Interview with Doug R. Mullins

March 30, 2000

| Back to "M" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |


Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background-your childhood interests and development? That will include birthplace, elementary and secondary education, family characteristics and anything else that comes to mind.

mullins audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Okay, I was born in Dunham, Kentucky. That is a little town somewhere north of Jenkins, Kentucky, probably about two miles from Jenkins. I attended elementary school in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to Baltimore shortly after the war. My father worked at a shipyard in Baltimore. Then we moved to Clintwood in 1947. I began elementary school in the seventh grade at Clintwood Elementary and went to high school in Clintwood and graduated in 1954. After finishing high school, my family moved to Blacksburg because I attended Virginia Tech on a football scholarship. And I attended Tech from 1954 to 1956 where I played football and basketball, by the way. Then I dropped out and got married shortly after that and worked in Washington, D.C. for United Airlines for approximately three and a half years, had a son. And when my son was three years old, I decided that I was going to go back and get my degree. So we already owned a house in Alexandria, Virginia, and so I rented the house–I actually let my mother keep it while I was gone---and I went back to school to East Tennessee State University. I majored in psychology and sociology and played basketball there. I was there on a basketball scholarship, matter of fact, and graduated in 1962. My family: I married a girl from Clintwood who was in high school with me. I started dating her my senior year in high school and we have two sons. My older son was born in 1958 and my youngest son was born in 1964, both of them born in Alexandria, Virginia. My wife is also a Clintwood High graduate and she went to college at Richmond Professional Institute as a fashion design major. My two sons are both college graduates, on from the University of North Carolina where he was there on a football scholarship and he majored in fine arts and he is now an artist in Abingdon, Virginia. My youngest son majored in history and psychology and he is a substance abuse counselor in the psychological counsel for community services board right now. You want further characteristics for the family? My oldest son, D.R., has a daughter, Jordan that’s in middle school at Abingdon at E.B. Stanley Elementary. My younger son has two sons that went to school at Clintwood Elementary. As a note of interest, my daughter-in-law, who married D.R. who is the artist, is an actress who has made several movies. My other daughter-in-law is an accountant---actually, a bookkeeper---and works for a law firm in Norton. That is all I can think of about my family as far as characteristics.  

Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher? A principal?

A: Okay, I really took sort of a circuitous route to get into public education as I mentioned to you before we started the tape. I was a personnel manager–started out as a personnel representative and a college relations recruiter for a company called Melpar. It was an engineering and research and development company. I was required to go out and recruit at various colleges to find engineers and scientests to hire at Melpar. And I used to do orientations for new employees there. That is one of the things that sort of got me into the teaching mode, I guess. But I worked for them after I got out of college and worked for them for about seven to eight years in the personnel field. I left Melpar and became a personnel manager for Litton Industries. I worked for them for the applied science lab in Bethesda, Maryland. Then later I worked for a computer consulting firm called Aierbach that was based in Philadelphia but I had my office in Washington D.C. and St. Louis, and I was the personnel director for this company. I chose to get of the field because it was a bit hectic and I had to do a lot of traveling. I was away from my family a great deal, plus I didn’t like being in an urban area, like Washington D.C. and then St. Louis. And so I chose to come back to Clintwood to raise my kids, so I took a coaching job at Clintwood High School and a teaching job at Clintwood High School. And when I began teaching I taught psychology, sociology and government and I taught in the classroom for five years. Then after being in coaching and in the classroom for five years, I decided that I would take a taste of administration. And I had been working on my masters for I guess the fourth and fifth year that I taught. When I got my masters, I immediately took a job as assistant principal at Clintwood High School. That was in 1974. And I was an assistant principal at Clintwood High School for unfortunately fourteen years. And I won’t go into that, because that would entail talking about a person that I worked with for quite a long time. Then I became the principal at the high school in 1989, and was principal there from 1989 to 1984, and then became superintendent of Dickenson County Schools in 1994 and retired in 1996.

Q: What year did you begin teaching?

A: I begin teaching… well, let me back up. When I finished college in 1962 at East Tennessee State, I taught for one year at Clintwood and found that I couldn’t make a living at it. It was just…the pay was so low and I was coaching two sports. I was teaching five classes, had a homeroom of 58 kids, had a study hall of 63 kids, and I was making something like $2900 a year. So after the first year, I was in debt and I told my wife that we just can’t afford to do this. That was when I chose to leave and went to northern Virginia and got into personnel administration. So I had one year of experience before I came back into public education in 1969. And then I had five years after that. So that is the reason that I say it was a somewhat circuitous route to get into public education.

Q: I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.

A: Well, it seems one of the things that dictated my early life and the reason I went to college was simply because of athletics. It provided a way for me to go to college and I was the first child in my mother or father’s immediate family that ever went to college–I’m sorry, that ever finished college. There was only one uncle to my knowledge that ever attended college prior to me and I was the first one to graduate from college. And the reason I did, as to say, is simply because of athletics. They guided me into college and consequently, I finished up and got my degree. I always had in the back of my mind when I was a student in high school that I wanted to coach and that I wanted to teach. And I don’t know why exactly, I guess because of the influence of teachers that I had and particularly the influence of one coach that I had. He was a terrific math teacher by the name of Howard Deel. I am sure that you know or have heard of. But he had a great deal of influence on me, my life and my choices in life because I admired him so much. And I think that I chose to become a teacher and to coach a lot because of him, because he was a man of great integrity and intelligence. I really liked him. My whole decision that I made, as to career, really was sort of dictated by what my family circumstances were and what I felt was best for my wife and for my sons. And that sort of allowed me to choose paths that I thought were good, because I thought it would be good for them. And so ultimately, I thought that coming back into public education and moving to a rural area would be good for my sons. That way I could raise them in a rural setting. And my wife, since she was from Clintwood, and I was from Clintwood, essentially; I thought it would be a really good place to go to raise the kids and start a new career and to get away from the hectic pace of the urban life. So that sort of determined why I came back into public education and chose to come back into teaching. And by that time, salaries had improved a little bit, not a great deal. I took a tremendous cut in pay to come back into education, but I thought it was worth it ultimately to get the kids back into a better environment. So I guess that really determine…there was nothing monumental, there was no epiphany you know to say, "you’ve got to go back and be a teacher and whatever." It was just a decision that I thought would be good for the family, plus I had always wanted to be a teacher. So that is what happened.

Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?

A: Well, to a point, as you well remember. I have always felt from the time I stepped into my first classroom, that I had the qualities because I always felt like I was a good communicator, and I also had leadership qualities, and I always felt like I had a personality that was somewhat authoritative, and I think that has been born out over the years. So I think in the back of mind I always felt that ultimately I would go into a supervisory or administrative position. And that just sort of evolved as I stayed in the classroom for a little while and then looking for opportunities. I looked around at a lot of-- not a lot–a number of administrators that I worked with and I felt that I had a lot better qualities than they had to be an administrator. I felt like I managed the students better, I managed curriculum and designed curriculum better than they could. I just thought I was better than them, frankly. It sounds arrogant, but that was one of the reasons I chose to go in because I thought I could have a lot better impact and more impact by being an administrator and a building principal than I could be in the classroom. Because in the classroom, as you well know, you are sort of powerless. You know, you don’t make a lot of decisions there. And I just felt that I had qualities that were conducive to being an administrator and I felt like I had a lot more to offer as an administrator and as a principal than I did in the classroom, even though I enjoyed the classroom a lot. I enjoyed the give and take with students. And really when you teach, you are a little bit of a performer. And I think that the better you are at performing, the better teacher you are, frankly. Of course you have to have a lot of knowledge at your disposal. But that was always of interest to me, and I found that that translates into becoming a good administrator really, because you have to be able to be very persuasive. You have to get your ideas across and communicate. And you have to…well you can really hone and whatever leadership skills you have you have a really good opportunity to find out whether it is true or just make believe. And you find out very quickly because you can’t fake it. So I felt that I had it and that’s the reason I chose to go into it. And again, I just felt like that I was a strong individual from the standpoint of personality and leadership qualities than most of the administrators I saw around me. So I felt I compete and succeed with what I saw around me. So that was really the key motivating me to go into it.

Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship? How did your motives change over the years?

