INTERVIEW WITH CLEY R. RICHENDIFER
Interview of Cley Richendifer, Longmont (Colorado) High School Principal,
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Q: How many years were you a teacher?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Twelve years.
Q: Then how many years were you an administrator?
A: Twenty-eight years.
Q: And what was it that you taught?
A: First of all, I want to say I taught kids. My subject matter was, in
those days it was history, and science, and economics.
Q: Now, once you became a principal, could you describe your school that you
were the principal of?
A: I became a principal in the county high school where it had only the
top four grades, and I was the principal of that school. My ties ranged mainly
with activities; very little, because it was a small school, to do with evaluation
of teachers at that time. The superintendent was the person who did the evaluation,
and not the principal. It was sort of like a custodian for the superintendent.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: Well, back there at that time the salaries of teachers were quite low
and the administrator made a few thousand dollars more, and I started to getting
my masters degree at the University of Northern Colorado and working in the
field of school administration, and that was the one thing that moved me into
the area of administration in the public schools.
Q: What event led you to the principalship here in Longmont?
A: Well, number one was the fact they had a better retirement system in
Colorado than they did in Nebraska. And we in Nebraska was looking towards
that retirement system, and knowing we had a few years ahead of us. But it
was a much more progressive type of educational atmosphere than it was in
Nebraska at that time. Nebraska was very, very conservative, and even though
Colorado is conservative, it was just an opportunity to advance.
Q: What was your school's philosophy, Longmont High School's philosophy?
A: My school philosophy for Longmont High School was nothing more than I
was a vehicle to enable the teachers to be able to do a job of instructing,
and the main thing was for the students to be able to master some skills,
to be able to go out into an adult life and to be employed or become an employer.
Q: Was that your philosophy, or was it something developed by you and the teachers?
A: Well, it was sort of a joint philosophy with us, but I guess maybe I
was the main one that kept banging away that this is our job; this is what
we're supposed to do. And I would say I got a very good response from all
the teachers. Now, we had good teachers and we had poor teachers, but a poor
teacher didn't stick around too long, I didn't think.
Q: So this philosophy was basically yours, but the teachers...
A: Any man who is at the helm must have a basic philosophy and try to have
other people more or less approve or adopt or work within that philosophy.
I don't care whether you're in industry, or you're U.S. government or anything
else, you've got to have some basic principles or philosophies that you go
and surround yourself with people who are basically the same caliber.
Q: Then, along with this philosophy, how did you create a climate for learning?
A: Well, I thought maybe as a principal I had a great rapport individually
and as a group with my teachers, and whenever we did have a staff meeting,
that it was open; no one had to worry about agreeing or disagreeing, and I
really probably gleaned a lot from my staff because they were where the action
was, right in the classroom. They gleaned a lot from me because I was in a
position where I dealt with parents, and we could trade off, and through this
type of exchange we were able to go and to find some ideas, objectives, goals
that we would like to pursue.
Q: What leadership techniques did you use while creating a climate for learning?
A: Well, I used strong-arm, I used the business of coaxing, I tried to build
enthusiasm, I tried to develop interest. I think I tried about everything
you could think of in the way of trying to motivate my teachers. And the thing
that I found out was probably as good as anything is to give them a pat on
the back and a little praise if they had it coming. If they didn't have it
coming, sit down and talk about it. We'd leave there handshaking, and leave
them saying "I'm here to help you, and if you're willing for help, you've
Q: How would you describe what a strong-arm technique is?
A: Well I always said, "Hey, if you're not getting the job done, you're
not going to jeopardize my job. I'm the only guy that can jeopardize my job,
and you're not going to jeopardize my job." "Now you have two choices," and
I said, "I'll add the third choice for you. The first choice is you can go
and be the teacher that you're capable of being. Secondly, you can ask for
a transfer. Third, I fire you." And that's just the way I operated.
Q: Of those leadership techniques you used, which were unsuccessful?
