Interview with Lawrence Lyles
The following is a transcript of an interview of Mr. Lawrence LYLES, former
principal of Kenmoor Junior High School, Landover, Maryland.
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Q: Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Mr. Lyles. Let's just start
with the questions. The first question is: How many years were you in the PG
County School system as a teacher?
A: Ten years as a teacher.
Q: And as a Principal?
A: As a Principal, per se, three years. As a vice principal, for five
Q: You were a principal at Kenmoor Junior High School. Would you describe
A: Kenmoor Junior High School, when I became principal there, was a brand-new
school. It was in its second year of operation. They'd had one principal prior
to myself. He was there for, I think, just one semester. It was a brand-new
facility--all new, modern equipment-classrooms, cafeteria including multi-purpose
room, guidance suite, health suite, and, let's see, approximately 50 classrooms,
Q: What was the student population?
A: Around 900.
Q: What was the socio-economic and/or racial mix? of the school?
A: At that particular time the County had just integrated under a formal
court order the year before. Actually, January of 1973. So it was about a
year and a half. So, the population basically, when I became principal, was
Q: Fifty percent White, fifty percent Black?
A: Right. And other minorities, because we did have some Asian students.
But they were approximately, maybe no more than two percent.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: Well, the decision really wasn't mine. Basically, I had been a classroom
teacher and responsible for various social-studies type groups such as the
Student Council and some other groups at Fairmont Heights High School where
I taught. And the principal there felt that, basically because I was involved
in a lot of things, and he felt that I got along well with others and had
leadership ability, he encouraged me to go take the administrative exam. I
was also going to school--graduate school--to use my GI Bill, and consequently
received an Advanced Certificate. When I started teaching, I already had a
Master's Degree and I used my GI Bill to get the Advanced Certificate in Education
and Administration. So, I was involved in programs like that. So, then the
other people, more than myself, felt that I would make a good administrator
and I was encouraged to go take the exam.
Q: There's a specific exam for administrators?
Q: So you go from the classroom to the Administrative Suite with a rite
of passage or an examination ... ?
A: There's a written exam and an oral exam.
Q: The next question is: What was your school's philosophy?
A: The school in terms of my philosophy as a principal?
Q: Or if there was a school's philosophy of teaching subject matter?
A: Well, the curriculum was more or less spelled out, but that, was even
flexible. There were certain goals, certain teaching goals, that we were trying
to reach. The whole County was working toward that. But each individual school
board left the task to the school--and the goals were more or less set by
the administrator for the school, in terms of what you wanted those children
were to achieve and how you wanted them to function. But there were overall
County goals for the school system.
Q: Getting back to the leadership potential that you had exhibited, what
leadership techniques did you while creating this climate for learning?
A: Well, my first thing was, that for people who were.... Number one:
If you were working in a public school system, you had to be willing to deal
with everybody's child--the good the bad, and the ugly--all of the kids. You
just couldn't favor (have) smart kids. You had to work with kids on all levels.
We wanted you to be a committed public school educator. And if you couldn't
do that, then you weren't going to last. You just weren't going to function
and be effective with children.
Q: And which techniques were successful? We'll start with the successful
ones because they're the ones best remembered.
A: Well, first of all, I felt that if you have a staff of professional
people, then, where possible, the decision making ought to be shared, because
everybody's smart about something. You may be the designated leader of a school
or any kind of organization. However, leadership comes within. And you can,
if you're smart, in my estimate, if you're smart, you utilize the expertise
of the people on your faculty to plan programs to get things done, and everybody
has a shared commitment. Now, there are times when decisions have to be made
that are not negotiable. When they come down from the Board of Education--"This
HAS to be done"-- and there's no fooling around about it. You just have: "This
is what we need to do! This is how we're going to do it!" But, where possible,
I would try to get the faculty involved in the decision-making.