A: Well I don’t think they necessarily changed over the years. I think again it was sort of an evolution. The more experience you get and the more experiences you have as a principal, the more you see things down the road that you would like to change, that you would like to improve, that you would like to institute and the things that you would like to broaden as far as the educational experiences are concerned for the students. And so, I think what happened to me, and I am sure what happens to all principals, is that as you do the job, you just see more and more things that you would like to change. There are things that you find that have been static for years and years that are not working, you need to find better solutions. And you are always looking for a better mousetrap, as they say. And with interaction with other principals, other administrators that you meet throughout the state, at conferences and et cetera, you truly get an idea that what you are doing in your own little world here is not enough and it is not good enough. And so you want to incorporate things that you have seen and things that you have heard from other administrators, things that you visited. So the thing that kept motivating me was just trying to find ways to make your school better and make it a stronger academic environment for all of your kids, and to institute new classes and new courses and improve your faculty, which is a big, big thing, you know, if you want to be a building principal; because you are never happy, you are never, ever happy with every member you have on your staff. And you have got to find ways constantly to renew them and have them have the same amount of fire that you want everyone to have. So again, that is an evolutionary process and the motive is to just keep getting better for your students and getting your school better and better all of the time. Plus, you have got to hound the people above you to improve your facilities, as you know around here is tough, very tough to do.

Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education. How did it evolve over the years

A: ? Well, my personal philosophy, I guess, is very similar to most people who have been teachers. You really are constantly searching for a way to improve the delivery of the subject matter to your students. And you are constantly trying to find ways to get your students more interactive and have them become more of a proactive part of the educational environment. And I have always felt that the best education that you can possibly have is when your students come into class anticipating what is going to happen in the classroom that day. And they are going to be really active and be taking part in what is going on in the classroom. And the teacher has got to be a person that prompts all of that. He has got to keep them excited. (She/ he/ she) He’s got to be–the teacher just got to be a very, very active person in a classroom because the things I found that were so bad about public education were individual teachers who sat at their desk and lectured. And they didn’t invite the kids to be involved in it. They didn’t challenge the kids to become involved in it. They just did their thing and the kids sat and did their thing, which sort of turned you off. So the biggest thing I found about education, I guess which probably formed my philosophy, is that it has got to be a truly active process, you know, a truly interactive process. That you have got to have everybody excited about what is going on, and that’s the challenge, really, to have the teachers excited about what they are doing and demonstrate that to the kids that they are excited about what they are doing. And have them in turn join in that process. And if you don’t achieve that, than you are sunk dead in the water, frankly. I think that that happens too often; that you just have people that are going through the routine, the motions when they step into the classroom. Now I have always said that the backbone of education is the classroom. It is the classroom teacher, and how well that particular teacher does his job or her job in the classroom and how well the students do their job in the classroom. And if you don’t achieve it there, than overall, you have lost it. That is just the simple fact.

Q: Do you see that philosophy evolving over the years any or…?

A: You tend to tweak it as you go along. I think that my philosophy has remained the same and I just think that it is just a very personal thing. I think that teaching is a very personal. And I think that it really depends on the individual attributes of a teacher and of the administrator over him and all those people involved with the students. If you don’t good talented people that are dedicated–and I hate to use the word dedicated, frankly, because it is so trite, but it is true---that if you don’t have people that are willing to go in and just work really hard to improve themselves and be excited about what they are doing, then your education product is not going to be good. Those kids are probably not going to buy into it. They see that you are bored, if you have a classroom teacher coming in and doing this routine thing every day. If you are bored as a teacher, than your kids definitely are going to really be bored. So I just think that that is it. My philosophy has always been based on that particular idea, you have got to be excited about what you do. Otherwise, get out. And you find people that don’t like it, then get rid of them. That’s tough to do, I know, but it’s a symbiotic relationship. You find a teacher who is good, who is excited, who is competent, who knows what he is talking about, and conveys that to kids, than you get the kids excited about it–than you are going to have an educational process going on. And I experienced that down at the high school a lot with individual teachers. I also had the opposite thing an awful lot, a lot more than I wanted, quite frankly.    

Q: What experiences/events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Please discuss these events.

A: Well, I think one of things that influenced my management philosophy--- and as I have said, I have always been sort of an authoritative person, I have always projected, I won’t say overbearing, but I have always projected a pretty authoritative personality. And I think that that came about rather early in industry because I was, at a pretty young age, I was thrown in with a lot of people that had advanced degrees, a lot of Ph.D’s in life sciences, a lot of engineering degrees, and these are folks that I dealt with on a daily basis as a recruiter and as a, well, let me try to find the word we used there. I was an industrial recruiter, but it was also an employer representative. I hired everyone from every particular field all the way through engineers and scientists et cetera. And you learn a particular manner that you must adopt when you are dealing with people at that particular level. You can’t be a milk toast type of guy. You know you have to exude confidence. And I think by starting out initially at a pretty young age dealing with folks like that that I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities and I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to communicate, persuade people like that. I also gave them their employment orientations and they came to me to ask questions about the company, et cetera, et cetera. And I think that really set the stage for the kind of personality that I had when I became a manager, when I became a building principal, and when I became a superintendent. That I had confidence in my ability to deal with people at any level, regardless. And also, to establish a management style that was somewhat authoritative. Again, I don’t want to use the word overbearing, but probably I was on a lot of occasions. When you look at management styles, I could have been too authoritative and probably a little overbearing. But I think that my early experience in personnel administration sort of, sort of started that and sort of set a tone for my management style. It had very little to do with education, frankly. I don’t think that anything that I took in college or any exposure that I had in college helped me adopt that style at all. It was really work experience and exposure in the work field.

Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal."

A: Well, I will tell you the very first thing that a teacher expects out of a principal and that is to support them. And I don’t care what teacher you talk with and what kind of experiences they have had of teachers, one of the things they will also want to say---they usually describe it as "back me up." Now I don’t like that terminology. I like the terminology that says that, if you are going out and trying to deliver a really good educational product, then I am going to support you in that effort. And if you come up with new ideas and things that are going to improve that product, then I am going to support you in that effort. If you get into a bind, you made a mistake, after you and I discuss it privately, and I tell you what your mistake was, I am still going to support you in that effort. So really what it boils down to is a good administrator first and foremost is going to take his faculty and build confidence. Those teachers are going to have to have confidence in you that you are going to back them up and if they mess up you are going to find a way out of it, then you can show them where the mistake was made, and then you are going to build on that–let them be better teachers along the way. But you really have to show them that regardless of what comes down the pike, as long as they are giving you an honest effort and trying their best to teach in accords to the way that you want them to teach and in accordance with your instructional methods-- and you discuss this ad infinitum with them–that you back them up and that you show them that you support them. And again, when they fall down, you have to pick them up and show them where they made their mistake. Now I think that really as a building principal, that that is the ultimate in importance to running a school. Because if you have an unhappy faculty you are not going to have a good school and that is just a fact of life. You can have disenchanted individuals on your faculty that you can go out and pinpoint individually and work with them, but overall you have got to set a tenor in the school so that you have good morale among your teachers. If you have it you are going to have a good school. That is going to pervade the entire school and the kids are going to pick up on it and everybody is going to be working hard because they enjoy it. If you have the opposite taking place, you really have got a problem. You are going to have a bad school. You are going to have really, really–teachers who are not happy. And they can destroy it. They can really destroy it. I don’t know, I have got off on a tangent there someway.

Q: After the support, what kinds of things do you think that teachers expect principals to be able to do?

A: Well, after the support, there is another aspect, and I think that this probably plays into the support aspect of it, too. I have always felt that in order to be an effective manager of anything, business, school, whatever it might be, that you have to solicit input from people that you working with you and for you. And you have to listen to it and where it is possible and you find good ideas, incorporate it, show them you have incorporated it, and give them credit for it. And let them that this is a good idea and it is going to help us out. And just have them involved in it all of the time in whatever decision making process that you are going through. At least solicit their advice and have them give you some input. One of the things, as to say, is that you are going to make them a lot happier because they are a part of it. The other thing is that they are going to make you look very good. And I have found that to be true always. That if you go out and let them know that you are letting it be known that you have a two way process here of communication--you talk to me, give me ideas and I will talk to you–that you are going to be a lot better off. And the school will be a lot better. You are going to be more successful and your teachers are going to be more successful. But having said all that, and that is a good democratic style of leadership, I think, you still have to be the guy who makes the decisions. You have got to be the one who is being firm, when it takes time to be firm and when people are not doing what you want, who are doing things that are detrimental to the school, then you have got to have the guts to say, you know, it is going to stop right here. You and I disagree and you are not doing what I want you to do so we are going to have to find a way to resolve this. So, this again goes back to leadership styles, and I like democratic leadership styles, obviously, but I tend to be toward the autocratic side, when it comes down to making decisions and knowing I want them to know who makes the decision. I don’t want there to be any doubt about it at all. But don’t be arbitrary, nor do I want to be necessary overbearing. So, I think that that really sums up what a good principal is in my view anyway.

