Today is September 16, 1988. This interview takes place at 126 Rosemont Circle, Berryville, VA.
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Q:. The purpose of this interview is to have Mr. Overbey share recollections of his tenure as a public school principal. Mr. Overbey, would you give us a brief overview of your career in education.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: My first job was a teacher in Pittsylvania County in what was then known as Whitmore Farm Life School. I taught science and social studies for one year and then transferred to Greensville County, Emporia, Virginia, where I taught mathematics and history for six years. I was appointed principal of that school in 1962 and was kept that position until 1966. In that year I moved to Berryville, Clarke County, where I became Director of Instruction. After five or six years I was made assistant superintendent until I retired in August of 1988.
Q: What was your formal preparation for the principalship?
A: I received a Bachelor's degree from Longwood College. I went there, not before it was coed, before it was as many men students as it has now. They allowed veteran's to attend school there and that's the reason I went there. After that I served a couple of years in the military, came back to school at the University of Virginia, and I received a master's degree in administration.
Q: What time was that?
A: The date?
Q: Yes, was that prior to your becoming principal?
Q: So you accomplished your master's work then, with full-time study?
A: Right, that's correct.
Q: I see. If you compared your preparation for the principalship twenty-five years ago to today's, do you think it was effective, or insufficient, or reality-based?
A: You have that turned on don't you.
Q: (Laughing) Yes.
A: Well, I'd say, that's been a long time ago. The best classes I had were in summer school by practicing administrators when they taught the classes. They were much more realistic and down to earth than the theory-oriented courses I took during the winter semesters.
Q: You don't need to be hesitant expressing those opinions because I think that it's nothing that some of us haven't gone through before. Okay, would you take us now on a guided bus tour of Greensville County.
A: Greensville County is about three hundred fifty square miles. It's divided by Interstate 95, and state road 58. It borders North Carolina and it's approximately an hour's drive south of Richmond. The--it's an agricultural region and has three crops: tobacco, peanuts, and cotton--peanuts being the major money crop. There's some small industry there, knitting mills and that sort. Emporia is the only town of any size in it, and's about five thousand people. Course all the children in town and in the county went to Greensville County High School. It was interesting that I noted when I went there--it was my wife's home town--that the--all of the cheerleader yells spelled out Emporia, the rings, the class rings had an "E" on the stone instead of a "G", and they still referred to it as Emporia High School, although it was officially Greensville County High School. But I think that's changed now. The letters that the athletes got on their jackets were "E's" and I'm sure it confused people from other schools. That was just sort of a tradition, but I think that's changed.
Q: Where did the students who were not from Emporia go before you had a consolidated high school? Were there smaller outlying . . .
A: That was before my time. I don't know. They had a consolidated high school there for many years. It was a fairly small county. At the time I went there there were two high schools. There was a segregated system--one for white students and one for black students.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the socioeconomic status of the community. If we were to see three families: one lower, one middle and one high, what might be fairly typical?
A: Middle to middle-lower.
Q: Middle to middle-lower, and the wealthiest students in your school would have been--how would you describe them?
A: In what way now?
Q: What was the range from the lowest to the highest in school?
A: Well most of our students, I'd say eighty to eighty-five percent were from middle to--and working-class homes. There were some students from-- children of professionals and business people. I guess you could say they were upper middle at least.
Q: They were probably at least at the upper range of your school?
A: Right. I did--looking back on it in that community--today someone might think that you did not get that much support as you'd like and a lot of children would go to private schools, but that really wasn't the case. We got a great deal of support, and I don't mean financial. We didn't get that much that way--no one did in those days, but the parents seemed to want their children to have an education, and they would do what they needed to do for them to get that--at the time that I went there. That is--it seemed to have a higher priority in the home than I think it does now. When I say now, I'm not speaking of Greensville County because I'm not that familiar with what's happening in the schools now.
Q: You're speaking in general?
A: Well, if you suggested that a set of encyclopedias in the home might be good to have, they would get the set of encyclopedias instead of a VCR or another television--something of that nature. They would see that children did their homework, and we had probably had a five percent dropout rate, using the current method of determining dropouts which is not accurate actually. And we had a fairly significant number of students to go to college and did rather well. And we had a very limited curriculum at that time--large classes and not much variety in courses, but I think the work ethic in that community tended to make the students fairly serious about what they were doing.
Q: At the time when you were principal were there families that did not have their children educated at the public school in the county?
A: I can think of only two cases. Both of them would be children who were, for some reason or another, not real successful in the minds of their parents at any rate in the high school, but it was very rare for a student to leave that community and go to a boarding school.
Q: So it really was a community . . .
A: Oh, absolutely. That was the beauty of it as you got all the support because all the children went there for all practical purposes and all of them in the county and town went there.
Q: Now that you've shown us around the community, would you take us on a tour through your building?
A: The building, there were two built, identical buildings at the same time--the black high school and the white high school--brick for brick they were identical. It was built by an architectural firm from Richmond who is--not in business now. You can see their handiwork across the state by certain similarities. It was built by 1954 and was two stories. It had a gymnasium, no auditorium, and two vocational shops, two labs, course a library, and a health clinic. It had none of the special features required today for a modern high school. The clinic became the guidance counselor's office and later on a classroom. We were very crowded--we had about six hundred and fifty students, grades eight through twelve in the building. It was very, very crowded. We had large classes. It was a fairly standard school, nothing significant about it.
Q: How many students attended your school?
A: Six hundred and fifty--six twenty-five to six fifty.
Q: Is the building still in use?
A: Yes, it is. It's been--it hasn't been added onto as such but there have been many mobile classrooms and separate outdoor facilities that have been added to it. The building itself has not been changed, as far as I know. I haven't been in it in twenty years.
Q: As I go around the state, it just seems that alot of us are in the trailer business.
Q: What was your school's philosophy?
A: Our purpose at that time was to make sure that each student had a solid, basic foundation. For instance we--not required, but strongly suggested that students that were in vocational agriculture take a course in general chemistry. The reason was because at that time we were seeing that farming was getting to be a chemical industry, especially in that area. And people have lost their lives, working on farms and deal with chemicals and didn't know what they were doing. So we pretty much insisted that students become aware of the environment around them and how to take care of it and how to take care of themselves at the same time.
Q: Was the vocational ag[riculture] program a very important part of your school curriculum?
A: It was an important part but it was not a large part. As in many places, the number of people required in a farm operation dropped dramatically. From needing ten laborers to chop weeds in a field you go to one person who can drive a tractor and spray the weeds with this deadly chemical I mentioned, and consequently you needed very few people to work on the farms. But those that you needed had to be well trained and have a good math and science background.
Q: My next question you've alluded to somewhat--how did the school philosophy reflect the makeup of the community? Was there anything you'd care to add?
A: The we felt like we were doing what the community wanted because we did get their support. The children--their parents did send the children to school there, and many of them could have sent them wherever they wanted to, and although we did not have as many committees made up of parents as they have in schools nowadays, we--it wasn't required, and we just didn't do that. We have a PTA which was significant but it was run by the teachers and the principal more than the parents. But when you are in a community that's small and you are the only school and you see people day in and day out, in the church, in the stores, and rub elbows with them constantly you know what they want. We tried to provide that and I think we were reasonably successful in doing that.
Q: Let's expand a little bit on the role that the school played in the life of the community.
A: The--I would say that the the athletics, as it seems to be in most communities, probably brought more people to the school than anything else. It was not a community school in the sense that they have alot of social activities. Students at that time were not as gregarious with their own group as they seem to be now. They had other things to do, after school and before school. Many of them worked, not necessarily in businesses or that sort of thing, but alot of them lived on working farms and they had to get home and work. And it was not a community school in the sense that we think of one today to have alot of plays, and programs, and events with and for the community. One reason we didn't do that was because we did not have a school auditorium and to do something in the gymnasium of that nature was very, very difficult. It was a school supported by the community but not in a social sense. There were other institutions in the community that took care of that need.
Q: Now, I'd like to go on with some quick questions and short answers to build a framework about what teacher issues were. I'm going to ask you something really quickly and you can give me an immediate type of feedback so that maybe we can get some characteristics of what teaching was like then. What was the gender ratio, would you say, of your school, of male to female teachers?
A: Ten to one.
Q: Ten males to one . . .
A: No, no excuse me. Ten . . .
Q: Ten females to one male teacher, and that one male teacher, he was in what subject area.
A: Oh, both shops science, mathematics, that was about it.
Q: Fairly predictable. . .
A: Music, music.
Q: What was the education or training of the teachers?
A: Most of them had bachelor's; very rare for a masters degree.
Q: What were their career goals in general?
A: Just teaching, they had no particular aspirations above that.
Q: How about the age of your teachers, maybe range, or average, or the predominance?
A: Much different than what I see today. We had, of course, new teachers, and we had teachers up to, say, sixty, sixty-five. We had three or four teachers that would be sixty, sixty-two, sixty-five which I think it's very rare to see that today. We had, in those days, people who'd teach forty years, forty-five years.
Q: Right. How long had most of the teachers been teaching, would you say?
A: The average for the staff? Oh, fifteen years probably average.
Q: You think that that would probably be a good number. . .
A: Ten to fifteen years.
Q: . . . to tell us what your staff was like. Did they have families?
A: Yes, for the most part, and they all lived in the community.
Q: All lived in the community. And then I'm assuming that almost all of them were married.
A: Not necessarily. No. Over half, I guess, but certainly not even ninety percent.
Q: Did you have divorced women, for instance, raising families.
A: Not too much of that, no.
Q: What was the salary of teachers in those days?
A: I guess about five thousand dollars would have been considered a good salary at that time.
Q: Do you remember what maybe they started at for an incoming teacher?
A: In 1960--in what year?
Q: Sixty-three, sixty-four.
A: Sixty-three--twenty-four hundred, twenty-five hundred.
Q: That's considerably less than the five thousand dollars then that may have been a good salary.
A: If you had a masters degree, you'd maybe get a hundred dollars extra for that. Coaches got some supplements, but no one else got a supplement for anything--the yearbook, the cheerleaders, the sponsors of organizations didn't get anything.
Q: What do you think teachers liked about their jobs?
A: I think they liked the environment that they worked in. I think they liked the people that they worked with which is one aspect of teaching that I think most teachers don't appreciate because they've never done anything else. You usually work with some pretty honest people, and that's not true in all places of work.
Q: And how did the teachers participate in school life beyond their classroom responsibilities?
A: I would say that they were supportive. They would attend school activities. We wouldn't require that, but we would suggest it. And I'd--just like today, I think, some were supportive and some were not. Generally speaking, though, I feel that the overall--they were very supportive.
