This is October 5, 1989, this is an interview with Mr. John N. Norton in the Principals Office at Davie High School on his experiences as a Secondary Principal.
| Back to "N" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |
Q: Mr. Norton, would you begin by telling us about your family background-your childhood interests and development. (Birthplace, elementary, secondary education, family characteristic, and parents attitude towards education).
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Western North Carolina- one of a family of five children- parents worked in a hosiery mill- according to today standards it would be low income, though I never felt that we were low income- I guess that's what we were. Out of the five children that my parents had, four completed college- my sister decided not to attend college so, as far as the feeling of the (my parents) on education- I guess my father was the one that pushed education more than anyone else because he had very little education and he had worked as a rural(route) mail carrier for a number of years until the politics changed and then there was no security for civil service. It was during the time of the change over - right after the depression, so my father though he really had no education, felt that was the most important thing that he could give to his kids so - I can still remember working in the field doing the work that a horse and plough should be doing and my brothers and I would be doing that work, and he would look up from helping us, and lean on the hoe and he would say, "You know, if I had a college education, I wouldn't have to be doing this". So needless to say, we all entered college and completed college and none of us ever went back to the field, nor do we even like to garden. So that's sort of the background as far as my parents and education, we were led early to know how important education was.
Q: Well, while we are talking about education, lets talk a little about college and university work and the preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you teach?
A: I taught for a period of ten years in the classroom as a history teacher and physical education teacher and coach of - football, basketball, girls basketball- the whole bit.
Q: Do you mind saying what college you went to it?
A: I went to High Point College for my undergraduate work, for my graduate work I went to Appalachian State University; for the Advanced degree, I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Q: Do you feel that the college education prepared you at that time for the teaching field when you went in?
A: I felt that the academic part of it was very good, the educational courses in looking back and the worth that they had, were ninety percent wasted time. The professors that were in the colleges had not been in the classroom in public education for twenty, twenty - five years, they knew nothing about of what was going on and as a result they would give you the Seven Cardinals Principles of Education, for whatever that is worth to you. They were just completely out of touch with the real world.
Q: You taught for ten years and then you went into the principalship. Could you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry to the principalship and how did you enter it?
A: I taught with the BS(Bachelor of Science) for a period of ten years, as I said, during the last three years I attended Appalachian State University in the summers and on saturdays in order that I could get my Masters degree in Administration and History. I had to do this; I was married, two children, finances would not allow me to attend college for my Masters during a regular year.
Q: What made you decide to become a principal; what motivated you to become a principal?
A: Two things; I was coaching at a small town in the Western part of the state which had won a State Championship about three years before, and the boosters club there felt that a 7-3 record was very poor record, I was there for a period of five years and had during those five years more winners that I did losers; I imagine I would have left a little earlier except the boosters club tried to push me, and I don't push very easily. Second reason was money.
Q: Would you say that your motives would have changed over the year(s) reflecting back now, if you could have got back in another time; you would not have gotten in because of the boosters club or money?
A: No, I would have gotten into administration anyway. I felt that after ten years and I served as sort of an assistant principal for the last two years that I taught, though it wasn't particular in name, I was responsible for running the school in the absence of the principal and I sort of enjoyed this.
Q: Talk about your personal philosophy of education and how it evolved over the years?
A: Not much of a philosopher, Robert. The thing that I've always felt like that, as far as, my philosophy of education; you need good teachers that are interested in working with kids, helping kids and I feel like the principalship is really a personnel job in the sense, because you have to get good teachers. So my philosophy is get good teachers and make it possible for them to teach.
Q: I know something that some of our listeners may not know, the fact that you did get out for a while and you did go into business, did that help you at all with the re-entry of the principalship or maybe the way you saw the business of the principalship and the business of school?
A: I don't know that it had anything particularly to do with my getting back into, getting into the principalship, I think that it helped me immensely later years when I did become a principal- I got out of teaching during my first year. I was in a hosiery business, it was a mill agent type of business ,and I became office manager, bookkeeper, all types of different things so far as organization things to the office and to the running of the office was concerned. This part did help me later on in the principalship in that I was able to organize the office and organize the personnel that would be working in order to help the school. So, yes it did help in a sense.
