Today is Tuesday, February 28, 1995. This is an interview with Mrs. Jean Philpotts of Martinsville, Virginia. Mrs. Philpotts was a teacher and administrator for 37 years with the Henry County Public Schools.
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Q: Mrs. Philpotts would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interest and development.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Yes, I was born in Henry County and a native of Henry County. I went to school at Fieldale Elementary and I went to school at Fieldale High School. As far as my family, my father was a policeman and my mother worked for the government at the post office. I had one brother and one sister and my family now I have one son, a husband and my son lives in Atlanta and he graduated from Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech and my husband graduated from Virginia Tech.
Q: Would you discuss your college education in preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher, principal and where did you work as an administrator?
A: Yes, I went to Radford College and I started out in Business Administration. The I went into teaching and I got a BA degree in education which is high school education. My major was French, English and Social Studies. When I came out and started teaching I taught in high school at first and when we moved to Bristol, Virginia I taught in the 7th grade so I felt like after I came to Henry County we decided that maybe in my teaching career I enjoyed teaching the smaller children. I went back and got my degree in elementary education. I served 21 years as a teacher and served 16 years as an administrator. I got my Master's Degree in elementary education from the University of Virginia and got my certification for administration from the University of Virginia.
Q: Would you talk about your circumstances surrounding your entry into principalship?
A: One summer one of the superintendents asked me if I would be principal at one of the federal program schools in Henry County and I told him I would. I enjoyed it, I really enjoyed working with the students and working with the teachers. I guess that kind of motivated me into the principalship and he talked me about getting my degree, I already had my degree in elementary education, my Master's Degree in elementary education and so he asked me to get my degree in administration.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education?
A: Yes, my first personal philosophy of education would be that the be sure that the curriculum and concepts and the climate of the school and also the objectives and geared to the learning environment of the student.
Q: What experiences or events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy?
A: I think maybe taking classes. I think getting my Master's Degree in elementary education influenced a lot of my wanting to be into management and I just thought the teachers input after I worked with the a while the teachers wanted me to get into this.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning?
A: I have always thought that an administrator should be seen and not always heard and I felt that it was the best to be on the job early, if it took 6:30 in the morning I was there at 6:30, and if it took 6:00 o'clock at night I was there at 6:00 o'clock at night because if felt like I wanted to get what was to be done during the day finished and I wanted to be on the job early in the morning to get my self started before any body got there.
Q: What kind of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do, and describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal describing the personal and professional characteristics of the good principal?
A: Well I think to be a good principal you got to be a caring person and you've got to love children. I have always thought that all teachers and any body that work with children have got to love children and they had to get along with children and I just felt like that maybe working with and caring for people and especially the teachers. Not only teachers, you got your other people in the building you got your cafeteria you got your janitors, you got your bus drivers you got to take interest in them and if you take interest in them then they take interest in you and they help you with your job.
Q: Would you describe the expectations both professional and personal that were placed upon principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment and how those expectations differ from today's situation?
A: Well when I first became principal I think I noticed more than I had in recent years children with a lot of emotional problems and when I first started out that was not a big thing with me but as I my administrative years went on I could see that a lot of children had a lot of learning problems a lot of emotional problems and we had to deal with that and I think that was one thing that really dealt with and I really wanted to see that their problems were concerned and I did something about it.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and an incident in which your approach failed.
A: Alright I think the things that worked with me most was bringing the teachers into the office and letting them know that I did care what happened to them, that is where the learning takes place is in the classroom and that is where the work is done not in the principals office and I always felt like if there was a problem that the teacher did not need to keep a child in the classroom and I always felt like it was my responsibility to take care of that child, not the secretary but my job and also I did have an incident in which I think an approach that I used did fail and I had to do something that it was something that I did not like to do but I did not feel like the teacher would have worked out in years to come and I had to feel like if this was my child would I like this child in this teachers room and I worked with her all year trying to help her to accomplish before she got her tenure and she looked like to me it was just everything I do it was just a standoff for her she just would not do any thing I would say to help her she looked like she knew more than I did and in administration I felt like that I had to do what I had to do was to let her go and I did not like that.