Q: You had eighth graders in your school. Let's shadow an eighth grader through his school day, period by period. Tell us what we'd see.
A: Well, first you would see him placed in an English class based on his test scores from the seventh grade. And that English class and whether they decided to take Latin as an eighth grader and Algebra I as an eighth grader would determine where who his classmates would be. We didn't call it tracking--we just didn't use the term, it just wasn't the same thing. But generally speaking students who took Latin and Algebra I as eighth graders fell into the other classes as sort of the same schedule. Cause there were not many electives so everybody sort of took the same thing. Students were given an algebra and a Latin prognosis test and they were recommended or not recommended to take Latin or Algebra in the eighth grade.
Q: Recommended by whom?
A: By the school.
Q: By the results of the test?
A: By the results of the test and their performance in the sixth and seventh grades.
Q: Did the teachers sit down and talk about where to place students?
A: No, not too much. That was an administrative and guidance decision. It was fairly cut and dry. When you base it on test scores and grade averages, there wasn't much to discuss, and generally speaking the parents, while they might want their children to be in certain classes with their friends--generally speaking, the school philosophy would hold forth. There wasn't as much pressure as there is today by parents. They were not as vocal as they are today to demand that their child be placed in certain classes. We had some that we would bear and say, okay, if you want them to be in Algebra I as an eighth grader, that's--we'll allow that, but we don't recommend it. And we didn't keep any records on what percent were successful or not from that standpoint. But I do know that in Latin, for instance, it would be very, very rare for a student not to pass Latin--very rare.
Q: Because it was so. . .
A: Because it was so selective. Now that didn't mean other students could not take it at that time or even later, but it was a fair--even though it was rural area, we had fairly stringent demands. Students had to work hard to keep up with their classmates and move on, and I think--and we had the support of the parents--and I think that's one thing that's missing from the schools today. It's priorities are not there.
Q: What teaching methods might this eighth grader have encountered?
A: Probably mostly lecture. We may have some innovative teaching once in a while to get the students more involved in the learning process but it was mostly a lecture type of. . .
Q: Can you remember somebody in particular who was innovative?
A: Oh, I can remember a science teacher that was teaching general science, and in those days, students had to buy the textbooks--purchase them brand new or secondhand if they could. Some parents complained to me because the teacher was not using the textbook after they paid six or seven dollars for it. And I discussed what she was doing, and she didn't need the science book. Of course, that was kind of new to us, and I said, well you keep it on your desk and have the students keep it on the desk and certainly use it as a reference book cause we don't want to buy all these books back. But she's one that I can remember. Now whether students learned any more science than anybody else or not, I can't answer that.
Q: Do you think they enjoyed it more?
A: I think they could have but I don't think they particularly enjoyed her.
Q: Uh, huh. It's quite a mix that goes together to make a successful teacher, isn't it?
A: I think--I don't want to get off your question so I won't. . .
Q: I have that question in here somewhere. Okay, let's go on then. How might the life of an eleventh grader have changed, their school life, from that of an eighth grader?
A: How did it change?
Q: Yes, what might we see an eleventh grader doing.
A: Well, the eleventh grader would notice that a fairly significant number of his classmates when he was in eighth grade were not there any longer. At that time students stopped school before they finished it. We wanted to make sure that they stopped with a good taste in their mouth, so that when they sent their children to school, they would send it with a good positive feeling about it. But alot of students did stop and go to work. Alot stop now but they don't go to work. They stand on the street corners. In those days, there was alot of farm labor needed and other labor and they'd stop, but they went to work. You just didn't see them hanging around. The eleventh grader would, was typical of any eleventh grader, as I indicated we had very few extra-curricular activities and extra-curricular courses that students could take. We had a standard six-period day, and if you wanted to take five classes a day you had to be a good student to handle that. And you had to prove yourself. That's changed today, you see most students took four academic classes, physical education, and a study hall. If you wanted to take that fifth class, you had to convince the faculty that you could handle that.
Q: Teen pregnancy and substance abuse are critical issues today. Compare this to twenty-five years ago.
A: Well, I guess night and day would be the best way to describe the difference. We had some teen pregnancy, probably some that I really never knew about cause they simply did not come to school, and homebound instruction was not heard--well, I won't say wasn't heard of, but there was very little homebound instruction. I can't think of any cases in my four years where we sent a teacher to a student that was pregnant or where we had a special class for pregnant girls. If they got pregnant, not so you'd notice. As far as drugs were concerned, there's obviously a big difference. I guess a few beers would be about as strong as anything you'd get but that was something that we simply did not have to deal with. I think it's had a major impact on the principalship today. They have to spend too much time dealing with social problems, and they don't have enough time to deal with curriculum and instruction which is--and learning and teaching, which is what we're supposed to be doing.
Q: Who do you think should be taking over these problems, dealing with these social problems?
A: The community, the churches, the families--certainly take a greater responsibility than they have at this point.
Q: You've already explained a little bit to us about the instructional program in school. Would you fill in a little bit about what students would take, what did the curriculum consist of?
A: Well it was fairly basic. They could take--we had the minimum courses they would need to get into college. For instance, we did not offer physics for many years until one day we decided that we would try to get some parent volunteers in the community to teach physics. So we contacted the president of Johns Manville plant in nearby Jarrett who happened to, of course, have a degree in science. We contacted a former teacher who lived in the community and an engineer who lived in the community who worked in a plant in North Carolina. They were our physics faculty. There was a 7:30 a.m. class. Students had to get there on their own. We had no bus transportation. Sometimes they would meet in the evenings, but none of the teachers were certified, not even the one who was an ex-teacher; he was a science teacher but not certified in physics. It was written up in the Johns Manville trade journal that they send around. The State Department of Education never said anything about having uncertified teachers. They never mentioned it, they didn't challenge it at all. We--it was sort of an innovative thing, I guess but we didn't really think of it at that time as being particularly innovative.
Q: Well, that's interesting you mentioned the word "challenge"in terms of the Department of Education. Do you think the State Department might have challenged or commended?
A: Well they were quiet, but I'm not so sure what they knew about it. I guess we reported it, I don't know if we did or not. But they took it and they got credit for it.
Q: Do you feel it was worthwhile?
A: Oh, absolutely.
A: There's no other way to have it; and in those days you just did what you had to to get the job done.
Q: You're mentioning often "we," using the word "we,"--"we needed a physics class" or" we went out to Johns"--John Manville, Mansville is it?--"and got this teacher." Who was the "we" in your school?
A: Well the "we" was probably me. But I did not have an assistant principal. I had one guidance counselor who was also the athletic director and head basketball coach. One counselor for six hundred and fifty students. I considered myself as much or more of an individual counselor than he, because he had to spend so much of his time in the logistics of college applications and scheduling and that sort of thing. I handled all of the discipline in the school outside of the classroom. There just wasn't anybody else to do it. I didn't want the counselor to do that. I tried to, have an atmosphere where the teachers felt that they had a part in the decision and felt they were all part of the team. And when I used to introduce teachers at PTA meetings, it was my intention to let the public know that they were the most important cog in the wheel of the school and I was a sort of a caretaker, a logistics manager, some leadership, but what happened in the classroom was the most important aspect of it. And I tried to make the teachers feel like that they were important in the school, and I think they did. I think they felt good about it, their positions.
Q: Did you have special education programs in your school?
A: None whatsoever.
Q: How were students--did you identify students as needing special help, for instance, or did students who may have been special ed[ucation] not go to school?
A: Probably alot of them never made it that far. I can think of one physically handicapped student who we had a hook up for him so that he could hear the lectures of the classes that he couldn't go upstairs. We didn't have an elevator and he couldn't go upstairs. When he was in high school his friends used to pick him up and take him up--excuse me, in elementary school--take him up and down the stairs to his classes. But he had this bone disease in which his bones broke easily and at that point we were afraid to do that so we were not in any way prepared to offer special help.
Q: Let me check just to be sure. You had no special programs for gifted and talented students?
Q: Explain a little bit about the organizational structure of the school division, the hierarchy?
A: Well we'll start with the superintendent and the School Board.
Q: A good place to start.
A: And we had--at some point in time we did get a director of instruction. He spent very little of his time--we had a director of instruction for two high schools, several elementary schools--we did not have junior highs in those times. He spent a great deal of his time working with the federal projects. The superintendent had one assistant and that was the director of instruction. Consequently, we had no subject area supervisors or grade level supervisors. I think the elementary schools had a supervisor, but the principal in that situation and in a lot of them in those days, was captain of the ship. He made--he was responsible for the school, the decisions, evaluation, curriculum, instruction. In my four years, as principal, I approached the school board--I went to the school board meeting on one occasion and that's when some parents were--had taken it upon themselves to get one of our teachers dismissed, and when I found out about that I went down to the next school board meeting with this teacher to give my support. In four years that's the only time I ever attended a school board meeting. I was never asked to attend, to--for whatever the reason may have been, it just didn't happen. The school board would come to the schools occasionally and walk around for a sort of a cursory, kind of--sort of visit but not much real contact.
Q: Then you were given fairly much a high degree of authority in your school and the ability--autonomy, I should say?
A: Well, yes, that's correct. That's what I meant when I said captain of the ship, and I think that--I like to think rather, that the community and the school board and superintendent trusted us to do the right thing for the children. And I feel like that they did, and if they didn't, they were--they didn't let us feel like they did not. I think that, while teachers made very little money in those days, I think that they had a little bit higher status in the community than they might. I'm getting off the question. Maybe you'll come to. . .
Q: No, no that's okay.
A: . . .that later.
Q: Now you've mentioned that you were working in a segregated school system at the time. . .
A: That's right.
Q: . . .and there were white schools and black schools,
A: Until my fourth year then we were integrated.
Q: Okay, we'll talk about that because that's a very significant issue, but for the black schools, was that under the auspices of the same school board. Was there any type of teamwork among the principals, for instance, the secondary principals.
A: None at all. My only contact was with the principal of the only elementary school that had white students in it in the county.
Q: Oh I see. How many schools were there in the county? Maybe that would help me to know.
A: I don't know. That's one of the sad commentaries on segregation. I don't know how many schools there were out in the county. There was one white high school and one white elementary school. There was one black high school and probably four or five smaller schools out in the county that black children attended. And the only reason I know that was because when I was a teacher during the summer I was hired by the school board to work with the school maintenance crew and we would go out to these schools to do repair work and that would be, that was the only contact I had.
Q: You didn't work in the summer?
A: I didn't?
Q: Other than as a, as helping them on maintenance crews?
A: What do you mean I didn't work, I don't understand your question.
Q: Were you a 12-month employee?
A: As a teacher, no, as a principal I was.