Q: What experiences/events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Please discuss these events, if any.
A: Well I think that we just touched on that, as far as my management skills are concerned- the years that I had in, the two years that I had as far as working with the mill agent in the private sector did a lot in order to help me with management of personnel.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal." (That's a whole lot)
A: That is a whole lot. That was done as I said earlier, the selection of teacher, of good teachers. I think that is the first step you've got to have in order to create a good climate for learning. That is to have teachers that are interested in their students and helping the school.
Q: I have heard a lot of people call you the "Dean of Secondary School Principals in North Carolina" and I know that among your peers you are always looked up. In your opinion what does it take to become an effective principal?
A: I think fairness to staff, fairness to students, that would be the main thing - I think- would be important for anyone in the school business. I feel like too many times there are cases were teachers and administrators have a situation where they feel like the money classes; to be given a little bit of favorite treatment, but, I think fairness to all students is the most important thing you should have. As far as being the "Dean" of principals - I don't know about that, that's just- I worked hard, put in a lot of time, and tried to run a good school.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Would you please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you - and an incident which even failed for you?
A: Well, the main thing about it - as I said before - hard work. My normal day would be get to school around six o"clock, take care of the paper work that I could at that time and then when teachers started to come in, be available to them for any problems or conferences that they might need; but really to delay these until all teachers have signed in - and you can learn a whole lot by just watching the teacher as they sign in so far as where your problems might come from that day. You and I have discussed this before, I always leave the door of the office open when they are signing in, so I can see who is feeling good and who is feeling bad that day. It sort of helps you plan the day.
Q: You know that you're talking about leaving your door open and watching teachers sign in - you hear today many people, many school administrators say that they don't believe that teachers should have to sign in. Yes, you and I have talked about it, yes we have watched - what is your feeling about that?
A: Well, as I said before, to me it is a way of helping to plan your day because, why shouldn't the teacher sign in. We say that they are professionals; yes, but on the other hand if they don't sign in you, don't really have much of a record if they are there or not there, and it could be nine-thirty or ten o'clock before you found out that the teacher is absent if you don't have them sign in. So. the ones that do not have them sign in, I wish them luck.
Q: Well the next question I want to ask you deals with cultural diversity. Would you discuss the nature of your student bodies because I know that you've had several schools and you could mention how many schools you have been principal of, and the problems and challenges and triumphs in your participation while you served as principal working with student bodies.
A: Well, I served as principal of five senior high schools, from a small one of about two hundred and fifty which was in a rural area - that was my first principalship. The second principalship, it was Davie High School, which had a population from 1964 - 68 of about 1250 students grades 9-12. That was more diverse, you had small town students as opposed to the farm student; also when I was here, it was the first year of integration for Davie County and that went very well. After that, I went to Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh, which had a school population of about 2,000, that was urban, - at that time though Needham Broughton was made up of basically of the well to do families in Raleigh, so, it was; it was really a top notch academic school. Probably I learned about as much of academics there as any other place I have ever been. After that I served as principal at Salisbury High School in Salisbury North Carolina. The population there when I went there was about 900, that's in grades 10-12. It grew from 900 to about 1150 and then started to decline, and when I left the population was around 750. The reason being, this was a small school area and the city lines were not allowed to grow - so the county in that case took all the students, gradually the population of Salisbury grew into older parents, with no children; and since that time it is declined even more; the ratio of black/white was about - 60/40 - white. And from there I came to Davie High School which is where I retired, I was here for eight years and during that eight years the school population was fairly constant around 1200.
Q: I would like to mention that you are the only principal that has come twice to Davie High School - you came here the first time and then you came back again. Is that not pretty unusual in the school business?
A: It is unusual, I guess, but I had served ten years at Salisbury and I felt that it was a time for a change for me and possibly a time for change for the high school. I sometimes wonder if it is healthy if a high school has the same principal for twenty years; in fact, probably after 6 or 8 years they should be moved around much like the Methodist Church does with its ministers. But I came back because I liked the challenge, at the time I came back- the morale of staff was low, discipline was not good at the high school, and those kinds of things always fascinated me because I felt that I could work with discipline and I could help with the school program academically.
