March 31, 2000
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Q: I would like you to tell me a little bit about your experiences as a school principal. In order to do that, I am going to ask you some questions. To begin with, before we go into the details of your experience as a principal, would you begin by telling me about your family background - your childhood interests and development. That will include place of birth, elementary and secondary education all those kinds of things.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I grew up in Sussex County, Virginia, between two little towns, Stony Creek and Jarratt. This is about 26 miles south of Petersburg, Virginia, and about 15 miles north of Emporia. I was a child in a family of eight children, six boys and two girls. My mother had been a school teacher and when the high school was first put in our community, my father was 18, but he wanted to be better educated so he started at that time, and he studied under the old academy system of the high school, which in many ways is a tougher study program that some universities have today in four years. He had to study of course four years of English and four years of math, and four years of language. But he had to take two different languages at the time, and it was a very demanding school schedule. And we lived on a farm and education was just expected from all the children that we would be able to manage whatever we had in school, and we never had any rewards for learning, we never had any threats if we didnt learn, just a natural part of growing up.
Q: Thank you. Would you say your full name again for the record?
A: My name is James Jarratt Owen.
Q: Thank you. Now would your discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? For example, how many years did you and also tell me how many years you served as a teacher.
A: Right. My undergraduate schooling was in Business Administration and my Masters was in Economics here at Virginia Tech. And in my teaching the Principles of Economics, I so much enjoyed seeing student learn, that I decided I wanted to become a teacher. Up until that time I had never dreamed of teaching. So I began taking the professional education courses that I needed during the time I was getting my Masters, and I took all of the preparation courses except practice teaching, and at that time you got credit for practice teaching after one year of successful teaching.
Q: So when did you get your doctoral degree?
A: I went later after I had finished my school work at Virginia Tech, I became an elementary principal for one year at once school, and the superintendent told me that they had run away three teachers the year before, and if I was successful in straightening out that school he would promote me as promotions opened up. So at the end of that year he sent me to another school, and at the end of the second year as the elementary principal, a job opened up as high school principal so I went and for five years as a high school principal before coming back to Virginia Tech. When I came to Virginia Tech I came in 1957, and because of my experience in public school work they started me on the second level and the Dean told me that I could not be promoted beyond assistant professor if I did not go away to do graduate work. So I told him whenever he could get the money I would be happy to leave, and I left in 1961 and studied at the University of Georgia in their Department of English for three years and then I came back and we were busy in our department and I didnt get my work completed so I went back in 1970 and took another year at the University of Georgia. I finished up my program with an ABD because I got into administration. For 18 years I was Assistant Head of the English Department, I never completed my dissertation.
Q: So what is ABD?
A: All But Dissertation for a doctoral degree.
Q: Oh. Now what was the name of the school, the elementary school that you
A: Pilot Elementary School, and it was very interesting. There were three of us teachers, my wife taught 1st and 2nd grade in one room, another woman taught 3rd and 4th grade in the second room, I taught 5th, 6th and 7th grades in a third room, 46 students divided into three different grades in that room.
Q: So the total number of students was 46?
A: In my room.
Q: Oh, in your room.
Q: OK. And how long did you teach before you become a principal?
A: I was as head teacher in that room my first year. I had no experience other than teaching as a graduate teaching assistant at Virginia Tech.
Q: OK. So from Virginia Tech you just went and became head teacher straight?
Q: Was that the equivalent of principal?
A: Yes, it was what I would call head teacher or principal of that school.
Q: OK. And what year was that?
Q: Was the term "head teacher" the equivalent term at that time?
A: Yes, head teacher just meant the principal teacher at that school, but it had the kind of advantages. I had to make the fires in the school, and I had to sweep the floor, I had no janitor, it simply meant I was the teacher and the janitor.
Q: And the term "principal" - when did it come up?
A: People would refer to me either as head teacher or principal, it had no great distinction in that little elementary school.
Q: OK. Because what I am asking is now generally we have the term principal, do we still have the term "head teacher" anymore?
A: Not in that sense because no longer do we have one room schools or schools of that kind.
Q: OK, OK.
A: They were phased out.
Q: I see. I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them today.
A: I think without realizing it that my childhood training and my experiences in school and in my work place all trained me for becoming a teacher because I have never found anything in textbooks that helped me as much as the general training I was given in life. When I worked on the farm with the farm laborers that my dad had hired, sometimes I would be the only white boy in a field working with 12 or 15 black people and my experiences there gave me a lot of education and kept me from having difficulties later when I was in a more sophisticated environment and people had not had the experiences I had had.
Q: So do you think those experiences prepared you better for the position than
A: Yes I think my upbringing and my attitude towards expecting to do well and expecting others to do well was the best training I could have had.
Q: I know you have mentioned this, but I would like to ask you again, would you tell me about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: When I was getting my undergraduate degree I had decided to get married the day before I got my degree. I had always expected to go back home and work on my dads farm, which was a big farm in eastern Virginia, but I realized that for my wife and me that would not be as good for her as it would have been for me, so I realized that there was an opportunity to become a graduate teaching assistant for a second degree at Tech. I applied for it and got it, and my experiences that year as a teacher so impressed me I felt that it was such a necessary thing in society to be able to master material and help others to master the same material that I decided that I would become a teacher. So really circumstances evolving in my life made my career choice a natural career choice I had not deliberately planned to become a teacher. In fact if someone had said to me when I was a junior as an undergraduate "You are going to be a teacher," I would have said you dont know what you are talking about. I have no interest in it.
Q: And your undergraduate degree was in what again?
A: Business Administration.
Q: Business Administration.
A: And then my Masters in Economics. But I took all the education courses that were required for a collegiate degree. Instead since I did not have practice teaching they gave me an emergency certificate for teaching and because I had my Masters with two years of what was considered outstanding teaching experience, I never had a collegiate certificate, I went immediately to collegiate professional certificate, which was the highest certificate given to teachers in the State of Virginia.
Q: So at that time one needed to apply to be an assistant teacher in a college? Did you say you applied to become an assistant teacher at Virginia Tech?
A: No I said that
Q: Graduate assistant?
A: I was a graduate assistant in my department because they needed someone to teach courses, they assigned graduate students to teach the courses just as they do today.
Q: Oh, OK.
Q: I thought there was a difference.
A: I applied for a teaching fellowship.
Q: Did you you told me about how what motivated you to become a principal. Did your motives change over time?
A: Well, actually at the end of that year when I got my Masters, I very foolishly thought I could continue teaching at Virginia Tech, but at that time right at the end of the War jobs everywhere
Q: That is second World War?
A: Second World War, jobs everywhere were disappearing because all the Veterans were home and many activities that were needed in the past were no longer needed, and I really didnt know what I would do. I applied to become an economist in Washington, DC, but that didnt open up so I went to the local school superintendent and asked him if he needed a teacher, he asked me if I was married and I told him yes, and he asked if my wife was a college graduate, and I said yes, and he said I will send you both to Pilot University to teach for me. Of course he was kidding talking about Pilot University, and I asked him where it was, and he took me in his car, and he took me eight miles south of Christiansburg across the highest mountain in Montgomery County, Pilot Mountain. Having come from a flat country, it was a frightening idea to me to think of how I would navigate on that mountain in the wintertime with ice everywhere. But I needed a job, and my wife agreed to help me. And we went to work each to be paid $1,700 each of us per year.
Q: Per year?
