This is an interview with Mrs. Margaret (Peggy) Moles in her home in Roanoke, Virginia on her experiences as principal at Oak Grove Elementary School.
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Q: Peggy, if you would, tell us about your background, your childhood school experiences and circumstances leading to your surrounding your principalship.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: All right, I grew up in Bedford County. I have one brother and one sister and I grew up on a farm. We enjoyed farm animals. We had all kinds of animals. We had calves, we had horses, sheep. We played with ground hogs and squirrels. We had goats. One of my strongest memories of my childhood is playing with goats, dressing them up in clothes, putting them to bed, cutting their hair, making harness for them. We had a wonderful childhood. My parents had a very strong work ethic and I think they instilled that in me. Then, we had a dairy farm and I worked every morning and every afternoon in the dairy. We had a very, very close family. We would work together. My brother and I would build tree houses and the goats would tear them down. We also were entrepreneurs. We started a turtle farm. We went out and captured turtles or terrapins and made a little farm for them. We made harness for them. We had a little boat that we made and we christened it. We made it the Mary Jane. We took it down to a little creek that was near our house and we let it go and then caught it, tied it up, thought we'd go back the next day because it was leaking profusely, and we had a big storm that night and it washed our boat away. And we never did know what happened to the Mary Jane. But we had a wonderful background, I think as far as interaction, family ties. My mother would read to us at night, that was our main form of entertainment. I was very competitive, from I guess, from the time that I was born. I would compete with my brother and then my younger sister as well. I entered lots of competitions. In 4 H Club, that I guess was my first experience with being competitive. I had a garden that I used as a 4-H project, calves, all kinds of farm animals and so forth. I was a cheerleader. I played basketball. I ran for every office that was available in the school. And, I guess, some of my most rewarding experiences came through the 4-H Club and through the Future Homemakers of America. I had held some state offices. I won some national awards in 4-H. I got to go to Washington as one of 200 delegates from across the United States, meet the President, who was then President Eisenhower. And, of course, I thought that was just the ultimate. I was valedictorian of my class in high school. So, you can tell that I was very competitive because I worked for what I got. It didn't just fall in my lap. I went to Radford College after graduation. I graduated there in three years. While I was there, there again, I was very competitive and ran and held some state offices. I had the distinct honor of being in summer school sessions, the honor council president one year, and the student government president the next year. But, of course, that was in the summer school sessions. I was named outstanding freshman my first year there at Radford. And, then when I graduated, I was listed as outstanding graduate in the field of education. So, it was a good experience I think to go there. Perhaps if I had it to do over, I might not finish in three years. But, I did enjoy being in a sorority and a dance club and all the things that you're supposed to enjoy I suppose when you're in college. I went into the agricultural extension work after I graduated, was there for six years, and then I was asked to come to VPI to be; work at the state office. But I had a family so I decided that was not for me. So I decided to stay home and raise my family for a couple of years. After a couple of years, however, I decided I wanted to get back in the work field, so I became a director of a private kindergarten. I was there for three and a-half years and while I was there I started working on an advanced degree, my masters. I began my masters at UVA, University of Virginia, and had enough hours to, oh, be about three-fourths of the way along, I suppose. And decided then to go into public education. I was hired to teach, at first kindergarten, but then they switched me the same year to fifth grade and I was in the classroom at the school, the public school, Green Valley Elementary School for two years. The next year, I became Assistant Principal and then I became a principal after one year as Assistant Principal. I guess my competitive spirit carried into my professional life because I always tried to work as hard as I could and take the school as far as I could. I sometimes envy people who are less intense and less task oriented cause I think they probably enjoy life more than I do, although I get a lot enjoyment out of trying to work and do well. Right now, in retirement, I am trying to remind myself frequently to slow down, enjoy the day, and smell the roses. When I entered administration actually, it was a bit by accident. I was, as I said, working on my masters degree and my principal saw the opportunity for me to take some classes right at the school level. She arranged for me to do that and there were a number of us in the school who were doing it but then she came to me and asked me if I would be her Assistant Principal the following year, that was my second year in the classroom in public school. And, I told her that I needed some more time in the classroom, but she told me I didn't have a choice, that my future would be as Assistant Principal in that school. I was honored, of course, so I decided to go ahead and accept it. And, so the next day, the next year actually, that I was in the school, I became Assistant Principal because the next day, the Superintendent came to me and said, your principal has recommended that you be the Assistant Principal and that was when I decided I would accept it. One day he came to our school and he was asking our views of education and what we thought children should be doing in school, what we thought children should be gain from the school experience, and I expressed my opinion when he asked me directly. He went straight to the Principal's Office and told the Principal who was going to another school the following year that he was going to have me become Principal at Green Valley. So I was extremely excited about that. As I said, I have already been a bit task oriented and I have enjoyed leadership roles. I was always trying to excel in our school. I wanted to be the very best that it could be. Our school was one of the first, was the, in the first group of 210 elementary schools recognized nationally as a School of Excellence which is now the Blue Ribbon School designation. That was in 1985-86. We won the state PTA award, outstanding PTA award. Our school was top in school PTA membership for the last 12 to 14 years. And then, of course, this past year I or the year before last I guess, 1995-96, what is this, this is this past year that I was named National Distinguished Principal and that was just the ultimate for me it was the highest honor I think that I could have received. Some of the things I think that have been just very, very satisfying for me was working collaboratively with Virginia Tech to do some classroom research. I worked with Dr. Niles and Dr. Lalick. They would come into the school, work with me, go