It is March 17, 1995 and we're sitting in Mr. James Pearson's kitchen early on a beautiful spring morning.
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Q: Mr. Pearson, would you begin by telling us about your family background?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I'm one of five children. I have one brother, or rather two brothers and two sisters. I went to school in Brunswick County, elementary school and high school. I finished high school in '53 and entered into the U. S. Navy and served until 1958 and got out of service and worked for a couple of years and enrolled in St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Virginia where I pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Education. And when I completed my college work in '64, I received employment from the public schools in Halifax County where I worked one year in Halifax County. At that particular time I got married and moved into Pittsylvania County with my wife during the '66 year where I was employed at the Northside elementary part of the school, because it was a high school and elementary school combined. And I was employed there for one year as a teacher. And it was during the time that integration came into play, so I was asked to go to Gretna Elementary School where I agreed to. I taught at Gretna Elementary School as a teacher for five years. In 1970 upon completion of the Master's program at the University of Virginia in administration and supervision, I was transferred to the Mount Airy Elementary School, which was a K-3 school, as Principal, and I served at the Mount Airy Elementary School for four years. At the end of the fourth year, I was transferred to the Central Elementary School in Chatham, Virginia as Principal there, which was a full 1-7 school along with special education. And I served as Principal of the Central Elementary School in Chatham, Virginia for 13 years, at which time I was encouraged to submit applications to, an application to come into the Franklin County school system. And I did and received an appointment here with Franklin County Public Schools to be Principal at the Henry Elementary School where I served there for three years and upon the opportunity to receive early retirement, which I found to be very beneficial to me, I took the early retirement. And I've been retired going on four years.
Q: So how many years in all did you serve as a teacher?
Q: And as a Principal?
A: Twenty. Twenty years as an administrator.
Q: What motivated you to decide to go into educational administration?
A: I think a friend of mine. I was taking some classes and a friend of mine from, his home was in Danville. He was Principal at the Mount Airy Elementary School. And, of course, he was, his home was in Waycross, Virginia, which is about ten miles from Lawrenceville. And I knew his family. And we knew each other because he was a couple of years ahead of me in high school. And I think, we talked, and I think he convinced me to go into the area of administration, school administration. And the second thing, too, I wanted to pursue the Master's degree. And that's what I did.
Q: How would you characterize your philosophy or your beliefs about education?
A: Coming from a background where my parents were not educated, my mother only went as high as third grade. My father went as high as seventh grade. They stressed education and it was their goal to see that all of her children received a high school education. And then once that occurred, then they did everything they could to help me above the high school education. But, you know, the funds just weren't there because they had other children. And during that time, money was not plentiful. But, I think, through the encouragement of my mother and my father, I think, the stress that they put on the importance of education I think also encouraged me to go ahead and attend. I thought it, at that particular time, because I think you don't realize at that time, at that age, that the need to help other people, and the need and the role that you can play to impact on people's lives. I think that came later.
Q: And did that, that same belief in education translate in your professional work as a classroom teacher?
A: Yes, it did. I considered myself, and I still do, I love teaching because I volunteer now. And I volunteer at Henry a half-day, and I volunteer and I go tutor children at Glade Hill. We have a tutoring program right up here at the church. My wife and myself and my sister-in-law and her husband. I volunteer and go to Sontag and counsel with students who, who may have difficulty both in the academic work in the classroom as well as behavioral problems. I've done some work at the middle school as well. I think, too, if society, if we're going to cure some of the ills within our society, I think we must do everything we can to provide and to teach and give our kids the best possible education we possibly can. I still feel even though I'm retired that I can do a whole lot. And I am doing. I think I'm...making an impact there as well.
Q: How would you describe your philosophy of administration?
A: I, I think the Principal can make a tremendous impact on the educational program of young people. I think his leadership can determine whether or not it's going to be a good program or a mediocre one. I think his leadership will set the stage, both as a role model and as way of thinking. Is reading important in school? Is reading important in young people? Is it important for young people to learn to read? Or do we just pass young people on? My philosophy is that we teach young people to read. We put the emphasis not only on reading but all the subject areas. I just use reading as an example. I think there are some things that we have to make decisions on as an administrator that, what's important in terms of more time in reading and the academic area or more time on the cultural activities. I think we have to make a decision and determine that these basic things that we need in the educational program are more important. And these other, cultural enrichment, they're important, too. But I also feel that the top priority ought to be the academic area.
Q: Would you talk a little bit about your leadership style when it came to working with your staff in your school?
