This is an interview with Assistant Superintendent and former Principal from 1973 to 1979 of the Tazewell County Career Technical Center, Mr. Bill Rasnick, who is now Assistant Superintendent of Schools.
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Q: Mr. Rasnick, would you begin by telling us about your family background - your childhood interests and development. Which would include your birthplace, elementary and secondary education, family characteristics.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Tazewell County. I attended elementary school in Tazewell County. I attended a couple different elementary schools - Baptist Valley and North Tazewell Elementary. I graduated from Tazewell High School and continued to remain in the county for a while. But my family was basically involved in the mining industry. Both my grandfather and my father were miners and I was really the first person in my immediate family to attend college and graduate from college. We just basically came from a working family and my mother was I guess saw the importance of education more than anybody else maybe in the family. It was probably her influence and encouragement, as well teachers that I had in high school, that prompted me to decide to attend college.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher? A principal? As Central Office Personnel?
A: I attended Bluefield State College. Of course, the interesting thing about that, I worked full time and started college part-time but ended up working full-time and attending college full time. I took a leave of absence for six weeks while I was doing my practice teaching but other than that I worked full-time and went to school full-time.
Q: Was that unusual for that time period to be able to do that?
A: Yes. There was not a lot of people doing that, so it was somewhat unusual. I had a good experience at Bluefield State. I found the people to be very helpful. Several of the people I had there were much like some of the high school teachers I had had. They encouraged me to go into education. So the college people followed up with that and I had a good experience doing my practice teaching. I did have one college professor tell me if you can survive the school they placed you at to do your practice teaching, you won't have a problem anywhere you want to go. Of course he was right. I guess it was pretty tough there but it did help later on because I didn't have any major problem when I started teaching. I taught four years in the high schools - at Richlands High School in Tazewell County. During that time I taught a variety of courses. My major in my teaching field was Social Studies/Social Science, with a minor in English. I had some background as a high school student in vocational education so I ended up there the last year I taught at Richlands High School. I taught shop because they couldn't get anyone who was certified to teach shop. I enjoyed that. I would have been happy to continue teaching shop, but I didn't have the course work I needed so that would have required going back to school and about that same time I was working on my Master's Degree in administration. I finished my Master's Degree and went work in the fall of 1968 as assistant principal at the new Career and Technical Center. I worked as assistant principal for five years and then I became principal for the next six years. It was an extremely good experience. During that time I had two opportunities to move to the high school as principal, which I declined. Well, I had three opportunities really. In fact, I was offered Pocahontas High School during that period of time. The principal was a younger fellow than I am. Of course, it looked like if you stayed on as Assistant Principal there wasn't much opportunity to move in vocational education. But that opportunity did come and I became the principal. After six years as principal of the career and technical center, I went to the central office as director of vocational and adult education. I continued in that for about twelve years.
Q: I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.
A: Well, certainly when I graduated from high school my goal was to get a job. I was like most graduates in that day. There were a number of jobs available for people. You could make a fairly decent living without a college education, but I had been encouraged to attend college by my mother, and particularly by some teachers I had in high school. They encourage me to become a teacher - particularly a history teacher as that was one of my strong areas and I really enjoyed it. I married rather young. Went to work right out of high school. Married. We had one child a couple of years after we were married. I began to see that pretty soon if we were going to have a reasonable standard of living that I needed to make some kind of move. So I was working for a Kroger Company. I decided I was going to attend college and I was working in Welch, West Virginia. I asked them to transfer me to Bluefield so I could attend school. So that was an important decision in my life. Of course it took about a year after I asked for that transfer to be transferred to Bluefield, WV. Once I got there I began to look at what opportunities were available to go to school. There were two business colleges, private business colleges, in Bluefield at that time. There was Bluefield College, which was a junior college, or Bluefield State, which was a four-year institution. Again, I went with some good advice from a person who was in school at that time - a junior in college. He advised me to enroll in a night program at Bluefield State - an accredited college which afforded me the opportunity to teach, and that's what I wanted to do. So that was another important decision where I had some help in guiding me in the right direction.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: As I said, I worked four years as a teacher then after I started teaching, of course, and got my master's degree in administration, my goal was to become a principal then. So I took a job as assistant principal and worked through all the things you do as an assistant principal. When the opportunity came, I became principal. I kind of reach the goal I had set for myself. That was kind of an unsettling feeling because the principalship was what I had really set my sights on, and I thought: "I am principal. I am young." I had only been in education, at that time, nine years. I thought, you know, it will be a long time to be a principal - until retirement age. But then another opportunity came along. I was really happy as principal. In fact, very reluctant to move into central office. In fact, after agonizing over that decision for about a month, I told them that I was not going to take the job as vocational education director. So I called, the day after Memorial Day - we had been off for Memorial Day and came back on Tuesday. I called the personnel director and told him I wasn't going to take the job. I began to feel really down that day. I thought maybe, well, I had made a mistake. As has been characteristically throughout my career, I had a good friend come along about right after lunch. I believe it was about 1:00 he came in. We got to talking about that. He worked in the central office. While he was there, I picked up the phone and called the personnel director and told him I had changed my mind, if he hadn't offered it to someone else. He said: "We haven't, but are you sure?" I said, "I'm sure." I left the principalship and went to the central office, which was the right thing to do. It was an immense load of work, but I was able to do that.