in the classrooms, interact, and then work with the teachers and with me on writing up their observations. We were, at our school, one of nine schools in Virginia to be accredited through the school renewal process which was just beginning a few years ago and that was a very rewarding experience as well. And now I am serving as a consultant in our division for the school renewal Southern Association accreditation process. If you would walk through my school, Oak Grove Elementary School, you would see a 1950s building. It was on a small plot of land and parking was all around it. Its very crammed and jammed. But, when you walk in the front door, there are flowers on each side of the entry. The Garden Club even gave us an award for having the most attractive school in the area. When you walk into the front foyer, the plants and comfortable seating would be found right there in the foyer, the 3-D story characters in the cafeteria which is directly beyond the foyer. There are seasonal mobiles hanging from the ceiling. There's a fish tank in the front foyer. We tried to make a real warm, invitational kind of setting. There's a picture directory of all the staff members as you enter the office door so that people will know who the teachers are, and all staff members are, and would be able to recognize or call them by name if they were looking for a particular person and didn't know the people. The colorful halls are filled with children's work, writing, creations, art, all kinds of things. There's a herb garden in the courtyard which is in the center of the school and students use that for learning. There's separate playground equipment for the younger children and the older children. We had computers, both in the classroom and in the computer lab. Unfortunately, we have trailers that are also in the courtyard because we have overcrowded conditions. Oak Grove is a rather popular school and people request that their children attend there and we were gratified that they like us. You'd find a neatly dressed staff. They only wore blue jeans on special events, like blue jean day or on certain field trips, because I really do believe that its important for teachers and school people to dress professionally if they expect to be treated professionally. I think we are in a profession and that we need to act and dress and look the part of professionals. It is a very welcoming staff. They try to speak to all the visitors in the hall when they come in. They are very warm and caring with children and we have a secretary, the front line person, whose voice has a smile. She makes every visitor, every child, parent, and every staff member feel good about coming into the office and into Oak Grove School. She is not only very warm and caring individual, she is also very bright. She has piloted a lot of the computer programs, management programs, for the school division so I think that to her goes a lot of the credit for the warm, inviting atmosphere that permeates the entire Oak Grove School.
Q: Could you next discuss your philosophy of education?
A: I think my personal philosophy of education would start with building the self-esteem of the child, and for the teachers. I think that the school is a community of learners, that we need to look at everybody as a learner. We need to make every child feel that they are special, that they are loved and to try to create a real warm creative environment that makes the learning come alive, make the learning experience a motivational experience. I think that if you have positive climate and children are excited about what it is you are doing then the learning will come. And I do think that you must have high expectations. If you make the learning interesting and you have high expectations and then you consider the learning modality of each child then I think you're going to reach most of the children. Whole learning is very important for most children. I think that monotonous worksheets, skill and drill kinds of things that are repetitious over and over for most children are not nearly as effective as a more holistic approach. I also think that you need to make the tasks age appropriate. You need to have high expectations, but I think you need to make the expectations appropriate for the age of the child. If you have the creative spelling, temporary spelling, whatever you want to call it, there are different name apparently for it right now, but when you have spelling then it should be age appropriate. If kindergartners are spelling phonetically according to what they think the word sounds like, then that might be appropriate. As they get into second, third, and fourth grade, then, of course, I think you need to have higher expectations about correct spelling. But I do think it is very important that children be able to express their views without thinking initially about am I spelling every single word correctly and is the teacher going to be slashing my work with red marks before I even get my thoughts down. And we found that this was a very, very good technique to use with children. It really had the children being creative, thinking through the writing process, and being able to write. If you ask a child, can you read, they will probably say no at the very early stages of learning. But if you ask them if they can write, most children will say yes because they believe they can and they can read back to you what it is that they have written. This philosophy, I think, has evolved from just watching children learn and watching what parents want for their children. And then on a more personal level, I can even apply it to what I would want right now for my grandchildren. Parents frequently would request certain teachers simply because they did have a very warm, invitational, creative climate. Not so much because their academic standards were so high, but because they got children excited about learning and then test scores of all kinds would reflect the fact that the children were learning. So if I would choose teachers for my grandchildren, then I would choose those same teachers for all children in the school building. When I see children blossoming under this kind of atmosphere, then I realize that that is what learning is all abouta positive, exciting, invitational, warm climate that has also high expectations that come. I also evolved into this philosophy by reflecting on the teaching qualities that I admire most in teachers that I observe. I evolved into it by working with Virginia Tech students, administrative interns. The administrative interns and I would do classroom observations and then we would talk about what it is that we were seeing. We would reflect on what makes good teachers. I worked with Dr. Niles and Dr. Lalick on this very same thing, watching what happens with teachers, how children learn, what positive reinforcement could make happen. Not only does it happen that way with children, it happens with teachers as well because if you give positive reinforcement and feedback to the teachers, then I found that they worked even harder, so obviously, that would still apply to the children as well. And perhaps it's also kind of innate because I like to please and when someone says "hey, you're doing a good job," then I would even work harder. So I think that's the reason and the way that my philosophy evolved.
Q: How do you go about creating a successful climate? If you would, then describe a successful and an unsuccessful experience in climate building.
