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Q: Welcome, Mr. Perry. Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Okay, I was the oldest of seven kids3 boys, two girlsand an older girl, the oldest. Mother died when I was ten, so my grandmother and aunt divided the children up, so I grew up in Cambridge, Maryland, which is about 80 miles from here. Went to school at Mason's Lane, and a fabulous high school career, everything was fine. And I got a scholarship to go to Bowie. One of the community organizations decided to send me to Bowie because we were just too poor to go to school at that time. And Bowie, at that time, was a teachers' college. And so I started into teaching. And so I really enjoyed Bowie, and I really enjoyed going to be a teacher, and that's how I got interested in it. MALE: Oretha, could you just pause a little bit before you ask the question so I can just change the shot? Okay.
Q: Now, how long were you a teacher? And how long were you a principal?
A: Oh, that's difficult. I taught for eight years at Fairmont Heights Elementary School. And in that time it was segregated, and so it was a predominantly all-black school, one of the largest black schools in Maryland. I taught there with a principal named Robert Gray. He was an excellent principal. And he encouraged me to get my degree because from graduating from Bowie, after ten years you had to have your degree into something. And so he encouraged me. And after eight years I got my degree and I was promoted as an assistant principal at Concord Elementary. And there I was able to meet a lady who was ahead of her time. Her name was Mrs. Anna Brack. She was the principal; I was assistant principal. And she led me step-by-step through all the things I needed to know. And she stuck with me. And she had a reputation of really working with all assistant principals. And so I taught for eight years, then I was an assistant principal for two years. And after that I became a principal of Silver Hill Elementary School. Then, stayed there seven years. Then became a principal at Park Ridge, which was two separate schools. Then Silver Hill, then (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Woods, and then to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Q: I just wondered, too, what motivated you to really enter the principalship? Or was this just ....
A: No, I had taught fifth grade at Fairmont Heights for eight years. And after about the fifth year, you get tired ... you easily turn to the page, you knew the curriculum so well. And at that time it was debatable in years, and people were going into different fields. And at that time it was very popular to go into counseling. But my principal, William Gray, said, well, administration, too, is open. So I enrolled in a program at the University of Maryland, Administration and Supervision, and I got my masters in supervision. And from then on I felt comfortable that I knew the subject matter, and I felt comfortable being an administrator.
Q: Okay, would you sort of walk us through...take us on a walk in your school, describing the appearance and any unusual features of the building.
A: Yes. When I was an assistant principal under Mrs. Bracken, Anna Bracken, one of the special features she had was right outside the main office. She would set up like a living room sort of, with the sofa, fireplace, different, it was just very comfortable. And she'd said she wanted that to be because in case parents come in you can have a place with them to feel at home. And that was a special feature that I took with me wherever I went. Also in different schools, another special feature I thought was I always wanted my reading teacher to have a reading board because it was a plus for me to be able to look at the board and determine where each child was at any day. And that was a plus, and was different.
Q: Okay. I just wondered, can you describe your personal philosophy of education? And how did it evolve over the years?
A: Yes. My personal philosophy simply is that I believe that every child can learn. And I really learned that from Dr. Murphy because he came several years ago as superintendent of Prince George's County. And he started that philosophy: every child, regardless of what economic background the child came from, that child could learn. And if the child doesn't learn, it's the staff's responsibility to find out why. And I really, really believe in that. And once you believe in it, and get your staff to believe in it, it becomes fun to find ways to reach every child. And that's my philosophy.
Q: And along with that, could you describe your instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it was developed and evolved over time?
A: Okay. One of the things that I feel, I really believe that the principal is the school master. That principal needs to know the curriculum. And how each subject should be taught. So I really put a lot of time on getting to know the curriculum, what should be taught in each grade, how it should be taught. And so when I went in to observe a class, we could...we really could talk as partners because I knew what should have been going on. And the teacher knew that I knew. I think also that the principal should be a person who would take any class, demonstrate a lesson, in fact have a class of his or her own, and teach subjects. I really think that.
Q: Okay. What experiences or events in your professional life influence your management philosophy?
