Interview with Vincent Reed


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Q: The questions are related to assistant principalship, decision-making, improvement in education, effective school's characteristics, ethics and codes of the school issues in terms of civil rights and how you handled those, leadership theories and techniques, organization of the school, your philosophy of education teaching and responsibilities and since you've retired what are you doing and that kind of thing? So, I'll start off and I will be recording in addition to the tape re corder. I will write as well if that's OK with you? OK, the first question is what are the dates when you were principal?

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

A: Ah..From September 1968 to June 1970.

Q: OK, where was that?

A: I was at Woodson High School in Washington, D.C.

Q: You were assistant principal then when we were together, right at Armstrong?

A: At Armstrong, I was the Director of the Manpower Program. I was the local director of the Manpower Program and Baylor was the State Director.

Q: I couldn't remember his name.

A: Lawrence Baylor, yes.

Q: Is he still alive?

A: No, he died. Emphysema got him.

Q: Oh really? Oh, I didn't know that. So, you were at Woodrow Wilson? All right, did you have an assistant principal?

A: Yes, I did. I had three.

Q: Three? OK, and can you describe your relationship with them?

A: The relationship with them was a-a professional relationship. Ah- a relationship that - that was - that was direction oriented and task oriented, but a warm relationship, it wasn't a cold boss working relationship. It was a team effort.

Q: Uh huh.

A: And I exercised the relationship - ah in a manner that ah whatever you had to do in order to get the job done you did.

Q: Uh huh.

A: And and how they responded to direction dictated my behavior toward them.

Q: Uh huh. OK, the next one. What were his or her effective characteristics; what did you find, what did you find?

A: Of the assistant principles? Well, you keep in mind that you put a team together and as you look at that team you look at the strengths of certain people and you try to put them in those areas where they can most effectively use those strengths.

Q: Uh huh.

A: Ah, we had some people who were very good on paper work, so naturally you ask them to do the bulk of the paper work. There are some people who have the ability to deal with teachers and are good observers in classroom then you let them participate in those activities along with other things.

Q: Uh huh.

A: There are some people who are good disciplinarians along the lines of having to deal with problem children, girls and boys and you ask them to fill in that area. So put a team together by drawing on the strengths of each person.

Q: Uh huh.

A: And you kind of orchestrate that whole - whole array of responsibilities and make sure that they do em.

Q: All right. Sounds good. Describe your decision-making techniques.

A: I have always felt that you should have a parameter ah-ah around which to make decisions, and I decided early in my administrative days that I would make those decisions based on what's best for children and based on what's best ah for the ah whole school setting and try to make educational decisions rather than political decisions.

Q: Interesting. Sounding like some of the information we're getting in class (laughing). Can you remember the easiest decision you had to make, and then, if you do describe it.

A: As a principal?

Q: Yes.

A: Well, I think the easiest decision that you have to make as a principal that I'm going to have a, a friendly fair firm and flexible relationship with students.

Q: And you found that easy?

A: I found it very easy, at the same time not sacrifice your respect.

Q: OK, uh huh, OK. What was the (defect in tape) most difficult decision you had to make that you can remember?

A: It's always difficult when you have to deal in a disciplinary way with teachers and staff.

Q: Uh huh. OK, what is your philosophy of education?

A: I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean you say philosophy of education. I really believe that we have responsibility

Q: Uh huh.

A: to train every youngster that we have under our charge and prepare them to meet the challenges they are going to have to face in life. It's a shame if we keep youngsters twelve years and then turn them loose not able to negotiate the problems they're going to face. Youngsters should be able to read, write, think and reason after they've been in the school system, and teachers have responsibility to effect those talents.

Q: OK, do you mind if I stop now and see if I'm recording (gap) and then we can start right back up.

A: No.

Q: What suggestions would you make for improving education?