A: I think as a leader, in Franklin County we have what is called site based management. And as I told the staff at Henry, we would try to work together and make decisions as a cooperative group as much as we possibly can do. You will....have the opportunity to, to make decisions in terms of curriculum as long as those (phone)decisions are leading in the way to provide the best educational (phone) program---
Q: We were talking about your management philosophy, and you were talking about site-based management and, and the way you worked with your staff at Henry.
A: Yeah I commend the superintendent and Mr. Decker for moving to site-based management as opposed, whereby the quality in terms of budgetary matters and planning and curriculum improvement, and all, and materials and all from the administrator at the top down to the bottom level of, of teachers. But come(s) a time, and I feel that and I told them, that the decision will have to be made. And that decision will be made by me. We will work cooperatively together until it gets to that point where I will have to step out and say "This is what we're going to do. This is how we're going do it and what not". But as long as we don't get to that point, then we're going to plan, you're going to do the planning, you're going to do the-. The teachers at Henry never, I never did the scheduling. They did. They did the working with the kids, the whole works. They did the planning of the budget, of which, you know, the school board would say now you have X number of dollars. We'd prioritize. You prioritize. What's important? This is number one, is what we want to do. Where do you want to go? O.K., then you take this lump of money and you put it over here as number one. What's number two? I think its great. I think it worked great. Also it give(s) teachers that input and gives them that ownership that they need to be a part of it and feel a part of it. I think it's great.
Q: But you also feel that that system has a limit. Would you describe the point where site-based management, participatory democracy, etc. on a school staff, where does it reach it's outer limit?
A: I think sometimes when you get to a situation, for instance, like I remember we had a situation where, I'm not a duplicating person. I hate it. I'm not a duplicating machine person and I think there are, there was an instance where we had, had the number one priority duplicating machines replaced. And to me I thought that the, the funds could be spent somewhere much better other than the dupli--I didn't consider duplicating machines a number one priority. Therefore, I think at this particular point when we stop using good common sense, I guess, to make the decisions based rather than what's good for me. In other words, always, when we stop putting children first, and I don't consider duplicating sheets as a number one priority as a teaching instrument or a teaching material. Really, I think what has happened is that we teach kids, for example, how to manuscript, you teach kids how to do cursive writing, and then, what do we do? We go right back and you penalize, where they make X's, O's, underline, and you never practice cursive writing. That's why we don't, kids who can't write. Now we do the same thing in, in, I was telling my wife last night, we do the same thing in English. We sit there and teach a child how to speak and write correct sentences, but we have them copy them out of a book. How can you learn to speak correct English copying sentences out of a book? And I think this is where you need, as an administrator, you need to step in. I think this is where site-based management can be, can kind of go astray if you don't, if you're not, if the leadership is not there to provide. And say, "Look, this is where we need to be focused on. And this is where the bulk of our requirements should be pointed".
Q: So, if I understand you correctly, a primary role of a school leader is establishing that focus and helping people keep that focus?
A: Yes, Yes. And then he, and then as a leader, I should do everything I can. And that may require, someone else may say, "Look, have you thought about this?" And I might say, "No, I'd never thought about that. It's a better way." But there is going to ultimately come to that point where the leader of that school is going to have to say, "Look, this is the way it's going to be". When, when you get a situation where you got a 50-50 split in your staff where one say(s), "Look, we don't want to use workbooks. The other say(s) we want to use workbooks." And you can't get an agreement. Again, someone has to make that decision. And that's where your leader comes in.
Q: Would you talk to me a little bit about some of the problems and some of the solutions for motivating staff?
A: Allowing them, well not allowing them, but giving them the responsibility to do scheduling, to say what child needs to go where so long as you don't create a situation where it's going to have a negative impact on the school and the student. But giving them the authority and power to make decisions, I think, is a good motivator. And one of the things that I did also was, I guess, during the opening of school, I would always fix breakfast for the staff. And in between we would cook up a great big pot of pinto beans and somebody else would bring the cornbread, or, fix a brunswick stew. I think that, little things that you can do to show teachers how much you appreciate them is a motivating factor. I think, again, giving them the authority to buy into, and be a part of the decision-making process, I think, motivates, students as well, teachers as well.
Q: On occasion, there will be those teachers who don't see the purpose of that school and who don't work toward a common goal for that school. You might term those people reluctant or recalcitrant. How do you work with staff like that?