Q: As a follow up question, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed upon principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment. How do those expectations differ from today’s situation?

A: Well I don’t think---well first of all, let me say what I think the expectations are. Professionally, the expectations of your employers are that you have a good wealth of knowledge and that you are well prepared as far as the knowledge base is concerned; that you are well prepared from a technical standpoint, that you know how to get that knowledge out and effect it in your classroom and in your school. I think that they also–employers again---expect you to have very good affective skills–A F F E C T. Affective skills, just being able to work with people and do it in a smooth nice manner, which is sometimes very hard to do. I think that that has not changed, although I think that now the environment is a little less civilized than it used to be because people tend to think that they can come in and give you advice when it is unsolicited and sometimes give it in a fashion that is not too well received. They are just not as pleasant as they used to be and people are a lot more proactive about their views toward education. Everybody’s got an opinion, whether it is good or bad or indifferent. So the environment from that perspective has changed a great deal. The expectations of the employer have not changed. Those three things I think I mentioned before---they expect that, and expect you to be very good at all three of those areas. But it is a more difficult environment now, there is no question about it. I think that being in public education is far more difficult than it was twenty, twenty-five years ago because the entire environment has changed and as I say, everybody has their own opinions about how it should be done. It has been so politicized…you know anyone that runs for office has always got a better view of how education can be handled better than the other candidate has. That is another story altogether. I think that one of the really big problems with public education, quite frankly, is the fact that it has long been a political football and is becoming more and more so all the time. And that makes it very difficult for people involved in public education because they are always trying to respond to the person who has the most criticism at a given time. And you can't do that, you know you can’t have a cohesive set of principles to follow if you are trying to satisfy that person and this person and this person. You just shoot off in all different directions. And that really is one of the things that is wrong with public education right now, I think. It is also one of the things wrong with employers, because they have pressure put on them by the general community and by politicians. They in turn exert pressure on the administrators and the teachers to react in a given way. And that is unhealthy; I think that that is particularly unhealthy. But that is the kind of cultural setting that we have right now in public education. It isn’t good, I don’t think at all. Let me back up on that just one second. I think, I truly think, that community involvement obviously is necessary and it is a very desirable thing as long as it is done in a positive fashion. But the problem with community input too often is the people that make the most noise are the ones who have some particular agenda that they want to follow. And too often it has nothing to do with what is best for the students, nor with what is best for education in general in that particular system. But they are the ones who either have the most clout or make the most noise or whatever the situation might be. And that is not healthy. But overall, when you find people who are willing to look at public education and say that there is something that I think that we can do to improve it; and generally are concerned about what is going on; and generally come in and give you constructive criticism; constructive input, and trying to do something better for the students, that’s great. That is good community involvement. But far too often that is not what you get, and that is unfortunate.

Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques that worked for you and an incident in which your approach failed.

A: Well, first of all I agree that personal leadership is extremely important. I think that leadership styles are important. As far as personally, my leadership styles–and I mentioned this before–if you set up a continuum of leadership styles and on the left you have autocratic and in the middle you have democratic and on the end you have lazes faire–let it go, let it be–I would be between the autocratic and the democratic, because I think you have to be a firm leader. I think you have to establish yourself as the guy in charge, first and foremost. But again I think you have got to be receptive to ideas coming from your faculty and we will keep this in the scenario of a school setting. You have got to, as I said before, solicit good ideas from your faculty and you have got to listen to it and where you can, implement them to make them know that they are part of the team. But the personal leadership style that I would adopt and did adopt was sort of democratic, but going on the side of being a little autocratic and I think that it worked for me. And I like those styles a little better. I detest people who just leave it up in the air and say, "just let it go, let it run itself." I think that that is a prescription for disaster, frankly. It has always worked for me in the setting of principal and as assistant principal, and as a superintendent it worked for me really well, matter of fact. Thinking of ways where it may have backfired, now that’s a…. The only time I can think of that it did not work out particularly well for me is I had a teacher–I have had several teachers, but one teacher in particular–when we had faculty meetings I would always try to get them involved, as I said, and have some ideas and have some input from them. But I had one teacher who was always so negative about everything. And if we had forty teachers in the meeting and we had thirty-nine people that said, "well, we agree with what you want to do," this one person would be negative. They would disagree. So my style with them was to bring them back at the end after the meeting was over and talk with them and just say "well, okay, what is it that you do not like about what we are going to implement here" (Now I had already let them know that we are going to implement this, because you know everyone seems to like it) and discuss it with them. And I never could convey to this person what I was trying to achieve to their satisfaction and so I never got them on board. So regardless of what my personal style was, I failed with that individual. So what I did was just toss it off and say, you know, you can’t win them all, frankly. But I just let him know that you just got to get on board, you know this is what it is going to be. And so, I had several incidents, matter of fact, with that particular teacher, where things didn’t work out well in the open meeting. And it always ended up with a conversation with me and that individual in my office, just getting it ironed out, unfortunately to my satisfaction, and not to that individual’s satisfaction. So the style does not always work. You know you do have failures.  

Q: Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them. Describe your biggest headaches or concerns on the job. Describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make.

A: Well, as a principal--and I always go back and say building principal, I think that that is a more appropriate description–every day that you step into the building, immediately as you step into the building you have pressure on you. And I think the pressure is sort of self imposed in the fact that when you go in there you know that everything that is taking place in that building is your responsibility, from facilities to every human being that steps into the building is your responsibility. And first and foremost what you want is for every day to run smoothly. You don’t want glitches, you don’t want problems, you don’t want anything to happen that detracts from the educational program and then delivering the educational product. But you know that you can’t get through the day without that happening, so that’s the pressure there is to make everything run as smoothly as possible. And then, when things do happen, be enough intact in your mind to work it out so it doesn’t effect the students, so it doesn’t effect the faculty and everything still runs as smoothly as it can possibly run during that day. And you handle the problem and handle it quietly and discreetly to the extent that you can. And I think that that really, as a building principal, that is the ultimate in pressure, to make sure that every day is smooth and every day goes along without interrupting your educational program. Because the fewer interruptions that you can have, whether it is in the P.A. system coming out in the classroom or whatever it might be--coming to the classroom and knocking on the door, the fewer you have, the better your school is. And the better you have of the delivery of your educational product. So that is the biggest thing really--it always was with me--was the day to day thing of being smooth and having a good, tight and efficient program and environment for the education program. Let’s see, what else did we have…. The biggest headaches or concerns on the job: on a daily basis, that is really it, just make sure that you have everything, that your building is in good shape, that your teachers are doing a good job, that your kids are well behaved, that your building is safe and that you are making your employer happy. The toughest decision, that–you know, you could say your discipline problems, but I never felt that that was any of your toughest decisions. There are a lot of things that come up in having to discipline kids that are tough, but the toughest decisions are dealing with teachers who are not particularly competent and having to make decisions as to what to do with them. Because your first obligation is to try to improve them, try to find ways to make them better teachers. And I think that there are some of the questions that follow along and get into that a little more, but the biggest, the toughest decision, is when you find a teacher that is totally incompetent, is what are you going to do. And how are you going to do it legally. Because that’s…you don’t want to, you just don’t want to, you don’t want to fire people. You don’t want to have to replace them, you don’t want to have to take them out of the classroom, and that happens, and it happens more often than you want it to happen, quite frankly. That is the toughest thing that I have ever faced is what to do with teachers that were not doing a good job for you–the biggest concern.

Q: Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal?

A: I think probably…I think the key for me was really a matter of leadership style. I think that my leadership style was very conducive to running the school. I think it was very conducive to running a high school, particularly. I have always been able to relate to teenagers really well. I have always related to teachers really well. I think that I have always had good communication skills. So I would probably say that my leadership style was the thing that made me the most successful as a principal. Plus the fact I like to be looking forward all of the time. I always wanted to find a way of doing things a little bit differently. I always wanted new courses to be instituted. I wanted new instructional methods to be put into play. And I encouraged my teachers to think openly, you know, sort of get a little bit out of the box and think a little bit and try to improve things in their classroom. So I guess those two things in particular, I feel, made me successful.    