A: Per year! Yes I know its hard for you to think of this. During that year, (Governor Babble) gave all the teachers in the State an increase of $300 so my wife got $2000 that year, and I got $2000 that year, and we in no way suffered, we bought a little car called a Henry J, we had hired someone to take care of our baby, and we ate breakfast and dinner with that family, and in some ways we had more free money than we had when I was making supposedly a decent salary at Virginia Tech teaching later because cost had risen so much.
Q: Wow. I would like you to just briefly describe the features of your school building, you know those kinds of things.
A: I suggested to you there earlier that the head teachership no longer existed today and the building that I taught in at Pilot today is a community center, it was just a frame building, a wooden building, and there was a pump out at the edge of the building that was the only source of water, and on a cold day the pump would be frozen, and I would have to thaw the pump out to get water. And the school was heated by what we called a potbellied stove, one in the middle of each room, a very inefficient way of heating because the students closest around the stove would be even colored by the heat and if they were stupid enough to put their bottles of pop they called them coca cola or whatever they had fit in a remote corner it might even freeze on a bitterly cold day. So it was in no way a situation that today people would think was adequate for school children. But we had some very important people in our county who were in my class that year, the man who is head of the largest dental clinic, Dr. Huff, at Huff Dental Clinic between Christiansburg and Blacksburg, was in my 7th grade, and I could tell then that he would be an outstanding citizen, he was very intelligent. Carl McNeil, who is the largest Real estate dealer in the Christiansburg area was in my 6th grade, and I have a number of outstanding young teachers who, persons who became teachers and today are retired along with me who attended that school.
A: I am very proud of their success.
A: All of what I am saying is to suggest that I think its whats in an individual instead of where he attends school or whether or not its considered by society to be an adequate school or an inadequate school, the individual is the one who succeeds.
Q: Right. Tell me something, a little bit about your personal philosophy of education.
A: My personal philosophy of education is that we as teachers should give a child every learning experience that we can give him to help him to develop to his fullest potential. We should expect the best from him, and I think that he ordinarily will give us his best when he knows we expect it.
Q: Thank you. As principal or head teacher, what technique did you use to create a successful climate for learning?
A: I read a book by Jesse Stuart called The Thread that Runs So True, and the experiences that Jesse Stuart related in that book were so similar to mine that it was almost as thought he had observed my school, teaching the year of my first year of teaching, but I realized that a student has to be happy in what he does, and so I tried always to teach in such a way that he could enjoy learning, and I think that that is a key to being able to get the students to learn.
Q: What about the other teachers who taught under you? I mean as a principal
A: I hope that they gained from me the insight that I was pupil oriented first, that we tried to do everything for the student, and I think that because of the support I gave them as a principal that they were perfectly happy to fall into my philosophy of doing whatever they could do for the student. Now you realize it was a very simple exercise to work as head in the two elementary schools that I worked at, it was quite different than in my third year of teaching, and I really didnt have to teach anymore. One year I taught senior English because I couldnt get a satisfactory English teacher so I taught the senior English, but except for that one class the five years I was high school principal I didnt teach because I also supervised the elementary schools that fed into my high school that were in remote areas within my district from the high school.
Q: So as a principal of high school and that is what is called now Shawsville?
A: Shawsville High School.
Q: You also supervised elementary schools around?
A: Yes, the ones in Elliston and Lafayette and of course the one that is part of the Shawsville High School.
Q: What did that entail?
A: To visit to see how the teacher taught and see how the school would get along, and I was on call if they had problems, to come to solve problems that they might have.
Q: Was that part of your job description?
A: My superintendent when he hired me, he told me that the principal who as ahead of me had not had enough initiative, not taken enough initiative in his work that he would like for me not to be giving him problems, but to solve them for him.
Q: Right, wow.
A: At the high school I had a staff of 28 teachers, which was quite different from being head of a elementary school where I was simply head teacher of three the first year and then head teacher of four the second year.
Q: Is there anything, anyway you would consider in your effort to try to create a good climate for learning for the student? Is there any experiment that you ever tried unsuccessful?
A: Before I went to the school the school discipline was not too good at my high school and as a beginning administrator, I set up a demerit system as a guide in trying to improve school behavior on the part of students, and I dont think that that system was as successful. As the system developed later in which the students knew what I and the teachers with me expected and we didnt have to use demerits. But under the demerit systems sometimes for an infraction the student would accumulate a demerit and then when he accumulated a certain number he automatically would get suspended. And I dont think that that sort of automatic accumulation of demerits and suspension was a good system. The problem took care of itself after the first year of school I never had to worry about any kind of system of discipline.
A: So perhaps it was a tool that might have been helpful, but I dont think it was a good tool.
Q: OK. I would like you to tell me what kind of things teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: I will give you an example in that year I told you that the discipline was not as good, I had a beautifully trained teacher trained in a classical way, she taught Latin and French and English in a high school you use people in various areas, she taught one English course because she was good in Shakespeare, and her students did not behave too well in that class so she asked me if I would come and teach a lesson one day and let her observe and see if it would help her in her discipline if she could observe. So I taught her class and Mac Beth, and of course I loved Shakespeare, and I had picked something I thought the students would be interested in when I was teaching that day, and I thought they were a model group, that there was no question of all of discipline in the class, they were interested in what we were doing. So a day or two later she came to my office and said well really that wasnt helpful because the students didnt misbehave because you were the principal, and I think she missed the point. I am afraid that with her great learning when she was talking about the the students having no idea what the was possibly even thought she was tongue tied at any rate, she had not laid the groundwork, and she was teaching from a knowledge base where she didnt realize what they were learning and there was no meeting of minds between them. But that was an instance of the teachers expectation that was unrealistic. What the teachers basically wanted from me was to be able to teach without having interference from the parents or having to worry about extraneous things. And I worked out a system where I thought I did a good job at that because if a parent was cross about something a teacher did I had him talk with me about it and to tell him that I would take it up with the teacher and if it happened again then perhaps we would bring a teacher in for a conference, but that never happened. So I tried the best I could to take the pressures off the teachers so that their only pressure was being a good teacher for the student.
Q: I would like you to describe your view of what it takes to be an effective principal.
A: I think that the principal has to be qualified to know what is expected at the various levels in his school, he not only has to be concerned of what learning goes on in a classroom, but he has to be able to manage his cafeteria or work with the staff he has selected in his cafeteria management, he has athletic programs, he has the agricultural program, he has a multi-faceted combination of things that go on to make up the total school, and he has to be very skillful in working with the strengths of all the teachers so that they are able to work together using the maximum of their ability so without one trying to take the place of him in leadership and try to let his or her particular focus get out of kilter in the total school program. I think that the principal if he is successful can get the people who work under him to work harmoniously and each be respectful of the others and to not to expect to take the rights of someone else.
Q: Now this one is a follow up question to the one I just asked you, what were the expectations that employees
A: Have of me?
Q: Yes of a principal.
A: Yeah. Well we had regular principal meetings, but each principal was at that time in full control of his own school and his school district and the superintendent simply told us what the county plan was and what our function in the county plan was, and he did not interfere in any way with the way each principal supervised his own school. That was a great system and was so different from today that a principal from the last ten years cant even understand the great situation that we had when I was principal. The people in the community respected me to place, its uncanny to think of what I could have gotten away with that they would have supported me completely in they expected the superintendent to made a good choice, and when they felt that he had made a good choice they were excellent in their support.
Q: So that was great to be to the community.