A: One of the things that they do here is to have what they call the mentors program whereby an older teacher will sort of mentor with a younger teacher coming in. And I think that it is through this mentoring process sort of that the older teacher takes this younger teacher under his or her wing and sort of guides her along. But as an administrator, though, I think I have every responsibility and use every means that I have at my disposal to help that teacher become a good teacher, a productive member of our staff, both not only in the school but outside of the school at times, in the community which we serve. Too often, the philosophy and the idea of, of using evaluation to get rid of teachers has caused a lot of negative feelings, has caused a lot of hardship. Evaluation instruments should be used to improve. And for that purpose. Just like you give a test to a kid to determine not only whether a kid has mastered, but more importantly how well have you taught what you were supposed to teach. The same truth should be about evaluating teachers. You're going to have a teacher who is, who is not doing and not working out, it may come through conferences. It may also come through the teacher visiting another school. We've had that situation, also, where a teacher would spend a half a day with another teacher of the same grade level and vice versa in another school. We've had a situation where on staff there was a mentor that that teacher would, I would go in and take a class where that teacher goes down to observe that beginning teacher. And then we'd sit and conference. I think ...by the administrator. And I think one of the things you make that teacher, don't make the teacher feel alienated. As if you're out to get, but sort of bring the teacher in under your wing. I think many, that occurred, I think in a situation, I think, last year. There was a young lady that came out and I, I'm not sure if anyone did that with that person. And as a result, the person ended up not being re-employed. But someone should have taken that kid under the wing and should have sort of mentored her. And I think had that happened, I think, that that person would still have been, been employed. But---(pause)
Q: And, if you take those measures with a teacher and that teacher still doesn't seem to improve, then what should happen?
A: Then I think that you're at that point where you have to take a hard look. You have to start, you have to come to the decision through your people in your central office that I've done this, I've done that, I've done this. The documentation is there for you. This is what you, you do and you did, that you've done everything that you possibly can. The probation period is also there. So that when you've done everything that you can within that probation period and you still feel that you have not accomplished what you've set out to do in terms of making and helping that teacher, then I think you have to make a decision in terms of whether or not you want to renew at that point. There have been situations, and I've had situations where you have worked with that teacher, and you are, you see that that teacher has moved from a negative or mediocre to a situation where it showed promise and you moved beyond the probation period, then all of a sudden you find yourself, "Now, wait a minute now. Did I do the right thing?" So I think at that point the documentation process began. That's that instrument that you use then to sort of correct the decision, or to follow on through with what you've already determined, whether it's dismissal or whatever.
Q: And once that teacher has achieved tenure, now how does that process change when you're working with a tenured teacher?
A: When this process, when you're working with a tenured teacher, you still, we evaluate every teacher and our instruments are in certain steps that you must take. And there is a timeline that you must follow in, in the evaluation process. You still, as a leader, must do everything that you can do to help that teacher improve. That should be your main focus. And at the same time, there are situations where that you have done everything humanly possible, and what I mean, I'm back to again, that if you send the teacher, you can, to workshops, conferences, mentoring, the Executive Director of Elementary Education, the superintendent. And you can go in-county, out-of-county for workshops. You can sit down and recommend courses that they take. There are good people who you know in terms of, of people like Virginia Tech or University of Virginia that you may know, you can go to the school board or superintendent, and have, you know, in other words, do everything that you possibly can do to help that teacher improve. And when that teacher, when you've done that and that teacher still has not improved, then you must go through your evaluation process, you must document. And by the way, you have to document everything you've done. A record should be kept of everything that you've done. And everything should be, should be always up front with that teacher. That teacher should know everything that you do, why you're doing it, and the purpose of what you're doing. And at that point then where you must make a decision that I'm going to document. And I think the teacher has that right to know that this is what you're doing. That you have tried everything you can and she has not improved and at this point then you ought to documenting for her, which may lead to possible dismissal. I think she has that right to know. And then you follow through. If you don't document it, you're in trouble. You're in trouble if you don't and I've seen that to happen. I had a teacher on staff when I was on staff in Pittsylvania County, had thirty-seven years of teaching experience. And we started the documentation process, and what was, we were getting complaints from parents over the teacher mistreating the kids. And so we began to let that teacher know. We gave her a copy of everything. We called her in for conferences. And every time we got a complaint or a letter, and everything was started, we started putting in writing and we started pulling in, we brought in the elementary supervisor. We brought in the Director of Personnel or the Assistant Superintendent. We brought everybody from the school board into the process. We started the documentation process. And we recommended to that teacher that "It'll will be the best thing for you to do to resign," retire, really because she was at that age where she could retire. And the teacher did retire. And I think she was living in North Carolina. She just moved on back to North Carolina, but, that solved that problem.
Q: So could you summarize for me some of the strengths and some weaknesses of the tenure system?
