Interview with John Long
Principal Valley Vocational Technical School, Fishersville, Va.
This is Mr. John Long, from McKachysville, Virginia.
| Back to
"L" Interviews | Index
of Interviews | Protocol
| Home |
Q: Would you please Mr. Long go into some background as far as where
you graduated - how you got into education, how many years teaching experience
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: In high school I did have the opportunity to take vocational agriculture
for four years and I guess my agriculture teacher was very influential in agricultural
education in Valley Tech. in 1948. So he really filled out my application and
pointed me in the right direction. At that time I didn't really know what I
wanted to do but after some four years I did go into the military for two years
which was an excellent experience I think for preparation for later going into
administration. I spent two years in the military, came out and began teaching
in Culpeper City in 19, I guess 54. Taught one year in Culpeper City in agricultural
education and then decided to go back to Vocational Tech. to pursue the Masters.
While early in this pursuit we were asked, the other friend and I were living
at that time with our wives, were asked to teach at Blacksburg High School,
so we taught and like you pursued some courses like you, part time in evenings
and Saturdays and we saw that after about one year that it was going to take
us a little while to complete and we wanted to complete our degree work so we
did quit our job as instructor there and pursued full-time and finished Masters
in December of '56, at which time I came to Mount Video HS in Rockingham County,
which is just over the ridge here, and taught seven years, a little less then
seven years. then in vocational agriculture, then I guess high school, about
the time you get a yearning to do something different - I wanted to farm some
on the side and I didn't really want to work full-time, so I worked for a ten
month job as an elementary principal - I went to Weyers Cave which was close
to my home and was able to get the job there as elementary principal and I stayed
there for three years - very happy - had no desire to change and in fact was
offered the position as assistant principal at Ft. Defiance High School and
I turned it down because I didn't have a hankering to be an assistant principal,
but then the next year I received pressure to go as principal of Ft. Defiance
High School where I stayed for eight years, probably longer then I should have
but it was a good experience. I had a good staff. After that period of time
I was approached about going to the new Voc. Tech. Center, Regional Center at
Valley Voc. Tech. at Fishersville. This became my final job until retirement.
I spent thirteen years as principal at the Valley Voc. Tech. Center which serves
Augusta County, two cities - Staunton and Waynesborough. So that's kind of my
background in education.
- Q: So you're more into Voc. Tech. education?
A: I really did get more into it. I was kind of anxious to get back into
that after the, after I left it. Although I really enjoyed my elementary years.
I can't say I didn't enjoy any of the years - it's like as anybody whose been
the principal of a regular high school knows, that's a touch job. It's very
demanding on time and I guess, just yourself.
Q: What was the difference between the elementary and the high school?
I mean I'm sure there's quite a big difference but is there less stress as an
A: Well it was for me because I was grounded in the community - my roots
were in the community. Of course Ft. Defiance was my community too but I knew
people and that took away the necessity to spend a lot of time learning to
know the community and the people and it was a small elementary school-seven
grades and you had time to do your job. I spent time not only administering
the schools but did some instruction to other aspects of the school. I offered
a little reading program that I worked with for students that were behind
and I offered a little vocational course for seven boys that were behind in
their work and needed a little pumping up and needed some success and so it
was, I think, the personal contacts, the good staff and so forth just made
it a good and very palatable situation.
Q: I guess it was a perfect situation for being a new principal.'
A: It was - it was a good place to start out.
Q: So how many total years were you in education then?
A: I spent a little less than nine years teaching and 24 years in administration.
Q: When we talk about school philosophy, we'll talk about the vocational
school that you were principal of. It's interesting, that you're a vocational
principal because that's where I would like to be. I love vocational education
and I really believe in it. I think in Front Royal, Warren County - a real push
is really needed. Alright, would you describe your school?
A: Our school of course. as I said, served three localities Augusta County
which was largest and then Staunton and Waynesborough. Ownership of the school
was 50% Augusta and 25% each Staunton and Waynesborough. The buildings, the
land and the equipment was more like this ratio but the operation of the budget
was more like 80 - 10 - 10, because Augusta had about 80% of the students -
Waynesborough was the smallest - they only ran 6 - 7% with Staunton slightly
over 10. The school was in a sense kind of operated like a small school division.
You had a board of trustees - two from each of the three districts and they
set policy of the school and had the option of meeting monthly or less to carry
out the school functions. Of course, we received the money from the state, federal,
local funds. We usually tried to qualify for as many state and federal funds
as we could and then the local funds were kind of distributed among the three
localities. We received students - our day students same on a half a day basis
primarily. We received a group in the morning and then they would go back and
we'd receive another group in the after noon. It was an ideal teaching situation
for teachers because they weren't bothered with all the extra duties you find
in the normal high school. You had lunch with no students present and at preparation
time. It's the way you would like to see instructors be able to operate and
present their educational opportunities to their students. We had about in the
neighborhood of about 18 regular program - trade and industrial - about a dozen
programs trade and industrial - 4 - 5 programs in business at one time. We had
a program in agriculture which was horticulture and we had 2 nursing pro grams
- offering a LPN program, a nursing assistant program. In addition to this,
in 1980, we formed a school for handicapped and disadvantaged which was a part
of our school. We kind of organized it separately in some old hospital buildings.
