It is Wednesday, June 24, 1999. This Lillian Lowery. I'm at the Area 2 Office Interview Dr. James C. Moulton, Jr. He is currently Director of Secondary Program for Area 2 in Fairfax County Public Schools and he will be retiring as of July 1, 1999.
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Q: Good morning Dr. Moulton, how are you today?
A: I'm fine and how are you Ms. Lowery?
Q: Just fine.
Q: Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this oral history project.
A: It's a pleasure to help you out and I enjoy the opportunity to do this.
Q: Great. And I'm sure cohort group will be especially pleased because you are a member of a graduating cohort group from Virginia Tech and that gives them strength to move on.
A: And my best wishes to your cohort group and my advice is just hang in there.
Q: Thank you. Thank you. Okay. We'll begin with question one.
Q: Please begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interest and development, like birth place, elementary and secondary education, and family characteristics.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Okay. Well, in many way I'm a Northern Virginia native, although actually I was born in Washington, DC at Walter Reed Hospital. Right during the period of the second World War. And I grew up in really the early years in northwest Washington. In fact there is, as a small child I can remember my younger brother, 14 months younger than I, we use to play with the Nixon girls who lived down the street and across the court and that was kind of ironic, because of course at the time nobody had any idea that their father would become a President of the United States, much less one with such an interesting reputation. So at the age of five we moved into Northern Virginia and at that time that was certainly considered, you know, rural America in many ways because the Fairfax area was a town, it was not an incorporated city. We lived in the Falls Church area which was more, becoming more suburbanized, but even then there were no major shopping centers in the area. You had to go all the way into Arlington to do your shopping. Loehmanns Plaza community which is quite busy now use to be an airfield. It had Quanson Hud on it with a dirt airstrip and I was in the civil air patrol and we did all our search and air rescue out of there. Route 50 was a two-lane road. There was no Seven Corners, and Fairfax was just a rural village. So in Fairfax I attended, of course back then we didn't have kindergarten and we didn't have separate middle or intermediate schools, so I went my early years, my first three years to Oak Street Elementary in the Falls Church community. And then my fourth and fifth grade, although we did not move was in a new school just opened at that time called Graham Road elementary. So, you know, that was, I guess, one of those early boundary changes that occurs whenever you open a new school. My folks then did buy a new home and that was further out in the actual Fairfax town area and I went to the town school, Fairfax Elementary for my sixth grade. And then they built another new school called Layton Hall, and I went there for the seventh grade. And then in the eighth grade you went directly into high school, but we were so crowded that we had to split our day between the high school proper and one of the feeder elementary school, in this case it was called Germantown. And so we road a buss in the middle of the day and half a day was at the high school and the other half of the day was at the middle school. The town grew, we walked to school, we didn't ride buses until those latter years in grades 8 through 12. And then we decided it was time to think about going onto college. And so I was, you know, interested in a Virginia school and I was accepted in my junior year at UVA. So that was kind of unusual at the time and got a regional scholarship courtesy of the Dupont Corporation, and that certainly helped our family, because didn't have a lot of money, we were certainly of a moderate income. My father was in sales and my mother didn't work, so it was helpful to be able to do that. In high school I was very much influenced by the teachers that I had, especially by a couple of them. One of whom was my biology teacher, a gentleman by the name of Gene Puffinburger (phonetic sp.). At that time we were tracked and we were in a ninth grade grouping that they were sort of experimenting with. And said, let's see if these kids could handle biology. So we took biology as ninth graders way back in 1960, actually that was '59. And so he was such a fascinating person, both as a role mode because of just the way he conducted himself. But how he encouraged each of us to really, you know, extend ourselves and think beyond the immediate kinds of concerns that I guess all ninth grade people tend to have, like why is this girl sitting next to me, I want to sit next to that girl, you know, or I don't want to sit next to any girls. But in any event, he really kind of, was one of the first people to sort of tweak my interest about just learning in general. And then I had a wonderful experience with an English teacher the very next year in the tenth grade. And although I didn't know at the time, we would later become professional colleagues as well. Her name today is Rita Stone, back then she was Rita Morgan. And she just expected the absolute best of everyone of us in there. And I'll never forget one of my first compositions that I got back and it had on there an "L". And, of course, the grading system was back then, instead A, B, C, D, and F, you had E, G, M, L, and U. So you can make the translation for yourself, an "L" was a "D". And she put on there, you know, Jimmy, you are much more capable of writing then this. This looks like you're making very little progress in either (a) listening to what I say in class, or (b) doing your homework, or (c) both. Well, I was just devastated. And so I worked very very hard to improve my personal responsibility in terms of that particular class. And then at the end of the year she pulled me aside and she said, you know, you can be anything you want to be, you just have to focus, you just have to decide what it is you want to do and then do it. And that's kind of stuck with me over the years. And, you know, it's even kind of something I've carried with me into my adult life where I think it's important that you do stop and think about, well, what is it I want to do. And recognize that you can do