Q: Any techniques you used that seemed like good ideas at the time that
A: Well, now that time has elapsed, I've probably forgotten a lot of
things, but when I went to that particular school you had no real commitment
on the part of students because they were being bussed in from .... They were
either being bussed in or they were walking in, but they were walking into
a school (where) they had no community ties. So, you had to try to build a
tradition where people would have a commitment to the school. And so we used
to try to have campaigns to -- like poster campaigns about keeping the school
clean, going to class. We even had some training sessions that were partially
funded by some community groups to develop student leadership. And various
teachers wanted to sponsor activities that students were interested in. And
with the junior high school population they like a lot of hands-on activities,
clubs. We had a lot of clubs -- everything from model cars to biking, things
Q: So that would be the public- and community-relations aspect?
Q: Now on to the principal-teacher relationship. What do you think teachers
think principals should be?
A: Teachers expect principals to be .... Well, I guess they expect them to
fit in according to the situation that they're in. By that I specifically mean
.... In my particular instance, at that particular school at that time--Kenmoor,
1975--I did not have the type of staff, if I had to pick them, that I would
have selected. I inherited the people who were there, and basically, I had a
lot of inexperienced teachers. And then I had some teachers with a lot of experience
but no middle people hardly. So you had almost like two extremes. And, for the
inexperienced people and a lot of the inexperienced people were also--well,
say they were inexperienced or had no experience working with what I call "the
urban student." Some had taught in other smaller communities where everybody
knew everybody's parents and the children were from middle-class, behaved backgrounds
and that type of thing. And consequently, when students were not functioning
and behaving like teachers felt they would -- like sitting down immediately
or not saying anything back to them or this kind of thing, their answer, in
many instances, was to suspend the child from school.
Q: These urban students who were usually suspended were black, weren't
A: Most of them were. The suspension rate for minority kids was always
Q: Did the teachers expect you to be an instructor, or a parental or substitute...?
A: Well, in some instances, they more or less wanted to be a police person
and I could not accept that philosophy. I could not accept that. I felt that
it was everybody's responsibility to work with those youngsters because for
a child of junior high school age, a person has to come back to school. Suspension
is not the answer. You've got to come back to the classroom. "What are you
doing in that classroom to make that child want to stay in there and not be
disruptive?" You see? And a lot of people refuse to look at that until after
the fact. I mean, years after I had left that school I've seen people and
they have realized that and have said so to me.
Q: How did yon evaluate those teachers? You mentioned those who had either
lots of experience or very little experience. How did you evaluate those?
A: Well, again ... You have to do a certain number of evaluations --
classroom observations and that type of thing-during the course of the school
year. For, the people who do not have tenure it's more frequent. For the people
who do have tenure, you still have to do it because you have to have a written
evaluation and you certainly can have an interview with the person. For the
people who were having a lot of problems, and, like I said, in most instances
they were the newer teachers and the inexperienced teachers -- I tried to
work with that philosophy that I had: If you were working in a public school
you've got to be able to deal with all kinds of children. It doesn't mean
you have to love them all, but you've got to try to understand. And, even
if you don't like them, know why you don't like them. That type of thing.
And so, you look at that and again.... I tried to give out material. We would
have faculty workshop about classroom management, that type of thing. "What
do I need to do?" Look at introspection. "Am I doing something that gets the
kids set up?" "If I'm dealing with minority kids, what are the trigger words
that turn them off?" "What are the things that get them worked up?" And one
of the biggest things was the word "boy." And this has traditionally been
a thing. Now you had -- and this wasn't true in all cases, depending on the
teacher's relationship with the youngsters-because there were some of the
Caucasian teachers that would do that and had no problem at all because they
related well to the kids. This wasn't a trigger word that set them off. For
others it was. But with workshops, through faculty workshops, through giving
out literature, through things like that--talking about it, talking about
problems, making people feel that "Don't leave the school and criticize the
school and the kids because you're actually criticizing yourself because you're
a part of that action."
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?
A: Well in many, many instances I tried to get people not to see where
a confrontation with a student did not have to be a win-lose situation. As
an adult in many, many instances--adults have a problem in dealing with youngsters--and
it's got to be: "Since I'm the adult, then I've got to win." And that means
the student loses face completely. And many times you have to try to see both
sides of the story. Have both people listen to it and try to evaluate: "Did
I do something wrong as a teacher?" "Am I too sensitive? Too thin-skinned?"