A: I think one of the biggest problems we have in education today is a lack of leadership. I think we as administrators and teachers as teachers must exercise a great deal of leadership. I think we have to maintain standards. I think we have to hold youngsters to standards and we have to stop babysitting and placating young people understanding that what they go through today means a heck of a lot for them twenty years from now and that's very difficult to, to convince students of that. But, we've got to set standards and make them meet standards and make them cultivate the discipline that's going to be needed to be successful in this life.

Q: I agree with that. OK, was there an effective code of ethics during your reign as principal?

A: Yeah, back in those times they had a board of education ah policy of ah ethical behavior and dress that was to be carried out by the school principal, and ah that did not, that was not a big problem. Every now and then somebody would step out of line, but ah by and large students followed that.

Q: Uh huh, OK. What were the prevalent issues during your reign as principal such as civil rights, accountability, minorities bilingual education?

A: Well, at Wilson at that time it was a it was - race was a big problem from the standpoint out of out of 1900 students we only had about forty black kids.

Q: Uh huh?

A: And they were black kids from # socio-economical standpoint, were as well off as many of the whites. Ah one of the other big things during that time was the Vietnam War which caused a lot of people to take sides as to whether it was right for the United States to be in that war or not.

Q: Uh huh.

A: So therefore, you had a lot of demonstrations and you had a lot of people who felt they had to go on one side or the other. During that time Martin Luther King was murdered that caused ah a great deal of unrest; ah not particular in our school and ah we anticipated a lot of unrest be cause of the racial make-up, but it really wasn't as bad as we had thought. So, those were the issues. Dress was not a big thing. Kids were kind were ah kind a going through a mod stage where.

Q: Uh huh.

A: You know how youngsters are. They've been doing that for years. The whole issue was that of race and that whole business of achievement.

Q: Uh huh. OK, accountability in terms of I guess faculty-----.

A: Well, the faculty had to be accountable to the tasks that were given. It was the responsibility of the principal to observe teachers as they taught in the classroom; to evaluate them from the standpoint of whether they were being effective or not. And those who were not effective you had responsibility to see that they improve or try to make them improve, help them improve and those who did not improve even with your help do everything you can to remove them from the classroom.

Q: We already talked about minorities and bilingual education did you have a problem with that?

A: Ah, we had yes. At Wilson we had some problem with the ability to negotiate the English language because we had some seventy-one youngsters from seventy-one different countries because we had the, the diplomatic kids in there and they seemed to get along well.

Q: Uh huh.

A: Youngsters pick up another language very quickly so that's not a problem. Even those who had trouble in the beginning soon were able to communicate through English and not have any trouble with the other youngsters.

Q: What theory of leadership did you use and what leadership style?

A: Well, my leadership style is whatever it has to be, whatever it has to be. If you come in late and I can say to you look darling. I call every- one sugar and darling - and I can say to you look darling you got to get here on time. And that works find, but if I have to use more positive manners or measures to get you here on time, then I do that. So my style is whatever is forced upon me.

Q: Uh huh, yes. What ah. How was your school organized?

A: Well, we had a conventional organization. We had the principal and a set of assistant principals who each had an area to be responsible for in the total administrative scheme. Ah, we had ah counselors who had direct responsibility for sections of the student body.

Q: Uh huh.

A: Ah, teachers who had their different disciplines all teachers had all disciplines had a department head that ah usually dealt with the minor problems of the department and as they, as they encountered more difficult problems then it moved on up the line to the principal.

Q: Uh huh.

A: But the organization was a conventional one that seemed to be effective with the youngsters we had.

Q: How did you feel about the central office policy, or did you have a central office?

A: We had a central office policy. Ah, I'm a firm believer that we don't hire teachers to discipline. I think teachers ought to teach and when when youngsters were disruptive to the point that it halted educational process then the central office was where they were sent, and I made sure some one dealt with that and kept the teachers out of it. So our central office was used as sort of a spoke in a wheel where people assembled in the morning before going to their classes where, mail was picked up and where all the administrative activities centered around.

Q: OK, what is your philosophy of teaching?

