This is an interview with Mr. Edward R. Szetela, former principal of Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, Virginia. He is also the former assist- ant superintendent for the Hampton Public Schools in Hampton, Virginia and the former superintendent for the Hampton City Schools.
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Q: How many years were you in education (1) as a teacher, as a principal and then as superintendent?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: As a teacher, I was a teacher for five years; as a principal, I was a principal for six years; as assistant superintendent and administrative assistant, I was eleven years; then as a superintendent, I served for two years.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal and then seek the superintendency?
A: Well, of course, I reluctantly became an assistant principal when the principal of the high school died. As a matter of fact, because I enjoyed teaching so much, it was only in an acting basis for one year and then from then on I was in administration as an assistant principal for seven years and then became a principal and served as principal for six years. And then I became assistant superintendent and in which position I really did enjoy because I was in charge of personnel and I really had no aspirations for becoming a superintendent. But, our superintendent resigned in the middle of June to take a position as a superintendent in Des Moines, Iowa and he highly recommended that I become his successor. I was asked by the school board to consider taking the position. I finally agreed because I realized that that late date, it would be difficult for the school system to get a superintendent. And I also, at that time, indicated to the school board that I wouldn't serve more than one four-year term at the most. So that is how I became superintendent.
Q: How did you create, as a principal, a climate for learning and what leader ship techniques did you use while creating that climate?
A: Well, as a principal, I think I learned a lot from the principal I served under as assistant principal to Garland Lively; because I think his first priority was always the student. He always went to the full limit in working with students, recognizing their work, even those who were the greatest discipline problems. And I think what best typifies his attitude toward people and children. Of course, I didn't indicate to you, but soon after I became assistant principal, the school board did make me the summer school principal. So, I had a variety of experiences beyond the high school level. In working with elementary students and junior high school students, many of these youngsters were discipline problems in the regular school year. And I guess I learned quite a bit in working with young people. It entailed bringing them into the office, sitting down and talking with them, helping them. And many of them, I think, appreciated that because it was the first instance where I tried to show those students that we were there to help them, that we were interested in them. Laud them when they did well in their summer school programs; disciplined them when they didn't do so well. So, I guess to be an effective administrator, your highest priority should be the student, a love of students, and spending time and working with those students.
Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do better to prepare yourself for the principalship?
A: Oh, I never thought about that one. Well, I really don't know what I would do differently. I guess one of the experiences I had in the administration, as I indicated to you, in working in summer school, probably the most difficult age groups was, of course, the junior high or as we call it now, the middle school student. And probably what I would have done if to prepare myself for the principalship was probably learn more about that age student. Of course, by the time I had contact with that student, they were in high school, they were beginning to settle down, their attitudes were different from those of middle school youngsters, junior high youngsters. Of course, I had an opportunity to become principal of a junior high school but I indicated to the superintendent I wasn't interested in that because I had spent all my career up to that point in working with high school students which I enjoyed very much. But, probably getting more experience with the younger students so that I could be a more effective high school administrator in working with that age youngster.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances? Did you ever fire a teacher and what were the issues?
A: Well, I guess when I was principal there wasn't too much of that type of activity. As I indicated to you before, the ineffective teacher we would try to work with the department chairman. Of course, as I indicated to you, when we did have to deny a contract to a teacher or release a teacher at that point it was pretty well understood. I think one of the things we learned was that documentation was very, very important, with the teacher who is not performing as he or she should have in their responsibilities. So there really never was a problem in the release of a teacher, or as you indicated, firing a teacher because the documentation was there and we would go over that. I think as far as grievances, I didn't run into that as I did when students, which was being fair but firm. I think that was one of the first things I learned working under him and I always tried to emulate him in that respect. The second thing I realized was that the school could only be as good and effective as its teaching staff and auxiliary staff. I always tried to work with my teachers and my other staff members and tried always to recognize them and always tried to listen to their problems, always tried to sup port them to the full limit. And I think that is one reason whatever success I ever had as a principal was letting people know that I was always willing to listen, to hear their side of it and always tried to help them out to the fullest extent.
Q: How did you evaluate teachers and again what leadership techniques did you use? What techniques were successful and which ones were not successful?
A: Back in the days when I was a principal of a high school, our evaluation procedures were not very good. The forms that were used were very, very primary, were not effective. And I think the main reason for that was be cause there was never, at that time, a feeling of that this teacher is doing a good job, how can I or other members of the staff help her or him. And I think that was the greatest fault we had at that time was the evaluation of teachers. Because the instrument was a very poor instrument and was used most of the time that I was in the principalship. One of the things I did try to do was where a teacher was having difficulty was to talk to the supervisor or the head of the department and try to indicate to them what steps should be taken to assist that teacher. Those teachers who were not recommended for another contract, one of the things we tried to do and I tried to do was work with that teacher as soon as possible in the beginning of the school year to give that teacher every benefit of the doubt and tried to indicate to that teacher what he or she would have to do in order to get another contract. Most of the problems we did have in those days with ineffective teachers, and this is the high school level, was one of not really spending the time that they should in lesson preparation. And, of course, we insisted on those especially department chairmans, to see what kind of procedures they used. To have the department chairman of the supervisor of that particular discipline observe that teacher, and really we've never had any problems when we did that in not giving that teacher a contract at the end of the year. They could see that every I became assistant superintendent for personnel. And, of course, by that time the teacher unions were quite strong and I have a very good relationship with the director of the teacher union. So, at his request, we would sit down and talk with the teacher, talk with the principal, as the case would be and try to resolve those grievances. Sometimes the director of the union would be in agreement with us that this teacher was not good. We had a couple of instances where it did reach hearings before the school board, where the teacher would have a lawyer. But, once again, because of our documentation and observations, and evaluations, spotty as they were; as I said the instrument was not too good, I can't think of an instance where we did lose the case because once again the documentation.