Q: That's interesting you mentioned reaching a certain level at a young age. Where do you go from there? What opportunities are there ten years down the road once you reach that level where you set your sights? That's an interesting thing. You discussed the fact that the Tazewell County Career and Technical Center or Tazewell County Vocational Center, when you first entered the principalship, was a new building. Would you take us on a walk through the school, describing - at that particular time - its appearance and any other unusual features of the building?
A: At that time, the building was the first all-electric building we had in Tazewell County. As I said, it was a new building. It was well equipped. It was built for vocational education. The shops were designed for that. It was really an extremely pleasant place to work. It was too small when we opened. In fact, we could only take about half the youngsters who wanted to attend. And they were all juniors and seniors that we could accommodate in the program because we had our juniors in the morning the first year and our seniors in the afternoon. So, within a year we started planning our first addition to the vocational center, which doubled the size of it. But to start with, when we first opened we had a carpenter shop, a masonry shop, an auto mechanic shop, a electricity shop, a drafting lab, and we had a double cosmetology lab. We also had the licensed practical nursing program - now, we didn't have a facility there for them. They were located at the Clinch Valley Clinic Hospital at that time. But we took over the responsibility for that program. And when we built the first addition some two years later, the nursing department was added and the three clinical phases of that program moved to the vocational center. We served high school students and adults. Then, as we moved into that new building, we added a machine shop, we added welding, and we added auto body. We added electronics. And even then, at that point and time, we were still short of what we needed in order to serve the youngsters of Tazewell County. So we started working toward the next addition, which I was involved in during my principalship. I helped do the plans and supervised the construction of the third and final addition that was added to the vocational center. Of course, each addition - of the two additions - each one was a little bigger because we learned something about what they had done wrong in the first one. By the time we finished the third one, it was a tremendous place to work. Youngsters really learned. We were able to have a good enrollment. I felt like we were very successful. The school was different from other schools in the county in that we kind of had an open door policy. We welcomed the public. A lot of people from the public were in and out of the school all the time. They were in the shops. In fact, they did some work, some live work for people like on their automobiles, cosmetology, machine shop, and welding - all those areas. It was nothing for people to be in and out of that building all the time. We had a lot of business and industry support, because even back in those days we formed very strong partnerships with the mining industry and related industry in the area. It was a great place to be and a tremendous experience. In fact, I couldn't hardly wait to go to work I enjoyed it so much.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education. How did it evolve over the years?
A: Well, my philosophy of education I guess has changed some from when I first started. Naturally, when I first started teaching I brought a lot of ideas, methods, along with me that I had seen and learned and been exposed to during my years in the public schools and practices that we all followed while I was in college and doing my practice teaching. But my philosophy has changed over the years, and I think for the better. My philosophy: I believe that public education is the responsibility of public schools. To take every child where we find them and take them as far as they are capable of going during the time we have to work with them. There are a lot of different ways to do that, and I've seen a lot of things come and go. We are still looking at all of the new SOL's and end of course testing and all those things, but I still believe that basic philosophy is fit for where we are. And each teacher's got to do that every year: they need to access where that student is, and take them as far as they can during the time they have them. It will be different for every student.