A: I'd say it's pretty hard for me to evaluate which was unsuccessful. You
don't scare people, really, but you have to have a common ground you both
stand on so that you know where you're going, and of course if I said "I'm
going to fire you if you don't shape up," they would start a political action
against me and then we did have a stalemate because there's only one thing
left for me to do, was to either transfer them or get them out of my building
on that type of thing. But I, it never went really that far. But I think anybody
you work for, you must have an understanding from your boss (and you know
what a boss is, don't you? It's BOSS spelled backwards: Super Son Of a Bitch),
and you have to be just a little bit of that once in a while. And the other
thing is you've got to go and say it's like a "KISS" spelled frontwards: Keep
It Simple, Stupid. And that's kind of the way you have to operate. Unless
the district has some real precise goals laid down by the board of education,
the superintendent hasn't possibly established these goals, and then to follow
these goals and to give the support to the administrators and to the teachers
that they need. Then we will see some progress.
Q: What role did you play in public and community relations?
A: I was very public minded. I belonged to the Kiwanis Club, I worked in
the Boy Scouts, I was in fund drives for a vehicle for the emergency unit
here. I would take off one day or a half a day a week and visit Main Street
and talk to the business people downtown. I had what we called a parents group
that I would meet with once a month and any other time it was necessary to
meet with them and I cultivated knowing where the power of the community lied.
Q: To have a better political understanding?
A: A better political understanding of the whole community.
Q: Now, were these public relations things you did primarily to keep your program
at the high school going?
A: Yes. They were for me to keep my fingers on the pulse of, you could say,
the community, as to what they expected, what they wanted. And I will say
this: I felt that I always had a good, supportive base of the people in Longmont.
Q: Did that work as a great advantage to you?
A: A terrific advantage! They could talk to me and I could talk to them.
And many of them would tell me, "You're going the wrong way. Turn it around."
And I'd say, "OK, I'm going to think about this." And I would give it some
thought, and I'd see what road we were going down and maybe we could just
get a little bit away from the middle of the road and get to one side or the
other side. Or if it was too far from the middle of the road maybe we could
get back in the middle of the road.
Q: Would you talk to the school board members to find out...?
A: No, I didn't talk too much to the school board members, (although) some
of them were my friends. I talked to ministers, I talked to lawyers, I would
attend the council of churches and knew all the ministers in town. I would
go and be invited to attend the other civic clubs like the Rotary, the Lions,
and all that. I would work on the Elks committee selecting students for scholarships.
Those are the things I tried to do to feel, or get the feel, of the public
to be able to maintain a school that was trying to meet the objectives not
of mine alone, but of theirs, too, is what I tried to do.
Q: So you believed in the community being in charge of the school district?
A: Oh, yes! I always feel that, now they're not trained... They're not trained
as a person who's in electronics or a doctor or a lawyer. A teacher has the
correct training, and as you go into administration there should be some other
courses, other than knowing the history of education. Probably one week on
the history of education is all that's necessary to know where we came from
and how we got where we're at. But I definitely feel that an administrator
should be required to take public speaking, they should be able to go and
know accounting, they should know more or less how to sift information that
would be pertinent, to be successful on the job. Many other things. I've been
out now since '82, and I ran a small business and I got a re-education there
in a hurry. I ran that for six years and I got a real education in a hurry.
I got another degree: The degree of hard knocks on the thing. I have attended,
and I did attend when I was in the school system, some meetings where like
Carnegie, you know, public speaking, I took those courses. Didn't get any
credit for it, but they did a heck of a lot more for me than some of these
boring classes they had at the University of Northern Colorado, the University
of Colorado, Denver University, and CSU up here in Fort Collins, and I've
attended all those schools. Now, basically, I go back to my fundamental school,
that we were a private school, and that it was not a teachers' college, (though)
you get a teaching certificate out of that. But they believed that you should
know your subject matter. And if you knew your subject matter then you could
instruct. And that has always been the conflict between what we call the liberal
arts colleges and the teacher colleges. But I'll say this. I didn't have to
fool around with a lot of the monkey-dick classes that I had to fool around
with over at the University of Northern Colorado in getting my administrative
Q: Going back to the other, can you cite an example of a change you made in
the high school because of community opinion?