A: Well, I like to consider myself as an invitational leader. I've been, had many different kinds of names. I've been called many different kinds of names, but invitational is probably the one that I would consider the most applicable to me. Some people have said transitional leader, some people have called it different things. But most people will come aboard if they are invited to come aboard. When I come up with new ideas, or hear new ideas that the teachers are proposing it's almost scary actually when you think about how easy it is to get people excited about an innovation or moving in a direction that you really want to see happen. But I like to listen to concerns of the teachers and to the community, to ask questions, to ask opinions, ask them how the children are learning, how to the children come to this decision, or how do the children learn this process, or what, how did the children move into where they are now. I try to maintain a sense of humor. I think that's very, very important in this field and sometimes you get so caught up in the task that you forget about some of the little things that get people to relax and feel good about what it is that they're doing. I try to be enthusiastic about what the teachers are accomplishing and about what the children are achieving. And then, of course, as I mentioned earlier, try to give praise when it's earned, not empty praise, I think that's false and I think people see right through it. But I think that if you respect people and you make them feel that they are respected and, and then you feed this back to them, they I think they will perform. I also try to create opportunities for peer interactions. I think it's very important that teachers have a chance to talk and to reflect and to interact. And then I tried to also provide an atmosphere of, of pride, a feeling of pride. I think there are many ways that you can do that by recognitions, both privately and publicly. And then giving the people in the building a chance to participate in professional conferences, go to seminars, and let them choose the areas that they really, really felt strongly about because if a person buys into what it is that they're doing rather than it being something that's handed down to them from above, then I think they're more committed and want to be successful in what it is that they're doing. We try to develop a team that would always look for ways to enhance positive feelings in the building. We called it our "school climate team." Of course, that's part of the school renewal process. The climate team would plan weekend getaways. The entire staff would be invited, of course. And we did such things as go to a poetry festival up in Winchester. We did a whale watching weekend where we just, actually have done that several times, went down to Virginia Beach and went out on a whale excursion. We didn't see any whales, but we had a good time. Went to Asheville, North Carolina, for a retreat and many others. We've done many just short little excursions with the entire faculty being invited. We would have "First Friday" parties and now they're what they call "Thirsty Thursdays" where they go out together and have a good time. We did birthday recognitions, teacher recognitions for outstanding performances. And of course, all kinds of lunches and dinners and would say, "hooray, hooray, it's 50 percent day." And that would mean that we were maybe 50 percent of the way through the year and we'd send out for special treats for everybody or put little special treats in teacher boxes and staff boxes. Not just teachers, all staff members. Our parents constantly showed appreciation to the staff as well. They would give them all kinds of special treats. Then sometimes we'd just give them money. Just put a check in their box from the PTA. Said, "hey, we think you're doing a great job, would you like some extra money just to buy things for your classrooms." Sometimes they would say in the spring this is Flower Day and ask all the children to bring flowers to their teacher and they'd give them great big vases to put the flowers in and each teacher would have her desk covered up with flowers that day. We had special spirit days. We constantly worked on the feeling tone in the building and with faculty involved in helping improve the climate and work on the climate, it made it even more meaningful. It wasn't just something that I came up with. It was frequently a joint decision. I always liked to take the opportunity to brag on the teachers at faculty meetings and in public meetings of whatever nature. I thought it was important because there were many outstanding people in the building and they were always getting award "mother of the year" or "outstanding teacher" here or there and then as I said we got some real nice schoolwide honors like the PTA award and the Blue Ribbon School designation and that instilled a feeling of pride in the school. I think probably one of the unsuccessful attempts at school climate was, came when I asked or dismissed a teacher and there were a number of teacher that did not, you know, work out at Oak Grove School for whatever reason they, by design, we decided that that was not a good fit, maybe five or six or so during my tenure there. But this was my very, very first year as a Principal. And I think it's real important that principals establish themselves before they attempt staff dismissal as I did. I thought that everybody knew what was happening that it was such a bad situation that everybody would just rally behind me. I didn't realize, it being my first year as a principal, that peers always support peers. And so when the teacher was dismissed and she was a first year teacher, but it was just an impossible situation. Children climbing out the windows and doing all kinds of wild things and I would go in and calm the room down but it wouldn't last and it was a dangerous situation. So I called for assistance from the central office and asked that the teacher be dismissed and she was and then, of course, the teachers all became frightened because they were afraid that maybe they would be next on the list. But I soon was able to deal with that. Of course, I couldn't discuss the personal situation, but I was able to finally to pull out of that and developed a sense of trust. And I think that's really, really important that you have the trust of the staff before you attempt any drastic kinds of measures as I did at my first year on the job. That first year I was really struggling to stay on top of everything anyway. I had all new people, all new teachers in the primary grades. I had a new custodian and a new secretary and I was the new Principal. So it was an interesting year. But we made it.
Q: What does the staff and community expect of the principal?