Q: Oh I see, okay. . .
A: As I indicated, when I was a teacher I worked. . .
Q: I understand.
A: Which is another change today. I don't know of any teachers, men teachers at least, that did not work during the summer. Today I see alot that take that time off, play tennis, do a little few odd things around the house until school starts again.
Q: How was your school organized? Was it departmentalized?
A: Yes we had department chair for each department.
Q: What was the responsibility for each department chairperson?
A: Not too much, things didn't change much in those days. You could look at a school in one year and three years later look at it and not see too much difference. Things didn't change rapidly. They were responsible for selecting instructional materials for their department and overseeing any change. They had no supervisory responsibilities of other people in the department--no evaluation responsibilities--strictly logistical, mechanical type of things.
Q: Who were some of the key individuals in your school besides yourself of course?
A: The senior sponsors. It just so happened that the senior--I think--I don't know if it was by design, but the senior sponsors were always the more experienced teachers, and I think that was because they had alot of responsibility. And the younger teachers were the eighth grade and ninth grade sponsors. But I had one faculty member that was there when I was teaching and long before--as a matter or fact, it's probably the only school she ever taught in for forty years, and she was the chairman of the department. And I worked for her before I became principal which was interesting, too, to deal with when I was appointed principal. But I would say that she would have been the dean of the faculty if you--if there was such a term. She'd been there longer, she was an outspoken, professional teacher. She had her masters degree, she was single; had been active in the state organizations and--VEA--received an award that I don't hear much of now--they used to give schools--Freedom Foundation Award, the school received an award and she did also, and she was sometimes accused of, trying to sway students in their beliefs as far as being Democrats or Republicans. But she was one of those folks that was from the community, had taught alot of the people in the community and their children, and grandchildren. And she could do most anything and get by with it and it was not challenged.
Q: If she had run for political office, do you think she would have won?
A: Probably not, she was too independent for that.
Q: That's interesting. You mentioned that the--that there was a story perhaps associated with your being appointed principal and your relationships with this teacher.
A: I think that when I was working for her, in a sense, and was much younger, and I was doing the school maintenance work one day, and it was in August, about the first of August. The superintendent came by and it was on a Friday afternoon, he said, I want you to report to the school Monday. You're going to be principal. And I wasn't entirely shocked. They had a problem there--the principal had to leave, and I knew that they were going to have to make some changes, and I told them that if they wanted me to be principal that I would do that and try to do the best job I could. So they appointed me, and I went from painting smock to coat and tie on Monday--no guidance counselor, no secretary, just me and all of the work that had to be done to prepare school for the opening in September. But I think it was difficult for this teacher to maybe accept me as the principal, probably because she had been there alot longer and she was alot older. I don't know if she had any aspirations for the principalship or not--probably not, but she did not want to be the principal but she wanted to have her way. But we sat down and talked about that. We were good friends before that and after that, and we sat down and she handled it in a very professional way, I thought.
Q: Mr. Overbey, I was a high school senior during your first year as a principal. I commend you for remaining young at heart while I have grown older. But, honestly, as a student, I was never aware of a fraction of what it takes to run a good school. Share with me the secrets of making it look easy.
A: I think doing your work on weekends and nights when no one else is there makes it look easy. A good school principal, in a high school at any rate, to use an old term, wears out alot of shoe leather, and if you're going to be out in the halls and around the building and be seen alot, you're going to have to do all those reports at sometime not during the school day. It was difficult during those days because, along with not having an assistant, I only had one secretary for the entire school, and it was pretty tough to get out of the office alot of times. But, I think that students like to see the principal of the school in the building and around the building alot. While they might not tell you that, I think they feel fairly secure and comfortable if the principal is walking around, even snooping around, I think that gives them a great deal of security.
Q: How would you go about "snooping?"
A: Well, I probably used a word to get me in trouble there. I don't think I was a snooper. I would wear hard heels and whistle alot so I didn't want to surprise anybody. You can see too many things, as you know, in a school. Sometimes you need to see and not see, but I wasn't--I didn't really snoop on teachers or students either. I knew what all the secrets were--there was smoking in the bathroom, how they signaled other students when I was coming in. I could do it myself, but I just didn't let them know that.
Q: Okay, funding has always been an issue for building principals. Tell us about allocation of funding at your school?
A: We weren't allocated any funds.
Q: Not from the central office?
A: No, none. And you wonder, how did we operate?
Q: [laughter] I'm falling off my chair, yes.
A: Around my last year or two, the principal--the superintendent--he had been principal and he was very close to some of the problems. He did furnish us with mimeograph paper. Of course, we had an old-fashioned copy machine that would sort of laboriously do one at a time if you took fifteen minutes to get it done. So copying wasn't a real big expense. Mimeograph paper was the biggest expense. He furnished us with stationery and postage stamps if we didn't use too many, but the only money we had for instructional materials--the students bought there own books--we had a few fees, not many, just a few fees for lab fees and that sort of thing. We had to just raise money the best way we could to buy instructional materials to supplement what we were doing. As I indicated earlier and forgot to finish the sentence, the only money we had was the old National Defense and Education Act, NDEA funds, which has now turned into Chapter Two or something, I don't know what they call it, most of the money goes for the library now. But when Sputnik went up in about 1958, alot of things happened. One was to decide that more science and mathematics had to be taught in the schools, and later on they added modern foreign languages and some--and later social studies and geography. And if you wrote the project properly, you could get some money to buy alot of science equipment and mathematics equipment. That was really the only outside money we had. We had four Coke machines in the cafeteria. We could make about twenty-five dollars a day on those, and we used to use that money for instructional materials also. But as far as any instructional funds from the central office, there just wasn't any.
Q: What were some of the fund-raising activities, then, that your school participated in?
A: School pictures, magazine sales, and pop machines--that was about it. We didn't have those things, and I'm not sure that now that we have a lot more than we used to, that the students are learning any more. I don't know what that says, but someone that hadn't been in education they might be saying what you're saying that it doesn't make any difference; there's not that much of an impact. And that might be what I'm saying--workbooks, mimeograph paper, all sorts of little gimmicks and gadgets, I don't think it really helped that much. I don't think the expense that has been borne by people has been worth what it should have been worth. I think we need to get back to a writing-based curriculum in our schools.
Q: Did teachers spend out-of-pocket money?
A: I--not that I was aware of. We didn't use anything. We had the book and the chalkboard and the chalk, and that was about it in most cases except--I take that back, we got a little money for vocational supplies and art supplies, and music--none of the standard so-called academic classes received any money unless it was funded through NDEA.
Q: Many people would suggest that there are two faces of the public figure--the man as principal and the private/family self. How did you maintain these two faces?
A: I don't know how to answer that question. I'm not sure I know what you mean.
Q: Then I would say that you perhaps don't agree with that premise. That's okay too.
A: Not necessarily. I didn't try to separate anything. I was the same at home. I lived two blocks from the school and I spent about a hundred nights out of a hundred and eighty, I would be at the school, so I don't know what that's doing for your question, but I certainly didn't separate the two.
Q: You never found any conflicts then, for instance, in your community life growing out of your role as a school principal?
A: No, not at all. I indicated it was a fairly close community, I knew alot of the people and I'd see them places other than school. They didn't see me only as school principal. I used to hunt with some of the students and their parents, and with the school janitor, or anyone else who had a good rabbit dog. And so I saw them--played golf with them, and saw them in alot of different places. I just went to work like everyone else. I didn't look forward to the time when I would have to discipline the children of some of my best friends, and fortunately I left town before that happened. However, I did have to suspend the superintendent's son once.
Q: Oh, you have to tell us about that.
A: He said a bad word, and in those days you couldn't say a bad word out loud in the school so he was suspended just as anyone else would be. And he's a good friend today, and I guess they say it didn't really make any difference, but his mother reminds me of it almost every time I see her. He never mentions it. I don't think they blame me. It was the result of a conflict with a teacher. I just was the one that had to bring home the bad news. The year after that--the following year, I was offered the biggest raise I'd been offered by the superintendent, so I don't think he held that against me.
Q: That must say something. Share with us then the development of your career goals as a teacher and then principal, and assistant superintendent? How did that come about?
A: Well, I decided to get a masters degree before I started teaching which is--most people probably don't--I guess they don't. They didn't in those days. They'd usually go summer and weekends and that sort of thing. I'd just gotten out of the service, and I had one wife and one child and the G.I. Bill was there. And I thought that that might be the best time for me to go and do it all at once and get it over with, as it were, because it would never be any easier to do that. So I left the army and went straight into classes at the University of Virginia. I probably missed a great deal by not having the experience, the background and experience to lean on in taking these classes. It probably meant more to experienced people than it did to me. But if I had it to do over again, I'd probably do the same thing. After that I taught school for seven years, and I've never had any aspirations to be school superintendent--that was something that never interested me. I decided that, after teaching for a few years, I would either move to another school or try to become, where it paid more money, I had a family to support, or try to get into administration which paid more--not much more, but a little more. They did pay you during July and August. This opportunity came along in another system for an assistant principal at a large high school. I applied for it, and they offered me the position. The school board would not release me from my contract. It was about the first of August, the superintendent was out of the country, the principal was on vacation, and things just didn't do much in the summertime. And, really, they said well we'll release you if you can find someone to replace--a satisfactory replacement--if "you" could find someone, I had to do it. There was no central office person or personnel director or anyone else. So I did. I tried, and I found one person who was qualified and certified, but apparently that wasn't satisfactory to the board so I was not released. I was not bitter about that cause I liked where I was, but this other offer was an assistant principalship and offered considerably more money. I liked the people I worked with, and I wasn't bitter about it. I went on and did my job as if nothing had happened, and sometimes things work out for the best because the next year was when I was appointed principal. And the superintendent later said you don't want to be assistant principal. They just do everything the principal doesn't want to do.
Q: Do you think that's true?
A: I've never had one so I won't try to answer that.
Q: Okay. How would you describe your leadership or management style when you were a principal?
A: Well, I alluded to this a little earlier. I tried to--I was not authoritarian; I was not a dictator at all. I brought decisions, teachers into the decision making when it involved students a great deal. And I tried to put the teachers out front as far as who was important in the school building, as I mentioned earlier, because that really is where it happens. I tried to make them feel good about being a teacher at Greenville High School and tried to make them be proud to be a teacher there and make the students be proud to be students there.
Q: How would you characterize the climate of your school? Who were the heroes there?
A: Do you mean among the students?
Q: Whoever might be a hero in the school--could be students, could be teachers. What did it take to be very well thought of in the school?
