Q: Would you state your name for the purpose of this interview?
A: Joseph Macekura
Q: And how many years were you a teacher and a principal with the Arlington Public Schools?
A: Well, I started in Arlington in 1950 as a teacher, taught for four years, then became a counselor, Director of Guidance, Assistant Principal, Associate Principal, and a Principal.
Q: Was the principalship all, and the associate principal, was that all at the same school?
A: No, no. That was, ah, when we integrated Arlington Schools, when we desegregated, actually, Arlington Schools in 1965, um, Thomas Jefferson, at that time, became a subject of a court suit, ah, indicating that we had to desegregate Arlington Public Schools. And, uh, the focus was placed on Thomas Jefferson because in the Thomas Jefferson area, there were, ah, a, two schools: the, ah, Hoffman-Boston Junior High School and Hoffman-Boston Senior High School, which were all Black. And the Court ordered these to be segregated, and I was assigned to assume responsibility for the, ah, ah, junior high school which was in the Black community at the time and it was 1965.
Q: Now what, uh, why did you decide to become a principal?
A: Well, several reasons: one, just circumstance, I was asked to do it, and secondly, I felt that, uh, it was a challenge, it was, ah, something that needed to be done, I felt that. ah, I had a value system which would be useful in a situation as a principal.
Q: Could you expand on that, your value system that, why do you feel?
A: Well, my basic feeling is that, uh, America, the United States' schools have a responsibility, in our democracy to provide a total education for all of its citizens. And I felt at the time that that this might be, uh, politically and philosophically of the country we believed in, but was not a fact. There were severe inequalities: there were groups of people, whether by race or by economics, ah, had not, ah, been given full advantage of all of the services that a democracy has to provide for its citizens. And my feeling was that if I were ever in a position, I would do my best to help correct this injustice.
Q: And so you were given that opportunity when you became Principal of Hoffman-Boston?
A: Yes, and, well, as an Associate Principal.
Q: And then you were Principal at Thomas Jefferson. How would you describe Thomas Jefferson as a school during those years?
A: (sigh) Thomas Jefferson, ah, responded very nicely to the image that was existing in America at the time. It was, ah, the community was divided as America was in the Sixties, um, along many, many lines: philosophy of education, philosophy of politics, philosophy of economics, and philosophy of, ah, human, human values such as equality. And the community, ah, resisted very strongly, uh, the possibility of integrating, ah, Thomas Jefferson, or by now the same fact be segregating Hoffman-Boston. In fact, ah, these, ah, suits were pursued until three days before school opened so that, ah, we, ah, in planning for the opening of the school had three different plans: one, completely segregated system; two, a modestly integrated teaching staff; and three, a, ah, court-required total integration with the Black school into the White school. And the other school that was involved in this was Gunston, which is this building we're in at presently. But the suit in the courts, ah, related strictly to Thomas Jefferson. So the community was completely divided even not only among the Whites but among the Blacks, Er, there were people in the Black community who felt they should retain their own school. They feared the loss of identify, the loss of control, and, ah, the dissipation of their cultural, ah, area, because, uh, at that time Johnson Hill, ah, where the Black Hoffman-Boston was, among the Blacks was, ah, thought of as the cultural Black center of Arlington, and they, ah, ah, had developed, um, many wonderful kinds of cultural organizations and, ah, history and so forth, so it was a very, a community filled with a great deal of pride. So even among, in the Black community there was divisiveness, there was uncertainty as which direction they ought to go. Added to at that time the Nazi, ah, group in Arlington was very strong and very vociferous. So we used to have public hearings and at the public hearings the whole gamut went from the ultra, ultra liberal to the ultra conservative to the right wing including the Nazis. So we would have Nazis passing out hate literature as we walked into some of these meetings. So this is the kind of school Thomas Jefferson was in 1965 when we integrated.
Q: What kind of role, as Principal, do you feel that you played in the, ah, public / community relations?
A: Well, when I became, I became Principal in 1969. Sixty-five to sixty-nine, it was a, ah, very difficult time. There were all kinds of crises: sit-ins, demonstrations, things like that. And, ah, so in 69 I was asked to become the Principal, to take charge of the school, of both buildings. And, ah, I felt at the time that it was absolutely necessary, in order to evolve any kind of policy, any kind of direction, any kind of philosophies for the school that you had to have all of the people participating, in, who represented as many of the segments of the cou--, ah, of the communities possible. So you had to bring in a completely diverse group of people--people who were very suspicious of each other, did not accept each other's values, and yet had children in the schools. So the school, the school only reflects the homes in the community in which--the school is nothing more than a conglomerate body of homes and alleyways and street corners and pizza parlors and everything else you have--that's what a school represents--everything that is in the community. So in order to develop any kind of direction, you had to get some commonality.
Q: And how did you go about doing that?