A: I think teachers expect that a principal should know what's going on, in the building, on the state scene, at the national scene, and that the principal have a visionwhat it is that they expect to happen in that school. They want to know what the leader wants and expects but then they want a voice and I think that's important. That if teachers do have a vested interest in what is going on they buy into it and they participate and they want to make it happen as well. Now more than ever, people used to I think be content to do what they were told to do, but I have tried to build the participatory decision making process with my staff and have them be more informed and to make informed decisions jointly with me and to take risks but be accountable, try new things, try innovations, and then I think that they like to feel appreciated. They like to be recognized when they do a nice job. They like to be given the autonomy, but I do think that they expect accountability. I think that they would not respect me as a principal if I told them just to do whatever and they did and there was no accountability for what was accomplished. I think the teachers do like to help make decisions for our school. They like to feel worthwhile. They like to feel significant. They like to learn new techniques and they like to be given the opportunity and treated as professionals in order that they might attend conferences beyond the school walls. Not just staff development sessions that I create at the school level. They like to have a voice in staff development sessions that are being conducted at the building level. And then they like to try their own ideas and go to staff development sessions that support their own ideas. And then feel supported when they try to implement them. The community has very similar expectations of the principal. While I think all parties used to just take direction and do what they were told, I think now that the community, as well as the teachers, like to have a voice in what is happening. They like to express their opinions and they like to have them heard. They like for somebody to listen to what it is that they're saying. But above all, I think they want their children to love being in the school. At the elementary level, I think that that is one of the most important facets. They want their children to have teachers who care about them, and they feel that if we care about the children, then they will feel good about the school. If we send the children home happy in the afternoon, and that doesn't that they don't have work and that we don't have high expectations and that the children are not learning a great deal. But first of all, they want their children to feel that they are cared about. And they expect the principal to make sure that that happens and that their child has a teacher and works with staff members who are going to feel that way about them, have kind, loving, supporting demeanors so that they can enjoy being in the school. And teachers who will value each child's uniqueness and try to meet that child's individual needs, not just treat them all as, as you know, a mass, but treat them as individual children.
Q: Peggy, could you give your views on parental involvement and how you interacted with parents and citizens who were important to the well being of the school?
A: I think parental involvement is absolutely essential to the well being of the school and the well being of the children within the school and certainly important to the teachers in their functions. The principal is not in charge of their thinking and in charge of what it is that they want. I think that the principal has to give them a voice and then within reason work with the parents in any way that they possibly can to make a successful experience for each child. I think the principal has to set the rules that are necessary for the school operation when they wonder about having to sign in, we need to explain to them that it's for the safety of their children. And when we make this explanation, then they understand and they will work us and they will cooperate. I like to explain my expectations to all new groups of parents whether it be kindergarten parents or parents of children in other grades that are coming in to the school. Because if they have an understanding of what the expectations are, then they will be much more cooperative. I like to include parents on controversial decisions such as assembly programs that could cause some uproar in the community. I frequently interacted with them on situations that were a little bit on the touchy side. And then after I would get the input and interaction of the parents, it would usually be an ok thing because they would support it out in the community if they heard discussions going on. I like to include them to and hear their voice on financial decisions. The decisions for the maintenance of the building, the kinds of things they expected us to do, the kinds of instructional purchases, major instructional purchases that we had to do. If we did that and had information on what it was that money was being used for then they were much more willing to help in our fund raising activities that were conducted through the PTA. I was very lucky to have a wonderful, wonderful community. They were intelligent patrons. They were very supportive patrons. They were very vocal patrons. They could be as vocal one way as the other way. So it was imperative, I felt, that I take the parents with me and that I explain to them not only the areas that I have discussed, but any new directions that we might be going instructionally. When we would try, we tried the pilot program in handwriting and the first thing that I wanted to do was explain what it is that we're doing and why we're doing it and what I thought the outcome would be. When we tried, you know, create initially when we were trying creative or invented spelling or transitional spelling. The parents were included. It was discussed with them. When we were doing whole language approaches, the parents were included. Consequently, I had very little, if any, controversy over the process and as you well know, that is a controversial area across our nation. And it's not that our parents were not involved and intelligent enough or informed enough to take issue, but they were there, they heard our explanations and they would buy into it with a reasonable explanation. I also had some very good people who were actually implementing the program. So that was another reason that many, that many of the programs were successful. Then I would ask the parents to help make things happen. Ask them to come in and be involved in the school. I don't think our doors ever opened that there were not parents in our building helping, whether it was reading buddies with children who needed either more challenge or more assistance or whether it was the writing program, whatever program, computer program, whatever program it was there parents were there helping us because we wanted them to be there. I thought that it was important that not only did I ask the parents to serve in an advisory capacity to me, but that I help serve in a advisory capacity, to them as well when discussions would come up about any of these issues then I would serve as an advisor in telling them my views and in return then they would have a better understanding of what was going on. I tried for it not to be an autocratic kind of thing. I wasn't dictatorial in my views or tried not to be, but we would be interactive and then with a situation of that nature, a participatory decision process, then of course, I would accept the outcome in most situations and go along with what the majority of the people who were informed would want. And again as I said, I tried to discuss my philosophy and what it is that I wanted of the community early in my involvement with the parents.
Q: Would you next discuss your philosophy and process at teacher evaluation?