Q: I want to talk a little bit about Civil Rights since you were certainly in two situations. You had Davie, you had Raleigh, and you were in Salisbury, would you talk about your participation in handling the Civil Rights situation, integration, and describe involvement with busing. Since that's not an issue today-
A: Davie of course was, is the only school in, Davie High School is the only high school in Davie County so busing is no problem - everyone comes to one school - so no problem with busing ; in Raleigh I was in the city system at that time and city buses were used and there was no responsibility on the part of the principal to enforce discipline nor was there any responsibility on the principal to see that the student got to the bus. In Salisbury during the time I was there, Salisbury High School was the only school in the city and everyone came to school; though we had some busing, there were only about 4 or 5 buses and they were handled by someone at the central office staff - so I never had to mess with buses. (So Civil Rights really wasn't a problem?) No- Civil Rights and busing was no problem - as far as I was concerned Civil Rights - if you're speaking of black and white never presented any problem to me because all my rules were black and white and they were just enforced regardless of whether it was black or it was white, the rules applied equally. (Mr. Landry commenting: I would like to add that I know that before you came to Davie your last time, students in Salisbury were upset that you were leaving Salisbury to come to Davie, because they felt that you were a person that treated, like you said, all black or white, all students equally and I remember them talking about that - they were quite vocal about that.) Well, I appreciate that, I have had good cooperation from students and the majority of the parents.
Q: Let me ask you since I know that you were involved in curriculum quite a bit, it has been said that curriculum has become much more complex in recent years, would you comment on the nature of the curriculum at the time you were principal taking us from when you began your principalship and comparing to situations to today's schools citing both positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now?
A: My God, you're asking me to go back twenty five, twenty six years, Robert, the.. I think the main change that has taken place and this is fairly gradual, and that is that the offerings of the schools, different schools have greatly increased, this is being done through the work of the principal and through working with his dept. heads. I feel like the changes that are made should be taken up with dept. heads and possibly they should be the ones to suggest changes that are to be made because they are in contact with students and more in contact with what is going on in their field than possibly the principal. I think it is the role of the principal to determine if the dept head can justify the course and the changes that need to be made in other courses. I really put a lot of faith and a lot of work on my dept heads as far as academics are concerned. (So dept chairs, dept heads are really -they really have a special job it is just not a figure head - their job is to oversee their dept?). That's correct. In particular in keeping their teachers in that dept informed and working within to see that changes in the academic are made when they need to be made.
Q: In the 20 some years that you were principal- was that always consistent that the dept head was seen as a key figure, not a key figure but a key person in that school?
A: I think that this evolved more after I went to Raleigh than any other time. Changes in curriculum during the time from say... 1964, 1962 - up to 1970 not a lot of changes were made during that time. That was around 1970 really that I became more interested in academics- and that was as I said at the time I was in Needham Broughton High in Raleigh, and the academic program there was so strong that I feel like that it influenced me and helped me in improving the academics at Salisbury High School and also here at Davie High School. So the changes that came about and they are coming about faster now because of the money that is being made available for students under the Basic Education Program, of course, all these things are not good either because a lot of the money that is supposedly for helping basic education and reading, writing and arithmetic is going into creating counseling positions for drop out, counseling positions for the pregnant, and really I think a lot of wasted money.( Plus they are putting in courses that seem to be in conflict with the academic classes... I know that Drama, Dance and a lot of these under things are starting to conflict from the elementary all the way to the senior high... is like it's becoming a contest to get all these new courses in)
Q: How do you feel about that, interfering with the academic?
A: I don't feel, I really don't feel that they interfere on the senior high school level with academics. I think that in some cases, students might take some of these courses for crypt courses, but at the same time, those students that want a good basic education and want the good courses such as Physics, Trig or the Advanced Math, advanced English courses; those are available for those students that want them, and if you have someone that is going to go into Dance- they are not likely that they, going to do you a lot of good in the upper academic areas anyway.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do better, or you would do to better prepare yourself for the principalship - would you describe your feelings knowing what you know now about entering the principalship if given the opportunity to starting anew?