Q: Good answer. Would you describe your expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed upon principals by their employers and community during your period of employment? How did these expectations differ in today's situation and in today's society? As Assistant Superintendent, you've heard it said we have an "in your face society today" - and how is that different than in the past when you were principal?
A: Well, with principals and school administrators at the time I came along, I think it's still true. But I'm not sure that people practice that as much as they did back then. You're expected to lead by example. You were expected to be the kind of person the people in the community looked up to. You were expected to dress and act be professional at all times. I think that's still important today. I'm not sure that we have that as much as we did among some of the people that have come down the pike, but will still get the job done. A lot of times if you lead by example, be professional, look professional, act professional, it will make a big difference. As far as the support and expectations of the public, that has changed dramatically since I first started teaching and since I was principal. At that time, for the most part, I felt we had a lot more support from parents whenever we had a problem at school. I don't know that during my years as assistant principal and principal that we ever had any real major long-term suspension even. Expulsions were something we never faced during the year when I was there. We had some discipline problems, but we had some additional tools to use back in those days. But even though corporal punishment was a very commonplace thing, I didn't feel at that time - what we had in that school was mostly boys, 'course they were young men, and for most of those fellows at that age - juniors and seniors - I didn't feel like that paddling them was the appropriate kind of thing even though we had the authority to do that. So, consequently during my year as assistant, and as principal, I didn't paddle students even though we could. I used other methods to discipline back then. I'm not so sure that corporal punishment being taken out of education has completely destroyed discipline. A lot of other things have really damaged our ability to have discipline and one is that you don't have the parents' support. As you mentioned earlier, you've got an "up in your face society" and it seems to me that it will bring more and more things on the school - problems that come from home. Ninety-nine percent of the problems I ever had, came from home.
Q: Good answer. We have a lot of teachers that are working on being certified in administration and in the principal ship. If you were advising one of those persons who was considering an administrative job, What would that advice be? Someone going into the principalship?
A: I think that you know, and certainly I am encouraged, that there are a number of people interested in administration. It is my observation, and I would encourage and advise them to consider this, but that all good teachers do not make good administrators. You know that's one of the mistakes we've made over the years: that we've tried to recruit our best teachers to become administrators and that hasn't always worked out for the betterment. The one thing that I've noticed in our area is we have more people who have credentials right now than at any time since I've been in education. But I can honestly say that I believe we have fewer people who are capable of being effective administrators in that pool than there's ever been in the years I've been around.
Q: It's often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence?
A: I've helped and been very active in community kinds of things. Course I've been active in my church. That has had a profound influence on my growth and development over the years. I joined the Jaycee's back when I was young enough to belong to the Jaycee's. It just so happened that the Jaycee's were in charge of all Little League and youth sports in Tazewell at the time. That's why I chose the Jaycee's rather than the Rotary or the Lions Club or some of the other service clubs. Because I was very interested in our youth. For eighteen years, I served as and was involved - not with the Jaycee's for that many years - with the Little League sports. I was commissioner of Little League Football and helped incorporate that program. I helped get Little League baseball into the national Little League organization and set up the governing body for it. We turned over the little basketball we sponsored to the recreation department in Tazewell. So I spent many hours coaching little league sports and working with youngsters. That today is still some of the fondest memories I have. Of course, I have run into a lot of adults now that have heard of me as coach rather than principal or teacher because of some of the contacts we've had. Because of those contacts then, a lot of those youngsters that I dealt with later in school - we had a working relationship. That was very important and I think it is extremely important that people be active in community kinds of things. Also, through the Jaycee's I was instrumental in starting, along with other clubs in Tazewell, the chamber of commerce in Tazewell. I was a charter member of the board of directors for the chamber of commerce in Tazewell. Then, so many years later I served again as on the board of directors for the chamber of commerce. And of course I have attended Rotary and Lions Club functions many times over the years, but I never belong to those clubs. They were very active in Tazewell, but I had so many other things going. I also think I was always very active in my professional association that pertained to whatever particular vocational association. VICA.
Q: VICA Association?