And for the student: "Am I being disrespectful?"
Q: These were teacher grievances though they were usually in regard to
Q: They didn't have any grievances about working conditions, or hours ....
A: Well, basically the hours and that type of thing were designated,
and, you know, all of the contracts and negotiated agreements. So, they knew
what hours they had to work. If they sponsored activities, they got paid for
them. You know, if you stayed after school. So it wasn't a freebie ... Like
when I started you just sponsored an activity. But nowadays, they've gone
to -- that even is negotiated. If you sponsor cheerleaders or whatever kind
of group, there was a stipend attached to that. So most of the grievances
at the time --- like I said --- the school was just a new school with no real
sense of pride in it and community feeling. So you had the various community
groups that would actually come to loggerheads at the school. It used to be
that you would be changing hats from policeman to social worker -- to father,
mother, priest--all of those kind of things all in one day.
Q: Did you ever have to fire a teacher.?
A: Yes, one teacher. And it was really cleaning up after somebody else.
The person who was principal before I was there really should have terminated
the individual. The person did not plan well. He didn't relate well to the
students. He had the necessary education. That wasn't the problem. But he
was basically inexperienced. As I said, he always had conflicts with the kids.
He was very sensitive. Anything that the student said, whether it was aimed
directly at him or not, he heard everything and took it as a personal affront.
He didn't vary his subject matter. You can't teach five or six different classes
each way. All of the kids are different and different levels. And those kind
of things got him into complications. I brought in the curriculum specialists
and they tried to work with him and it just did not work out. And, to be perfectly
frank, I felt badly about it because I felt a person's job was important to
Q: Was he dismissed from the school system?
A: Yes. He was a non-tenured teacher and during the first two years if
you don't get (you know) "Satisfactory" ratings, then they will terminate
you. But he wouldn't have gotten any better, in my opinion. So I didn't feel
-- and with the kind of problems I was having -- I wasn't comfortable about
letting him stay there another year.
Q: This was a new school that was not tied to the community?
A: I had students feeding in from, I would say, about half a dozen community
sub-divisions. And many times they were at odds with each other. so they would
bring the community problems to the school.
Q: So civil rights and bussing issues were prevalent at the time? How did you
handle both of them?
A: Right. Well, for parents who would come in bent out of shape -- (you
know) they would tell me quite frankly -- "I don't want my child here in the
first place!" -- I would just deal with that issue in a mater-of-fact way
that: "I did not assign your child here. I am the administrator of the school.
the school system designated the boundaries and if your child is here, they
put him here. Not me! And, I have no control over that. If you want the child
moved, we'll try to get him moved. You may appeal the decision. But I have
no control over that. But as long as the child's here I expect him to operate
(you know) the way everybody else operates.
Q: And on the bussing issues?
A: Same thing. "That's not anything I have control over."
Q: The schools were all in transition then. They were going from predominantly
White and rural.....
A: The county was changing and the schools basically in the Beltway were
the ones that were coming -- well the population was becoming more of a minority
population-- and the ones outside the Beltway tended to remain White while
the ones within the Beltway where we tend to get a heavier Black population.
Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do to better prepare yourself
to be a principal?
A: Ha-ha. Well, I don't know if you can ever really better prepare yourself.
I had gotten administrative experience. But basically, I guess my biggest
problem tended to be I had worked with secondary school students, but they
were high school students. I had taught for ten years and had been an administrator
for another five years, but they were high school students. So you have a
different level of maturity. And, to go to a junior high school is really
like moving into a new world. Basically, all school administrative experience
at a principal's level -- you tend to have some of the same job tasks. But
the schools vary from community to community. That's where you have to find
your little corner of the world because you can't operate the same way everywhere
you go. You get kids with different backgrounds and you've got to have some
kind of understanding there. So, I don't know if you can really prepare yourself,
but you've got to be willing to try to change with the environment that you're
Q: Following on to that, what procedures should be used before a person
is selected to become a principal?