Q: How did you handle personality conflicts or just plain difficulty?
A: Well, I am trying to think of some instances where we had personality conflicts. Sometimes if you have personality conflicts, I'm talking about staff now, it was generally not within the same department. If it was within the same department, I think the department chairman, once again, I was always very fortunate to have excellent department chairmen, would try to resolve those personality conflicts. Of course, when we started, because we did eventually have five high schools, I've requested department chairmen in agreement with a teacher, we would transfer that teacher to another school. But, really, there was very, very little of that that I can remember in my experience with personality conflicts with the staff.
Q: How did you handle the civil rights issues and the busing issues?
A: Well, of course, I didn't handle it as much as the school board and the superintendent. I think when I look back at it because I remember most black students we had who came to Hampton High School never went through a lot of turmoil. I remember massive resistance, the closing of schools in Norfolk. That was just about the time we opened the new Hampton High School. But, I think we were rather fortunate in Hampton to have the superintendent of schools and the school board who were working toward the total situation of the schools. I think we were fortunate in another respect because we also had some strong leadership in the community from the Hampton Institute students, now Hampton University as well as many of the alumni from that school from that side of the city and in Hampton. So, I believe right from the beginning we really didn't have the issues that other school divisions in the immediate area had. I think one of the reasons, as I learned from some of the first black students I had in Hampton High and Kecoughtan, along with what I just mentioned; I think the geography of the city plays a role. All you have to do is take a look at the map and the city, of course, was not fully integrated. But, still our population wasn't a black population, especially in one area of the city. So, even students had had many contacts with white peers. So, it wasn't the kind of traumatic thing that we had. We had no problems in 1968 when we totally integrated our high schools. I was at Kecoughtan at that time and the school board asked me to take over what had been the all black high school, Phoenix, named Pembroke High School. I did so with much trepidation. I often talk about the summer I went down to Pembroke High School. After the Kecoughtan situation, I had faired so well. One of the black students came to visit me and said we're going to make this work. And I think that was the attitude of the students, along with the staff. I had quire a number of staff who came with me from Kecoughtan as well as from other schools. Well, that one year 1968-69, was when the other schools had problems and we had none what so ever. Also, I was very, very fortunate to have one of my assistant principals, who was black, who really gave me some good advice. So I guess I was quite fortunate once again. I think it was time to create the climate for administration and faculty that we were here to help out and give a good education to every student. Incidentally, one of the best courses I had was the ROTC program which instilled a lot of pride in many of the students who had been problems at Phoenix. So, I guess, it was getting that climate across to the students that we were fair and firm and we were there to give them an education, we were there to listen to their problems and try to help them with their problems. The busing issue, of course, was once again a city-wide type of issue and that was very handy the way it was resolved by the school board. And once again, geography was a great assistance to us. So, the busing issue was never a big thing; other than, when we rezoned for Pembroke High School. The main problems I had with some of the white parents whose students were coming from the Kecoughtan area who were very unhappy about it. But, surprisingly, the attitudes of those students was the thing that I think held the problems to a minimum and they were worked out.
Q: What do you think of career ladders for teachers? And what are your feelings about merit pay?
A: I guess my first reaction to merit pay is, number one, I think it has always been understood to implement the merit pay program. How is it going to be implemented? And with very rare exceptions in the United States, I for one was really not interested in the merit pay plan. One reason, I guess, was because I felt that our teachers were not paid what they should have, that has always been a big issue. And, so the merit pay plan would only work if and this has been pretty well proven by statistics that you have, number one, an excellent salary scale. I guess that is why I was always reluctant about the idea of merit pay, because I never felt that our salary scale were as it should have been. If our salary scale was, then I would have taken a look at the merit pay plan that could be satisfactory. One of our school divisions, a neighboring school division, for one year did institute a merit pay plan for administrators. And it created more hard feelings and more dismay than even the people who developed the plan had anticipated. I think it has to be well thought out, I think it causes friction and it causes hard feelings. I think there are other ways in rewarding teachers than the merit pay plan.
Q: What are the characteristics associated with effective schools?
A: When I was superintendent of schools, one of the things I wanted to do was to visit all, everyone of the schools, especially our elementary schools. And I could always sense that I was coming to a very warm and happy school. In the hall ways, you saw the students, you saw the faculty members. You'd see happy people. Much of it, I think, for an effective school in A: to that Q: , you have to have an effective principal. If you walk into that school, you see the principal in the hall, you see the principal in the cafeteria, you see the principal out on the playground. I think that is one of the first signs of an effective principal. Another sign of an effective school is the faculty. When you go and see the people who teach, how much they enjoy teaching there and how much they look forward to teaching. When you try to transfer some of those teachers, or on their own teachers will ask for a transfer, it proves it is not a very effective school. But those that express how much they enjoy teaching. You go into a school that is not of that type, where the principal rarely left his office, where you constantly see complaints coming in from teachers and parents, I think that is one of the best indicators of an ineffective school. The principal would go into a classroom, help teachers and would express some dismay, but yet talk with the teachers o that he or she would do her utmost to help the teacher. In an effective school, you would have a principal who would not recommend a teacher and when you pass by we know it was almost impossible to help that teacher. But I would say the most effective school is one that has the best teachers and an effective principal.
Q: What was your Code of Ethics as a principal?
A: 1 didn't realize that I had a Code of Ethics. Well, I think I tried to do what I expect other people to do; whether it is how I dress or how I spoke. I could not ask my staff members or even my students to do things I wouldn't do. If smoking was not permitted, and I smoked a pipe, I would not expect students to be suspended or expelled for smoking. I think I would always try to go by the old adage, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I would try to be honest with people. I did not knowingly tell false hoods because I expected people to be honest with me, especially students. Whenever I had a discipline problem, whether with a staff member or a student, I would try to give them the benefit of the doubt, if they told the truth. I guess the biggest thing I looked for was telling the truth.
Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal, and why was it so difficult?
A: I guess the toughest decision I had to make personally was when the school board asked me to be principal of Pembroke High School. As I indicated to you, my best experience was as principal of Kecoughtan High School. I guess the biggest Q: was what to do about Pembroke High School. I realized what the problems were going to be and I guess agreeing to become principal of that school was the toughest decision I had to make in order to help the school system. I was somewhat dismayed when the superintendent indicated my salary was going to be reduced because I was going to a smaller school. I said, "Wait a minute, I'm not going to take a cut in pay to take over another high school!", because I could have stayed at Kecoughtan. But I also really enjoyed working with some of the students, and some of the staff even wanted to go with me to Pembroke. I looked at Pembroke as a challenge. Not having worked with a large number of black students, it really was a challenge, especially because there were some students there who had some serious discipline problems. And as I indicated to you previously, I was very fortunate to have two assistant principals who really did help me out. So, by the end of the year, I was very proud of the way things turned out.
Q: What is your personal leadership philosophy?
A: Well, I think I have indicated to you previously concerning the effectiveness of a high school. I guess just creating that kind of climate that students and staff members are happy. And I guess the rewards that you get over the years when you see those students and those faculty members always indica ted to me how much they appreciated what you did before. I guess, once again, the philosophy firm and fair, especially as a new principal, was one that was a fairly good step for me. And I think people realize, especially the students who you are. Any student will realize when you are fair with that student and when you are firm that they had it coming. So, I think the other thing I tried to do when I was principal, I would always try to be out with the students, whether it was in the hallways, the cafeteria. I even did a little coaching on the side to be with the students. Because I think the principal or administrator who comes and goes into his office misses out. He's missing part of the primary attempts that I believe in--being accessible to the students.
Q: What is your philosophy of education?
A: My philosophy of education is getting more difficult by the minute. I guess my philosophy of education is and always has been to give every student, every youngster the opportunity to get an education that will help him or her lead a good life when they get out of school. To prepare that youngster for the fortitudes of life and the challenges of life after they graduate from high school. I always, also, feel that every youngster should get as much education as possible. Because of the demands of society, the economy and the world are becoming so much more demanding more so than what they were when I first started teaching. So, I would say my philosophy is to go to the fullest extent to make that education possible, and an effective education so that person is well educated to meet the challenges of the world after they graduate.
Q: What advice would you give to a person, such as myself, who is considering an administrative position?
A: I think one of the things I always noticed when I was in administration and we would try to identify those people who were going into administration or who had an interest in administration, the greatest problem there was usually your most effective teacher. And, of course, in some instances, most teachers always were kind of reluctant to go into administration because they enjoyed teaching, just like I indicated to you when I was first asked to become an assistant principal. My first reaction was "No way, I enjoy teaching too much." I guess the advice would be, as I indicated previously, going into administration is an altogether world than being in a classroom. It takes the most rewarding part of going in school work, working with young people, helping young people. You are not going to get that by going into administration. Now, of course, if you are an assistant principal, you still will because you will be working with young people whether it is discipline wise or just helping that student. So, there is more paperwork involved, more working with adults. So, I guess the main advice would be just realize that you are not going to be working with young people to the extent you did when you were in the classroom. Some people may say that's great, but you lose that love that you get from young people.
Q: Were you a manager of a building or were you an instructional leader?
A: Well, let me say this. I guess I would say I was more of a manager of a building because we had practically no time to be instructional leaders. The demands of the principalship are so great and always have been, especially in working with staff members, working with parents, and with the superintendent, school boards, that you had very little time to go into the classroom and become an instructional leader. The other thing is, I think as a principal, especially of a large high school, you find yourself in the situation where you depend more and more, too much, on the assistants or the department heads or supervisors. Because of their expertise, you almost feel like I really didn't know a whole bunch about teaching Latin or mathematics. So, I would say that over the years that I was in the schools, I was more or less a building manager. Managing the young people, staff members, and parents, so that you had almost no opportunity to really regard yourself as an instructional leader.
Q: What aspects of your professional training best prepared you for the principalship?
A: I don't know whether you would say professional training. I indicated in the beginning of our conversation that I learned so much as an assistant principal I had. I think the other think I always looked back on, you always have to look back at the people you worked with, especially during the advanced study program. And I can always think of my professor I had, well two people that I thought a lot of that really helped me a great deal were professors at the College of William and Mary, Dr. Howard and Dr. Carver. I would go and chat with them when I was becoming an administrator. I think most of the advice they gave me was a great help to me. I guess those two especially were willing to listen and gave advice and they were a great help to me. And, of course, even people within the school division, the superintendent of schools, because he and the school board had faith in me and I tried to live up to that faith. And I guess you learn from the comments they make and the problems you have, so that you also have to handle the problems on a daily basis.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities that would better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: I think probably the best learning situation for prospective candidates going into school administration is to get them into a real situation. Just like your student teaching experience. I think the intern programs are excellent because they give that particular candidate, as well as the school system, an opportunity for him or her to get a feel for administration. Sometimes people will go in there and then decide they want to go back to the class room. So, as far as the schools and universities, I would say that the more experience that particular candidate has in actual situations; not only in classrooms, but in seminars. I think one of the most interesting experiences I had was in a summer program I attended at a teacher's college in Columbia where we did a lot of this kind of work. Actual situations, what would you do as a principal or as a central office administrator. So, I guess the actual experience far outweighs much of the book type of experience. The more that person can have, the better prepared he is. I guess I was fortunate because when I started as assistant principal, it was really an intern kind of experience under a very effective principal. Because I think you find yourself emulating that person when you become a principal yourself. You ask yourself, now what would he or she do if he or she were in this situation?
Q: As a building principal, what consumed the majority of your time?
A: As a building principal, I guess what consumed most of my time was discipline, when you had to suspend students. In one way I guess I was very fortunate as a principal, I can't think of more than one or two expulsions, which, of course, had to be approved by the school board. So, in that respect, I was very fortunate because of some of the young people I had. And those, in some instances, that should have been expelled, we were able to save. And, of course, one of the biggest discipline problems you had were those who dropped out of school. But for most reason, it was lack of parental support, which we just couldn't get.
Q: Over the past decade, there seems to be a slippage in human relations training which went into administrative preparation. It has been suggested that in recent years there has been a relapse into the insensitivities toward minority students and minority appointees to administrative positions. Would you comment on this from your own experience?
A: Well, that's a long one. It's going to be hard for me to keep on track on that. Well, of course, as you know, I was an administrator when Brown vs. Topeka was passes. And I think right from the beginning, I think the climate of the community helped somewhat as I indicated to you. I would probably comment more on when I became a principal. I know that my philosophy as far as working with minority students were concerned these people are coming into a strange and scary situation. I would talk with some of the boys, especially, and it was amazing to me the way they expressed their feelings about "Hey, this is really a scary situation for me." I think much of the opposition to the integration of schools came from insensitive people who felt endangered because of the integration of schools. I always tried to put myself in the situation of that student or that faculty member. When I came to Kecoughtan High School, I just had the feeling that we were going to treat all staff members and all students, irregardless of their color. I know I was the first to put black faculty members as department chairmen, which I never regretted because they were excellent. They had good back grounds and they had successful careers. I know that at Kecoughtan, the first year we were there we were put on display because of the fact that we had black students there. We did have, I remember in talking with the sponsors, we had girls who went out for cheerleading and one of the Q: s that came up to me was suppose we really have some outstanding black students as cheerleaders, should we appoint them to become cheerleaders? I said, "No Q: about it. We are looking at capability, we are not looking at the color of the student." No more than we looked at faculty members' color. And so we did have black cheerleaders right from the beginning, we did have black department chairmen who came from the black high school. And so, I guess we were always sensitive in trying to overlook a person's color or religion for that fact when I became principal of Kecoughtan High School. It worked in the same way when I might say the shoe was on the other foot when I went to the all black high school. And you would feel more of like I was a white student coming in a all black high school. So, you try to place yourself right from the beginning with the first black students we had there when we integrated the high schools in 1968; I always tried to put myself in the place of the minority youngsters. Now, later on when I was in personnel, assistant superintendent, and then superintendent, we appointed quite a number of black administrators in the high schools, the junior high schools, as well as the elementary schools. And the only thing we looked at was their background, the successes and and appointed those people as school administrators. Whether it was the principal of Hampton High School, whether it was the principal at Merrimack Elementary, whether it was a supervisor, we looked at the credentials and there was never a Q: of appointing those people.
Q: But what are your feelings, Mr. Szetela, in the present, that's causing the reverse now? It seems to be a strain on making progress for minorities, achievement on test scores, minorities are not achieving on test scores. What do you attribute to this?
A: Well, there is no way you just point your finger at one thing, because of the differences. I don't know whether I would point to the times, or whether it is the trend people see, because you have more black students at the schools than any other school. I think the other thing that disturbs white people because they see that as a threat, although I don't see that as a threat because whether you are black or white, you are still human beings. I think that is one reason that people are this way, of course, even in their own communities. The black population is increasing it is in any large city, whether it is Norfolk or whether it is in Hampton. I can remember when we first integrated the schools, I can remember one administrator saying, "Hey, you're not going to have any problems with black students, but wait until you get black teachers in school." Well, when we did get black teachers, there was no problem. As long as that black teacher or that white teacher was an effective teacher, there was no problem. And so it never became the issue that that administrator said. Of course, he's been dead a number of years now.
Q: Did he say why?
A: Well, because you were going to get so much opposition from white parents, that "My little darling has a black teacher," and in Hampton, it never developed. The only time it did develop was when that teacher was not an effective teacher and, of course, the same thing happened to white teachers too. I think that some of the insensitivity that is on the rise, I think it can be due to the feeling of threat, especially from those people whose education is not as good and they feel threatened by it. Those people who have a good educational background, and I'm talking about whites; I remember when I was at Pembroke High School, I never did get any support from white parents except those who were college graduates, who were stationed at Fort Monroe or Langley. And I had their total support in working and trying to make Pembroke a success. I think ignorance lies, and has a lot to do wit!: it. They just won't give that person that chance to prove himself.
Q: Will you describe the most effective assistant principal you ever worked with, in terms of characteristics, ingenuity, creativity and support.
A: Boy, that's a big order. Well, first of all, I'll have to say that I always had some very, very capable assistant principals. I know I won't be able to touch on all those headings, creativity, support, so forth. First of all, I'm thinking of two or three because one of them now is deceased, one is now on the college level and the other is retired. First of all, I think they loved children, just like I do. They always went to the limit with young people. The always tried to be fair with young people. The always inflicted that kind of discipline that they said they would do. I think one of the failings that they had was that they always said, "If you don't do so and so and shape up, I'm going to do so and so." If they don't do so and so and that principal does not follow through, just like a teacher, same thing. But, I think their sensitivity and their love of youngsters and at the same time giving full support to the greatest possibility to the staff members. And they had their way of making a teacher feel that he's backing me up. I would see this when he would go to the staff member and talk over the situation with that staff member. I think the worst possible think that an assistant principal could do is go ahead and listen to a student and the say, "O.K., don't do it again," and send that student back to the classroom and the teacher is still upset. Rather than following through and talking with the teacher and listening to the student. If necessary, suspending the student or if necessary, putting the youngster in, as we used to call it at the old Hampton High School, the mourner's bench, outside the principal's office. But, then I think the other thing I can think of of these three assistant principals, of course, I had more than three during my tenure as principal; that the clock was never an issue. They were always there early in the morning and I hasten to admit, they were always the last ones out of the school building. You would go there at night sometimes and there will be the assistant principal working on whatever work had to be done. Trying to find someone who was skipping school, talking with parents. Because one of the biggest problems administrators have today is talking to parents during the day, because both parents work. I guess for most of the time when I was in administration as principal and assistant principal, the working mother was the exception rather than the rule. Because you could always talk to the mother during the day. I would say that that was the other thing that always impressed me. Another knack that all three had was to always foresee a problem that could arise, with students or with faculty members. What we tried to do, once again on their initiative or their say so, was to catch that before it became a problem. I think that is why they were so effective. Whether it was with a parent, with the school board, or with the students. And the other thing, I think they never acted out of anger or hastily. They would sit down and think through before action was taken.
Q: If you would change five areas of the United States' education, which would they be?
A: Well, I think one of the things that I got from this conference last fall; one of the problems we have in education, and this may be one of the area. But I think one of the things that impressed me was a presentation made by a gentleman who is now, I believe, the acting superintendent of schools in Kansas City. And the reason why he was appointed was because of his success in another school system in Ohio. His big thing, I think why he was successful, once again this ties in with civil rights, minorities and busing. But one of the big successes in areas of education, I think where it was implemented, is the magnet school. Now I don't regard the magnet school as a way to avoid integration of schools, what I'm talking about, where they have been successful, is to set schools up that meet the needs of the students and meet the needs of the community. Now this gentleman was a success while living in Kansas City by creating magnet schools. You might have read about some. Dallas comes to mind, Cincinnati has been very successful. I'm not only talking about black students, I'm talking about white students, too. If you remember further back, I mentioned something about meeting the needs of the students in a very complicated, complex world. It was so simple in the 50's when I first started teaching; when I look at the way it is now and what students are faced with. But I think that is one area that holds a a lot of promise. I mean setting up alternative schools for troubled youngsters. You know we had a program here in the city schools, but unfortunately, we had to drop it because our budget was cut. But, I'm talking about other alternative schools for mathematics and computers and foreign languages. I'm also talking about schools, especially for those youngsters who are having learning problems, who have problems adjusting, along with schools in math, science and the fine arts. I think that is one area that sounds so exciting and I think we can really meet the individual needs of all the youngsters. You know yourself there are many youngsters who need a lot of remedial work. But I think that is one area that has a lot of promise. I think the other area is really in the area of teacher education. I know when I came along, we had practically nothing in the way of working with students and administration. And I think I indicated to you that probably the best promise in that area, and I think some schools are doing that now, is to give real experience before that person goes into the teaching profession. I can always think of my first day of teaching where the principal met me at the door and walked me to class and said, "Here is your class." He didn't introduce me to the department chairman; he didn't even show me where the bathroom was. But I think how you treat new teachers, how you help them, how you make them feel is so important. I think more attention should be given to that. And I think schools of education are going more and more into that. I think probably a third area, public relations, is so important to schools and school divisions. You hear so many things about schools, they are not doing this and maybe they aren't. But let's face it, you know as well as I do we are not going to be able to give every student that comes through those doors an education. There are things that work against you, especially their homes. Once again, I go back to when I started. When I was a principal, I always had very supportive parents. But I think the biggest problem that students have today is coming from homes where there is very little interest in that youngster, or support of that youngster. Not every youngster has that kind of interest and support, and that is where the effective principal or the assistant principal comes in; is to take an interest in that youngster. I can remember one student I had, when I was principal at Kecoughtan, whose father was a high-ranking officer at one of the bases in the area. And his father was under a lot of pressure at all times. I would just casually talk with the youngster at lunch time or he would come in and sit down and talk with me. He said, "You know, my father doesn't have time to sit down and talk with me as you do." These are the kinds of things that I think administrators, now we're talking about administrators, because I think teachers do a lot of it on their own. But I think as far as an effective administrator goes, the word spreads around, and you get so much of it. I just got it the other day at a house party. "Our son often talks about you, and how you would sit down and talk with him, listen to him and get after him about his grades." This was a student at Kecoughtan. And this was during the VietNam War and the father was in VietNam and he was not doing well in school. Of course, the parents said that he started doing well again because of that interest I had shown in him. I wasn't aware of it. Other than after the request of the student, "keep after me about my grades. My father is in VietNam and my mom is pretty upset." But I think those of the kinds of things you remember, and years later you remember, because the students or the parents will talk to you about it.
Q: What in your own experience did you find most beneficial in helping you maintain a "sane" attitude toward being a principal?
A: Well, you know I think there are a lot of rewards that you have and I just mentioned one. You know, every year I get invited to the high school reunions at Hampton High and Kecoughtan and in fact, the other night at the Rotary Club one of the Kecoughtan graduates reminded me that the class of 1968 was going to have their reunion and they expected me to the there. But I guess, in retaining a "sane" attitude, there are so "Any rewards that you get as a high school principal. I'm talking during the school year. Of course, you have your moments and problems. I guess I was blessed at Kecoughtan because we had very minimal discipline problems, I guess smoking was the worst one. We had a smoking area, but we don't have that any more. But, I guess, the thing that always would make you feel good about being a principal and retain your sanity were the successes of the school and the students. Whether it was a National Merit Scholar, the first accreditation, the high school things that went on like the Faculty Frolics. And it was participating in the lives of the students whether it was in athletics, academics and especially the successes of the students. I guess those were the rewards, there certainly weren't huge salaries in those days, of course. But in the successes of the students and the faculty. You know when a faculty member gets his or her master's degree, or whether they would gain some kind of recognition from the community or from the college. I think the thing I hated most about being a principal was that it took so much time at night. It was the longest day, from 7 in the morning until 11 or 12 o'clock midnight type of situation. Because you knew that the students always wanted you as the principal to be at their football games, basketball games, their plays and dances. And that wears you down quite a bit. You really didn't have much time, other than the weekends. And that was one thing that used to get me down. Then, when I did have time, I was teaching curriculum at night, I was working on a certificate of advanced study. And that was one thing that would sometimes lead to your lose of sanity, because you really didn't have much time to relax. You realize what your responsibilities to that school are, and especially to your students.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?
A: Well, I think the main thing is that teachers expect principals to create that kind of climate in the school that is going to impress upon students you are here to learn, to get an education. Teachers expect a principal to support them when they run into a problem with a student, or the parent. Teachers expect to be lauded and recognized when they do a good job. I think that sometimes goes farther than merit pay or anything else. Teachers expect, I think, along with that same, because you have teachers who put in long hours. I always tried to be the last one to leave the school. When you would see teachers still in the classroom preparing for the next day or meeting with other members of their department. When you make recognition or reference to it, it does so much for the morale of your staff. The of your staff is based on the principal of the school. If you have a good principal that does those things, that supports the staff and is happy in his or her job, then you are going to have happy teachers. Now the only unhappy teacher is the one that is not really in for anything, except it is a job. You always notice that teacher because they do not participate in the activities of the students, they are the first ones out of the building and the last one coming in in the morning. Usually that is the teacher that constantly complains about students, especially. Because that teacher does not take the time to really sit down and try to work with that student. I can think of one teacher we had at Pembroke High School, who started with me at Hampton High, went to Kecoughtan when I became principal there and went to Pembroke with me. She was a tough old gal. But she was tough with her students, but just to show you how remarkable that lady was; she was a white teacher, she went to Pembroke with me and she always wanted the hard est students, the worst disciplined students. And I can still talk to some students that I had at Pembroke and they will always ask about that teacher because she was so tough on them. But I realized that she didn't care how much time she spent with them. She would work with them and help them out and spend more time than really was reasonable, and they realized that. She never had a discipline problem, because she handled her own discipline. And a very short time after the school year started, students knew what she expected, and they knew how tough she was, but also underneath she had a heart of gold.
Q: I'm sure that during your principalship there were a lot of pressures and this Q: states: How did you handle the pressures that you faced?
A: Well, the main pressure I had was that you really had no time to relax. And not only because of the school, but you know you were working on other degrees or you were teaching or you had to go to meetings. I guess that was the main thing. I remember my blood pressure got up so high and I went to the doctor and the first thing he told me was to give up some of the night activities. And once I did, stopped teaching at William and Mary and finished my advanced certificate, my pressure got back to normal. The other pressures, that I was under tremendous pressures when I took over Pembroke. The way I handled it, I think was some advice that somebody gave me one time when I first started teaching, "Leave the school house behind you." Which I did. I tried to keep my weekends open all the time. I would go out and relax. I took up golf, and I guess I would take my feelings out on a little white ball. But mainly, the way I tried to handle it was to follow that advice. Once when I first started teaching, that's what I tried to do. Sometimes you couldn't because a parent would call you up, a PTA member would call you or a teacher would call you up. But, especially relaxing on the weekend. I guess that is one thing you have to learn when you are an administrator, you have to learn how to relax and forget your problems that you may have in school.
Q: Describe a typical day in terms of how you spent your time, and what consumed the most of it.
A: One think I always learned when I was an administrator, and even when I went to the central office, but especially when I was principal, that it was always best to try to get to the office before anyone else did. That was when you could look at what the secretary had put on your desk for your day, what you had to do that day. It allowed you to get your thoughts together, it allowed you to catch up on your work that you hadn't finished the day before. I don't know how it is done now, but in those days it was a lot of hand written work, was a letter. And sometimes I tried to make some phone calls. And then when the students arrived, I tried to be out in the hallways or if a teacher wanted to see me, I could sit down with him or her. And then during the day, you were more of a manager, meeting with the students, teachers, or parents. But I think the thing I tried to do most, and I always tried to live by this, when the students were in the cafeteria during lunch times, I tried to be in the hallways and in the cafeteria, to make sure you didn't break the lines. I think I talked with the students as much as I could or they would come up to me to see me. Sometimes they do it rather on the sly, so that other students wouldn't see them. So many of those youngsters, especially those who had fathers in VietNam, or who had problems at home. So the day was really full. I always looked forward to the lunch period, because I like to be out in the hallways and the cafeteria with the students. But the regular day was mostly spent in the office, because there were people who wanted to see me. And letters would have to be written. Youngsters who had to be suspended, although the assistant principal usually took care of those, parents that you had to see. Because at that time, we had Langley and Fort Monroe, and I did meet quite a few parents because some of the students had problems adjusting. So unfortunately, when I was principal, so much of the time was spent in the office. Except at lunch time, and that is what I looked forward to. Not only to have lunch, but to talk to the students.
Q: What role did you play in public and community relations?
A: Well, you know, public relations was rather a nebulous kind of thing in those days. I guess with public and community relations, you followed so much of that through your parent-teacher associations. I had very good PTA leader ship when I was principal at Kecoughtan. I had very good response from parents. I, of course, having been in the community for quite some time, knew members of city council and members of the city administration. In fact, they all would do little things for me that they probably wouldn't do to other schools because of my relationship with them. Like sending out the sweeper on Saturday and cleaning out the parking lots at Kecoughtan, that they weren't supposed to do. Of course, I can say that now. I think close contact with the parents through PTA, contact with city officials, of course I knew the school board members. We had a superintendent of schools at that time who always worked on Saturday and you could always go down and talk with him. But I think the main way public relations was what you did in the school, that spoke for itself. And, of course, I guess if you speak about one public relations act, I was involved in an event during football season that I promised the students I would jump off the Buckroe pier on Saturday. You would be surprised how many people will comment on that after 20 years. And I often think I could have done anything public relations wise that the community remembers. In fact, people wanted me to do a repeat of it because there was so much traffic people couldn't get down to the beach. So, I think when you talk about public relations, I tried to do the thing that would catch the attention of the parents.
Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?
A: Well, I indicated to you I don't think I would appoint, on the secondary level, I would say that the principal always should be an assistant principal first. There is no Q: about it because I don't think I would have had much success as a principal if it hadn't been for my experiences as an assistant principal. Working under a man who had better than 20 years of experience as an administrator. So, I would say that it would be the first thing that I would require. The other thing I would look at is how successful that person was as an assistant principal. We have principals right now who became principals because of the way they handled students, the way they handled parents, the way they worked with teachers. And I don't think the first one has been a failure as a principal, because you hear those things. We have some assistant principals now on the secondary level, that have been assistant principals for a number of years and never will be principals. Not because they haven't done well, they have done their jobs, but not to the extent that others have done to become principals. Because I think in sitting and talking with those assistant principals, their attitude is "I should be a principal because I've been an assistant principal long enough." Now when I became principal I think my attitude and the attitudes of those we made principal was, "Well, all I can say is that I tried to do a good job as assistant principal and if you think I could do a good job as principal then I will do my best." I don't think that is groveling, you're not falling all over yourself. But I think when you take that attitude, you owe me a principalship; I remember when I was asked by the school board, "Why do you think we should appoint you superintendent?" and I said I can stand on my record as a principal, an assistant principal, and as a teacher. I'm not going to try to build myself up, I'm not going to tout my own horn. And if my record doesn't speak for itself, then I don't want to be superintendent. And if you think my record and the community feels I should be superintendent, fine. But those people who toot their horns the least are those who make the good principals. Those that toot the horns too much are the ones that are not going to be good principals.
Q: How can we improve education and teachers?
A: Well, you know sometimes I almost feel like it is a lost cause. Because I don't think education can really be improved unless you get total support and total commitment from parents and community. You know, when you look at school districts that have excellent schools, excellent staff members, I think you find that you have the full support of the community and the full support of the parents. Not only in the way of funding, but in the way of sacrifices in that community or those parents. When you don't have that, you don't have a good school system. Because I think the demands on education has increased over the years. Whether it is educating youngsters about sex, or Aids, or whether it is educating them about a lot of things that youngsters haven't thought about yet, ethics. So much of that we never had to bother with in years before, because it was taken care of at home and by the church. But now, everybody looks toward the school. That is why I say sometimes it looks so hopeless. The only way I think education is going to be improved and become what it should be is when you get total commitment from the community and the parents of that school district. Not only in funding, but in time wise and the interest of that student; support of the school, rather than "I'm going to sue you for so and so." When I was teaching, you know parents would say "You have my total support." You very rarely hear that now. Except in those school districts that have made a total commitment to the school, and are successful, and held up as being successful schools. You know that education is always being criticized, but the community should also look at successes of education.
Q: How can you improve teaching?
A: Well, I think the way we can improve teaching is to be more selective. Whether it is by testing or personality of that teacher, whether it is the success of that person in high school and the first couple of years in col lege. I think that is the important thing. Because you get people, when I was teaching and when I was an administrator, who say they were trained only to teach college prep students. Those are the kinds of people that you don't need in teaching. If you can identify them and keep them out. But if not, you know when I started teaching, there was a short supply of teachers. You had people coming in who didn't have degrees. You had people coming in who weren't successful, but they had a degree, so they tried that. But surprisingly some very well educated people couldn't handle the students. They weren't interested in the students. They were just there to have a job and get a paycheck. To improve the kind of teachers, you almost have to take each person and have them go through a rigorous interview, just like you do for some of your principals and assistant principals. You almost have to have a very capable screening process before you even let that person go into teaching. I was reading the other day that the number of people who are going into teaching is increasing. Just the first hopeful sign that we are going to start getting people back into teaching. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Q: Did you feel that central office policies prevented you from accomplishing goals that you felt could have been otherwise obtained?
A: If there was a policy that I though would keep me from doing something, I would go and talk with the superintendent about it. One thing about the superintendent I worked under, the door was always open. They would under stand, they wouldn't always agree with you, but if there was a policy that you thought prevented you, you would expect them to say well, go ahead and and if you have a problem with it, I will talk to the school board about it. I don't think policies were so rigid and so written that you couldn't get permission from the superintendent. So I never felt that way as a principal. Now there were things that I wanted to try especially when we went to Kecoughtan, we wanted a swimming team, we wanted a wrestling team, like some of the other schools had. I think the first reaction the superintendent had was we can't do it, it is not approved. The payoff was, I said the coaches wanted to do it on their own, they didn't want to get paid for it. So, he said go ahead and do it. When it didn't involve money, he said go ahead and do it.
Q: Would you enter administration on the principalship level, if you had to do it again?
A: Yes, definitely. I was in administration from 1956 to 1982. My five happiest years were at Kecoughtan High School. And I think the big thing was I chose my staff, I managed the building, we had excellent students and community support. We were beginning to get minority students in the school right from the first day we opened. We just had excellent students. Sure we had some to cut up. But I always look back at those five years as principal of Kecoughtan as one of the best five years I had in administration; the most rewarding, the happiest. And I guess I told you, the sorriest day was when I agreed to leave. And then I would drive by Kecoughtan and I would get so many happy memories of those five years.
Q: During your tenure as a principal, please describe those characteristics of the superintendent that you found most desirable.
A: Well, I'm trying to think of the three superintendents I served under. First of all, I think the most desirable one was that he was always available to talk to you. I think all three of them were so much involved in building the schools and you appreciated the time that they would spend. I think two superintendents that would give praise. When I was at Pembroke, I had a lot of opposition from white parents and the superintendent came down and talked. Taking time to come and help you out, sitting down and talking with you. I think that was one of the biggest thing about a superintendent I worked under. I can remember the first one was very, very thrifty, and when I became superintendent, I could see how you have to be so careful with public money and expenditures. The second one was my choice when I was assistant principal. I always will remember him for his faith in me, in making me assistant superintendent. The third superintendent was my predecessor, I think he was probably the most effective of the three that I worked under. He seemed to be so capable and effective in all facets of the superintendency. When I became superintendent, I tried to emulate him. But he was the kind of person you like to be around, because he had an excel lent sense of humor. I think the big thing was always knowing and realizing that they were there to support you, and were always there to go to bat for you when you were in the right.
Q: If there were three areas of operations for administrators, which you could change, what would those areas be and why?
A: Well I think, without a doubt, the biggest change would probably be in the area of getting the principal more involved in the instructional programs in school. I don't mind saying that we were involved very little in the instructional program, was not as knowledgeable about the instructional program and new programs. Because, as I indicated to you, I was manager of a building. I would almost say that it would be worthwhile for every principal (secondary principal) to go to a one week session every summer just to get a run down of instructional programs. Instructional program changes that have developed; that principal should know about it, whether it is an English program or a math program. When I was principal, we had so many new programs that were coming in, whether it was in Biology, Physics, or math. And not only new programs, but programs in your own school; how successful were these programs, how can we change them, how can we help students out? Not watering them down, necessarily, but how can we group students, especially in remediation? So I think that would be the first area that needed to be changed, rather than making the principal perform as he always was, manager of a building. Now I don't have that kind of problem, to that same extent in the elementary school. First of all, you have fewer teachers. Some people would say, you have three or four assistant principals, but let's face it, the whole fact is we need to concentrate on instruction. And I think that the principal needs to be more knowledge able about instruction, especially when you are putting in a new program or a new course. I think that in the second area, public relations, is a big thing right now. I think that he or she should do more in the way of public relations. Whether it is joining a civic club, speaking to civic groups, speaking to community groups (garden clubs, etc.). Because I think the support of your parents and your community is very, very important. There have been changes since then. You can't expect too much as far as newspapers are concerned. They have so many schools to deal with. I think many of the schools do send a newsletter, which I think is a big plus and that certainly helps. But I don't think it should be public relations to just build yourself up as a principal, but to discuss problems, whether it is this Aids business, sex, pregnancies, whether it is to downplay or give your side of the story of something that might appear in the newspaper. I think it is very important because I think you have to have the confidence in your parents and your community and that school. Those of the two areas that come to mind.
Q: What caused you to choose retirement when you did?
A: Well, first of all, I had been in the school system almost 32 years. I had hoped to retire and had no desire to become a superintendent. I enjoyed what I was doing as assistant superintendent to personnel. I had a good office there, good assistants and I enjoyed the work. Once again, when you become superintendent, just like the principalship; the buck stops right there. I always remember when I was in the Army and I was a squad leader in the infantry. I had a very able assistant squad leader and we wanted to make him squad leader and he said, "No Way!" And I said, "Charlie, why not," and he said because you have to take all the gab and all the responsibility. He said that as assistant squad leader, he doesn't have to take it. He said you may have to give it to him, but he did not have to get it from the platoon leaders, the company commander, the battalion commander. And it is the same way as superintendent. The superintendent is responsible, he gets all the fire all the time. I guess the think that probably decided for me, first of all, I had been in the school system for aLmost 32 years, I was enjoying what I was doing. I guess the political climate of the community, if you remember it. We had a mayor who was not very supportive of me of the school board. There was a lot of turmoil in the school system at that time because of teacher salaries being so low. The community wasn't willing to go out and raise taxes to give the teachers the kind of salaries that was in their power, and that was very discouraging. And when the budget was presented and it was turned down, not only that, but it was cut unmercifully by the council. At that time, that is when I decided; well, I was about 50 years old and after 32 years, I felt we didn't get what we should have gotten and I was very angry. We got a new mayor, so I decided, and I had just received a new four-year contract, to stay on three more years. So, I indicated to the school board, I gave them plenty of opportunity so that they wouldn't be faced with the dilemma like Dr. Anderson. And I just felt that they needed somebody younger because I had been in it for so long and I was just so discouraged. But, of course, they reversed the budget and it finally passed. Maybe I should have stayed another year. But I don't regret it because health wise for me, it was the best thing. Talk about pressure. You become superintendent and you get a very unresponsive city council; that you almost had to beg for funds. And I just decided this is not for me. If somebody else could convince them to give more, fine. It was just what they did to that first budget.
Q: What have I not asked you that I should have?
A: Well, maybe I should have asked you why you wanted to talk to administrators. I think you have pretty well covered the whole spectrum of school administration. In looking back at 26 years of working in school administration, I think that it has been very rewarding. I think you will enjoy going into school administration, with one exception: you lose the contact with the students. Especially if you go on into the central office administration. You still retain it if you are a principal, no Q: about that. I think you get, as a principal, you'll be under a lot of pressure, too. That you don't have probably as much in the classroom unless you have a lot of assistance to take the heat from you. I guess I was fortunate especially whether it was parents, whether it was students, whether it was teachers; and I think you have to realize that it is not just an eight-hour day job. Sometimes it is a 24 hour job. Like as superintendent, I had to decide whether we had school or not because of snow. But I think you pretty well covered, it's been pretty revealing and I don't think there is anything I would really ask as a Q: that you might have overlooked. I think it has been very thorough.
Q: I would like to thank you for granting me this interview, and it has been a pleasure listening to and seeing you again.
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