finally they listened to me. But we resolved what the issue was, whatever it was. I don't really remember exactly what those issues were. But we were able to work them out. Just like the student protest at Virginia State College. I don't know whether you remember that or not. When I was rector of the Board of Visitors at Virginia State?

Q: I remember you were. Because I think you were at Virginia State--were you there at the same time you were principal at Windsor?

A: Right.

Q: Yes, I remember that.

A: Same time. That was a bit of pressure. I think--I think I would have to say it this way. That all the problems I knew that the bulk stopped with my desk, and I had to deal with it. I just made up my mind and said, "Well, I was just going to listen and I say what I feel, and talk about the issues and try to resolve them in some form

Q: What do you think teachers--what do teachers want principals to do? What do they expect from principal?

A: Someone they have confidence in. Someone they can talk to. Someone who tries to be a leader. And sometimes with one who they can go to with their problems, whether they are personal or not. And they deal with some personal problems occasionally from teachers. I think they want a leader.

Q: Could you give me some of the qualities that you think would make a good leader. You have me some of the things that you did. Could you just give me a couple of qualities that just would make anyone a good leader.

A: Patience. Someone who is objective. A person who sets goals. One who loves his job and responsibilities that go along with it. A Person who is understanding. And I think above all, one who has patience. Well, I won't say that above all. One who can guide without it being seen that he's guiding or she is guiding. And prayer sometimes. l'd go in my office a number of times and turn to the wall and put a short prayer in.

Q: How did you evaluate your teachers?

A: Oh boy! I don't know whether you know this or not, but I think you may remember it. We had developed a sheet that had I five or six areas on there, and the sheet dealt with teacher pupil relationships, how the teacher introduced the lesson--is that what we're talking about?

Q: Yes. We're talking about how you evaluated your teachers when it came to evaluations.

A: If the students seemed to have been getting the point, and if they were enthusiastic- lf the teacher carried the lesson on to the end. I don't remember what else was on there, but we did have a sheet that we used to do it. Then I would take that same sheet and make a oopy of it and give the teacher. And if there was something that we thought we needed to discuss, I would tell her that I would be available for discussion of it when she can or if it was somebody that really needed further discussion or further talk or especially with a new teacher , we'd tell them that we'd be ready to set up a schedule so that we could discuss it.

Q: Do you have any special way that you used to handle your assistant principals? Did you have to have any special procedure for handling them?

A: It was a long time before I got an assistant Principal. I think I had 800 or 900 students before I got an assistant principal. And even then I don't think he had but two perriods to work with me.

Q: So it started off--you just had a part-time assistant principal.

A: Part-time assistant.

Q: So basically you did all of this.

A: I did most of it. Now when he did come in, I would get him to assist in the discipline problems. That took a lot of my time. And then, I believe that up to the final year, I got him to help out some with instruction.

Q: So their basic job was discipline, and later on they helped with inetruction.

A: With instruction. Helped to assist me with instruction.

Q: I think that's the same duty they have basically today. They handle most of the discipline problems--the assistant principal.

A: l've been out of it for ten years, so I don't know what they are doing now. Sometimes Ill' go by the school board office and joke with them a little bit.

Q: During that time--because you were principal during the time that we had that civil rights issue and so forth, what big problems did you find during that time?

A: I'm not sure that this really deals with it, but are we going to see this in the same category that we see integration?

Q: Yes.

A: Same category.

Q: Integration of schools. That was the big issue during that time. Could you give any changes that you could tell after the integration oi schools and do we have any changes in the principal's role?

A: Now let me tell you as I recall it now. The period before integration, it was an all black school.

Q: Right.