A: Yes, I think I can cite this very, very well. At Longmont High School,
we came up against the problem of mathematics, and it was about that time
that new math was being introduced. And I dug my heels in because there wasn't
a single staff member that had been schooled in the approach of this new modern
math. And at that time, I went out into the community and I tried to explain
to the community the approach of this modern math. Well now, what I knew about
it you could put in my eye and I could see plenty, but I knew enough about
it that I wasn't dangerous but, yet, at the same time I was able to convey
to the public that we were for giving the fundamentals of mathematics and
who was going to get hurt was the student; not me, but the student. And I
got support and at Longmont High School we did not put modern math in. A year
or two later, we put a little modern math in, but at that time it had kind
of played its course. I was not opposed to the modern math approach at that
level, but I was opposed because my staff members in the mathematics department
was not schooled, as I said, in how to approach teaching modern math.
Q: Approximately what years were those?
A: Oh, I think that was probably somewhere around '65, if I recall correctly.
It's somewhere in there, give or take in that area. Now, the other thing that
I run into, which I was forced into, was changing the English program. The
school district had what they called a 15-month study on the English program
K-12. And 30 days before school started, I was informed by the director of
curriculum in our school district that you will go and change your English
curriculum. And I picked two counselors and five teachers in the English department
and we went down to Arvada, and we put in this quarter system. And that was
the most unruly and... It did not go and take anyone in depth far enough to
be able to go and to understand that particular subject. So many of our kids,
the good classes in composition and things like that, were filled up so early
the only place we could push them was into Greek drama and into Shakespeare,
things like that. And they were the students who should not have been in those
classes to begin with, and they were not successful in those classes. We finally
worked it around, worked some back-to-back that had some relationship, but
we still got too many, too many fringe type of classes that the kids could
not relate to and they're not getting anything out of them. Now maybe down
the line, after 10, 15 years, then something will pop up and they'll say,
"Oh, yeah, we remember that particular individual. He wrote such-and-such,
we studied a little bit about that." But let me say this, when I came to Longmont
we had a course here that, which was an honors course, taught by a professor
in CSU. And, because the year before he used the book, "Catcher in the Rye,"
the general public rose up in arms. And I was the new principal on the block...
So the assistant superintendent and I sat down and kicked this around, and
I said I don't believe you've done the public relations job that we should
be able to teach some of these books, because, after all, these young people,
both boys and girls, are going out into adult lives and they're seeing things
on television that is far, far worse. We will say anyone who wants to get
into honors colloquial, we have censored the books, and that if any parent
is against that the kid can drop out. He got no credit for it, but he got
nothing but kind of a prestige merit badge to put on their activities saying
they were in honors colloquial. Well, the thing went along and got watered
down so terrifically that they dropped it finally. Because it was not the
honor students, it was just the regular run of the mill, and these people
were teachers that taught philosophy at CSU and CU that ran our program, and
after a while they said hey, we are not geared to teach at that level. We
are geared to teach at a higher level in this particular field, and so I couldn't
get anybody to take the job.
Q: What do you think teachers expect a principal to be?
A: I think a modern day teacher thinks of a principal as a fall guy. That
he's to get all the blame for all of their shortcomings and all the students'
shortcomings. A principal, now let's say a principal in theory, is the educational
leader of the school. If he is given time to play the role of the educational
leader, the attitude that the teachers have will change drastically because
he will be a leader, he will be a motivator, he will be a person that will
create an awesome educational atmosphere and environment. And those teachers
will feel his vibrations and the students will soon become the products of
all of those things. Better adjusted, knowledge greater... They can talk about
this drug program all they want to, until someone can get something more exciting
for these youngsters than what we have at the present time, they're going
to experiment. And the young kids, they do experiment. So let's get 'em experimented.
I could go on here for 5, 10 hours, and tell you about some of the great schools
I've visited in the United States of America and it was the principal, it
was not the superintendent, it was the principal who was the workhorse that
created this atmosphere that made it a great school. Now, he sold his ideas.
As soon as he left that school and went to another school, the school that
he had built up soon crumbled, because the next guy coming in did not know
how to manipulate and to run that type of program.
Q: How did you evaluate teachers?
A: Oh, we had a lousy evaluation system. We had to visit a non-tenured teacher
four times a year and when we started out we had nothing but checkpoints.