A: I, weakness, I think maybe. Sometime we can get to the situation, and I've seen this done, whereby once a teacher attains tenure, they become complacent. And I've seen that to happen, and if that teacher is under a weak administrator, then there are problems. I think everyone, I think the myth about the whole evaluation system needs to be worked on in terms of making people more aware of the purpose of evaluation. When we see the sign, "evaluation", we sort of, we're looking at a negative thing. And I think teachers still look at that today. When you talk about evaluation, they get that negative sign and it's, it's not negative. But it's a way to improve. And I think maybe we need to do a better, in terms of teaching people that it is an instrument of improvement. I remember when that thing first came out from the state. I mean it was the biggest mess in terms of people who, in terms of thinking about this is another way to get rid of people. And I'm, I still think that we, I was in Pittsylvania County when that came out from the state. I still think, I don't believe they did a good job in explaining it to teachers in terms of the purpose of the reform. And I still see some things even as a Principal when I came here also that, that that myth was still there. I've never feared an instrument of evaluation. If you know that I'm doing something wrong, you tell me and I will correct it. And if I don't correct it, then you give me the help. And then when I move to that point, then I expect to be-. That was my philosophy. My philosophy is that I'm hired, I was hired to run Henry. The superintendent was not hired to make the decisions there. He hired me, the school board hired me to do that. Now the superintendent was there when I needed help, when I needed his help and other help. And then they were there for me as well. And we would sit down and we would go over my record with Mr. Decker. We would sit down and go over in terms of what my strength was and where my weaknesses were. And we would plan an improvement plan from that point on. And when he came back, I'd say, I'm one of these people, like Joe Gann was there before I was. And, and when I went there Joe and I walked around and he was telling me things, he said "Well, here's the kind of person Mr. Gereau is. If comes down and there's a lid off a trash can, and he comes here, he'd say, 'Next time I come down I want to see that lid on that trash can. Make sure that lid-'" Well that told me a lot about the superintendent that I was about to serve under. So I would be stupid, do you understand what I'm saying, I would be stupid to, to let--You, you eliminate a lot of problems by going ahead and doing, not only that, but you're a professional. You're a professional. Be like the professional. Make professional decisions. You don't make stupid decisions. There are going to be times when you might make a mistake. We, we, we're human. But you learn from that mistake and you then you keep on going. You don't...
Q: Would you talk about your relationship with the Central Office in those school divisions in which you worked in terms of how much direction there was from Central Office on how you ran your school or, or how you used the central office for support and that kind of thing?
A: One of the good things, I think, which every administrator needs, the assurance from Central Office that this, you have been appointed Principal of this school. I think that Central Office, a good Central Office will allow you the flexibility to run your school. I think it will allow you the flexibility in that if there becomes a problem, then you go to them for help, because you have people within that area, Supervisor of Elementary Education, Supervisor of Transportation, Supervisor of Maintenance, and so forth. You have all, you have access to all of these, even the Superintendent himself. And then there are situations where they may come up that you will allow, you will notify the Superintendent to make him aware of things in the event that, for instance, if a parent does not like a decision that you've made in term of putting a child off the bus, a lot of parents today will sometimes bypass the Principal, or they will not come to the Director of Transportation, or whatever, they'll go directly to the Superintendent. So I think as an administrator, you need to make him aware. I would rather be aware of some things than for those things to drop in my lap, you see. And I think also that in, in Pittsylvania County we rarely saw the Superintendent or members of his cabinet. In Franklin County the Superintendent made it a point to visit you at the beginning of school, and Christmas, and during the end of school to visit the children and all. And then periodically, you will see him coming in and walking in and what not, and walking around and what not, which he made himself visible. And asking you...do you need anything? I think that made the Principal more secure and it also made them feel good. To see that he had that person down if him needed him, or whatever the decision was, whether the plant decision, whether it was a teacher decision, or whether it was a community problem, or whatever, not necessarily a community problem. But then there are situations where your staff will feed in to the, because of the way we're set up here, we set up a Superintendent's Advisory Committee, and so, that's another sit---whereby that person, you have to work with that person because that person will then go, there were a couple of situations where the person that went, perhaps passed on some information that maybe should not have been passed out in there. But I think as a leader of a school, you have that responsibility to run your school. You sort of have over here that school board or Superintendent's office and his staff to help you to do a better job, and one to give you that support that you need.
Q: In what ways is the Principal of a school held accountable to Central Office?