A: VICA, that was the youth organization then. The VVA was the Virginia Vocational Association. I received a twenty-year membership award for my work there and several other things. Of course, I have a number of things that were given to me by the parents with the students. Just recently I ran into a young lady, well she's middle aged now, that was president of the local VICA association. She is now, I guess, a gemologist and they own of a jewelry store. Of course she goes to New York and all over, maybe LA and various places, to buy jewelry and all of that sort of thing. She was telling me what a wonderful experience that was because we traveled to the National Convention. There were a lot of activities we were involved in. The good things she said to me about the influence that I had on her along with some others makes me feel good. I know that I must have contributed something to their success.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: My approach to teacher evaluation is very frank and straightforward. I always maintained as principal what I considered an open door policy. I encouraged the teachers to come to me about anything without fear of reprisal. If I didn't necessarily like what they had to say, we had frank open discussions about anything and everything that took place in the building. Not only that I, instead of having a teacher lounge down the hall somewhere, I had the coffee pot from the lounge in the office so before school or after school they were in the office. It was a very open kind of thing. But I was very honest with people and gave them opportunities. If we needed to work on something, I would very frankly tell them what we needed to do and tried to be helpful. Unfortunately, as principal I only had to fire one teacher. I fired him because he was abusive to students, which I would not tolerate. But the interesting thing about that dismissal - I actually fired him and told him I wanted his resignation about a week before Christmas break. So he came in the next day with his resignation. He had a large family himself. He had a pretty tough time afterwards financially. I thought about it over night and told him, "well I had changed my mind a little bit and I didn't want your resignation today. Because of things that had transpired and the things that had come to light this last couple of days your not working here this year. I am just not going to tolerate this kind of behavior: the way you mistreated some students. But if you will be a model of professional behavior, you can remain in your job until you find another one." He did remain the rest of that year and found a job somewhere else and was extremely successful where he was. I had given him a lot of opportunities to mend his ways and he did not. But that was a difficult task. Most of the people I worked with I would say I was able to bring them along - many of them are still teaching.
Q: Had he been placed on a plan of improvement prior to his resignation?
A: We did not have a formal evaluation system per say at that time. But I had made that plainly clear, just about as clear as I could because I had had conferences with him, and told him "listen, we need to do this, and we need to do that, and you need to improve here and you need to improve there." But we have got in our system now a far better document with a division for plans of improvement. You certainly have to deal with people on that matter. If you want to help people, then you have to explain things and expect them to meet certain conditions. And if they don't, this gives you the documentation to do whatever else you need to do.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the Assistant Principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel while on the job.
A: I had two assistant principals during the time I was principal. My idea was to treat them a little different than I was treated as an assistant principal. I was everything from the janitor on, and I ended up getting everything the principal didn't want to do. I handled most of the discipline. However, when I became principal, I still - the assistant principal was the primary disciplinary. They didn't have to wait to see the assistant principal, I handled discipline. It just depended on the situation. If they came in and I was there I did whatever needed to be done. I gave the assistant principal opportunity to grow and to have all the experiences he could have to become principal. He did become principal when I left. Of course, that was one of the things I thought about when I left the job. He was such an outstanding assistant that I couldn't stand the thoughts of having another one. If I hadn't taken the job as vocational director, he probably would have. So I would have had to gone with another assistant. The proper thing to do was to take the opportunity I had and give him an opportunity. And he was an outstanding principal - one of the most effective people in dealing with kids that I know of. He was a true southern gentlemen and he just had a way of dealing with people.
Q: Did he have any other characteristics that made him a good assistant principal?
A: He was just a down to earth individual that spoke the language of the kids. They understood him and trusted him. He just had a good personality. But of course one of the things that made him strong, I think, he had been a coach. He had also been in high school and college, a good athlete himself. He was a fellow that did not want to remain in coaching. He coached a few years along, but a lot of the good qualities that a good coach would have, he brought with him to the administrative jobs. It wasn't one of those deals where a lot of times they used to say if you're a coach - regardless of whether you had any or showed any real strong qualities toward becoming an administrator or not, you ended up as administrator. But this guy was top notch. He had all the skills and was an extremely successful administrator.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most affective schools? And what features characterize less successful ones?
A: All of the most successful schools that I have ever had any association with has a strong leader, a strong principal who had the trust of the teachers, who had them follow his lead. Also, every class that I have ever seen that was super successful was the same way. If you've got an effective teacher - a good leader type in there that knows her subject area and motivates students. I have never seen a bad class where that kind of situation existed. And the same is true as far as school division: if you've got the right person in the leadership role there and they involve the personnel all the way down the line, you're going to have a good school system. It's leadership - nothing functions properly without it. You can get by, but if you don't have good leadership. I've never seen a bad school have an effective and good principal that could lead.