A: My philosophy of teaching is that every teacher has a responsibility to impart the knowledge that they have to the students, and that the absorption level of the student is one that will allow them to leave that classroom with as much knowledge as they can possibly absorb from that teacher, and the teacher has the responsibility to see that that youngster has improved under his or her teaching.

Q: Uh huh. OK. What is your philosophy of education I've already asked that. Discuss your responsibilities as a manager. You know.

A: Well, the principal is responsible for everything in the school. That goes for the academic program to the lunch program to the recreational pro- gram to the building and grounds. It is your responsibility to see that the building is cleaned up. For instance, my custodians knew that after every lunch period they had to drag the first floor halls in case of any papers and that kind of thing. You have to make sure that the building is clean and that the building is warm and that the building serves youngsters and does not become a part of any hazardous situation.

Q: Uh huh. OK. How did you see yourself as an instructional leader?

A: Well, I guess everybody feels that he or she is a good teacher. I thought I was a good teacher, ah a well disciplined teacher and demanded a tremendous amount of discipline from the students. And, ah, I don't think I was lazy. I think I've seen a lot of teachers who were just lazy who could be good teachers, but they were just lazy and I felt I was one of the better ones. So, ah, I guess my record kind of proves, kind of proves that I was a pretty good teacher.

Q: Uh huh, OK. How did you handle teacher evaluations?

A: Which is one of the most difficult things for a principal to do because of the time - time it takes to do it. You've got to get in those class- rooms if you're really going to be able to evaluate teachers. You can't evaluate teachers sitting down in your office.

Q: Uh huh.

A: And evaluation of teachers ah a very important, a very important part of your responsibility, because poor teaching can do a great deal not only to disturb youngsters to the point where they are not interested in school, but it can do so much to - to play upon the moral of the other teachers.

Q: Uh huh.

A: And I think that, ah, evaluations give you an idea how well youngsters are responding to teaching and how much improvement that teacher needs in case he or she does need some improvement.

Q: What was your typical work day like?

A: As a principal you usually get to school about 7:30; sometimes between 7:30 and 8:00 o'clock, ah, on any given Friday during football season you're probably working from 7:00 in the morning till about 11:00 or 12:00 at night particularly if you - you have school all day have a football in the evening and double back for a dance that night.

Q: Uh huh.

A: You know, you're there until 11:00 or 12:00 at night. So, it can be long. Ah, but I do feel that the more organized you are the shorter your day is.

Q: Uh huh.

A: If you're organized and you know where you're going you know what you want to do every day you have a plan in place then it - it doesn't require you to spend as much time as - as if you were not organized.

Q: OK. Did you have a master schedule?

A: We had a master schedule, ah, that laid out the teaching schedule for each teacher and study periods. Ah, the master schedule involved all the teaching staff and the students' programs and what classes the students will be in during the course of the day. And in some of the schools where they had more teachers than they had classrooms you had to have a floating schedule.

Q: Is that right?

A: Yeah, some teachers didn't have a regular classroom.

Q: Uh?

A: They would be assigned to classrooms when other teachers were off. So they called them floating teachers. So that had to be worked in your master schedule also.

Q: Never heard that before. OK. What do you think your least pleasant responsibility was?

A: As I indicated before, I think it is ah least pleasant is ah having to deal with those teachers who are not teaching, ah having to deal with those students who are just determined they're not going to learn, and having to deal with those parents who just don't understand that discipline is a parental responsibility and not a school responsibility, cause parents should be the one who deal out discipline.

Q: Uh huh. What was your most pleasant ones that you can remember?

A: Association with youngsters. Ah, I think it is always pleasant when you have a chance to compliment teachers. When you have the opportunity to compliment; pass on compliments. And it's always pleasant when you get a chance to reward students.

Q: OK. What was the majority of your time spent on that you can remember?

A: I think the majority of time was spent completing paperwork for downtown. (We both laugh) and - and - and - and reinforcing teaching, reinforcing the quality of teaching and the level of teaching.

Q: OK. When did you retire and why?

A: I retired ah as superintendent of schools on December 31st of 1980. And the reason is I had, I had been in the system for thirty years and I had the age and the time in service to get a full retirement and I decided I wanted to do something different after so many years and before I got too old.

Q: Uh huh. That's great. And what year did you retire from as a principal?

A: I left principalship in 1969 and went downtown as assistant superintendent in charge of personnel.

Q: Uh huh. How did you enjoy that experience as a superintendent?

A: The superintendancy is not something you enjoy. It's something you do. Ah the superintendancy is a tough, tough job, because there are so many things that happen that you can't control. Most of the pleasant things that, that, that are done in the system are taken care of before it gets to the superintendent. The residue or the unpleasant things are what the superintendent deals with. (We both laugh). That's the reason I said it's a job that you do not necessarily, a job that you enjoy. At the time I was superintendent we had a hundred fifty thousand kids and seven thousand six hundred teachers and two hundred twenty-eight school buildings, a three hundred million dollar budget. Ah it's a biggy. Yeah, it's a biggy; it's a big job but ah the, pleasant things that you do, you can make things pleasant if you try to keep hands on kinds of approaches with with students, and not get yourself too far separated from kids and most superintendents do get separated from children.

Q: Uh huh.

A: Ah, I used to go out of my way. I used to visit schools every Thursday. I didn't go in my office on Thursday. I visited schools every Thursday. And I think that helped me not get that gap between myself and what takes place in schools and I found that to be enjoyable.

Q: Sounds like In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman.

A: Yes, you have to, you've got to. You see the other thing that is, you really don't know what's going on out there unless you're out there in those schools and walking those halls and looking at the teachers' class rooms and listening to principals talk about their problems. It gives you a greater sensitivity to what they're dealing with everyday and a greater understanding of what they're dealing with every day. And it fortifies you and how you're going to deal with those problems and, and ah and how you're going to help them solve those problems. Plus, I enjoyed that. It's nice to walk down the hall and see kids and speak to them and all the kids know you, you know and ah and that's kind of nice.

Q: I can imagine. What was your school and community relations like?

A: I've always been strong on people people. Ah, I meet people well, and I never really had a problem with, with the community. Ah, I think the community is mainly interested in one thing. Do you run a good school? And they feel or have the perception that you run a good school then you can get their support. I've always had a good strong community relations in the schools where I've been.

Q: Uh huh OK, how do you feel about the importance of school and community relations?

A: I don't think, I don't think there can be any success if you don't have a good strong school-community-relations. You see I feel, I feel parents I have never seen a program and a school system work that didn't have parents students community and - and and parents, students and community working together. Almost any program will work behind that kind of combination.

Q: OK. What was your relationship with the school board?

A: When I was, when I was a principal?

Q: Uh huh?

A: A good one. When I was a superintendent a stormy one. (We both laughed).

Q: OK, I tell you?

A: And the relationship. (We laughed again).

Q: What was your relationship with the superintendent as principal?

A: And during my time ah as principal a good one. I was very supportive of him and he was supportive of me.

Q: OK, what key, what keys to success do you recommend. What are some keys to success?

A: I think if you're going to be successful, first you have to know your subject matter. You have to know the job that you're doing. The second thing, you've got to be a real true believer in a team concept - you've got to be fair, and you have to be flexible.

Q: Uh huh -- Pause.

A: And you have to be determined that children will learn and you have to expect them to learn.

Q: Uh huh OK. I like that. I like that a lot.

A: Thank you.

Q: What self improvement strategies did you use?

A: Well, I think we all have weaknesses. And I think we have to be secure enough to admit to ourselves our weaknesses and then if there is a weakness there then through the team concept you hire somebody who has the strength where you have a weakness, and then you can put the complete thing together. I think you can't pick people based any - any characteristic. You've got to pick people based on their ability to do. You can't worry about their sex, you can't worry about their race, you can't worry about any of that. You pick a person who can go toward the, who can move the, who can move you toward your goals and objectives.

Q: Uh huh. OK, how do you feel about your relationship with the teachers?

A: My relationship with teachers was a very demanding one. Ah, I use to tell teachers "Get on the band wagon or the band wagon's gonna run over you,'' it's just that simple.

Q: Laughing, I've heard that before.

A: Because we - we - we intend to teach these kids and we don't have time for adult problems. (He appeared as if he was talking to teachers at that time). Cause we're here for these youngsters, if it wasn't for these young people we wouldn't be here and we are all about the business of ten years from now they looking back and say hey you know they did a good a job at that school (buzzer rings). Pardon me one second.

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: Well, first thing I - I think you ought to sit down and talk to them. Ah, never have a closed door when it comes to a teacher has a complaint. If the teacher has a legitimate complaint, see if you can do something to solve it. If the teacher doesn't have a legitimate complaint then tell the teacher she or he has the right to pursue to the highest, you know. And, and you just deal with and always deal with it in a professional way. Don't get personal and and ah don't let anything stand in the way of that teacher getting due process, and I think they'll feel and teachers even teachers when they lose will respect that.

Q: Uh huh. What method of teacher evaluation did you use?

A: Observation. Observe the teacher as he or she is teaching. Give that teacher a - a written evaluation and give that teacher a chance to come in and sit down and talk about that evaluation. If the teacher disagrees with the evaluation, then you have to be ready to point out why you gave the evaluation that you did.

Q: Uh huh. OK. Was there any type of career ladder for teachers?

A: What as you move up from teaching up into the administration?

Q: Uh huh. Right.

A: Well in Washington, unfortunately the career ladder had kind of developed not a written one, but the career ladder kind of developed like this: start off teacher you move to be a counselor, you move to be assistant principal and eventually a principal. That's usually the steps that that follows. Although sometimes that that didn't sequence didn't didn't pertain to everybody, but that's the way, the way it - it ah was in my time. Since that time, they have gotten some money from foundations that they identify teachers who have potential, and they put in a training program to be administrators.

Q: OK. How do you feel about that?

A: I think that is good. I think that's better than the method we used be cause a lot of us who moved into the principalship, we went through the trial and error method and nobody ever told me about how - nobody told me how to be a principal and that reason is why so many people failed.

Q: Uh huh. Was there any form of merit pay system?

A: Not during my time, no.

Q: How do you feel about merit pay?

A: I have some real problems with it, because nobody has told me yet how you're gonna take out the subjectivity.

Q: Yes.

A: If there is a way that you could be objective about it and the human element were removed I would be for it, because some teachers are better than other teachers, but I've got a problem when principals make that decision, cause I don't know any perfect principals.

Q: Oh. What were the teacher expectations of you as a principal? Do you remember that?

A: Toward them? To have an open door policy. Be professional in your - in your treatment of them, and to be fair and flexible.

Q: OK. Ah were there any standardized test administered to the students during your time in school?

A: Oh yes. We had - we had a variety of tests that we used. The California test. Naturally, high school you know we used the PSAT and SAT. Ah we used the ah. I am trying to think of the name of it huh. The ah preference test I forget the name of it, but anyway Yeah, we used a variety of tests for different reasons.

Q: What recommendations would you make to universities in better preparing principals? (Defect in tape)-

A: The first thing universities ought to do is stay on top of what's going on in education, what most universities don't, ah you can't - you can't have a professor who's a superintendent in Conkiki, Illinois thirty-five years ago and think he can still prepare people today to be principals. I think professors should be more open and flexible and work hard to hold down their egos so that they can take questions and inquirers from people in class and not intimidate students to the point they no longer are willing to open, to go into open dialogue with professors, because professors take it out on them. The biggest complaint I get from people in college is the archaic egotistical professors, and most of them are the most egotistical people I've ever met, and it's a shame because they inhibit black people.

Q: Well, sir. Would you believe that's the end and I have truly it.

A: Well, I'm glad you did - I hope you did.

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