A: You're asking a man a question that went into teaching mainly because he did not know enough to do anything else. I came from, as I told you, a small town in Western part of the state, - I went to college on a football scholarship and at that time I really did not know what else to do - I did not know about of the opportunities that were available in business or other fields; so I fell into teaching ..or went into it more of ignorance than anything else. But if you were asking, would I do it again, yes I would do it again; if you are asking how it would, how I could be better prepared, it would be difficult to answer this because the, I'm not in love with education courses and feel that, as I said before, the majority of them are a waste of everybody's time and getting your Masters degree in education is if you have enough patience and callouses on your ass so that you can sit there and regurgitate what has been told to you. So, I think I can be better prepared had I had real good type of mentor training that possibly this could have helped - but at the same time, the first year that I was teaching I had a principal that probably taught me more about discipline than I would have learned anywhere else because he failed to do any kind of discipline so it was left up to me to do it and I learned early how to work with students and to enforce discipline.
Q: You hit an upon a topic that I want to talk about and that is the mentoring program for new administrators paired with another. What experiences have you had with such an approach and I think that you just mentioned to me that you basically had a mentor in your life and that's that poor principal that taught you that you were going to have to do. Am I correct?
A: That's correct but it's not a good way to have to learn it. As far as mentor training for assistant principals I feel that this is one of the most important things in the education of any, future administrators. I've been fortunate in, having assistant principals who were good. I feel that I contributed by making definite assignments to these assistant principals and holding them responsible for decisions made.
Q: Mr. Norton, continue talking about the mentoring program, would you continue to talk further about what your view is to the importance of mentoring with principals?
A: As I said before, the main thing in helping anyone wanting to enter administration, what I tried to do was to give them definite responsibilities, make them responsible to me and to the parents and to the students for their areas of responsibility. I felt that it was my job to back them, to help them if they were going off the wrong way and really to provide some relief for them for decisions they made that I might be able to help them with. Mainly I wanted to, I like to give the assistant principal all the responsibilities of a principal. Now in the case, here at Davie, what I tried to do was to divide those responsibilities which the principal had between two assistant principals and each year or two years to switch those responsibilities so that each person serving as an assistant principal would receive all the areas of responsibility. A lot of times in, when someone would look at my organizational plan they would ask what I did, because all the responsibilities were assigned to the assistants - so I told them that I didn't do anything - I just played golf.
Q: Dealing with that, would you talk about the key to your principalship?
A: I think that the most important thing that any principal has got to have is first of all the work ethic, second, he has to be good at selecting the people that he is going to work with such as assistant principals, counselors, those jobs which are not exactly teaching and yet they have responsibilities that lead up to a better school. Frankly, going back to this - the question before - I have always felt that if a man came to me and was content to serve as an assistant principal for the rest of his life, I did not want him, unless he was interested in becoming a principal then I really did not want him.
Q: You mentioned work ethics, could you talk a little about that - your work ethics?
A: Well, the work ethic that I talk about is being on the job. A lot of people say that if you work too long hours that you are disorganized but I don't look at it that way. I feel like, as I said earlier in our conversation, that I got to work early - I did my paperwork, from there I was able to greet the teachers when they came in, I was able to be in the hallways a minimum of 4 or 5 times a day - that is security for teachers and for students to know that the principal is present. I believe that the principal should be highly visible among the student body and staff. I think it keeps them both going.
Q: You know that is something (walking around) they don't teach you in the university, but if you don't mind talking about it - I don't think you will mind; what suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions - and if you don't mind comment on weaknesses in traditional programs of training for administrators.