Q: So Home Economics was not in your vocational school. Was that in a regular
high school then?
A: Right. Home Economics and most Voc. Agricultural were back and Distributive
Education and so forth. We did have a handicapped home economics offering
and we had a disadvantaged - over in the disadvantaged we had an offering
for the disadvantage and in this we had several levels in the handicapped
and disadvantaged, we call it an Employment Training Program. We would start
on Level I and we had handicapped students and we would teach them job skills
such as appearance and things that would make them employable going out trying
to get a job. Then we would bring them from that level into an exploratory
level for a year - along with disadvantaged students and some trade and in.
And then after an exploratory year, they moved around in these areas to find
something the student may be interested in and we concentrated, say a year
in that level which was Level 3, then Level 4 was what we call the work experience,
cooperative education program where the students, we actually put them out
on the job. That was very successful. Some of them are earning good salaries
by the time they reached the level of dropping out finally or receiving some
kind of certificate of completion. So it was a fairly comprehensive school.
We had a large adult offering - worked very closely with industry. I had an
adult apprenticeship coordinator and we had a large apprenticeship partnerships,
with the Department of Labor, with local industries probably ran about 300
apprenticeships a year, so we had a pretty good offering. Pretty good relationships
with the industries.
Q: Sounds like it was a really good program. OK, why did you decide to
become a principal?
A: I think at the time I decided I'd become an elementary school principal,
I thought about that when you gave me a few questions ahead of time trying to
determine why I did. I feel really the reason I did was at the time was I wanted
less then a 12 month job and it was more pay for time put in. It was the only
way to advance yourself. As far as the pay scale was to go into administration.
Of course, you got the regular usually small raises every year on the teachers'
scale, but as far as any really any significant increase about at that time
you had to move into administration. So I guess these were the factors that
caused me to go to an elementary principalship. Now to go into the high school
principalship, that was a different story. I really hesitated, because I was
very happy and I guess some people of the community applied pressure - I was
told such things, that it was my community obligation to go to the high school.
Q: They really wanted you there.
A: It just seemed to be some pressure applied to go to the high school.
They had a few problems there on the discipline line and I guess that was
one of my stronger suits - discipline. Maybe this was the reason, I don't
know. I guess I don't regret going. It was stressful. I wound up in Federal
court one these kinds of things but it was a good experience and powerful
good people to work with. So that kind of balances out.
Q: What was your school's philosophy?
A: Well, would you want me to comment in relation to the vocational school?
A: I think our philosophy was to serve, as best we could the Voc. Tech.
needs of all levels of people in the community, from as young as 8th grade
to the any-age adult, and our idea was to do the best job we could in serving
those needs. This was our philosophy basically.
Q: Did you develop this philosophy with your staff or was this already
developed when you got there?
A: I guess it was developed somewhat when I went there. We after I went
as principal we did develop handbooks and put these things formally in writing
and it was through - was with the staff. We tried - anything we did there
- we tried to glean out of the staff thinking - have input from the total
staff and - so I don't take credit for the philosophy or direction we went.
It was kind of a cooperative thing.
Q: Now you were a principal at a regular high school before you were a
principal at this school?
Q: I'm sure the philosophies were different.
A: A good bit different, although at Ft. Defiance High School where I
was we - I think - being a rural high school, it made the Voc. Tech. aspect
of the comprehensive high school an input part of the school. Most everybody
took a vocational tech. course. Those who became doctors and lawyers whatever
- you could look back and see where they had - where they went through some
kind of vocational technical course. I thing along that line the belief that
hands-on and application are input aspects, which I think you're probably
going to get into this which I think we've slipped away from with this high
emphasis in academics over the past few years - we are kind of overlooking
some input things in our educational system.
Q: That could be a problem. Just to share something with you at Warren
County - there's such an academic stress that the enrollment in the vocational
building has declined. That was one of the reasons why I chose to make a switch,
because their was too much pressure to recruit and I never knew from one year
to the next if my job was secure, and I wanted to get away from that pressure.
But there's a very high dropout rate now.
A: That's all over the state.
Q: And I'm not sure that they can connect the two, that somehow I think
personally that's part of the problem.
A: I definitely do too and I wrote letters to the editor that went to
Richmond and to Roanoke also stating my feelings on that thing that we are
as you take vocational technical education - as you make it and not only that
- I think some of your fine arts - your looking past music and art and so
forth - that you - as they decline because of inability of students to get
them in their schedules you have the dropout rate increase and my feeling
was we decrease in these areas and then hire drop-out coordinators. About
all your divisions are hiring drop-out coordinators.
Q: You're exactly right because this year we hired a school social worker
to work with drug abuse and drop-outs. That's interesting. OK - When you were
- I guess you could go back to your elementary school experience and high school
experience - how did you as a principal create a climate for learning?