A: And, ah, well I have a feeling that most people are, when you take away all the veneer and all the phoniness, ah, people, most people have very similar basic wants. They want to be happy, they want to achieve something in their lives, they want a certain degree of decorum and orderliness, purposefulness. They want their children to be at least, if not better than they were. So they want a decent education. They don't want to be threatened. They want to feel safe. They want to be happy. And so, ah, I would bring in, ah, the PTA, the teacher study groups, the parents, students and teachers, and together you have enormous kinds of groups, depending on the purpose of the meeting. And if you wanted to talk about curriculum, you had teachers and, ah, staff people and, ah, parents and kids. Ah, if you wanted to organize the PTA, you brought in parents who represented as much of the community as you could. And so it depends on the purpose of each group. I mean, we had enormous groups working at the same time, trying to establish some basic goals for the school. So, if we worked with the PTA, we talked about living standards, you know, what do we believe in, what, what about discipline in the school, what is appropriate, what is not appropriate, ah, ah, how should children behave in the cafeteria, how should they behave at the homes, ah, we couldn't deal without that and, ah, so instead of letting parents just, ah, deal with this through second and third parties and listening to their children, it seemed the only way you can learn is to come on in and sit with me while I eat, sit with me while I work. And you would all go sit in classrooms with teachers, walk down the halls, see where kids throw trash, and all that stuff. And you let them see. And then after people came in and observed, we would come back at evening and have a meeting on this and say, "What did you see? Do you approve of this? Do you want your child to throw, ah, trash in the hall?" "No!" Then, this is what I propose. "What do you think I should be doing?" And so you, you cannot attack problems in the general sense. You have to be specific. So you go from the most minute kind of problem to those dealing, like we had a sit-in at one time, um, by a Black, ah, militants. We had, the Black Panthers were pretty active at the time, and, ah, um, they wanted to, ah, ah, have a separate Black history. They didn't want to teach--to have history taught in public schools with, ah. they said Black history should be completely separate and not integrated with the regular history of the United States. These were students--8th and 9th grade students talking. And you know they had, ah, we know, I knew, for I knew the community fairly well--that you had to work with people long before this. And that, ah, ah, the, there were some agitators in the community who had other motives, and they were pumping the kids to bring in certain demands and so forth. So the only thing, only approach, we had a sit-in one day about this, and all the Black kids decided to sit in the cafeteria and they wanted to have it or else, on it--that's fine with me. Only, um, those kids were minors, so I said I can't do a thing until your parents give me approval to, let's get on the telephone and we can have-assistant principals roamed around, other teachers taking the names of the kids and getting on the telephone and calling their parents, in, right then--we want you here. Your kids need help.
Q: Now how many kids are we talking about?
A: We're talking maybe a hundred or so, and, ah, so, uh, when the kids saw we were calling their parents, of course, one by one, they got up and left. They didn't want their parents in because that wasn't the ball game they wanted to play. So, they all went back to class. And so, we called the parents in anyway since we want to hear, and we had our staff come in and we had a lot of Black teachers, and so forth, ah, ah, we had our teachers, so we, ah, had the parents come in and they sat with their--we asked the kids to come in--we knew who, ah, the leaders of the group were, so we said they have to come in with their parents in the evening, and we had a series of meetings--night after night, simply what is Black history, what is Black history, and, ah, what is history that is to be taught in the public schools. We had, uh, ah, Black teachers who had walked with Martin Luther King, and so forth and so on, so, they knew a little bit about Black history also. And we had, ah, first, of course, as a faculty, we decided the direction we wanted to cover and then, long before this, we didn't wait for a crisis to tell us what to do, what direction, but, uh, we, uh, uh, sat down with the parents and after a couple weeks of talking, uh, they got up and they told their kids that "You live in this country. You belong in this country. You're going to work and live and die in this country, so you'd better know what not only Black history is but what White history is. And Black history and White history cannot be separated. We don't have our own country--we live here. Therefore, we teach it as an integrated. And listen to what the teachers are recommending. This is what we are. But we don't want any of this foolishness. And if this happens again, the Principal doesn't have to take care of it--we will." And that was it. But, uh, this is, uh, this is the approach we took in everything that we did. Ah, teachers were committed. Uh, we didn't wait for the, uh, we had the most dirty, the filthiest school in the county, the old building. Ask people about it, what old TJ was like, as a reference. Ah, and, of course, you had your schedule of things. Buildings are supposed to be painted every seven years or five years, all that garbage, you know. And, ah, so, ah, when we, when I, the year I became Principal, I picked paint as a peace offering, and it cost money. What do you need? Brushes, paint. Who's going to paint? Don't worry about it. What color shall we paint? Well, that's your business--you're going to work in that classroom, I'm not. So what color do you want? So they brought the kids in and we decided what colors they wanted. And God, all the colors in the world, but ah, I wanted to use school money. So we bought the paint and the brushes and we painted the building ourselves, inside. And the halls were terribly depressing. I never saw anything (pause). And so we got, I talked to some people in maintenance, they came and sprayed beautiful light colors along the hall and so when the kids came in, you know, maybe 10% of them worked to, part of the summer painting the inside. So they took care of it.