Q: As a follow-up question, I have always been impressed with your communicative abilities. What do you attribute that to? Does that go back to your high school, college, or have you always been just a natural communicator?

A: I don’t know, I think it probably is a combination. I think that it is in some sense just a gift. You know some people are just more articulate than others. Some people enjoy talking, communicating more than others do. Probably it may have been my upbringing in Baltimore, because that was a really diverse cultural environment that I lived in there. When I lived in Baltimore, there was a mix of Italian, Jewish, Greek, Hungarian, Black and Hillbilly. I was the token hillbilly, who moved there from Kentucky. And you really start off very early–and I was only six years old when I moved there–and you have such an eclectic mix of people and cultures there that you learn how to communicate with different people very quickly. Otherwise you will be standing in a corner by yourself, if you didn’t. And I think that was a really good, a really good environment for me to learn. And I think that I probably became a very verbal individual very early on during that time from six to twelve years old. Because when I came back to Clintwood, I know that I was a little dismayed; it was a little bit of a cultural shock to come back to this area where things were so drastically different. Everybody was the same, you know, all so Anglo-Saxon, you know, country folks. And I was different because I was more talkative and more, I guess more outgoing than others. But I guess that is probably what created some of it: just a natural gift for gab, plus being in an environment that helped me very quickly in life. And I think I became a pretty confidant person, frankly, when I was a young kid. And then as I went through high school and athletics I think made me a lot more confidant. Too, you get a lot of exposure to people, you know, when you have that kind of success. So all of this stuff helps you communicate–learn how to communicate.

Q: Please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.

A: Well, I think a professional code of ethics can be summed up in very few words and that is just to treat everybody with fairness and with openness. I think that the only way that you can deal with any individual, whether it is a teacher, a parent, a student, whomever it is, that you first of all have to be totally honest with them, sometimes even when it hurts. You have to be totally open. You can’t, you know, hide behind the door and talk about your problems. You have to be very open with them. And whatever you tell them, you have to make sure that you back it up. And what you say is going to be the way you act. What you say, you’ve got to follow it up. Do exactly what you say and make sure there is no deviation and don’t surprise anybody. And whatever you do, never lie to anyone, because you will be crucified. It will always come back and haunt you. In fact, I have gotten myself in a lot of trouble over this, because I have been on occasions brutally frank and brutally open to a lot of people in my opinions. And I have had myself in a lot of trouble, particularly when I was an assistant principal with the school board and other people, because I was prone to go up and deliver lectures and sermons on my feelings and my view of situations that I felt were not ethical. And the same thing happened when I was superintendent. But I think that it is necessary that you have to be very, very open and very, very honest when dealing with people because if you don’t you are going to find yourself in a lot of trouble. And that is just a fact of life. That is an open-ended code of ethics, but I think it applies to any profession, regardless.

Q: Are there any examples that come to mind as to how you applied that?

A: Well, I’ll give you one example. I have a teacher who was really a very, very poor teacher and he had been around for a very long, long time. And I tried for two years---I inherited him when I became principal and I had him as assistant principal. And he was just not a very capable teacher. In fact, he was terrible, incompetent and could not manage a classroom. His knowledge of the subject matter was truly mediocre. He just wasn’t very good. And I tried for two years to set up a program to help him and assist him. I even gave him a mentor to try to copy, even though he was older than his mentor, to try to emulate and make him a better teacher. And couldn’t improve him. The only ethical situation that I could see in this was that I had to let him know that he was in the wrong field. You know and just quite simply tell him, "you know, this is not your field. You need to find another place, another field to get into." And I could have just let it go and just let it ride with this guy and let it go on forever and ever, and be one of the worst teachers in the world, but I just simply told him. And he had tenure, by the way, so we couldn’t…the previous principal did not document anything about his incompetence, so I was left without documentation, knowing that I had an incompetent teacher on my hands. And I felt compelled to just simply lay the cards on the table and tell him, "you are in the wrong field." "You are not a good teacher. You are never going to be a good teacher, in spite of what we have done for these two years, and I would advise you to look for other employment or work." I felt that that was being perfectly honest, brutally honest, and I thought it was the most ethical approach that I could find was to help this man find another field that he could do better at. And fortunately, he was one of these people that was at least intelligent enough to understand that I was right, you know, and after we bickered back and forth for about six months, he decided that he wouldn’t come back the next year because of that. I don’t know if that answers that question well or not.

Q: Following through on that, if he had decided to come back…did you have in mind a plan that you could legally and properly move him out?

A: Yes, because by that time I would have built up enough documentation. And as you well know, I don’t know, you may not know this, but before you can fire a tenured teacher, you have to have a wealth of documentation. And not only do you have to have documentation of incompetence and have time, dates, et cetera, you have to have set up a program to improve that teacher. You know, show them where they were not doing things properly, not doing things well and where they were failing. And then try to implement that and try to improve them. And after you have given that the best shot you can, then you have to start giving all of the documentation and then, you know, try to fire them. And even then, it is difficult. Without unions, it is difficult. That is probably one of the toughest things that you can ever have to face, as an administrator is that sort of thing. And it happens to all administrators. Nobody is going to escape it at all.      

Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship. Which training experiences were least useful?

A: Well, I hate to say this to anyone that is teaching in college; the least helpful thing that I found throughout my entire educational experience, and this is undergraduate school and graduate school, were educational methods classes. I think curriculum classes, other things that were toward academics specifically, were obviously very good. But those things that proported to teach you how to teach were miserable failures. The other thing that I felt were terrifically bad in college were… it never gave you a sense of what you are going to face in public education. There is not a course that is designed in college, and as far as I know is taught in college even now, that can tell you what to expect when you walk into a classroom. I mean, we all come out with this very idealist view of what is going to happen. We are going to make geniuses out of all these kids and everybody sits there waiting to be filled up with knowledge and that is not the real world. There just isn’t anything that prepares you to walk into the classroom and face what you are going to face, invariably. You are lucky if you walk into a school that you don’t have, you know, kids that are difficult and are problems. You are in the classroom. You know. So I don’t that college really helps you —the courses you are taking really helps you prepare for teaching in public education. So I think that that is just something that has really sort of failed. It hasn’t changed as far as I know right now. (Let’s back up here…I have lost this a little bit here) What best prepared me–I have given you what didn’t prepare me: I really think in college the thing that best prepared me was the relationship and association I had with various professors. Being able to sit and talk with them about not only the classes that I was taking under them, but just sitting down and talking with them about everything in general and just sort of mimicking some of the styles I saw in classrooms of the professors I particularly admired. In fact, I tried to sort of adopt some of the teaching styles of some of the professors I had in college that I like particularly well. And I think that kind of interaction with professors was really important to me, helping me a great deal to be able to be a better communicator and have more confidence when I walked into the classroom, and more confidence when I became and administrator. So those things were sort of sidebars to what you really get in the educational institutions. But those helped me a great deal and I managed to have a pretty good relationship with most of my professors. And I was a little bit older when I went back to college, too. I was in my–I guess twenty-three when I went back, and I still had two years to go. So I was a more mature guy and I took advantage of that. I took advantage of that to be able to sit down and talk with professors and be buddies with them.

Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?

A: Well, I think first of all, make sure that you enjoy working very closely with people. Make sure that you enjoy being a person that makes decisions. Make sure that you enjoy helping people enjoy improving themselves, because that is always a big aspect of it, a big part of it. Make sure that you are not super sensitive to criticism, and unfortunately, that is one of my worst–that is one of the worst facets of my personality; one of the worst facets of my ability as a principal. I was very thin-skinned on occasion and very quick to react to criticism. I think that is wrong. I think it is bad–a bad quality. I think that you really need to be sensitive to what people are saying to you so that it will help you improve, but I don’t think that you should be hypersensitive, you know, and react negatively to what you hear, for you always are going to hear negative things. And I didn’t handle that too well. I was a pretty thin-skinned person. But generally I think that you need to have a desire to be a leader. You need to have a desire to be in front of people. And you need to have this desire to want people to know that you have something to impart and to communicate. You need to be on a little bit of a stage. You have to enjoy that and if you don’t you are in the wrong business. Because you are always out in front. So I would simply say that you have to have the qualities to put yourself on display and to be in front of the gun if it is necessary.