anything. And so I have this thing where I kind of think in five year clumps, you know. And I'll have often say to people, what's your five year plan. And unfortunately I think that's gotten around enough now that people even anticipate my asking them that question. But I think if you don't have that kind of thinking going on in your mind you can just become sort of a drifter through life and not realize that particular talents and gifts that you have might really be something special and that could be of use to not only the people immediately around you and your family, but certainly to others. So she was a great role model for me, a great mentor. And then, of course, over time I met others along the way. I did go to UVA as I suggested. I majored in history. And, of course, at the time the Vietnam was beginning and as I finished my undergraduate work the question was not only what am I going to do with a BA in history, but is there some way to continue in college and not necessarily get drafted. And so with that in mind I learned about an internship program that was just starting at the university that as sort of a way of accommodating a need that we have today, and that is that there was growing student population in the country. The other thing was that there was a shortage of teachers. And certainly this was an attempt on the part of the school of education to draw upon graduates from the college and try to get them interested in looking at teaching as a career. So they created a Masters program, a Masters in teaching that would be attractive to graduates from the college, and that would bring people to the table that would maybe consider an internship in education. And that was a wonderful experience. We eventually ended up with 20 of us who were assigned two different schools throughout Northern Virginia and Alexandria, and Arlington, and Fairfax and I had an experience at Edison High School teaching three classes, being paid half time, but being expected to stay there all day. So I got involved with sponsoring the junior class. And another intern that was there with me at the same time was Ken Plum, who now is a state delegate and our careers also overlapped as we continued in Fairfax. By very next year, and now we're talking about 1967, Fairfax County opened a brand new high school called Oakton High School. And the new principal who himself was only 32 years old, I remember that, I don't know why, called me and I was 23, I do remember that. And he asked me to come meet with him and he said, would I like to come to Oakton High School as a history teacher, and I said I certainly would because in the back of my mind it was closer to home and plus a new school and a new opportunity. And then he said, and would you like to be the department chair. I said, I said, department chair, I've only taught three classes, he said, that's what I like about you, you're just open to new ideas, you don't have any built prejudices, and so I'd like for you to consider that. I said, okay, I'll do that. And that was a wonderful experience, talking about baptism by fire. There were 12 people in that department that ranged from me being the youngest to a marine corps colonel that was not only bitter about Vietnam, but I'm not sure he liked people, and I don't think he liked me. So I learned a lot. Had an opportunity to meet new people from all over the county and a new school, be a part of building that culture. It was also a rough time too in education because the schools were just being desegregated on a regular basis and we were bringing together populations that not only didn't real know one another well, but hadn't established a level of comfort where there was that element of trust and mutual encourage and so forth. So it was a tough time to be in the business, but it was a good learning time. And I had a lot of positive experiences in, you know, working with young people, getting them to listen to one another, helping them to bridge gaps that for the most part were imagined in terms of perceptions. And yet at the same time brought to school every day some very real issues. And so that probably was one of the more significant times to be in the business for a lot of people, and I was pleased to, as I look back to have that learning experience. I was given an opportunity to work as a summer school administrator, that was my first administrative experience. I wasn't real sure I wanted to be an administrator, because obviously you miss the teaching piece with the kids. But the realities of it paid better and, you know, wanting to be, as I say, somebody that thinks five years ahead, I thought, well, this is probably a good idea, so I continued down that path. And then I ended up becoming what they then called an administrative aide to the assistant principles. Enjoyed that experience for two years. Went onto Marshall High School in that same capacity to work with a different principle, a different learning style, different management style. And then was asked to go to Robinson when it opened, and that's where I spent the next 13 years as a sub-school principle at different grade levels albeit and just had a wonderful experiences. And that's where I met my former English teacher, my former biology teacher as well, because it turned out that they were both on staff there. And, I guess, as I look back on it, it reaffirms the cliche, it's not just what you know, sometimes it's who you know. Because I'm sure those connections had something to do with my getting into that school at a fairly young age. So I certainly benefited for working in all the different grade levels, and finished there as what was still called an intermediate school setting as a sub-school principle. Then in 1984 became head principle at Kilmer Middle School, that was scary as heck. Because, even though it's certainly understandable to want to be a head principle, it doesn't take very long to find out it's very different from being the assistant principle. Obviously the buck, so to speak, stops at your desk and you are key person in terms of all the stakeholders that make up school and its community, the kids, the parents, and the faculty, the support staff, and certainly the community at-large. So very quickly, I would say I had many opportunities that in some measure were circumstantial, but also a lot of measure, in some measure too was because I truly was planning for a variety of experiences, at least to take advantage of them as they came along.