A: I feel that the process they use is pretty well, in terms of training--either
operate for a couple of years as an administrative assistant or vice-principal
so that you do get some experience. I don't think it's practical at all to
move somebody right from the classroom to a principal's job because you move
from two different levels completely. From a level where you're not involved
in a lot of decision making to one where you are. So I think the training
steps in the school system -- most of them tend to operate ... You either
go from a vice-principalship to a principalship. That's about the best step.
It wouldn't be practical to go from a classroom teacher to a principal. It
just wouldn't. You'd be in a real world of trouble as far as knowing all the
ins and outs of how to function as an administrator. Right from doing the
Master Schedule to other things.
Q: But you were a vice-principal for five years before you became a principal.
So, when you became a principal how did you utilize your assistant principal?
A: Well, basically, the school I was vice-principal at -- I went as a
vice-principal in the middle of a school year, which was a traumatic thing
because I had been a classroom teacher say, between September and then December
I was called down to the Board, to the Superintendent's office and they told
me they would like for me to go into a new school come January in an administrative
capacity. And, consequently, it was frightening, absolutely frightening. However,
when --and I went to Central High School as vice-principal, the principal
there and the vice-principal and I actually learned the job from him. He was
a very intelligent administrator. He got along well with kids. He was low-keyed.
He didn't lose his temper, that type thing. And, we were on a double shift.
We had so many students we couldn't even put them all in the school at the
same time. And the principal himself let us get involved in various administrative
tasks. So by the time I had three or four years' experience I knew how to
do a Master Schedule. I knew how to work with curriculum programs. I knew
how to handle a budget, substitutes (you know), all the kinds of.... We got
experience doing the different administrative tasks that you can have as an
administrator. And, this is where a lot of people don't work well. They give
the vice-principal one duty and that's all that person ever does. He may get
saddled with discipline, and that's all he ever does. He never learns how
to do anything else, depending on the philosophy of the person who's in charge.
but again, he had basically the same kind of philosophy : Why waste other
peoples' ability when a lot of people are smart or even smarter than you about
some things? So, I rather learned by doing.
Q: So that when you became a principal applied the same?
A: I applied the same thing, right.
Q: In doing the Master Schedule, did you find it most effective to maintain
control or did you have the Guidance Department do it?
A: We shared. Well, actually the Guidance Department and my other administrative
assistant and myself. It was a sort of triumvirate kind of thing. We did it
in terms of trying to match kids up with teachers, trying to match up ability
levels. A lot of it was done by data processing, but you still had to put the
data in. And so, we knew some kids, with the type of maturity level they were
at, there were certain people they wouldn't function well with. So you tried
not to program them with those people because you knew you were just setting
the kid up or something would lead to problems. So I found it better to share
with other people, and yet the final decision, if it had to be made, would be
made by the principal. But it tended to work out better, as far as I was concerned,
if you had other people involved with that.
Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern?
A: My biggest concern was the number of children that had to be suspended
because they did not know how to deal with the rules.
Q: So who's the most to blame, the children?
A: Yes. And, as I say, minority kids were the ones that tended to be
suspended the most. And, the period of time you have to think about also had
a lot to do with it. We were into the peacenik, beatnik, Black Power, Black
militant kind of thing where everybody was kind of doing their thing. Even
the schools were -- we had so many courses in many instances -- all these
new courses were put into the curriculum. With the Vietnam War and everything
going, it was sort of like wild times. The media, they portrayed nothing but
violence and things like that. So this is what the children saw. This is the
kind of behavior they wanted to model. And, like I say, a lot of the minority
kids were not sophisticated enough to deal with the rules without getting
into problems. And, one of the most widely used things for suspension--which
could be interpreted in many ways--was the term "insubordination and disrespect,"
because that varied from teacher to teacher. But (you know) it took a lot--I
spent a lot of time just working with kids. I would have detention at 7:30
in the morning. Call kids who lived within walking distance and let them come
up to school to serve detention rather than suspend them. And we would deal
with: "How do you, if you have a conflict with somebody, how do you deal with
it without losing your temper, cursing somebody out, these kind of things?"