Q: Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school system during your early years as principal and give your views on developments in this area since then?
A: The compensation has improved, in particularly in our area since those days. In fact it's not where it ought to be, but it's much better. And I can give an example of how poor it was in those days. When I first took the job teaching, I left the job with Kroger Company and took about a $1500 pay cut. Me and my family about starved the first year. In fact, I had to work for the Kroger Company the next summer to relieve vacations in order to make enough money so I could survive and stay on as teaching. Then when I did get into administration as assistant principal, the pay was still low. When I got to be principal - one of the problems is it takes so long to get to the top of the scale to make any money. It took twenty years at that time to get to the top of the scale. When I left the principalship, I was on the fifteenth step when I went to the central office. During the time when I was principal, I had four children. I was working as principal. My wife stayed home with those youngsters. She was a homemaker. I could have qualified for food stamps because the pay was so low. Now, that is not the case now. It is not where it should be. It's not on the same par with other - a lot of other professions - but we've made some headway. It's going in the right direction. One of the things that has taken place in our division that has helped, particularly young people in administration, is we have what we call salary differentiation. If you get into administration young like I had then, or you have, now you wouldn't qualify for food stamps because the salary differentiation would kick in. You have to make more money than the people you supervise. But that was not the case at the time when I was principal - I had teachers making more money than I did.
Q: When did that come about? When did they incorporate that into the salary?
A: The salary differentiation came in during, let's see, during the 80's whenever we had a superintendent change. We had a superintendent - I won't mention any names for the purpose of this - but we had a superintendent who came in and stayed in Tazewell County for eight years. He had been in another division. He brought a lot of good ideas with him. In fact, he was very personnel orientated. In fact, during that period of time he changed the way administrators could take their vacation. They could take their vacation any time during the year as long as they didn't walk off at a critical time and made arrangements for things to be covered while they were gone. He was much more flexible in a lot of ways. It was during his tenure that the salary differentiation came along. He recognized that if you have someone with the qualities to do the job, then you need to compensate them for it.
Q: There has traditionally been a commitment in this country to the principle 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: Well, I think that the free public education is still the most important thing around. It is what has made us what we are in this country. Without it we would be in be trouble. I do think public education is in jeopardy. I think we have some hard times ahead. I think for everybody's sake, I hope that public education is going to win. We've done, public education in this country has done, an outstanding job. But when you go to comparing us with other countries of the world - which a lot of critics are prone to do now days - they want to compare us with education systems that are very selective. I am here to say that our's are the best and brightest people than anybody in the world. Maybe out in front of them. Our attempt is to educate everybody to at least some level so they can be productive citizens. I venture the thought that that's what made this country what it is. If we ever loose that, we're going to be in real trouble. I think we are in a time when the gap is getting wider even in our own country between the haves and have-nots. If you ever lose public education, I fear what's going to happen is the haves are going to desert public education. The have-nots are going to be the people that's left in public education. It would be a serious error if public education is abandoned. That's not to say we don't have some problems and we could do a better job, because we would, we've got to do a better job. All of the ills that have beset this nation is not the fault of public education. The decline of the family and the absolute collapse of moral standards in this country. All of those things are contributing to a lot of the problems we have. These things have dumped a lot more responsibility on public education.
Q: At the time you were principal, would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school?
A: The superintendent was very supportive. He was from the old school however, and he was not very innovative and not very forward thinking in a lot of things. But he was very supportive to the school. I had a good open relationship with him. I couldn't be critical of him at all because I think he did what was right for the school division at the time. But the next superintendent we had, which I have already mentioned, he had been in some other division and brought some ideas in that were kind of relativity new to Tazewell County that helped. Sometimes you need to go out and bring administrators in. Other times you need to say within your system.
Q: What about your relationship with the board of education at this time? Do you see a difference between the appointed school boards and elected school boards?