And there was a little place where you could make a comment. Well, none of
us liked that instrument. But, instead of letting the administrator develop
that, the superintendent had a group of teachers develop the new one. Well,
you know, the principal had to use that instrument the next thing. There was
a lot riding on that thing, but we come down to the fact that saying, well,
a non-tenured teacher's only going to be evaluated three times a year. We
had to spend at least 35 minutes in the class. A tenured teacher had to be
evaluated only once a year and we had to spend 35 minutes in the class. They
gave the weapon to the teachers that they could write a rebuttal to the evaluation
of the man who was evaluating them. Then eventually the teachers said, "We
will evaluate the administration." That's where I dug my heels in and said,
that's fine, if that comes about then we are going to go and have the students
evaluate the teachers and parents evaluate the teachers. And then we'll go
from there. Well, that scared 'em off. There's that old iron fist coming up
again. That scared 'em off. They didn't want that. I was evaluated by the
students of Longmont High School once, and 88 percent of them said I was doing
a good job to an excellent job. I wasn't afraid of them. Didn't scare me.
And the 12 percent that graded me down, I went over those papers. Some of
them had a legitimate gripe, some of them had nothing but a gripe because
they never looked themselves in the mirror, because it was all their fault.
Q: I think you've already hit this, but what technique did you use to make
the teachers feel important?
A: Well, as I said, my greatest thing was to praise and pat 'em on the back
and say you're a member of this team. Now, you've got a business here -- you
may think you don't have a business, but you've got a business here. That
classroom is your business, and if you're going to be successful you run that
as, as successful as you know how to run that classroom, and I'm here to give
Q: What's your philosophy of education?
A: Well, this is going to shock you. And this is probably going to shock
that fella. Educate 20 percent of the people well. Eighty percent of the people
that you educate into be productive in the jobs that they're going to secure
down through life. I believe only 20 percent of the people are ever going
to be successful in computers; the other 80 percent's going to learn how to
play with them and buy them and everything else, but there's going to be 20
percent. Right now you'll probably read the stats that we have going in the
United States of America that less than 20 percent of the people right now
is supporting the U.S. government. And the other 80 percent, they may be contributing
some, but not a great deal, and some are taking and not giving. And I think
that same, you know, curve of learning, I think it applies to anything you
do in life. A businessman, there's some that's going to be highly successful,
some are going to be mediocre and some are going to fail every time they turn
around. Now, I believe everyone in the United States should have the opportunity
for an education and to go as high and as far as they want to, and there should
be nothing restrictive in the way of money to keep those people... The G.I.
Bill proved this, that when we came back from World War II, many, many guys
in G.I. went on to a higher level of learning and qualified themselves for
jobs that really paid the government back tenfold in IRS. Does that kind of
hit the nail, what you're talking about?
Q: How about the philosophy of teaching?
A: My philosophy of teaching, I was there for the kids. First of all, I
had to be a warm individual, an understanding individual. I had to have some
enthusiasm going for me and I had to go and be able to master what I was teaching.
My first year of teaching I probably learned more than the kids ever learned,
because I went through and I did the textbook, but I never tried to tell them
what related to the textbook. Now I was a history teacher, I told you. I spent
10 minutes on the lesson. I spent 25 minutes trying to relate the lesson to
where they were living and where they were going to live. And then the remainder
of our 55 minutes, I said to the students, "she's wide open, discuss what
we've talked about today, or if you can find something that relates to this,
we will discuss it." Now, I never had to be at a certain page in that book.
I had to have memorization because I think the mind develops through memorization,
that if you want to recall you can't just let everything slide through. I
have this irrigation ditch running down through here and it's got a lot of
water in it. But if they just let that thing run and not do anything about
it, it's going to get into a lake and the lake's going to get it back into
the river, and the river's going to take it to a bigger river and to the ocean
and there it's going to be lost. I believe sometimes you've got to tap into
this ditch to take something out of it to water, and to make that plant or
that crop be productive, and then you will see a result from this water running
down this irrigation ditch.
Q: What does it take to be an effective principal?
A: Hard work. Hard work, determination, understanding, all those beautiful
words. Dedication. A lot of enthusiasm. Stay away from one thing: Bitching.
A bitcher will find another bitcher, and you never solve anything by bitching.