A: Well first of all, I think it is extremely important that the teachers know exactly what the expectations were. Not only on the evaluation form itself, but what my visions were and what our whole community of learners would be working on together. I thought it was important that I hit that very early in the school year and usually I would do that at the very, very first session that we would have. We would always have a fun time together where we would have breakfast the first day of school, and then following that I would try to give my views of our expectations for the year. Those views would stem from the kinds of goals that the staff had established in the previous spring and also the kinds of things that were on the cutting edge in education and what I had evolved in to throughout the summer when I'd had some time to think and reflect and study. I think evaluation is, needs necessary, needs frequent feedback as well. I think that it's not appropriate to surprise somebody with the fact that they are not exactly doing what it is that you were expecting. So I think frequent feedback is very, very important. With classroom observation and letting the teacher know that I know what's going on. I always tried to provide time for interaction after classroom observation. And interact not only with my views, but have the teacher reflect on what it is that she felt was happening in the classroom. And sometimes her explanations would explain to me what it was that had happened. Then I think it's important that you set joint goals for performance and improvement after interaction. And it doesn't matter that the teacher is outstanding, veteran that has, has been around for a long, long time they still enjoy that kind of interaction and looking toward the future and what it is that's going to happen in their classrooms. Then I always looked for positive events to give feedback. It was seldom that I would go in a classroom to observe whether it would be for 15 minutes or for an hour that I didn't leave a note. I called them "speed messages" and I would keep a copy of the message that I would leave the teacher, leave it on her desk, or hand it to her. I would also give a reasonable amount of time when I would make suggestions to have improvement. I never gave negative feedback. I never gave any kind of suggestions for improvement on written "speed messages" it was always positive kinds of things. Whenever I had suggestions for improvement or when I wanted interaction for improving, then I always tried to do that in person and have the person come into the office and have some quality interaction time. But as I mentioned earlier, I think I always tried to have, find something positive, regardless of whether it, you know, I had to give some negative interactions or not, I tried to find some positive as well so that the teacher would not feel that she was a total failure even though the best of us would have lessons that didn't go as well sometimes. And then I think it was important to give a reasonable amount of time for that improvement. And continue to interact as I would go back and observe in the classrooms. I find that no matter, no matter what, if I could find something good to talk about and start with that, then teachers would always work harder. And I guess that was because I internalized it for myself. Because when I would be praised then I would always go back and work twice as hard. Much more eager to work if I had praise than if I were receiving criticism from someone. Occasionally, clinical supervision is necessary and that's intensive assistance for people who are working as I thought they should be working or who were not meeting the needs of children. Because the child must and should always come first regardless of what. Now you can have staff members working together and I think that creates a positive climate and then makes teachers work harder, but anytime that I think that a child's happiness and health is being jeopardized, then I thought it was important that I become very, very intensely involved and provide clinical supervision with the teachers. Call in other people who were experts in the field from the central office. They would come in and work with me and providing the clinical assistance for the teacher. In the past, I have provided alternative career counseling for some people. Helped them realize that they would probably be happier if they were not in the teaching profession. I have counseled them out, I have also been through contract non-renewal, I have become very assertive if children are being hurt. And that's not a popular process and as I mentioned earlier, I think peers do support peers, but when they realize that the overall integrity of the school operation is involved, they will come around. I do think, however, that you must establish yourself as a school person who is the school leader and have the respect of your school people before you attempt that kind of process because it is a very precarious kind of situation. But I think once you get that, then you do earn the respect of the people who are working in the school, from the parents, from your peers, and from all involved in the school process.
Q: Would you discuss your view on students with special needs?
A: I think that children who have special needs must have those needs met in all areas. I think there are many, many ways that those needs can be met whether it be children who are very bright and gifted, children who have disabilities, children with all kinds of abilities. I think that we must provide a free, appropriate education for all children. I firmly believe that. I also believe in inclusion when it's done appropriately. I think there are situations where it is probably not best to include a child in a classroom if other children are having their learning disrupted and it is not in the best interest of the child who is being included then there are situations where I feel that maybe these children should not have inclusion. I think that all children's needs must be met and, when this disruption is taking place, perhaps that is not the case. I think there are many different methods for meeting these children's needs. And I realize that teachers have to spend enormous amounts of time individualizing to meet the needs of the children. And, and some, and teachers have limitations on their time as well. Many of our teachers were, are staying to six and seven o'clock at night, working up programs, meeting with IEPs, meeting parents, meeting team members, planning programs for these children and sometimes it is unrealistic to expect that teachers be able to give that amount of time because they have other demands on their time, grading papers, meeting with other parents of other children, taking care of their own families. And sometimes when I feel that inclusion is being done at the expense and total disruption of the classroom, then I have reservations about it. I think that we need to have support of specialists who can work with the classroom teachers so that they can make the necessary modifications to meet the needs of these children who are in the inclusion programs. I think that we need to have multiple team planning sessions so that the various aspects of the disability are being met whether it's occupational therapy, physical therapy, any kind of special assistance. I sometimes also have concerns about the dollars that are being spent from the educational budget to meet the needs of some of the special needs children. When we're spending $40$50,000 for one child and $5,000 to $6,000 for another child who doesn't have special needs then, you know, I wonder a little bit about some of the equity there. When parents are sometimes demanding facilities and therapies or training that is not available in the locality. I went to some due process proceedings through special ed. for parents who were demanding hydrotherapy with pools and they wanted it during the school day. They wanted equestrian therapy, horseback riding, full-time instructional assistance, all the time for every need. Parents who want signing persons to come in and work with their child one-on-one all day in addition to a full-time instructional assistant. Some parents, sometimes have been asking, one parent wanted year round instruction, and I'm not talking just summer school, but I'm talking 260 days with all the therapies included every single day, transportation to and from these events, and then a tutor for homework because they said that their child was not being able to do the homework appropriately and they were not, the parent was not equipped to help the child. Sometimes I think that there is some unrealistic expectation. And I think that when we can get that ironed out, when we can make it more realistic then I am more receptive to inclusion. And when it is not totally disruptive and when we have the facilities and the personnel to make sure that the disruption does not take place for all children. I do believe that we need to meet needs, but I do think that there are limitations and, I'm not sure that the players buy into that at this point. I just feel that the other students have rights in lieu of the numbers of dollars that we have in the educational budget and that there are only so many ways you can slice that pie and I think you need to think about the ultimate benefit for all children.