A: At the time I was principal, I did not have as much dealings with board members as I have in recent times but I had a good relationship with board members. We only had three at that time. Then the board increased to seven and decreased again to five, which we now have. I have had extensive experience working with school boards as assistant superintendent of schools. I personally like the appointed concept better than the elected school board. My reason for that is that you can get people who were well qualified to take appointments. A lot of those same people that would take appointments will not run for election because they do not want to be involved in the hassle of being elected. Election has brought out a lot of people - single-issue candidates who have access to run. We are working with our first elected board of Tazewell County. It's outstanding, there's no question about it, because the people were elected. But I'm not so sure that some of these ax grinders and single-issue people will displace some of them this next time because they are chopping at the bits to get in there. Elected boards, I think, have a tendency to do things that are not really their role. As I see it, the role of the school board is to set policy and to oversee the budget and overall operation of the school. Elected people want to get involved in personnel manners that aren't relevant to one individual. Elected board members are more prone to do things, personal kinds of things, while the school board only has authority while its a body. Individuals do not have authority persay. If they are elected, for some reason or other they tend to not see that as clearly. So, I like the concept of the appointed board - the best personally - but we've got elected boards so that's something I will have to live with. Since we do have elected boards now, people are going to have to, school people are going to have to be very active in trying to help elect people who have the right reasons for wanting to be on there. One thing that has disappointed me about school boards is the basic requirement to be eligible: first of all, you have to be alive and a registered voter. In my mind that is not the best qualifications in the world to serve on the school board. But you have a lot of people like that - they are alive and registered voters. Beyond that, they have no qualifications to be serving on the school board.
Q: So there's no high school diploma requirement or anything?
A: I don't know of anything other than what I've said. You have to be alive and a registered voter.
Q: Could you describe your workday? That is, how did you spend your time? What were the normal hours per week you put in?
A: Well, you put in a lot of time with the night meetings and all that sort of thing. It's certainly not a forty-hour week job. It wasn't a clock punching type job. I never viewed it in that way. A normal day was started by spending time with all the teachers - as I said as principal I had the coffee pot in the office and they were all there everyday before they went to class. It gave us an opportunity to talk about things. My office was right off the area where they were located. Many of them had things they wanted to talk about so the day started off with those kinds of things. Then since all of our students were bused in from the high school, the next phase was the arrival of students. Anytime you bus for distances like that, you always have some problems. More problems came off the buses than we ever had develop at the school during the day. So, very likely you may have some situations you had to attend to as the people arrived, the students arrived, and went to their classes. Of course, I attended to those kinds of functions. Then once we everyone got settled into class, I always made it around to all of my classes every morning and they would depart here midday and go back to their home schools. And then we would try to get a bit of lunch - might go over to the elementary school or maybe brought some lunch with us. Of course we had no cafeteria at the technical center so you had to get lunch from somewhere else. Then we prepared for the afternoon students to arrive and went through this same type of thing again. I again would be out in the various shops. I tried to be in every classroom everyday, which now in a large high school you couldn't do that. But the vocational center, the technical center, its very nature lends itself to that. I was very involved and visible with students. I talked with them a lot and observed what was going on. It was just a good working relationship all the way around. Of course, we were involved as you mentioned earlier in the VICA organization. Course that was one of the responsibilities of the assistant principal, to operate the VICA organization. But I still remained very active even as a principal. When they had state trips or region - district, region or state competition - I very often went with them. We usually chartered buses to take us to those affairs. We would take as many as a hundred students maybe to those competitions. We went down on the Eastern Shore and various places. Those students won a lot of awards and learned a lot about competition and what you can expect out in the world of work and all those kinds of things, so there were a lot of hours involved. But I enjoyed all of them. I looked forward to going to work.
Q: Was adult education back then sort of...?
A: It was, in fact, there was the adult component of vocational education that was primarily in the evenings. And as the assistant principal, that was another one of his responsibilities. That's what I did the first five years that I was assistant. That was the assistant's place to organize and supervise the adult education classes. We offered an evening class in anything we taught up there if there were enough adults that wanted it. So, very often we operated night classes and adult programs all year long. They usually. We did, over the years, discover it wasn't good to have them every night, so we had them a couple of nights a week - maybe Tuesday and Thursday that we set aside for adult classes. Some of the teachers had a class on Tuesday and Thursday night. Some of them had it on Tuesday or Thursday. Just depending on what the need the demand was. From time to time we would set up specific classes. Say, like welding - at a place that had a lot of welders or a place that had a lot of machinists. We would set up a special classes for their specification for the adults. We would help a lot of people get their welding certifications. At the present time, I do not know of an active brick mason that didn't come through the night program or the day program at the vocational center.