A: Right. There were...one of the things in working in Prince George's County is that many, many programs come here. And I was involved with a program when I was principal at Silver Hill; it was called STEPS or STARS. STARS and STEPS. And it looked at a child's schedule for that day, and we found that some students come to school at nine and then go right to resource, then to speech, then to music, then to P.E., then the library. And when you look at the total day, they spend less than an hour with their regular classroom teacher. So if you look at that, if you realize that organizations have to organize because you need to know where your kids are, who's seeing them, what are they missing, what can be coordinated. And working with STARS, I learned how to organize a child so that there would be team people responsible for things. I found one child that we were ready to grade him, and nobody knew what reading grade he should have, what math, and because we didn't coordinate it. So I think one of the things that has helped me was the that different programs that the county offered, and I tried to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Q: Okay. Let me say that Prince George's County is really into climate, looking through climates these days. I wondered what techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? And would you describe what is successful and/or any unsuccessful experiences that you had in climate building in which you were advised.
A: Okay, climate makes me think of a program started by Dr. Murphy with the effective schools. And climate in effect (UNINTELLIGIBLE) learning environment was one of the coordinates. There were several different coordinates: safe and environment school and the difference. But with the climate of the school, that is really key because it has to be a safe, quiet, calm environment where kids can learn and feel safe. And so from this effective school program, and looking at all the coordinatesthe seven different coordinatesit's very good to take that effective school test and find out what are the concerns of the staff, the student body, and work to improve the climate. Now the climate I wanted was I wanted the parents to feel very comfortable to come in to ask me anything that was on their minds. It did not matter how insignificant someone else thought, as long as it was a concern for those parents I wanted to hear it and I could deal with it. And if it was a question to them, then I wanted to be able to answer it. So my climate was to feel free, and open-door policy, to call me, to come in and ask me whatever you wanted to ask, and I'll have the answer for you. Or I would work on getting the answer. The other part about climate is that many people don't know that in Prince George's County there is an instructional guideline booklet. And in that booklet it tells you almost everything to do in case there are concerns or problems. And when there was a concern, go to that book first and see what the county suggests. And you don't have to make a decision right away, but that book gives you a general idea, common sensical idea as to what you should do. And almost every situation is covered.
A: I do think that some teachers expect the principal to be a good disciplinarian, be able to supply all the equipment and materials in the school, be a good leader, to be a good this and that. But my personal opinion is, and how I tried to operate was that I made the teachers feel as though that we were a team. It was not my school, it was our school. And so our school meant the principal, the teachers, the staff, the parents. And so the three of us could join together and work together, then there was no principalship, really. It was a team. And so many of the decisions were from the team. Now I did (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I worked hard to make sure that...one of the things you have to do is set up the philosophy. I wanted the staff, whatever decision was made, to make sure that it included all kids. I wouldn't want something to happen for one set of kids that would deprive another set. So everything had to be for all the kids. And so it worked pretty good, when you see them as a team member rather than as a subordinate.
Q: So you think a good principal would emphasize teams.
A: Right. And it would make sure that it's not my school, it is really our school.
Q: Okay. So you would get everyone to buy into it.
A: Into that, yes.
Q: Okay, now as you discuss your expectations, would you talk about professional and personal types of things that employers used to ask of you? And what did the community expect of principals at that time that you were principal?
A: Okay. I expected each teacher to be a competent person. You needed to know how to teach reading, how to teach math, how to do a lot of things. As parents though, I wanted them to see me as a person who, too, knew how to do all of those things. And so I didn't quite understand your second part....
Q: Did you...what did the community want you to do as principal? And what did the Board of Education want you to do as ....
A: Okay, in the community I thought, they wanted someone they could come to with their concerns, their suggestions, whatever. I was always open for that. The Board of Educated wanted you to implement all of the policies that they had forwarded to you At that time, there were not many demands, I didn't think, that you couldn't do. I thought those could be managed. I do think a good principal, or an effective principal, has to have some kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fields. You've got to be able to look at it and within minutes to answer, the papers that come in could tie you up for a long time. It so happens I was good at it. I knew how to answer the questions and get it out of the way. And I spent a lot of time in the classroom rather than writing reports.
Q: Now how do you think the expectations then differ from today?
A: I think the problems of today are much greater than let's say ten years ago. I know a talented and gifted school and truly talented and gifted kids who came to school to learn with a minimum amount of problems. I just don't think that is altogether the case now. It was a learning process for everyone. Everyone worked together. There were not a lot of reports that, unnecessary reports. I haven't been involved with this school system for a number of years, so I really don't know the number of reports that are due each day. But ten years ago there were not. There were some reports but not (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And then there were (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the workshops, and different things. It was fun.
Q: I remember that there was a lot of discussion about your outstanding leadership in Prince George's County. And I wonder if you can tell me what was it about your personal style that caused you to have so much success? Could you, in other words, discuss your approach to leadership and the techniques that worked for you?