Q: Had trust in superintendents that he would appoint a good principal
Q: And that therefore if you are appointed principal they supported you in your job.
Q: Anything else that they expected of you, the community?
A: Just to run the school in a top way. My patrons liked me very much because being in a remoter area of the county whenever I realized that say Christiansburg or Blacksburg had some sort of facility that they had and we didnt have, I always was pressing to get the same sort of services in our area that the county was affording for others because we all were working out of the same tax budget and my students had the same rights to whatever was available in the county.
Q: Now of late a great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personnel, could you please discuss your approach to leadership and discuss some techniques which worked for you and an incident in which your approach failed, your personnel leadership as a manager. 29.2
A: We had regular faculty meetings at school and obviously we discussed any situations that people needed to address to improve. I cant think of an example where my leadership style failed unless from the perspective of one of my teachers who had come in having already served out her term as teacher in West Virginia, she wanted to come to Virginia to get some experience and to be able to retire and get some pay as a retired teacher from two states instead of one, and she had been presented to be my, by my superintendent and because of the recommendations of West Virginias here thought she would make a good teacher, and I hired her, he allowed me to say yes or no to anyone he suggested, but I accepted her and at the end of two years when I understood that she wanted to retire instead she wanted to stay on, so I told her it would be all right for one more year only. And she would have liked to have stayed beyond that, but thats not really an answer to your question. I cant think of an example when my overall leadership did not work out, I felt that my staff was very good to work with our and that our system worked without having a failure.
Q: Did you have to, you recruited teachers, did you recruit teachers yourself?
A: Yes, right. And I had a recruitment technique that is more like the situation of choosing teachers today. At that time I realized that the best teachers were those who had a major in a subject. For instance, I had a much better math teacher if the math teacher was a math major and had studied his education as a minor instead of having a person who concentrated only in education and then he didnt know enough math to be a good math teacher. So I tried to pick to make sure that the teacher knew his subject first because I think the things that we master in study of education often are things an individual who is a good student and who thinks properly about interaction with people will involve into anyway to make sure that hes doing the proper things.
Q: Now in recruitment, today how how did you go about it?
A: I would go to the university and ask for recommendations, I would correspond with the university saying I need an English teacher or I need a math teacher, I need a science teacher, can you recommend some or one to me? And ordinarily if I had a recommendation and it was only a single person, because of the character of the man who was recommending I knew it would be a good person.
Q: So those recommendations would be of
A: University back to me.
Q: Right, but would there be students who are taking education and are going to graduate or would that entail also, include those who had previously graduated from the university that are not teaching?
A: Oh no that would have been including the ones that were coming from the university.
Q: From the university.
A: Right, we didnt have as much trading around of people from system to system as now.
Q: OK, so you got them directly from the university.
A: Directly from school ordinarily.
Q: OK, so and it was Virginia Tech?
A: Yes or others, Radford or Roanoke College or Washington and Lee, I got my coach from the University of Richmond, wherever I knew that there would be people that would fit into my program I would go to get those teachers.
Q: So now say you have the teachers.
Q: And how did you, what did you do to in the school, introduction?
A: I would have talked with the teacher before he ever came to work with me before I agreed to hire him about what we needed and once he had agreed to come then I would try to orient him to the program, I would give him the background on what had been happening, say for the coach, I had an excellent basketball coach ahead of a man I recruited to teach basketball from the University of Richmond, and he had been primarily a football coach. And he told me, he said Mr. Owen you know I dont have the credentials of the man whose place I am taking, and I said to him well thats all right you can learn and grow into it. And he became so successful that for two years our basketball team went to the State Finals. There was an error in a newspaper article just recently that said that Shawsville went to the State Finals for the first time this year, thats not true. It went twice, and there are (cups) showing that performance they were runner-up champions two years while this man was my basketball coach.
Q: So is there anything else you did to help the teachers succeed in this job?
A: I told them that they could call on me, that in other words I was their backup if there were any problems they had, and I explained to them strengths and weaknesses of anybody, any students or the strengths and weaknesses of the situation, the things I thought they would find easy in their job and things they might have to work at in their jobs. But we as I said had regular faculty meetings to talk as a group, but they could share experiences with others that might have similar strengths or weaknesses.
Q: So the staff meetings were primarily means through which
A: I could work with my faculty, and then an individual basis, which possibly was more helpful as an individual.
Q: So what do you think about mentoring?
A: That term had not come up at that time. Now we did some mentoring, really outstanding students, we brought in sometimes to even help to teach classes. At that time it was not easy to get substitute teachers, and when we had really outstanding teachers in the senior class, sometimes we would use them as teachers, and they were not trained, they had not been to universities, they had no educational had taught them, but they did know the subject.
Q: When you say senior students are those seniors in high school?
A: Seniors in high school.
A: Right. Yes, its a totally different day from today the sense of responsibility that existed back then people dont have today, there are men and women in the general community 35 years old who are not as mature as some of those youngsters were in the 12th grade of high school.
Q: About how old would they be? High school student seniors?
A: They would be 17 and 18.
A: And of course they were working under close supervision, I was in the building, other teachers around them, there was no problem that we wouldnt help them.
Q: So why do you consider and think that they were more mature than
A: Well lets put it this way
Q: Experiences outside
A: You asked me earlier about my own background experience.
Q: Right, right.
A: When I was 13 years old on a Monday morning all the men who had worked on fathers farm didnt show up, and when my father asked some of the tenant farmers who also worked for us where they were they said Mr. Owen I am sorry to tell you, but they have gone to Camp Lee, anybody who can physically carry a saw and a hammer is considered a craftsman and they hire them. Well, I had very little experience at that time working in the fields, I at 13, my brother at 10, and a black boy between our ages about 11 _, we three had the responsibility of trying to save the crop that a large number of men had planted and were expected to work the harvest. I didnt know what it was to have a normal boyhood, so I took on the work of a man at 13 and continued. When I came to the university I had been managing a farm operation that my college professor would have had difficulty managing.
A: And that was true of all people back at this period in life, and when I had finished the university that influence still was there, youngsters grew up more quickly than they grow up today.
Q: Right. Dr. Owen it has been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years, would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in todays schools. 38.5
A: Yes, I find that a very interesting question. We taught the subjects, and we felt it was the responsibility of the families at home to teach many of the things that had been brought in today as part of the schools curriculum. The students were just expected to learn all of the idea of a student being hyperactive and having to take Ritalin, that was decades in the future, we had none of that to have to worry about in our day, and students perhaps because our system back then was more regressive, fit the mold, and I think that in an uncanny way students do what we expect them to do. I am afraid that today when we advertise on TV what is being done in some other places we create the problems ourselves in our own .
A: The only thing that we did really of a non-academic nature was to have things like driver education, which is moving into the area of family life, but basically we had a family life and a school program that supported each other, but didnt move into each others territory. Its not the fault of administrators, its the government that has turned school into a sociological project rather than being a learning (unit). I Right. There are those how argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction, what where your experiences with such testing and what are your views? Let me tell you my experiences began when I was as low as elementary school I was given tests, and I so much enjoyed seeing that I was reading three or four grade levels ahead of my grade. So I enjoyed being tested, it showed what I knew and I felt that that was a favorable thing. And I felt it was a natural part of teaching because neither the student nor the teacher knew how successful he was without being tested. Now the wide battery of tests that we have today were not a part of schooling then, but there was some testing then, and I simply found it to be a checkpoint
Q: OK, Dr. Owen, I am sorry the tape ended and would you continue from where you left?