Q: What are three things that you believe that a principal should never do?

A: Well, three things…. Well, a principal should never fall out of favor with his employers. He should never irritate his superintendent. I think it goes without saying that you have to be diplomatic enough to get along with your employers and sometimes I failed in that. You should always–you should never be curt and uncivil with the employers, and again I failed in that. You should never lose your temper and show anger in front of students and in front of faculty members. I think that that is not good, and I was guilty of that. I am giving you things that I have done poorly. I guess those are the two major things. And I go back to never, never, ever be dishonest with anybody, you know, with parent or student or with faculty members. Just try to be totally honest with them. Never lie to them about anything. And sometimes that gets you in trouble, too. You have to be tactful, but don’t be dishonest.

Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?

A: Well, I think it goes without saying that the principal is the instructional leader in the school and should be the instructional leader in the school. But I will go back to something that I said before. I think that you need a great deal of help from your faculty. I think that they very often can give you as much good information as you have gotten out of college and as you can get from a textbook on instructional methods, you know, because they are the people on the front lines. So I think that you are the instructional leader, but it doesn’t mean that you preclude information from your faculty and other people. And you should go out and solicit, really. Now I think it will make you a lot better instructional leader if you have big ears and you listen to people. And of course, you have to be going around gleaning everything that you can find, again from other schools, from colleges, from professors or whomever, to try to make yourself a better instructional leader. But I think that it is very important; I do not think that it is the most important thing, though. I think being a good manager of the school is the most important thing. If you are the gut who is running a good tight ship, then you are the guy who is in charge. That is the single most important thing. And everything follows after that. You know, after that you are the instructional leader. After that, you are a number of other things, but first of all you have got to be a good manager. If you can not manage a facility and you can’t manage your faculty and you can’t manage the school, then you are not going to do the rest of the things very well. It just won’t happen. So that is the single most important thing, I think.

Q: Please discuss your style of personnel management; that is, what approaches you employed that contributed to your effectiveness as a manager.

A: Again, I would just…being a strong leader I think is a style of management. That you have to be a very strong leader. And you have to let the people that you have working with you and for you in on the game. You know they have to be a part of it. They have got to be a vital part. And so the more open you are and the more you solicit help, aid, assistance, ideas, the more effective you are going to be. And that was my style. I was just constantly, you know, asking teachers and letting teachers know that I wanted to hear from them. I wanted to hear what they had on their minds and how we can do things a little bit better. I never felt that I was all that intelligent that I had all of the answers. I am sure that other people had better answers. But that again is the style that I employed and I always felt was my personal style.

Q: It has been said that good personnel managers encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations on their successes. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal, and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?

A: I don’t know exactly what they mean by celebrations. We–anytime we had successes, and most of this revolved around things that you accomplish academically. And that could be things as innocuous as test scores coming back and you find a particular group’s set of scores are good for particular classes or particular teachers, whatever it might be. And you find a way to have that teacher recognized in faculty meetings. You find a way to go into the cafeteria and talk to them in front of other teachers to let them know that you appreciate their success of whatever took place there. We had very good success down here in the competitions in science fairs and math competitions and so on years ago–I don’t know how they are doing now; I think still quite well. But we always found some way at faculty meetings and at dinners to recognize those teachers who had kids–and also with the FBLA and all the business classes–I shouldn’t exclude them. But we always found ways to celebrate and give recognition to individual teachers as well as individual students for academic accomplishments. So I would choose to say that that is a celebration of sorts. But anything that you can do to demonstrate to that teacher that you are aware of the job that they have done, you know, in my view is a celebration and they like it, obviously. I did.

Q: When did they start the "Teacher of the Year" award? Was that ongoing before you got there? To me, that was a type of celebration.

A: Yeah, in fact I didn’t think about that; and I should have, because that was a number one thing. We began–I don’t know when that began, as a matter of fact.

Q: Would it have been during your assistant principal years or as principal?

A: Yeah, I didn’t initiate it, I know. It was already there when I became principal. But that is a very good idea. I am glad you brought that up; I had forgotten about that, giving the Teacher of the Year award. One of the drawbacks in that is it tends to become, if you don’t watch it, a popularity contest. And so you have to be very careful about the selection process and how it comes about and how you set it up. The teachers we had in the years I was there were very good choices, excellent choices, so I hope that it has continued on.

Q: What suggestions do you have to make sure it is set up properly?

A: Well, it is an open vote. I mean, not a open vote, but a vote by every member of the faculty that is done secretly, not openly. I think you have to set up criteria to show that the teacher that you are nominating had some accomplishment in the year that was recognized. That they had some success that you look to and say "Look what they did that year." That should be part of it. The other thing is the kind of success that they have in managing their classroom and what kind of success you hear from their students as to how effective that teacher has been. There are just a number of factors that have to be ground into it. And what you hope, frankly, is that your faculty recognizes that. They just don’t say, "You know Joe’s a good guy. Gee whiz. So let’s vote for him this year." That is a chance that you take really. It is democratic, again.

Q: Some principals believe that teachers and other staff members are, in general, well-motivated and reliable self-starters. Others feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees. What approach did you customarily use during your administrative career?

A: Well, first of all, I agree with the statement that in general most teachers are well-motivated and reliable self-starters. At least I found that in my experience that was true. Those who aren’t do require monitoring and the manner that I chose for this was to first of all visit classrooms just by walking by to see what type of noise level there was. Whether people believe this or not you can generally tell by the kind of activity and noise level that you have in the classroom whether or not it is a productive noise or a not very good noise. And then, stopping and just knocking on the door and talking with the teacher, casually, not necessarily about what is going on in the classroom, and never try to be too intrusive in the beginning. Then once you get a feel for how effective the teacher is, then you start making formal evaluations. You sit in on the class. Unfortunately, when you sit in on the class, you never get the true picture of what is going to happen. The kids don’t behave the same way. The teacher doesn’t teach the same way. But eventually, you establish, instead of a tone, so the teacher, if you’re successful at it, is accepting of your visits. And then, you can start dropping suggestions, not criticisms, but giving suggestions as to how to improve instruction, how to improve classroom management or whatever the failing you see in there and then set up a program. And then, if it is really a difficult situation, what I have done is–and I didn’t like doing, frankly–was to just sit, after a lot of visitations and walk-bys of classrooms, was to sit down and type out suggestions for the teacher to follow, to implement in the classroom. And with one particular teacher, I had two-and-a-half pages of suggestions, and that was somewhat offensive to that teacher. I didn’t want to offend them, obviously, but I did want to get the point across. And we would sit and discuss those things, point by point by point by point, all the way down. So when you find teachers that aren’t doing it, doing the job as well as you would like, and again, this is up to that principal’s expectation, you have got to find a way, you know, to bring them on board. And then do it as professionally as possible. There are a lot of different manners and ways you can do it, and I think, verbally in interviews first, among guys, and then sit down, as a last resort, and then do it, on paper. Just let them know that we have reached the point now that I think you have got to do this, and you have got to do this, and you have got to do this, and just check it off. Then you have to monitor them and make sure this is taking place. And it is unfortunate, but there are teachers who aren’t highly motivated, you know, they do their job very routinely; they are not self-starters, they have to be, too often, shown how to do something and how to do it well. And then again, it goes back to this thing I mentioned before, that if you can’t find a teacher that can have his kid involved in that classroom, involved in what is going on, you don’t have an effective teacher. If they are sitting there and they are not interactive with that teacher in what is going on in that classroom, you’ve got to find a way to change that teacher to get those kids involved in the process. And this is particularly true of block scheduling, by the way. That is one of things that there is a little bit of a drawback. I am all in favor of block scheduling, I am the one who implemented it down here, but you have got to be very careful that you do not have traditional teachers. That you don’t have teachers that are continuing in the traditional mode, lecturing for fifty-five minutes or forty-five minutes, whatever the case might be. You need to have the kids involved in it, hands on involved in it, not just sitting, not just listening. That is the approach I use, it is a process, step by step, type of thing. And I was not always successful at it, unfortunately. And I think that there is somewhere down here where it asks if you were not successful.  

Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?