Q: And at the same time, did you have any techniques that really didn't work?
A: Okay, from the beginning I said my philosophy is that I believe that every kid could learn. And that is true. So if you start from believing that every child can learn, and get your staff to believe in that, it becomes fun for you to try to figure out ways. What can you do to make (UNINTELLIGIBLE) child to learn. And so that was one of my strengths. I used to really come up with different ideas, and I would do it. I wouldn't mind bringing groups of kids out in the hall. I remember, I enjoyed teaching school. And so the staff saw my doing that, and so they believed that I was a team member. When there were conflicts, when a staff member overstepped his or her bounds, or if there were problems, I would quietly call them in and we would talk about things. I learned this when I was a principal at High Bridge, because one staff member would write me long letters saying that I just didn't have time for them. Well, she committed suicide. She committed suicide, and the night she committed suicide she had written this letter saying that had I spent more time in listening to her, that she'd had many, many problems. Well from that day on, back in 1978, I spent time listening to staff, students, whatever you had to tell me something, I made sure you had a chance to tell me. That was quite an experience. And I learned a lot of different things about a lot of people. And we got along with it.
Q: And I know that incident made a great impact on your leadership style. And personal.
A: Yes. She was quite a teacher. She was a master teacher. She had family problems with her husband and an only child, and she just needed someone to talk to.
Q: Did you find that teachers expected the principal to talk to them about quite a bit of their personal as well as professional life?
A: Yes. I think a teacher sees it as a plus when they can go to their principal and tell them some of their private kinds of things. You don't want to get into your family and go on to a marriage counselor and this and that, but it's kind of good to hear some of the problems that some of them are facing. And then you can make a decision from there. The other part of my philosophy is I never believe in getting even with anyone. I mean I've wanted...I wanted to enjoy the job so I wanted to. I did have some problems with some parents who just did not buy into it. And I used to say if you can't get along with me, you are in trouble because I would bend over backwards to try and help you out. But some parents, and some people, just don't buy into it. And they would challenge you to the very end. And so you have to be strong and you have to decide I'm not ... I can't go any further. It doesn't always work. I've had some tough times, too.
Q: Well, at the same time there are those that argue today that more often than not central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators and carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue?
A: Yes, yes. My last five years, once I got sick and was no longer able to be the principal here at Glen Arden Woods, I was assigned to curriculum and instruction, staff development, at William (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And at that site were supervisory staff. And I was asked to work with them, to meet with them, to get to know them, and help develop them. And I saw a whole new different picture because many of those people, supervisory staff, had not been in the classroom, in the school, for ten, fifteen years. Yet they were the policy makers. And it really was upsetting when...the two people were different, they were like different. Their job mainly was to update a curriculum, order books, and the like. And one day I can remember the phone, I went by on office, and the phone was just ringing, ringing, ringing. And this supervisor refused to answer the phone. So I stopped and asked her what's going on. And she said it wasn't her job. And I'm telling you, I really, really went off. So there is a big difference between the supervisory staff and policy makers and the people in the fieldthe principal, the teachers, the parents. That's where the action is, in the school.
Q: So, if you were superintendent, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Well, really, it's very difficult for me to answer that because I've had some good administrators and superintendents. And what they did, one particular guy, Murphy, came in as a new superintendent and he really didn't make any changes the first year. He said everything can't be wrong. And so he just observed from school to school. He got to know a lot of different people. And what was good he let stand there. And so I think a good superintendent has to let whatever is working stand, but have a plan of action just in case. And you've got to make people believe that they are worthy. I mean you can't overmeet, you can't over-this, and can't over-that. I think that's a very sticky job and it's a very difficult question for me to answer. It's too murky.
Q: Okay, but if you were...you have had so much experience. And if you were advising a person who was considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: Okay, I would say mature...there's certain things that are innate, you have to have coming into the job. You have to have the ability to get along with people, to be able to listen to the person's concern and to be able to make them feel comfortable. You've got to have that coming into it. You've got to enjoy working with kids. You really do. You do. You have to be willing to get to know the curriculum. You have to be good at it, as a good teacher. These things you bring into the job. And then if you've got that in order, then maybe you can become a principal or administrator. Really.
Q: Okay, now, I remember when I came in and Murphy brought me in. He was talking about the fact that I must be 90 percent instructional leader. Now there's a lot of talk about that now in that there are those who argue that a good principal should be an instructional leader. And then there are those who are saying realistically this person must be, above all, a good manager. So what are your views on that?