A: I think we attempted to do this by involving the students in the creation
of the learning process. I'd say involving students as much as possible -
getting action out of the students. I would say this is one area that we tried
to create learning atmosphere and I would say in allowing teachers to be creative
and to not expect them to perform exactly like I would perform but give them
freedom to teach and use their particular skills in getting what they want
the students to learn across to them rather then a specified way of doing
it. I don't know whether that gets into what you're after there or not. That's
maybe kind of talking around it.
Q: So you gave your teachers a lot of freedom?
A: I think that if you would talk to the teachers I had you would find
and some people would say too much. And I believe when you are trying to operate
in a democratic setting you have to do this - you have to give the freedom
Q: OK - in giving that freedom, did you ever come across teachers that
A: OK - yes.
Q: That didn't teach anything?
A: Oh yes, you would have that and then there were those teachers who
didn't fit into your system. I've had teachers that couldn't operate under
my philosophy of leadership. It was a philosophy of trust and they soon found
out that we had to learn to trust each other in a situation if it was going
to work. It was going to in a sense kind of force them to trust me and I was
going to trust them and we were going to have a situation in which we could
have mutual trust.
Q: OK, then what did you do in the event that trust was broken. When you
were aware of an incompetent teacher?
A: You may get to that later in some of your questions, but I'll indicate
to you now that in every case but one I always could develop a situation where
a teacher could elect to resign. There was only one case that I had a teacher
that I had to recommend that he not return.
Q: That we could get to when - because I know there's a question that asks
about that. OK, you said something about your philosophy of leadership OK -
what was your philosophy of leadership?
A: Well, I feel like I said - it included mutual trust and I think a
democratic approach. I tried - ah - sometimes you have to be arbitrary, as
you know. But I think in most cases that you can - I know it takes longer
to go the democratic approach sometimes. It may be a long way around to accomplish
something but I think in the long run your people are happy and ah - the -
what is decided will probably be done. So I think my feeling about that would
be - It would be developing the mutual trust and then it becomes a team effort
of working together to get the job done.
Q: And they feel part of the system.
A: And I think that's very necessary - it is in the way I have to operate,
and I might say that that was my philosophy of leadership in the military. I
was a military officer and I always said and I told my teachers - I said now
there isn't any reason why we can't work together here and like each other -
why shouldn't we respect and like each other and I'd say that's the way I felt
when I was in the military as a military officer. I certainly want friends when
I go into battle. If I'm going to be leading a bunch of troops, I certainly
want friendly people back there. I don't want somebody that hates me so bad
that they may put a shot in my back in the battle. So that's always kind of
been my idea - that when working with people - why does it have to be a situation
where I'm an arbitrary pusher and we can probably establish a situation where
we're approaching this thing together.
Q: When you were principal, which leadership techniques did you find most
successful - which ones did you find to be unsuccessful?
A: Well I - as I say - I never tried - I never had it in me to be very arbitrary
- but - I just never saw that mode of operation accomplish any more than it
did accomplish in the mutual trust - democratic operation - I wouldn't know
hardly how - I think the idea of teacher involvement committees or whatever
and arriving at decisions together - certainly would be the aspect of leadership
that I think is successful. Maybe unsuccessful is when you put too much dependence
maybe in my situation I would give an assistant or a teacher - I would expect
too much out of them as far as going ahead. Maybe that's a weak point - Perhaps
maybe putting too much trust in people and expecting too much out of them without
maybe not enough leadership from myself.
Q: What role did you play in public/community relations?
A: I think that was an aspect of vocational education - I think that
is strong. The thing of advisory councils and working with the public from
this standpoint. I think we had a strong advisory council situation. Each
of our areas of the school had advisory councils - craft advisory councils
which met formally or informally - at different times. We had a regional vocational
education advisory council that met four or five times a year. I feel that
we had a strong situation here. We also had an industrial advisory board that
met monthly to deal with particularly with pressing industry needs as far
as labor and this was a good committee. And I feel that it was very important
in the voc. tech. arena to have contact with the community college and other
vocational technical areas of the region. So we had a real strong - what we
call an industrial/coordinating council. It was called Blue Ridge Coordinating
Council. We met just about monthly. We planned inservices for teachers that
we would have together in the fall. We would have Business Industry Seminars
where we would discuss issues that were important to both vo. tech and industry.
I feel in the whole area here we had a strong public relations drive to try
to keep people aware of what we're all about and what we could do in this
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?
A: I think - ah - I don't know if maybe I'm giving the kind maybe I'm
too specific in the answer here - I think they expect us to be supportive
of any problems they may have. I think they expect me to be honest all the
time. They expect me to have positive, strong ethics as a person. They expect
me to be a change agent to try to keep the school headed toward new and changing
goals so we don't get into a rut. These kinds of things. I think particularly
being honest and supportive I think - I've found the teachers feel more secure
in a situation where they feel like the administrator says is right and they
can expect that if they have any problem that they'll have support of the
administration. They kind of related that to me over the years. This is important.
Q: I think you are right because I can remember when I was teaching. The
administrators that I had the greatest amount of respect for were the ones that
I felt supported me. How did you evaluate teachers?
