Today's date is the 23rd of September, 1987. We are at James Wood High School in Winchester, Virginia. The purpose of this interview is to take an imaginary walk back through the career of a retired principal of a public school. During the interview we hope to reconstruct this person's professional history with accuracy and detail. We want to collect his views on the principalship and the educational issues of the period when he was a principal. The subject of this interview is Mr. C. Edward Lizer a retired educator who lives in Frederick County, Virginia.
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Q: Mr. Lizer, would you please recap for us the chronology of your professional career. When did you become an educator and what positions did you fill through the years? How many years were you an educator and how many years were you a principal? What we would like for you to do is start at the beginning of your professional career and briefly summarize it for us.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I taught four and a half years in Maryland before coming to Frederick County. I came to Frederick County because I married a Frederick County teacher. My first position in Frederick County was a fifth grade teacher at James Wood School for one year. The next four years I was head teacher and principal of a four room school, Bryarly. In 1957 Frederick County built Robinson Memorial School and I became the principal of this new school. After thirteen years at Robinson I transferred to another new school, Senseny Road Elementary School. I was there two years and then moved to the central office where I worked as an administrator and assistant superintendent for thirteen years and retired in December of 1981.
Q: So, to recap that you were a principal for almost twenty years?
Q: What year did you enter the educational profession?
Q: Where did you get your education?
Q: Mr. Lizer, why did you choose to become a principal? What we're trying to find out is what events led you to seek your first position in administration?
Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal? Did you have a model, someone you patterned yourself after as far as your own ethics, the character that you, so to speak, represented?
A: I probably became a teacher because of a history teacher I had in school, but I don't think that I patterned my principalship experiences after anybody that I knew. I tried to be a practical person. I think I worked well with teachers. As an example, whenever a teacher had a problem I was always available. It didn't make any difference if it was tune to go home, or they wanted a conference early in the morning, I always had time for teachers.
Q: We're very much interested in the changes that have occurred in education since the 1940's. You mentioned that you were principal of three schools - head principal of a small elementary school, and then principal of two larger ones. Would you comment on the contrast between those schools? Would you describe your first school and then perhaps try to compare that with maybe your last school, starting with Bryarly and then going to Senseny Road.
A: Bryarly was a four room school, and typically it had four teachers and four grades. Part of the time the number of pupils per grade didn't work out like it would have been ideal. So during four of those years, I had all the fourth graders and possibly eight or so ten third graders. Sometimes a second grade teacher had some third graders or some first graders. The children were divided up according to the load and a combination class was not unusual. One year, we had so many pupils that an extra teacher was hired, and at nine o'clock in the morning that teacher and twenty-eight or thirty pupils rode a bus twelve miles out the road to Gainesboro and had classes there all day. At three o'clock they came back on the bus and came into the Bryarly building where they were redistributed on their buses. That was an unusual situation for that school. The teacher that was hired probably two weeks after school started was working under a special license and I think she had one college class at that time. She kept on taking work and eventually became a degreed teacher. That was Tom Dick's wife, Susan Dick, Gene Dick's mother, and Joan who married one of the McDonald boys. You probably know of her. She was a lady who had two children and started teaching school with no college credits, had taught school full-time, went to school in the evenings and summers, until she got a degree.
Q: That speaks somomat to the evolution of the teaching profession which we'll come back to & little later, as far as preparation and requirements necessary for certification and that type of thing. We'll continue along a bit with the theme as far as the different schools that you have worked in. You've given us a picture of Bryarly. You opened up two new elementary schools, one in the fifties and one in the sixties. Would you come up to the last one that you opened which would be Senseny ADad and describe that school for us a bit?
Q: Can I interrupt you for one second before you leave Robinson? I think I hear you saying that Robinson was built to accommodate the growth in the suburb area around Winchester.
Q: And that growth continued and so a second elementary school had to be built on the east side of Winchester?
Q: Now out in the county further out in the outlying areas you still had Middletown, Gainesboro and Gore, and other schools operating. We're talking basically just the peripheral area around Winchester.
Q: So that brings us to the year that you opened Senseny Road. So that was when?
Q: What would you consider to be the major task of a principal? To maybe recap a few things you have touched upon, you mentioned cafeteria operation, transportation, maintenance. What would you add to that as far as major tasks?
Q: One of the major tasks of a principal seems to be promoting good public-community relations, school-community relations. Can you give us some illustrations how you as principal enhanced your schools imagine in the community it served?