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: Yes, I've always been a person that every letter I received from the School Board Office or from the central office people I felt like that they were in charge and they knew what was going on and they knew that what was to be done and I always felt that like that I should follow what they said do. I did not have any problems about the responsibilities what they told me to do I always did just once or twice I did question some things but I just felt like it was my job to do what the School Board and school administration told me to do.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: Well, the last time that I was a principal I acted kind of like an acting principal that what I was called an acting principal because the woman that was under me was an intern and I did all I could to advise her of what she would have to do daily and I tried to betray what you had to do daily I came early just like I was the regular principal I stayed late just like the regular principal and I let her do some of the things that I would normally do but I would keep up doing the same thing to because I felt like I needed to show her that what I would and let her have her own view points too but still I that was what I was hired to do was to help her with that.
Q: What advice would you give someone if they wanted to go into the administrative position?
A: Well, I think advice that would give somebody is I would tell them that it is a lonely place up on top it's very lonely up there you could say what you want when it comes down to the nitty gritty of the thing the bucks going to stop with you - you're right up there and if any thing happens to a child, if any thing happens with a teacher its your responsibility to see that it is carried out and so it is very lonely up at the top. But I would give advice to the people that if they love children and if they like to work with other people it is a wonderful profession to get into administration is wonderful to be into.
Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be 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 do feel that the principal is the instructional leader of the school, the curriculum is drawn up they supposed to carry out each six weeks period, go in the classroom and see if the students are learning, see what is on the walls in the halls, see if there portraying things there that you is supposed to be there for see if there is learning going in place. As being a good manager I think you learn in administration there is a lot of things you have to do that you have to manage, you have to manage the buses, you got to manage the cafeteria, you got to manage the janitors, and what ever you got to do you got to do it if it means to fire the boiler you got to do it, it means to go in the cafeteria and work behind the cafeteria line you got to do it, if it means cleaning the toilet you got to do it, so I feel like to be a good manager you are going to have to do all these things.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations.
A: Well, I do believe a principal should be involved in community affairs, I think more of my community affairs was in a church related atmosphere and I also I did take a big part in the organizations that the parents had and I worked just like they did. I wasn't the administrator then if it meant carrying boxes I carried boxes, if it meant getting things out to the kids I gave things to the kids, if it meant getting programs together. I got programs together, I always felt that if I worked with that group of people that they would work with me if I needed them.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations.
A: Well you've got to realize that the parent is real important to the school and you should have parent volunteers and any time a parent wants to you should be able to talk to them. I don't think there was ever a time that I ever told a parent that I would not talk to them. I don't care if it was at night, if it was at midnight or if it was 6 o'clock in the morning. Maybe I was a little bit lenient on going to school early and letting the kids come to school and I would watch after them if the parents had to go to work that wasn't maybe what the teachers liked but I did that but the parental involvement with the school it is very important because most parents that are involved with their children at school the children learn and the parents learn to.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluations.
A: In all of my jobs of being a administrator that was one I did not like. I did not like to evaluate a teacher but I did and I tried to do it as fair as I could and I would go into the classroom and give them notice that I was coming in sometime at least once or twice and I would go at other times when they did not know I was coming and then I would talk to them about their evaluation. Now evaluation to me sometime I wonder am I qualified? I was hoping I was qualified to be the evaluator but and I we have to have evaluations of teachers but sometime I think some principals feel that they are above the teacher and that they can really tell them that they feel they are smarter than the teacher. I always felt like I was kind of like a teacher too and that is the way I wanted to be involved with it. And the evaluation process is one that I did not enjoy doing, but I think it has to be and it is very important because the tenure of the teacher.
Q: A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction.