A: Well - I may not have been up-to-date with the current methods of
evaluation. When I went to Valley Tech. they did not have a formal evaluation
system. I did use some of the system that we use in Augusta County - I tried
to keep it as simple as possible. When you get sophisticated and complicated,
then you're going to run into a situation where you're not going to follow
through with any kind of evaluation. You're going to skirt around it. I had
- I would try to keep an open-door policy where any staff member could feel
free to walk in and talk about a problem at any time. And then the assistants
and I - we had a constant visit to the program areas when we had any time
available - we would be around through the building talking to teachers and
trying to keep abreast of their problems to see if they were getting along
fine and to see if students were involved and so forth. Then for a number
of years I would have conferences soon after the first of the year, say in
January. I would try to schedule this just to come in and talk about anything
they had on their mind. As I became less and less, I guess needed, and I would
offer that opportunity - I would say if anybody wanted to come in during this
time, please see me for an appointment. We would then establish a kind of
a formal evaluation conference in the spring - starting around April - where
each staff member - I would assign certain people to be evaluated by my assistants.
I, of course, would evaluate others and the assistants. They would come in
and we would sit down together. We had a very simple instrument which - tried
to cover the job description that each had. We would go down through there
and usually there's a talking or communicating vehicle to establish how work
was being performed and whether they were effective. And then we would sign
it together and if there was any disagreement by the other party, they would
attach - and we would have it at times - if teachers didn't agree with me
about a situation then they would attach a statement to the evaluation. It
was pretty simple - we did it annually.
Q: Now evaluating teachers - as a principal - you cannot see what's going
on in every classroom all the time. How did you see one time. Our mode of operation
was to be constantly around. I could about guarantee you we knew what each teacher
was doing and how the students were progressing. So they never knew when you
were going to pop in and sit in on their class?
A: No and they never worried about it. It was so often and we'd chat
- if they were free - if they had a lab going on we'd chat about any problems
or if I'd see anything exceptional going on I'd make a comment about that.
It was - it's more of a constant movement. Along with the assistants I had,
we were pretty well aware of what was happening.
Q: So they weren't threatened by your appearance?
A: Nope - I bet you could ask any of them and they never felt threatened.
We tried to establish the idea that we were always there to help. We're not
there to give them a hard time Not there to be looking over their shoulder
to evaluate all the time. And I would make - I had a way to make notes if
there was anything unusual happening - good or bad.
Q: How was that?
A: I just had a very simple sheet that had blocks on - that I could write
across. It had the name at the top and the year. I'd write in there any observations
I made all year long. Some teachers you wouldn't have anything all year. Others
you'd have a whole lot.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?
A: I think - here toward the end the greatest pressure - which became an
increasing pressure was that of liability. I think I felt it more and I think
the cost of liability insurance kind of proves why it happened. As you know,
the cost of liability insurance has skyrocketed and with that you felt the pressure.
There's more and more suits that you never experienced before. So that I'd say
was a greater pressure. There was one thing - I think board meetings I had -
being a principal with a board I had to meet regularly with them. This was always
pressure for me because the press came in to each board meeting and they were
always there ready to focus in on any thing that's said. This was pressure for
me, especially in my early years at Valley Tech. I kind of dreaded the board
meetings because you felt responsible for the agenda, the operation of the school
and you always felt pressure.
Q: So you were responsible for the agenda of the board meeting?
Q: So that was like your Board of Trustees?
Q: So you didn't have like a school board per se?
A: These were school board members from each division. They were - actually
- we had two from each - two from Augusta - two from Staunton and two from
Waynesborough. And of course, they related back to their own boards but -
actually - I had a superintendent in charge which rotated each year from each
division but by rotating each year they didn't keep abreast of things. Specifically,
if one of them would come on every three years- they weren't willing to change
that. They wanted to maintain this yearly thing.
Q: So they more or less trusted you to run the whole thing?
A: They left me in my case. That's the way it had been done before I
went there. Even though the job description said the superintendent in charge
was responsible for the agenda and for such things as this. It was always
left up to me . I would always call the superintendent in charge. The expenditure
- I didn't even check with the board any expenditures under $10,000. If we
had an expenditure over $10,000, they would like for me to make them aware
Q: That's quite a lot of leeway.
A: You had right much freedom to operate. We had about a 2.3 million
dollar budget that we operated.
Q: How did you handle these pressures. Especially the one with liability?
A: I think I just tried to keep our staff informed of the liability possibilities
we were under and for goodness sakes in all cases whether it was safety -
to make sure they had themselves covered as far as safe practices - instruct
the students. Make sure they know how to give them tests before they used
one of the dangerous machines. Cause you see we had a concentration of very
dangerous equipment and we were subject there in addition to your other areas
of liability. So in purchasing you try to keep them aware of the purchasing
procedures because you had to get quotation bids and if a - one of your selling
agencies felt if they were left out, they could - you could be brought to
bear by the state on that. I think I just tried to keep people constantly
aware that we had to be aware that the liability possibility was there.
Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do to better prepare yourself
for the principalship?
A: I think for the principalship of a vocational technical school where
you have responsibility for a budget, I would have taken some courses in accounting.
More in finance because you're in a sense you are going to have to be a business
manager and to ah you - had to purchase equipment it was just left up to you
to do it all.
Q: So you don't feel that in your Masters program when you took school
finance that adequately prepared you?