A: Well, among the staff and the teachers it--being fair I think is--firm but fair, and that's nothing new, that's old as the hills, that's. . . Students respected teachers that were firm, fair, and had a real interest in them, a genuine interest, and who really knew their subject matter. And I know teachers today think they work awfully hard, and I know they do and they have alot of burdens that I didn't have as a teacher and alot of things that come into the classroom that just didn't happen. But I think teachers--alot of the teachers in that time had more of a personal interest in the students, because all the teachers and all the students lived in the same community and rubbed shoulders with their families. For instance, if we had a dance or some program at school at night, the teacher who was responsible would see that the last child that left there got home safely. They would not leave the school with eight kids sitting out on the front steps waiting for somebody to come pick them up. If they had to, they'd take them home if it was twenty miles in their own automobiles and didn't expect any money in return for that. They were just, and people didn't sue in those days like they do now which I think is significant. We have teachers now who get sued for whatever anybody wants to sue them for, but they just had more of a genuine respect. Of course, alot of teachers today--in this county half of the teachers do not live in the county. That's good for them in some aspects, but I don't think it helps the school program in a great sense. I think that sometimes we as teachers are our own worst enemies because we can look around at institutions and businesses outside of the school system to see what they do to improve relations and marketing and research, and we don't seem to think any of that can carry over to the schools. But I think it does. I think I kind of got away from that question there of what it takes to be a hero.
Q: Another word that's associated with school climate and school culture is rites and rituals. What were the on-going types of things that you could count on year after year after year at your school?
A: In what respect?
Q: In activities, for instance--things that you could look forward to, that were held in high regard by the teachers or parent community or the students?
A: Oh, I think some of the various ceremonies that they had with regard to graduation--our class day and graduation exercises were always of course a high point obviously. The senior play in the community got alot of attention. We never had enough tickets to go around--turn people away at the door. They had an excellent band program at that time that the community was very proud and got all sorts of distinctions and competed with triple-A schools with great success. As I indicated earlier, it was not a community school in the sense that some people think of it today. It was--the students had a great deal of loyalty to the school, and I see that even today because fortunately I get--I still get invited back to the reunions that they have. They're interesting, too, to see what happens, but I was--as principal, I was very proud of the school, and had good feelings about it And I think that the faculty and students sensed that by my actions and, if you are not proud of your school, if you don't think it's a good place to be, then you probably shouldn't be there. You probably should be somewhere else. I thought I had the best school in the state, and probably didn't but I thought I did And I think some of that rubs off on the community.
Q: You mentioned about your appointment to the principalship there. What type of problems did you inherit when you first came into that job?
A: Aah, low morale among the staff and I don't know how to say this. We had--our bank account had three cents in it at the local bank. That was all of the--supposed to represent all of the money for the various clubs in the school. Our classes worked, beginning as eighth graders to--in various fund-raising projects--the magazine drive being the biggest one, to save money for their senior trip to New York which took thousands and thousands of dollars. All that was coming up, we had three cents in the account at the bank. That was the biggest problem from a financial standpoint. From just opening of school, no one had been scheduled--this was August, no one had been scheduled. A master schedule had been made up but it had been dropped. The principal had left under less than happy circumstances sort of overnight and--as did the secretary. Now I wouldn't want you to put the principal and the secretary together, not that kind of a thing--they didn't leave together, but it was kind of messy and we had to really work hard to--we had alot of bills to pay. The athletic department had a tremendous bill, the senior class trip from the previous year bill had not been paid--that was several thousand dollars. So we had to work hard and tighten our belts and ride it out until we could see better times. It took about two years to get things back on a better keel, an even keel from a standpoint of morale in the school and from a standpoint of finances. We got no infusion of money from the school board or any other source to tide us over during that period. We just did without, that's what we did.
Q: It sounds to me that this senior class trip might have been one of those rituals that I spoke of a little bit earlier that was looked forward to. Did the seniors that year--that first year go on their trip, and if they did, how did you manage it?
A: Oh yeah, we went, that group went. We just worked hard to help them raise extra money. They always had to come up with a few dollars to go when the time came on their own to make up the difference. Maybe that year they did that. Any senior could go. No one would be left home on account of finances. If we knew of two or three students that were having a hard time coming up with the supplemental money that we needed, this dean of the teachers that I mentioned to you that was on the faculty knew which community members to tap for a few dollars to support that student, and we'd get some money that way. We'd just tell them that we've got some students that need some assistance, and do you mind giving us a few bucks to help them along, and they'd do that. The senior class trip was an institution there, and it was a long trip--about a week long. We'd go on a Monday morning and come back on a Saturday night--stay in New York for a week. That, too, came to a close when the sixties with the riots in the cities. We got a little afraid to take that chance, and it was getting expensive, and it was taking too much time in the school to plan it and to raise the money for it. The tail started wagging the dog so we stopped it. I don't know if they do it now or not.
Q: Whose decision was that to stop?
A: That was mine and the senior sponsors', and I was the one that went into the junior class meeting and told them that they would not be going to New York, but I still got invited back to their reunion. I tried to shove that onus onto the school board and the superintendent because they're the ones that approved all extra-curricular activities, and I think what I was asking them to do was tell us you can't go to New York any more. Now I could say to the students they said we cannot go any more, I'm sorry. But the superintendent was smarter than I gave him credit for. He said it's an extra-curricular activity. You send down a calendar each August of what your plans are for that year. If you don't want that trip, then don't put it on the agenda. [chuckles] So I couldn't get by with that and I just left it off. We had to get everything that we did approved, and for a while, the State Department of Education had to approve everything that you did in school--your activity and schedule. In other words they wanted to know if you're not going to be in class, why. If you're not going to be doing the three R's why you're not going to be. And that came as a result of this Sputnik also--that we could have no school night activities--no Tuesday night basketball games or Thursday night games--none. We'd do some of those things after school maybe, like a J.V. game, but that would be the extent of it. You had all activities and sports took place on Friday and Saturday evenings, and until that kind of eroded away and it's back to what we're doing now, which is probably too much.
Q: It's difficult now days to schedule; it really is. Tell me a little bit about the nature of the low teacher morale at your school when you took over.
A: Well, I think it happened because after--the principal. We're getting into personalities now and I don't want to. . .
A: . . .do that.
Q: Let me ask you the question this way then. What did you do to go about improving the morale? What specific actions did you take?
A: Well, I think the first thing I did was to--I worked real hard myself to get the school ready to open, and I think the teachers recognized that. I had everything ready for them when they got there, and the superintendent helped me a great deal. He would come up nights and weekends and sit down and we'd try to figure out how we were going to handle the school program with three cents in the bank. And he'd been principal of the school and knew alot about what had to be done. By the way, I'd want to mention his name. He's now retired and his name is A. G.--Andrew G. Wright. He retired, oh, about three years ago as principal--as superintendent of Stafford County. He was my mentor, if I had one, he would be it while I was in school as a teacher and an administrator. [clears throat] Excuse me. The first thing I'd try to do, as I've indicated a time or two was to try to pat the teachers on the back, esprit d'corps, or whatever you might want to call it. And STOP talking about how bad things were, and talk about what good possibilities we had, and we had some very good students, some excellent children in the school--academically and from a leadership standpoint. And as I go back now to these reunions, I still see that. And we really built on what we had to try to make the best of it, and we had success in some of the academic pursuits as far as forensics was concerned, and athletics was concerned. And the whole atmosphere kind of improved, not because I did anything. I didn't do cheers or anything of that nature. And I was kind of a low key kind of a guy. I didn't jump up and down at ball games and lead the cheers. I'm not a hail fellow, well meant person. I just gotta do it through my kind of actions and things that I say to the public--I think the way a coach would talk about a ball game on Saturday after he's won or lost on Friday night. I think that he can do alot to help his team or hinder his team by the comments he makes at that time. That's really all. We didn't have any choice to do anything. I didn't know what else you could do.
Q: You've given me some examples of specific actions that you took to build support for your school or your school program in the community. Is there anything you'd care to add to that? You mentioned for instance about the assistance that the businesses were in the senior class trip and, the science teacher from the business in your area.
A: Uh, no, I don't think so. I guess at the time maybe I thought it was a typical situation, but maybe it wasn't. We--it was the school in the community and that's where all the people sent their children and they seemed to be relatively happy with the products that came out of there. That's--that's what we strived to do.
Q: Just as an editorial comment, I think that alot of those situations are both unique and typical--unique to the particular school, and yet they're going on all the time no matter which school you're in.
A: Uh, huh.
Q: There's always something where folks are reaching out. Here's a real theoretical question now. We've been studying in our courses about "garbage can" theory--have you heard of that? It states that organizations have ambiguous goals, like lots of garbage cans, which compete for attention and time and resources, and that these goals are often at cross purposes to each other and at cross purposes to whatever the goal of the school is. Do you think that this theory would have been applicable twenty-five years ago--lots of people holding different agenda and wanting input into the system and wanting their say?
A: No, I don't think so. We didn't have anything to work with except the students that we had and the teachers, for the most part, wanted the best that they could give them with what they had, and the materials that they had.
Q: And everybody basically agreed on. . .
A: And it was fairly simple goals. We had a simple goal, nothing complicated about it.
Q: Starting high school raises anxieties for new students. How did incoming eighth graders and their parents view the start of school?
A: Oh, they were probably very anxious I would think. They were coming from an elementary school right into a high school without a middle school experience, that alot of people think it's important, but I don't think it's been around enough yet to be able to judge how important it is, because alot of students still go from seventh grade to a high school and seem to survive. But I think they would be very anxious about it. Certainly, not as much as when I went from elementary school to high school which was in the days when there was still hazing that was going on. That was a very fearsome time for us boys. But I think it was a great change. The students came from a much larger school. They had over twelve hundred students--around twelve hundred in the elementary, and they were coming to one with six hundred, but it was such a big change in the atmosphere that I'd say they were very anxious about it. We used to have orientation programs for parents and students, but still can't ever get over that first day.
Q: It takes opening that locker a few times to get it going.
Q: You've also told us about the parents and how they supported the school. Did you also have parents as visitors or in volunteer positions in the school?
A: Very rare. Not that that wouldn't have been good to do, it just wasn't a concept that was used much in those days. Teachers were responsible for teaching and learning--and we had the visitors, of course, and people would come in and talk to classes, there was plenty there, but we did not have many people in the school like they do today, all day. It wasn't expected that we should do that.
Q: Who conducted conferences between parents and teachers?
A: I, the principal.
Q: Did teachers have opportunities to meet with principals-- with parents much on their own?