A: I'm going to talk about me. As a Principal I was help accountable for every aspect of that school, the total operation of that school, from school grounds, school lunch program. The key and the most important part of that whole process is the educational curriculum, the education program. We do a lot of using of test scores to look at and to, the accountability. I'm held accountable for them. As Principal of that school, I'm held accountable for them, trying to do everything I can to bring, to bring the test scores up. Let me make something clear. I don't believe that teaching to the test, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is use the test as one instrument for improvement. Use the test as an instrument for making decisions in terms of where to put the main focus, and what not. I think that if you teach children how to add, subtract, multiply, I don't think you have to worry about the test results. They will come up. But I think you need to teach kids how to do these things. The test scores will take care of themselves.
Q: Would you talk a little bit about the process of recruiting and selecting personnel, hiring your staff:?
A: I've done it both ways. I'm done whereby the Principal played pretty much the main role. And I've done it through the process when I came here whereby a committee was set up and that committee consists of the Assistant Superintendent of Personnel, in the case of elementary education, the Supervisor, Director, we don't call it the Supervisor here. We call it the Director of Education here, Ed Decker. And in some cases, the Superintendent, it depends on. When I was, came in for an interview, I was interviewed by Mr. Gereau, Mr. Decker, and Mrs., no Mr. Decker wasn't here at that time. He came in about the same time I did. But I was interviewed by Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Gereau, were the two people. I've interviewed for people on a committee, for elementary people, say in Henry. And there were four people there that did the interviewing. I understand now that they have gone and changed that process. They would not hire anyone unless that person has come to Henry and talked to me. And through that process, I would observe and through talking and what not, help me get a pretty--. That's not to mean that you don't make mistakes there, because you do. A teacher's performance in a classroom can't be measured talking with her, sitting in an office. In Pittsylvania County, we would call in and say, "I'm going to need a teacher", and then the process, someone was sent to you. And that was the, sort of, the process. It never did get to that point where the Superintendent and other people were involved, I, I like the process that we use here more so than what I did down there. Because you do have other people involved with it and they can see some things that perhaps you can't. And then you've got people who have, who are, more experience than you have. So they have picked up on things back down the road that maybe you never thought of that they can make you aware of through that, that team.
Q: Would you walk us through your building? Would you describe your last school for us?
A: Henry Elementary, Henry, Virginia. Located in the southeastern part of Franklin County very close to the Henry County line. Rural area, very rural. The majority of the population are white. Out of an enrollment, when I went there about 165 I think, we had about 12 blacks. You would say that it was sort of a community with people who live in the mountains. But at the same time, they were very loyal, dedicated people. They supported you 100%. I think someone mentioned to me, in fact the Superintendent mentioned to me that, you know we were sort of leery of putting you down here. I said, "Why?" "Because of the make-of the community, we did not know whether or not they were going to accept-", I was the first black Principal there. Now Mr. Goode had taught there...But I know too that the best PR that you can use is the kids. So I sort of had the ability to, I knew all my kids by name. I made it a point. And I made it a point that when I, my first year there during the beginning of school at Business Day, to stand in the lobby to greet and meet everybody that came in. And I did. And I soon learned every kid. It didn't take me all year. I learned every kid by name. And I would call every kid by name.....I could play with those children, but at the same time, when I speak, in terms of discipline, they knew what I meant. I had the respect of the community. And I think that was one of the things that was most important and critical. They supported me. We were more of a family at Henry to be honest with you. I had a situation where up until that point in Pittsylvania County if we had a black Principal, we had a black secretary. Mrs. DeHart was one of the best, one of a kind. She's quite a lady. The staff itself were great. I had the support of the staff. There were some changes made and those changes were made for the improvement of the educational program. I guess maybe prior to my leaving, we had started the operation of working out a two-tier bus system which Mr. Goode implemented during his first year there. And it's working beautifully now. And what that simply is, you got rid of the middle school and the high school. Because all the buses were coming into your school and all this changing. When you have 10 to 12 buses and kids getting from one bus to another going to the high school, you know, it could be chaos. And riding, coming in the afternoon, you had the same thing going on. That's what John Hollingsworth is dealing with over there. But, more importantly, you had kindergarten, first grade, second grade, all the way up to the fifth grade, riding buses with middle schoolers and high schoolers. And some of the things that were said, just outrageous. So we got rid of that, and not only that, but a lot of the young kids were being jerked around, and you know, thrown across-, and so we got rid of that also. We also accomplished another thing, too, that I thought was good for the morale of the teachers. Prior to that two-tier system, the last bus didn't leave until about 25 minutes to 4. So we'd start a faculty meeting after that. But guess what. Now ...everybody's gone by 3 o'clock. So that was good for morale. Also you got rid of these smart-alecks, the high school kids who were always giving them a hard time. So you got rid of that, so. I think in a nutshell, I think Henry was, is an excellent school. Good people, good situation for any person who'd like to try.