A: I don't think I ever had a teacher grievance but I did have some that were very dissatisfied with something. You have rules and regulations that you have to follow and sometimes teachers do not like it but still they are in a position that they have to know that they have a job and their job is to benefit the children that they are teaching and that if they are dissatisfied. I feel like if they are dissatisfied they need to do something else. Sometimes I would tell teachers if you are dissatisfied with your job then you need to be doing something else.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the assistant principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel while on the job. Would you describe the most effective assistant principal with whom you had opportunity to serve. What became of this individual?
A: Alright, my view would be the role of the assistant principal would be someone that would help me would work side by side with me. I do not feel like that you as a principal should give the assistant the job as principal but I do feel like also you should show this person what your job is being and what your job is going to be. And the person I would like to describe the most effective assistant principal I had was Mrs. Skinner and she served with me and she did everything that I did and we worked together and Mrs. Skinner now is a principal and a good one.
Q: During the past 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: Well that is going to be according to what you are going to have if you are going to have an assistant principal your school could be a little larger but if you are not going to have an assistant principal you don't need to have a very large school because there is too many duties. Now when I had the 580 some one year by myself I really thought that year I had it. And if I had not had the support that year of the teachers in that school I would not have made it but they were the ones that gave me the support to go on with that but I feel like maybe 300 with out an assistant principal 300, 350 to 400 would be enough for them to do all the jobs that they have to do and be successful and have a good learning environment.
Q: In recent years more and more programs for special groups of students (LD, Gifted and Talented, non-English speaking students) have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard.
A: Well, I feel like you are going to have these classes I have not understood I guess when I was in school the children did not go school that had these problems but we have to have these programs and one reason we have to have the non-English speaking is because we have in this area have a lot of Mexicans here and we have to have somebody to here to teach these children to speak English. My viewpoint, every since I have been a principal, I have had either some of these special classes of course GTs the gifted program is in all the schools but some of the schools do have all the special education programs but at schools that I was in they did have special education programs either speech, LD or EMH. But I feel like these programs have got to be in our schools today because of so many of the kids that have been under the influence or the parents have been under the influence of drugs, they have not, have not the ability to work with the regular classroom and so they are going to have a special program.
Q: Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school system during your early years as principal and give your views on developments in this area since then.
A: During my early years of principal I noticed when the check vouchers came in that I was making less money than a lot of the regular teachers because they had I don't know how but I was and I thought that the principal was supposed to but the learning goes on in the classroom and I felt like at that time I knew that I was just starting out and that course eventually that changed but in the number of hours that I worked and accordance with the number of hours that they worked was a lot different. Also, you know as an administrator you work seven days a week; you don't work five days a week like the teachers you work seven days a week, if something breaks down, if something goes wrong you have to handle it and so there has been a lot done as far as the salary increase because the fact now I think you get increase according to how large the school is and that is what your salary is based on and I think that is great because you have more jobs if you got 550 kids you have more jobs to do than a principal that has 200 students so I feel like its only fair that the principal that has the most students gets the bigger salary.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school. During your tenure, which superintendent did you work for? Would you discuss your general relationship, pro or con, with the Board of Education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general.
A: I worked for two superintendents and both were great superintendents both of them had different ideas different they were different in every respect and I had no problems, no problems at all with either superintendent. I realize that their job is a hard job and I realize that some of the things that maybe I did not feel like that I wanted to do but I knew that they had to do it. Ok with the Board of Education I had no problem with the Board of Education. I mean I was over to the board meetings I had no problems. I liked all the members with the Board of Education. I invited them to the school to eat lunch and I had no problems with the Board of Education and I feel like that their concern was for the education of the children of Henry County and they felt a lot of concern for the teachers of Henry County and also for the other people that worked for the County the non-certificated people.
Q: 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 today's schools, citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now.
A: When I started out as principal I felt like the curriculum at that time was to - I am not saying that it was to hard for the children but there was to much testing and there's got to be some learning going on and you can't teach if you are testing all the time and after the next superintendent came in there wasn't that much testing as far as teachers giving test all the time and I felt like the kids actually were learning more. Maybe the standardized test might not be as high I don't think it was any as far as the first superintendent and the second superintendent there was no difference in the standardized testing but I felt like in the first concepts of the goals of that curriculum was a little bit too much test. Children were taking test, the teachers were giving test this child today and the next day was given to another child and it was just all she was doing was testing green papers she did not have time to teach.
Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with such testing and provide us your views on its effects on the quality of the instructional program.
A: Well, standardized testing I had done a lot work with standardized testing when I was at the first school that I as principal and every time that we would take a standardized test I would take that child and I would write up some objectives for that child where he fell down on his objectives on the standardized test and then I would hand that over to the teacher and teacher would go from there and see what the child and I also would do charts and put them up so that the kids could see from grade level to grade level what they were doing and how their test scores would go up or would go down and would see if they were accomplishing what they were supposed to be doing.
Q: Could you describe your work day. That is, how did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours per week you put in?
A: Alright, I usually got at school at 6:30 or 7:00 and I would leave about 4:30 to 5:00 in the afternoon and the last school I was at I sometimes would stay until 6:00 and I always worked on Saturday morning and sometimes that was because there was a lot of work I had to do that I did not get to done during the week and sometimes I would come back on Sunday afternoon work to get what I had to do that wasn't done during the week and often sometime you had to go down and work when you had to open the building for other activities and so you had to be there for 2 or 3 hours at night so I would say 60 to 70 hours per week.
Q: How did you spend most of your time during the day?
A: Well, I tell you when the buses came in I was out waiting for them because I feel like if a principal is out waiting for the kids, greeting them good morning, that the teacher is going to have a better day, the principal is going to have a better day, and the students are going to have a better day and then if you have any problems on the buses you need to be out there to see the bus drivers then I would go across to the cafeteria to see how breakfast was going see if the students was everything was going along alright for breakfast and greet the cafeteria people and lots of time I would go back in the halls and see if everybody is in the classroom and walk down the halls. I always liked to be seen and so that they would know that I was around and then I would go to my office and see if there was any problems in there and if I had to do work in there I would work in the office; then at lunch time I would go back to the cafeteria and stay another couple of hours to see that everything was going in the cafeteria ok and then by that time it was back to the office for those that had done a few little things bad and correct the problems and any thing else that I had to do and then when it was time for buses I would go outside for the buses.
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them?
A: Ok, I think some of the pressures that every principal has to face is bus problems and I think that was the first thing everyday is the first thing I faced and sometimes I would like to go out the door if you had say 10 buses you going to least have 10 referrals and you have got to deal with these referrals and you have got to keep a count of these referrals and see if it is time they need to be put off the bus and sometime I felt like if you did not have all of these other little things like the buses and the cafeteria and then you got cafeteria problems sometime too that children don't behave in the cafeteria then you have got to go see about this. I think if you don't I always felt like that was to of the pressures I had was the bus and the cafeteria and sometime problems sometimes things go wrong during the day I can remember when I was at Axton one time about 2 months we did not have any water and what did I do, I went to school early in the morning and the maintenance people, great maintenance people, bought water to the school every day. Now the children could not drink the water so we had to have cups and we had to have containers for them to drink out of, they could use the toilets but then after soon I would help with the breakfast we would put the plates on the table for them take their plates out there for them by the time I got through with breakfast then it was time for me to go and help them with lunch. This went on for about 2 months until they got the water situation fixed that was one of the biggest problems I had as far as my administrative job was water problems at one of the schools I had. It took me all day to take care of the water and then you had all your complaints from the parents and then you had your health department, it was somebody all the time the community, the people were there all the time, the State Department was there all the time I did not feel like I was doing my what my job was to the education of the kids but that is one of the jobs is to be sure that they are fed.
Q: Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal?
A: I think that the key my success as a principal was that I did not feel like I was any better than the rest of the teachers. I worked with the teachers and the parents told me that I showed more love and concern for the children than a lot of principals and I did. I mean if it took a hug every morning to some of them to get in the classroom and to do their job and to do their work I did that and I enjoyed doing it and I miss it right now, I miss that personal relationship with the parents, the teachers, the administrative people, the people I worked with outside the School Board office, I really miss that and I miss the kids.
Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship. Which training experiences were least useful?
A: I think the professional training that best prepared me was some of the classes I took I think from UVA was really especially the classes where you took part in them you did the things you did not just sit in the classroom listen to lectures but you participated in it and I think that helped me a lot and I can't say anything in my training that I did not think was least useful I don't remember anything, I think that everything that I did in preparing myself for being a principal was very, very useful.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: Well, I think one thing knowing what is in a book is fine but you have got to be able to understand people and children come in with problems with problems everyday, teachers come in with problems everyday you've got to be an understanding person you got to show people that your care and maybe a course in caring for people or understanding children would be something they could you got to get along with people and if you are going to be an administrator you got to remember that you are not their from 7:30 to 4:00. If you are going to get the job done you are going to have to put the hours in if it means Saturday and Sunday it means Saturday and Sunday and all these little things you can do a lot of little things for teachers that will help them, run their papers off, have them things in their boxes on Monday that they like, give them little things that will help them with their job, I think that helps a lot and those things should be in a course instead of school law school law is fine and it should be given but they need to know these other things to.
Q: Since you have had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.
A: I think my administrative strengths would be that I was a person that was outgoing and I was around the children and the teachers all the time. Maybe my weaknesses would be I tried to keep up with the curriculum but I can't think of any weaknesses and I am sure I have plenty weaknesses. And another strength I think I had was I tried to integrate the cafeteria staff of the teachers and the bus and the other and I guess my weakness would be maybe I did not deal with computers did not care for computers and I should have and I did not like the evaluation of the evaluation part of the teacher.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did, giving your reasons and the mental processes you experienced in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: Yes, to retire at the time I did, my husband had retired he was in the education field to and at the time I retired we felt like we wanted to travel some and our son lived in Atlanta and we wanted to be able to go to Atlanta to see him and the grandchildren when we wanted to and be able to do and go when you wanted to that was the big thing that made me retire. After I did retire I felt like that maybe that I did retire a little too young because I felt like that maybe I had about 3 or 4 more years that I would have enjoyed it because the first day that school started after I retired I had to leave home. I had to be out of the area so I could not see that school bus. And I miss that I really do.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish to pass along to today's principals.
A: I feel that the pros is more than the cons. If you want to work with people especially teachers and people with education and especially children and I think that children is the most important part of your job and it is just a good feeling to be able to work with these people. Alright and also I have not said anything about the services or that we received. I liked working with the janitors. I really did I did not mind going in the summer time I did not mind helping them clean, work in the yard I did not mind doing that because of the fact I felt like that if I worked with them and one of them told me one time I work better if you work with me and he did. I always felt like if you work with people like that then you will get a job better done and it a lot of things in schools that got to be done and if you don't get it done by one person you going to have to do it yourself. Whether it is the secretaries job, because there is a lot of things you have to do that is secretarial and you got to do it. I think I have enjoyed working with people and if you are going to be a principal that is it. Now the cons I you know the evaluation I do not like that and if anybody wants to be a principal today I feel like they better love children and love other people and be able to work hard and a leader in the community and leader in their school because they are the leader of the school the principal is the leader of the school.
Q: Principals are required to set a positive climate for learning in their buildings. Discuss the approaches you utilized to motivate staff members to produce at high levels of quality.
A: Principals are required to set a positive climate for learning their schools. Positive climate is the best way. If you are not positive you are not going to have any one around you that is positive. If you are negative they are going to be negative so you need to anytime you have somebody, anybody on your staff. I don't care whether it is the janitor or cafeteria worker or teacher that is negative all the time you need to get that person changed a little bit, I mean try to do some positive things to them show them you that you could be positive and I think that they will change to. I think for staff members, I always tried to be positive myself and I think that is where you show your positive view points is when you are positive yourself.
Q: Mrs. Philpotts, thank you again for your inspiring comments and honest reflections of your professional career. Present and future students of the College of Education at Virginia Tech will benefit from this material as it will be placed in the university's archives.
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