Q: That sounds, you had fun though.
A: I did.
Q: It was nice.
A: I enjoyed it.
Q: You've talked a little bit about your undergraduate and masters program, but could you talk a little bit more about future academic endeavors that you had that would prepare you for the principleship?
A: Lillian, to be very honest with you, from an academic perspective I don't think I had any real courses or experiences that prepared me per se to be a principle. I think most of that came as a result of, you know, serving under other principles and, you know, having a variety of opportunities to work in different schools as an administrator. At that time the certification to become an administrator was in some way perfunctory. You had to have a course in curriculum and instruction, supervision, evaluation of instruction. There was a course in school law and there was a course in school finance. But in reality the nuts and bolts of working with people and being an instructional leader and attending to all of the interests that make up a school and its culture comes from observation for me. And so I can't say, I think preparation programs today are far more sophisticated and far more realistic in terms of practical application mixed with theory. And when I was in college preparing for certification, that piece was missing. We didn't have the practical application piece. Now the irony of it is we had it as teachers, as interns. But to my knowledge there wasn't any administrative intern program up and running at that time.
Q: Question three, share with us those experiences or events in your life that constitute important decision points in your career, and how do you feel about them not?
A: Well, one I've already commented on, and that was a decision point to stay in college and to experience a new program. And if I hadn't done that chances are I might have ended up in a different field altogether. Even though I was influenced certainly by the teachers that I had in school, I can't honestly say that I had a career goal to become an educator. In fact, as I talked with a lot of my colleagues and asked them that same question, I don't find necessarily a lot of people who say from the get go that that was something they planned to do. And so I would say another decision point in my career was the one to become an administrator. And that too occurred at a time when I was, you know, obviously given some chances because of some people I knew, to be offered the opportunity. I was looking forward and not content to sit still. So I think a characteristic that maybe describes people who end up in those roles, that they have a certain degree of ambitiousness. They do believe that they can make a difference in those around them. And, I guess, that's probably how I thought about myself at the time.
Q: Okay. What is your personal philosophy of education and how did that philosophy evolve over time
A: I think it does evolve over time. Today clearly an educator must embrace to be successful a philosophy that recognizes a number of things. One is that you must develop the potential that every one of your students has or every one of your teachers has to be successful as an educator. There is a great deal of recognition in me that you have to be proactive. You have to anticipate. You have to work diligently to understand a variety of factors that are brought to the table as an educator. You have to know the community, you have to know your faculty, know your staff, know your students as individuals. And not just as an amorphous group to which you're going to give some knowledge that you think you have. And so in that sense I think that it maybe, it may well be one of the toughest jobs that's out there. And certainly one of the more stressful jobs in terms of the demands that it places upon you to recognize not only the potential in everybody, but your personal responsibility to help to develop that. You have to also be sophisticated at making connections with other people, and recognize that education is not just what goes on in the classroom per se, or in the school per se, but that the connections you make using technology or recognizing the different programs and the different initiatives that are out there will strengthen a person in terms of their effectiveness as a principle, as well as a classroom teacher. Early in my career I think my philosophy was, you know, I have all this information and you're going to be lucky when I give it to you. And so I think maybe to summarize, I recognize that it's much more important to be a facilitator to help people to realize their own talents, their own strengths, and their own abilities, and to pull that out of the equation is really the task that I think principles have today.
Q: Okay. Questions five and six you've encompassed in your answers for others, so we're going to go seven. Please describe the ideal requirements for principle certification, and what do you view as appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principles?
A: Principles need to be good communicators. They need to be able to stand up in front of group and be articulate. They need to be able to express themselves in a way that demonstrates confidence, leadership, decisiveness. They need to be able to exercise good judgement, reflect a range of interests, certainly have sensitivity. They certainly need to be organized. They need to be curious and they need to be able to synthesize and make connections. So, let's see, I'm trying to think. Requirements for principle certification in my mind would include some assessment of the extent to which those skills are present or need to be developed. And I think it's a combination of both. I think it's rare that you would go to any one of us and necessarily find all of those characteristics developed to the same degree, and we can all learn and grow. So part of the task is to have a program that not only identifies the characteristics and the degree to which they are present, but develop, has a protocol that develops a prescriptive diagnosis to help that individual recognize where he or she needs to grow. I think certification needs to be updated periodically. It needs to be reflective of the recent changes that describe what we call school law, whether it relates to special populations or to, you know, the every day business of school management, personnel relations dealing with students and the responsibilities and rights issues. I think it's important that principles accept the fact, and to me certification ought to look at the fact that instructional leadership is key. And what is instructional leadership, what does that mean. That there is a professional component that, you know, is built around the importance of staying current in the literature, and being curious about what works and what's being tried out there. Because I don't think anybody has ever had a lock on how we learn. I think that's a constantly emerging and fascinating process. And so I think certification in part needs to reflect being up-to-date and up to speed on those kinds of pieces as well. And, of course, there are management aspects to being a principle that should be attended to, the financial piece, the facilities piece, those kinds of things. But in my mind the most important piece is developing one's skills as an instructional leader.