Q: During your educational career, you have served during the period of school integration.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what kinds things have changed or haven't changed as a result of school integration?
A: I was in a situation that, I think one of the things that helped me more than anything else was my military service because I was in a situation for four years and I was stationed in Rhode Island. And I was stationed on a ship, and that ship had about 8, 900, close to a thousand people, and on a ship, you don't have room, a spacious room. It's very close. And the people that you are in with, the department, those people, you, you become very close with those people. I remember us having one racial incident and the guy was from Martinsville. And the guys had come back off of, off of liberty. And the guy called one of the guys a "nigger" and when he did it, he hit him. Then that guy was transferred off of our ship. But that was the only incident that I can recall. So my ability to adjust to, because I came up and born at the time when I used to come back from Rhode Island. When I got into Washington and started south, then I would no longer sit where I wanted to. I had to sit in the back. And if I wanted to go to a restaurant in the bus station, I had to go around to the side marked "Colored" so that was quite an adjustment, but at the same time, you did make the adjustment. When I got into Pittsylvania County and they asked me, because Northside at that time was an all black school. And across the other side of 29 was Gretna Elementary, was all white. And I shall, shall never forget that Mr. Hagberg, who was Assistant Superintendent there, came to me and asked me if I would go over because they were looking for people, black teachers to go over to-. Well, I never realized what, I never thought about what waited for me. Because I, I really never thought about it other than someone had asked me and thought enough of me to ask me to do this. And I knew, I respected Mr. Hagberg a lot, quite a bit. And when I went there, I was the only black there. Of all of the 3 or 4 hundred people there, I was the only black, but once again it didn't bother me because of the military service and my experience in the military service that I've had with people. And in fact I did an excellent job I thought. I've always considered myself an excellent teacher. In fact I used to get comments from the people that, I taught seventh grade, and I taught all seventh grade math, the three sections that we were in. And the people at the middle school used to send word or tell me how well my children were prepared mathematically. And I, like I said before, I'm the type of person that when I'm assigned to something, I'm going to give it my best shot. I don't believe in a lot of foolishness, even when I tutor children. I work with a kid up at Glade Hill and he wanted to play, so I told my wife, "You take him. I don't have time for playing". And I don't. Life is too short for that. And he did not want to learn, then someone else I can help. And I think, I never the had the problem in all my teaching at Nor-, at Gretna Elementary, I taught there for five years before I was moved to my first principalship. And I remember we were talking about something on slavery, because during that time, that Virginia history book- (pause )
Q: That seventh grade history book.
A: Yes, and I remember, in fact it was Dr. Barnes, he was a doctor, his son, and I guess maybe he was trying to be more of a smart-aleck. He asked me, said, "Did you come from Africa? That's where you came from"....and I guess my comments to him were, "No, I was born here in the United States." And I made, a citizen of this country. That's the only incident that I can recall ever having in my experience. The teachers there, Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Feagans who were paired with me were great. They were great. I think Mrs. Anderson is still living in Gretna. Joel Shelton was the Principal there. He's still, he's the Supervisor of Secondary Education in the school system. So he's at Central Office down there now. He was a great Principal. And I learned a lot under him. There was five good years of experience for me. And I told him so when I left. And I thanked him for that. But I think a lot of it has to do too with, I think, the way you carry yourself. I think if you, if I had of walked in other than a professional person and, and I, I had to learn because of my background was in Business Education. My whole training was in secondary education. I've never taught secondary. My whole training in the Master's program and the CAGS out of Virginia Tech has been in secondary. I've never set foot in a secondary school other that to go in. And my whole work has been in elementary. And I've loved it. In fact , my wife was in Business Education because we were in the same things. She taught Business Education at Northside, I guess, for a few years and Michelle was born and she's taught elementary school since. She's the same way I am. That we both love elementary education and working with the kids in the elementary level. I think you can see more of what you're trying to do at the elementary level than I think you can at the high school level. And then maybe a secondary person would look at it differently. But that's the way I look at it. I, I never had a, a situation in terms of a negative response to blacks or vice versa during my five years at , parents have been different. Parents are a different story.
Q: During that period I was beginning my teaching career in the early '70's when schools were going into full integration beyond the Freedom of Choice and those other systems. There were a number of black administrators that I knew who had had their own schools before integration and became Assistant Principals as a result of integration. Did you run into ceilings, job ceilings on what a black administrator could accomplish, for example, after integration?
