This is February the 14th, 1990. I'm speaking with Mr. Frank Stone in the School Board Office of Roanoke County Schools on his experiences as an elementary school principal.
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Q: Mr. Stone, would you begin by telling us about your family background, birthplace, your childhood interests, developments, elementary and secondary education, family characteristics.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Patrick County Virginia, in June 23, 1933. I was one of five children. I have two brothers and two sisters. My father was a farmer, and my mother was a homemaker. I would say that my parents always stressed education, and we always had lots of books and magazines and newspapers in our home. We lived way out in the country, so we didn't get to the city too often, but we had lots of books and magazines and things to read. My parents read a lot to us as children. We lived so far from the elementary school that none of the children began school until we were 7 years old, so I entered the first grade on my seventh birthday, but my mother had taught all of us to read and write before we entered school, and my first experience was in a little two room country school. Grades one through four was in one room and five through seven was in the other room. But that was a great experience, and I think that prepared me for the consolidated high school that I attended in the eighth grade. I would say that my elementary and secondary education was a good one even though it was in the country--I feel I had a good background for college. Especially in my high school I had some dedicated teachers, small classes, and I feel I had a good education for that time.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching.
A: All right. I went from high school to Ferrum Junior College, so I have an Associate Degree, and then from Ferrum College I attended Lynchburg College where I have a B.A. Degree, and then from there I later on got my Master's Degree at the University of Virginia. I had planned to be a teacher from the time I was in elementary school, so all of my college courses and all the courses I had were related to teaching.
Q: How many years did you serve as a teacher and as a principal?
A: I taught 3 years at Fort Lewis Elementary School in Salem, and then I entered my first principalship my fourth year in Roanoke County; but I taught sixth and seventh grade as well as being principal, and then from that I went to an elementary school in Vinton, Roland E. Cook School, but even though I wasn't teaching I had to teach during the summers, so for the next ten years every summer I had a full summer school class.
Q: Tell us about some experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.
A: I said that, of course, my college experience I had some good teachers who I think provided a lot of motivation for me. But my first principal probably gave me a lot of motivation and guidance that helped me with my decision making to stay in education, and I have often thought if it had not been for my first principal I would not have continued in education.
Q: Would you give us the specific circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship.
A: Well, I have never applied for a principalship. I was thinking about that a couple of days ago. I was teaching seventh grade when Dr. Horn, our superintendent, called and asked me if I would be principal of William Byrd Junior High School in Vinton, and my principal, Mrs. Shober, brought me aside and she said "Don't take the job." She said "If you do, you will quit the first year because that is a big school, a lot of responsibility and you're just a beginning teacher, so turn it down." And with fear and trembling I turned the job down and I think I was the first one that ever said no to Dr. Horn. But he accepted it gracefully and probably knew that Mrs. Shober had given me that advice, but that was my start of being asked to be a principal.
Q: What were the educational requirements at that time in order to become a principal?
A: The people new who became principal then were coaches, and I was one of the few people not a coach who was asked to be a principal, and we were told when you become a principal, you'll have to get your Master's degree so I had already enrolled in classes for my degree in elementary administration so I just had to continue with my degree.
Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship?
A: Well, I enjoyed my teaching so much that my first principal said "I think you'll make a good principal. So when the time comes, I think you should accept the job." But probably the atmosphere that was created in my elementary school with my fellow teachers and with the secretary and principals and even cafeteria workers was just a good atmosphere existed there and I thought I'd like to be a part of this.
Q: How did, or did your motives change over the years?
A: No, not really.
Q: I know that you were in several schools as a principal. Would you take us through on a mental walk and maybe describe those schools, or a particular school, its appearance and any unusual features of that school.