A: No- no. I think you need - with a budget - of course I had bookkeepers
and I found they lack the total knowledge for dealing with some of the financial
situations you had because you're dealing with state revenue and it got so complicated
the way we had to work finance and it finally wound up that all of our outside
money had to come through the three divisions. It had to come, by formally through
the three divisions. If we collected any money, we had to send it back to the
three divisions and then they sent it back to us. It became an accounting nightmare.
I guess it happened because you had computers. There's no other way you could
do it. I feel that for a Regional Center Vo. Tech. principal, some accounting
and preparation in finance. Now in a high school - a regular high school situation,
I 588 don't think that's very necessary because you're given allotments in money
and it's just a matter of dividing it among the people that are there. I didn't
make a - in the vo. tech. situation - I didn't make a definite division. We
bought on purchase order and teachers made their requests according to need
and then I would approve or disapprove. So it wasn't a matter of dividing this
money out to each. It was a matter of each time making a request.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances? Remember you said you had one
A: Well, I think the way we tried to handle it - was always - if there
were parties involved to get those parties together in all cases and try to
communicate. I think in the cases I think about the first consideration was
to get parties together. If it was a grievance that had to do with me, then
we would discuss it and try to do it rationally - and arrive I'd tell them
that the buck stops here and we've got to arrive at some agreement on this
Q: Now when you got parties together - I'm sure you had situations where
one party makes one accusation. The other says it's not true. How did you deal
with that - when they both have conflicting stories and they're both there facing
621 each other saying That's not true, I didn't do that. Oh yes you did.
A: I think it's - you have to wind up with a compromise. They're seeing
it different, obviously, and the thing is that we have to continue to operate
as an entity and if you all are going to be a part of it, then we have to
put this thing behind us. So what can we compromise on - if we can't agree
on what middle ground can we meet on? We've got to continue .
Q: Did you ever fire a teacher?
A: There's only one teacher in a sense that I fired and he told me -
when I asked him to resign - he says Well you hired me - you'll have to tell
me to go. And so I did and he accepted it. The only thing he did - he did
get unemployment insurance which I disagreed with. I fought him on it with
the employment commission. He did draw some unemployment. I didn't understand
Q: Now when you fired a teacher, did you have to go through that Board
of Trustees to get permission to do that?
A: No, I didn't.
Q: You just did it?
A: If he would have grieved about it. If he would have taken me to task,
he could have gone to the Board of Trustees. I only had two or three occasions
of any discipline situations or anything at the school that went before the
Board in my thirteen years. We usually worked it out and didn't have to bother
the Board with it. So I was fortunate there.
Q: Why did you want to fire this man? Why did you do that?
A: You know, I liked the man. He was pleasant - he was an older man -
I had wound up having to hire him with tongue in cheek to start with because
it was a program I couldn't find an instructor for. He was the only possibility
I had. It was either drop the program which we had students for or hire him.
So I did hire him and we tried him two years, but - I tried to work with him
but - the students didn't respect him. They gave him a hard time. I would
talk to them and try to get them to understand the situation, but they still
- he was just - the personality that the students tried to give him a hard
time all the time and he - they would pull things on him and they would do
some - they would mark up the toilets and things just to get at him. It became
kind of a head butting situation. Our advisory council for this particular
program wasn't satisfied with the product that was coming out - as far as
students were concerned. He just wasn't effective. So I kept real good notes
on - of actual observations. I just recommended that he not return. I had
others that were as bad a situation - a number of others. But in all cases,
I would say You know it's going to be better for you in the future if you
go on and resign and I can indicate You resigned rather than I had to ask
you to leave - I think in most all cases, they left and found employment elsewhere
and probably successful - most of them.
Q: Did you find that difficult to do?
A: Yes. In your questions here, that was one of the difficult evaluation
and dismissal is a tough area and I don't relish it. Cause we had one - well
there was another situation where I thought I came to a point where I thought
I was going to have to - He was an alcoholic - I thought a lot of him but
ah - he just couldn't deal with it. Finally, I got his letter of resignation
which was a great relief. But we wrestled with that thing for a long time
- cause he had a special feeling for down and out kids. He would do things
to pull 'em up and work with 'em. He'd work with students that others would
give up on but his problem was just so great that it was causing him to be
Q: What a waste - ya know?
A: Oh yeah and we tried - in fact he finally wound up leaving his wife
- she left him - his family turned against him. He went practically down the
tubes. Now I've heard that he's remarried again and has gotten on top of his
Q: How did you handle civil rights issues?
A: The first year I went to Fort Defiance High School was the first year
of full integration of Augusta County Schools. We had half a dozen Black teachers
- first time they had ever been in the school. There had been a couple black
students there previously - the first thing I did which, I guess broke the
ice - I had the total staff at my house for a reception prior to school opening
and had all the Black teachers out too. We never experienced any problems
that erupted. I'm sure under the scheme of things, there were feelings and
so forth. I had one Black instructor at Ft. Defiance. He was the only one
that eventually remained there as an instructor. All the others eventually
left. And while I was there - or shortly after I left I got him to come with
me to Valley Tech as an instructor - a very, very excellent instructor. Whenever
we'd have particular problems with any student, Black student, whatever. I'd
make an attempt to visit them in the home - early in those years I went to
homes of Black students and talked to the parents about the real situation
and I guess this is the way we dealt with it, and we had no real problems
along that line - as far as within the school - real clashes.