A: Unfortunate I think that testing today really has almost been separated from this original purpose. I think that it almost has become political, if you hear someone who says today hes for testing, you can almost figure what his politics are, and I think thats very unfortunate because we have (dumbed down) schooling today until its really hard to test. Now when I say dumbed down keep in mind that in many things students today know more when they get to high school than those of us in our day knew, we had to learn many years later, but in many of the basic things and thats what educational testing so often is aimed at, students today are given much more latitude for learning than we gave students when I was teaching. To me its strange to hear people from both political parties say that they want to have school systems in which a student will learn to read by the end of the third grade. Students when I was a student learned to read in the first grade, they simply improved in their reading from then until the, not until the end of school, but throughout life. I was trained once to sell world book, and they had a very interesting saying, they said that we spend our first three year learning to read in school, but we spend the rest of our lives reading to learn. And I feel that that is proper education, that a person learning read is opening the door of interest in life for himself and if he is properly lead into education and learns to love learning, we dont have to worry about his reading once we have taught him how to read.
Q: Can you tell me what you did or what was done at that time to get students to be able to read in the first grade?
A: I think that the system whether or not they knew that thats what it was, was the phonic system where the teacher worked carefully a student to talk about families of sound and his writing program with along with this, and it was so much more involved than we have today. The following system, the site reading program where a student is supposed to look at a word and learn from looking at the word what the word was did not work. : (Rudolph 3.1) book that came out Why Johnny Cant Read, addressed the failure of that system and for a while phonics came back. And today we have some semblance of it in many systems, but I think that the key to learning to read is to look at the word and to get the sound of the word and learn how the words are put together and then reading through practice just becomes a normal pursuit. After all many students who are not yet school age, many children who are not school age learn from a brother in the 1st grade and when they get to 1st grade they may be reading as well as the brother does already in the 2nd or 3rd grade. Theres no mystery, the child is interested in learning, and the teacher is being able to spur that interest.
Q: I would like you to describe your work, your day of work, maybe a week, how many hours did you put into your work?
A: As a high school principal when I went to my high school I tried to get there before the students did so I would be there when the day started, and at first I was concerned that everyone was in place on our school campus. This of course involved my checking on safety of the school buses coming in and letting the students out, it involved my checking to make sure that there were no absentee teachers that I hadnt covered to have the substitute teachers in their place. When everything was in place then teachers just had the system we had evolved in our school where they would send in the absences from each class into my office so that we knew which students were accounted for as not being there to start the day. That meant we knew who to watch out for, who we were responsible for during the day. So at all times we had a count of students that we were responsible for. When everything went running smoothly then in the morning I would walk out to check on my cafeteria to see if everything was taken care of for the day for feeding students at the midday meal. I would go up to my agricultural shop to see if everything there was running the way it was expected to run. I would go over to the elementary school to see, and we had two different elementary buildings, so just physically getting around to all the things, it possibly would take my first half of my day. Then at times in the afternoon I would go to various classrooms and sit in to hear teachers lecture and at one period in the day when some of my students who had free time and were getting ready to come into high school, I would take them to the gymnasium, the boys that were interested, and practice them on basketball fundamentals so that would help them then when they got ready to come into high school. So I played with the kids too at school, but basically it was to be in place on call for anyone who needed help just as a supervisor of a school, principal of a school should be.
Q: Now tell me something, I want you to make it clear again, the elementary school, that you supervised
A: Yes, I was supervisor.
Q: Where they in the same of the high school? Or how where they from the high school?
A: It was about, it was about 300 feet across to one of the buildings and another 150 feet across to another building. I had two elementary buildings there that I supervised on the total school campus, and then the agricultural building was about 300 yards up to the back of the building, and the cafeteria was out perhaps 100 yards out from the other end of the building. So we had a complex of buildings.
Q: Was the school (residential)?
A: No, on no, all the students came in, no houses.
Q: When you went to sit in classes to hear your teacher teach the lecture?
A: I tried to slip in as quietly as I could almost as though I was a student coming in tardy, trying not to create any sense of the teacher feeling pressured because I was listening or the students being distracted because the principal was in there. And they got to know me well as a person and they really wouldnt have thought anything of it anyway because it was a regular occurrence.
Q: And what was your goal?
A: To see what was going on in the classroom, to see if the teacher was doing what she said she did. On the outside of each teachers door were lesson plans of what I could expect to be going on in that classroom that day. Of course I had intelligence enough to know you cant always adhere to a lesson plan because of a students interest in some thing, you might completely neglect something you thought would be helpful for planning that day, but its better to neglect it, you dont, a plan is not important the student is important.
Q: Thats right.
A: And its what his need was that teachers should be working.
Q: So the lesson plans, each teacher puts it on the door?
A: On the outside of the door, if I came to the outside of the door I could pull out the lesson plan and see what the teacher had said she was going to be teaching that day.
Q: At the beginning of the semester did you, did you, was there any plan that the teachers made at the beginning, to come into work whole semester, did you have something like that?
A: Yes, we had planning sessions and there were teacher work days just as there are now and basically we set up overall plans, but each teacher planned his own individual course work, he was not told what to plan.
A: But there had been prescribed texts that we had bought for the students to use, there was not the teachers choice that today she has where she might not even use a prepared text, she has a unit and she covers certain things, and she chooses whatever she wants to to cover that unit, that was not a part of teaching back then, every teacher had a prescribed textbook and the student learned what was in that textbook.
Q: Who prescribed it?
A: The county adopted the textbook from a State recommended textbook list.
A: So this idea of having some book that some teacher just decided she would expose her students to, that was not a part of teaching.
A: And really thats the only way back then that I felt that you knew where to begin a teacher, teaching a student at any grade because you knew what experiences all students had had in the previous classes. If each teacher was doing his own thing, the next teacher doesnt know what to do.
A: You are lost.
Q: I would you to tell me something about any pressure that you had, in other words, what where your, some of your headaches on the job?
A: My biggest headache was when I first went to my high school job my coach was such an outstanding individual and had so organized his program under a weak principal ahead of me that that coach in effect ran the school. And so when I went there, he naturally was lording it over, the womens coach, because he was the big man.
A: And I had to learn to work in such a way that I didnt completely have a battle with him, and yet I had to bring him in line with the overall school objective that I had set. And that was my biggest headache that first year. And also coming in as a new principal, I was only 24 years old, and the man who had worked and been principal for nine years ahead of me was still on the staff. And he used to come to me sometimes and say well you have been getting along all right because you are a new, but you just wait you are going to have problems, and I would say well thats all right I will try to work with them when I can work with them. But tensions from the past were still present my first year, and that was my biggest problem as a principal and after the first year that was no problem anymore.
Q: You were pretty much settled.
A: Right. And when the coach learned that he no longer could run the school, he fairly quickly decided he would rather go to a different school.
Q: Was this coach a basketball coach?
A: Basketball coach.
Q: Oh, OK.
A: And had been a superior athlete himself. He was a very good person, but its just he evolved into a place that leadership was lacking, and it was hard then for him to pull back and not exercise leadership that wasnt appropriate.
Q: Right, right. Now I would like you to discuss with me your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.
A: All right I used this not only as being a high school principal, but also being a classroom teacher at the university. When I came to any classroom setting, I realized first off that there are different levels of ability in any grouping even though you have selected in university students all of whom are qualified, there still are differences. And I set as my objective to try to teach in such a way that each student could achieve his potential, his highest ability level was challenged by what I did. I tried in no way to ever let the students know that I was recognizing the differences that existed. I tried to teach so that was subtle thing and yet to have that a challenge with the various levels of ability in the classroom. I recognized too that I knew what I knew simply because of many years of learning that in that classroom almost inevitably in every classroom I ever faced, I would have students who would have more intellectual ability than I do. And in the future they might rise far beyond where I would go, where I was able to go, but I knew then that I knew what they needed, and I tried to make sure they got what they needed, and I challenged them never to let down and give second best. I tried to not make mistakes that I had seen teachers make when I was a student, and that helped me in trying to present something that would be challenging and also enjoyable to them as they went.
Q: Right. You have already told me the secrets of your success as a principal, you told me that your experiences in life prepared you better than the preparation that you are given in college, but even then can you tell me anything that you got in your teacher or principal preparation from college that was helpful to you as a principal?
A: Well I took all of the courses that would have required, that would have been required in order for me to become a superintendent of schools, I took public school finance, history and philosophy of education, and all of the courses there that went into the training of someone not only going into teaching, but someone going into administration. And I very much enjoyed the instruction that I got, and one of the men who taught me later left Virginia Tech to become a superintendent himself. And I heard him say one day that he felt that any man teaching in college should have had at least seven years of teaching in public schools before he was allowed to teach in college. I can see why he said that because some of my teachers who rated best on the university rating scale, didnt teach well at all. They were obviously superior researchers, but they were not good at inspiring me to learn and were not very helpful in my learning.
A: I had to learn on my own in spite of what they were doing. I think to a certain degree a persons ability to teach comes from within him and involves his concern for others and his respect for others. I dont think you can learn respect for others from a textbook.
Q: Right. I just to did you require certification to be principal? Would there be something like principal certification?
A: Well it was ordinary certification of a teacher.
Q: A teacher.
A: And as I said I already had the highest certification for a teacher when I had taught for two years and having a Masters degree, and my teaching was of a caliber that they felt was recommendable, I automatically was a hold of a collegiate professional certificate, which was good for ten years, I think the ordinary certificate perhaps is only good for five years, and at one time from the old teacher training institutes they used to give you a certificate for life. So obviously certification requirements change. But I went with the highest certification as a teacher and my teaching ability was what the superintendent went to judge me by when he put me in the school as a high school principal. Today I think perhaps they even have a Masters degree or Ph.D. degree requirement for some really large high schools in the country, but
Q: Because like now I am doing Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and you have Masters in preparing me to become an administrator. But you, you are profession as a teacher ?
Q: OK I would like to ask you what suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions? Any advice?
A: That really is a
Q: Like now you have told me for example that the superintendent suggested from his view that it would be good if somebody had worked for seven years as.
Q: So any recommendations?
A: I think that the university people training teachers do a good job today in requiring more practice in the classroom so that the student knows some actual classroom situations that might make him say this is not something I want and helps to weed out people who will not be good candidates. But I think that if the university could get its students to learn to get away from the idea that you can be trained and all your answers come from training because thats not possible. Its not until you get in the classroom and you learn to do by doing and then hopefully your training will give you some resource background, but everything that happens in learning as was said of Mark Hopkins on end of a log and me on the other involves the essence of teaching. Its not how much money you get paid for. I taught in the same way for getting $1,700 a year that I taught when I got my highest salary, and that really was not my reward for teaching, my reward for teaching was seeing the light bulb of learning pop on in the eyes of students and their enjoyment for mastering what they mastered. I think that the intrusion, and I will call it politics, into education has given us some of the worst facets of problems in education that we have today. I think that we have taken that love of learning and imposed so much on it and its these impositions that give us our problems in our school today. I cant imagine teachers having to fear for their lives, checking students as they come in for weapons, that is such a strange sort of thing in a society, when our good is simply to help the students to learn to become mature persons, and then we have to worry about their hurting each other and hurting teachers, its strange.
A: I guess its a good thing I finished my teaching at an earlier time. I still love teaching, people who come to visit me say I am still teaching as I taught.
Q: Definitely, definitely.
A: Theres one terrible mis-concept that got into public schools, that is the idea of it being harmful to a student to retain him when he didnt learn. None of your questions have aimed directly at that, but think of the terrible thing you do to a student when he is expected to learn to master say the second grade, certainly by that time you should be able to read, and if he cant read and you send him along with people who read well, soon hes lost in a world.
A: He doesnt know whats going on in the future sections, and you have no respect for his ability if you say you cant learn so I will send you along. If you respect him, you keep him and you teach him carefully so that each step of the way hes constantly mastering what he is supposed to do.
Q: So did you, in other words you had the student to
A: We failed them, right if they didnt pass, but they appreciated it, their parents appreciated it. Its not until we got sociologists on the side who say but this person is eight and the others are seven, and he feels bad. He will feel a whole lot worse if he goes with others his age group, and they know what they are doing and he doesnt.
A: Thats a terrible situation. And then the out, like the man who played football who graduate from Nebraska was it, and he stood on the halls of Congress and cried because he could not read, and he was a college graduate, he had been passed all the way through the system and through a university, and he couldnt read, and he cried and Congress, I am sorry I cant read. Some system is very much out of accord, out of touch when that happens.
Q: Whats your view, we are have already talked about the mentoring, I asked you about that, but whats your view on mentoring program for new administrators in which and experienced administrator is paired with a beginner?
A: I think that would be very good, it couldnt hurt. I dont know how it could be a disadvantaged. Again, its assumed you know that each of them is only in it to not being selfish, if the mentor is interested in helping the person do well and the person being mentored wants to learn, it couldnt
Q: explanation on the topic had so far, it seems to me as though you felt as a mentor for the teachers that you were .
A: I tried to. And also I had a person that I designed as head of my elementary division who fielded the problems and if she couldnt handle them sent them to me and asked me to comment any time in the day in my elementary area. So I recognized they had the ability, and I think that that was something teachers liked that I recognized their strengths whenever I could.
Q: Now I will go back again say something about, just make it clear again so your elementary schools building did not have head teachers of their own?
A: No, no I appointed the head teacher.
Q: And they served under you?
A: Yes, right.
Q: There are those who argue that more often than not central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities, would you give your views on this issue?
A: In my own case I would not agree with that because I told you earlier that my superintendent told me he wanted me to be a problem solver. Now he had an excellent staff of supervisors and sometimes his supervisor would come into my school and observe some things and from his experience or from his knowledge, he would make suggestions. Then later when he would come back, he might find that I hadnt carried out a suggestion here or there, and he would perhaps say to me why didnt you do that? And I said to him, I understand why that might work for someone at another school, I understand why you might have suggested it to me, but from my experience thats not helpful for me. And he would say in effect, but I said do it so that made me come back to say you are a supervisory personnel individual who is talking with me, and if you expect me to have to do it, that comes from my superintendent, you are hired by my superintendent to help me not to tell me what to do. And thats a big difference and today we have too many supervisors I think, and we have no central core of command, and we flounder in administrator. And it comes to the place that the principal has no power, talking power. Hes a person who signs things as principal, but the student goes home and tells mom to bring the pressure on the school board the student runs the school.
A: And thats very bad for the students.
A: He shouldnt be running the school when he doesnt know how to run the school. Of course this is not expected in the answers that I am supposed to give, your questions are not to draw at that sort of answer from me, but that is I think a big problem we have in the school system today.
Q: I can see how it relates to the question that I am asking you.
A: I hope.
Q: Because if a student goes to the mother or father to try to put pressure on the principal, this father could be going to probably the big offices
Q: You know so those you know powers that be you know come and put pressure on the principals and the principal in fact you know not really, he doesnt have authority, he doesnt exercise any power, the power comes from administration, and I can see how you, how that can you know. There are those who argue that the principal should an instructional leader and those that suggest that realistically speaking, this person must be above all a good manager, would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?
A: I think he should be a good instructional leader or should know whats going on in the classroom otherwise I dont see how he could be a good manager because you cant manage something you dont understand.
A: I think that a good principal should have the experience as a teacher so he knows clearly what any teacher is attempting whose efforts he is directing.
A: I think that what you are saying to me is the same sort of attitude that university professors, university presidents have been trained in university administration and sometimes they have no idea of the intricacy of university teaching, they are managers only, and that has created some problems in various situations.
A: And I think that that is applicable to the question you are asking me here. If we want simply a manager we might as well go and get someone from Wal-Mart who managed a big concern if you carry it that way. I think that the principal has to be a part of what goes on if hes going to be effective.
Q: Now again you have mentioned some about this question that I want to ask you now, but I want you to maybe specially as an clear, now would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals.
A: I think the principal should first be a good teacher, and I think that the principal should be examined very carefully to make sure that he works well with people, that he loves children. If he, obviously that hes unselfish, if he cares about his students and he cares about teachers who are teaching his students, and he knows himself how to teach and hes got obviously the certification, thats all you need.
Q: So in other words
A: The human element is the most important element.
A: He can add in all the rest, paper certification is nothing if hes not a good person.
Q: administrator by being experienced in teaching.
A: Yeah, and I think that ordinarily a person wouldnt aspire to be a principal if you are not a good teacher, ordinarily.
Q: We have already talked about community
Q: The involvement of you, and my next question says essentially that a principal should be active, says that a principal should be active in community affairs, and you told me something about your involvement, you know what is expected of you as a principal in those days
A: Do you want to know some of the things I did in the community as a part of being principal?
Q: As part of being a principal, you know specific stuff.
A: I worked with youth groups, and I played on a ball team that had graduates of the high school who would come back in and play against the student team, I played on a community basketball team, I was a member of the Ruritan Club, became its president while I was there, and I attended the Church there, so I had a full role in the community affairs.
Q: Right. Now that involvement do you think that kind of involvement your
A: Very much, I think it did because in the first place the school board had required that I come to live in the community because the principal who had preceded me lived in Salem, and they felt that it would be better to have the principal live in the community so that he was a part of community affairs. They really were anticipating a proper answer to the question you are raising of me that he would be required to live there.
Q: OK. Before you there was no requirements?
A: No, no they had felt that that was a weakness in the man before.
A: But now I think theres another side to it. I think that by making me live there that sometimes if some community problem that had nothing to do with the school, if some community problem came up and the principal was made to choose a side of that then it would come back into his school that if he didnt live there he could stay a bit remote from it and say well I have no comment on that.
A: But if he was living in the community they expected him to take sides.
A: So I do think thats a possibility that might give a , do you follow what I am saying?
Q: Yeah depending up on the side that you take, that may have some influence in your school whether positively or negatively.
A: Let me give you an example at the university level one of the exciting times to teach was during the period of student unrest, student revolt time when the student quit taking buildings and setting policies at universities, and I always felt as a classroom teacher that my classroom ought to have the same quality that the Priest in his Church could take, that he could give sanctuary to someone in his Church, and I felt that education in my classroom ought to be a sanctuary that a person didnt have to go out, that he could if he were one to go out to take buildings or if he were someone disgusted by that then he would know the difference in my classroom of which one I would respect because I respected each of them as long as he behaved as a student in my classroom. And I tried to point out to him that the real purpose of the education if he were a protester was to be able to protest better by learning.
A: That to go out and say hell no we wont go, required no brains, but if he came to the classroom, and he learned a poem such as a poem by Wilford Owen and Honorable to Die for Ones Country, which was an ironic poem, showing how terrible war is, that would give him intellectual material to use in his rightful protest.
Q: Right, right.
A: Instead of some mindless thing without education.
Q: Thats right. All right back to the parents again, it has been said that there is a home school gap, home school gap, gap between the home and the school and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed, would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and with citizens who are important in the well being of the school?
A: Yes, I can react to that very directly, but its in a very different way than what this interaction that you are talking about today is.
A: When I was teaching, the students, the parents as I said had confidence in my having been put there, they felt that I was trained and qualified and was doing my job unless I proved otherwise. So they sent their students to school saying if you get disciplined in school we are going to punish you at home because you didnt cooperate at school. Today if a student goes to school and the teacher looks at him in a way he doesnt like or makes a statement generally that might not apply to him that he can take back as criticism, the parent feels that its his duty to go in and straighten the teacher out. Thats a negative kind of way of getting your child educated. If you destroyed a teacher, how can the teacher help your child? So its this respect and trust where the parent maybe would not never go in physically down to the school supports at home, but today that is destroyed because so often the parent is not at home. In Blacksburg we have students who when school is out run to the library and ruin the library for people wanting to use the library because they are playing games in the library because that parent is out working or playing golf. Thats very much a problem on schools today, parents are not a part of it, and I think that the big problem evolved because we looked for the government and government doesnt know what to do and cant do.
A: Its got no organization for doing. A law cant carry itself. We have lost that continuity of parents, students and teachers being a team.
Q: You know.
A: Yes, thats the word when you get fragmentation then theres bound to be confrontation.
Q: Right, right. A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay plans and merit pay in recent years. Would you give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you had with such approaches?
A: I profited nicely from incremental raises that had nothing to do with a regular system, and yet when I first went to work in the university, we had to work a certain number of years, got a certain pay raise without regard to how good we were, and I could see how that or discouraged anyone who felt well I did a super job, and my colleague just was working for the money and didnt care about his job and he got the same raise I did.
A: I can see the negative of that, but its a terrible problem to when you give merit raises and someone else who had a tremendous record that might not have had the philosophy that someone seeing the merit and has the power to give the merit raise might not have been fair
Q: OK, Dr. Owen, in this I would like to begin with a question on evaluation, would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation, big thing today.
A: I think that in order for a teacher to be evaluated fairly that the teacher has to know exactly what is expected of him or her before he begins teaching, and then I think that the evaluation should be based entirely on how well he or she fulfills expectation.
Q: Did you, I know you sat in classrooms, but did you have something you would call formal evaluation maybe at the end of the year or two years how tenure and?
A: No the observation and the satisfaction that was obvious on the part of the students with the work of the teacher was what I used to go by, and you generally can tell if a teacher is happy in his work and the students are happy in the classroom setting and you observed the teaching go along nicely, I think thats all the evaluation thats necessary.
Q: So observation and satisfaction on the part of the children.
Q: A good deal is said about teacher grievances, would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?
A: I feel that I worked under a totally different system from today and that teacher grievances that came up with I was a principal were worked out between myself and the teacher for our satisfaction and that if a teacher perhaps didnt feel satisfied in an overall way, possibly he looked for a different job, but I never had that to occur. If we had had a situation where the teacher and I could not have worked it out, I would asked the superintendent to come in to work with us to suggest what he thought a solution might be, but I never had that to occur.
Q: What kind of differences did they have in those days?