Q: These are junior high school students so that should say something about
the elementary schools they came from.
A: Well, it's more of a community thing. Kids model what they see in
the community. And, as I said, what they see on the media at that particular
time --- Black Power was in. It wasn't just the Black kid. I'm just saying
the Black kids were most of the ones who got suspended. But, even the White
kids who got suspended, a lot of them were into "doing my own thing, and I
don't have to yield to authority. I can do what I want to do," that kind of
thing. So, suspensions really bothered me because I felt we could do a lot
with that, but I knew it was a long haul. It wasn't an overnight job. It was
going to take some years to work that kind of thing out.
Q: That was your biggest concern, but was that also your biggest headache?
A: That, and classroom management, because the two were related.
Q: Classroom management. How could that be a headache?
A: Well, as I said, we had some people who were not skilled in grouping
kids for different kinds of activity. You can't have all kids working at the
same level. You had some people who had a philosophy of win-loss, an adversary
role with children, you see. I had one teacher in particular who would leave
his classroom and pursue a child if the child -- sometimes he would ask the
child to close his locker -- and if the kid didn't do it right away, he would
leave his classroom, pursue the kid where he's going (you know). I used to
say: "The child can't go anywhere. He's here 'til the bus comes in the evening.
We can deal with him. Don't leave 25 other children in the room and let something
happen to them. And, with junior high school students, you're into the business
of ego. Ego and "How do I fit in with other people?" "And what do my peers
think?" -- Moreso than "What do the adults think?" And so, most likely, if
you confront a child, he's going to do something that will make him stand
out in the eyesight of his friends and (you know) what the adult thinks comes
later. He may be sorry afterward, but that's the think that's important to
him at the moment -- "How my friends see me?" And a lot of them will come
up and say: "Gee! Hey, you did a great job. You really gave so-and-so a piece
of your mind." (Even though you did get suspended.) So you had that kind of
thing to deal with and this tended, I felt, were the problems with some people
-- not to always put that kind of child in an adversary role, in a win-loss
kind of situation. Classroom management; dealing with the student code of
conduct, because those were the rules that were laid down by the school system.
And each student got a booklet and was made available and teachers talked
about it. But again, a lot of the children had a problem being sophisticated
enough to deal with that think in a manner where they would not get suspended.
Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal and why
was it the toughest?
A: I would say -- I don't know if it was the toughest, but it was one
of the tough ones -- was the one I mentioned earlier where I had to terminate
a teacher. That had been the first time as an administrator that I had to
get involved in the type of thing. And I would say, to me, a person's job
is very important to him. But, that individual just wasn't meeting the standards
that we wanted him to meet. I knew that if we kept him he would attain tenure
and you would have a very difficult time later on getting rid of him -- a
person who's not a bit competent.
Q: Now we're going into a series of "What do you think?" questions. What
do you think of the standards of quality established by the State School Board?
A: Well, I hope I understand the question. As I mentioned at the beginning
of the interview, basically the County -- and I'm sure they were matched up
to what the State wanted in terms of certification (all that's tied up to
it) -- that the educational goals of the State and the County would tend in
some ways to mesh. And the things that they proposed that we try to do in
terms of learning goals--I had no problem with those at all.
Q: What do you think about career ladders for teachers?
A: Well, public school education doesn't leave too many options just
by the nature of the system itself. You're only going to have one superintendent,
and you'll have, maybe, depending on the size of the system, maybe a half
dozen or so assistant superintendents. Other than that you've got to go into
curriculum or some type of special or supervisory; administration as a principal;
or you remain a classroom teacher. Those are the only ways you can go. However,
into counselling. You can become a guidance counsellor. But the ladder only
takes you in those directions, and it depends on what you're committed to
and what you'll be happy with. Personally, I could have been very happy just
being a classroom teacher, but I have no regrets from having administrative
experience, but I was not unhappy as a classroom teacher.
Q: Given the limited rungs in the career ladder, another alternative to
reward teachers would be merit pay. What do you think about that?