Q: What about busing? Did they have busing? Was that an issue at all?
A: No, we didn't in our school.
Q: I wouldn't think that you would - that would be more in a city area.
A: Yea - we didn't experience that problem. They rode in out of the rural
area - just like white students. I guess the busing that occurred - during
the segregated schools was busing the Black students past the white schools
which was never right - that was a bad situation - when I went to the high
school it was fully integrated that year.
Q: Did you have any racial strife among students?
A: Oh we had some racial conflict. Yea, we'd have particularly Black
boys trying to date white girls or vice versa. This caused some tension. It
wasn't anything that we had a real problem dealing with. If I saw things erupting
- well I would visit and talk to the parents, white and Black.
Q: What was your philosophy of discipline - as far as with the kids - what
kind of disciplinarian were you?
A: Well, I think they considered me fairly tough. That's what I heard.
Back in the early years of high school, I paddled - that was something we
got out of. I can remember some classes - that was the only way to deal with
'em. But I would - well we expected good behavior at all events including
ballgames and these kinds of things and I would suspend and particularly talk
to parents. We made an issue of talking to parents early with a problem.
Q: OK - Let's talk a little bit about your assistant principals. How many
did you have?
A: OK - At Valley Tech. I had, in a sense I guess, say two. We had two
others you'd call directors but I had an assistant principal that worked principally
with me in the total program. Then I had an assistant principal in charge
of the employment training program and the handicapped and disadvantaged program.
He was given right much leeway for operation of that program. He would come
to me with problems. We did run his budget - he had a category in our budget
for the things he had to spend for and I visited him a great deal but I let
the evaluations and so forth over there up to him and then I would evaluate
him. My assistant that worked with me in the regular school - he was in charge
of the student organizations and he took care of discipline and I worked with
custodial people. I primarily worked with budget. I took care of personnel
problems and I worked with twelve or fourteen teachers in supervision. Then
I had a director that was in charge of the adult apprenticeship programs.
Then I had a director of guidance and placement and the person who was in
charge of our health occupations programs - we considered her a director because
she pretty well ran the program. The assistants we had - the night school
adult program - he ran that operation - unless he had problems. I'd work with
him on budget - that part of the budget. He'd take care of re ports and these
things. Of course, all reports came through me but he pretty much put them
together. Same way with the handicapped/disability things. And we would meet
not at any regular time but as needed as an administrative team to consider
things of the school generally and to work with any problems that erupted.
Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern?
A: I guess toward the end my biggest concern as a vocational technical
principal was that I felt that with the new standards that a number of our
students were being - the opportunity for taking courses such as we had was
being eliminated. They had a very hard time scheduling vo. tech. courses.
After being through all aspects of public education, I had the feeling that
every student should experience some vo. tech. course - primarily because
I see a lot of these professional people coming back to take evening classes.
Even a judge, doctors, lawyers, business people coming back to a desire to
be able to work with their hands. And I have a feeling some basic - let's
take a surgeon - some surgeons could benefit by plumbing and metal work -
when they get into putting these joints in and all these kinds of things -
I could see - and engineers and I know with some of the courses that are offered
in vocational technical are pretty sophisticated and can challenge any student.
I don't care how intelligent they are.
Q: It's a shame - vocational education is thought of more like a dumping ground.
A: Well, that's been a lot of the problem to get rid of the student -
that's a problem in the school. But I could see an engineering student or
computers or whatever for application of the academic areas that they're learning
that they could experience some hands on with computers and computer applications
and electronics that we have and in machine shop and a lot of other ways -
you get them in carpentry - well, - and very much in automotive - pretty sophisticated
courses. So, I think this would be - I don't know how your question was worded
there. One of the big concerns I would have - I guess - and there was a question
I looked over there - on the same line about several major concerns you'd
have in major operations - um - I feel that the school - there such a difference
in school organization with elementary and primary and junior high school,
and even in the division of Augusta there's a difference there of what various
students depends on where you live as to what kind of system you're going
through even in advisory and I feel that the school system ought to be organized
so that all students experience the same steps. For instance, you've got seven
grade elementaries, then you can go on 8-12 high school or they've got five
then 6, 7, 8, then 9 - 12 high school. There are all kinds of situations within
one division. And I think that's unfair to the students. Another thing along
that line - I feel - is the fact that in so many divisions we build buildings
and leave things out because of lack of funding and money and then we never
go back and put them in. We go build other buildings and put all these fancy
things in like air conditioning, covered walkways and labs, and space and
storage but never go back to the old ones and up- grade them. I think it's
so unfair that you have for in stance in one area - how in the world can we
compare students in the hot fall - some here are taking examinations standardized
tests in nice air conditioned rooms and others in hot, stuffy rooms - this
is going to make a difference. So those disparities - I don't know whether
this was the place to approach that or not - I think these are concerns that
I would have about the school systems.