A: Well, that is part and parcel of what we just mentioned a few minutes ago. Teacher evaluations are necessary and of course every county, every school system has their own method. I have never liked blocks to check off. I don’t like that kind of evaluation sheet. I think it is too cold. I don’t think it covers everything as well as it should be covered. What I like is to sit down and have narratives. You have areas that you want to look at and evaluate. But I like seeing it down in a narrative style. If you have ten areas that you want to check with that teacher, to cover with a teacher, that you sit with them, that you write out a narrative after you have had the interchange with the teacher. And then you openly discuss what the problems are, what the positives are, what the negatives are. Then you write a narrative evaluation about it. And that is what I chose to do. We had instruments, but I chose not to use them as a principal. I fill them out for the superintendent and for the central office, but I kept my own personnel jacket on teachers. And I had narratives of what we went through with them.

Q: When evaluating teachers, what were the specific characteristics that you were looking for in their teaching?

A: Well, again going back…. The first thing I wanted from a teacher was to make sure that they were managing the classroom properly. That they had an atmosphere that was conducive to the kids learning. And there were a lot of things involved in that–his presentation, his or her presentation, their manner of speech, whether or not they sat at their desk, whether they walked around the classroom, walked through the aisles, whether or not they focussed on a particular kid when they talked with them, whether or not they listened to questions from the kids. That kind of thing was always very important to me. Other things obviously after that was how prepared were they? Look at lesson plans–you want lesson plans. You don’t care whether or not they hit it every day or make it through a set amount of things; it didn’t matter. But to make sure that they were prepared so that they had something to go by; make sure that you are going to cover those points that you need to cover in that particular course. That was the second thing. Let’s see, I’ve forgot where I was going with the third one here. I guess, going back to classroom management, this is part and parcel of classroom management. I was always very interested in a teacher’s personality; really very interested in how they present themselves to the classroom. And I thought when I interviewed teachers that I was interested in their knowledge, obviously; and I was interested in how well they could present the knowledge they had in the classroom. But I was also very, very interested in their personality. And I spent a lot of talking with teachers about how they reacted to particular situations with students and how they would handle very negative situations, and how they would reward kids verbally, et cetera. So that kind of thing was very important to me–personality, presentation, image that the teacher projected to the kids. And then after that, content, presentation and lesson plans and so on. But I always felt that I would hire a teacher first who had the ability to manage the classroom and had a good personality, and then he could learn the subject matter. But those were more important I thought, really, then his mastery of the subject matter because you learn more in your first year of teaching than you do in four years of college, and that is just a fact of life. And so you can teach them subject matter after the fact.

Q: What courses do you believe should receive priority in scheduling? How did you determine which teacher was scheduled for each class?

A: Well, the courses that should receive priority are your–are the required courses–those things that the state mandates that you have to teach. Then you work into that college prep courses that you want to get in to make sure all of your kids are prepared for college as well. Then next work in to all the courses that healthy average to below average student–consumer math, consumer physics–or whatever classes you teach or whatever applied classes you teach. But that kind of sequence, and I don’t want to look at it as a top to bottom type of sequence at all, but first of all just simply that. The things that are required by the state, the things that are college prep, those things for all of your average students, vocational classes. Then the other classes that are electives: you work all those other elective classes in around the core of your other classes. Assignments for teachers: is that what you asked there?    

Q: Right: how did you determine which teacher was scheduled for which class?

A: Well, what I did was look at teachers again from the standpoint of what their qualities were and what type of personality they had. And if you found teachers that were really, really strong in subject matter, for instance, in math; if you found–there are some teachers, you know, that can handle upper level math courses extremely well and one of the reasons they can handle them extremely well is because all of the kids are self-motivated. You know, they come in the class and they are going to study like beavers. You don’t have to have someone that is really strong, you know, a disciplinarian, because they are there to work. So you take that into consideration, what kind of personality the teacher’s got–they are well prepared, of course–they are for that particular class. How good they are in teaching that level of math. So personality and knowledge of the classwork are of paramount importance to me. And I wouldn’t put--there are some teachers that I would not–that were really good teachers and well founded in material, but I wouldn’t let them teach eight graders. I wouldn’t let them teach, you know, ninth graders, in a lot of cases, because those kids just not–well, you faced that, you know, having to teach eighth graders, and you know the difference there. And there are some teachers, you cannot put them in a classroom like that or you have a prescription for disaster. You have got to put them in classes where the kids are well behaved and well motivated. So you really have to look for a mix of the personality that the teacher has and how well he manages the class room, how poorly he or she manages the class room, and then what their level of knowledge is, and then just work it out that way. There are some you can’t place. That’s another story.

Q: How did you deal with a teacher that had trouble managing the classroom or had trouble teaching their class? Did you have to deal with any older teachers that were bad teachers and if so, what did you do?

A: Well, I’ll give you a quick answer to the one that I talked about earlier, who was not a good teacher, an older teacher, and what I did, I took a year talking to him and I talked him into retiring. That solved that. Because I could never get him to the point where he could manage the classroom and consequently he couldn’t teach. It didn’t make any difference how much knowledge he had, he could just not manage the classroom and so he could never teach. And I had him for two years and this was not the same person I talked about earlier that was a little bit younger. But I spent a year talking this individual into retiring, frankly, and that is how I solved that particular problem. But I had other cases–you just work really, really hard and do everything that you possibly can to help them become better teachers. And sometimes, you have some modicum of success. What I found in my experience, and of course my experience was limited to those five years, is you can’t make a good teacher out of a bad teacher. You can improve them and you can help them reach a point where the job just doesn’t kill them, cause when they go into the classroom they know that they are going to be a failure and they are just dying on the vine. But hopefully you reach a point, and it’s a long process, to reach a point where they are confident to go in the classroom and first of all, manage the classroom so that is a good environment to learn in. Then hope that they start hitting the mark and get better and better at delivering the educational product. And as I say, I have had some success. I’ve had some cases where I have had no success with it. I ended up with the same teacher I had when I began. So it was mixed–very mixed.

Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in such activities?

A: I never had reached…I had two teachers that I didn’t renew. They weren’t tenured teachers and that is a different matter. One of them was not because of a lack of ability as a teacher. I felt that he was not of good character and so I didn’t renew him after one year. I found a number of things that I found to be particularly immoral that he was involved in---and I won’t go any further than that. I only had one teacher that was tenured that I was going to document to the extent that I was going to replace–to fire. I was going to, but it never did come to pass while I was there. I put it in the hands of the succeeding principal and the teacher is still there. So that is the only experience that I have had in those cases.      

Q: A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction.

A: Well, I think that you have to have a grievance procedure in place; in fact, that’s a mandatory item in every school system that I have ever known of. I think it is good for the teacher; I think it is good for the system; to have a way for the teacher to vent their dissatisfaction, their unhappiness and have a procedure that they can follow to try to rectify. So I think that that is a good idea. And again, I think that all systems have that to some degree. If you don’t, you’ve got a lot of legal problems on your hands. What is the last part? On handling teacher dissatisfaction: that again is really a matter of communication. And again, it just takes a whole lot of hard work. It depends on the type of dissatisfaction the teacher expresses. There are a lot of areas in that teachers are unhappy about and have some area of dissatisfaction. But you really have to start at the beginning to find out exactly "what are you unhappy about?" And then start talking about ways that you can start rectifying those problems to the degree that you see them as a problem. That is the first thing that you have got to find out, you know. If you have got a problem, do we both agree on what that problem is? And then we can start working on it. And hopefully there is something that you agree on and you can start looking at constructive solutions for it. But again, it is this communication thing and it is a matter again to test your leadership. Can you communicate well enough to make this teacher satisfied and rectify whatever problem they have? So that is about all I can say about that. It is essentially a communication problem or a problem that has to be solved by communicating with that teacher. And always it involves one step followed by another step by another step and it takes a long time to work it out. And you really, from the standpoint of a principal, the most important thing is that you recognize whether or not this is a legitimate problem. Then you convey that to your teacher. That’s what I meant by finding commonality, that you agree that there is a problem. A lot of time there isn’t–you know, you don’t think that there is a problem. The teacher may think there is, and you have got to let them know somewhere along the way that you don’t think it is, and then work around that. That is where it is problematic, because if you can’t convince the teacher–I am looking at this from the standpoint–if you find that there is no reason for that dissatisfaction, that it is not a legitimate complaint, not a legitimate reason for being dissatisfied, then you have got a job of convincing the teacher that that is the case. And if you do agree with them that there is a reason to be dissatisfied, then you can work on that problem–and that’s easier, really, because both of you agree. And then you can do some constructive things to resolve it.