A: I have found it successful being a good curriculum person, personally. But as things have changed, if you don't have the management skills you are in trouble, too. So you almost need two people, or maybe even three. When I said I knew curriculum, I meant that I would go to the curriculum meetings. I would go to the reading meetings or whatever was coming up. Now I knew exactly what was told to the reading teacher. I knew what was told to the speech teacher, to the math teacher. When I say knowing the curriculum, you've got to be able to see the development from first, second, third, fourth grade, and what should be taught in each grade and how it should be taught. It's almost impossible to know now with all the computer things going on and all the science and math. You can't know everything. But you can have an idea. You don't want to come in blind, yet you cannot foresee, you cannot forego the fact that you've got to be a manager. You've got to be able to schedule. It's just mindboggling, it's overwhelming really.
Q: So they go hand in hand.
A: Hand in hand, but it's very tough.
Q: What would you say if you were going to give ideal requirements for a principal certification? Could you mention some things and maybe give an appropriate procedure for screening those who wish to become principal?
A: Okay, in order to be a principal, I think you need to ... you have to be able to have taught some, success for teaching. I think you have to be able to have had some successful assistant principalship under your belt. And then you can apply for principalship. Now, principalships to me, you need to order some of the publicationsthe principalship magazines and the likesee what's going on in other sections. You need to still be able to go back to school. You need to be able to just keep abreast as to what's going on. That principalship is one of the most unique jobs ever because you're accountable to so many people above you and so many people below you. It's very difficult.
Q: And it is often said that a principal's job goes beyond the schoolhouse. Would you discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations? And which groups had the greatest influence on you?
A: It sounds good to say you want to belong to several groups. But the principalship is so tiring, you are happy just to get home to relax. I was able to...one group in my hometown, there was a group of menthey were over 70about 20 of them whose educational background was very limited. And so they would hold their mail, whatever letters they got, and at the end of the week I would go home each week, and I would help them to read their mail and respond to it. And that was very rewarding because it was kind of embarrassing for them to just ask anybody what did this letter say when they couldn't read it. And that was one of the most enjoyable things I've done. Well wait a minute, I do think, though, that principalships, administration, teachers and all, need to have some time to call their own. Golfing is a very good, relaxing game. And you need to have some relaxing activities, rather than work.
Q: Okay. Well also, in the same area, it has been said that there is a large home-school gap. And that more parental involvement with the schools need to be developed. Could you discuss the ways that you worked with parental involvement in your schools?
A: I think I was at a plus in the sense that was not the case when this school opened. There were many, many parents who would do whatever they could to make it work, so that was not a problem. But today in the readings and the papers and the like, there does seem to be a big gap between home and school. The home school relationship, it seems as though the school and home are not as one as used to be. So I really don't know since I haven't been involved.
Q: Just to change things around a little, a great deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay climates, and merit pay in recent years. And pay in general in the Washington metropolitan area. Would you give your views on some of these issues, and maybe describe any involvement that you had with any approach to this pay issue?
A: Yes. After about five, six, seven years in a job, in any job. I remember when I started teaching, after about that sixth year, it was time for me to do something else. It really...you become bored. It should be steps where you can move into something else. And the pay should be comfortable to what you do. After the sixth year in teaching fifth grade, I knew the curriculum and the kids and everything so well until it became a bore. So then, of course, I went and got my masters and the assistant principalship was the next step. Or, you could branch off into counseling or whatever. But it should be steps where you could move out of a job that you're tired of. And the pay should accompany whatever you're doing. It should, it really should.
Q: Okay. What about teacher evaluation?
Q: Do you have a philosophy of teacher evaluation?
A: Well, I'm not sure what the county does now, but they had a evaluation sheet for each teacher. And it was broken down into how well do you teach (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But I do think that teachers should be evaluated every day, every day. And my evaluation was that I walked through the halls, if you were on target doing what you were supposed to do, doing it in a pleasant, peaceful manner, I thought that was good. And so on the teachers' evaluation, whatever thing you volunteered for, Limits of the Mind, all those things take a lot of time. And I would put that on the teachers' evaluation. Really, the teacher...and of course, principal evaluation. That's more difficult because the supervisor, the person who evaluates the principalship, isn't in the school everyday. And they really don't know what you go through. If you keep the lid on and keep it calm, then...they really don't know.