A: I ran into that situation right after I , we saw a lot of it in Pittsylvania County. First the Chatham High School, that was,... I was in that area in Pittsylvania County. There was always a white Principal at Chatham High. There was an Assistant Principal who was at Northside High School when I was there, Walter Keyes, who taught French. Very well, very respected man in Pittsylvania County, but when he went during that integration process, he was made Assistant Principal to the Principal at Chatham High. He never was elevated to full principalship at Chatham High. But when you listen to parents, he was the one that ran the school, that they would go to, and that they could sit down and talk to and feel comfortable with in terms of whether it was discipline, or whatever the problem was. Chatham High School now has a Principal, lady, black, Ruth Stills. The finally made him Principal of Dan River High School and of course he served over at Dan River High School until he retired. There were a lot of, in fact, you know, the conversation at that point in time, people talk about that people were good full principalships until integration and then they became Assistant Principals. I never, I never experienced that. One thing I told Mr. Gereau when I was interviewing with him that I don't feel comfortable with an assistant. I feel comfortable in running a school by myself. I think sometime maybe it can be good if you got a good one, but sometimes I think it can also be...cause you more problems than they can-. And if I'm going to make, if I'm going to make a decision I don't want anybody second guessing me. There are situations and I know of situations where, especially with a black-white situation they have a tendency to have, you know, white people go to the white person, and see that's not a good situation. And I think you can accomplish more in working with people because perception of people, of black people, I think people have learned a lot of things. And I think dealing with my experience I tend to think people are, despite what they may have heard about black people, I think when you get to that point where you have people going on from the community to the Superintendent saying "Don't move him." Because that was rumor, there were rumors at one time ...a shake-up. And we did have people petition, even the staff...going to the Superintendent and saying "Don't move Mr. Pearson. Let him stay here with us". And I think, you know,......I've had a good experience. I really have, always good.
Q: If a young person were aspiring to enter administration today, what kind of advice would you give them?
A: Be the best Principal you can be.
Q: And how would they do that?
A: Learn the job thoroughly. Always put the kids first. And their interests, which means simply a good educational program. Develop a good relationship with your staff. Be fair. And underline the word, Be fair. Always walk down the middle of the road. Respect yourself first and people respect you. Mean what you say. Say what you mean. And be compassionate. I think you need the compassionate part, also. I just don't think you can walk into a situation unless you can be a person who could feel for people. You've got to have a feel for people. You have to be a person who can sense some of it as you talk to people. And there are times when you need to back up. Because I don't know, it's just like we were talking in Bible Study the other night, a member comes into the church. I don't know what that member, what has transpired prior to that member coming to the church. So I have to be sympathetic. I have to be very compassionate to understand. I can't jump on that person, "You're late. Why are you coming-". I can't jump on every case when a teacher comes in late. What I worry about is the consistency. Because we're all going to be late sometimes. But if you're consistently late, then we're going to talk, to get it straightened out. But if you are late and your baby couldn't find a babysitter, call me and let me know. We'll make arrangements, or what not. So I think you have to be a compassionate person. You can't just go in there-
Q: Can you train someone for the principalship or is a certain amount of that talent?
A: Probably, I think some training can do. I think through training you can help that person to, to learn some things and to avert some things. I think you can show them where the pitfalls, some pitfalls are so when that thing, when that does occur, "O.K. I remember this. This is what he was talking about". Where I would be more concerned that anything else is when you have a person that you can't tell, he won't listen. Then you've got problems, cause no one knows everything. We all can learn something. I think some training can do. But do you know what, I don't feel that any person, whether he's a teacher or a Principal or the superintendent or the presidency or whatever can truly do the job until they get in there. I think 80% of what you learn in a classroom isn't worth a hill of beans when you step in a classroom. That's where the learning process really starts. That's where you need that good supportive staff from Central Office. Because you see a teacher can cause them a lot of problems, too. You've got to spend time when you've got a teacher that every time you turn around a parent is complaining about. And you're on the phone talking to the parent, straightening out a problem, then you've got a problem over here also. And you've got to be concerned about this situation which is not, it's important. But you've lost, you lose focus of why you're truly there. And I think that-- ...that's when you take a lot of aspirin.
Q: Would you talk to me real briefly about the make-up of your workday. How mu-, what part of your work day was spent on this kind of task, and on another kind of task?