You solve things by having a good, wholesome attitude and saying, hey, I'm
seeking answers. If something's working, don't throw it away just for something
new, but gradually if you think what is new, work it in gradually and maybe
the old will fade or maybe you can take some good from both. But in education,
I've seen them run so many new programs that was not successful. They would
just scrap it in a year, maybe two years. It wouldn't be successful, they'd
have to go back to the old. Well the old wasn't successful, either. And so,
there's a happy medium somewhere. But, I'll say this. Until the teaching profession
realize that learning and teaching is hard work, we're never going to see
a great improvement in education. I don't use in my lifetime even a portion
of my brain. And I sometimes really get down on myself because, hey, you didn't
develop it. And so the fix that you're in, don't blame anyone but you because
you had the opportunity.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?
A: I think the greatest pressure that I faced was the, I'm going to call
it the central administration, my higher-ups.
Q: What kind of pressure did they put on you?
A: Well, I thought a lot of times they were taking the easy road, and I
didn't believe in the easy road. Some of their goals or objectives I disagreed
with and kind of got myself in hot water with it, because I said, hey, that's
not my goal, that's a false goal for me and there's no way I can achieve that
goal. You're not giving me the vehicles to be successful, and you've got to
give me a hammer and some nails and an apron, and I know how to be successful
Q: So how did you handle that pressure?
A: Well, through the newspaper, through the school board, through the community
leaders and through my staff is the way I handled that.
Q: How about for yourself, for your own well-being, getting these pressures
A: Well, I've never had an ulcer. I've lost a little sleep. In fact I've
lost sleep just playing, too. Never really ever got me down, because I figured
I was looking for a job when I got this one, and that was my philosophy. And
if you can get my job it wasn't much of a job to begin with.
Q: If you had it to do over again, what would you do to better prepare yourself
for the principalship?
A: I would take all the courses that I know to be a brown-noser, and never
be a man that resisted anything that come along. Just like water, when you
pour it out it'll seek it's level and I'd just be like water. And I think
probably that would get just as far down the line today as, or a little farther,
than bucking the administration.
Q: So more courses that would teach you public relations, and accounting
A: I don't know that there's a course that you can take that can accomplish
just what I said. I think that's covering a lot of things that you can take,
but never be a person that rocks the boat. The man that rocks the boat may get
thrown overboard. And so I don't know if there is a course you could take. Of
all the courses you could take, I think a principal, he has to take some basic
courses to understand his job. But I, again, again, I think they should have
a course somewhere within the preparation of how to build goals and how to be
able to accomplish those goals. And I think if they would look at industry,
or at any business that is being successful, to see how those people plan and
how hard they work. They don't work a 40-hour week, they don't work a 60-hour
week, they work probably a 100-hour week. But they said, "We are going to be
the best." And we sit back and we see this fella and he's running Chrysler Motors
and making a million dollars a year, but they don't know the price that he had
to pay, or is paying, at that job. And most of us won't work that hard. But
if you want to be successful, it's going to take dedication and hard work in
doing that. And if you devote a certain portion of your life, why do you suppose
we see so many of these young fellas today that's retiring at 50 and they're
multi-millionaires? Because they worked from the time they was 25 until they
were 50 and they said, hey, now we're going to play. And they worked! Now, I've
been out of the teaching industry long enough that I have seen these men and
I have met these men and not only men but women also -- when I use the word
"men" I'm using both genders, I'm not saying one or the other -- they are hard,
hard workers. And they take a lot of people along with them.
Q: What about outside of the university-type courses? Are there things you'd
do, say in industry, would you go into a different field for a while before going
A: Well, I don't know if I can put this into words or not when you ask that.
But industry is a whole new different ball game because they've got to make
the money to be successful. In the school business, there hasn't probably
been one of those people that ever made up a, or paid taxes like the people
do in industry or business, a payroll, meet insurance programs, worry about
the water and the lights and the fuel and all the rest of it. In the teaching
profession it is a government position where they are given a contract for
a certain amount of money and to teach so many days and no way to grade them
to see how they have accomplished or what kind of product they have really
put out until the kid's outside of school and graduation, if he's able to
go on to college and, if he finishes college, then maybe go out into the business
world. Or maybe some of these other youngsters have gone out in the business
world. But you'll probably find out, most of them will say once they got out
into the business world, they learned a lot of things there, but some of the
instruction they are given certainly helped them to be successful. They picked
up a smattering here and a smattering there and they put it together and they
developed their own philosophy or scientific invention or something else.