Q: No parent (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
A: Yes. I'm sure there would be some teachers that have some grievance. And what I did was we had a suggestion box in the teachers' lounge, and whatever concern you had, just mention it and put it in the box. And at the end of each week, I would meet with the staff and whatever the problem was, we would solve it. We would solve it. I do not think the teacher should sit there with the grievance in their heart and not let the people know. I don't think the principal should be held accountable if he or she doesn't know. Let that principal know and something will be done. Don't hold it in, and don't take grievances outside the school without going to that principal first.
Q: Exactly. Okay. Now what about teacher dismissal? Have you been involved in maybe dismissing a teacher?
A: Yes. I had my experience several years ago at Silver Hill. I thought this teacher was very, very inappropriate for the students at that school. And so I went to the supervisor and documented it, had it documented as to what she had done, and I asked that she be transferred to another school. Well, the decision was that no, we just don't transfer them out like that, you need to sit down each day and write a list of things she's done and your concern. I did that. It took me all year and I can put it in a whole book. Well, in observing her so much and being with her so much, we became friends. So, we began to talk about what my concerns that she was doing, and she was able to accept it and we just worked it out. And we just were together until she retired.
Q: All right, that's great. Being...have you ever worked with the vice principal in any of your buildings? Could you discuss the utilization of such personnel while, you know, on the job?
A: Yes. with schools over 500, you really do need an assistant principal. I see an assistant principal as the extension of the principal. There are some schools, I have heard them give the assistant principal discipline or curriculum, I just don't believe that. I think that they should be a part of that principalship. And my job with Mrs....my principal at Concord was that she walked me through every step. Really, she didn't give me anything that was my job, but of course I did all the checking the books and all these kinds of things, but she just thought that I was her extension, and that's how I feel. Now, I did have an assistant principal who had had problems in other places. And I didn't realize she had had problems. And she and the reading teacher were at each others' throats constantly, and I do think that the assignment of personnel should not clash. Whoever's doing assignment, try to get people together who can work together and don't have any luggage from yesteryear. I do, I really do think that.
Q: Let's look at effective schools and maybe ineffective schools. What are some characteristics that you can name that you would find in an effective school, and some that you would find in a less successful one?
A: Okay, with the effective schools there were those seven coordinates. And one was keep this class on ... keep the class on task as much as you could. And I can remember as a principal years and years ago, on Mondays...Monday mornings there were all the community problems and my job was to spend all day Monday solving those problemswho had a fight, and who did this...and all. And Monday was wasted. Well that was an ineffective school because I was calling kids out, parents would come...it was just all day long. Monday was just problem solving. Well in the effective school, that principal would see that the purpose of my school is to educate, and I will not disrupt, I will not get on the intercom and make long speeches, I will not get on the intercom and call Mrs. Jones could she come to the office in the middle of the day. I would not do anything that would disrupt. Another effective school would test frequently. They would give many tests: reading tests, math tests, science tests. All those tests would be done at least at the end of each week because what is important to learn is testing. Once the kids realize they're going to be tested on that, they're learning better. And effective schools is teach and teach and teach and teach, and don't....
Q: Okay, well I can say we're doing quite a bit of testing at (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Now during the past decade, schools have become much larger. And I'm sure you have read about Prince Georges. Could you discuss your views on this phenomenon and suggest an ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
A: A school too small isn't good. A 200, 250, 300...because you're supportive staff is so limited. For example, if you don't have more than 300 kids, you don't have full time P.E. teacher, you don't have a full-time (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so that's a scheduling problem. I think the ideal school size may be 500. You have full-time everybody. It's kind of difficult for a P.E. teacher to spend a half-day hear and a half-day over at that school. No, it's very, very difficult. Plus, they can only give so much. So I would like to see a school of at least 500, with full time resource people. Six hundred, 700, 800 is much too large, really. Really.
Q: Okay. Just to change the subject around a little, there have been more and more problems for special groups of students, such as LD, talented and gifted, non-English speaking, and so forth. And I know that you have been working with talented and gifted. Could you discuss your experience with the talented and gifted services and your views on the trends in that regard?