Q: Okay. What kinds of things do teachers expect principles to be able to do, and describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principle, describing the personal and professional characteristics? You have kind of done that, so what kinds of things do teachers expect?
A: I think teachers expect principles to have vision. To help them articulate a vision. To have focus. To stay on top of things. To be good listeners. To recognize that as teachers they are certainly the experts in the curriculum. But that the principle is responsible to help pull these disparate pieces together in a collective whole that's going in a common direction. I, you know, certainly today I think it's important that principles establish a climate for teachers that insures the safety and welfare not only of teachers, but of the students. And I think that's a real shift in the paradigm because, you know, when I go back and think about, and I'm going to say it was around the mid-eighties, we became very concerned about who was coming into our buildings. Who would be visiting and strangers, if you will, and the community, and those kinds of things to the degree that in many places we started instituting identification systems where we would wear I.D. badges, you know, on the doors that go to the outside we, visitors report to the main office kind of thing. In fact, even locking some of the outside doors and limiting access to certain doors. Today we have a totally different shift. Who would have ever thought that we would be concerned or have to worry about whose in our schools already, our clients. And that's a whole different paradigm that principles not only need to be sensitive too with teachers, but attend to. And so I think, you know, that certainly is key in describing an effective principle today. A good principle has to be visible in the classroom, knowledgeable about what's going on in the instructional program. Be able to reinforce the good things to celebrate, the accomplishments that teachers make. To connect them with resources to support them where needed in terms of, not only within the building and ideas that, you know, teaching is a lonely job. When you think about the day and how it's structured, even with block scheduling, there is such limited opportunities for teachers to connect with one another inside the building. That a principle, I think has a responsibility to not only expose the good things that go on, but to help make connections for staff with one another, so that they can learn from one another. Additionally, I think the principle needs to insure the students and the community that he or she is vested in terms of that culture and what's of interest to them. Their individual accomplishments, their frustrations, their concerns. The principle in many ways is the education focal point, you know, maybe band-aid nurse maid, kool-aid, cheerleader, all these things for these various stakeholders. But that's what makes the job exciting as the principle. I think teachers expect the principle to see the big picture, but also expect the principle to see the details that make up that big picture. And a successful principle has to do both. You can't get loss in the details at the expense of the big picture. Conversely you can't be always looking at the big picture, and ignore the details. So I think that's part of the challenge of effectiveness.
Q: A follow-up question, I'm going to paraphrase, because you are so forward thinking you are really being comprehensive in your answers. You talked a little bit about being the principle at Kilmer, but, in your background information but you never mention Marshall. You were a principle of a high school too.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about that and then discuss the expectations then and do you see them as different from the expectations of principles now.
A: I think there are certainly similarities today and then. Then wasn't really that long ago, it was, I was principle of Marshall from 1988 to 1993. We were a very diverse school then, and certainly Marshall has become increasingly so as the years have slipped by. I think that maybe to make a contrast between the middle school and the high school a little bit. Obviously the high school is more comprehensive of job responsibilities, and just the whole nature of high school compared to middle school. I think they are each very very important, but I think at the high school there is obviously longer opportunity to get to know your students and to see them develop, and see them be successful. And obviously celebrate their graduation when they walk across that stage. Probably what's different though in the six years since I've gone is that public schools today are under increasing scrutiny for accountability. They must convince their stakeholders that they are making a difference with kids for that tax dollar. They must recognize that more and more they are being compared not only to schools within the district, but schools elsewhere. Whether it be charter schools, whether it be private schools, or whether it be, you know, this whole emerging expediential explosion in home schooling. So we are and must be more mindful of the outcome piece of education, and being able to measure that, and being able to articulate that, and market that, if you will to the community, to the parents, and certainly to the critics of public education. And I'm glad you asked me that question because I think that today's principle has to recognize that he or she is responsible to do that. And it's not just bringing to the table the elements of accountability, it's also taking to the community what the results are, and what the successes are. And being successful and doing that requires a whole different level of energy and commitment, then perhaps when I was a high school principle. The technology piece is another piece. The connections that students are able to make both at home and in the school staff. The opportunities to have face-to-face conversations over the Internet. The networking that occurs both within the school, as well as outside the school, certainly facilitate and contribute to the efficiency and opportunity of this whole process of accountability and marketing, what works well and learning from one another. But the managing of all of that and the watchfulness that the principle must bring to the table in terms of is that being done wisely. And recognizing that not only our students, but teachers are in different places in terms of their skill and comfort level in doing that is another new requirement, that I think principles must be sensitive to. And so I guess in summary I would say that principles also have to recognize that staff development in the public school today is an ongoing, every day, every moment process. It's not a hit or miss kind of thing. You know, there was a time when maybe someone would say, well, it's important to focus and bring attention maybe to one program. For example, we use to be enamored of format and learning styles education at the time I was a high school principle. Whereas really today there are so many different pieces that you must be sensitive to and knowledgeable of that you just have to not only be aware of it, but be creative in terms of who can help you do that. And so that brings to mind that the principle and his or her staff can't do that alone. We need to develop in all of our staff a responsibility not only to themselves, but to one another to help each other acquire the skills and the knowledge to be better at the jobs that they do. And so there is, I think another difference would be there is greater emphasis on collaboration and team work in the context of strengthening our skills as educators. And to be that's exciting, I want to go back.