A: The summer preceeding integration the school board sent down a truck--no, before that, before they sent the truck, the school board sent maintenance men and other individuals and cleaned up the school with soap and water -soap and water and disinfectant and went in the bathroom and cleaned the bathroom thoroughly, scrubed it and scrubbed the student area inside and out and underneath and painted the bathrooms. Some of the rooms may have been painted, too, but I know that they painnted the bathrooms. And one of the painters left a mark in the bathroom, and one of the parents that was coming down to look at the bathroom--I mean to look at the school--one of the white parentm--saw that mark in there and she went back to the school board and told the superintendent about it. And he came down and ordered it painted. Well, this was just before the students started coming in. Also, before the students came in, they backed the truck up to the front door, and the truck was loaded with books, crayons, teaching paper, these flat uh boards, uh what do you call them..

Q: Poster board?

A: Poster board. You name it--you name it, that truck was loaded with it when it backed up to the school. And I walked out of the office and walked out there and looked at that truck as they unloaded it. And the superintendent happened to come about the same time, and I looked at him and I said to him, I said, "Now. you're bringing in some of the things that l've been aking you for all these years." And he looked at me and bowed his head. But, anyway, that's what was brought. Crayons, paper, books, construction paper--

Q: And before this time, you raised money, I remember you raised money to buy our supplies.

A: We raised money to buy our supplies. We did.

Q: I remember that.

A: Yes we did. Now that was just before integration. And when integration took place--it was rather smooth in most instancee, except for a few white parents who came in that morning, or those mornings, and just walked up and down the halls and looked in the classrooms. Some stayed all day and some kept coming. Some did not allow their children to ride the buses because they would be mixed-up with black students. But you know before th end of the school year, I remember one particular parent who made the remark that she wasn't going to let her child come there, but she just couldn't afford to pay to go to the private school. She became one of my friends, one of the school's friends, and began to brin# out cookies and cakes and thin## like that when some student had a birthday.

Q: She was won over.

A: She wae won over. And when I got ready to leave the school, this same parent came to school and sat in my office and cried.

Q: That was a new twist.

A: And it was a group of parents, a group of white parents, who came in and aeked me to change my mind and stay on. That was civil rights--there was integration, per me. Of course there are other things that I could remember too. Some of the teachere weren't too partioular about coming themselves. But when they came in and began to mingle with us, they found out that we were human beings just like they were. And they were able to work well along with us. Finally all students began to ride together. They were mixed-up and rode together. They didn't at first.

Q: At firt they were very slow to participate.

A: Very slow.

Q: Because as a teacher--in the activities, I found out our proms were separate, you know, and every thing was very slow. But as the years went by, they finally melted.

A: Finally melted. The melting pot.

Q: What do you think about merit pay for teacheres?

A: For a long period of time I was for it. And I think I am still for it. I think that a teacher or principal or regardless of what it ie, he or she, if they did a good job, they deserve an increame in pay, merit pay. And I still believe that. Now if you talk about how you're going to do it, that's different.

Q: Right. But as far as just merit pay--

A: Just merit pay. Yes. I believe in it.

Q: You covered some of the ways that made you a successful principal. We have that. And you covered--what about the testing procedure? Do you think students taking SAT tests--do you think that the scores are compared with other counties and other areas--and a lot of times teachers are evaluated according to the scores that students make on their SAT. Do you think that's a good practice?

A: I don't think that tests like the MTR, and I assume the SAT is the same thing--tests do not measure the ability of a person to perform well in the lassroom. The test measures general knowledge, and 1'11 admit, knowledge that a person should have if they're going to be a leader or a teacher. 1 think it'e good that we do have tests, and 1 think the test would improve the general knowledge of the teacher so that she can or he can perform to a much better extent. But it won't prove that the teacher can perform as well as the test might say. My biggest concern was instruction. I have to admit that I would not put in the time to aid or to help or even supervise instruction as I should have been able to do, because of the fact of a large number of students as Well as teachers and a large number of administrative work. But the ooncern was that all studente had an opportunity to--to uh -what is the word that 1 am searching for?

Q: To probably learn at their own pace?

A: To develop at the fullest potential. That was my main ooncern. And there were plenty of times that I saw things that I wanted to help correct, and did try to do as much of it as possible. But being the sole administrator, it just was not possible.