Q: Please give your views on free public education in this country in this day and time.
A: Well, I am just totally committed to free public education. I firmly believe that if we start providing tuition and vouchers for private schools that it will lead to the demise of the public education. I think that private schools are great for many children and I think that it's fine if parents choose to send their children there. But I think that private schools are selective and can be because they don't have to take children who have a disability or children who may be disruptive or whatever. They can choose not to or they can eliminate the child from their role if they choose not to have the child there. I think public schools will be left with children who, whose parents perhaps do not value education enough to make sure that they have transportation to and from a private situation. I think that the public schools will have children who are culturally deprived and will not have the models that we find in the other children who can help all children have a richer experience in the school. I think we're going to leave a ghetto for public education if we start giving to a few children in order for them attend just private schools. I think we'll have a greater segregation of the haves and the have nots. I think we should concentrate our efforts on improving all schools, not just the schools for the elite and I think studies are beginning to show that given the same children and the same subjects that many of the private schools are not doing a better job than public schools. I think, unfortunately, a few public schools are who may be not doing a really a top notch job are getting the publicity for all schools and that is not appropriate. I think our public schools are doing a very fine job and I think that, with additional funding, I disagree with former secretary Bennett and all the people who said that schools do not need more money. I do think that we need to have funding for public education. I think teaching is the most important profession in the whole United States of America. I think teaching is the most valuable profession. I don't think there's anything more important than, than training the leaders of the 21st century and that's what we're doing, teaching our children to be tomorrow's leaders. I think we have to attract the very best and the most dedicated and the brightest teachers to the classrooms and we can only do that if we have the dollars to attract them and that industry doesn't pick them off, you know, for other things. I think we have to give them the tools to work with. We're going to have to have the technology to give them the skills that they need to work in the public places. And I think we have to have a teacher pupil ratio that so the teacher can truly individualize and meet each individual child's needs. I think then we're going to have to give teachers time to plan. What other profession do you know that teachers have to do their planning, or the workers have to do their planning on their own time? Or that they have the summers off instead of having that time devoted to preparation for continuation and upgrading themselves. They do it on their own time. But for the most part they are not paid to do that. I think they need time to prepare, to stay abreast of, of trends, and what's happening in the world of learning and to keep abreast. As I said, I don't think there's a more important profession than teaching and I don't think that that our country will survive if we don't have quality public education for all people, all children.
Q: Could you tell us your keys to success as a principal?
A: I probably have alluded to this before, but I think that perhaps the fact that I have tried to be invitational has maybe contributed somewhat to any success that I might have had. That I am participatory in decision making processes, that I try to give other people a voice and that I work very hard to listen to what other people have to say. I ask them for their opinions, and I learn from what they have to offer. I try to encourage participation, I want to share power and I work very hard to enhance the self-worth of others because that I function best when I feel that my self-worth has been enhanced. I try to be a cheerleader and get other people excited about what it is they're doing. I try to have an interaction or networking going with other leaders in the educational field, both with other peers, with teachers, with, by attending national conferences or state conferences, local conferences. There are just so many ways that I think we can stay abreast of what's going on by reading and staying current. I think that's crucial to the leadership role. And then, creating a good feeling tone I think is important. Having a good climate within the building, having a warm invitational climate, makes people feel good about wanting to come into the building and, I think that's one of the keys to Oak Grove's success is that parents and people who come into the building feel good about being there. I used to say on dark, rainy days when it was kind of dreary outside, what a better place to be than right here in Oak Grove where everybody is smiling and happy and enjoying the learning process. Then, trying to stay on the forefront of what's going on. I think I've mentioned before that I think it's necessary to have a vision and be sure that you're communicating that vision. It's not something that you just have inside yourself, but it's a unified kind of approach that you and your teachers are sharing that same vision and taking the community with you and communicating it to them. Not every fad, not everything that comes down the pike, but solid ideas that are crucial to improving the educational process.