A: Oh, absolutely. We had teachers sometimes get the reputation of being hard to get hold of, and I would have teachers write notes home to parents of students they taught telling them when and where and how to get in touch with them--the phone number, the time of day, the message, whatever. Not to leave it up to the parent to wonder how they could do it. We're in the business, and these are our clients and customers, and we want to treat them as such. We should be on the offensive in a sense, to make it easy for parents to see the teachers.
Q: When you received a parent complaint, how did you handle it?
A: A complaint concerning a teacher?
Q: Yes, or concerning a situation that was going on in class or concerning something that happened to his or her child?
A: Well, the first thing I would do was to try to find out at least on the phone what their problem was--if it was a call, and then, obviously, I'd go to the teacher and see if I could find out what happened. Or if the teacher was not involved, the bus driver or the student, or maybe it was just between two students, or whatever it could have been. If necessary, have the parent come. There's one thing I did find, though, that sometimes teachers would complain about students--what they were doing, or had done, and then I'd have a conference with the parent, and they would start vacillating on me, and not--what had happened was not quite as bad as what had happened when they were talking to me alone. So I did have to have a little session in a faculty meeting with teachers to let them know that if they brought a problem to me that I was going to treat it as a serious problem and deal with it in a serious way, and get parents in, and they expect me to support them, and I expect them to say the same thing twice when they got in front of a parent, and not backing off from it. But it's a little different when we have an irate parent standing there and just talking to a principal.
Q: Describe someone in your school who you think maybe exemplified "thoughtfulness" and "concern."
A: Uh, faculty member?
Q: All right, could be any staff member, not faculty.
A: Oh, I would probably say my teacher that taught next door to me. She was the students' and the teachers' pipeline to me. For some reason, if the students didn't want to go to the principal because they were afraid they might get turned down for their request, they would go to this teacher and then she would come to me on behalf of the students. And later on, I had a secretary who was older than I who took that same role--she was the go-between the teachers and the principal. Some afternoon after everybody had gone, she'd come in and in her way try to get me to agree to whatever it might be that the faculty wanted to do or didn't want to do rather than a faculty member. It was just the way the system worked. You look as though you know exactly what I'm talking about. [We're both smiling.]
Q: You know I do. What do you think makes some teachers better than others? Again, you've alluded to this.
A: I think teachers that do a good job, as I indicated, know the subject matter, and they really do like children, and are very comfortable with them. I think that teachers who are uncomfortable around adolescents, it's almost as bad as a coal miner who's claustrophobic. It's a terrible place to be, and I think students can sense--they know if you know your subject, obviously, and they can also sense if you really want to be where you are. And if you don't they can sense that also. Teachers start getting defensive and putting up all kind of barriers, and--a me and them kind of relationship between the teacher and the student. The successful teacher is--doesn't have that kind of a relationship. She doesn't take the problems, the things that happen personally. It's just part of the job, it's just part of what I have to do. It's not that they're trying to do this to me, it's just part of the normal activity of an adolescent, and that's why I'm here to help deal with it.
Q: Would you share with us your recollections of someone who was a particularly effective teacher?
A: I think one teacher that I'd mention--I'd go back to my dean. Sometimes she was criticized for this. She'd put alot of responsibility on the students, and. . .
Q: In what sense?
A: In the work they did, and she expected them to take responsibility for their own learning. And if she were absent, she expected some things to be accomplished when she got back, and she didn't blame the substitute if it didn't happen. She'd blame the students. I think that while she might have been criticized by some for that, while it went on--criticized, I don't mean in a critical way. Sometimes other faculty members wondered how she could be as a laissez-faire teacher as she were and get by with that. After it was all over, though, looking back on it, I think what she was doing was doing that sort of on purpose and making the students independent learners. She didn't do much for them. They had to do it for themselves, and if they didn't do it, they would--she had a very acid tongue. Not many students felt it, but they could if they had to, but they didn't resent her for it.
Q: Has she been asked back to those graduation, those reunion ceremonies?
A: Well, she was. She's passed away now, but she certainly was. When we went on our New York trip, she was kind of the captain of the ship on those--she'd been so many times, and she could outwalk and stay up later than any of the seniors. We took very much of a parental role in those days. For instance, we had dances for the students, we told students that we expect you to go up to the sponsors and thank them for being there and helping you before you leave, and not just walk out the door. You go thank the host and hostess who helped put it on. And we tried to teach some manners.
Q: What criteria did you use in selecting new teachers for your staff?
A: Any--whomever the superintendent could find and send up there. There wasn't any selection to it. There weren't that many around. You hate to say warm body, but--we were fortunate to get some awfully good people, but you really didn't select. There wasn't any, I never had the benefit of having three people to interview for a particular job. We would interview one and hope that that one would work out.
Q: What steps would you take as principal, then, to try to make sure that it did work out, that you let this person know what was expected of them, for instance?
A: Well, I always had other teachers assigned to help these teachers, and I used to have an inservice at the beginning of the year to work with new teachers to try to help them, get them over the rough spots during the year, and we had a fairly simple curriculum and our methods of teaching were--of course, we didn't have any particular method of teaching, but they were usually fairly simple, too. Discipline, of course, was always the biggest problem, but all of our teachers had a hundred and fifty students a day. We would work hard to keep it under that, and everybody just had to pull their own weight. And I think that some of the people who went into teaching in those days were often accused of just trying to supplement their husband's income, but at least people were--alot--in many cases pillars in the community. They were active in community affairs, they were active in the churches, they were Sunday school teachers, they were in community organizations. They took a big role in community affairs, and that's not seen so much today because that's a more mobile society, at least in this area. As I indicated, half the teachers don't live in the community, and I think by being part of the community as well as part of the school gave them some stature even before they started teaching cause many of them are home-grown teachers.
Q: Did most of your teachers come to you straight out of college?
A: It's been a long time I'll have to think about that. I wouldn't say most, but alot certainly did.
Q: And then they settled in the community, came back to the community?
A: They--many did. As I indicated, it was the only town in the county of any significant size, and that's where-- if anyone didn't farm, they worked in that community. And so they were pretty well known--most of the teachers were, before they started teaching, alot of them.
Q: Do you think that the quality of that one single candidate that you got for a position twenty-five years ago--how would that compare to the three or four that you'd get for a position today?
A: Oh, you'll get me in trouble again I believe. I think that teachers were more concerned with being a good role model than they are today. I hope that doesn't offend anyone. My daughter's a new teacher--she's a new one too. Certainly, I'm obviously not speaking about everyone. When you talk about the quality, I think you have to look at more than just their training and background. Teachers seem to be more concerned with the child. In grading papers, for instance, they were very concerned with all aspects of the paper, not just the information for that subject, but the writing. That's why I think we need to go back to, as I indicated, a writing-based curriculum. . . Then they might be now, and I think they felt more obligation to be respected in the community and to be the kind of role model for students. I've never understood why today you can ask a teacher to come to school dressed in a more appropriate manner and they want to start talking about the Constitution and rights and these sort of things. That same person can go get a Saturday job at A&P and they'll put on a necktie while they're stocking pork and beans cause the store manager said to to that. I've never quite understood that, but that happens alot. It's important, if you're working outside the school to have the right kind of image for your customers. If you're an airplane pilot, or stewardess, or working in a store, or wherever you might be--I don't know why it becomes less important when you walk into a school.
Q: Would you discuss evaluating teachers as something that alot of principals don't like to do? [Misstated question]
A: You mean evaluate teachers--they don't like to do it, or they don't like to discuss it?
Q: Either way. They don't like to have the responsibility for doing it perhaps. It's a difficult job.
A: It was not difficult in those days, and I don't know if I can tell you why. I feel that I had a fairly good handle on what was going on in the classroom, and I did not visit classrooms, in those days, as much as principals do today. Without--with just being the one person in the office, obviously I couldn't do it. I could evaluate teachers through vicarious means--parents, students, the few times that I visited the classrooms, the end product. We spent very little time on evaluation. I don't know if that means that we had poorer teachers than we have today. If test scores mean anything, they were not poor, I suppose. I don't put too much credence in that, but I think that maybe we were just lucky. We had alot of good teachers and very little formal evaluation took place.
Q: Did you ever have to fire a teacher?
Q: Could you share that with us?
A: When--most teachers, when you let them know what your expectations were, and you were--constantly let them know what they were--to the point where they felt like that they're not meeting your expectations, or if they were you wouldn't be having so many conferences with them, they would move on. I can only think of one case in my four years in which a teacher was called in and said we just can't use you next year. We had it tried and--by the school board. When I mentioned earlier I had to go. . .
Q: Yes you did.
A: . . .to the school board one time, but I went down and sat with the teacher, and that didn't happen. The teacher came back. What was happening was not fair, and even the students heard about it and got a petition together, and it was ironic that many of the students that signed the petition were children of the parents who signed the petition to get rid of the teacher, and they--that was a real interesting time. But we had a teacher who was also a coach, and this person stirred up alot of problems and was sort of a virus in the school, among students, got students against administration, against faculty--teachers against teachers. And he was ill--paranoid, and didn't know it. And the superintendent was the one that called him in and told him that he would not be offered a contract. Other than that, teachers would leave, generally, if they felt they were not meeting your expectations, and you really did not have to come out and say, you're fired, or one more time like that and I'm not going to ask you back. Also there was not any--there were no continuing contracts either.
Q: That's what I was going to ask you. Grievance procedures?
A: No grievance.
Q: So there was quite a bit more discretion than, say, there is today.
A: Oh absolutely.
A: And I don't think, I can't think of a single case in which anyone was treated unfairly. And looking back on it now, I can't see that--I don't know what good grievances have done, but I really--maybe again I was lucky. I just was not associated with a situation where I thought anyone was let go unfairly or reprimanded unfairly. I saw some assignments--teacher's assignments that were changed that were not fair, but that was not done at the school level, that was done at the central office level.
Q: What expectations were placed on you as a principal for staff development?
A: We had very few staff development opportunities. In those days you had a hundred-and-eighty-six-day contract and that left you six days to do what you were going to do between semesters and before and after school. We had very little opportunity to do that. However, when we did do that, it was just through our regular faculty meetings, and my responsibility--teachers took part, they took some responsibility for their own staff development with--among the faculty. And we did not have alot of outside experts to come in, tell us what to do, how to do it. We tried to analyze what was going on and come up with our own internal staff development project to deal with that. We had no support from the central office, except sure that's fine, you can do that--no funds or anything of that nature. If we had someone to come and teach a class, they'd usually pay for the tuition which in those days was about seventeen or eighteen dollars for a three-hour class.
Q: What would have been the closest college to you for graduate students?
A: Richmond, William and Mary.
Q: In your role as a principal did you ever have the opportunity to assist teachers who wanted to become administrators?
A: No, no I did not.