A: I think that we have already given one of the things which I feel is important and that is the mentor training for an assistant principal. I feel that this should be well supervised, I feel that these people that are interested in becoming principals should be placed only with those principals who have been successful in discipline, in curriculum and, those are the two main areas that I feel like that a principal should be very effective - particularly in discipline. It's not that you spend so much time with discipline because if you establish discipline and hold to it, then so much less time goes into working with discipline and you could put more into curriculum. So that's why the work ethic and the ethic of mentoring program, that's why it should be used I believe. Furthermore, I feel like some of the courses that the colleges teach could be made more effective for example; in the matter of scheduling. Too many principals go out into a school now, they know nothing whatsoever about scheduling, they feel that this is a job for counselors, they feel like this is a job for summer time employment for secretaries and, man, this, you could spot a principal there who is a real loser when someone does his scheduling for him. No one should know his faculty as well as the principal knows that faculty himself. The matter of assigning classes should be of paramount importance to him because if you have got a weak teacher, I feel like you should give that teacher classes that they can be successful in teaching. At the same time you don't penalize your better students, honor students, by giving them someone to teach an honors class that is not, that's not up to par. So, a course in scheduling is to me one of the most important things that you can give. Of course now, there are computers used for scheduling, it takes much less time than it did at one time for schedule students, you're hard schools to schedule are those that around 200 - 250 or 300 students where you have so many singletons so you're easier schools are, the easiest school I had to schedule was Needham Broughton which had 2,000 students because you had so many sections that you had five conflicts out of 2,000 students. So, that's why scheduling is important to me and why I feel that colleges should do something about it.
Q: There are those that argue that more often than not central offices policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities...would you give your view on this issue and if you were king, what changes would you make in a typical system wide organization arrangements in terms of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Robert, I really was fortunate in that the superintendents that I worked for were, had enough confidence in me to allow me to run my school. So I had very little interference from the central office, if I had a problem with the central office then I would go talk to the superintendent and normally we would be able to work this out to his satisfaction and to my satisfaction- so I really had very little conflicts with the superintendent per se; mainly I guess I because I was allowed to run my own school. So - (You would not need to be king to make any changes because you are saying that you were the king, you ran your school.) Well, yes, I guess; I don't care for the term king, but at same time I was allowed to run the school.
Q: If you were advising a person which is considering an administrative job today, what would that advice be?
A: My guess, to get a lot of pencils and pens to get ready for all the paperwork, but, seriously I think that you have to really want to be an administrator before this can come about. It can't be someone who thinks, well, I'll get into it, try it, and if I don't like it, I'll get out. I think that you have to be dedicated to it, I feel that person must be able to work with other staff, work with staff members, to work with students, those are things that are important to me.
Q: You're getting close to an area talking about leadership and manager. There are those that argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest 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: My style, I don't know if there was a style to it - I usually tried to work with, as I said earlier, dept heads in letting them take leadership in so far as the curriculum was concerned, I feel like the principal was the manager of the school and would have to make the final decision as to whether something new was added or not since he is answerable for all things that go in the school. I think that the principal has to answer for everything that happens to his school.
Q: Talk about the principalship and instructional leader and manager, what do you think are the requirements to be a principal?
A: Requirements to be a principal...(or for certification to be a principal) well, certification of course is relative, you can get certification just through being patient. (being patient) I guess to be...like I say, you really have to want to be a principal. You got to want to enjoy all of the different aspects of school work, you've got to enjoy the different things that come up during the day; going from curriculum to garbage to the cafeteria...all those things come up in a day- it is not a boring job by any means...I think that's what I enjoyed about it as much as anything else from just the diversity of the job and someone going into the principalship should be able to make a decision. I think the most frustrating thing that can happen to a teacher or a student is for the principal to say to him, "let me think about that for a little while". They did not come to you to let you think, they came to you to get an answer right then, and they feel that you should know the answer... and really you should know the answer. Now you're going to make some mistakes but I'd rather make a mistake...going forward than just to hold back answer but that's a bigger mistake to make; not being able to make a decision. So I feel that the principal has to be a decision maker and a immediate one.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs, please discuss your involvement with and participation with specific groups and other community organizations and which community organizations had the greatest influence on you?
A: Community organizations had no influence on me. I tried to run a good school... I spent all of my time at school. I did not have time to go into the community and gladhand everyone, had I had the time, I had no desire to do it, I would rather take my time and go to the golf course and forget about the community. I feel like the best publicity that a principal can have is to run a good school, and if you run a good school then the community is going to know it and they are going to leave you alone. I have always hesitated in going out in the community and being with a lot of people because the first thing you know, you have Bill Jones over here who wants to know can his daughter do this when no else's daughter can do this; so I found it that...maybe safer is the word to stay away from those groups and not owe anyone anything, including money. So, as far as community public relations, that was one of the areas where the superintendent always evaluated me fairly low, but I always argued with him that if he goes into the community and ask what kind of principal does the high school have...90% of time he'll have to say, he is going to hear that you have a good principal and a good school. So, I argued with him that the best PR that I could have was to run a good school and run it fairly.