A: One of the misnomers is that before I came to Glen Arden Woods, High Bridge was the school with the diagnostic wing, with the large group of talented and gifted, and a large group of regular students. And so I found it was difficult when you put labels on kids because at High Bridge, we were all one group. So there were some diagnostic wing kids who were taking some class experiences, some TAG experiences. And there were some regular kids. You've got to mix everybody up in there. When I came to Glen Arden, and this was a talented and gifted school, I didn't see anybody different because in this school also was a third of the kids were special ed. The other third was regular kids. And so you couldn't have a school, part of the school just for TAG and do all that, when a part of this, and never do mingle. So one of the things I did was that at the end of the each weekit was called MESHING activitywherein the same age group of regular, talented and gifted, and special ed kids got together for some activity. And that was fun because you can do all kinds of arts, dance and singing. And that made people think that we all belonged to Glen Arden Woods School, rather than Glen Arden Woods Talented and Gifted. I had a secretary at that time and she would answer the phone, Glen Arden Woods Talented and Gifted, and we had to stop that because it wasn't just the talented and gifted. It was a regular, as well as the special ed. Now I believe every child...I really like, I enjoyed children at that time.
Q: At that time you enjoyed children. We'll get to that one later. But let's talk about salaries. And you notice there's a lot in the press about salaries, and specifically Prince George's County. And I think that it has changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Could you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of Prince George's County during your early years as principal? And what about the developments that are going on now?
A: Yes, I did read something about the salaries, and that teachers...if you want good teachers you've got to give them good pay. And I can remember, I think every year you get an incrementcost $300 or whateverbut you did get something extra on your check. And at a certain point, as your degrees increase you get more money. But you can't...in a system you've got to be able to pay your people because the people, the teachers work. And they have families, they have problems, and so salaries I almost say go hand-in-hand with good teachers. I really do believe that.
Q: I have to agree with you on that. And also most systems presently have a tenure or a continuing contract system for teachers. And would you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the tenure system?
A: When I started some years ago, you had a two-year probation. So as you graduated from college you worked for two years, and you were observed constantly. If there was a problem, someone would be sent in to help you. And so within two years, you should really have mastered reading, all of the subject areas. And if you had not mastered teaching in two years, then you may not be tenured. You may not get a tenure. But then once you get tenured, after the second year, then it's maintained unless you did something very drastic. It would be difficult to get rid of you once you became a tenured teacher. So I liked that idea that if there are problems, someone would be sent to help you out.
Q: Now, traditionally, there has been a commitment in this country to the principals of universal, free public education. Would you give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings on the practicality of such an approach in this day and time?
A: Free education?
Q: Yes, free and public education.
A: Okay, I know that there are some systems that have vouchers, which even though you live in this area you can go to any school and to go free because the vouchers would solve the problem. I do believe in free, public education. That is the key to it. Some parents think that those private schools are good, but studies have shown that good kids are good kids regardless of where they go. I really strongly believe in free, public education. I do.
Q: And let me ask you another question about...I'm going to back up to the administrative complexity issue. If there were three areas of the administrative job that you would change in order to improve the efficiency, could you tell me what those three areas would be?
A: I think one area I would change would be your involvement with the supervisory staff. I think supervisory staff should be just an extension, just to help you. And it's sometimes very inconvenient when ... let's say the social studies supervisor calls a meeting and your whole staff's got to sit and go through all that, and then the art teacher. I would kind of limit my involvement with the supervisory staff. I would use them as an adjunct to the school rather than for them to be sitting (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's one system I would change.
A: That's about it. Everything else seems to be working out okay.
Q: Okay. Now, would you describe your relationship with the superintendent, and I know you talked about Murphy quite a bit in this interview. In terms of the superintendent's general demeanor towards you and your school.
A: He saw me as a professional and I saw him as a professional. And not only Dr. Murphy but all the superintendents. I think I worked under three different superintendents. And because I took the job seriously and they took their job seriously, and whenever we had a meeting, it was professional. In particular I remember Dr. Murphy because we had spent quite a few years together. I like the idea that he had a program and he came with effective schools and the like. And when we talked, we talked the terms of what we can do together. I like...he worked with you as a partner rather than I am a superintendent and you are my subordinate. I liked that about him.
Q: Well what about your general relationship, pro or con, with the Board of Education?
Q: And could you comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
A: Years ago, principals very seldom had to go down to the board unless it was some subject you were familiar with. So there was very limited contact. But what I see today on TV is that it's just not the friendly atmosphere...it's just like...it's not...when I see the superintendent and the board, I just don't see the friendliness and the cordialness that I would expect really. It's almost hostile. And I do think that the superintendent, the board of education, everyone needs to be on the same page working for the same thing which is the kids. And it should be a happy, friendly time. I just haven't seen that.