Q: Would you, as a Principal, would you consider yourself to have been, ah, a manager of a building or an instructional leader, or?
A: Now, now, that's garbage. You have to be both. If they, ah, if they want someone to manage it, the head custodian could manage a building better than I could. Ah, you have to do everything. You have to be, you are responsible for everything, but you can't do everything, so it means you've got to get people who, first, you've got to develop a direction. And it's never one direction- it's never a straight line. Nothing--I don't think anything, um, in nature is straight, all the time. And, so, you have to develop, ah, a, ah, a direction or a process in which you ascertain the needs, the emerging needs. Somedays it's cloudy, somedays it rains, someday you need an umbrella, someday you need sunscreen on your body, so it depends on the situation. But you have to develop a system in which needs can be identified, understood, and then plans made to meet whatever needs to be done. So a Principal has to set, help set, help direct, help bring minds together so that he is not only an instructional person but the building, you know. The teachers need to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. So you've got to make sure that the building responds to what they, the important thing is what's going on in the classroom with the kids. So everything has to be, so you've got to have people who are open. Find them- they're doing the very important work, regardless of who they are. If they're serving food at the cafeteria, that's the most important thing in the world, and it is at that time to these kids. If they have a messy meal or no meal, that day is lost, you know. And if a room is hot, a teacher can't teach in it and the attitudes of the kids change and so forth, so. In other words, a Principal has to be aware of all the needs of the school and manage the resources that he has to make sure that the physical needs are subservient always to the instructional needs of the school. So you cannot be one or the other.
Q: You started to say about the most important thing, that, uh, any person is doing, you know, needs, they need to be aware that it's the most important thing. What kinds of techniques did you use to help your staff, your teachers feel that they were important.
A: I guess basic, first, is that you've got to accept the fact that other people can read and write and think. And, secondly, you have to, well, ah, a little story. Um, when I first started to teach, one of my dearest friends was a community leader. And he says, you know, Joe, whenever you work with kids, pretend that every kid is the son or the daughter of Chairman of the School Board, and that's been my philosophy in life. Nobody is less important than I am, less good, or less dignified than I am. And Nobody is more dignified or more important than I, so you've got to feel that teachers, when they come into the school, they have the same intrinsic worth as anyone else on the face of this earth- no more and no less. And so therefore, you've got to respect. I want people to respect my unique abilities. I expect people to respect the others. So in the school, my philosophy for children and teachers was simply, as long as we knew where we're going and we had common agreement, then we permit anyone and everyone to do, to go as far as they want, providing, and do it in their best way. All roads don't, there's not one road to heaven, there are many roads. So, I felt that a teacher or students, should be able to do, go as far as they wanted, using the means they wanted, providing: number one, it was in line with the philosophy of the school; number two, they didn't hurt or violate the rights of someone else; and third, they didn't hurt or violate their own rights. So as a teacher in the English Department, to be very specific, they'd say, all right, our goals are--we want. And we used to set goals or achievement goals each year in the school. We want our test scores to be raised 10 points or 5 points or 50, depending on what it was, you know. O.K., we want to do this. In order to do this, we've got to concentrate on writing skills. In order to write well, you have to know words--vocabulary. In order to have words, you've got to use words, and so forth. So we, ah, we knew what, what kind of basic skills had to be taught and so forth. Then how they did it was the English Department's. The English Department sat down and set goals for the year. You see, we had school goals, departmental goals. Then the teacher in each specific classroom, and we felt that we couldn't live on an island unto itself simply because, so every department planned, departmental. And there are a lot of commonalities, common activities they did, but a lot of diversity because everybody's personality was different, every class was different. So the way we achieved this is, your--each department developed the best way possible to achieve the goals in the department and in the school. The custodial, was the same way. How can we do this better? How do we organize? These are time periods which everybody's going mad--there's so much to do. These are relaxation periods. How do we, you know, da, da, da, da. And so I had the administrative staff. We would meet so that we understood what we're doing. And each Assistant Principal had specific departmental responsibilities, specific administrative responsibilities. Everything was written, nothing was, we had all of these goals and philosophies. We had the schoolwide philosophy, schoolwide goals, each department would write its goals. And the first night of the, parents would come back in the fall, they'd meet with the teachers, the teachers, you know, in the back-to-school night, every teacher gave every parent a sheet or two indicating the goals of this class are- ah, the specific areas we will cover, what are the requirements for the school, for the child in the class, what are the requirements out of class, what is homework, and a phone number. So every teacher gave every parent that. Every teacher gave every student that. So that everybody knew where we were going. But, how we got there was different. If you have 70 teachers or 50 teachers, you know, you don't all want them to be like Macekura or it'd be devastating, so that they had to be themselves. And that's where you had diversity, you had to. Ah, you had-- every teacher was very different, and we felt that way with students.