Q: Most principals at some time or another have felt themselves to be under attack. Tell me, with you was it guerilla warfare, the Battle of the Bulge, or unseen U-boat torpedoes?
A: Under attack?
Q: Uh, huh.
A: I don't think that I every felt like I was under attack by any teachers, students, or parents. I never had that feeling. There were rough days, obviously. I think--of course the roughest days were the first days we integrated. Those were tough because no one was prepared for that. I never did feel that I couldn't go downtown or anywhere I wanted to go and feel like I'd be put upon by people. Nowadays I think we have alot of school people who tend to shy away from people outside of the school because they know they're going to be collared and badgered and everything else, but I never did have that problem with people who would--whatever--were playing over a bridge table or golf game or whatever it might have been. People didn't stop me on the street. I was downtown, loafing, hanging around on a Saturday with everybody else. They didn't badger me.
Q: If you had been a principal today, do you think you still would have been able to maintain that even keel?
A: Well it's hard to say. I've never been in a principal's shoes today. I think a secondary principalship's job is the toughest job in school work today. Maybe it's always been. I don't know. Obviously it is today with the changing mores and, of course, the drug problem. People are more likely to challenge you. And in a community like I was in there were not as many people who were as well educated as there are today, or who had been to school alot. I don't know how well educated they were. And they were less likely to challenge you in those days, at least. They just did not. Maybe they felt like it but they didn't challenge you as much.
Q: What do you think, or what did your teachers expect of the principal.?
A: Well the first thing they'd do is they expected me to support them when they brought a teacher--I mean a student, in that they felt like needed some discipline. And they expected me to provide leadership in the school and to back them up in their decisions. My--the main thing I tried to do with the teachers is--if it were a discipline problem, is to work with them before something happened to try to set up a plan for them to follow and for me to follow if need be so that. . . I tried to give the teacher as much authority as I could at least in the eyes of the student. I would never send a teacher back to the class--a student back to the classroom after they'd been sent to me and me to give them a tongue lashing and say now you go back and behave yourself. That--just didn't do it that way. They might stay out the rest of that period or maybe two periods, or--come back and see me tomorrow or the next day and we'll continue this discussion, and by the way I want you to put down in writing what you think happened in there. And the teacher had to do the same thing--what happened from their standpoint. Then the student would have to write down what I should do about it. And only once in a while would they say nothing, but most of them were fairly honest about it. But I always said you go back and knock on the door and ask Miss Jones if you can be allowed to come back in her class. That's not me telling them they can go back; they have to get permission from the teacher to return. Course, we had all these--most of the time we had all these scenarios worked out ahead of time. But the purpose was to put the teacher in charge of the classroom.
Q: When teachers had problems, how did they resolve their concerns at your school? You mentioned about discipline problems.
A: School, personal problems, instructional problems, school problems?
Q: No, no, school problems--something they were concerned about.
A: They would just come in and see their old principal and see what they could do about it. They were not shy at all about some things except as I indicated, if it, some kind of personal policy that I maybe I had in the school that the teachers wanted to change or discuss--no they weren't usually that kind. Maybe I was too tight on teachers and wouldn't let them leave a few minutes early after school, they would get their pipeline to get to me on why--what the other side of that was. But if there was school problems, strictly school problems, they had no hesitancy to come in and complain about it.
Q: If you had a problem with a teacher, how would you handle it?
A: Oh, I'd right--just go right to the teacher with it and not mince any words about it.
Q: Did you ask them to come to your office, or did you go to their room or no particular plan?
A: Probably would come to my office. They never had an empty room we could go to it. We used all the space almost.
Q: I'm sure you faced a number of day-to-day pressures as principal before the days of stress management. How did you handle that constant pace?
A: I guess it's those little white pills that doctor gave me I suppose. That's the only way I knew to handle it. I--nothing special.
Q: Did you find that you were interrupted often? When you were working on some aspect of your job, did you often get interrupted with something else?
A: Right. As I indicated earlier, after a time I decided that I wouldn't be able to do any sustained work that took alot of time and concentration during the school day, especially at lunch, and I really gave up on lunch, and it would just be a snack or something. But to sit down and eat lunch at the table with the faculty. Most of the faculty, by the way, ate in the cafeteria with the students. It was impossible to do that as I indicated because there was no assistant, and with six hundred and fifty students you had to be pretty light on your feet to keep up with what was going on.
Q: I'm going to turn over a couple of these questions because we really have talked about student discipline and you've talked about what teachers expected of you when they referred students to the office. What are your pleasurable recollections of personal relationships with students?
A: Say that again.
Q: What are your pleasurable. . .
Q: . . .recollections?
A: Well I guess the students that we had that used to work in the office for us. For some reason we always had wonderful, sunshine-type young ladies that would come in and help out. And alot of the boys didn't do that. I guess they thought that wasn't something that you do, and I remember those students with a great deal of pleasure. And I think that when you go back to these reunions you find out how much you did enjoy them when you had them and didn't know it, and you didn't really appreciate things as much as I should have at the time.
Q: We can skip right over the question about your responsibilities with the assistant principal. What role did the guidance office play in your school program? I believe you mentioned that it was largely a paper work orientation.
A: Right. We had one guidance counselor as I indicated. He was athletic director and head basketball coach, and he had very little time to devote to the counseling aspect of guidance. He didn't do any of the discipline. And he might work with some severe cases or problems, apparently, in discipline or some home situations, but he was just inundated with--he had no clerk himself. So it was really left up to me--all the guidance, the discipline, or whatever the problem might be, it was all left up to the principal.
Q: Were there any working relationships between your school and other social service agencies in the county as there are now days? Did you get involved with social services, juvenile courts?
A: No. I went to court once, and it was the first day of school and it was the first day we were integrated--first year that we were integrated. And two former students came into the building within the first two or three hours of school just to see what was going on, and they made two or three remarks that were derogatory, racial slurs, and I immediately knew that we were not going to let, could not let that happen or there'd be more of it the next day. So I called the police and had them arrested right away, and I think that shocked them. And when we went to court, the judge called one of the teachers who was with me when it happened into his office, and he left the courtroom--called us into his office with the two students, and I told him what happened, and they didn't deny it and I told the judge that I would be willing to drop the charges if they would be willing to come back to school. They'd dropped out. But they wouldn't do that so he fined them--whatever it was, it wasn't too much. He fined them. But he did let the people who were not in the school building know that they could not come in and do what these kids had tried to do.
Q: I want to follow up on your proposal there for those students to come back to school. What made you do that?
A: Oh, I probably would have died if they had said okay.
A: . . .We'll be back tomorrow. I don't know. I just wanted to let them know and the judge know that we were just not putting students out of school or dealing with them lightly--that we were interested in them and wanted to help them, and we were willing to forgive and forget if they'll come back and try to make a new start. I don't--I didn't place any particular significance on that.
Q: I see. Okay. I think you're going to enjoy the next two questions. They're related, and have as their focus your relationship with the superintendent. Can you tell us about the first time you approached the superintendent with a concern?
A: Well, I think it involved this one teacher that he finally had to have a conference with. As I indicated he had children in school and he had been principal of the school himself, and he lived in the community. He wasn't too surprised about what I approached him about. He was an easy man to approach.
Q: How did your relationship develop over your tenure as principal, and now I'm assuming later in your career, also? You mentioned he was your mentor.
A: Yeah, he really was but I didn't think of him as that at the time, but looking back on it, I suppose he was. I think it's strengthened. . . By the way, some of my friends had a supper and roast for me when I retired, and he was one of the people in my past who came back to haunt me at that roast, and showed up for that. So I was happy to see him. I always had an excellent relationship with Andy Wright, and it wasn't because of anything I did, it was just kind of the person he was, and is--and still is.
Q: When you were recommended for a position here in Clarke County, what you you think Mr. Wright said to the superintendent up here about the qualities that made you an effective principal?
A: I don't think I can answer that. . .
Q: This is where I write down in my book that he blushes and turns red.
A: Well he knew what kind of, what the atmosphere and what the situation was when I became principal, when the other principal had to leave on short notice, and I think he knew how things had gotten four years later, and I guess he felt like he was satisfied with that. And I don't really know what he told the superintendent. The superintendent that I knew left before I came on the job so maybe he decided he had made a bad mistake. He took another position that year also.
Q: SOQ's are the Virginia guidelines for structuring public schools today. What was the role of the State legislature and the State Department of Education twenty-five years ago?
A: Well, they, of course, had their requirements for each school as they do now. They had no standards of quality as they have them now, no standards of learning as they have them now.
Q: How did you know what you were supposed to do?
A: How did we know what we were supposed to do? It was up to each individual school district. There was--the vocational programs had links and hookups and they were pretty well mapped out, which is what you do in vocational agriculture and home economics, things of that nature, but we had individual guidelines from the school--from the State Department in health and physical education and things of that nature. There was no particular English guide or standards for English or mathematics or any of those subjects. We had very little contact with the State Department. We had to do all kinds of reports for them, but they did very little monitoring. This monitoring has come about in the last ten or fifteen years.
Q: My follow-up would be to evaluate these changes.
A: The state has gotten much more paternalistic than they used to be. They, as I indicated, would make policy and regulations about what you could and couldn't do during the school day as far as activities were concerned, but as far as standards or basic learning skills or those things that we've been through, they did not. The state has more a big brother role than there used to be. Some schools would be out there in the boonies for years and years and never see anyone from the State Department except for cafeteria supervisor, maybe, or somebody like that. And, I'm not sure that they suffered too much from that.
Q: Were there any curriculum guides in use in your county--did teachers assist in developing curriculum?
A: Oh yes, we had curriculum guides. We developed them ourselves.
Q: How many teachers would you have working on those, or what method or process did you go through to get those going?
A: They'd be done after school when it would be hard to get that done today, but that was when they did it, it was the only time to do it. There was no money to pay anyone to do it, no money to pay anyone in the summer to do it. You'd just sit down after school and during--at the end of the year, you'd hope you'd got your curriculum guide completed, and it was something that always changed so we never scrapped what we were doing and started over again. Except in business education, sometimes the State would change its concept of how you should teach business--dividing up into shorthand and block programs, and we went through all of that. But on the local level where things were fully funded locally, we didn't do that. Vocational programs mainly.
Q: Let me ask the next question--again you alluded to this and perhaps you might have something else to say. In the sixties many schools were upgrading science labs and introducing innovative methods of teaching. Were you or your school involved in any such programs?
A: Science labs?
A: With the National Defense Education Act we got more equipment and students did more hands-on science experiments than they had done prior to that. We did not remodel any of the labs. Our lab was built in 1954 and this was four or five years later, so we were in pretty good shape. Our science lab, now that's a different--I mean our foreign language lab's a different story.