It's different than day and night. Teaching is different than out there on
the old street. Now, a teacher that gets a part-time job in the summertime,
he never really understands what the boss is really doing, because he's just
there a short time. I still go back to the same thing, Mike. Teachers have
got to go and someway be accountable. And that's all there is to it. And when
they can find that and you can say, "I'm accountable," but I look in the mirror
and I think I'm a pretty fine guy, but maybe my wife and my kids and some
of my friends don't think so. They may see some faults in me, but I don't
want to see any faults.
Q: How did you handle grievances, say from teachers or from parents?
A: I never had a grievance against me. I don't know how to handle that.
I never had a grievance against me. Now, before it ever got to that stage
I imagine we sat down and talked it out.
Q: Did the district have a grievance procedure?
A: Yes, they had a grievance program. They had a grievance program. I've
never been grieved at from above or grieved at from below. I have been threatened
from above, never really ever felt threatened from below.
Q: Did you ever recommend that a teacher not be renewed?
Q: What was that like?
A: Something I didn't like to do. Because they were human beings and they
most generally had spent a considerable time in more or less qualifying themselves.
But they just didn't have the knack of being successful in the classroom.
And most of them once they were dismissed went from pillar to postin the teaching
profession, and they were most generally fired, as you said, and they got
into a business of their own where they were successful, some of them. Some
of them got into the public sector, and they didn't hold a job very long and
I don't know why, but no one ever to really... And we in the teaching profession
never stopped to really say, hey, you know, guy, we got to turn you around
here, because we didn't have time to do that. They talk about this, but they
just don't have time to do this. The colleges and the universities should
have turned them around. They should have never recommended them for a teaching
certificate. Now we had student teachers here at Longmont High School, and
I had them in other schools where I was at. I had a young fella I particularly
remember, he's very vivid to me, that was a student teacher, and the teacher
he was under at Longmont High School said, "I don't want him," and I said,
well, I'll talk to the education department in Boulder and have him recalled.
And they said we can't, you took him, you got him. Well, I said, we can't
do it. He's just not cooperating, he's a rebel. And they said, yeah, we kind
of know it, but he's smart, and yeah, he was smart. So it come time to give
him his grade. So the teacher said, "I can't give him a grade." I said, "Well,
let's give him a C." That means that he cannot go and get his teaching certificate
in the state of Colorado. He could get it out of state. I had that young man
come over and threaten me. I even had that cooperative professor over there
come over and beg with me, and I said, "Hey, you give him any grade you want
to give him. But that was the grade we gave him. And I tried to tell you that
let's pull him back in, because he wasn't ready. And, I stuck to my guns and
the teacher stuck to his guns, or her guns, and that was the way it was. It
wasn't nice! But we said, hey, he is not the teaching caliber.
Q: How can education be improved through the university?
A: Not more money. Because more money is the means that you can get a lot
of fancy programs that don't mean anything. And yet, what I'm going to say
is going to cost more money. I'm saying cut down class sizes. Give the teacher
an opportunity to be able to use their skills in teaching. Give them support
wherever support is needed and have some specialists give him that support.
A principal is a person who is an organizer, who understands the learning
process, who understands the building of curriculum, should be the person
who understands how to establish goals for his school, and how he can develop
people to pursue those goals 'till they are accomplished. His goals have to
be their goals also.
Q: This is the way, basically, you improve education. How can teachers
A: Teachers have got to remember that it's a job. It's not an 8-4 o'clock
job, it's a job. And every time they turn around they must decorate that window,
or put a display in that window that's going to attract attention of their
students so they will be inquisitive enough to get inside the store and purchase
some of those items that have been on display. Now that sounds kind of corny,
doesn't it? But that's kind of what a teacher has to do.
Q: How did you handle civil rights issues?
A: I told them that my name was Cley, and I asked them what their name was,
and if it was Joseph, or Carl, or anything like that I'd say well, all right,
we're on a one-to-one basis. And I am a human being more or less just like
you are. You've got prejudice and I've got prejudice. But let's talk about
these, and I was able to resolve these prejudices and what we must do about
these prejudices. Well, sure, it was the Mexican element that I first dealt
with here. And they had a few public meetings and they were going to crucify
some of we people, but I attended and I was never crucified. I said, you got
a point. But are you willing to pay the price just the same as I'm willing
to pay the price, and can we get that kid to pay the price? And that's where
we went from, and I said, you're not going to correct this today and it's
not going to be corrected tomorrow. It's going to take a period of time. But
if you want to join my rat race and have a heart attack and ulcers or a stroke,
get right into it but just don't stand there and scream. Give me a solution.