Q: Can you think of many problems, as a follow up to that, between teachers that you might have had to deal with…

A: (Problems between teachers?)

Q: …Yeah, in terms of, perhaps one is uncomfortable with the other, just---maybe violently disagrees with what they are doing?

A: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I hate to get into specific examples. This goes to teacher morale because teachers or very, very conscious of the competence of their colleagues, or the lack of competence, you could call it. And teachers are very, very prone to express their dissatisfaction or their unhappiness about and sometimes to a teacher they fill is incompetent and not carrying their load, quote "not carrying their load." And you always have this on the faculty, if you have a faculty any size at all, you are going to have a few teachers that the other teachers do not regard highly and they don’t think that they are good teachers. And that inevitably gets back to the teacher and then you have some conflicts. And you have to work that from both ends: you have to work with the teacher that is viewed as incompetent. You have got to work with the teachers who are voicing their displeasure with that teacher. And what it really ends up being is a way to let the teachers who think they are good teachers who don’t like the fact that these others are not good teachers–making them understand that we are working to correct this "and by the way, what do you think that we should do to improve this teacher over here?" And they will unload; they will give you all kind of things, you know, to help you with that and sometimes it is and sometimes it does happen. But you have got to let the dissatisfied teacher know that you are working with the problem and let them know that "I am glad to have your input and we are trying really hard to work this out with this other teacher over here." And then at the same time, you are working with the other teacher. You have got programs hopefully set up to help him improve. And also let them know–and I think that this comes back to the honesty of the situation, that they are–not everyone on this faculty thinks that you are doing your job well, you know. So you do have some things to improve if you want the respect of your faculty members. Some of them will accept it gracefully; others won’t because they don’t see anything wrong with their teaching style or their teaching methods or they think that they are great teachers in their mind. But I had that in spades in two situations. And I was not very graceful about one of them. One thing about teachers who are not real competent: again, and also the teachers that become satisfied--dissatisfied with that incompetent teacher; talking about these things, it always sounds like I have an answer to everything and it is a good answer. And I don’t have a good answer for everything. And in one of these situations with a particular teacher that I was trying to help desperately that had been there for a long time; and I was trying to help her become a better teacher. She was not a good classroom manager; she wasn’t even competent from the standpoint of her methods nor her knowledge of her subject matter. But she had been there as long as I had, or longer probably. But I was trying to be delicate with her as I possibly could be and failed miserably. Because it reached the point where every time she saw me coming to her classroom she would just absolutely panic. And I won’t tell you what she told me one time to convince me that she was in a state of panic; that is how she reacted to me physically and emotionally. And I was just a miserable failure in that respect. I never improved her–ever! All I did was reach the point where I monitored her classroom so closely that the classroom was under control. But it was still not a truly effective classroom. I failed.

Q: Another follow-up question is would you come out and say–and I guess that it would depend on the teacher–but would you actually come out and say "There are some people on this faculty who may be dissatisfied with you?" Do you put your message to that teacher depending on the teacher’s personality?

A: Yes. Some could accept the fact that they–you couldn’t go in and say, "well, okay, you know we have members of the faculty, of your colleagues, that just don’t think that you are doing a good job." You just can’t say that at all because they would either get angry, or crush them or whatever. But you have to sort of be real–I don’t know to describe it–you have to beat around the bush, you know. You have got to convey to them in some fashion that you are not up to snuff; and it is not just me thinking this, but also some other members of the faculty, you know. They think that there a lot of ways that they can help that you can improve. So there are tactful ways that you can do it. Even then sometimes, you know, that teacher isn’t going to accept it, because some of them are really in denial. And it generally seems like the worse the teacher, the more the denial. And I have had teachers that were just absolutely terrible, but in their mind they felt like they were terrific teachers. And that is hard to beat; that is hard to get through. I don’t see how they could ever find that mindset, because they can’t get that kind of feedback, you know, from students nor their colleagues.

Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the Assistant Principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel while on the job. Would you describe the most effective assistant principal with whom you had opportunity to serve? What became of this individual?

A: Well, the assistant principal should be a person that, after you have had them for a while, they can step in and do everything that you do when you are away–and you unfortunately have to be away a lot in meetings; a tremendous variety of meetings. But that principal should reach a point, from a standpoint of every area of competence that the principal has that he has that same area and reaches that same level so that he can actually fill in when you are gone or become the principal. So this would cover the entire gamut; he has to be the instructional leader, design curriculum, manage the entire building, the facility; make sure that everything runs smoothly, completely from the janitor all the way up; and then communicate and be the liaison with the superintendent and the central staff–the whole ball of wax. He has got to be a carbon copy of the principal. And you have got to let that assistant principal become involved in every aspect of that. This is one of the tremendous failings of principals--and I faced this when I was assistant principal--that if you don’t let the assistant principal become involved when designing curriculum and become involved with evaluation teachers and becoming involved with instruction as well as discipline problems, then you are making a mistake and doing a disservice to that assistant principal. Because they are never going to be to the point that they should be quickly enough to assume responsibility of a school. And I think that when I was assistant principal I, again unfortunately, was a person that dealt almost exclusively with discipline problems. I ran the school. I ran it completely and totally from a discipline standpoint and all of the activities, all of the athletic activities, and did all of the tournaments and everything like that; but I was never involved with evaluation teachers. I was never involved in designing curriculum. I was never involved with setting up a schedule. I was never involved in anything of an academic nature. And what I learned I learned from nosing around myself, and talking with guidance counselors and watching them work and do other things. I was never asked to do it at all–and I resented that. I resented not being incorporated in the academic side; and I resented having being burdened with the entire picture of handling all discipline problems. And any principal, I would always advise never, ever delegate to your assistant principal nothing but negative tasks. But always have him doing the exact same things that you are doing and learning exactly the same things that you do to make them happier for one thing and they are going to be a lot better prepared. But I tell you that is a big mistake that a lot of principals make. They want to get away from the discipline problems, so they just shunt it over to the assistant principal and that is all that person is expected to do; and that is a killer, an actual killer.  

Q: So you saw more the assistant principal sharing the role of your responsibilities?

A: Oh, yes; yes indeed. Every time---I trained three assistant principals up here in the short time that I was a principal–five years. And I learned from my experience not to just set them back in a corner and say, "you handle all of these problems; I’m going to stay on the phone and talk to whomever–and I am going to go to meetings," and stuff like that. You’ve got to be a worker. You have got to do everything that you expect that assistant principal to do; and in turn, allow him to do everything that you do from the standpoint of academics. Otherwise, you are not doing a good job for the school; and you are not doing a good job for your assistant principal at all. And I was supposed to pick out the best one I ever had? Well, considering everything, the first one I had–should I give a name here? I think that Damon Rasnick was my first assistant principal; and Damon had a little bit of experience before he came over to me. Everything considered, I think that Damon was probably the strongest one I had. He had a terrific work ethic, great personality; handled stress extremely well; very, very open; did not take himself very seriously, which is a great quality. He was very good; he related to the students extremely well, too. And so he was very, very good. He picked up things quickly. And anything I threw at him he handled it and didn’t complain. We had a very good relationship. I don’t that I ever dumped on him; I tried not to. And he handled everything so graciously and learned very quickly–because he had never been in a high school environment, I don’t believe when he came to me. He was just very good. I had–the other two that I had were both good, but they weren’t as flexible. Damon could really just roll with situations. He was very adaptable, very quick to pick up on things. He was very gracious in everything that he handled; in fact, more gracious than me a lot of times–most of the time, matter of fact. And he got into tough situations to handle. So I guess Damon was the best. One of the others that I had was very good, very bright, picked up things well; could probably do about anything I asked him to do. He was strictly inflexible. He had a particular way of doing things and would not deviate; and that is not a good idea. You have got to be flexible, fast on your feet. The next one I had was not real strong academically. The communication skills were not as good as they should have been. This had got to be worked on; in fact, I worked with him quite a lot. But very good–in fact, everyone I had were really good. They were great people and really hardworking people, but didn’t have all of the qualities that Damon had. He seemed to have most of it, except he had a little bit too much of a good old boy persona for me. I wanted him to be a little more smoother than that. He went on to be a principal of an elementary school. As a matter of fact, he left me to go to be a principal at an elementary school.  

Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?

A: Well, I would think that the most prominent characteristic of a successful school, an effective school, again is one that runs smoothly. And this seems sort of like a innocuous thing, but just believe when you step into a school building that you get a sense very quickly how smoothly this place functions. And if it functions smoothly, you can detect that in the students; you can detect it in the teachers. And if it is functioning smoothly, it is well organized. If it is well organized, it is going to be effective. And you really have to have a good solid surrounding and feel in a school for it to be good and for it to be effective. So I think that that really is the most important thing is that the overall ambiance of the school, how it looks, how it feels, how the students react to teachers, to themselves, to people that come in; and how the teachers act. And that is really important.

Q: Can you tell what are the features that characterize unsuccessful ones? I guess the opposite?

A: The opposite…the opposite of that: if you walk into a school and you have sort of a chaotic feel, whether it is just traffic in the hallways or you walk into restrooms and see some unsavory scenes; or you walk by classrooms and you see a little chaos going on in the classrooms---that is poor management. And I think a poorly managed school is not an effective school at all. And I think that those environments that are somewhat chaotic and just give you that sense of lack of organization aren’t effective at all. I think those are tremendous detriments to a school. And that is reason that I have always felt that you had to be a little bit of an autocrat. You had to control bathroom situations. You had to control hallway traffic. You had to control how that classroom looked and what the noise level was in the classroom and what was going on in your entire building outside and inside in order to be effective.

Q: There has traditionally been a commitment in this country to the principle of universal free public education. Would you give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings on the practicality of such an approach in this day and time?

A: Well obviously I embrace free public education. I think that is what has made this country great. Matter of fact, if you look at one thing that we can point to that has caused to be so strong---the strongest nation in the world---I think that you can attribute it to public education, free public education. So it is one of the greatest principles that is ever put on the face of the earth. I think that the approach still holds true today: I think that it is still exceedingly important. I think that we have reached the point that our society has become so diverse that there have to be some alternatives to it. You could throw out a lot of the things: you know, private schools, of course, charter schools, magnet schools, et cetera, that would not necessarily line up as totally free public education because it would be funded in different ways. I would hate to see that done; I would hate to see charter schools, for instance, take place to the extent that it starts damaging public schools, causing it to lose funding and also to lose kids who opt to go to charter schools or to a magnet school or to some other type of school. But I think then what you end up doing is losing the diversity of your student bodies. And I think that that is important; I think that student bodies should be very, very diverse, culturally, racially, religiously, the whole thing. And I think that once you start draining a particular group of students off, you begin to hurt public education. And I hope that that never happens. So I am a tremendous advocate for public education, free public education. I don’t want to see it changed–done away with; but I don’t think it needs to change with the times, for the times are changing–big time.    

Q: Would you discuss your general relationship, pro or con, with the Board of Education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general?

A: I have had, on occasion, when I was a principal and particularly when I was an assistant principal, a rather stormy relationship with the Board of Education. And the reason for that is I felt that they were too tradition bound; they were too unwilling to change; they were too unwilling to do things that I felt were necessary and appropriate to improve the situation for teachers in particular, administrators in some cases and for students. And I felt that they were just too slow to embrace new ideas. Obviously school boards are great, boards of education are great, because they are representatives of the people. And even when they were appointed I think that that was a good method. In fact, I think that elected boards have been a disaster to some degree because people have run who have agendas that have nothing to do with the betterment of education and the systems. Generally, the effectiveness of the school board operations are I think good, but I go back to the thing that I don’t think that they are generally progressive. I think again that they are sort of tradition bound. I think that they are too wrapped up in whether or not you can afford to do something whether than to say, "well, we need to fight to get funding for this" and do it anyway even if it is going to cost a few more dollars over what we have been spending before. But it is a tried and true method for public education. It gives you the local flavor for your institutions and I think that that is perfectly appropriate because it should represent your community. And so from that standpoint, I think that it is good, it is a very good idea. By and large, they do a good job. But one that I would like to see changed about the board of education: I would like to see a set of qualifications mandated before you can become a member–elected or appointed, whatever the case might be---for the board of education or school boards. And I think that that is an absolute---I don’t know how to describe it. I think that it is awful, frankly, that there are no qualifications to run for school board. Because you find some people, quite frankly, who aren’t capable of handling the job, and you find very often, too often, people who have not a good view of public education, not a good view of education in general; who do not think that it ought to occupy, you know, importance in our society. And yet they end up on the school board and they are a detriment. Now fortunately, that doesn’t happen real often, but it does happen. So that is a long answer to a short question.

Q: Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?

A: Boy that’s tough. I never did have–I agree with this first one that it is a very tense environment. And if you become an administrator---when you become an administrator you will find that very quickly. I mentioned this earlier: from the moment that you step into that building in the morning, at 6:30 or whatever it is--you get there before your first student get there–you are…you are going to be tense. You know the level of adrenaline rises immediately. And you always anticipate again that things are not going to run smoothly. Something is going to happen somewhere along the way to disrupt this smooth operating building that you have here. You hope that it doesn’t happen, but you know that it is going to happen. And as far are relieving the stress and tension, I never found a good way. I was always somewhat tense and I always sort of had a high adrenaline level. Of course, I have always been sort of an emotional kind of person anyway. But I guess that the way that I handled it, the way that I tried to handle it was spend a lot of time talking with students. Because I was always running the hallways, going into classrooms. I talked to students constantly. I talked to teachers. I talked to the janitor…everybody. You know, just run around and be active and just try to release that tenseness. And I don’t want to make it sound like I was a basket case every minute, but you are tense. When the school year is over, I can tell you…that when the school is over and that last bus leaves with all of your kids, there is a tremendous let down physically and emotionally. And it is amazing how you come down. It lets you know immediately that you have had adrenaline and you weren’t even aware of it that it was going on, that it was all there. But as soon as that last bus pulls out, and you know that you can relax for a while before you start doing all of the reports and there are no kids around---it is a strange feeling, it really is. Because you come down and sometimes you come down sort of hard. I don’t know how other people handle it. Mine was to simply be just constantly going and talking and I always thought that that was a pretty good release.  

Q: Since you have now had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.

A: Again, I go back to my definite strength was, I think, my leadership skills and my ability to communicate with a wide variety of people. I think that the other thing was that I was a very open-minded person with my teachers and with my students and was very willing listen to them. And then hopefully, when I found good things, I would implement them. So those things are probably my strengths. And I always had an ability to communicate and deal with my superiors, sometimes abrasively, unfortunately. But after we got over a few little rough spots with my personality---and I did tend to be overbearing---I got along quite well with them and had ideas accepted and so on. My biggest weakness was again temperamental---I showed my temper too often: and very often too overbearing and too autocratic in situations. Sometimes…I hope I never reached the point where it was my way or no way, but sometimes you could probably come around to that I guess in some situations; definitely an imperfect person in that respect.

Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish passed along to today’s principals?

A: Well, the positive side of it is you have an opportunity to have a great deal of very good impact on students and a good impact on teachers. And that is a good thing because you can broaden the impact that you have tremendously by being an administrator. You have a lot more influence and you interact with a lot more people and you can spread your ideas out. The cons of it is it is very stressful–very, very stressful. You are always open to being second-guessed and criticized and that is just a definite part of the territory. Every decision that you make, you are going to find several people that disagree with the decision, regardless how great that decision was or how mediocre that decision was. So you have to be sort of thick skinned as I mentioned before; that is definitely a drawback to it. It is an open forum and there is no set of esoteric information for teachers and administrators. Everybody speaks the language. It is not like a lawyer or a doctor. So everybody’s got, as I said before; they have an opinion and they are willing to express it. And that is a little bit of a negative, I think. But I’d do it over again. I enjoyed it a great deal and I would like to think that I had some impact at the time I was there. And I did enjoy it. And I can’t think of anything, looking back on it, that was ever bad enough to make me say that, "Gee, I wish I had not become a teacher or an administrator or even a superintendent." You have to be a terrifically patient human being, though; and that just goes without saying. And that has not been one of my strengths. I have never been a really patient person. I think that I have been a tolerant person, but not always a patient person. I think to be an administrator you really need to be very, very patient, more so than I was.

Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have?

A: I don’t know. We have covered a lot of territory here. I don’t know. I can’t really think of anything that I would want to add; probably an hour later I will. But it has been a very comprehensive set of questions and it elicited a lot of things that I haven’t talk about in a long, long time.

Q: I thank you for your time.

A: Well, you are welcome. I have enjoyed, really. It is good.      

| Back to "M" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |