Interview with John Pond


This interview is with Mr. John Pond. He is a retired principal from the Warren County School System.

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Q: What educational background did you have before you became a principal?

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

A: From 1920-1941 I was a farm boy, grammar school student, high school student and college student. After 1942 I was in the Army Air Force for 4 years. After the air force I went to Hampton Sidney College and received a BS degree in 1948. From 1948-1965 1 have been a teacher, coach, assistant principal, in teaching I taught general science, biology, mathematics, American history, chemistry, and several other courses. I attended summer school at William and Mary in 1950 and 51. I worked in the paper mills in the summers of 1952-1957. Attended the National Science Institute's summer program in 1960 at Randolph Macons Women's College. I received my Masters Degree at Madison College in 1964.

Q: What historical events were occurring during your principalship?

A: While I was principal the Warren County Schools were integrated completely. The Vietnam War was going on during that period. This was in the era where we had the protest marches and the drug culture appeared.

Q: Describe the school where you were principal.

A: The first year I was principal we had approximately 200 students, grades 6-8. This was the first year of integration. As time went on students began to come back to the public schools. The following year I was principal we had 700 students, grades 8-9.

Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?

A: More money and a desire to do my own thing.

Q: What events led you to become a principal?

A: The integration of the schools - my main qualifications was that I was 6'4" and weighed 210 lbs.

Q: What was your school's philosophy?

A: The school's philosophy and my philosophy coincide. The school system was built for the students. They got the highest priorities. The teachers were next on the priority list because they were in contact and closest to the students than anyone else. All other personnel, principal and the central office staff were expected to give support to the teachers and give them as much time as possible to do the best possible job.

Q: What leadership techniques did you use while creating a climate for learning?

A: One important thing I believe is never to ask someone to do something you wouldn't do yourself. Certainly to show interest in what the teachers were doing and what the students were doing and try to keep the morale of the students and teachers as high as possible.

Q: Could you give us some examples of some of the leadership techniques that you considered to be the most successful?

A: Well, I think if you expect students and teachers to be on time and to leave at the proper time you have to set examples. Be in school before you were expected and be the last one to leave, things of that nature.

Q: Least successful?

A: Some of the things such as passing on information such as regulations and memos from the central office, I don't think went over too well with the teachers and didn't think I was very successful in getting the idea across.

Q: What role did you play in public/community relations?

A: As a usual thing - my main PR I felt was on a one-to-one basis consulting with parents, going to the homes of the students that were having problems, consulting with parents if the parents would not come to the schools. Certainly there were times that you had to have PTA meetings and go to this type of thing.

Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?

A: It all depends on the teacher. Like anyone else teachers are all unique individuals. Some teachers expect principals to do everything possible and let them stay in the class and let them teach reading, writing and arithmetic and the school that we were in you needed the help of all people and I personally feel that the teacher needs to see students in all situations and not necessarily the classroom situation, but all situations, playground activities, hall behavior and so forth and so on to completely understand the child and I think it is so important for teachers to understand the child.

Q: How did you evaluate teachers?

A: My favorite method and the one I probably would use would be to look in on the classroom if possible not to be observed myself - to look in and see the teachers and children were at work. You could tell when learning was taking place in one glance. You could tell when learning was taking place if the teacher had the students' attention and those in the back row were sitting up enjoying what the teacher said you knew that learning was taking place. As far as the evaluation forms that are passed around for teachers to fill out and have a conference with I never felt that that was too important and then too I feel that to go into a classroom and sit for an hour to observe anything that the teacher is doing as soon as that person enters the classroom the atmosphere of the class changes.

Q: What techniques did you use to make teachers feel important?

A: All of us like to be commented on or flattered in how well their techniques are working. That some of their students are really progressing this type of thing.

Q: What is your philosophy of education? Teaching?

A: Well, I think certainly that education is one of the most important activities in an individuals life and we know that we learn from the day we were born that it's very important to direct our energy and activities in the direction so that we will have a more enlightened life and I think probably the educational system has been directing people in that direction.

Q: What skills do you believe are needed to be an effective principal?

A: I think that an effective principal is one that gets along with people, who is firm but at the same time flexible, who enjoys working with students and people, one who feels that the activity of the school isn't his responsibility alone that everyone has to work toward that end.

Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?

A: Numbers of pressures - parents wanting special favors. For example in a newly integrated school you'd have parents coming in saying I don't want my child in class with a black or so forth and so on. So I say I'm sorry you're at the wrong place. This is a public school and we have no choice but to place them where they may fall. We cannot make a special favor for you.

Q: How did you handle these pressures?

A: You have to learn to say no in a nice way.

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: Usually with a conference. I don't believe I had too many complaints. A big complaint that I can remember was changing from bottle cokes to can cokes. Well if I was going to pick up the bottles - they were cans. If the teachers couldn't put it back in the proper place they could throw the cans in the trash can.

Q: Did you ever fire a teacher? What happened? Repercussions?

A: Not directly - They had a couple of teachers that we parted company and this happened because of events outside. One of them was buying liquor for the students. Evidently a school board member got a hold to that and that was that. Another one made a statement about being an atheist again in class and somebody took word home and the school board decided to separate him from the schools. I imagine that in this day and time he probably could have a nice suit on his hands. No repercussions.

Q: How can we improve education?

A: Hire the best qualified people to teach and give them enough time and support to do the job.

Q: How would you have handled the National Commission on Education Excellence Report?

A: I would agree but with some reservations. I would agree with the objectives of most of the report and try to follow it as much as possible. I do have some reservations - example, some of the best perspective teachers that they took 4 years of college very probably would go into some other field rather than take another year of education courses and I feel its a possibility we would loose alot of good teachers there.

Q: What procedures would you use to select a principal? What qualifications and qualities should they have?

A: Certainly look over the resume very carefully - qualifications. Have a conference with him. I would want someone that had a lot of common sense rather than book sense. Someone with alot of classroom experience. Someone with the ability to get along with people and someone probably that had experience as an assistant principal.

Q: How did you utilize your assistant principal?

A: Well you utilize in the same way that all principals do. You assign him the tasks you find distasteful.

Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern? ... headache?

A: The welfare of the students. Peer pressure that's put on the students - the drug bit - smoking - the general moral breakdown of students and society in general.

Q: What do you think about merit pay for teachers?

A: With changes in the method of teacher evaluation, I would favor it.

Q: Administrators?

A: They're overpaid now, most of them.

Q: What do you think about the Standards of Quality as established by the State Board of Education?

A: I think the intent of the Standards of Quality was good and the results were poor. Too many good teachers became discouraged trying to uphold the requirements losing alot of their valuable classroom time because of all the meetings that they had.

Q: ... competency testing for students?

A: Well I think we need to know whether we are making progress, that its OK.

Q: ... competency testing for teachers?

A: Its OK to test teachers.

Q: ... competency testing for administrators?

A: OK to test administrators.

Q: What characteristics are associated with effective schools?

A: I think an effective school has to have high morals. The teachers have to have morale that is high. The students morale has to be high. Like in any other activity there should be very few surprises. They should have a line of communication kept open to the principal's office at all times. The principal should be open for suggestions and when he adopts suggestions give credit due where it should be.

Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal? Why?

A: I imagine one that I broke up a sit down strike. I later found out that one of the teachers --this was done during the period of student protest and one of the teachers thought it was a great thing that the students could stage a strike. I don't think you were one that got hit that time, Barbie. "I don't think I was - what happened to the teacher?" She left.

Q: Did you consider yourself to be a manager of a building or an instructional leader? Explain.

A: Both. I think they're both important. I think again getting back to teaching morale: A teacher walks into a dirty classroom, chairs are disarranged if there's dirt on the floor and the windows are not clean she gets upset and worries herself and the students get upset. On the other hand I think a leader is needed by the teachers for support and reinforcement whenever they have problems. I think that certainly you have to be both in that you have to see that the building is kept as it should be and you have to be available for the teacher to help them in anyway you can.

Q: What was your key to success as a principal?

A: Understanding teachers.

Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?

A: In this country I can't see how you can get away from the Judo Christian code of ethics here in the schools - running the schools. The vast majority of people live by and try to live by the Ten Commandments and I think that is about the only way that we can operate the school in this country. I don't think the teaching of the R......... ist would go very far.

Q: What advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position?

A: Well I would have to tell them that they have to have a thick skin because they're not going to make everybody happy. Any decision you make people will criticize and others will accept, so and another thing you must learn to say no. You cannot be a yes man all the time cause there's a limit to how far you can go.

Q: If you had it to do all over again, would you enter administration on the principal level again?

A: Given the same circumstances that existed at that time I would say yes. But if I had not been caught in the War I doubt whether I would have gone into the teaching profession, period. Well that broke up - I went into the army my second year of college and it broke up the four years behind the other people that were finishing. At the time that I finished jobs were not as easy to come by as they were after the war and if I would of had my degree I probably would have gone into something else.

Q: What were you in college for?

A: Liberal Arts courses.

Q: What had you planned on doing?

A: That was one of the problems. I didn't have a definite plan and as things went on you just kind of followed the crowd.

Q: What changes would you make in the organizational set-up of administrative responsibilities?

A: Are you talking about the whole school system? Just in your administrative responsibilities as a principal. I doubt that I would make any changes. Were there any in the hierarchy above you in administration. To go on and reduce the number of administrators cause every time you add a new administrator you detract from the time that the teacher has in the classroom. Every time you get a new administrator he's going to want to have the teacher send a report in to him or he wants to come over and talk to the teachers. He wants to try to show everybody that he is needed. Quite often the effect distracts from the teacher's classroom time.

Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities that would better prepare candidates?

A: I would say teach practical things. Fewer theories. courses I took. Probably the first one was some kind that was almost a repeat of the same thing in one way take 10 or 12 of those courses you've had about 10 or psychology certainly was important but too much of it waste of time because you're repeating over and over. I remember the number of educational of psychology and every course after or the other so that by the time you 12 of the same thing. Some of this was -- too many of the classes was a

Q: Did you feel that central office policies prevented you from accomplishing goals that you felt could have otherwise been obtained?

A: Well my complaint about the central office is they took up the time and energy of the school personnel quite often and my philosophy as I said before was to try to make a situation where the teacher can have as much time as possible in the classroom.

Q: What consumed the majority of your time?

A: Reports and discipline - parent conferences. Well it would vary each day. have any problems and some days you have more than you want. Some days you wouldn't.

Q: What would you like to have spent more time on but other responsibilities prevented you from doing so?

A: Well I always like to be in contact with kids and I liked to supervise them wherever they may be. Loved to go in occasionally and teach a class. You can go in and in 1 or 2 days. You can teach a class you can really have a terrific swing with the kids not like that old 180 day grind.

Q: Over the past decade, there seems to be a "slippage" in the human relations training which went into administrative preparation. Do you feel we need to begin again to re-emphasize changes in leaders, teachers and administrators?

A: I've seen changes come and go and I don't know whether human relations classes in higher learning situations are the answer. I don't know I've been out and I don't exactly see the slippage probably that you are referring to.

Q: What would you consider the five (5) most pleasant principalship activities?

A: Oh, I loved the conferences with students. I liked to teach a class occasionally. I loved to see that all activities in the school are going as they should.

Q: ... five (5) most unpleasant?

A: Well, your reports - handing out regulations and memos from the central office. Sometimes of course you can have a very unpleasant parent conference.

Q: Why did you retire?

A: Well another reason - one would be that my health isn't everything it should be. Another being you can make more or just as much money retired than working. So why work. Another reason is the school systems had become too dependent on regulations from Federal government and State government and so forth and so on that schools as I said you can no longer do your own thing. There's so many regulations you have to abide by.

Q: Since you have retired, what have you missed? ... not missed?

A: I think I would reword that. I don't think I've missed anything. I think certainly since I've retired my lifestyle has completely changed again. I do just what I want to I don't have the stress, I don't have to meet quotas or deadlines or any thing of this nature unless I set them up myself and quite often I will get up things to do during the day. If I don't make them that's OK.

Q: What are some characteristics of a superintendent which you found most effective for allowing you the most leeway in operating your own school?

A: I think the superintendent would be one again like I said the characteristics of a good principal would be one that has had alot of experience in the classroom and he would be one that could walk into a school and see if the morale was high or morale was low. If morale was high why bother, if not he should make corrections.

Q: Did you ever have a desire to be a superintendent?

A: NO!

Q: Please describe the most effective assistant principal you have had? What were their qualities?

A: Well I think the one that had the most experience in schools and classrooms again would be the one that would be the most effective assistant principal.

Q: ... most ineffective assistant principal? ... choice in selection?

A: Very little -- came down from the central office -- didn't like it -- made the best of a bad situation.

Q: Are concerned about education's future?

A: I am -- I am and there are so many factors that are interfering with education when you read in the paper that half the law students at UVA are on cocaine and you see the moral breakdown of society on TV for all kids to see the problems that big cities have and it won't be long before they'll be with us and its bound to make educating children much more difficult.

Q: What would you like to see changed today?

A: Well I was reading the other day that someone has decided possibly it to be a good thing to have children from grade K-high school in the same environment, same building and I can't help but think that that would be a better situation because one of the problems of students today is that they are self centered, they don't react with different age groups, they don't feel any responsibility to anyone or anything. I know that schools have been set up and in different grade levels mostly for the administrators benefit - its easier to administrate and pay your teachers for but I still think we've lost all that we did change from the high school with all grades from the high school that we have today. I would certainly advise anyone not to build a school that would hold more than 700 students. I see that Shenandoah County is talking about building a big comprehensive high school. I think they'd be better off building 2 small schools because too much is lost in a large school.

Q: Do you see us becoming a 2 school system or just building a bigger building because you know we're growing?

A: You're growing - 1000 students is probably the top 1400. I'd much rather see 2 buildings rather than students in a building that just blows everything. I would like to see all the students happy all the they wanted for the activities - All the taxpayers wonderful. "Wave the magic wand right." Wave the limit. Much more than that could - 1200 or one large building. Certainly getting 2000 teachers happy - Everybody get all the money happily supplying that amount - It would be magic wand.

Q: What do you think are the characteristics of a good teacher?

A: Some of the sam ones that I put forth on the principal. A person that's qualified not only in degrees and things of that nature but qualified a being a human being that's concerned. Someone that is firm but flexible. Somebody that understands children and can relate to them. Somebody that enjoys students and working with them and somebody that has time for the students. When you go into teaching you should understand that it is not an 8 hour day. It is a much longer period the teacher who runs over the students getting out when the dismissal bell rings usually is not the best teacher. She is somebody just putting in an 8 hour day and that's that.

Q: How do you help the person who started out like you say - the caring person who is willing to share and is flexible and firm and all these things who comes in here day in and day out and as time progresses as systems are starts to see it as the 8 hour job or starts to see it as I want to get to my retirement. How do you get that person back?

A: That's a pretty good question. I don't think you can do it without maybe a change of administration. Sometimes the same old routine, same old activities and what not will result in boredom as you say will slow the teacher down and change her.

Q: Do you think administrators should be changed perhaps every so many years or on some kind of cycle?

A: I think most of us can get in a rut and administrators are no exceptions - we can do the same old thing year after year - it becomes tiresome, boring to teachers and to students - of course you change students every year but if you do the same old thing over and over they get bored. You have to have something new for them.

Q: On the evaluation procedures it seems like you're the principal, you evaluate me and you are evaluated from someone here on up, but the person who knows whether you are doing your job or not is the person underneath you. Do you think maybe evaluation procedures should go in both directions?

A: What do you mean?

Q: For example have the students evaluate me and everyone realizes that you're not going to please everyone.

A: I think that the students in the class could make a better evaluation then anyone. As I said when an administrator walks into a classroom the whole atmosphere of the classroom changes. We have a different situation and the students are there everyday of course as you said you'll always have some clown who is going to try to show off, try to embarrass somebody. Yes, I think a student evaluation would be very valuable.

Q: What advise do you have for us as perspective principals or assistant principals or people working towards a masters degree in administration as far as seeking that goal - what advice would you give us?

A: Well I think its an excellent thing to have the masters behind you for a number of reasons. You'll never know when an opportunity may appear and if you have that masters degree you'll step right into that principalship or assistant principalship job and my advise would be by all means get it and get it as soon as possible, especially at your ages.

Q: Do you think school systems are very political in nature? and why? How do we survive in that?

A: Certainly they're political, you just don't rock the boat too much, I reckon.

Q: Did you feel that you rocked the boat?

A: At times -not always. I usually had mind to live with what may come up the road and I never had any real big problem with any political situation.

Q: Did you ever do anything to a school board member's child? Any repercussions from that?

A: Oh yes, 10 or 15 years later the people decided I did the right thing. Did they tell you that? After the child had gone out and thrown his life away more or less.

Q: I bet that's a neat feeling when people come back after so many years and thank you for doing what you did.

A: Yes, that's the nice thing about teaching. You do meet people who are appreciative of the effort you made toward their behalf and quite often will give credit where credit is due that always makes us feel better.

Q: In listening to you the primary thing that comes out is your concern for the students and that students are number one which I believe is what school is all about and the teachers are next. One of the things I think I'm concerned about now is keeping all of these students in school and devising new programs such as alternative education and this type of thing -- do you think this is the direction to go or should we fall back on some of the old methods?

A: Well I think that a number of students reach their educational plateau by 12 years of age and they -- I don't care what you do for them you're not going to do a whole lot and personally I feel that those children would be much better off to be put out in an apprentice system where they could learn how to make a living and to become self reliant rather than try to keep them in a school room where they are frustrated and frustrate the teacher and so forth and so on. I know that public education is dedicated to teaching all children but there are some of them that a certain level of -- they cannot -- have no desire and probably don't have the ability to advance further and why torture them by keeping them in class another 4 or 5 years and upset the whole school system in the process.

Q: That upsets other students, teachers, administrators and gives you other problems to deal with, but..... from the administration at the central office level they're looking for alternatives to keep them off the street or to give them something to do and school has taken this role.

A: Yes, turning them out to stand on the street and create a problem there of course its wrong but its wrong too to put them in the situation where they're going to be disruptive to the education of other people. I don't know whether alternative education is necessarily the full answer because they don't seem to fit in there too well either.

Q: At this point Mr. Pond was very restless and eager to get on his way.

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