Q: Would you discuss principal training and give suggestions of ways to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: Well, I think that my training was more in the era when, we had a lot of history and theory and that kind of thing, statistics. But I think that, probably that's good, but I think that principals today need a lot more and I think they need to learn that, interacting in the real world in the school setting is one of the best ways to learn because you have hands on experience. I think I would start by saying that you have to recognize quality instruction. Because you can go in a classroom and say, "hey it looks good in here," but I'm not sure how to do a task analysis on what's happening. But I think that administrators need to learn a task analysis of the instructional process and then they need to learn how to break that down, interact with the teacher, hear the teacher's reflection on what it is that's happening, and then go from there on making recommendations. I think that that making time for having interactions in the classroom, observations on classroom is also crucial. I think that the principal needs to have some counseling skills. I've often said that a degree in psychology would probably have been just about as beneficial as anything that I could have gotten because listening, interacting, knowing the kinds of responses to give and the proper feedback, not overreacting, not over interacting, but doing much listening and reflecting and helping the person evolve into making decisions both with children and teachers, and as well, and parents as well. But I think that counseling skills are crucial. I think a thorough understanding of the law is important. If you don't understand the law now, and especially as it relates to school issues, liability, special education, those kinds of things then you're going to be in big trouble soon. I think that new principals need training under fire. I think, I think theory versus reality, comes into play here because it's a lot of difference handling something under the fire than it is thinking about it, reading about it in the textbook and then giving it back on paper. I think it's important that that principals have mentors or peers for interaction, colleagues, someone to interact with prior to assuming the role of administrator and then a mentor after assuming the role. I enjoyed our southwest area principals meetings probably more than any other sessions that I attended. There are about nine, it would vary, but but there would be about nine to twelve people depending on how many schools we had functioning at the time in the southwest area. The number of years that I have been principal. But we would get together and talk about our problems. We became almost like brothers and sisters. It was almost a family. We could discuss anything and know that it would not go out of the room. We could talk about any of our concerns and any of the problems that we were facing and know that we would be supported by our peers and interact about solutions and it was always so good to have someone else give their views on what it is or the problem that was happening. I think public relations expertise is important. If you don't have a positive community interaction and positive relations with your staff, then I think you're going to have big trouble cause it's just very important to work with your parents and community because they're going to make you or break you. And it's just crucial. I think public speaking and communications skills, and right now, I'm kind of stumbling around but, I think that public relations is enhanced by good communication skills, by good public speaking skills. I think that it's important also to know your leadership style. That recognize what style that that you are. If you are participatory person or transitional kind of a leader, then recognize that and then deal with it. If you need to move in one direction or another then that's important, but you need to be able to look at it and say ok this is what I think I am and this is where I need to be headed. I think consensus building strategies are important. Sometimes when you have the group vote or some or group of teachers or parents vote, you know, then you have the people taking sides. But if you building consensus and if everybody, if you can get the people to at least buy into trying a process then you're to be ahead. I think it's necessary to be highly visible. I thought it was important that I was in the front foyer of our school on a regular, everyday basis. I was there greeting the parents, the children, the teachers, that's when I had many, many valuable interactions with my faculty because they would be walking in hall, they usually would come in before the parents and children so we could touch on what was going to happen for the day or just significant little events that might have happened the day before or some family event that had taken place. And the teachers can do, treasure that interaction as did I. One of the greatest characteristics I think that a principal needs is flexibility. You have to change directions every few minutes when you're in the principal role. One minute you're dealing with instruction, you're praising a teacher, the next minute you're disciplining a child. The next minute you're working with a parent who's come in in tears because of some family problem. The next minute you're dealing with the cafeteria personnel. The next minute you're dealing with the custodial people. The next minute you're interacting with the assistant principal on what it is that has to be done for the day. So I think that flexibility is key and sometimes it felt like you were just on a treadmill just running as fast as you could go and trying to keep pace. And I think that's it's important that you be efficient, yet I think that you need to be empathic as well. If you don't relate to these people, if you just blow it off as if it's not important, then they get that sense as well. So I tried to give my full attention to whatever was happening at the moment and then be able to change pace and change direction and move on to the next thing on the list. I think you need a lot of stamina. I, I most weeks would put in at least 50 to 60 hours, and often more. I very seldom would take lunch breaks except, if I would have lunch with my peers when we would have our interaction sessions for the southwest area principals group or after administrative meetings with central office. But most of the time, lunch time was a time that we could, I could, maybe grab a cracker or sandwich or whatever and also be making phone calls and talking on the telephone between taking bites. I usually would arrive around 6:30 to 6:45 in the morning and leave after 5:00. And then, of course, after working, you know, long hours I would return for night meetings frequently. I would try to keep abreast of school activities and then, of course, trends in education. I believe that mentoring processes are probably the most helpful means of training for principals. I've worked, I've had the opportunity to work with six or eight administrative interns and I just love that kind of interaction. I also interact with administrators in our school division who are, well, all different, different levels of experience because I learn from them as well as, hopefully, they learn something from me. But I think the most important thing that I gained from the administrative interns that we that we would reflect on the processes that were taking place because something would happen, an interaction or meeting, or whatever would take place and then we would talk about ways we could improve it or what they thought was beneficial or the ways, things they thought had gone well. I think the assessment center training that's for Southwest Virginia Assessment Center, has been most helpful as well. The characteristics of leadership, including things like learning about decisiveness and sensitivity, problem analysis, judgment, organizational ability, those kinds of things. All of those things are most helpful. I learned a great deal when I received the training for the assessment center and I think it's a learning experience for potential administrators as well.