Q: I think you sort of kind of touched on eleven, it says what experiences and events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy.
Q: And so let's go to the role of the assistant principle. What should be the role of the assistant principle? Please discuss how you used your administrators when you were principle, and describe the most effective assistant principle with whom you work. What became of that assistant?
A: To me that's not a hard question. I think the principle and the assistant principles all share the responsibilities that we've been talking about. And I think it's important that you create in a school a culture of an administrative partnership and team. In fact the titles themselves becomes meaningless when that really works well, because what you're doing is you're recognizing that you can't do it alone. From, maybe from a staff development perspective I always would try to hire an assistant principle that I envisioned as principle material. In fact, that would be my goal as principle that I wanted to be sure that the assistant principles, or for that matter, guidance director, or student activities director would be given opportunities to not only experience, but have responsibilities for things in the building and functions, administrative functions that would help them prepare to become principles. So I think, I don't want to lose focus on the question. But I guess the role of the assistant principle is to be a partner with me in the learning piece, and the staff development piece, and the growing together as a team that strengthens our school. And so I see that as fundamentally important. In terms of the individual with whom I work and what became of that individual, well, one of them is principle, two of them became head principles. The others, you know, I'm sure could be head principles, it's a matter of them wanting to address that goal and to, you know, strive for that, and compete for that. I think they could do it, no question.
Q: Okay. Please discuss your approach to teaching valuation. What are your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?
A: I think there is a functional piece to this, but there is also a philosophical piece. The functional piece is that you've got to fair and consistent in applying the district rubric for teacher evaluation. And I think that's key because the moment you create the perception that it's being unfairly applied can be ruinous to the philosophical piece. And the philosophical piece is that good teacher evaluation should carefully dis aggregate the things that teachers do well, and focus on the things that would help them to do even better. So that what you end up with is a prescriptive diagnosis of areas of strength, but also areas that given the proper support and the resources would be certainly shifted to that strength category. It must be broad based. It must be frequent, and I think that's a problem we have in our own district, teacher evaluation now has become to infrequent in part because of the cumbersome nature of the particular protocol that we're using. I'd be more incline to shift to a different protocol that would allow for more frequent visits on the part of the administrative team into the classroom, so that teachers not only felt that, you know, the evaluation process was more consistent and more frequent, but that they would feel more comfortable in entering into a dialogue with the administrative team about the instructional program. And so I think that it's also important, I guess from a procedural point of view that the administrative team have a working knowledge of the vocabulary that relates to teacher evaluation. The way that the procedures that would be used with respect to teacher evaluation. The kinds of writing that best expressed what goes on in the classroom. The kinds of writing that best focuses on a diagnostic prescription of what needs to be considered and looked at. And so there is a requirements in my mind that administrators on a frequent basis talk about instruction, talk about what they are seeing in the classroom and share with one another the formal pieces that comprise the evaluation program. Because without that you end up with very different notions among not only your administrators about what constitutes a good evaluation program, but your teachers have very different perceptions about that as well. And so I think it needs to be a part of the regular dialogue that occurs in a schools administrative team. Okay. Satisfaction, describe approach to handling, you've got to be honest and straight forward. You've got to listen. You've got to give that teacher every opportunity to bring to the table any information or evidence that would in anyway bring bearing on the decisions that have been made with regard to the evaluation process. But you also have to be straight forward and be careful about following timelines, following procedures. So that procedurally you don't end up having to, how do I say it, you don't, you don't defeat the purpose of the evaluation process in the beginning because you failed to be mindful of the procedures and the timelines.
Q: Good. I'm going to pause here and flip the tape because I really don't want us to run out in the middle of your speaking.
Q: Okay. Number 14, administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paperwork and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Please comment on the situation during your administrative career and compare the challenges that you encounter with your knowledge of the principleship at this time.