Q: When you talk about a good school and running it fairly, you mentioned earlier about teachers and how you selected the best that you could for the job that you wanted here or any school which you have been principal of; could you talk a little about the attention that you gave to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation, or your comments on evaluation?
A: As I have said many, several times before; the selection of teachers is of prime importance. As far as my feelings on evaluations are concerned, I feel that it is a must. I feel that the principal has to get into that classroom and he must have to get in there and know what is going on with the teacher, I particularly like the last evaluation instrument that the state of North Carolina put out because I felt like it put more nuts and bolts into actual evaluation of what was going on...and by sitting in that classroom and I always chose to do the unannounced evaluations, I felt that I got a pretty true picture of how well prepared the teacher was. I don't feel like I ever got a true feeling of how discipline was in the classroom or, well I say never, but I feel like in many cases I didn't get a true picture of classroom discipline because what student in their right mind is going to cause trouble while the principal is in the classroom, so I feel like that is a weak area of evaluation; but in answering the question...evaluation is of utmost importance and something that the principal should do himself and not relegate to someone else.
Q: I would like to bring an area up here, you have been talking about classroom discipline and you don't feel that you got a true feeling. Do you not think that in the fact that you're rounds around the school 4 or 5 - 6 times a day that you could get a feeling?
A: That is the truest picture of discipline that you can get because...if you're in the hallways that much, you're going to get a good feeling of what teachers are really teaching or at least under control. As far as the actual teaching is concerned, you may not be able to tell us much there but by going in unannounced you're going to know whether that teacher has actually prepared for that day or not.
Q: Still talking about teachers, a good deal is said these days about teacher grievances and we seem to hear about quite a bit...would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?
A: I'm never been involved much in teacher grievances..my main thrust is to work one on one with teachers...well, with teachers that you're having problems you need to talk with them, make suggestions to them, you need to help them as much as possible to become successful. If that doesn't work and if you've tried it for a year or two years depending on how serious or how much trouble the teacher is in then you go about making that teacher feel like that the best thing for them to do is to move to another school. Now if you ask how to do this, then you should know your teachers well enough including this one that is not doing a good job to give them classes that they detest...give them duties that they detest...to do anything to make them unhappy enough to move on.
Q: If they don't move on, and some teachers don't want to move on; have you ever been involved in any teacher dismissal and would you care to discuss about your involvement in these activities?
A: I have been involved in two situations in which teachers that I recommended dismissal. The first was in a situation where the coach/teacher wanted to be athletic director upon the resignation of the present athletic director and I appointed someone else. He became very belligerent, he used profanity, he said that he would not do his job so I made recommendation to the city office that he be removed, and the personnel director of the city system wanted to try to work it if out possible. He called the coach and asked him to come to his office and the coach told him to "ram it", that he wasn't going to come to his office and so that resulted in a suspension and a public; really a public hearing, the only public hearing that I even know of, of the entire public invited. But the school board was sitting in on this and they did vote for dismissal. The other case in which I made a recommendation for the teacher dismissal, I had documented it fairly well but at same time when I made recommendation, the county office because of pressure from the NCAE(North Carolina Association of Educators), refused to act on it; but the pressure from the NCAE on the county office, they brought the pressure to me but I told them that my recommendation would stand...the county office did not back it up. So the teacher was not dismissed, fortunately she resigned before school began the next year.
Q: In your view, what are characteristics associated with the most effective schools and what features characterized the less successful ones?
A: The most successful schools are those that have a curriculum that is good for students, group of teachers that are interested in the welfare of their students and a principal that is willing to go to bat for his staff and to see that the students get a fair shake all the time. I think conversely, the same would be true, I mean conversely that the weak schools would be the same...I mean they would not have those features.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students such as (LD,gifted/talented, non-english speaking) have been developed. Please discuss your experiences with special students services and your views on todays trends in this regard?