Q: Okay, let's move on to cultural diversity. And I think that's a topic of great interest as well, especially at this point in time, and I don't know how much you dealt with that while you were principal. Could you discuss the nature of your student body at that time? And could you also comment on any problems or challenges that you had in that area while serving as principal?
A: Yes. As a school...a talented and gifted school has all kinds of people. There was a large Jewish group here, there were orientals, there were (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Look at the schools...we represented the world. So one thing you learn is we have to appreciate the differences in people. And so one of the things we did was that the orientals had a special month where we'd learn everything about orientals that we possible could. The Jewish community had a month. And each ethnic group had a month. Before the year was out, you really knew a lot about the world. And so I feel as though that you have to ... you have to teach people about differences, you really do. Otherwise, you're going to get in trouble.
Q: Did you ever handle any civil rights situations which would include integration? Or were you involved with busing?
A: Oh yea. I was assigned as assistant to the principal at the Concorde, and at that time Concorde was like 70 percent white and 20 percent black and a few others. And the white parents were moving out because a large group of blacks were coming in. And I was assigned there to help with the busing. It was quite...it was almost frightening because a lot of the parents did not believe that the school could maintain its high standards if it changed over. Anyway, it did. Concorde was an excellent school. Then I was assigned to Silver Hill that turned from 90 percent white to about 90 percent black. And the principal was white who wasn't there all the time, whatever he was doing. At any rate, I was very much involved with integration here in Prince George's County. And you had to ride the buses. And once you start working together, you realize that people are people. I enjoy all kinds of people.
Q: I know you did. Let me see how your work day was carried out. Could you describe an average workday? Now I heard about your Mondays in a particular school But could you describe your workday and the amount of time, including hours per week, that you would put in.
A: Yes. Okay, let's say here at Glen Arden, the kids would be in at 8:30. At 8:30 I would be here at the desk at 7 because I believe in getting there early enough to organize yourself, to make your coffee, anybody stopping by, I just wanted to be here. So by 8 the staff starts coming in, then from 8 to 8:30 we might have a little staff meeting or whatever. But by 9 I wanted to be out in the hall. By 8:30 when the kids came in, I wanted to be out in the halls greeting the kids, then of course breakfast, then to class. Why at that time, things were so settled until I could come back into the office and finish whatever little paperwork I had and read the mail that came in. And then go back out into the classes. I think spending a lot of time in the halls, in the classes, was just a plus for me. Really. But the problem though is that now it's time to go home at 4:00 when everyone's gone, you have those stragglers that go at 4:30, but then many times you don't leave...as principal you're still there at 6:30, 7:00. And then the meetings afterwards, PTA meetings or whatever, so sometimes it's 9 and 10:00. And you have been here from 7 until 10. So it doesn't leave you much room for anything else but to go home and go to bed and get back up the next morning.
Q: Well, can you remember some of your daily pressures that occurred, or something that you liked the least during the day?
A: The least...okay. Well, because this was a new idea, the magnet schools, I was very concerned that the newspaper would drop in and just want to see how this was going, that's going, different systems would just stop by. And I liked to be prepared when company comes in. But those first years was very difficult because you couldn't be prepared because people would just appear at the door. And that was kind of rough. The other rough thing was scheduling. A system or a child could get every thing they supposed to get, be it 30 minutes of math, 50 minutes of this, that was difficult for me to do. It was very, very difficult to do. So those were the two difficult things. I met some fabulous kids and some good staff members. That's the plus.
Q: Oh, good. What do you think in your professional training helped you the most in your principalship?
A: Let's see...I like the idea that I went to Bowie. Bowie was a teachers' college and you had many, many experiences before you became a teacher on the college campus. So I can remember that. I can remember my junior year doing student teaching. And my senior year doing two sets of student teaching. It was just like they stuck with you until you were ready. I think that was very good. And then I can remember being assigned to Fairmont Heights Elementary School, and it was about 12 of us new teachers, and we were just another person. We were put under a master teacher. And if we had suggestions, they would just quietly listen and then just go on as though you didn't ... you were just still a student. I liked that.
Q: Okay, if you had it to do again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for principal?
A: Let's see. I think I would take more classes. I would ... some of the conventions and things that I was just too tired to go do, I would probably be more involved with that. I would probably take time to read more of the articles. I was just too tired for many of those kinds of things. But those are the two areas: I would take more classes and read more.