Q: If we're talking about the principalship, um, how, what do you think it takes to be an effective Principal?
A: Number one, unthreatened. Uh, number two, ah, ah, have a recognizable set of values. Uh, number three, have, have a very strong abiding, ah, belief and practice of the dignity of individuals. You must behave with dignity and an attitude inviolable--you don't violate that. You don't demean it. You don't diminish it. Even if the child is something horrible; he hurts another child at school, you don't destroy the child. You disapprove of the action, and you take all the steps that are needed by the individual. He's still just as important and, ah. I imagine these are the basic, with knowledge and everything else counts, but you have to have God. I think many people have, ah, are truly limited in their experiences. They know education, but they know nothing else. It's terrible, terrible.
Q: If you had it to do over again, um, what would you do to better prepare yourself for the Principalship? Or, or what suggestions would you have for those people who were seeking to become Principals?
A: Well, if I had to do it over again, um, there are minor, little things I would do for myself, but those are very personal. But, ah, other than that, ah, what I would suggest for people who are planning to be administrators is: number one, have as broad a background in as many fields as possible. Don't become 100% educators. Don't, uh, limit your friends only to people in education, by in large. So develop as many hobbies, interests, study as possible. Ah, number two, ah, get as broad an education as possible, in as many fields so one knows a little bit about what the sciences have to offer, the fine arts. And, ah, three, ah, work early at it, get involved with people early, you've got to. To be an educator, to be an administrator, you've got to, ah, be able to deal and work and talk with people, and so get as many experiences, uh, I, I think, a great thing is to get into local politics early, get involved in working with some political group, whatever it is. You need to get the experience, of, ah, ah, what it takes to be devoted to a cause and work for a cause. And, ah, the last thing, I guess, is to destroy any, ah, feeling that, ah, you've got to be a liberal or a conservative or any thing in between. Forget about labels.
Q: You started to say you might have, make some minor changes in your own career, ah, in terms of, ah, if you had it to do over, how you might better prepare yourself.
A: Well, it's a very minor thing. I don't think it applies to this.
Q: How would you, on a different topic, well related, how did you evaluate teachers?
A: Well, we have the county procedure, which is, it's a basic structure, um, and it's useful and it's required and you should do it. Ah, the, ah, way, ah, we used to do it, ah, is we used to talk openly with the staff and then we used to have in the school counselor or the department heads would meet with me on a regular basis. And we would ask them, there are people in your department that perhaps are not performing to the levels that we would like. Now the best way would be for you to help them, in other words, so work with them in your department, and I'll give you all the support. And we'd sit together, you and certain department chairs that I hired and the teacher involved would sit down and talk. Ah, we notice the controls in the classroom are not what they ought to be. We'd walk by and kids are walking and doing things on furniture and all this stuff, so therefore why don't we, ah, work with Mrs. Jones, who's working with you. We'll sit down and relax, such steps, and what we'd like to do first is observe, and say we used to have our teachers observe each other. So, for instance, a teacher who had a wonderful way of opening class and one who didn't, we'd say O.K., so and so, why don't you go and see Marilyn over here, she's has very nice ways of opening a class, in a very purposeful way. Sit over there and learn because we understand you're having, ah, some. That was the first step. So, it was very informal, but I think it did as much good as we did. Then we observed, ah a lot. I walked around the building all the time, so did the Assistant Principal, so we were in and out of classes all of the time, not necessarily, not formal observed, but so, uh, all the teachers in the school realized that we had, we always had a lot of visitors so, it was no big deal having people come in, so we were often going around and so very often we saw things, the Assistant Principal or I would call if we had, ah, each Assistant Principal was responsible for certain departments and so forth, so if they saw anyone in their departments that they needed to talk to, they would, say, just go right up to her and tell her about it, da, da, da, da, da, da. So, then if we, when we had formal evaluations, we would tell the teachers, ask the teachers to let us know when we could come in and we'd sit down with her, if it's all right with us, we'll, like to visit and tell us what we're doing, and tell me, give me in writing what I am to expect. And so we go and observe the classroom and then come back, have a conference with the teacher and then if the teacher, ah, was doing something very well we made sure we gave as much attention at least to the good things that were happening--you build on strengths, you don't build on weakness and, ah, so we'd give her as much, ah, praise as we can, ah, then, and then if we needed areas to be corrected, we either, at the first level, which would be departmental, and or giving some specific written suggestions, what to do, from the point of the administrator. Then you repeat the process.
Q: Did you ever have to fire a teacher?