A: The only grievances that we had as I indicated before, I had the coach of the young women in high school to come and say that she felt like the man, the coach of the male students was taking advantage of her that she didnt get to use the gymnasium in the way she would like to, that she felt that because of his prestige and his having worked longer in the school, that she didnt get a fair treatment. And we worked that out so it didnt become a problem, shouldnt remain a problem.
Q: In other areas like maybe pay or?
A: There was not that much consideration then because actually that was one of the things a principal had very little control over. He indicated his satisfaction with a teacher or dissatisfaction if there was dissatisfaction enough the teacher wouldnt be rehired, and if there was satisfaction with her then we were all subject to the county rule of pay.
A: And at that time a merit pay raise didnt come into consideration, the principal himself was on a little bit different basis because he was judged from administration of his school and principals were graded on one scale and teachers, subjects are graded on .
Q: Would you describe teacher dismissal and your involved in such a thing? Because I know you have told me that you didnt have much problems with the teachers, never reached that level actually being dismissed, dismissing any teachers, but those days what teacher dismissal and how did they go through the process of dismissing a teacher or was there a process at all?
A: Yes, there was a process. If a teacher did something that was shocking to the community if there was a moral question in that day, generally it would be known in the community and possibly word of it would get back to the superintendent as quickly as the principal would know anything about it, and that sometimes might become a problem in some schools, it never became one in mine. And teacher dissatisfaction that arose ahead of my coming to this school involved three of the teachers going go the superintendent and asking that the former principal not be rehired as principal, and they were successful, they got him kicked out as principal. I always felt bad for him because he had to stay on and work on my staff with the ones that had gone and complained about him so I guess perhaps the peer pressure among those teachers was what lead to dismissal in that case, but if you have chosen carefully and you dont get an unqualified teacher then usually a teacher himself has to almost do something overtly that is on him the responsibility is his own if he doesnt fit in.
Q: Any example of anything that would be shocking to the communities, that there was shocking?
A: No at worst we had rumors of a teacher perhaps dating a student and that was totally against the regulations of the school, but it was never brought up as a direct accusation, but that would have been a problem if it had been openly discovered that rules were broken of that sort. As I said it was a totally different way of looking at school life from today perhaps that might have been allowed today, but it certainly would not been.
Q: Did you have an assistant principal?
A: Yes I had an assistant principal, a very good one, she was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she was a math teacher, and she was very effective.
Q: Now in your view what should be the role of the assistant principal?
A: I had a quite different role for my assistant principal. I looked on her as being my fill-in whenever I was not in school, but I realize that today the assistant principal is usually the person in charge of discipline, but I didnt have that sort of situation in my own school, I personally took care of students that were referred to me by the teachers if there were students that didnt want to get along with a teacher I (taught) them.
Q: So now when you let, what became of
A: My assistant principal.
Q: Your assistant principal.
A: She worked in a short interim period before a new principal was hired, and she remained very much a part of the administrative team that followed me.
Q: Do you know if she ever got a job to become a principal herself?
A: No, she wouldnt really have cared to I dont think, she didnt mind taking responsibility, but she was such a good teacher, and she enjoyed it so much she wouldnt have given it up for the problems of keeping up finances.
A: Administrative side of the school goings.
Q: Again, you talked about your school, the different, how your school was, what characteristics are associated in your view with most effective schools? And what features characterize less successful ones?
A: I would think that having a unified staff all of the teachers having the objective of trying to produce a student that is ready to go to a university or if he is not university material that he has been trained and given some sort of aptitude testing and been given guidance into what sort of work he might take when he leaves school, I think that we should have from the day the student enters school the objective of making him as well educated as we can make him when he graduates.
Q: So you , I mean in other words in your view a school that is effective, a school in which teachers would like to see their students succeed?
Q: Do you feel, do the teachers feel responsible in your days for the (teaching) of their children?
A: Yes, very much, and I think that then as today if a school was too much concerned with other affairs other than education, for instance winning ball games instead of having a good academic program, that that would be a negative factor at a school that schools just by definition are supposed to be situation in a place and an activity where students learn at the optimum as best they can.
Q: they like the game so you know football or whatever, would a coach distract a school for its mission of you know academics? Anything else?
A: I think if a school were asked to come in on some community problem or something that took the focus away from education that that would be a destructive factor that its only where something pulled you away from your objective of teaching that would lessen it of a school.
Q: During the part decade schools have become much larger. Discuss your views on this phenomenon and suggest an ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities.
A: I am sure that every person possibly feels that what he has experienced is the best so you have to keep in mind that I did not work in a really large school, but I see the really large schools as being destructive to the purpose of educating students as at the optimum. I think that when schools have to be operated more as a factory than a school and you loose the personal touch and the association, family communication that goes on in small high schools as compared with large high schools were students know so few in their student body, and theres a lot of confusion in changing classes and theres a tremendous job on the part of the principal and his staff to set up a master schedule and to administer the school. I think that a lot of time is wasted in administration that used to could be used more effectively in small schools. And I think that by having dispersed schools throughout the country if you have a problem in one school you have a much smaller problem than if you have a problem in a large school and also your transportation problems have intensified unbelievably when you have to haul a student 25-30 miles to the school as compared as it being able to walk in or ride a few miles into the school. Also if you have him coming to local schools the parents who make up the school know each other, the problems are not apt to be ones that bring in a lot of issues that a locality is not concerned with, but if you have multiplied the size of the school to place somebodys issue of 25 miles away and then has to become your issue.
A: You have to idea of education.
Q: Right. Now when you mentioned something about, what did you mean?
A: I mean that if you are concerned more with education than you are with learning, that rules become the control in the school rather than the good of the student being what everyone is the teaching of students is what we should be concerned with, and if instead we become concerned with how to control students in schools, thats a different thing from teaching students, if the students are taught well control is not in no visible activity is involved in control, they are naturally doing what they should be doing and no control is necessary.
Q: I would like to move to a different area which deals with special students. In recent years more and more programs for special groups of students (LD, Gifted and Talented, non-English speaking) all these groups have come in, so special programs have been developed for these kinds of students, please discuss your experiences with special student services and your views on todays trends in this regard.
A: When I was a principal, the system was so different because at that time students that had very much disabled situations were not in the public schools, there were schools for the students who were mentally deficit or at least there were places they were kept and whatever schooling they could be given was possibly very inadequately given there. No student who was able to, not able to get along in the study body was apart of the student body. Now in my elementary school that I was head teacher of in my second year of teaching, we did have a boy who was mentally deficit and he fit in nicely, all the students took care of him, and I am sure it was this sort of situation that probably prompted the administrative authorities to take students out of confinement and put them back in public schools, but I have a very strong reservation wondering if that was a smart over. If it is smart, then possibly the students that are not able to learn in classroom section should be made comfortable in sections of their own rather than having them completely dispersed through all areas of the school with the sole purpose of no one being able to identify their disabilities because I think that is part of what leads to poorer education in the classroom, I think its one of the reasons that the whole level has had to be "dumbed down" and it means that sometimes the smartest children are frightened or afraid to try to go beyond the norm because they are almost persecuted for wanting more than the teacher can give and the teacher doesnt have time to give to unusual students on both ends.
Q: Right. We have already talked about, you mentioned something about compensation, salaries and you know for teachers, is there anything else that you would like to add? I mean the recollections about those days and you know today.