Q: So that was new to your school.
A: That was new.
Q: Tell me a little about that.
A: Well, our French teacher went to a summer conference and came back all enthused about the new concept of teaching foreign language, where you have a lab and possibly individual cubicles for students, and they had all kinds of tape recorders and speakers, and panels and things like that, and alot of electronic gadgets, and got all those things and put them in the classroom, and that--I believe the theory was you could teach a foreign language as we learn a language, as we learned to say and talk it before we could read it. And they did that in alot of places over the state, and I expect if you go back now they won't even be in the closets. They'll be gone to the junk heap because it just didn't work. There were too many students in class to begin with for the teacher to have any meaningful dialogue with them whether they could speak the language or not. And it's just like it didn't work when they put foreign language in the elementary school--that didn't work either. It took a long time to get that out because the parents liked it but the school people knew early on that it wouldn't work. The language labs from my point of view were very unsuccessful. They stayed broken down alot, and they just didn't do the job. I think that one teacher with a reasonable size of sixteen or so in a French class could do a much better job, but to have thirty people in there plugged up to earphones, that just didn't work. Good try.
Q: Like many things. What did you consider your best sources of information about what went on in the classroom?
A: Well I hate to tell you my janitor, but maybe I could tell you that. No I wouldn't say that. Alot of people get accused of that. I didn't have any one source. I was out there alot in the classroom--not formal observations. I was in the classrooms alot, in the halls alot. I talked to teachers alot, and I had lunch with them everyday, played golf with them, breezed with them. You could get a very good feel for what was going on or wasn't going on. I got--one complaint that I remember getting from a parent about a teacher who read magazines while class was going on, and I did have to try to find out what was going on there. And she stopped reading the magazine and then she took up knitting, and while the students were giving reports or something like that, she'd be doing some handwork and listening to the students. She tried to convince me that she could do both, but I tried to convince her that she'd probably have to save that knitting until she got home.
Q: Okay. President Kennedy was assassinated while you were principal. Do you remember when you first heard that horrible news?
A: I sure do. I was in the back parking lot of the school. The superintendent had just had his lunch there which he used to do near every day, and he was sitting behind the wheel of his car and I was talking, and he said, "Hold it!" And he turned his radio up, and, of course, that was the news we got. And I went back and made the announcement on the school intercom. And President Kennedy was not all that popular at that time with some of those folks in that area--he was a little too liberal. So some of the kids--the boys in that macho image, said some things that shouldn't have been said, probably--I didn't hear it cause I wasn't in the classroom. But it was really quite a disturbing time. It was near the end of the day, and as I recall I cut the radio on and put it on all-call so the students could hear the announcements. I thought that was a pretty historical time and they ought to have benefit of listening to that without trying to find out from me what was going on. And schools closed the day he was buried. I don't know if you remember that or not. It happened everywhere--it was closed for that day.
Q: I was working in Washington for the federal government at the time. I certainly do remember, but in my own particular instance it was about ten days after my father had died and so there were an awful lot of emotions going on there. Were there any other traumatic events at your school--student accidents, student suicides?
A: No, I can't recall any accidents or deaths or suicides. We had a young student that had been ill all of her life, and she came to school when she could. That was when I told you we had no real facilities to deal with physical handicaps. And Nancy was sort of adopted really by the whole student body. They made up a big get-well card out of poster paper and every student in the school signed it. Some went to see her at home and took it to her, and I think that touched the school when she died as much as anything that happened in my four years. It wasn't traumatic because it was expected. It was just when it happened it was a very sad day for those kids--all of us.
Q: How did the teachers deal with that? Now days we would send in umpteen numbers of psychologists and school counselors all converging on the school.
A: They would discuss it with students if a student would bring it up. Otherwise, they'd just go on with business as usual. I know what you mean about bringing in the psychologists and people from special services to deal with this. I've talked to some people about that--about maybe we're overreacting, and we go in a school and you see several people crying and getting emotional and someone is with them with their arm around them. I think sometimes these are self-fulfilling prophesies. You talk about it too much and--I don't say you're encouraging it. [telephone rings and Mr. Overbey answers it] You're making an environment that's sort of. . . We were talking about almost creating an atmosphere and expecting students to react and, of course, they do. They'll oblige you by reacting how they think you should. I don't know if we were not sensitive--I don't feel like we were not sensitive, or you could say that they are more sensitive to this than they were at that time. But I'm not going to say that it's not a good thing to do, but I'm just--I think it just needs to be evaluated.
Q: The first baby boomers were hitting high school in the sixties. What was the impact in Greenville?
A: Well, the impact was thirty-eight students in the bookkeeping class and classes taught in the school shop--I mean out in the floor with a temporary blackboard and desks and chairs with sawdust on them, and classes taught in the cafeteria with the pans rattling in the background. For every--homerooms in the locker room--we had to have a homeroom with all boys so they could go in the boys' locker room and all girls so they could go in the girls' locker room--homeroom in the library, and they's popping at the seams. And I--somehow got the job done, but. . .
Q: You described the dropout situation in your school. Were over-aged students a problem?
A: We had over-aged students, but I don't think they were a problem because they were overage. I would be more concerned now with overage students in a school for obvious reasons than I was then. No, if they were behaving themselves, we didn't worry about whether they were twenty or not.
Q: So there were sometimes students who were that old. . .
Q: . . .who continued with high school?
A: Sure. But if they were not creating a disruptive influence, we didn't worry about whether they, how old they were.
Q: I would like to discuss now the civil rights issues that were volatile when you were a principal. Could you address the impact of these on your school and how you folks went about a very difficult situation?
A: Trial and error mostly. We had absolutely no preparation, indication, or conferences or lectures or anything on what to expect and what not to expect. And the black community and the black students did not either. We had absolutely no preparation, just--you start school one year and you're integrated.
Q: You were under mandate from whom?
A: Well the massive resistance efforts failed and the assignment efforts failed--as I recall they had some kind of assignments that had to be made by the State Board of Education. Students applied to go to the white high school and they could go And that year we had probably about forty-five black students that applied to go to the all-white Greensville County High School. And you look back at it and it was really pretty tragic because, as I said, no one was prepared. I had, and the students had, and the teachers had no sensitivity whatsoever to what was going on in the black community and the black schools in that county. It was almost as if they didn't exist which is a sad commentary, but that's the way it was. We knew they did, but we didn't know what they did and how they did it, and I think the fact that the school was named Greensville County High School when it really wasn't, it was Greensville County White High School, the black school was Edward W. Wyatt School, and these students for whatever reasons chose to come. And someone may have thought that maybe the better students would have been chosen to make that initial step--take that initial step, but that wasn't the way at all. Some of them were very poor students just like we had and some of them were good students. But it was very tense, there was no question about it. Those were the days when I took two of those white pills because it was--you really didn't know what to expect, you couldn't control students' feelings and parents' feelings, they were pretty high and emotional at that time, and I would make a decision and get a call from someone who claimed to be with the clan, and two minutes later I'd get a call from someone with the NAACP with the opposite view and I was in the middle of it. It was not fun at all, not a bit. It took a long time, and I give teachers and principals in the state of Virginia in those areas where they integrated a great deal of credit for helping to work through those early days of integration, because they really got none from the community, including the churches. It was strictly, the only thing that was integrated in the community was the school and maybe the jail. They're the only people who had to deal with it. And I think it was really--my hat's off to principals and students and teachers that got through those early days when they really didn't know each other, they didn't understand each other and know what to expect and what was upsetting to black students and what didn't. I remember the first time that the terminology of calling a black young man a boy--that was something that we'd done all our lives--boys were boys and girls were girls. That was something that we found out the hard way. That was a terminology that somebody had told these students was degrading--it wasn't in the eyes of people who used it, but in their eyes it was because that's just the way they had been brought up. We were not taught that--you know to be careful with that. Some people would say well that's ridiculous. They are boys. They're fifteen and that's what they are--and did not want to overcome that hurdle--or that sometimes you just don't use words that are offensive to other people even though they're not offensive to you. Things of that nature we had to find out the best way we could.
Q: Tell us about your students who went to college from your school. . . What type of occupations did they take up. . . What was the percentage perhaps?
A: I really don't have any idea what the percentage was. We--the funny thing, we didn't keep up percentages too much, even test scores--we'd just get test scores, and looking back on it now they were pretty good, but we didn't really pay much attention to those. It was a state requirement; we'd give it and promptly file it because it didn't change anything. We went on doing what we thought we needed to do, and a standardized test score didn't have much--we just didn't have much need for it. Standardized test scores are for the public, and--because they say that's the only way they know how to measure us, but our students mostly went to schools in Virginia, North Carolina. . . but I would have to say that they did reasonably well in school being that students went to the military academies and were successful and into the legal and medical fields successfully.
Q: Did they come back to Greensville County?
A: To work?
A: Not too much because there's just not that much there for them.
Q: When the school board would issue a directive to you as principal, how would you inform the teachers and implement that policy?
A: How would I inform the teachers? I'd--you know, just send them a note and tell them. You know there wasn't any--we didn't get many directives.
Q: What decisions in the school did you make entirely on your own initiative?
A: Discipline decisions generally. If I was going to be responsible for it, then I'd make it. I'd certainly always have the teacher's point of view, and I can remember on one senior trip we had some problems that I had to deal with when I got back, and I had the senior sponsors to come in and tell them what I had found out, and said what are we going to do about it. And we'd try to come to some agreement on what should be done and all be together on it. And I recall one time I changed a decision on my own after we had made a decision on what to do, and they took me to task on that one, for not bringing them back in to let them know what was going on.
Q: What informal groups held power in your school--small groups of teachers, or parents, or students?
A: No cliques, we just didn't have them among the students or the teachers. I know what you mean though. I've seen that happen in a school where a few teachers would sort of make--determine what was going to happen and what was going to be successful in that school and what wasn't going to be successful. I don't think we had that problem.
Q: Can you share any decisions which you avoided making maybe because of the risk or uncertainty involved, or if not, what was one of the riskiest actions which you took?
A: Well, as I've indicated you weren't as challenged then when you made decisions as you are now, and lawsuits were practically unheard of. I guess making decisions when the racial issue was involved were those I considered riskiest because I didn't know the black community, and I didn't know what the reaction would be. I knew the white community, and I knew how that--how they would feel, but not knowing the black community what the reaction would be. I suppose that was when you were most anxious about your decisions.
Q: Did you ever have the opportunity to sit down with the black leaders?