A: There are good and bad aspects to that. One major complication, it
always seems, is that people become very selfish in terms of sharing ideas,
things like that. Nobody would want to share anything with anybody else (I'm
being facetious about that), but I know that idea-sharing, experience-sharing,
that kind of thing, would become a token object. (Because) the person might
get the upper hand on me and get the rewards rather than I get the rewards.
Q: Merit pay would lead to competition?
A: Well, I would say, to some degree, stifle the exchange of good ideas
and fellowship among the teachers, and things like that. It would just lead
to hard feelings. Now, granted, in any organization, you've got some people
who are better than others. That's a fact. But I don't know if that issue
will ever be resolved. I just see it as being a controversial thing that would
tend to put people at loggerheads with each other more than bring teachers
together because you're going to have two opposing camps.
Q: What was the key to your success as a principal?
A: Well, if you can equate success to what people tell you after the
fact ... Because, as a principal, very often I didn't see any success, per
se. I could see some gradual changes as far as -- and I think is probably
one of the keys to success -- is that teachers having a more tolerant role
toward the students, but I left before I could really see that coming into
fruition. I have found out about it after the fact because I have seen teachers
who were there and they have talked to me later on, years afterward, and told
me how some of the things we tried to do to improve human relations ... How,
that by being there over a period of time they began to do some things, make
some changes on their part. So I could guess you could call that a success,
but while you're right in the heat of battle you sort of suffer from a combat
syndrome where you can't see the trees for the forest, but you just keep at
it. I guess persistence, keeping faith in your philosophy that you've got
to be for everybody's child even though you might not like everybody's child,
but you've got to try to educate everybody's child who's there..
Q: What advice would you give a person who's considering an administrative
position in the school system?
A: Number one: Be prepared for a lot of disappointments because you're
caught between a lot of different forces. You're going to need to try to be
an understanding person because you're going to have to deal with a lot of
different types of personalities. You've got to be on top of the changes that
take place in curriculum and other learning techniques. You've got to try
to gain the support of your staff and try to share ideas with them and let
them share ideas with other members of the faculty. Get them involved in decision
making, where you can. Like I say, be ready for a lot of disappointments,
but don't let them get you down. Because, over a period of time, you can bring
about a change.
Q: What aspects of your professional training best prepared you to become
A: When you say "professional training" are you talking about, education
or does that mean actual on-the-job experience?
Q: On-the-job experience.
A: Well, I would say that the part that prepared me was really the on-the-job
training I received as a vice-principal. It was the particular school I worked
in and the fact that I got a chance to do most of the job tasks of a principal
while I was there.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to a university that would better prepare
A: You can't really do it at the university. To be a good administrator,
I feel, you have to be a decent teacher and know something about children.
You can't just go into school administration just out of the clear blue sky.
You've got to know something about the emotional makeup of kids: how they
function, their problems, their concerns, things like that. You've got to
be into that. You can't be thin-skinned, because a lot of things that are
said are things that are directed towards you and a lot of people fail because
they hear everything and they take it as a personal affront.
Q: Did you feel that the Central Office policies prevented you from accomplishing
A: No. Now, when I was a Kenmoor the County was divided into three administrative
districts and I was part of the Central Area. And, the assistant superintendent
there then, Annabelle Ferguson, was very supportive of all her schools. If
you needed help, say you needed help, and she would bring you whatever kind
of personnel. If you need people to help you with teachers, teacher training
.... Whatever you needed, she tried to provide-- to make your life livable
in the particular situation you were in. If things got rough for you, she
would try to support you through thick and thin. And I think that type of
thing, even when the going gets tough, if you have that type of backup you
can go back and fight the battle again.
Q: What consumed the majority of your time? What administrative aspect?
A: Student discipline.
Q: And, what would you have liked to have spent more time on but were prevented
from doing so?
A: I would liked to have spent more time in classroom observation, doing
more things and have faculty meetings that weren't just meetings that were
training sessions -- that type of thing--where we could share ideas (on) how
to do things better. But, most of the time we spent during those days, just
putting out fires.