A: Well, I think the first thing I would say is just get over it, because that is a fact of life, and it's not just characteristic of public education, that's a fact of life in the business world. This is certainly to use the cliche, the information age has gone crazy, and it will continue to do so. So the real challenge is not really going to be in anyway efficient by complaining about it, but rather concentrating instead on more efficient ways to manage and to accomplish what needs to be done. I think you do, in all seriousness have to develop a sixth sense about what's important and what's not, but yet you can't ignore things. You can't not look at information that crosses your desk. You can certainly develop a skill in terms of what needs to be read more closely versus what needs less attention. And you also need to develop an understanding within the context of your administrative team about who is going to have responsibility for what and then rotate that responsibility, that's part of the growing piece as well. So that as information comes in related to, we'll just say for example, text books and packaged programs that are available to support the instructional program, rotate that around. Do it yourself as principle for a while, rotate it around to others, and let people recognize that there is a whole market out there that's trying to get your attention. I would say that in terms of the bureaucracy itself be creative, but also step up to the plate if you have ideas on how it might be better accomplished. I know that, excuse me, I know that our own principles have made suggestions from time-to time about communication out of the Area office. I don't know what happened to my voice, excuse me. But if you have ideas on, for example, we decided one year to use e-mail instead of actually publishing memos to correspond about certain things. And that seem to work, everybody got excited about that at first, and then they started looking for the hard copy to back things up, and they realized, hey we need the hard copy as well. So what seems like a frustration isn't necessarily always. It's a question of managing it, dealing with it, getting on with it, and not be buried by it. So you just have to figure that out for yourself how best to accomplish that.
Q: Please describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and how you cope with them, and what were some of your biggest headaches and/or concerns on the job? Describe the toughest decision that you had to make?
A: I think the pressures that you face as a principle is that you're always the principle. You are principle 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day. Even though you walk out of that building and you're in the community, or you're at the country club, if you belong, playing golf or whatever you do, you're still the principle and you carry around with you that mantle of responsibility. But more importantly you carry around with you that sense of having to prioritize where you put your time and attention, where you want to make some in-roads, whether it's within the building or outside the building in terms of facilitating, you know, the success of your staff, or the success of the children, or dealing with the issues that are part of the job. So that's a constant pressure. And I think the challenge is to bring to yourself a sense of internal balance, so that you don't allow that pressure to be consuming. And the balance is, you know, going to be a reflection of personal interests as well, you know, access that you may or may not have to other opportunities to keep the balance. For example, exercise, getting involved maybe singing in a choir, but purposely structuring your life so that there are some outlets to get your mind off of these pressures because they are there, and they're going to be there all the time. In terms the tough decision or decisions that I've had to make in my mind the toughest decisions that I made as a principle related to two things, firing a teacher or recommending the dismissal of a teacher, which occurred, I think, as I think back on it, I had to let go between the two schools, I was a principle for 10 years, I had to let go 10 different teachers. The other things that's hard to do is to sit in front of a youngster and his parents and tell them that he's not going to graduate, or she is not going to graduate. When in fact that was the expectation for everyone, including the staff at the school and it just didn't happen. Now fortunately today there are so many other opportunities that are given to kids in terms of, you know, making up for those deficiencies, that it probably is not as painful as it was back then. We didn't have as many alternatives. But that is a tough thing to do. And, you know, I know that principles today are facing even tougher decisions when they've had to deal with, you know, some of the internal violence and the kinds of things that are going on in our schools today.
Q: Okay. Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration what would they be?
A: I can think of three things right a way. One would be that everyone would be equipped with and connected with laptops and computers at home and on the go with e-mail and Internet access. Secondly, that everyone would be equipped with a cell phone. And I think of that in the context of the issues related to Columbine, for example. Having walkie talkies in the building aren't going to be much help in a situation like that. You need communication that gives you access to the outside world. And I think, you know, obviously the cell phone technology brings that to the table. I think the third thing that I would change to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness piece is to, how do I put this. I think, I think I would, and I don't think it's necessarily characteristic of educators. I think we do so many things, we continue to do so many things because we've done them, that we don't go back and prune the tree. We don't go back and look at, is this something we really need to do. And if we're honest with ourselves, if we took the time to do that, we could eliminate from that daily routine so many little things that eat at our time that we really just don't need to do. A good example, and again, how technology can be helpful. You know, we print lists of kids who are late to class, or we use to. We print, you know, attendance lists. We, you know, cut slips, kids that are sent to the office. I mean, we need to invest in our teachers a greater sense of not only accountability, but responsibility for keeping track of their clients. And let their, let their technology, or let the gift of technology be accessible to them, so that they can send direct e-mails to home, for example, or to parents in their business life that Johnny or Susie was late to class, or didn't show up on a particular day. We need to look at better ways for all of us to be communicators. When that falls on the administrative staff it just bogs down. So that would be the third thing I'd do.
Q: Question 17 refers to the time that you were principle. Please describe your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his or her general demeanor toward you and your school?
A: I think it's important that principles cease the opportunity to develop that relationship. And I think I guess I'm thinking of it from the perspective of my responsibility to market what goes on in the school for which I have that responsibility. And, you know, let's face it, the superintendent is the chief executive officer of the school district and the school system. To the degree that I can educate he or she about what's going on in my school will enable me to tap resources that I might not otherwise have access to. So there is a selfishness to it in the sense that, you know, the noisy axle gets the grease. And, you've got to be noisy about your school. And so you need to develop that connection. And the superintendent is someone is that enlarges the vision and the perspective that allows you as the building level administrator to say to your faculty, you see, we are headed in the right direction, or you see how good you are. We have complimented that vision. And so I think he's obviously, or she's a tremendous spokesperson to the doubting Thomas's that are out there in the public and we need to tape that connection.
Q: Please discuss the way in which you learn to lead. That is in what procedures or experiences you were involved that contributed to your effectiveness and the contribution that professional graduate education made to your progress?
A: You know, I think I might have talked about that earlier and I'm just real pleased to see the direction that graduate education is going today in terms of practical application through internships, mentoring programs, making those connections for would be school administrators. Because I think you have to walk along side the shoes of someone whose doing the job to see what works, what doesn't. To develop a personal portfolio, if you will, of ideas and skills that you would like to try and apply in the job itself. You know, I was an assistant principle for many, many, many years. I started in that role in 1972 and it was 12 years later that I became a head principle. It's much more common today to be an assistant principle for far fewer years and step into the role of head principle. In my mind that means that you need to maximize the opportunities to get out there and be a partner with a practicing school-based administrator. And I think school districts need to wake-up and recognize that their going to have to pay for that privilege. They can't be on the one hand complaining about the absence of qualified and ready candidates, and on the other hand not attending to succession planning in a way that provides the practical experience and applications, so these candidates can hit the pavement running.
Q: It has been said that good leaders encourage the subordinates and peers by staging celebrations of their successes, no matter how small or insignificant. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as a principle and to what extent did it improve morale and organization effect?
A: I think that's absolutely key. I think it's key for a lot of different reasons. I think that when you think systemically about what's happened to society in general in terms of the culture, the family, the opportunity that has in many ways disappeared to sit around a table in the evening to talk about successes, et cetera, the real place that still exists is in the workplace. And we need to capitalize on that. Simple things, be it birthdays, be it anniversaries, be it successes with student teams or individual students. Presentations the teachers make, a good lesson that you've seen, those things need to be recognized, identified, and celebrated. Not to the degree that they aren't perceived as being sincere. But certainly to the degree that the culture in that building encourages mutual recognition of each others successes. Because when you do that then when the natural tendency to experience, you know, the sad things in life come along, or the failures come along, you can help each other pick each other up. And so if you do that you strengthen the school, you strengthen the organization, you strengthen the culture. And that's done on a consistent and daily basis.
Q: Some writers recommend that principles adjust their leadership styles to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about that idea and to what extent did you practice individualized leadership?
A: You know, I did look at these questions a little bit before the interview, and when I first looked at that one it really kind of gave me pause. I think there was a time when most people would have said that isn't necessary, I would suggest to you that that's vital. I would suggest to you that, just as we expect teachers to model sensitivity and the development of individuals in their classrooms in terms of their learning styles, and be able to adapt the instructional program to reflect that, and put it in place, I think as, I think as leaders in education we need to do the same thing with our teachers. We need to recognize that there are many different ways to teach a lesson. There are many different ways to communicate. And there are many different ways to reinforce and point folks into a different direction. And you've got to become skillful at recognizing, first of all, that there are different ways. And then secondly, feeling comfortable in putting those into place. And that's not, that doesn't mean being a chameleon or anything like that. That just means that you are sensitive to the fact that people have a different style, or a different way of getting the message. And it's important that you recognize that is how you communicate, not just what you communicate.
Q: Some principles hold a view that teachers and other staff members are in general well motivated reliable self-starters. Other principles feel they must closely monitor the activities of their employees to ensure that they are performing to standards. What supervisory approach did you customarily use during your tenure as principle?
A: I think more realistically most schools have a continuum, I mean, that's just human nature. You're going to have in a school, let's say you have a faculty of 100. You're going to have about maybe 10 to 15 people who will do anything. Who will jump wherever you want them to jump, do whatever you want them to do. Conversely, you're going to have a similar number who won't go no matter what, who will just continue to take the approach, this too shall pass. The real challenge is that big group in the middle, because that sits on a continuum and depending upon the kind of motivational strategies that you bring to the table, the kind of encouragement and support that you provide, whether it's in the form of resources or at-a-boys or, you know, just spending time with a person may or may not move in the direction that you would like to see them move. And so you've got to be eclectic in applying that philosophy. If you take the approach that everybody is going to follow you over the hill, it's going to be a lonely roll to the bottom. If you take the approach that you have to supervise closely everyone, people won't take risks, they won't trust themselves to step out of the box, or push themselves out of the comfort zone, because, you know, they'll be afraid to do that without your blessing. And so I guess that goes back to the philosophy question that was asked earlier. My philosophy is that you need to create a culture and environment where people are comfortable in pushing themselves out of their own comfort zone. The real, the real excitement about education is to come to the reality, both as a teacher and administrator, but to see the kids come to reality that there is so much to learn that you never stop learning. That there are just so many exciting things to learn that you just barely have enough time. And that's what you've got to create.
Q: One model of leadership describes people as either assertive, supportive, or contemplative. Please categorize yourself and give your reasons for your choice?
A: Probably most of the time I'd like to think of myself as supportive, but I think you also have to be all of these. I think there are times when you need to be assertive. For example, if you've got a crisis going on in the building, you don't want to run around trying to support everybody's feelings about what do you think, what do you think. You want to be very assertive about taking command of the situation, making a decision and bringing it to closure. Obviously there are going to be times when you want to be contemplative as well. One of the things that I like to do as principle is send a survey out at the end of the year that would be filled out on an anonymous basis and would ask for, you know, things that work, things that didn't work. If we had a particular focus in terms of staff development, how we, how you wanted that to be different. Things that you would like to see me do differently or the assistant principles do different, or the guidance director, students activities director. I mean just an open-ended kind of thing. And it, you know, it really is built around the notion that feedback has to be your best friend. Because if you don't accept it that way there are going to be some things that you are going to read that you won't like and you have to reflect on that, as you suggest be contemplative, and you have to try to prioritize what you might do differently. Because if you don't people will stop filling out the surveys if nothing changes. So I think all of those are applicable, but I think for the most part I tended to focus on trying to be a support to the teachers and the students.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to colleges and universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates. I think you've spoken to that somewhat. What do you view as weaknesses in traditional programs for the training of administrators?
A: I think you have to strike a balance, and I think both pieces are very very important between theory and practice. And I think the people who have the time to explore the theories and to study the research are your college professors who are in higher ed. And that's an important, very important piece of the equation, because they bring to the table elements that practitioners haven't had the time to engage in and take a look at. But on the other hand that practical side when missing creates a false sense of security, I think, in people who want to be school-based administrators. Because they need to have the reality of that job clearly in mind before they step into the picture. And the best way maybe to do that is to build this notion of internships and mentoring. And I think we need to pay whatever it takes for that to happen if we want the best to lead the schools for the next century. And so I would say that's probably the one thing that would better prepare candidates.
Q: Okay. And in summary, please give us an overall commentary on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you wish to be passed along to today's principles?
A: You know, I really can't think of any negatives that really just sit out there and bug me so to speak. I think being able to initiate and make a difference in the lives of others is a wonderful, wonderful experience. And I've seen so many people over the years, particularly when I worked with Marymount University who were in second career situations where they wanted to come a public school setting to engage with others and offer to them the advantage of the perspective they had gained over years of experience in other professions. And, you know, it's that engaging other minds and seeing, you know, the creativity and the blossoming of people who may be didn't believe in themselves, walk across that stage ready to take on the world that just recharged my batters every year. It was the best job I ever had, bar none. I like being middle school principle, it was fun, it was goofy to stand in the hall, wear a traffic light costume and a have blue nose and stuff like that, but I loved being a high school principle. It was just the best job that I ever had. And I'm just so thankful that I had so many experiences before I got there, because otherwise I know I would have been clueless. So I think it's got a lot of pros, you know, I guess, the real con of the job is you have to keep things in balance and not let it get to you, and keep things in perspective. And, you know, if you have family you've got to make time for your family, that's a key as well, and take care of your health. Okay. I tell you, I'd like to talk and talk and talk, but I think that's the last question.
Q: Well, just for the record I would like to say that I worked directly for Dr. Moulton and it has certainly been a privilege and the things that you have said are not just things that you are saying. I watch you do them and employ them with people. And based on the reception that you received at your retirement party, I think that speaks to most people in the county who lives you've touched. So thank you very much for doing this for us and for posterity.
A: Well, and thank you, and I know it's going to be Dr. Lowery in the near future. And I want to also come and visit you if, and when you should be come head principle, and that might not be too far down the road either.
Q: Thank you so much.
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