A: I'm not a paper person. I'll be honest with you. Mrs. DeHart will tell you the same thing, and Sylvia down at, Sylvia Walker, and...down at Central and Doris Miller down at Mount Airy will tell you the same thing. I hate paperwork. I get it done. But I was always in the halls. I was always in and out of classrooms. See, another thing about evaluating people. I don't believe it can be done by just sitting down with a piece of paper. I think you ought to be evaluating all the time. As you stick your head in a door, you walk by a classroom. I think, I don't think it's fair to set down with a, a teacher can make you see, I think, you can walk into my classroom and say I'm going to evaluate you tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock. Guess what's going to happen. You are going to see the best prepared lesson you ever saw. And I think it's when you, you don't expect me that I'm going to see then and observe if you're teaching a good lesson every day. And I think maybe you're, and not only that, but the kids see you. If you're sitting in your office, they don't know who you are. If you're out there joking with them, and you're playing with them, and at the same time, when you speak, they know that you mean business, then you get, once again you got the PR part working on it. And the kids will go home and tell. That's your best PR in the school are the kids. You play your cards right with kids, I mean, you got the support of the community. They'll support you 100%. I think this is why Mr. Gereau does what he does. When school opens, you can count on him religiously visiting every school and talking to kids, sticking his head in the door, and chatting with the teachers, and everything. At Christmas you're going to see him come around again and at the end of the year- The kids know who he, who the Superintendent is. He's not a stranger. Then don't come say, "Who is that man?" You know, and the same thing is true with a Principal. If you're in your office all the time and you're never outside, you walk down and, "Who is that, who is that man?" They ought to know who you are. They ought to know what you are and what you're about. And you ought to be the role model. Some of these kids don't have anything to look up to. A good Principal, they, that's why I don't particularly care about wearing a shirt that's open collar. I think you always look professional and set that example, and role model. I think we've gotten away from a lot of that...and I think it has caused us problems we've had.
Q: I've asked you a bunch of questions, Mr. Pearson. What haven't I asked you that I should have?
A: (Laugh) Did I enjoy the principalship? Yes, I did. Yes, I did. I enjoy working with the children. I enjoy working with people. I enjoyed making an impact on children's lives. I enjoyed taking a kid, excuse me, a student who comes from a home and start programming into him things that he's going to need as he grows into an adult and becomes a citizen. I enjoy teaching them how to read and see him for the first time light up. We had a kid in kindergarten, came from Texas. That kid came to us already knowing how to count to 300. It's a joy to go down and sit with that young man and, and teach him to improve in reading. His face lights up that he can sound out, make the sound of words that he doesn't know, does not know those words. It's a joy to take a child who comes from a home that you know does not have the proper experiences and start working with him and start, you see him, or her, light up to the point to "O.K., I finally got it". You see, that's a joy. I enjoy providing that role model, not only for black kids, but for those white kids who don't have role models. And that's the kind of society we're leading into. Fewer and fewer role models. Somebody has to do it. I'm only one person but maybe I can make a small impact some kind of way. I don't regret anything that I have done as a Principal. If you'd had asked me back, and I tell, I tell kids that when I do a career workshop or if I'm doing a Black History workshop, or whatever I'm doing to work with kids, I will tell them that if you asked me before I started out what was I going to be. Principal was the farthest thing. I didn't know what a Principal was. But through the process of changing occupations and, and three or four times, this is what I ended up doing and I don't regret a minute of it. Sometimes I (laugh), I guess maybe sometimes I prefer to do, to teach, because that's truly my love is teaching. And sometimes I think maybe we need a few more good teachers than what we have.
Q: So tell me what you're doing with all this free time now that you're retired.
A: You sure you have enough tape? (Laugh) Let me tell you what yesterday was like, and I'll start it off that way. I left out yesterday morning about quarter to nine going to Henry to volunteer for half a day, and, which I did. And I substituted for a teacher to go to a writing assessment workshop yesterday afternoon. I left there about 3 o'clock and went to a, a Board of Directors for the Free Clinic. I left there about 10 minutes to 6 and went to a, a member of our church home that I had agreed to come and sit down and talk with their daughter. On, they, they have sort of gotten a negative response or negative, some negative feedback about church and, therefore, they're sort of drifting away. She wanted me to come by and talk to them to try to get them back on task. So I got back in last night about, I guess about quarter of 9. Today I leave from, I got a meeting at 1:30 and from there to 2:30 I've got a Black History presentation I'm going to do at the middle school at 2:30. Then I'll come back here and at 7 o'clock I've got a rehearsal at church for, we're going to do a Lord's Supper on April seventh, eighth and ninth for the young people. It's a young people's program. Tomorrow I've got a Lion's meeting at 4 o'clock and then I'm scheduled to go over at Second Mount Airy Church for a roast for their pastor at 7 o'clock. Sunday I've got Sunday School, service that I'm presiding over installation service at a , for a new pastor at Snow Creek Missionary Baptist, over at Snow Creek, Virginia. What's my day like? Busy. (Laugh)
Q: Thank you so much for you time.
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