A: Sure. Sure. And, uh, firing, you know, firing is not the day that the, the, ah, teacher is terminated is the, not the firing-- the firing comes long before. You have to work and work and work and work and then, ah, I never had to forcefully fire, anyone. But there were several teachers that, ah, after num-, numerous conferences, sorta realized that they just--there's something missing and they could not only work in our school but they weren't good for teaching. So we planned long before, that this would be it with them at the end of the school year, what we'd be doing. But along with that, we used to sit down and say, now listen, why don't you try this or try, and try to career plan at the same time. In other words, it wasn't an end, and we'd tell him, you know, it wouldn't be right for us to, if you're going to apply in another system, say you were doing a good job. It's not fair to you. The heck with the schools, if it's not fair to you. You're at a crossroads, you can either go back to school. Why don't you go back and get courses in this or, ah, you're good in this, why don't you go and do something, go in recreation, or go.... So we fired, people, we terminated people, and it was then that we had to fire, right, you know, you know, it wasn't give them a pink slip and it comes out as a surprise.
Q: When you were Principal, what would you describe as your biggest concern?
A: Biggest concern--to have an att--you say, ah, no, before I go into that you've got to realize the direction from which I was coming. Ah, remember there was, ah, ah, it was a crisis oriented community, so, so the biggest concern was to be sure that we had an orderly, purposeful, happy atmosphere in the school, and that was tough. Sometimes it wasn't happy. Because, ah, you, you and me solve your own business here--problems. And some were devastating. We, you know, we used to be written up in the paper, uh, fights, and all this stuff, and, ah, we used to have, ah, kids would be leaving school, you know the old TJ was right on Walter Reed Drive, where, ah, the Career Center is now. And, at the end of school, we'd have, uh, strangers come in cars lined up on one side of the street and Nazis setting out, giving out literature on the other one, ah, in front of the building, and your, you'd have people fight each other there and you'd have a police car down and things like that, so, ah, ah, it was tough. You see, that's what I'm saying, you have to have an atmosphere. So, you were on your toes all the time to make sure that the atmosphere, you had to make sure that there were not ex--circumstances outside of the community cutting in to disturb your home, your school, where we lived, and, ah, and you had to protect the kids. Kids are impressionable. And so often they know not what they do. And they're influenced, you know, they're young, they're dynamic and, ah, they, ah, often are influenced very easily.
Q: Would you, could you identify what was, what you would call your biggest headache then, during those times as being the Principal?
A: The biggest headache, uh, O.K. The biggest headache, at that time, now remember, it was during the time of desegregation, would have to be control, as, ah, discipline, and, ah, not only, I'm not talking strictly in class but the, ah, preventing outside influences from disturbing the orderliness of the school. That, that was it--because we were in a very physically vulnerable place on a very major thoroughfare and we had constant people coming in, ah, ah, who had other motives, older kids coming in from a high school, non-students, so we had, ah, the two radical groups, one from either end of the spectrum, and, ah, if we had a football game, or a basketball game, uh, like we used to have a lot of outsiders come in and disrupt the game, and activities, plays and so forth, so we sat down with the PTA and parents and had big meetings. What can we do to stop this? And so we finally came up with the, ah, requirement at all school affairs during that period, only students and their families were permitted to come to our affairs. If you were a non-student or non-related, you were not permitted, and in order to insure this, the PTA says it's difficult for you or I to do it. We'll hire police. And at the doors coming in, ah, if the child was with an adult, we'd say fine, but if young teenagers came in and we didn't know them and they couldn't be identified by, we'd have PTA people standing around to help, and they'd say out and they went out. And that cured it. And, ah, but see the community set the standard, to fit the school. So that, that's the biggest headache because all you need is one incident and everything else stops. The world stops, and you have to deal with it.
Q: Now, how do you think teachers, um, expect Principals to act, or what do you think teachers?
A: I think teachers first expect Principals to respect them, respect their, their selves as individuals and as professionals. Number two, teachers expect Principals to serve them. I don't mean to be subordinate to them, but to serve their needs, to provide the where with all for them to be able to teach in an orderly fashion in the classroom. Number three, they expect Principals to support them, if they're carrying out the policies of the school. I think, ah, ah, initially I would say that those are the three things, to be treated fairly and in a respect of self. If teachers, ah, do something they shouldn't be, well then people or somebody will say, well, teachers expect the support than others do, some do well, or not, but I don't believe that, and if teachers will not do things well or are involved in some sort of inappropriate kind of activity, they expect to be treated above board for that activity, you know, fine. So I would say those three things for people to be essential items of what teachers expect.
Q: How do you think we can improve teachers and/or education?