A: A lot of this depends on the school, and how it is handled within the system. I feel like it is important that tracking be done...tracking is nothing new, they don't like the term tracking now I understand but you need your honors classes to promote the welfare of those academically talented students; you do need the classes for the LD, the EMH's, for the TMH's, you need to integrate those students though in the regular program as much as possible in order to make them fit into society because they're not going to be limited to the same kind of students that they find in all their classes...so I feel that mainstreaming is very important. At the same time, you got to have them in classes that they can achieve in, I feel like their english, math, those kinds of things should be in the small group; but integrate them into the school through the vocational courses as much as possible.
Q: Do you think that public schools today should take students like Willie M students where we have to have boxes built and put students in there for durations of time?
A: No, I feel like the public schools is not for students that cannot adjust to normal rules and regulations. Now I'm not a proponent of keeping a student in school at all costs, I've always felt that... a dropout is really good thing for the school at times...a lot of money I feel is being wasted on trying to keep these students in school when they have no business in school. I also feel like the judge that tries a student and assigns him back to school is doing nothing but punishing the school, not the student, or not the criminal.
Q: Administrators spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paperwork and the complexity which they are forced to deal with, would you comment on a situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time?
A: When I started, probably the only reports we had to do was the monthly attendance statistical report, maybe an end of the year report of how many library books and such as that...but now through the years it seems that more paperwork is come down than one person can do, so...this really is just another administrative role and one of management in which you assign this paperwork to as many people as possible in those areas; in other words, you give it to your assistant principals, you give it to you counselors, as much as possible but still not taking away from their time of counseling students, but you keep this work divided up so that you as the principal do not become logged, well, bogged down with it. It's got to be assigned out and the amount of paperwork now compared to when I started is 50 times more... than it was at that time.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in the past when working with him, in terms of his general demeanor for you and your school?
A: We'll I touch on this before in that the superintendents I worked for have been willing to allow me to run the school. Maybe this was because they felt I could run it, it was done maybe they had no problems from my school. if there was a problem I usually tried to keep the superintendent informed so that if he was going to get a visit from a parent then, he would know what the problem was and he would have little choice but to back me up in it. The main thing that I think that you've got to do is to keep your superintendent informed, don't let someone catch him unaware of what has gone on and what has happened...so keep him informed.
Q: Mr. Norton, would you please describe your relationship pro or con with the board of education and comment on the effectiveness of school boards operations in general?
A: When I started as a principal, I had what is now called an Advisory Council. These people were from the community that sort of kept me informed of what the community was saying, how they felt about the school, and things that I needed to do in order to have a better school provided, it was within the realm of good sound educational policy. They served at that time, that was about 1962, I believe; maybe they served a pretty good purpose at that time, I later moved to Raleigh were they had no advisory council, they only had the board of education, it was city system so there was no advisory council. I functioned real well under those situations and felt since that time that the advisory councils are a waste of the principals time and about the only thing it does is to allow some members of the community to feel like their among the select few. So maybe it's working in that sense in that it is good PR.
Q: Talking about boards of education, have you worked in situations were the boards were appointed, members appointed?
A: I've worked in both situations...I've worked in, the most successful system I felt were those that had appointed board of educations... in this particular county I feel like the board of education is not functioning in the welfare or the interest of the students. They as a group have been elected because they had an axe to grind, they wanted the superintendent scalped, they wanted some principals scalped, they wanted their child to have special education privileges; in other words, they have been a bunch of people elected because they have an axe to grind and not because they are interested in the betterment of the education of the students at Davie High School. So, as far as I am concerned, the board of education in this county is... worse.... than nothing.
Q: Since you have had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you considered to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses again?
A: Administrative strengths would be organization, personnel selection, ability to get along with staff including the entire staff...that includes faculty, custodians, cafeteria workers, students...that would be the strengths. I guess that I would have to go with the superintendents recommendation over the years that I was not involved in community life as much as I should have been. But this is his idea of a weakness, not mine.