A: In all the schools I have been in we had active parent-teacher groups. We had parent-teacher groups at Bryarly all the years I was there. In the organization of the new Robinson Elementary School we had a very active group. One of the things that group did was organize and sponsor an excellent scouting program. That would be Brownies, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts. We had a high percentage of the kids in those programs. We had scout meetings in the school building after school. We had scout meetings at Shawnee Fire Hall that was next door. We had monthly pack meetings. A great deal of that credit would go to the parents who were interested in their children. At that time Pineville, where many of our children lived, was an above average residential rental area. Lucky Voight and Grace, Lucky's a pharmacist for People still in town, were leaders in our scouting movement, and good organizers. They were also PTA officers. Our teachers supported the PTA movement and at PTA meetings the teacher attendance was generally 100%
Q: Did you ever feel threatened by your PTO structure? In other words, that they were trying to run the school?
Q: I would like to move to the topic of teachers and their relationship with the principal. What do you think that teachers expect principals to be? What is their perception of the principalship?
Q: Would you, I think I hear you saying, say that you had the fortune of having good staff morale?
Q: Was that your choice that you could take them if they so desired?
Q: You've used the term good teacher. How do you evaluate good teaching?
A: I was never much for formal observation and writing up a report. I felt then, and I feel now, you can ask most any principal to name some of his good teachers and he can tell you who he thinks are good teachers. If you ask him to justify or ask him why he probably has some problems. As an aside, fifteen or twenty years ago I went on an evaluation team into Northern Virginia, in Fairfax County. We evaluated the two largest elementary schools in the county and I started off by saying, "I want to start in the room of the best teacher in the school." The principal told me which room to go to without any hesitation. By the time we had finished evaluating the school I found that teacher was not certified.
Q: Mr. Lizer, as you are aware with the state mandated changes as far as appointment of teachers through the years, we have evolved to the point now where we have what is called a BTAP policy and this involves people who are somewhat insulated from the local school district coming in and evaluating beginning teachers. Do you think, with your experience, that you can evaluate a teacher when you don't personally know that teacher in the case of the BTAP evaluators?
Q: I want to zero in on dismissal of teachers. You've been involved in dismissing several. Do you remember the issues involved in the dismissal of teachers while you were principal in your schools or perhaps later as assistant superintendent for personnel? What would be the most prevailing reason why a teacher under your supervision would be dismissed?
Q: In your relationship with teachers, either as a principal or as assistant superintendent for personnel, did you ever have a teacher file a grievance against you?
Q: Would you be kind enough to tell us the issue involved in maybe one of those situations?
Q: Mr. Lizer I gather from listening that you never had a formal grievance filed against you in your years as principal.
A: No. Maybe I was lucky. Maybe that's because I ended my principalship almost twenty years ago. You could do a lot of things twenty years ago you can't get away with now.
Q: This brings us to another question. As a teacher/principal and a central office administrator with actually about three decades of experience, you had to work under at least three superintendents in Frederick County and one or two superintendents in Maryland if I have recalled it correctly. What we would like to have is your views on the position of superintendent. We would like to know what you think are the characteristics of a superintendent that you would consider to be most effective from the prospective of the building principal? What I'm asking you is to enlighten us on the position of the superintendency.
Q: As principal did you ever feel that central office policies prevented you from accomplishing the goals that you felt you could have otherwise achieved? I realize after being the principal you went to the central office and helped to make central office policy and implement it, but as principal did you ever feel handicapped by central office policy?
Q: With the benefit of your experience, what changes could you recommend in the organizational set-up of administrative responsibilities - from the superintendent down through the assistant superintendent, down through the area supervisors to the principal? Is there any organizational change that you would recommend?
A: I have stayed away from Frederick County education deliberately since I retired almost six years ago. So I'm really not aware of the table of organization. As a general rule I think the current superintendent has done an effective job of delegating responsibility and apparently expects once a job is delegated to have it accomplished. I think that Is very important. Lots of people never learn to delegate responsibility or some of their duties. I think Colin Steele probably did a very good job as a middle school principal when he came to Frederick County when he organized responsibilities and as far as I could tell delegated authority to go with responsibility. Apparently the present superintendent has done that. The assistants apparently have clear lines of responsibility, have a lot to do, as far as I know they are working well together. There's a line responsibility of where the supervisors report to which superintendent. I'm not clear about the relationships between principals and supervisors. I think that was probably a weak part of Frederick County educational program when I was in administration. I don't think we use our supervisors effectively.
Q: So you're saying that you would recommend delegation of authority and responsibility with it, and perhaps better utilization of supervisory positions?
Q: Mr. Lizer, in the many years that you were a principal you had to face a number of issues. Weld like to know how you handled some of these issues. Specifically, you were in Frederick County when the school system was integrated, and that is the type of issue I am talking about. Do you recall your response to integration and how you helped implement that?
A: Yes. It seems like it was a long time ago, but the superintendent and I in after lunch discussions talked about building a three room black school, Negro school, colored school, whatever you wanted to call it depending on what time you were in. I urged strongly that that school not be built. There was a feeling that if you built a black school the blacks would be happy and want to stay in their black school through grades one through seven and then go as tuition students to I don't know where they went. Did they go to Handley? Handley wasn't integrated at that time. Maybe they didn't go pass seventh grade. I really don't ... anyway... The decision was made by the school board and the superintendent who took an active lead in this to build a three room elementary school, and after they finished the three room elementary school, Frederick County paid tuition and they went to a black high school in the city of Winchester. There was a great deal of concern, where are you going to build a school for black students. When you built Robinson, a whole group of people built houses right around Robinson. When you built Kline a whole group of people built houses on Fox Drive and the area right around, and when you built Senseny Road, a whole group of people built there. So if you built a modern school for black people then a lot of black people are going to move into Frederick County and build homes there, and you'll have more black kids. Well, finally they found enough ground in an industrial area on the edge of Winchester and built that school. it wasn't very long, a matter of years, until somebody said this is not what the law of the land says. Somebody in the northern end of the county named Brown brought a suit, and said I asked to go to white public schools. I ask Frederick County to integrate. So we came under a court order.
Q: Do you remember the year of that?
A: It was after 1957. There were three teachers in this school. One of them went to the junior high school. I took an elementary teacher, Mrs. Honesty, and maybe I had both of them. The third one retired shortly after the schools were integrated. Anyway I had Mrs. Honesty for several years. That was '69 or '70. I think the first year she taught was when we opened Senseny Road, and I remember the question, "What are you going to do?" She was a fifth grade teacher and I had taken a great deal of care in grouping students- mixing students and teachers, grouping students and teachers, rotating ability groups when it was by ability group, or group them on the basis of reading. Anyway, when I got a black teacher I divided that group of kids alphabetically. I had one man who was very upset. He was strong in local politics and he went to see everybody. To see if we couldn't get his daughter out of the classroom where the black teacher was. Some people suggested I move her and my response was, "You know if I move one I've got troubles." So they put that kid in Catholic School for a couple of years. I think I was right when I stuck to my guns there. In a year or so I had people requesting that their children be assigned to that black teacher who had pretty good artistic ability, did not have real expectations of the kids and kids liked her. That was my first experience with a black teacher after Frederick County Schools were integrated.
Q: What did you think of the standards of quality when they were established by the state school board about 1972 or so, and I think by the general assembly? What impact did that have on education from your perspective in Virginia, in Frederick County precisely ?
Q: Mr. Lizer in the area of staff compensation one of the issues that has cropped up time and time again has been merit pay. It has been a major item discussion by teacher's organizations through the years. One phase of that or at least one aspect of it that people are discussing today is the so-called career ladder for teachers. What's your reaction to the concept of merit pay?
A: I probably am a little bit old fashioned about merit pay. When I was a principal there were five or six elementary schools. All the principals made the same amount of money in the elementary schools. My elementary school was two or three times as large as the one at Middletown or Gore. I never made an issue of it. That's the way it was when I got the job. I knew what it was when I got the job and I never made an issue of it. I'm sure I worked longer hours and more days. When I first became principal of Robinson School I was only 10 month contract. I was interviewing teachers during those times that I was not on salary. I was supervising the building cleaning and maintenance. When I went off salary the fifteenth of June there was no way that I had all my work finished and if school didn't start until the fifteenth of August I had to go in before. So I worked hard and during the days I would try to call fellow principals someplace and nobody would answer the phone - not long after the last kid left but I knew that. I didn't let it bother me. Now I said earlier you oak any good administrator or principal, particular principal, someone in the building, who are your three best teachers and they could give you a pretty good accurate answer. When you say justify your answer they have a problem. I have seen some merit pay programs that pay off for advance degrees, extra college courses. I think that's wrong. Flat out wrong. If your state says you need four years of college to be a teacher - then it's four years. If they say you need five, like several years ago they were going to make you have five, then you meet that ]eve% and if you have to go to school ever six years or six hours ever five years whatever. I think paying extra money for a doctorate or CAGS degree is wrong, as I think paying extra money for physics teachers or Latin teachers or whatever you have because of the shortage of teachers. I think there should be one unified pay scale. I'm afraid too many things happen in the merit scale. The person who makes the decision will say, "If we don't give him a merit increment he may leave." Conversely, if we don't give him a merit step he's not going to go any place because his wife has a good job downtown. Well let's give him a merit pay because he's got three kids or he has a handicapped kid. There are to many things that would negate the effectiveness of merit pay. So I am against merit pay.
Q: We're not going to pass over any of the big issues so we'll get to the one of collective bargaining. You were a principal during the years when collective bargaining seemed to be on the upswing in Virginia. I think several school districts established the meet and confer arrangements and you remember that the state supreme court, I believe in fact, ruled against any type of collective bargaining, maybe in the mid to late '70s, any of these kind of arrangements by boards. What is your view on collective bargaining now that you are out of education and you can answer unbiasedly?
A: I said earlier that I was a supporter of the tenure law. I think that is an example of something that was necessary and has worked very well. There were some weeping and walling when we began the tenure situation, but by and large I think it made us look at the staff a little bit closer and meet problems with probationary teachers that we could have tended to let slip a little bit longer than you really should have. We let these things slip because of the routine things that interfere with your primary obligation. If the principal comes to school today and says this is the day I'm going to evaluate three people in the social studies department and the nurse comes in with a problem and the custodian comes in with a problem and the deputy sheriff shows up and wants to do something, or one of the supervisors comes in there is a tendency for your plans not to be carried out. The first thing you know Wix weeks is up, a semester is up, and a year is up. So tenure I think has had a beneficial effect on the education situation in Frederick County. Collective bargaining is another whole ball game. I think without collective bargaining there has been a tendency of certain individual teachers who may feel somewhat threatened in Frederick County to develop an interest in the Education Association, an active interest in the Education Association. It may be a subconscious reaction or a conscious reaction saying they are bearing down on Mb. I had better wrap myself in he of the Education Association. I think collective bargaining would present more problems than it would be beneficial to education in general or teachers/educators specifically, individually.
Q: You were involved both as principal and assistant superintendent in the area of recruitment. You were involved in the compensation of employees, development of compensation, job security. What do you think the school systems need to do these days to attract and to hold qualified people in education? I guess what we are trying to say is how do you create that balance that of the things we expect of employees as compared with them and their expectations as far as job satisfaction and that type of thing - job security? The question in summary is how do we compete with private enterprise in recruiting and holding good people as far as the teaching profession is concerned?
A: I think that realistically you should be prepared to expect to pay more money when you raise expectations. When you require more preparation or you require more inservice you have to anticipate that's going to cost you more dollars at budget time. One thing I worked very closely with superintendents and school boards in preparation of budgets and I respected and admired the school board member who realized when he voted to begin a program, he realized when it came time to prepare the next budget there would be a reflection of increased cost. Not all school board members had that type of judgment. I particularly liked to work with Clyde Logan because Clyde was a pretty sharp business man# a supporter of education and he was realistic about the need to financially support the programs. He didn't support everything that somebody proposed but when he did he knew that there was going to be a reflection of that new program in the next budget. Unfortunately there were other members from time to time who thought you could improve this program or begin this additional program and when it came to time to pay for it they were a little bit reluctant to see that item in the budget. If you are going to have higher expectations you are going have to have higher rewards. One of the problems that we had when we were under pressure to employ more black teachers was the opportunities for blacks to go to IBM, Fortune 500 companies who had jobs that offered both salary and prestige. Many of the better qualified black teachers, black graduates of higher education did not enter or stay in education. The beginning teacher looked at salary and living. We had people come to us who came for a few less dollars because they did not want to live in urban areas. Also they did not want to have in the rural areas such as Bath County or the mountainous counties of southwest Virginia.
Q: As assistant superintendent you were directly involved in the employment of a number of principals and assistant principal. What personal qualities did you look for in applicants for administrative positions when you made the selection? What characteristics, in other words, did you feel it took to make a successful principal or assistant principal?
A: There were several. Probably my expectation of their human relationships was one of the highest. By that I thought is this person going to be able to administrate and lead this school in a strong educational endeavor. That meant working with people. Working with teachers, support people, pupils, parents, the public in general. The principal who lost his position in Frederick County in the middle '50s was a strong administrator. An intelligent and knowledgeable person. If I had to identify his weakness it was he didn't get along with people. That was parents, public, other professional people, his staff and his students.
Q: Mr. Lizer what was the biggest crisis you faced as principal? The one that caused you so to speak perhaps have to make the toughest decision? Can you think about one particular issue?
A: I don't believe right off hand I can remember any one big crisis. We had problems. We had personnel problems. We had pupils problems. We didn't have a whole lot of special programs so we had a lot of problems with children who are now identified and placed in special programs. In '57 when I went to Robinson and became a full time principal we had grades one through seven. In the upper grades you had a lot of pupils who were in school more than seven years. They had been retained twice or maybe even three times. So you had a very difficult group of children. Later on when we dropped back to 1 to 6, and in those schools now they are 1 to 5, and promotions are more routine or the children are sorted out to special programs, I doubt if there are very many children in elementary school who have been retained more than once now. We had a continuing problem...with these older students who were below average in achievement. They were attendance problems, they were transportation problems, discipline problems in the school. It was difficult for a sixth or seventh grade teacher to take a class full of kids all day long if there were four, five or six of these kids in the building.
Q: What would you consider to be your greatest success as a principal?
A: I take a great deal of pride in the fact that I did get along with the staff. Possibly I got along with the teachers that I thought were good teachers better than the ones that I thought weren't pulling their weight. I took a great deal of pride in pupil achievement and I think the teachers did too. We liked to get back the results of the standardized tests. A somewhat unique position. They didn't pass around other school's scores but if there are five or six elementary schools and I had the largest one and my wife was teacher n another one, and my brother-in-law Frank was a principal, we knew what the scores were in half the county and if we were all above average it was a given fact that the others were below us because that is the way averages are determined. We took a great deal of pride in the fact that our kids consistently scored above the 50th percentile, above the state averages, in every standardized test that was given the thirteen years I was at Robinson.
Q: The literature in education in recent years has spoken a great deal about the dual role of the principal, and they seem to be describing one role as being that of a manager of the building and then the other role that of the leader of the educational program - instructional leader. Which of these roles do you think suit you best? Were you an instruction or manager of the building?
A: That's not new. You cannot escape the dual responsibilities if you are a principal and I didn't have an assistant principal. If I had I probably wouldn't have been much of a delegator, back in those days. I never had an assistant. One time someone said in a joking way how do you hire a good janitor. My response was, "Don't ask me. I never had a good janitor. All I had was drunks the whole time I was in elementary schools." That is practically 100% true. I don't see why a principal should belabor the fact that he has dual responsibilities, unless the school was big enough to delegate some of this responsibility, you are the building manager. If you have a problem in the cafeteria and lunch is not ready when it's time to serve lunch that's going to take your time. If you have a transportation problem or if you have a head problem, or a plumbing problem, that is immediately high priority. You can't use that as a excuse to say you don't have time to be the educational leader, and one of the things you have to do is take the time. I know faculty meetings were never very popular. Practically all of the elementary teachers that worked with me were female and a large majority of them had responsibilities in addition to teaching. They had homes, they were homemakers, mothers. They had children in that same building. I had strong feelings about that that I'll talk to you about in a minute, but you have to be an educational leader and if your education program isn't going anywhere it doesn't make any difference whether the building is warm or cold, or the water is working or not working. You have to have your educational program. What you do is set that up in the fall. Maybe two weeks before school starts and you have clear established understandings and goals and that is the responsibility of the teacher. We gave a great deal of emphasis to reading and math. If the policy back in the "Old days" was that the teachers went out on the playground with the kids, the teachers went out on the playground with the kids. I didn't have very much patience with teachers who didn't have physical education because the students were bad. I said take away reading, take away art, take away music, take away science, and they thought that was sort of ridiculous. If it was permissible to be out, to have some kind of physical activity, we were out. If it wasn't permissible to be out; it was a little bit of e"rcise or classroom game to break that up. I guess a lot of the parents called complaining. The kids hadn't been outside since so and so. Now when you checked that out very often that wasn't the truth. There was a tendency on the part of some people not to go out of the building for a scheduled physical education activity. I think you can exert that kind of leadership without being right down there at the classroom observing and checking off a checklist or something.
Q: Would you become a principal again if you had it to do over?
Q: Mr. Lizer why did you retire when you did? What caused you to retire when you did?
Q: What have I left out this interview that you would like to discuss?
A: I think you've been wide ranging and thorough. I can't think of anything that you have left out. I don't think there is anything that I want to expand upon. The question about standards of quality sort of caught me unprepared. I hadn't taken any time to figure out now what are these fellows going to ask me and what am I going to say. Standards of quality was important in 1972 but this is 15 years later, and I just sort of assumed the standards of quality have possibly been in effect forever. It was a big thing I remember in '72. It was a big thing.
Q: On behalf of Steve Kapocsi and myself, Mr. Lizer I would like to thank you for participating in this interview. And on behalf of the Graduate School of Education of Virginia Tech, I want to thank you for Your contributions to the historical research being gathered in this project...on the principalship. I would also like to thank you for the many contributions to the education of the generations of citizens of Frederick County that you have made. And we all sincerely hope that you enjoy many more years of blissful retirement.
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