A: To, to help them do a better job and, ah, that's very general, you know, it's like apple pie. When I say to help them do a better job by having inservice, ah, activities in the school that come out of what the teachers would like to do. See, we know an awful lot more about teachers than we pretend, because, ah, when we say, are teachers doing their job, very often we mean, how are they acting when they're in front of kids. How about when they're sitting in their work area, or when they come to work and they're tired from the evening. What are their emotional needs? What are their guidance needs? And what I'm saying is there's all kinds of speakers to come in to reduce stress, and to mmm-- improve of dealing with crises, deal with, ah, family planning, of, ah, money. How they deal with their mm- funds. In other words you don't deal with teachers only with what they do in--you presume that the ult--, the only thing they're responsible for is what you're doing in front of the kids, with the kids, because you're paying them from the minute they walk to the building to when they leave. So, in other words, a Principal or a Supervisor, the people who are responsible for the activity, you know, can't isolate if you had a fight with your husband. Sure, you have to know how to deal with stress, or your child's caught growing marijuana in the basement by the police. And how do you deal with stress? So we've seen speakers come in to talk about your own values, stress management, uh, values clarification, a lot of things that were not, they need skilled help because there's a specific skilled help, how to reach specific things that they do in their classroom, not general things. There's too much generalization in school. So what you have to be is perceptive. You have to find out what they need and you'll know what they need if you listen to them.
Q: What was the toughest decision that you had to make as a Principal?
A: Toughest decision, ah, was, ah, getting the system to give us the kind of, ah, financial and fiscal assistance we needed.
A: Because, you see, the system, ah, um, deals and I guess it has to, any system has to deal with a, on a formula kind of basis, you know, planning, the, ah, ah...what do you call it, the planning factors and all that stuff. But remember, those are averages, and averages don't exist in real life. And so, ah, we had needs. We had ah, a lot of the kids couldn't read, I mean a large percentage of our kids, we used to have on the standardized test scores the lowest, I mean, we were like in the teens and the twenties. And how could we, how could anyone say that TJ should get the same amount of dollars and teachers as Williams burg does. So that was a constant fight and when we ended up, if you looked at, ah, ah, the scores from the last year I was there and the year before, our scores were among the highest in the county. And we had the, ah, largest minority group. So that was, the thing was to get the system to understand where we operated. See what I, what I used to do to teachers was say if you need, if you're out some place and see something you want and it's up to $15.00, buy it--I'll give you the money. Then if you need something more, I'll get you the money if I agree with you. Because who knows better what they need in the class room? I don't. I never did.
Q: What do you think of the testing procedures?
A: Absolutely necessary, but, ah, no more necessary than the clock on the wall or the bells that ring. They're good guides, somethings begins, something might end so forth, ah, but, ah, ah, they're only guides and they should be used again by the teachers. They're useless if they're only used by the School Board, the, ah, Associate Superintendent, and the Principal and the PTA. But if enough time is taken and I mean time that has to be taken or each teacher in the school looks at the test scores, looks at the breakdown, what are the--I know there's fractions or punctuation or what is it that is not responding to what we're teaching and then translate that, then, you see, what I'm trying to say, if it's used as an instructional tool, then it's good, they're really good, but if it's just used to PR--bull.
Q: What do you think about the Standards of Quality?
A: Great, great, great. I think, again, ah, I'm not, ah, so much impressed with the Standards, per se, But what they have compelled the state, you see, it's like when you walk into a classroom you see a teacher, you can not tell staff, boy, is Mrs. Jones super, she is great--you've committed yourself to her, you've committed yourself to her quality and you can't go out tomorrow and say she stinks. And that's what the Standards of Quality have done to the State hierarchy, bureaucracy, the county bureaucracies. They have to go out and say these are great. They are good, they are good. But it made, it forced them, it has forced bureaucracies to commit themselves without realizing what they're doing. Now and if you noticed when they first came out, they were just PR, and recently our Board finally has, ah, ah, built up, ah, has complied with the planning factors, you know, they're coming as near as possible to the funder, actually funding as much of the Standards of Quality as they possibly can. It's a good change. So that's why they're good.
Q: What are your feelings about the responsibility, or the, ah, Principal for identifying future school administrators?
A: I guess, that's a part of the same process, you know, like, ah, identifying teachers, and so forth so on. A good Principal doesn't want to be married to every teacher in the building for the rest of their lives. In other words, if you see somebody that's real good, if you really respect that person, you're always trying to say, now what possibly would you like to do in the system? Is there some place, something? What can we do, ah, why don't you take courses in administration that has really got? Ah, the fact that the Assistant Principal that, ah, was just assigned to Williamsburg, Marion Spraggins, she taught at our school. And I always saw in her the possibility of being a good administrator, and, ah, years back I said, Marion, you've got to do this--she couldn't, she didn't believe it. You see, you got to believe it, you have what it takes, you really do. So take your courses, get certified, so that when the opportunity comes, you just don't apply because you're a woman and you're Black, you apply because you, number one, you have the certification, number two, you have the ability and then compete.
Q: Now what kind of qualities did you see in her that encouraged, that made you encourage her to go on?
A: The ability to see the, ah, good perspective, to have a good perspective, to understand problems in the broader context, number one. Number two, ah, ability to manage details within that understanding, ah, understand and translate it into a--. Along, I guess, with number one, again, um, warmth and, ah, uh, the belief in the dignity--everybody was important--no kid in her class was--any better than any other kid. And she wasn't threatened. She wasn't frightened, she involved parents, so these kind of things. She's bright, you know with good--I haven't said anything about bright. I think teachers have to be very bright. I think educators, all of us, have to be very bright to understand things, to learn, to realize that learning is tough, exciting and have a very curious mind--and she had that.