A: I think its really hard to discuss or compare salaries of when I was a beginning teacher or when I taught in public school as compared with today because the devaluing of the dollar has been such that you have to give so much more compensation today for a job and its always difficult to try to pay somebody for his work. And I think as I said earlier that the real satisfaction of a true teacher comes from a sense of job satisfaction, the idea of the student being thrilled to learn and reflecting his respect and his love of his teacher and the parents appreciation of and for the teacher, traditionally the teacher is always gotten too little money for his efforts as compared with some of his other members of society who are paid much higher. But I dont know that this is fully.
Q: Thank you. Anything about tenure, merit and demerits?
A: Well I think that probably tenure in a natural sense is the best where a person goes to work and he likes his work and no one ever cares and even raises a question of whether or not he should continue. There would be a hue and cry if he decided not to come back. I think its a bit ludicrous to think in terms of being ensured in your job as being set up so that unless you did something illegal you couldnt be fired. I think thats a very negative way of looking at teaching.
Q: Its a very different view when you really look at it. There have traditionally been a commitment in this country to the principal of universal free public education, would you give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings on the practicality of such an approach in this day and time?
A: Perhaps your question means should we allow the chartered schools or the private schools that would take the place of public education? I am a firm believer in public education, but I think that we have a great deal in school today that we have to, teachers have to be concerned with thats not truly a part of education that should be a responsibility of parents and the community rather than being a classroom activity. And I think that its been very unfair to the schools to have to become a sociological experiment in our country rather than being able to take care of the job of teaching. I dont think that either can be done well when you expect the teacher to have to do it all.
Q: Now this one is a good one, administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about their amount of paperwork and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Would you comment on the situation during you administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time.
A: Its a difference in night and day.
A: About all that I had to worry with in terms of paperwork was simply keeping the records of attendance for the students and the financial records for the school and the records concerned with graduation and an annual report was very simple. And today the schools have become like the businesses of having to do so much paperwork because of government requirements that its added a dimension that as I said just now has nothing to do with teaching its simply accounting for administrative practices that perhaps show fairness or show compliance that has nothing to do with teaching.
Q: Given the, this question has, given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?
A: I really am not qualified to answer that because its so different from what it was in my own administration, but as I was saying administrators today are having to do paperwork that is self serving, its giving back answers for, to questions that have nothing to do with how much a student has learned.
Q: Right. The relationship, you know as a principal with the Board of Education, any comments about that?
A: I very much enjoyed working with my superintendent. When he hired me, he had given me the training ground of preparation in two elementary schools, and then when he hired me as high school principal he said to me, Jim I want you to have some sand in your craw, he was referring to the fact that the chicken in his gizzard could digest his food and he was in charge of the whole process, and he wanted me not to be running to him for every sort of question of varying complexity and the less he heard from me the better he liked it.
A: And I very much enjoyed that because I had been trained at home to realize that for every right I had a responsibility and if anybody paid me he had the right to tell me what to do, and if I didnt like my job I should go to another job rather than to try to change what he wanted me to do or to do it less well than it should be done. And so I very much got along well with my supervisor, he understood that and he allowed me the latitude to express my own views, and if he had a better view that he could show me I was perfectly happy to adapt to what he wanted me to do, and as I said I thought that if I couldnt support him I should be working for somebody else, I didnt think it was morally right for me to work for someone that I would work against him instead of for him.
Q: Right. Lets go to your retirement, as a principal I guess did you retire or did you resign or did you?
A: I retired in order to go into business because my father-in-law had a key employee that he was losing, and he told me unless I came to work for him he was going to sell his business. And I came to work for him, and I had only worked for him for about three weeks and the retiree decided instead of retiring he would like to keep on because he would have been in competition with us had he retired, it was a car dealership, and he was going to Ford, and I would have been working for his competitor Chevrolet. And that left me then second employee or person who would have been second in experience, he was too highly paid for my father-in-law to be hiring us both, and a colleague suggested to me that I ought to come at Tech at Virginia Tech, and I remembered that the Department he was talking about had a head who had once told me if he needed a man and I needed a job he would like me to work for him. So it was almost by accident that combination of affairs led me to stay in education, but I would have left very reluctantly as I said only to help my father-in-law continue in his business, and I didnt lose a section of work because it was only the summertime when this was resolved. I left high school principalship in May and in September I was working at Virginia Tech.
Q: And thats why you were, what retired.
A: I had 47 years at retirement for the State of Virginia in education.
Q: Thats a long time. Now we are wrapping up, I am running out of questions now, would you give me an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice you wish passed along to todays principals?
A: I enjoyed administration, and I enjoyed it because I felt that the degree of control I had as a principal I could use as a helpful device to help my teachers. And I felt that if I could convey that attitude to them that they would work as hard as they could to make our school successful, and as an administrator I tried to pick teachers who would fit in, who could follow the sort of objectives that we needed followed at our school. And I would say that a person who intends to become an administrator should think twice about it unless he is willing to realize that he must change when he realizes he is wrong, and that he needs to have the courage any problems that come up rather than to ignore them, that that will never solve the problem. That if a problem comes up it has to be faced, and that a part of becoming an administrator is a willingness to face the problem, but always be able to put yourself in the position of the one on the other side so you can see all sides.
Q: It has been said that good personnel managers encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations on their successes. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal, and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?
A: I dont know what you mean by the celebration part, I always gave credit and gave credit at public functions such as any occasion, graduation occasions, or Christmas programs or at whatever occasion, I always gave credit to the people who were responsible for the success in the various areas, and I always reported to the our superiors, the superintendent, for outstanding success on the part of any individual teachers. So we never held any celebration of occasions specifically for that. Right, I feel if you do not give credit to a person he says well why try to go beyond the call of duty, why try to fill your responsibilities as best you can?
Q: Some principals believe that teachers and other staff members are in general well motivated and reliable self-starters. Others feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees. What approach did you customarily use during your administrative career?
A: I tried to use the idea of each person being a self starter because I tried to pick people who were self starters. I think that if you are closely attuned to others that you have a pretty good ability to assess who will be a team player and who wont, and I dont think that any amount of regulation that you put on a person who is not motivated to be a team person will make him a team person. I do not think he can be coerced into having a quality he doesnt have.
Q: Right, thats right. Thank you very much Dr. Owen for taking the time to answer my questions and by giving me some insights into what happened in the past.
A: Well I realize that a great deal of what I said to you today could never be implemented in the totally different system of education today, and I hope that teachers today can find a place in which they can operate where they are trying to educate students to become greater than themselves the teachers are, and that way we can always improve society.
Q: Right. Thank you very much. Is there anything else that I should have asked you and I didnt maybe?
A: One thing that I did as a high school principal that I always really enjoyed having done, was people in my community at my high school has always talked about having a cafeteria, and they did not have one when I went there, and as I said I went there just after World War II. And I discovered that a lot of equipment was being sold by the government that had been used for (defense) purposes or Army purposes, and I learned that I could equip a cafeteria for about 2% of the cost of the equipment. So I got into the market and bought cafeteria equipment and organized a cafeteria and picked one of the best, most efficient managers, a woman in my community become my manager, and I felt that that was something I was able to do for the students in addition to what happened in the classroom. I always thought that that would be the thing I liked for them to remember that I had done for them.
Q: Right, going beyond the call of duty. Actually thats a part of helping build a good climate for learning in.
A: I so much enjoyed helping you, I hope that my responses are helpful.
Q: Thank you very much, they really are.
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