Q: I really think we covered most Of everything. Can you think of anything that we've left out or could you tell me why you did you take retirement? Because when you left Windsor did not you work in Suffolk? Personnel -

A: Director of personnel.

Q: Director of Personnel?

A: After 42 yea#rs. I thought I had stayed in education long enough. That was one reason. Then, my wife had already retired. and she used to joke with me--l used to say to her, Come on, get some breakfast." And she'd say, "l've retired." That was another reason. And, I think the main reason was I had just reached a point where I was beginning to feel that I had already made my contribution to education, and I1 felt like I may as well stop while I had some health and try to enjoy life. And I'm glad I did, now. l've had ten years to enjoy it. Let me tell you One other thing that--you have one in here about firing a teacher.

Q: Right. Yes I tried to get uh--

A: Something about grievances and--

Q: Yes, you answered that about how you handle grievances, and, yes--how did you handle grievances and did you ever fire a teacher?

A: Yes, I hated to do it, but there comes a time when you oan't do --it wasn't just one teacher I fired during my omreer as a principal, there have been several. I want to think about one particular instanoe. Of course if you want another one, I'll give you another one. There was a teacher who was teaching one of the grades in the elementary s#hool who came to school every day smellling as if she'd just come out of a band box of perfume. That didn't bother me too much, but she would go in the classroom and put instructions on the board for students, and the instructione were way off from the lesson--way off from the lesson--besides mispelling words that were on the blackboard,being late very often and drinking. And she had been warned, at least three times, possibly more. Well, I had heard rumors that she was drinkings,but I couldn't prove it until 1 found it out myeelf. And then when 1 found it out, I positioned myself so that I could see her when she walked in the door and when she signed in. And I would be close enough to tell if the smell was on her breath. And the first time I saw it--I mean 1 smelled it, I called her in the office, and we sat down and talked. And she promised me she wouldn't do it again. I said, "Ok." Then there was the second time that the same thing happened, and we talked about it again. And the second time, when we talked about it, I said to her, lf you do this one more time, 1'11 be forced to let you go, and you will have brought it on yourself". And she realized it. She realized it. And the third time that it happened, it was to the extent that she was just about tipsy. And 1 called her in the office, and 1 told her, 1 said, "Well now you know what 1 told you before. Now you can go to your classroom and pick-up all your personal things, and bring them by the Office, and you're relieved as of this day." And of course 1 had already told the superintendent as well. And she got her things and walked out, and that was it. She didn't try to have a rebuttal or anything.

Q: She just accepted it?

A: She accepted it. She knew it was true, and I knew it was true. But I waited until I had the evidence rather than heareay. And there were several more with different other kinds of problems that 1 had to deal with, but 1 won't go into those unless you want something else.

Q: Do you have anything that you want to add that has not been covered in the questions or are there any questions that we have omitted that you think are important or is there anything that comes to mind, when you were principal, that you feel have been left out-

A: I think that in order to be a successful principal you have to love people, love your work, love to ming1e with your students and your faculty, and enjoy bein# in the Position that you're in. And I think that's the first thing. 1 don't remember a single day that we left here, or we left our home in Myrtle that I dreaded going to work.

Q: That certainly is good.

A: Not a single one. 1 think that's most important. That if you've got a job that you love and want to be successful in, you've got to love to do it, to want to do it. There are other factors, naturally, but you've got to have the frame of mind that puts you in the position where you want to do lt.

Q: Thats good. I really think we've covered just about all that I think is most important, and, a you know, quite a bit of this--Mr. Lowe, I wish to thank you very much for allowing me to come into your home and conduct this interview. I appreciate it, and I thank you for your hospitality. It oertainly has been enjoyable. The information that you have given me is very, very good. It's most impressive, and 1 wish to thank you again. And if I can be of any help to you in any way that 1 can, I will be more than happy to do so.

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