Q: You want things equal for all students?
A: I think particularly within a division - because I think most in their
development could do this but because of politics - and particularly politics
- I've seen so many times you put a school here and do something different
over here because of the politics of the situation.
Q: What was your biggest headache as a principal?
A: I think there was one specific headache I had - that was federal court
in high school - in which I dismissed a student. It was back during the hair
crisis and this student was dismissed for three reasons: poor attendance,
indecent dress and his hair was not in keeping with the school dress code
and we went to the - he got a minister to go on his case and - oh what are
the legal people that take up with all these - I can't even recall the name
of it anymore. Well anyway, he got legal backing and they took us to court
over it and the big decision there was to whether or not to stick with the
suspension or throw in the towel, and our people decided to stick with it
and see it through and we won the case. But it was a trying time at that time.
Q: I bet it was.
A: I'd had another I had in mind along that line - that was one case
- another one I think was - you asked for the biggest - what was your question
Q: As a principal, what was your biggest headache?
A: OK - night work. I think as a principal - all the night work - I feel
to be successful in a comprehensive high school you have to be able to support
all the events and that's practically impossible. We didn't have that bad
a situation in the tech. center. I think the continuous responsibility for
a building that is used all the time in a comprehensive high school. We didn't
have that particularly, although we used the building three nights a week
at the tech center, but it was primarily with adults at night and we had instructors
that worked there. I had help. I had a person to be there at night. At the
time I was a principal of the comprehensive high school, I had one assistant
and if you spread everything there was between the two of us it got pretty
thin. So that would have been another one - perhaps it has gotten better since
then. And then board meetings I mentioned to you that was a headache.
Q: What do you think about merit pay?'
A: I really don't think very positively about merit pay because I think
to do it properly you're going to have to be a terrible expenditure or the
right kind of people to evaluate in a merit pay situation. I can see all kinds
of influences pouring in if it isn't done right. I don't have any solution
to the problem of merit. But it's going to be a tough thing to deal with if
you're going to get into it - the way I see it. Because I talk to industries
I hear industries talk about this all the time and in talking to them when
I see the problems that they have in this line, particularly in dealing with
minority situations - that just throws it all out the window - throws the
merit whatever competencies you're trying to deal with - when other factors
come in that overweigh the merits, the competencies that you're dealing with
then it throws it all out the window. So as long as we're given emphasis to
be sure we are getting minorities in all these areas, I don't see how you
are going to deal strictly with merit.
Q: Yes, I see what you're saying. What about career ladders for teachers?
A: I know very little about career ladders. I've heard some, I've never
dealt with it.
Q: I think Fairfax County is starting this where you have like a career
Level I, then they have another career level but I'm not sure I understand all
of it - what teachers have to do. They get more money if they're on another
career level and they try for it - but it has something to do with their evaluations
and how they're rated - their experience - their merit. So, I guess it's a form
of merit pay.
A: I've heard of them but I've never dealt - I just know very little
about career ladders.
Q: I see - OK - would you enter administration on a principal's level if
you had to do it all over again?
A: Well, with the same kind of circumstances, I probably would I would
- I think I would shoot for - if I were initially getting into the principalship
at this time in a vo. tech. center was available - I would prefer that because
it's more in keeping with my background and experience and I really believe
in vo. tech. education. So - you know - I would move into that. If I left
- I think particularly to although now with the teachers' salaries - we have
teachers getting on up there - much closer to the administrative salary scale
level - when I left I mean they were looking pretty good - the salaries of
some of them. A person working twelve months at the top of the scale is doing
pretty well and - with salary- so that would be strong consideration if I
were teaching a vocational course at this time. Because there's a whole lot
of responsibility - extra responsibility as far as liability and so forth
that you undertake in an administrative position.
Q: What advice would you give a person who was considering an administrative
A: I would suggest and I do to the young assistants that I've had that
if they're going into - particularly a comprehensive high school principalship
- to do it while they're younger. I think it's a young man's job to put it
that way. I think you get to my age it's a little tougher to deal with the
things that you have to deal with at a comprehensive high school - so I would
suggest that - of course if they're going into vo. tech. particularly a regional
situation - that they get some accounting - some additional finance course
under the belt.
Q: Do you think vo. tech. will come back?
A: Well, I noted this year that we're practically full with first year
students this year. I think young people are finding out what it's all about
- that the governor's seal isn't all that important and that they can get
in a college without the governor's seal. I think in rural areas it will come
back. Maybe it will be tougher in an urban setting - say in Rockingham, Augusta
- maybe even in Warren you have situations where vo. tech. is pretty well
ingrained in the society. They have an appreciation for it.
Q: Did you feel that central office policies prevented you from accomplishing
goals you felt could otherwise have been obtained?
A: In the vo. tech. situation, no - they left pretty well up to us to
operate the school. Of course, we had the policy manual and our board had
the same policy. No, I don't believe they did and I didn't experience that
being a high school or elementary school principal in August County. We were
pretty well given the leeway to run our schools. Of course, there were policies
set by the board that you've got to adhere to, but generally as long as we
stayed with in those policies, we did our thing.
Q: As a principal, what consumed the majority of your time?