Q: How do you account for your success as an administrator?
A: Oh, (he laughs) if there were, if there were success, and, you know, I think there was. I think I was a good Principal. I think it's a matter of your total life picture. What you want. The fact that, ah, ah, you see, there's so many people out there that can help. There's so many great people around, that if you just recognize that, you're going to be successful. See, there are other people much smarter than you or I, they're working with us, and you just understand that, and help them do their job, and you're going to look good no matter what you do, you see. They're good, good people, now I imagine the success is that, ah, I feel that other people are very, very important, and want to do things. And if you give them the opportunity. Anyone, even a little grandson, if you just give him a chance to do things, he wants to do things. Not what you want, but what he wants to do. He had just proven the other day that he could jump, he put pillows on the floor and he could jump over two pillows--it's great, and, so that's, you know, if there's a reason for success, not that there is, if circumstance demands, controls that sort of, you know, but if you respect people, you, you make it.
Q: Why did you choose to retire when you did?
A: Bluntly? Ah, I was selfish. I was doing well, things were going very well. It was the type of thing that, ah, I could have stayed on for, coasted. I didn't have to work too hard because I had good people, you know. It was not a problem, no I could ease by, take days off if I wanted to, but I didn't. I never took many days off. Um, Um, I was selfish. There were so many other things I wanted to do and I did. I used to write. I, ah, collect rare books and periodicals and art. And I used to do that on weekends and, ah, my son had gotten married and his child was born in January, and I retired in January. And there were things I wanted to do just with my wife. She's been good and supportive. I felt that I was obliged. Because, you see, when you're a school Principal, the community owns you to a great extent. They, if a child runs away, the mother calls you at one o'clock in the morning saying what do I do? I had to take time. And you're having guests over to the house and a mother calls and she's upset or a father calls and he's upset--it's important, and you have to listen, you have to take time, and it's not, and, ah, or a young girl on the faculty is having a problem with her boyfriend at one o'clock in the morning she calls you, saying, hey, Joe, can you come over? It's Uncle Joe, so it's out of the house you go. So they own you, to a large extent, well, I felt, ah, I was 62 and felt pretty well, would look as good today, so, I says, ah, it was time to do things that Joseph wanted--for myself, for my family, and, ah, to spoil my grandson. And this is what I do, buy and sell art and I like it, have things in auction, various months, a number of things. I deal with people from as far as Paris to Canada to Whitehouse in the Yukon, selling things and buying. So I'm doing what I want to do for myself and nobody else.
Q: But then you still come back and substitute from time to time?
A: Oh no. No.
Q: Oh you don't. OK.
A: No, I don't need to. When I retired, I, ah, ah, worked for two years with Hank, and, ah, writing position papers and special projects. Ah, since then, but I don't go back, I haven't been, I've been back to school once. You, you see, I make no bones about it. That was an important, satisfying, good part of my life.
Q: And how many years was the Principalship?
A: From 1969 to 1984. And I'd worked in the system since 1950, so. Oh yeah, I do what I want to. And I'm, ah, I'm out of the house. My wife and I don't spend 25 hours a day together. I'm, I have my things that I do. I go wandering around, and Effie has her things to do.
Q: In terms of, of your Principalship, is there something that I should have asked you, that I haven't?
A: Yeah, you never ask how did we do things. How did we make things work.
Q: Please share some of that with me.
A: Anybody, everybody could say how--what they believed and what they would like to do, but the success of any venture could allow to what has been done. And this is the kinds of things we did. On instruction, we would, teachers would talk with the parents, and we'd say to kids, who do you, what do you do at home. And many of the parents couldn't, just by the, had to exist, they had to live, work two jobs. They didn't have time. And if they had to buy something--they didn't buy magazines for the house. They bought food or bought whatever, TV's or cars. So we'd say, listen, we have magazines, we have books in our store- room, nobody's ever gonna use. Nobody, we'll just give you them, the magazine, but spend 30 minutes a night. And if you don't, if you can't do it, have an older brother or sister or an uncle or, if you ca--, if nobody's home, make sure that child is at least reading something 30 minutes a night. Work with them. If you need, ah, these are, these are school books, no they're your books now. You keep them. I guess we shouldn't have done that, we shouldn't have done that, but we did. And so, ah, in other words, we tried to have, ah, people, use, have materials at hand that hadn't normally had them. We used to have our, ah, conferences, we'd have teachers and, um, counselors and Principals in the building at night and we all had a schedule, so anyone who wanted to walk in on Tuesday, Thursday night, didn't have to call for an appointment. Come in for any reason they wanted. So they could come, we used to have, ah, ah, a, ah, a night in which, um, we'd open our classrooms and kids, we'd have kids come in and, all the classrooms and they'd do what they did during the day and so parents would walk around with the teacher, and the teacher would be in front, in the classroom and they could ask the kids and the teachers in the actual classroom, what's going on? What went on for the day.