Q: In fact there's a gentleman whose doing my bricking for my porch that graduated from the mason program at the career center. He has made an outstanding career out of it. Does a good job and graduated from that same program. He does an outstanding job. Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them? Describe your biggest headaches or concerns on the job. Describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make.
A: The pressures were pretty much the same that all school people face - the safety of the students. We had a lot of equipment in that building, a lot of dangerous equipment. We also had a long distance for the students to travel to get there. One of the biggest problems I had was we did not permit students to drive cars from home schools - and that was a consistent situation. One that you had to monitor. We had people who would try to get around that. In fact, we were so close to the high school they would try to drive up and park over at the high school and walk over. Some Tazewell High School students walked in there. A lot of those kinds of things. We kept peace and harmony among the various schools. We served four high schools, and later we started taking kids from Bland County. Had to keep everybody working together and those were kind of pressure sort of things. But... it was all-in-all a good experience. A good working relationship. We never did have any real, real serious problems. Now, talking about the most difficult decision. I guess one of the things that was one of the things that was the toughest was when I had to let an instructor go. That was difficult. It involved his livelihood and he had a large family. But it also involved our students, and to me the students came first. A quality program was important. That was a difficult decision. The next most difficult decision as far as the job was concerned, was leaving the job. I liked it so well. I was reluctant to leave. Looking back, it would have been a mistake to have stayed. I would have been facing burnout long ago. The thing I have been blessed with in my career is, about ever so many years I've had the opportunity to do something different. Course I was a teacher for four years, an assistant principal for five years. I was principal for six. I was vocational director for twelve year. But, during that period of time, we had that new superintendent come in and he gave me a lot of additional duties and it hurt my feelings. It hurt my feelings when he first did that 'cause I wondered how would I ever get all of this work done. But later I thanked him because it broadened my scope of things and it got me moving. We tend to get in our area - whatever it is - and kind of not be as concerned about other areas. What it did, it broadened my scope a little bit. I got to work with other things and it kind of rejuvenated me and then the opportunity came along for me to be assistant superintendent - and that has been a tremendous experience. The only thing that I can think of that I would do differently, if knowing what I know now - and this would be my advice to you as a young principal and I think you already know this and are on the right course - I think the principalship and the experience you gain here enables you do whatever else you want to do in education if you have other aspirations. And the thing that I discovered, and as I said earlier, the effective principal helps make an effective school. His leadership. The effective superintendent helps make an effective school division. Can I add back when I was principal I never thought I would ever be interested in being superintendent, but if I had all of that to do over, I would advise any young administrator to keep their options open: get all the experience they can, get the credentials to go as far as their aspirations will take them. I think there is going to be lots of opportunities in like the superintendent. There's lots of turnover. Which you've got to be more mobile than you would like to be or than you would be in a principalship. The superintendent is another place where you can make things happen. It's a lot, in my opinion, like being a principal. You got to bring a larger group together. The experience, if you're successful as principal you can certainly do whatever else you want to.
Q: What was the key to your success as a principal?
A: I think that the key to my success as a principal was my ability to deal with people and to lead people. To work with folks, you've got to be able to that or you'll not be successful. It can't be a top-down dictatorial kind of thing - you've got to be willing to listen to people. I've never been bashful about taking other peoples ideas. But at the same time as principal, everybody understood who the principal was too, you know. I remember interviewing a fellow once - I interviewed him twice. He was an outstanding auto mechanics instructor. We needed an instructor and I would have liked to hire him. But he came in telling me, "well now, I pick my students and I do this and I do that at the school I'm working." I listened to that for awhile and I said: "Now, Howard, you know I would love to have you here as auto mechanics instructor cause I know what kind of job you can do with these students, but we already have a principal. I'm the principal. Now you can go down the hall here and talk to anyone you want to and they will tell you that it's a good place to work. They enjoy working for me. But you can't be principal. I'm not looking principal, I'm looking for an auto mechanics instructor." He didn't take the job.
Q: What did you look for in a teaching candidate?