Q: Okay, if you had to offer suggestions to universities today about how to better prepare their candidates, is that something that you would offer them, or is there something else that you would tell the universities and colleges to do in order to better prepare (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
A: I may have some ideas for them. I can remember an instructor from the University of Maryland who said...he had written this book, and he said if you become a principal don't ever get teachers to close their door. What I thought he was saying didn't make much sense. But I realize he was right. You need to be an open, about person, that you cannot be a shady kind of person. You've got to have people believe in you, so you don't have doors locked. They should be open for you. So I may have a few ideas for some people.
Q: Who was your favorite mentor in your life?
A: Ms. Anna Bracken, Mrs. Anna Bracken was really...she was ahead of her time. She had been a principal forever and ever, and she said when I became her assistant, she said we have to be friends. And she was right. You cannot backstab, you've got to work together. And I've just followed that throughout. I liked Glen Arden. Glen Arden was quite a school, I mean is quite a school. I mean if you had a staff...
Q: Right. But you know the principals have been operating in tense environments for a number of years. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful times?
A: I didn't see it tense. I imagine there were some demands that may have been, but I didn't feel the tenseness from outside the school. I guess most of my efforts were put on making the school pleasant. So I guess I put the pressure on myself. You know I've gotten sick and all, and because I couldn't get it to work out.
Q: Okay. But I guess since then you have really ... you have been out, retired...
A: Eight years.
Q: ... for eight years. And I'm sure you have reflected on your career quite a bit. I wonder if you could share with me what you consider to be your administrative strength and maybe a weakness.
A: I think my strength is your strength. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), well she doesn't jump all over us, she gives us a chance to do things. And I think that was a plus that you did, was not...you may have ideas as to how she'd do but these were experienced people who knew more really than you and I both about what was going on. And I think that was a strength that you really did, that you came in to work with them rather than for them to be working under you. And that's a strength of mine. I can work with people, that's true.
Q: And maybe that's the reason things went pretty smoothly for me, because we were a lot alike.
A: Yes. They think very highly of you because of the leeway you give them.
Q: Thank you. Now would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time that you did. And if you remember, when I took your place I kept my things packed because I was thinking you were coming back. And you never did. So what were the things you were thinking about that led you to that decision, and what mental processes did you exercise in reaching the conclusion to step down from principal?
A: I had five more years before I would have completed my 30th year. So I had no intention of leaving Glen Arden Woods, everything was working out fine. But about a month before the end of school, I had a very difficult time with a little child whose mother just could not see it. I mean we argued constantly all year long. And I wasn't...we were just locked horns. And one day this parent came in very upset because something very minor, and her child was not an angel. And she came in and just threw all of my materials on the floor. Well I lost it. I mean I came up and shook her like a child. I was just that upset with this parent because she was the one parent that just caused disruption. Well, from that point on I said well, if I lost it...and then I began to get sick. Of course I had a heart attack. And then I just didn't have it anymore. I just did not have it. And I didn't get well as quickly as I thought I should. And so I decided that it's not worth it. It just wasn't fun anymore. It just wasn't for me anymore. So I just decided not to come back.
Q: If you had to evaluate your overall administrative service or to give some information or idea about how it was rendered, what would you say?
A: I thought if I should grade myself, I thought everything worked out the way I had hoped. I knew I had put the time and energy in, and I really did work very hard. I was very sincere, and I feel good about the job I did. And I would give myself maybe a good B-plus in some areas, a good B in some other areas, and in some areas an A. I really could get along with people. And I really could right those things. But then I needed some help in some other areas. So I think on the whole, I gave the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I did the best I could with what I had to work with. And it's not that much.
Q: Okay, great. I think I would have given you more As than you gave yourself. Now despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have?
A: You should have asked me what was the fun things that I did. I was...I could play basketball. And it was an awful lot of fun when things got piled up and I just couldn't see the headway, was to go outside and play basketball with the kids. Really, I could play that basketball. And just because the area I came in had pretty good basketball players, and it was a lot of fun for me to go out there and beat and bang on them. Also I used to enjoy talking to the kids. And some of the kids had some weird ideas, and it was kind of nice getting to know them, getting to know their parents. And that was the fun thing for me. Some days when it was really rough, we lost two or three arguments, and this didn't work and that, just to sit down and say well, tomorrow's another day.
Q: Yes. Well, those fun things are still going on.
Q: And you look like you're enjoying your retirement and I really am very happy that you were able to come and give me this time in this interview. So I want to thank you, and enjoy the rest of your retirement.
A: Yes, yes. Thank you very much, thank you, too.
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