Q: You know, today you hear so much that the principal needs to be involved more with parents and with more organizations and more community, and you're belief is that it was the superintendents idea and not yours and that allowed you to become a better and a stronger principal because you were here with your school...?
A: Right, I stayed with the school and worked with the school- I worked with parents of students that needed parents to be here to be informed of what was going on with their student. I feel like getting the parents involved in the school is good to a point, but sometimes the parent wants to go over the point and start trying to dictate school policy, and at that time that's when you tell them goodby.
Q: Is that one reason maybe Davie High has never had a PTO(Parent Teacher Organization) or PTSO(Parent Teacher Student Organization) or any parental organization; was that one of your fears or one of your things that you did not want?
A: I have no fears of it, I have no fear of parents, I have no fear of the community. Frankly I was fortunate that when I came to Davie county there was no PTO or PTA, as it was called and really saw no need for having one. In Salisbury we did have while I was principal there a PTA, a PTSA, and the attendance at those meetings was usually made up of 75% teachers and 25% parents, and they way I felt I could call a faculty meeting anytime and did not have to come back at night to do it. So, when I came back to Davie, very honestly, high school students do not want their parents coming to the school and we could not get word to them...for example; each year here at Davie we would have an Open House in which parents were invited to come. Normal attendance at the Open House was 150 to 200 max. I had 60 teachers or 65 teachers here, for 200 parents. That's fine, it only took about a hour and a half, but I'm afraid if we had done this every month then attendance at PTSO or PTO or whatever you want to call it would not be sufficient to warrant the teachers having to come back to work.
Q: Talk a little about the circumstances leading up to the decision for you to retire at the time you did, and if you don't mind sharing reasons, and the mental processes you exercised in reaching your conclusion to step down as principal?
A: My reasons for retiring were a couple of things. I had 36 years of experience, which would afford me a fairly decent income upon retirement, the other thing; I wanted to retire from education at a time when I felt like I was on top of the school rather than the school being on top of me. I always prided myself in that I felt that I did a good job as a school principal and I never wanted to walk down the hall and hear the old saying, "he used to be such a good principal", I think that would have done more to, well that would have got to me more than anything else, but as far as my final decision for retiring, I think it... got to the place that it wasn't as much fun as it was at one time. I enjoyed all of my years as a principal and as a teacher. I felt like that as a coach and as a teacher I was probably closer to students than at any time in my career. When I became a principal, with all of the things that you are responsible for, you do not have the time to get with the students as much as you did. You spend your time working with teachers in order to improve their performance, to make them feel good about themselves and in turn do a better job for the students. I basically still worked for the student but I had to work through the teachers in order to help them. And this did away with a lot of personal contact that I had with the students. But I guess the main thing that as far as my retirement was concerned, I just felt like it was time for me to pass it on to someone else.
Q: It is interesting to note that in Davie County, during your last eight years, you had a total of 7 assistant principals working with you at separate times, and five of those are now principals in Davie County. What do you attribute the success that you have had in taking educators and making principals out of them?
A: Organization. Organization is the main thing and through that organization of making those assistant principals, as I said earlier, responsible for the running of the school. And giving them the experience of running the school, without having actually to face the music for their actions in a sense; however they always had to face the music if it wasn't right with me. So, I think organization probably was one of the things that contributed to the success of the assistant principals that I had. Plus the fact that they were good people. And they wanted to be principals.
Q: You know, we have sat here and talked at length, and despite my best efforts in asking you questions, is there something that I have left out and what have I not asked that maybe I should have asked?
A: I don't know of anything we have not covered, seems to have covered it pretty well and I really have nothing else to add to that...I enjoyed talking with you as I have always enjoyed talking with you..but it's always...I still have a lot of feeling for education and for the job of the principal and I want the best principals; the thing that worries me about principalship is that maybe a lot of people getting into it that shouldn't get into it, that really do not have the feel for the organization, for the teachers, and for the students. So, this is my main concern right now.
Q: You know Mr. Norton I would like to thank you for the time which you spent with me this evening, I also while I have the opportunity, to thank you for being a "teacher of administrators", I would say to you point blank that I had the best teacher to train me to be a principal, and that is "you, sir". I want to thank you at this time.
| Back to "N" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |