Interviewing Mr. 0. B. Spaulding, former principal in Northampton County Schools in Northampton County, North Carolina.
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Q: Mr. Spaulding, How many years were you in education as a teacher and principal?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Thirty-five years total; five years as a science instructor and thirty years as a principal at Willis Hare School.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: Well, while I was teaching, I felt it was more money and I decided I wanted to go back to Graduate School and get my masters and become a principal.
Q: Where did you do your undergraduate work and what was your undergraduate work in?
A: Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, NC, the undergraduate; and New York University in New York City- graduate work.
Q: Did you have an elementary school?
A: To begin with, I had what they called a "union" school; grades 1-12; with a total of approximately 100 students, no assistant principal and to begin with, no secretary.
Q: In other words, you had to do it all?
A: Yes! I had to do it all.
Q: Now, was this all at Willis Hare?
A: No. The five years teaching was a Coates High School in Seaboard and the thirty years principal was at Willis Hare School.
Q: So you had a union school and a high school and an elementary school?
A: Yes, that's right.
Q: Okay. What was your school's philosophy?
A: Out of the top of my head, we tried to reach all of the children and give them knowledge that would help them face the future world.
Q: How did you create a climate for learning? What kind of techniques did you use....with your staff?
A: Well, I was privileged to go over to London to study the British Entrance Schools and I came back and started over at Willis Hare School a program we called sort of a relaxed program and we steered away from the strict classroom guidelines as traditional in this county and we had a very relaxed atmosphere where the children would sit on the floor, under tables, wherever they felt they could be relaxed in the classroom, and during that period, the Willis Hare School consistently had some of the top scores in the county when it came to state (testwise).
Q: So, was it you tried to do whatever you thought could best work in reference to teachers and students?
A: Right. A very super relaxed atmosphere and the teachers could do a much better job without so many strings attached to so-called programs.
Q: What does it take to be an effective principal?
A: You have got to be on top of things; Instruction and then the big thing....discipline; I had a thing over at school, for instance I told the teachers, "You're college graduates, you got this job as a teacher so therefore I don't plan to run being you checking up on you. I depend on you to do your job." For instance: if a teacher came in early most of the time and all of a sudden one morning she showed up late, and came in the office apologizing, I would look at her and laugh and say, "you didn't hear me say anything did you?" In other words, you remove that stigma that I've got to do everything lock-step, do Spaulding going to get me. But on the other hand, I had to pull up on two or three who were habitually late, but that's an example of not harassing teachers.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?
A: Chairman of the Board. Not an autocratic dictator, in other words, when I had faculty meetings, I would sit, not up front behind a desk, but I would sit down in a circle or near where the teachers were, or sometimes in the library I would sit up on the library table with them. I tried to be a chairman of the board, one of them, working with them and also listening to their ideas because a lot of times the principal thinks that he's got the answer, but if he listens to the bus drivers sometimes, or the aides, or the lunchroom workers they can open his eyes.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal? What kinds of pressures and how did you deal with them?
A: Well, when I did my masters work at NYU, I will never forget it when the professor drew an arrow on the board and he said that when someone points an arrow at you (pressure arrow) the worst thing for you to do is point an arrow back at them. He said let them get through pointing that arrow at you because as principal you're supposed to get pressure, and when it comes in you take it for what it is; pressure, pressure group, mad parents, etc., and then you make what you call an "end run" to find out what makes that parent tick or the bus driver, aide, or whatever it is you're dealing with; in other words, you've got to maintain your cool; the hotter the other person or group gets, the cooler you've got to be.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for a principalship?
A Preparing for principalship, that is so far as instruction-wise and so forth, my master's degree at NYU was just a lock-step thing that the State Department said I had to do in order to become a principal, but I learned 99% of being principal on the job, and I don't know, looking back, I think I was a pretty hard disciplinarian. In listening to the old boys now, who are men on the street, I think I would have been even harder because the boys I meet now who are married and so forth appreciate the hard discipline and now they come up and thank me for what I did. Just the other night one fellow said you should have been ten times harder on me than you were, that was one thing you did wrong.
Q: In reference to discipline, what was your philosophy and how did you handle discipline?
A: Back in those days, you could do then what you can't do now. I had an understanding with the students that I loved them, but if they come in with bad discipline traits trying to be disruptive and so forth in other words, if you did wrong you had to suffer the consequences. Back in those days, AH, I personally applied the "strap". When I applied the strap, the parents would find out about it or I would call or send a message and when the kids got home, they would get the strap again, but you see, those days are gone now. If you apply the strap now, you are asking for a lawsuit even if you look at a child wrong sometimes, without touching they, you are open for suit.
Q: It sounds as though you had a lot of parental support. Is this true? Can you talk about this some?
A: Very much so. When I first came up here in 1951 as a principal, this was just an old backwoods school with one wooden building and the kids had no aspiration at all. No body had ever really told them that they could be somebody in the world. I came in and found a lot of students who had the scholastic ability and everything to go on and do things and with my contacts with friends at different colleges I was able to get these kids out of here. I got them conscious of the fact that they could go not only to college but to vocational schools and be something in the world. I pushed this. This was before the days of counselors. We didn't have counselors or anything back in those days. It was just a shoestring thing.
Q: You mentioned that when you came the school was just a one-room schoolhouse?
A: No, it wasn't one-room, there were several rooms, but there was just one wooden building and everything on the campus now was put there during my administration and I spear-headed tearing the old wooden building down.
Q: How old is the school and how many years were you in the old wooden building before you got the new building?
A: The old wooden building was up from about 1951--- and I believe they tore the old wooden building down in about 1968. I was about 17 years.
Q: What procedures do you think should be used in determining who should be a principal?
A: Definitely not on test scores alone. Personality of the person, his attitude towards the whole thing of discipline, instruction, and prior background. Personality has a lot to do with it. So goes the principal, so goes the school. We have shining examples of that right now, where schools (you mentioned Gilchrest) Gumberry, which is Northampton County-West [High School], turned around under Gilchrest's administration, just one me, the principal and then they had problems over at Creecy School in the past few years and they transferred Speller over there and now I understand that within just two or three months. A person who can put his eyes so to speak on the job to be done and stay on that path and then when things come up on their right and left to try to chip at him that he had hit his shoulders and bounced off and keep on going. Too many people in leadership roles get bogged down in little petty things that come up.
Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern?
A: My biggest concern was getting the children prepared to get out in life and make it. When we had the Willis Hare High School, we had so few students, somewhere around 200 high school department, and the only thing we could offer was the academics, we couldn't offer the vocational, the only thing we had was agriculture and back in those days we were not preparing the student body as a whole for future life. And my greatest concern was not to necessarily impart, the "knowledge" that they started learning down in the grades, when they finish high school that knowledge has been discarded and new things have come in, so my greatest concern was to prepare their minds to accept what's in the future.
Q: What was your biggest headache?
A I imagine the biggest headache that I had was trying to run a school with such short support, that is office support. I had to do so many meaningless tasks and then on the end, one of the reasons that I retired it took me two years to make my minds up, but one reason I retired was I became an overpaid office boy sitting behind a desk filling out needless forms, going to (at that time) needless meetings because the superintendent would call a meeting of all principals and on the end, we who were in elementary schools, would listen, sometimes nine tenths of the time at scheduling problems in the junior school, how it was going to get the bus to take teams, etc. around. In other words, needless meetings. Another thing too, I don't want to sound like a know-it-all, but a lot of times, the workshops should be planned not to include hose people who have to sit in there and listen to the same thing they have been doing for years (this is a complaint that teachers complain of now also). Right now I have teachers who tell me the things being presented are what they have been doing for years.
Q: What was the hardest or toughest decision that you had to make as a principal and why.
A: I think that one of the hardest decisions that I had to make was recommend the dismissal of certain persons. Right now I can think of two alcoholics, and I worked over them and did everything possible and they just wouldn't improve and I had to recommend their dismissal and of course, I was raked over the coal about it by some groups, but I had to take a stand. I think those are about the hardest decisions I had to make.
Q: What was the key to your success as a principal?
A: Dealing strictly for perfection. In other words, when state department personnel use to come down for visits, the superintendent's office would inform them that there was no need to go down to Willis Hare School because he had his stuff right, Willis Hare School was never on their list for inspection. I was a stickler for perfection and another reason that I retired was because my doctor told me that if I didn't get from under the present situation (and my blood pressure was going up exceedingly high) that I would lose years off my life and this is when the enormous amount of forms and office work was coming in and lot of that stuff you just cannot turn it over to a secretary, you have to do it yourself.
Q: Well it sounds like you were catercornered in a transition between things as they used to be, things that were changing. Can you talk about any of these. You did mention the increased amount of paper work. What kinds of things prompted this?
A: Well, it's an old saying that every time you put on a new supervisor they got to prove that they're doing something by shooting more paperwork down to you. Which is true, then on top of that, the changes in discipline. For instance, a teacher scolding a child in class one day for not bringing in the work properly; the next morning the daddy came out with the child and demanded that I go into the classroom and have the teacher publicly apologize to the child in front of the whole class for the scolding, but of course I did not do it. But the things have gotten so now, that everybody wants to sue, you can't do your discipline anymore. I could used the rest of this interview on this, but I will not. Changes in discipline. The superintendent, at that time, knew I was having problems with the old are of things and the new order of things, and especially the paper work and.... needless. I would sit up and take the work from the school and come over here (home) and maybe out of the complete 4 hour meeting, maybe 15 minutes would be directed toward my problem(s).
Q: If you could have structured your time, and you have already said that a lot of your time was spent doing a lot of things because you didn't have enough help, but if could have structured your time, how would you have liked to spend the majority of your time--you working time during the school day? What kind of activities would you have been involved in?
A: Working with teachers on improving the instructional program. The one secretary was overloaded, no assistant principal. Just me and the secretary. A lot of times I wanted to go out and help the teacher or work with the teacher on the instructional program, but I couldn't do it. Then you go to Jackson [central office], and listen in the meeting, somebody tells you how to fill a form out, you fill it out, and a day or two later, you get a phone call asking why did you fill the form out like this? (laugh)...A no-win situation.
Q: How many superintendents have you worked with?
A: Turner, a retired superintendent out of Tarboro, Lowery, and Stancil. When Stancil announced his retirement, I announced mine at the same time. I was two years in making the decision, but when Stancil decided to leave, I felt I could leave without a lot of hassle, because they didn't have a superintendent to hassle me about leaving.
Q: Can you kind of... chronologically, take the eras of the superintendents and talk about some of the things that happen during those times?
A: WELL,, our society has changed drastically. Turner was under the old white-dominated era. Your superintendent was white, your board was entirely white, the white children went to school from September right on through to May or June; they had their Easter breaks, they had their Thanksgiving and all, they had their buses; the Black children had to go to school in the summer in July and then they had to close down for six or seven weeks to pick cotton and when they came to holidays and so forth the superintendent's idea was that the children got the holidays, but the Black children needed to make up time that they lost during he summer. Under the Turner Era and the Lowery Era, they both set up in their offices, made their plans, then they called you to a meeting and handed you (principal's meetings and teacher's meetings were segregated) they call all white principals to their meetings and the same for black principals usually white principals met in the morning and the Blacks in the afternoon. In the teacher's meetings, you had a white teacher's meeting and a Black teacher's meeting. That was a big road block to inner progress and then as we came up the ladder, after integration, they cut out separated meetings and the principal's all met together and the same for the teachers. This was after desegregation in 68.
Q: .....I believe we were talking about Stancil.....
A: .....When Stancil came in, this was one of the problems of us older principals, (old-line principals who have been in a long time) we were going from the transition of being told what to do by one person and under Stancil, he would call a meeting and he would present the problem and allowed all of us to be in on the decision-making and a lot o times it took much longer in that way to do things like that. Most of the times was spent (at this time I had grades K-4) The high school had been consolidated over at Northhampton County High School East. Most of the times in the principal's meetings was spent on the problems of the junior high school and high school and we elementary school principals had to accept that, fuming about things we could be doing back in school and listening to stuff that did not concern us.
Q: You mentioned a "road block to progress", were you talking about segregation?
Q: We were lucky in the Willis Hare area. We had some the leading people in the Conway-Pendleton area whites to meet. I didn't know this until several weeks later but the banker, the lawyers, ministers, etc., in the area and other leading white people in the area, had called a meeting. In the meeting they said that Spaulding at the Willis Hare School has a pretty good reputation and seems to be doing a good job. Let's don't be fools now and jump up and jump out and raise a lot of sand. Let's work with them a year and then if at that time we are not satisfied with the school we can pull out and go to the private school. The first day on total integration, I was looking for that minority to come out and raise a lot of sand and when one person did come out he was in bad shape and I kept my cool and took him to my office and we talked. That night, some of these same white leaders went to his house and talked to him and cooled him down and I didn't have any more problems with him. We were lucky because we had total support of the whole white community and even back then and up to this point, the percentage of the white kids at Willis Hare School was the highest and still is the highest in the whole county. Because they had the confidence in the school and they still have the confidence in it and they are still going over there. At one time, I think we were 60% Black and 40% White, the highest in the county. We had total support from the white community. In every situation like this where have white and black, you are always going to have one or two people, not only on the white side, but on the Black side too, and when they would come in I'd take it for what its worth. Because principal's of schools are supposed to be cursed out, supposed to be the target and I knew that they were not after me as O.B.Spaulding, but they were after the principal of the school. 094 Q Did you notice any change in the amount of support from the Board of Education when the schools integrated? Did it remain about the same?
A: It remained about the same and then the support for Willis Hare School and schools like this increased because back in the days when it was all Black we had evidence of a lot of white schools getting things that we weren't getting. For instance, the textbooks we were getting in those days would have the named of the white kids in them. The white kids got the new textbooks and the old ones would come over for the Black kids. The instructional supplies of some of my white friends (principals), I'd see their some of the instructional supplies they had and we couldn't get any of it. After total integration, that improved drastically, as far as things we could get and support of the school, etc. I hate to say it, but its a fact I needed things at Willis Hare School after total integration, I had three or four very influential white patrons who would go to the bat for me. I would call them in and tell them we needed "such and such" at the school, if I go to the Board or the superintendent is going to look at me and laugh, and say Old Spaulding is begging, but I would send them up there. They could get it like that. It definitely improved.
Q: Were there any major problems that you recall during this period of desegregation?
A: No, no major problems. The only problems as I said before were a few individuals on each side that came in and you did this and that because he is white or black etc. I took it for what it was worth. I took that not to be a problem. But as a person mounting what his grandparents and parents and great grandparents have taught him over the years and the best thing to do is just leave them alone and hope that over the years that these things would level out.
Q: How did you deal with teacher evaluations?
A: Well, to begin with, you didn't have any forms or anything for the evaluation on teachers. I could evaluate the lot by just going by the classroom after school, after everyone would leave and listen to the comments of parents, and the community. For instance, I had the teacher, Lenmore Gay, who was our board member, he had a child, who was in a teacher's room and at the end of the year he wrote this teacher a letter and sent me a copy, complimenting her on the fine job she had done with his kid and I still have this letter today. You could listen to the comments of parents, you didn't even have to go in the teacher's room. In those days, I did, of course, visit the teacher's rooms but I never said anything to them during that time, if I saw a glaring error or something I would talk to them later about it. I don't know exactly what they're doing now, but I understand where the teachers in the olden days could have time to teach and evaluate the kids, now I understand every step along the way they have to write it down on paper and I have one teacher's husband tell me that she comes home at night and soon as she finishes dinner, she has to stay up to 12, 1, and 2 o'clock writing down evaluations of what she did that day and that takes away; if had anything to do with it, I would cut it out.
Q: Which brings me around to the question about the Career Ladder and what they're proposing for teachers in the terms of career ladder, promotion of this, and merit pay.
A: I really don't know too much about that. All this has come about since I got out, but you've got a thing here that we have to be careful about because I don't care how careful you try to be some biases are going to creep in there. Sometimes the bias of friendship, who you are, what race you are a lot bias are going to enter into this thing. I have read a of articles about this danger, that a lot of this evaluation is not going to be done on the merit of the evaluation. A lot of bias if just one bias at Willis Hare School now that's in and if somebody gets merit pay above somebody else who should get it. It's not worth it.
Q: You mean in reference to what it does to the overall school?
Q: How do you think we can improve education of teachers? How can we make sure we get better teachers?
A: I've been criticized for saying this, but I'd rather have a good average or little above average teacher when it comes to academic achiever. A teacher who has the children at heart, who can love the children, who can take the children's interest and work with them much more that a hot-shot "A" average teacher in college with a lot of degrees, etc. who does not know how to work with students. So many things are involved in judging should be but first of all they've got to have genuine concern for the students that's above all. Student welfare. Back in those days we had home visitation where every teacher during that first semester would go into every students home in her class and visit those parents. A lot of times, you give a student the devil when don't come in with their prepared work. When you go out to their homes and find the lamps they have to work by are the only two in the house, etc. Why is it that Johnny is not coming in with his work? Is it because he's lazy or is there something beyond his control.
Q: So the teacher should be more sensitive?
Q: What are some of the characteristics of an effective school? How would you describe an effective school, what would it look like, what would it feel like?
A: When I was on the State committee for Title III, we used to go around evaluating schools and when you walk on the campus, the whole atmosphere of the campus would hit you that is the tidiness, the general appearance, the cleanliness, not entirely a quiet, school, so to speak. You find a school that is quiet, something is wrong with it, but at a noise level, at a level where effective teaching is being done, but not a rowdiness and everything is going harem scarem., but I say where you have an atmosphere of poor learning is just one of those things that is you stay in the business long enough you can go to any school and you can set that atmosphere. We used to go to schools to evaluate, and the kids would look at you and could care less about whether you're there or not, they kept doing whatever you were doing. In other schools you go, everybody would stop what they were doing to look at you and gawk at you.
Q: With reference to your relationship with the Board of Education, were they any times that you felt that it was not desirable during the time of your principalship?