And that's the way I handled it. And I have a lot of those friends out there
Q: How about busing issues?
A: Well, because we've become such a mobile nation, that, I don't know who
introduced the idea of busing. Used to be that parents brought their kids
to school, but lately we've become more metropolitan and everything else.
I think that busing should be given to private industry and for the school
system to get out of busing. Let the experts take care of it. They tried to
hire an expert, but they have all problems in the busing. Let that company
lay down the rules on that bus. And if that kid isn't adhering to those rules,
let that private enterprise company handle that problem on the bus. That isn't
a school's problem; that isn't the principal's problem. But it becomes part
of their many, many duties that distracts from the real core of education.
Q: Did that NCEE report come out while you were still in education?
A: I think it did, but I can't recall it.
Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?
A: Well, I'll turn that around. What procedure should be used to select
teachers? I guess it's because you want to go into administration, because
there's a dollar sign up there and there's a little prestige with this and
there's a few more social things with this, all those nice things and bad
things. But I can't tell you how to select a person. I've seen people from
all different areas of the school go into administration. Some have been successful
and some haven't been successful, and I think that probably the one thing
is, if you boil it right down to, how much reasoning does that person have
to be able to run a play and gain 10 yards? Now that sounds kind of, but you
understand, here, I say run the play, and I'm going to use the football game,
and I'm and old coach. You take 11 men and we trained all week to execute
a certain play. And we told every single player on that team, "You execute,
you do your job, and we've got a touchdown." Now if you only made one yard,
it's because maybe we called the wrong signal. Maybe we were at the, hitting
the strength of the other team on that type of thing. But, if every player,
and I mean every teacher, every administrator, would do their job, education
would make a touchdown every time.
Q: Would you have preferred to have stayed in the classroom than to being a
principal if all things were equal?
A: Yes! I would have.
Q: How did you utilize your vice principals?
A: Well, I tried to get my vice principals involved the same way I was involved,
with the public, with the staff, with the students. To take my ideas, my goals,
kick 'em around! Tear 'em apart! Find all the weaknesses you can in them.
Let's communicate, because we're on a team here. And just because I said it's
my goals, it's our goals. It has to be our goals or not be successful. No
one man can run the length of the field himself. And he has to have the people.
Sure, they had assignments taking attendance and checking attendance. They
had assignments for the extracurricular things. They had assignments to supervise
the halls. But they also, their number one assignment was, you get in the
classrooms, work with the teachers. We'll hire clerks and we'll all be out
in the halls. And, if I'm there and something comes up in the way of extracurricular,
I'll handle that. You don't have to handle that because we know where we're
going. The other principal, he knew where he was going, he could handle it.
If an attendance problem came up and I was there and that guy was out in the
classroom, I handled the attendance problem, or the other guy did. In other
words, we weren't into a corral, we were by ourselves and knew how to shoot
to get out. We always had plenty of exits so we could manipulate, and I demanded
that my assistants did everything that I did, because I've done everything
they did, or doing.
Q: As principal, what was your biggest concern?
A: My biggest concern probably, and it probably never did show up, is to
have a productive atmosphere that was positive rather than negative, for everybody
that came through any door of that building. That probably was my philosophy.
Now, I wasn't successful all the time, but there was a little bit of success
along the way. You're one of them, you see! You didn't say trains, so you
got something or you wouldn't be where you're at today. And maybe you didn't
disagree or agree too much with me, maybe you were too busy getting along
with your own thing, gathering all that you could and getting a little moss
on your back 'cause you said, "I know where I want to go. And I had to go
through these hoop-doos." I was going to say something a while ago. Do you
know the song, "Little boxes, little boxes, red, white and blue. Put 'em in
little boxes, one, two, three, and you. But don't put everybody in a little
box, and the same little box, because we need those little red, white and
blue and you." Now that's pretty good little philosophy. Isn't it?
Q: What do you think of merit pay?
A: Merit pay? I think it is great! But they have to find an instrument that
is fair. It cannot be popularity. You invite me over to your house and you
wine and dine me and you're a great fella and we go fishin' and we go huntin',
our wives play bridge together and everything else, and you've got to have
that social atmosphere, but it's got to be a positive instrument. And I think
the only way it will be a positive instrument is if you will take other teachers,
and they know good teachers and they know bad teachers. They know who's doing
a bad job. If I'm a fourth grade teacher and I'm getting kids from the third
grade class and they're lacking something, I know this the minute those kids
come into my classroom, I know this. Because they're void in this area. And
you've got a problem. You've either got to catch them up or you've lost them.
And I think teachers are probably the ones who should be the people who give
merit pay, but they don't want that responsibility.
Q: What characteristics are associated with effective schools?
A: An atmosphere of enthusiasm. A school where the kids can intermingle
one with another, not too much of a social level. One where the teachers greet
them instead of hiding from them. One where recognition and praise is very,
very fluent by all members of the staff, from the custodian to the cook, to
the classroom teacher to the principal. That is, you've got to create an atmosphere
that is conducive, that they enjoy being in school. Now, that's pretty hard
for everybody but you'd be surprised how many people will just really want
to get to school every day.
Q: What do you think of the SATs and ACTs? Are they useful?
A: Oh my, I can remember the day, I can remember the time, I can remember
the man who got up in the North Central Association and said, "Gentleman,
we are going down a road that is going to control education." He said, "People
eventually will be comparing the scores with each other and with other communities,
and pretty soon we will lose sight of the objectives of what we're really
trying to do, but we're teaching for these tests." And I believed this. I
believe down through the years since 1967 when this came in, I believe it
and I... Floyd Miller was the man's name, and he was commissioner of education
in the state of Nebraska.
Q: What was the toughest decision you ever had to make as a principal?
A: I'd say to fire a teacher was the toughest decision I ever had to make.
Because that was, of course I had kids that I booted out of school, but that
wasn't a hard decision because they had learned all that they... I always
left the door open so they could get back. And I went after them to bring
Q: Did you feel you were an instructional leader or a building manager?
A: I became a building manager, is what I became. Because of our over-crowdedness
and the Vietnam war, the drug program, or the drugs coming in, I felt I became
a building manager, not an educational leader. Because all you were doing
was using a band-aid here and a band-aid there, putting out a little brush
fire here and a little brush fire there, and I never did really have time
to sit down and think anything through because every day there's another catastrophe
coming up and facing us.
Q: What advice would you give to a future principal?
A: Have a lot of love and compassion. That's the advice that I would give
Q: What changes would you make in the organizational setup of the administration's
A: I'm not him, but if I was the superintendent and you were my principal,
Mike, I'd say, "You make your budget up. I'm not going to make your budget
up for you. But you tell me what budget you have to do to be able to operate
your school." Because it takes dollars first, you understand that. Other thing
is, I'd say, "OK, Mike, I want you and your staff to develop me a set of goals,
or which you're going to try to accomplish. Now they've got to be within the
confines of the philosophy of the district, you understand this, because,
we here and the board of education establishes our philosophy. But it's got
to be in the confines." Then after you've made up your goals, I would say
one more thing to you: "Now how are you going to attain those goals?" And
I'm going to be evaluating you on your goals and you're going to be evaluating
your teachers on how you achieve those goals. But you're going to run that
building, and if you make some goals that are not down to earth but look good
on paper, and no way you're going to accomplish it, I don't think you'll be
my building principal again. Because I've got to get someone in there that
can work with the confines of the district philosophy 'cause I've got to go
and give my goals to the board of education, and you've got to give your goals,
and we've all got to be in unity. And I'm here to help you. I believe that
education should be divided into two areas: We have a general superintendent.
Forget him. Throw him out. He can't be everything. We have a superintendent
of instruction that knows [OFF TAPE] about instruction and curriculum. We
also need a budget manager. He should be in charge of the financial end of
Q: Is there a question I didn't ask that I should have asked?
A: Well, yes there is another question. Should teachers and administrators
be rotated in their positions? My answer is yes, every seven years, at least.
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