A: No. Towards the end of that school year we did meet with the black principal and assistant principal and a black supervisor who was an elementary supervisor, and it was--it was sort of like the indians and cowboys meeting for the first time--it was real strange. While I had met some of those folks, we--our pre-school meetings even were separated. We had no contact whatsoever, none. It was a very monumental event when the superintendent called us all around the boardroom table one day to meet, and the reason for it was the following year we were going to have integrated meetings at the--for the very first time. And that was interesting, too, because when we had a meeting at one of the black schools, it was the first time many of the teachers had been there, and you'd talk about--the blacks talk about sitting on the back of the bus, and the back of this, that and the other--after the auditorium filled up or the meeting room filled up, all of the white teachers were in the back of the room at that time. [laughs] I thought that was sort of interesting and funny, too, in a way. You could look at those things--you have to have some humor about it, but it was an interesting time--alot of real brave people went out in the forefront to help ease the tensions and lost some friends in the community in doing it, too. That was probably the difficult time because you had lots of people in the community telling you what you should and shouldn't do in dealing with racial issues, most of them were, as you can imagine, were pretty simple type of things that you couldn't do so you had alot of second guessing during those days.
Q: What was the toughest decision you ever had to make as principal?
A: Well, I don't know if there would be any one. The toughest decision would always be suspending a student. I never recommended that a student be expelled, that would never--I won't say I never should have, I didn't. And we didn't suspend students for as long periods as they seem to be suspended for now--three days was about as long as anybody would be suspended, and we felt like that was long enough to make the student know that you were serious, and also long enough to make the parents understand that it was serious but not so long that any good you did you--how to say this. If you suspended a student for too long, you do more harm than you do good. I'll come at it from that way. Three days was about as long as we suspended anybody for anything. We didn't have the serious problems that some schools have now with students being as disrespectful. They were impolite and disrespectful but not to the degree that they are today so we just didn't feel any particular need that we had to suspend students a great deal.
Q: What do you think accounts for that change in disrespect?
A: You probably haven't written that question down there have you? I think that you see that in society--that people don't have as much respect for alot of institutions that they used to respect--the legal profession, the teaching profession, the medical profession. There are always individual doctors and teachers and attorneys that people are very fond of and have a high respect for them, but when you get them all kind in a group for some reason they want to have not quite as much respect. And as I indicated earlier on that we've hurt ourselves by not being teachers. I think that when parents walk into the school they ought to be able to tell the difference between the students and the teachers, and sometimes now you can't. I think that's sad, and I'm not talking about just the way they dress--the way they act--and try to be too much like a student themselves. Your question on the toughest decisions always, always suspending students. A principal today in alot of high schools could have run my school before breakfast compared to what they have to do. It's a great deal of difference. I didn't have to go to committees to ask any decisions or have to call a meeting every time I wanted to do something. I just didn't have to do it.
Q: That was a question which I had flipped over, yes. I knew there was nothing to be gained by asking that.
A: I informed the superintendent and I suspended a student. Never once, not one time in four years, did the superintendent call me or challenge me and say well maybe you ought to think about that more. I worked with him a long time and knew alot about how he thought, and I guess that was one of the reasons because--once or twice he thought I wasn't tough enough maybe on a certain situation but that was easy for him to say since he had moved out of the school and left me there.
Q: What do you think motivated teachers when you were a principal?
A: Appreciative students. Students that would--and parents, too, who would just thank them whether it was verbal or written. I've got some notes that I've saved over the years that I'd gotten when I was principal excuses written from home and things of that nature. And I had a few in there written by parents who'd, when their student would graduate, a child would graduate, they would write and thank you for the things that you did for them. And as most things do, it takes very little time and effort, but I think it does more good than a five hundred dollar raise. I really do.
Q: How do you think that we can go about recognizing and rewarding contributions that teachers make? And I'm thinking in the broadest terms of recognition and even reward, too.
A: Right, sure. And the financial recognition, of course, has to be there, and I think that is coming about and has in the last couple of years, at least in this area. When you compare beginning salaries of other graduates--college graduates with where teachers are starting, it's more favorable than it used to be. As far as rewarding teachers for things that they do, community recognition. In this community the Chamber of Commerce, for instance, just started recognizing teachers by having a reception for them during the workshop and inviting all teachers and--including those from private schools by the way. And also inviting new teachers to a Chamber dinner, that they can just leave school in the middle of the day and go out and have lunch with grown folks. It's a nice change for them. I think on the other hand, we have to make sure that teachers appreciate what people try to do for them and also recognize that. Sometimes it's all a one way thing. We keep asking people to do things for teachers, to do this and do that, and I think that sometimes as a profession we have to say well what can we do for this community. I don't mean just cause we're teaching school--we're getting paid to do that. What can I do for this community--other than being in the classroom trying to do a good job you obviously do that. But there are people in the community doing other jobs that do their work and they do things for the community, too. And I think that the teaching profession needs to keep that in mind.
Q: As an assistant superintendent you've undoubtedly spoken before many educational and civic groups. What is your favorite "when I was a principal" story?
A: You might get a long blank on that tape. Principal story. Oh, I guess when I got a call one day from the president of the local garden club and she said, "Are you all ready?" And I, of course, drew a blank, and I didn't know what I was supposed to be ready for, and after alot of fumbling around I found out it was Arbor Day, and they were supposed to come and plant a tree in front of the school. And, of course, no one knew that in the school, and I didn't know it either, but we said, well certainly we're prepared to do that, we'll do that at 2 o'clock this afternoon. So I called the ag[riculture] teacher up and I said we got to find a tree to plant. This was in the spring and we were close to the woods--so go get us one. So he went out and took some of his boys with him, and they dug up a dogwood that was in full bloom and we had all the students come out and the ladies of the garden said a prayer over that dogwood tree, and we planted it and everybody went back in the building and in two weeks it was as dead as a doornail. That's the kind of thing--I don't really remember many of the bad times. That's the kind of things that I remember.
Q: I think those are great things to remember. That's what makes it all worthwhile. How do you see the role of the principal developing as the twentieth century comes to a close. . . a sort of real abstract question?
A: I think more than ever today the principal is going to have to be a master people manager, facilitator, and working with groups--large and small groups, and still be able to run his school. That's not saying it doesn't do alot of good to have those groups, but, of course, as you know, we're called upon to have all kinds of parent and student groups and mixtures of both to get things going in a school. It's not like the principal and the teacher sit down and say here's the way we're going to do it. You sit down with half the community sometimes.
Q: You no longer have the homogenous communities that you've been describing to us here.
A: That's right, and they're going to have to learn how to deal with personalities and people of different backgrounds. It's much more difficult to do that. I don't think I was too good at that, but I--the principal's going to have to have that ability to do that.
Q: What do you remember with pride as you think back on your career?
A: I was asked that question when I came for an interview in Clarke County--what you might call a significant contribution, and I guess taking a school that was kind of down in the mouth as the term goes and trying to pull it back up and get it done in about three or four years. From somebody else's viewpoint I guess that happened. It's always hard for us to see what we have contributed, and as you go up the ladder in the school business that seems more difficult because so many things that you do do not have as direct effect on students--you can't measure what you've done. Other people get the credit the higher up you go. And when I say higher up I don't mean in terms of importance of office, just principal, to assistant superintendent, and that sort of thing. The most important people are still in the classroom. If you're a person that needs alot of patting on the back and getting credit for things, you're not going to get it at the central office. You may have done alot of things to move things, to make these things happen, but you'll never really get the credit for that.
Q: When principals get tired, how can we rejuvenate ourselves?
A: I always liked to take time, to just take a day off and go visit other schools. In working with principals in the district there--when I say district I don't mean the county, I mean the old VEA districts we used to have, principals meetings--some principals seemed to feel like it was a weakness to talk about a problem and ask other principals how they solved it, but I always felt like that was a strength, and I always told teachers that it was a strength when you could go to the principal and say I've got a problem--not try to keep it hidden in there and not tell me about it until March and it had gotten out of hand. But I used to get a great deal of pleasure and relaxation out of visiting other schools just to see how they operate and let teachers do that, too, because a teacher comes out of college and you put him in the classroom and you shut the door, and they may never see anybody else, or another teacher work. . .forever.
Q: Maybe not even across the hall from you.
A: Sure, they may never see it in their whole career. That one artist never sees another artist, and I think you pick up alot of good ideas and you find out, too, you might not have as bad a situation as you thought you did.
Q: Your metaphor on the artist is interesting cause you couldn't imagine an artist not ever having visited an art gallery.
A: I can't think of any particular things. I think people have their own ways of becoming refreshed and rejuvenated and--some people will get it from going to conferences. I never did--I always came back from those more tired than when I left, but some people like to do that.
Q: I come back amazingly tired, but rejuvenated
A: Right, well you do pick up ideas. You find out what's going on whether you want to know it or not you can find it out, but, you know, people have different ways of being rejuvenated.
Q: Only one more question, but first, what questions have I not asked maybe that you think can inform our future historians?
A: I think you've done an excellent job. I can't think of any.
Q: We have talked alot. This is unusual for me. I've been wanting to interact with you so much and I can't do that, not in this role, but you know that the intent was there. You're retired now. Do you intend to remain an active participation, participant in education?
A: Well, to some degree, I'm certainly going to try. As I indicated to you I'm going to be involved in the Beginning Teacher Assistance Program, not as an observer but as an assistance, an instructor and you can't be both. And I'm supposed to be the person that helps teachers who did not touch all those bases they were supposed to touch when the observer was in the room, or at least the observer didn't see it, and I'm supposed to try to take those two or three things or whatever it was that the observer failed to notice and point them out to the teacher and show them there are some ways that they can magnify that the next time that person comes into the classroom.
Q: That'll really get you back at the real level. . .
A: It sure will.
Q: . . .in the classroom, with the teachers.
A: And I do have my name on the substitute list at the local school. . .
A: . . .but I haven't had the nerve to tell them to call me yet. And I've been asked to serve on some visiting committees, but I'm not sure I want to do that.
Q: Maybe come spring.
A: I'm--I think the best way to do is to leave a place and to leave it--not go back to it, not in the central office anyway. I have alot of good friends in education and I certainly don't want to lose touch with them. The first day that the staff and principals met--it's a small county, we don't have many central office people or principals--this year, in this month, last month, actually, my wife and I had a luncheon and invited all the principals and assistants and the central office staff, including the secretaries, here to lunch because--having been on those staff meetings, I know we don't usually do anything special except running downtown for a quick hamburger. And I thought it would be nice for them to get together again in that sort of atmosphere. So I don't want to lost touch with them.
Q: I'm sure they appreciated it. And I appreciate your sitting here and answering my questions and talking with me so frankly, giving me alot of information. Thank you very much.
A: I'm glad to do it. I'm sure somebody will get alot of laughs out of it.
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