A: I think the biggest hassle that I had with the Board of Education was something they could not do anything about, because the didn't have money--the maintenance of the school. The physical maintenance. They just didn't have the money. I understand now, that the reason they didn't have school yesterday because Garysburg schools roof was in such a bad state that when the principal went up in there after all that snow and ice, water was so much throughout the school that he couldn't even open it. The same thing happened at my school. I wasted so much time on the physical plant of the school, trying to put a bandaid here and there, trying to keep the school open, trying to keep everything in order, the water system, the heating system, leaks, but this is something that the county couldn't do anything about, and something they didn't do anything about because of the money situation.
Q: With reference to the situation between the eastern and western portion of the county, what would you suggest (having the chance to kind of look back over some things) that could kind of bring the county together?
A: If you draw a line from he northern part of Northampton County right on down through the south, run right through Jackson, the general atmosphere of the people on the eastern end and over here is entirely different from the atmosphere on the western end. I have a police scanner and I still listen in and most of the problems they have in the county right now with law enforcement are on the western end. There seems to be more noises on the western end of the county, than on the eastern end. The general makeup of the people over here is more cohesive, both white and black. I don't know what can be done to bring the county together and another thing under the Lowery administration, (superintendent) he spent far more money over here on the eastern end, especially for Northampton County East [High School]. Money that was supposed to be spent on Willis Hare School went over to Norhampton County East. There's still that division right now. They have been trying to get a high school on the western end and they won't do it.
Q: What advice would you give to a person who was aspiring to be a principal?
A: Laugh .....Don't. Well, as I said before.....my advice would be what I gave to a leader the other day, this was not on principalship, but we had a leader to blow up over an insignificant nothing, and proceed to chew everybody out and I pulled him aside and told him that he better learn that when you are a leader dealing with the people, you've got to get your program and stick by your program, and when these side issues, work with them the best you can, but don#t let them get under your skin. The angrier a parent used to get when they use to come in to me (a bus driver, etc.) the more the person got upset, the calmer I got on the inside. If they raised their fist at you, and your turn around and raised your fist at them you're in bad shape. So my advice to anybody who wants to be a principal or any type of leader, is to be able to accept what their job is and go ahead and do the job and keep a cool. If you don't keep your cool, you are in bad shape. Remember when Muskie cried that time, that was the end of Muskie.
Q: Is there anything that I have not asked you that I should have?
A: In general, as far as my experiences in the past, teachers who see me in the shopping centers today, church people, who come to me now cannot gripe to their principals, board of education or superintendent to gripe, but for instance, when that teacher's husband saw me and asked is there anything to be done about his wife being completely burdened down with what I feel is needless paperwork. Teachers have become bogged down with paperwork and they cannot do their job like they are suppose to do it. This is one of the biggest roadblocks in education now. When I went to London, the teachers in that area didn't have Blue Sheets [from attendance registrar], what you now have on the computer. They turned in a list of everyone absent that day to the principal's office and this was al principal's office. They didn't have blue sheets nor monthly reports to pass in on attendance. The library books were out in the hall in something like the front entrance. A kid would go out and find the book he wanted and go down to principal's office and turn in a slip that he had that book. In other words, you didn't have a librarian. We've got to section all the books, make annotation of every book that's out. America's bogged down in paperwork. It has gotten in the way of education. From my own experiences and from teachers and principals now, I was complaining about paperwork and these people look at me and laugh and say, "0. B. if you think you had paperwork, you haven't seen anything yet." In the News and Observer [Raleigh, NC newspaper] this morning I think we're beginning to wake up now and turn some of this stuff over to the computers. The article in the News and Observer this morning when the schools themselves start using the computer to help themselves not only the students for paper work and office routine, things will improve.
Q: Mr. Spaulding, I certainly appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to sit down and talk with me.
A: Talking about schedules. I have a meeting this afternoon at the Jackson Agriculture Building at the Police meeting.
Q: You are still pretty busy.
A: Oh yes, I'm still busy. I have a 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass and I have 81,000 miles on it. Over half the miles cover activities that don't have a thing to do with my household.
Q: How many years have you been retired now?
A: This is my sixth year. I retired in 1981. A lot of people wanted to know why I retired, but the average person puts me down in my late 50's or early 60's age-wise, but last Monday I was 70 years old. I would never have guessed that.
Q: You have really taken care of yourself.
A: One of they reasons for my retirement, was due to my doctor's advice. The transition of being able to be an instructional leader and to so-call run the school, I couldn't do it anymore because I was tied down doing needless tasks. It was getting to me.
Q: This concludes our interview with Mr. 0. B. Spaulding. Dated February 20, 1987.
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