Q: The principal operates in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: Well, I worked very hard at, at learning to cope with some of the stresses that would build up during my principalship. I developed a routine of consciously just bringing the problem forward, laying it on the table, and talking about all the positives and all the negatives and looking at how I could improve the situation, try to analyze it and then let it be. If I could help the situation, if I could make it better, then I would try to be very proactive and, and, try to work on it. If I had done all I could do, then I would try to leave it behind. Of course, that sounds good, in theory, but it didn't always work. But I did get better at it. I would also learned that I, when I had very difficult problems and situations arise that it would help me if I would let them alone for a little while. If I would leave any kind of problem that required a lot of, like, like, choosing new staff members. Sometimes if I would think about them overnight or over the weekend, and analyze the situation and study it and then the decision would come. It wasn't something that I had to do, make a snap decision on. I also found it was helpful to interact with key players. Whether it be the teachers, the assistant principal, or parents, the secretary, peers. Other key players who may have had similar experiences or who had a vested interest in what the decision would be. I thought that that was most helpful. I found that exercising was important and, of course, a a good diet was important. I also found that maintaining strong family ties and having diversionary activities, such as playing with my grandchildren now were very healthy because it would get my mind away from, you know, the concerns that I would be facing on a day-to-day basis. One thing that I also found that was extremely important was to keep my self extremely organized. Probably I'm very disorganized because I have to do everything, in an organized fashion or I become very confused so I tried to keep my desk clear, keep my paperwork caught up as much as possible, and I would stay late and complete my paperwork or go in early the next morning and get my day organized, or otherwise, I would find that I was in a state of confusion for a good part of the day cause I have to get everything together, know where I'm going, plan my day, know which classrooms I'm visiting, and then go from there. I think long hours probably is the key to making the organizational stuff fall into place.
Q: Would you discuss the differences and similarities that you see between the male versus female leaders?
A: Well, I think that the, there are many jobs available for women. I think that they're out there. I think that, I think women need to go after them. If they are aspiring to that kind of position, then they need, they need to go after them. And I think many studies are showing that women, women perform in superior capacity in many, many positions. I think that frequently and perhaps this is a bias on my part, but I think that women give attention to detail, and I think that studies have been showing that that is true. That they have a tendency to be a bit more nurturing in many situations. They seem to interact with other staff members a great deal and they are very good listeners frequently. I think that they have to maybe work harder to prove themselves sometimes, but I do think that the jobs are available and if women go after them, I think they can get them, and I think that they will do superior job when they do get the position. You know, we used to think that you couldn't have two women in administrative roles in the same school building because that wasn't a good idea that they'd have to have a man there to take care of the furnace and to take care of the discipline or to be the sports coordinator or whatever. And I remember that when I first started out I was advised that I should never go back to the building alone, that I should always have someone with me because it was not, may not be safe for me to enter the building. One day I asked one of my superiors if he told his men the same thing, and he stopped and thought and he said, "no, you're right, I didn't." But then he said, "well, we'll have to have a man as an assistant principal." And I thought, I mentioned a couple of situations where there were two men as administrators in the same building and, then they thought about that and there were two women named as administrators in the building. So, [clears throat] I think now we have people who are, women who are head custodians, we have female superintendents, we have schools with two administrators leading the school in the elementary setting, female athletic directors. So I think that the positions are available for people who, you know, want them. I think it's interesting that with the staff of say 50 people that at Oak Grove for example, there were only a couple of people who were even interested in administrative roles. So, perhaps, there're not as many people aspiring to administration who are women as there are in, who are men.
Q: If you would, share with us a bit your decision to retire, when did you retire from your principalship, and what brought you to the decision.
A: Well, this is my first full year of retirement. I did take sometime off this past year because I've been having a lot of migraine headaches which I understand is chemically related now. And I'd like to emphasize that because it was not stress related, it was more chemical related and the foods that I was eating and so forth and I'm learning which ones I could avoid now and help control my headaches. So they are getting better. But the doctor had just suggested that he thought it would be a good idea if I'd take some time off, in fact, insisted that I take some time off until I, we could work out the problem because I was having them on a regular, regular basis and it was becoming increasingly difficult to function. When I had headaches all the time and I was trying to smile through my headaches and the teachers were saying, you know, we know that you have a headache because you have a wrinkle in your forehead and so I did decide to take the time off and when I did, I began to realize that it was awfully nice to have some free time. So I decided to make it permanent this year and I have enjoyed so much being able to have flexibility with my time, I'm working with my peers now as a consultant in the school accreditation process through Southern Association of Schools and Colleges and I'm really enjoying that because I still keep my finger in the pie. I'm also working a couple of schools from other school divisions on my own time for the school improvement process. So therefore, I'm able to maintain contact and interaction and interact with my peers in that capacity. But I'm really enjoying being able to play with my grandchildren when I choose to and to read, I mean, it is so much fun to be able to read whenever I choose to read, and read the materials that I like to read. I don't have to read because I have to stay current on something or because I'm studying some new process or whatever. I read it now because I choose to read it and I enjoy reading it. And then I throw in a few novels and fiction and all kinds of interesting things. So that's the reason I chose to stay in this capacity. I am retired fully now.
Q: Good, well, thank you very much. Is there anything else that you can think of that you would like to add to what we've discussed? It seems that we've covered a great deal of material. Please add on anything that you choose.
A: Well, I'd just like to say that it is always fun to reflect on the role that I have played for my entire life. I've been in school practically my entire life. From the time that I started until this past year when I decided to take a leave and it's nice to reflect and think about it, talk about it and to talk with someone whose interested in hearing what I have to say. And if I can be of any assistance to any people who are going into administration, or who are doing research, or whatever, I'd be more than happy to do that. As I said, one of my finest memories of my entire educational process has been working with administrative interns and people who are going into administrative roles. So if anybody's interested in contacting me, I'll be more than happy to talk with them.
Q: Good. Thank you, Peggy, for the chance to share your story.
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