Q: Was this on a regular basis?
A: Uh huh, we used to have it a couple times a year. We used to have "Hands-On Night so that parents could come in, who worked, and everything from the Shops to Home Ec, to, ah, Library, whatever. They could do anything. We had 'em, ah, doing that. We organized the first National Junior Honor Society. We were sent, ah, the award for the first junior high school in the county. We were about the worst school in the county, the toughest school. First Junior Honor Society. And, ah, we made a big thing out of it, man. And our standards were high. We didn't look for an out to it, we looked. Kids who got in had to really make it. And then, ah, for school identify, we need a banner, so we had a huge contest, an art contest. There were kids who drew, ah, drew big banners, ah, you know, designs. We went to the, ah, community, business people, we used to go to all the business people in the community for all kinds of help, for money, and, ah, so we asked for money and they gave us money. So we had a big prize lined up for $100 and 50 and so forth. And we had, ah, the judges, the PTA, parents, somebody from the Ed Center, somebody from the community, unrelated to the school, an artist. And so the judges came in and judged things, and there was a hundred of, ah, you know, entrants. So they, so then we, ah, I needed more money because the big banner cost more, and we still have it. It's over at TJ, if they have it, you might ask to see it--it's gorgeous. And, ah, we, ah, had to go out and get more money because it cost a couple of hundred bucks, and, ah, so we got that from some business people. And in order to make the award, we had the county judges, I don't remember who it was, to come down, present it to the student body, to the, and all that stuff. Ah, then we had, ah, ah, academic honor cards. Every child who made A's got one color, B's another, C's another, and so forth. Then we had citizen honor cards, da, da, da, da. So students were selected by, ah, recommended by their, ah, other students and approved, ah, ah, nominated by the students, recommended by the teacher, cards, uh.
Q: Did those cards then have privileges that went with them?
A: Ah, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes. We used, we, to go to McDonalds and get McDonalds and all that stuff like that. What else did we do? We, ah, let's see. Oh, we had Pride Week, in which, ah, we, ah, we used to be Pride Month, Pride Week, in which we, ah, looked around the school to see what we could be proud of. Everything from beautiful classrooms to performance to teachers to students. And we'd have a big assembly and give certificates. We gave more awards in that school to kids and parents and, um, ah, then we had, ah, for the staff, we would bring in, ah, consultants to work with them on instructional matters. And we had people from Sidwell Friends. The Principal would come over and hear what we're doing in English and go in all the buildings and they came over and looked at what we were doing and he was going to consolidate, Sidwell Friends, the kind of activities. Sidwell Friends, that very high-class school at the cathedral, National Cathedral in Washington. So it's a very, ah, there where only the very, very wealthy go, and so forth. And, ah, we had, ah, teacher who wanted to take kids across the country, 3-4 boys, in a van for the summer. So we went out and got the, the community to support, the, the business people to support it, financially. And so she could write and send back stories ever so often, and it was written up in all the papers and that stuff. So, ah, we had, ah, all kinds of activities going on. We had community activities with the PTA, and parents, students, staff recognition, do that, as you went along, you weren't only talking about things, but things were happening all the time. And, and, ah, then, then our instructional program, we, ah, we had the seven, we had the first seven-day period for enrichment, the students, seven-period day, and, ah, this, this was developed by the staff, because there were many subjects that we couldn't teach--we just didn't have time. So we used to have that once a week, and we'd have the seventh period and students would select, ah, subjects, and we got these subjects from the kids and from the staff--everything from chess to, ah, higher math, to--. And we would select that, we would do that. The staff developed it--no extra pay, no extra compensation, and, an, ah, we'd do that. Then we'd have, ah, you know, you have science fairs. We had, uh, creative writing fair. First one in the county, in which we developed a packet. We had a science fair for the, the science kids, but what about the kids who can write. So we developed into having, ah, poetry, prose, and book illustration. And we got artists to come in and writers to come in for months on a periodic basis, and these were nationally known writers, too, ah, to come in and they would, um, come in and work with the kids in small groups, to teach them how to write, how to do the, illustrate, and so forth. And then the kids would write theirs and then we'd have artists and we'd have parents who were real good in, that was their specialty in these areas, come in and, ah, judge the entries. I went to the community and got money to give prizes, and so we had some fun. It was really exciting for the kids to involve them. So these are the kind of things you did. We, ah, there's so many more things, but, you know, some of them just don't come to mind. And, ah, you have to have many things going on that derive themselves from the interests of the needs of the kids. So, you just cannot believe it, you've got to practice what you believe in.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: Nah, I could, but, ah, you know, they just don't come to mind.
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