A: I think the majority of it at the Valley Tech. Regional Center was
consumed with working with staff - either in supervision of problems, which
would be- I guess - involve supervision - I think over half of it was dealing
with personnel working with the idea of keeping our programs at a high level
- hoping to improve constantly. I think - I would say that - I outlined a
day here. I think I could see in the vo. tech. center you are going to spend
more time on budget and these kinds of administrative things - of course we
had to purchase too. That would require more time then the regular high school
but I'm sure there are other administrative things in a regular high school
that are going to creep in there. Of course, we had to deal with maintenance.
We had our own maintenance people. We were just a little entity. Some of the
divisions would give us some help in certain situations but primarily we had
our own maintenance personnel.
Q: Did you have a cafeteria in your school?
A: We had a food service department, but we didn't feed students. They
prepared some meals for the staff but the students ate in their home high
schools. So that's one thing we didn't have to deal with. That's kind of the
way I'd see it, the majority of the time spent with personnel.
Q: Do you think that would be possible now? Like in a comprehensive high
school to be able to spend so much time with personnel?
A: Probably you'd spend over half the time but - you're not going to
spend any large portion of the time. Not what you'd like too. I had more time
to deal with personnel supervision and so forth at the tech. center then I
did at the comprehensive high school.
Q: What do you feel is the best organizational arrangement of schools exceeding
A: Well, I would know very little about that.
Q: Well, how big was your school?
A: The largest our school ever became as far as total day students -
we approached a thousand at Valley Tech. a day. We had half there in the morning
and half in the afternoon. Probably at the comprehensive high school ran 8
or 9 thousand. As far as my opinion on the 4,000, I would think it would be
advantageous to break that down into small schools in some way. What I mean
is organize it so you get some more opportunities for students to be involved
in more leadership activities and so forth. I don't know whether the opportunity
would present itself to have a vocational technical school within the regular
school or whether you could have fine arts - whether that kind of breakdown
would come or not. If I studied it probably - it would probably benefit by
making smaller schools within a school. You'd have assistants in charge of
certain areas and these would - as far as student organizations could be organized
that over a large student organization. I think these are important things.
It seems like in a large school setting, students don't get the opportunity
to represent themselves in leadership activities.
Q: What do you feel is an ideal size?'
A: My own opinion - I feel around 900 -1200. My experience is very limited
in how a 1600 student school would run. Size-wise the only reason I would
see the highness would be to have more and more quality offerings for students.
May I don't look at it right, but as a school gets smaller, the offerings
do and I guess that's the reason why, in the area I served I guess that's
the reason why we had a regional center. They are headed toward regions in
academics in higher level math - etc. - by bringing in from 7 or 8 high schools
you'll have enough to make up a class. I see in the smaller school, unless
they cooperate together in some regional settings - it would be a disadvantage
for the I really don't know what would be the optimum size. My preference
would be in the 900 for a comprehensive high school but maybe that's a little
Q: All research points to the fact that excellent schools have administrators
who are actively involved in leadership for educational expectations. What are
some effective techniques or strategies in which you have used to help you involve
yourself to the maximum in educational leadership?
A: I think having the administrative team of assistants and directors
was a strategy that helped us in major decisions in the school, we always
made them through this term. Of course, whenever we could involve faculty
- having faculty committees to - we had a faculty organization we set up in
the beginning of the year of committees and we could probably - and they took
care of them. We had a faculty chairman and in fact most things in the school
we could channel through these committees and I always felt the more involvement
we got in a decision, the more likely it was to be fully carried out. So if
time permitted, we tried to involve all people through the administrative
team and through the faculty organization.
Q: Did you have a model that you patterned yourself after?
A: The only model that I'd have was the democratic process. I'm sure
you've heard a lot about that in your course work. I've always believed in
it anyhow because I believe it's the only way to operate.
Q: Well, it seems like now a days, schools are getting more and more bureaucratic
and I want to point your attention to the next question - It seems there is
a slippage in human relations training in administrative preparation. Do you
agree that there is a slippage in human relations training? Do you think school
are becoming insensitive, that we're insensitive to minority students, minority
appointments or that we're just insensitive?
A: I haven't seen it locally - for example, in Augusta County the assistant
superintendent is a woman and when she was appointed she was four or five
months pregnant. So I don't see that as a slippage there. And she has a great
influence in Augusta County schools. So I haven't witnessed that locally.
Now I don't have a feel for that on state or nationally. I see more and more
as I worked with supervisory people from state. I've seen more and more Blacks
and women involved over the years. In my opinion, I'm just not aware of that
Q: What were your five most pleasant principalship activities?
A: Relationships with staff - the personal relationships with staff members
- that's number one. Then the relationships with colleagues in the educational
business. We had most pleasant communications with community college people
and other vocational technical people that you met at meetings. Student activities
- I miss them. I always liked student activities. As principal I worked with
parliamentary teams and I enjoyed seeing them grow and develop in leadership
activity and self-esteem and so forth. The relationship with community people,
with advisory councils. I'll miss - I guess all of it has to do with people
- association with people.
to "L" Interviews | Index
of Interviews | Protocol
| Home |