Q: Over the past decade, schools have become larger and larger and the
populations sometimes have exceeded 4,000. What do you feel is the best organizational
arrangement for the three respective groups of people: the administrators, teachers,
and the students?
A: Well, as far as administrators are concerned, you almost -- you know,
a lot of the literature used to say that the principal should be the educational
leader of the school. In other words, know about curriculum and all these
other kinds of things. I know a lot of this relates to cost effectiveness.
Largeness of schools has reached the point where, many times, your administrator
needs to be a manager (more than just) ... You just can't be an educator.
You've got to be a manager. And some of your secondary personnel, or backup
people, have to do the things that are related to the curriculum, classroom
management, student problems and it goes right down to the teachers. It just
can't be the way it used to be, not the way our society is moving right now.
the schools continue to get large. That's the wave. You cannot have a principal
that's everything. That's not even reasonable to expect a person to be able
to do it all the many kind of things that they used to do in the past.
Q: Now it's become more management than administration. During your time,
were you a manager or more of an instructional leader?
A: Well, I tried to be more of an instructional leader, but your role
changed depending on what happened at the moment. But I tried to stay up on
things relating to curriculum, counseling techniques -- things like that --
dealing with kids who were considered exceptional children, because we did
have special education children. How to make them fit into the mainstream,
those kinds of things. You played many roles.
Q: Special education, were those talented and gifted or learning disabled?
A: At that time, mostly learning disabled. It could have been the kids
who were considered -- who had a reading problem (SLRD group)...
Q: What's a SLRD group?
A: It was something related to reading problems. I've forgotten the exact
terminology. Right down to kids who were learning disabled in terms of having
low IQ's. We had no orthopedic-disability children, but you did have low-IQ
kids with learning disabilities.
Q: What about the Southeast Asian kids?
A: We had problems with language, but they would bring in a special teacher
just to teach those children English, because most of the Oriental kids were
-- I guess a lot of it's based on tradition -- but they were keyed into education.
And, you never had any problems with those kids. If there were any problems,
it was because some other kids had hassled them. It was a last resort before
they would get into anything, really. But they were keyed into education.
Q: What do you feel is the ideal sized school, as an administrator?
A: Around-- Actually, the 700-900 category, if you've got the proper
staff, that's a good load. If you get too small, you can't have all the programs
you want, but I had no problem working with that seven to nine hundred group
of children. Once you get, into the thousand, two thousand, that's when it.
starts to become a real management problem.
Q: If you could use one- or two-word descriptions, how would you prioritize
your activities for most effective leadership?
A: Ah ... First of all, you've got to know what's expected of you. And
then you've got to have some kind of plan of action for how you're going to
get there, how you propose to get there, how you're to accomplish things.
And, if you can't accomplish all those, what are you going to try to accomplish.
What kind of priorities are you having?
Q: Did you have a model you patterned yourself after?
A: Basically I patterned myself under people I had worked under at Central
Q: In talking earlier about human relations in the late 70's, there now
seems to be slippage. Have you noticed whether or not there's been a relapse
in the attention given to minority groups?
A: Well, I know the suspension rate still tends to be high for minority
students, but I've been out of the system for seven years. So, I really can't
give a first-hand account. But I know, from what I've been reading, you still
have the bulk of your children that get suspended are minority children.
Q: (Question inaudible. The question dealt with appointment of minorities
to positions of authority and/or responsibility.)
A: Again, I have not kept up with that, but I do know that in Prince
Georges County -- I do know of several people who have moved into -- some
of the higher-ups who are, you know, your Black Personnel who were principals
and things that have moved into assistant superintendent type jobs and other
high echelon jobs. So I know some effort has been made in that direction.
I would imagine that maybe more still needs to be done, but I do personally
know people who have moved and they were wellqualified people who got those
positions. So, I think it's safe to say that some movement has been made and
the present superintendent is one who seems to be striving to make a good
system out of the one we have.
Q: Would you discuss the five most pleasant principalship activities and
then the five most unpleasant, starting with the most pleasant?
A: The five most pleasant ones, I think number one would be the prom.
That was always the night when people were on their best behavior, dressed
nice. You'd see them in an aspect you'd never seen maybe during the whole
school year. Awards assembly. That was another pleasant one. Many students
had a chance to stand out for various things. They weren't just sports. Practically
all activities -- anything you'd done from attendance right on down to sports
-- you got a chance to let your little light shine. Faculty Socials, that
was another pleasant one. Many times we would have those at somebody's house,
including mine. It tended to kind of put us in a different atmosphere, doing
different things that weren't school-related, per se. You kind of let your
hair down and had a nice time. Graduations (were) a happy/sad time. You're
glad. It's always nice to see the youngsters move on and some you knew you'd
miss, but you'd always have replacements next year. How many is that? Is that
four? And probably to see the faculty work together, not at odds with each
other. Doing things at school that tended to enhance each other. The probably
most unpleasant things: Number one -- termination of an employee. This also
included custodial care and day workers. There were times when we had to let
people go from those areas also. Student discipline. Resolving community conflicts
in the school. I mentioned that a lot of times children would bring their
problems from the community and try to settle them at school and you'd have
involve police and that type of thing. Going to court on children. You had
to do that in many instances because they would break the rules and you'd
get a summons to appear. It put you in a very awkward position. You would
feel as though: "I'm supposed to be helping this child, and yet I have to
say something negative about him." In most cases, I always tried to find something
positive to say at a hearing, but in many instances you really had to scratch.
That's four. Could you give me an instant replay on those negatives?
Q: Firing employees, student discipline, resolving community conflicts,
and going to court.
A: And student suspensions.
Q: If there were three areas for administrator which you could change,
what would they, be?
A: The way schools are set up, it's pretty hard to change any of them.
Naturally, if the size of the school changes, one would almost have to be
this business of being an educational leader. You have to be more of a manager
just to be able to facilitate getting things done in the plant. But that's
part of the one big change that I haven't seen. Some tasks you just can't
get out of. You've got to be involved some kind of way. So I really can't
think of three, but that would be the one that I think there might be some
Q: If you could change any five areas of U.S. education, what would those
five areas be?
A: I can't really.... I don't think I can give an adequate answer on
Q: What in your own experience did you find most beneficial in helping
you maintain a sane attitude toward being a principal?
A: A sense of humor and being flexible.
Q: Will you describe the most effective assistant principal you have had
-- assistant principal characteristics used to generate creativity and support?
A: Say it again, please.
Q: Well, could you describe the most effective assistant principal you
A: Well, I only had one, and, again, I didn't have any choice in selecting
the person. He was just assigned ... As a matter of fact, the person had more
years of experience than I did, yet we tended to function all right together.
He had a different personality from me, which may be good. And, as I say,
we worked all right together. He did have some conflicts with teachers, because,
again, we were dealing with two different kinds of personality. But, probably
if I had had a choice of selecting someone, I would probably have picked another
Q: Your retirement was because you went into another occupation, right?
A: No. My retirement was because of the job stress.
Q: Oh. Let me read the question again. Was your retirement because of administrative
burnout or for age or for going into another occupation? They gave me three
options down here.
A: Well, if you call it physical burnout, it was. I actually had to be
hospitalized for intestinal surgery -- extensive intestinal surgery. I was
in the hospital for six months. I had a ruptured large intestine. And, consequently,
I was asked to take another job in the curriculum office just to get well
again, which I accepted. I stayed in that job for approximately one year as
a curriculum specialist, and then that position was cut by the next school
budget and I had to go back to a school administrator's job. At that point,
my doctors advised me to retire because my system could not handle the same
kind of stress again.
Q: So it was stress-related, then. What were the characteristics of the
superintendent which you found most effective in allowing you the most leeway
in operating your school?
A: We're talking about the area superintendent, and that's who was really
close to the schools, the area superintendent. Number one, she was supportive,
Q: This is Annabelle Ferguson?
A: Yes. Very supportive. She was a kind person. She was a good administrator.
She was an understanding person and she tried to give you whatever assistance
you needed to do the job you were supposed to do.
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