A: What I look for in teaching anything first off are the right personal qualities. The right demeanor. I look for a person who can get along with individuals. It is extremely important that the person be proficient in whatever they are going to teach. Now, when I was principal, one of the hard jobs we had was the people we hired were industry. They were not college-trained individuals. So one of my biggest worries was finding somebody that had the skills, the job skills, but who could teach those skills to someone else. A lot of tradesmen who are outstanding tradesmen cannot teach their trade to someone else. Because they are used to working with adults, and once you put them there with those youngsters it just doesn't work out. I remember we had a fellow who was a career military. We hired him, and his comment to me when he left was that "there's too much @##@ subordination around here."
Q: Was he a teacher at the school?
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship? Would you describe your feelings, knowing what you know now, about entering the principal- ship yourself if given the opportunity to start anew?
A: I think that it's important that you have enough experience to do the job. I was fortunate even though I didn't teach very long, I had a little longer than most people entering teaching when I first started. I could work, as I said, in the business world. I had worked for Kroger Company and I had been in management. I knew how to work with people, I knew how to work with the public. One of the things I've always said: I believe the public school people ought to have to serve an apprenticeship serving the public somewhere. Where you have to satisfy the public and their demands before you ever got into teaching. A lot of people in education go through public school. They go to a college or university and they come into the pubic school to teach. They have had no contact with the real world. Because education is kind of an artificial world. We try to create the real world. A lot of those people are not very successful. I'll tell you my observations have been if you hired a person who had had work experience in business and dealing with the public - if they had the knowledge and the command of the subject matter - most of those people were your better teachers. But finding someone who could teach and who had the knowledge about what they were going to teach particularly in vocational education.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something that I have left out. What have I not asked you that I probably should have? Are there any questions?
A: Well, Tom, I think you've covered the thing pretty well. I'm sure there's a lot of things that we could say. I know the thing we could talk about. I think that the principalship is extremely important. Of course, every teacher is important to every classroom as I said earlier. But the principal makes the things function within a school division because they've got a lot of the same calls to make that a superintendent or somebody on up the line would make. They've got to be a diplomat. They've got to be a tyrant. They've got to do all sorts of thing to make things go. The thing that I've discovered and observed: I don't believe you could set a model out there and say this is the model you need to follow to be an effective administrator. I personally believe individuals either have the skills to lead and the personality, or they don't. I've seen some people who have gotten into administration who did not have those skills. They didn't have the personality for it. And I don't know that all the preparation programs in the world would change that a lot. Now, I would freely admit that without the credentials and the preparations, they could hone and fine-tune those skills. But I believe personal characteristics have an awful lot to do with a person's success and their set of values and work ethics and all of that plays a big part in it. I don't think that's necessarily learned as a major part of formal education. I think you bring those values from somewhere else. I believe a lot of those start at home. As I've heard it said, your parents are your first and most important teachers. Folks that get the right background and have the right attitude about things, then when they come on through the formal programs, those are the people that are effective and do a good job.
Q: Mr. Rasnick, I certainly have learned a lot from this interview and learned a lot from talking with you and have really enjoyed doing this. This was definitely something that's been inspiring and a bit kind of remorseful in the fact that you are going to be retiring soon. Definitely we'll be losing a good man of education. I appreciate you doing this interview. I appreciate all your words of wisdom and comments you've made. Thank you very much.
A: Tom, I appreciate you inviting me to do the interview and, of course, you've mentioned something that I've looked forward to a long time - retirement. But the closer you get to it, the more misgivings and so on you have about things. There's no question but what I've enjoyed my work. I've been really blessed to have the opportunities I've had, and I've tried to make the most of those. I just appreciate what you've said. It makes me feel good to think that somebody believes I had contributed. Of course, I know from within I feel good about it. I'm looking forward to retirement, but at the same time it's become -education has become such a part of me that I probably can't stay away from it completely. I have no aspirations to run for the school board or those kinds of things, but I still may do some part-time something that would keep me connected with school people and, of course, to show my commitment to education I guess. I tried to. I have four sons - I tried to talk all of them into going into education. I was successful with two of them. I have two sons and their wives that teach. So I guess I won't be getting away from it completely, but I thank you. I hope and know you will continue to do well and just stick with the things you are doing.
Q: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.
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