A: I'll start with Bent Mountain. That was a school with the gym in the center of the school plant, and the classrooms were on the outer edge of the gymnasium and when you had gym classes, the noise would penetrate into the classrooms, and we had to learn to tune out the noise of the gym classes; but my first school I think what you'd notice when you go in would be all the work of the children hanging on the wall. This was a little country school, grades one through seven. It had 50 children, 3 teachers and the principal who was a teaching principal. I think the thing that you noticed would be the mature way in which those little country children conducted themselves. The high school and junior high children in the community would wait in the building for the bus to take them to Cave Spring High School, and I was always impressed from day one with how mature those youngsters were. They would come in, they actually kind of looked after the younger children, and so they kind of acted as the away-from-home mom and dad for those little ones until they got on the bus, so it was a good atmosphere and a good feeling about that school. Then I'll switch to Hardy Road in Vinton. That was one of the newest and most up-to-date school plants in Roanoke County, and when you come into the lobby I think the striking colors and pleasant feeling that you could see from the water fountain to the pictures on the wall to the children's work hanging on the wall--that would just create an atmosphere of warmth when you entered the lobby. And then when you'd go through the building, it was different because it was an open-space school. And here you would see children working in groups and working on projects, but there was a feeling of quietness and calmness and cooperation as you went throughout the building that just gave you an uplift when you'd go through it. Quite often, I'd tour the building, I'd come back to the office and I'd say "I know I'm the principal of this school, but I'm really impressed with what I saw this morning because the people were working and there was just a feeling of cooperation that existed there that's hard to describe, but it was there. For the most part, the teachers enjoyed their work and the children enjoyed being there and it was just a good wholesome atmosphere; and I think the media center was probably the center or the hub of the building and it was so nice and attractive, and you always saw children's projects and work and their art work and their writing assignments. You saw all that hanging on the wall, so the children really felt it was their school.
Q: As kind of a follow-up to that, you have quite a contrast being from Bent Mountain to ultra-modern Hardy Road. I know now there's a new state law or regulation to possibly close inefficient schools, and Bent Mountain being a school that comes under that amount is one that would be one that they would want to close. What would your feelings be about Bent Mountain now being closed.
A: If I had never been a part of that community I would probably say close it. But, I mean, if you just say well here's a school with an enrollment of 50. Let's eliminate that and get on with the business of educating the children. But since I've been a part of that community and worked there, that is the central hub of that community. You're about 15 miles from the nearest high school, and it's kind of an isolated area and all the community activities seem to be centered around this school building, so if you'd close that I think you'd be closing a part of that community that needs to be there.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of eduction and maybe how it evolved over the years.
A: Right now I think I have an eclectic philosophy. I'd say it has changed over the years. When we opened Hardy Road School, I was very progressive in my thought. I had the feeling that if you'd take the materials and put them in front of these youngsters they would automatically pick up these materials and study and work and learn and I really believed that. And I still believe it to a certain extent. But I found out that when we used the learning packages, basically that's what we used at that time, that very soon the children found out that the reward for completing a learning package was another learning package, and very soon I started noticing that the children were not working up to their capabilities They were working slower than they should work, and then we came back and said let's have this more teacher directed instead of student directed. And I am still convinced, whether it's elementary, junior high, high school, or even college, that you need to have someone in command. Most people like to be given directions and they like to know what the expectations are, and I think you work better if you have like a road map.
Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it was developed and evolved over time.
A: I think basically, we began at Hardy Road with the learning packages and later on we became more teacher directed, more subject oriented even though we still had a lot of things the children did on their own--individual projects and things of that nature. I think we became more subject oriented. I think society is becoming more subject oriented than they were when we were up at Hardy Road School.
Q: Think about management philosophy and think in terms maybe of some experiences or what some experiences or events that you have had in your professional life maybe that have influenced your management philosophy--if you'd tell us a little about that.
A: I probably unconsciously copied the people I admired in the county, some fellow principals or the supervisory group in Salem. I've always felt I could lead better than I could drive, and I always tried to use that philosophy and work with my teachers and with my school staff. I feel that people work better under maybe a little pressure but not under fear. I do not like to work under fear, and I did not like to subject my teachers to work under fear. I think they work better in an atmosphere where you can have mutual respect for each other and perhaps a give and-take situation in which you say "Well, this is the way I'd like for it to be, but now let's discuss it and see if this is the way it should be." I've always felt that by working together with people I can accomplish more than saying "I'm the boss and you do what I say do."
Q: As a possible tie in to that, let's think about the climate for learning, maybe if you could tell us about some techniques you used to create a successful climate for learning.
A: OK. I guess we tie in to that other question. I've always felt that if you have a nice, calm, pleasant atmosphere in which the teachers and pupils have mutual respect for each other, I think that is the climate that I'd like to see. A climate for our children can be children and teachers are there to instruct and give assistance when these children need that.
Q: Can you think of any maybe unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you were involved and also some that you found particularly successful.
A: I think the unsuccessful one, when we opened Hardy Road School we thought we could totally mainstream all of our special education classes and then we found that there are certain times during the day that these special ed. children need to be isolated in a little room by themselves. So, we came back and partition off a section in each classroom for these special ed. kids, and for a certain period of the day, let's say an hour perhaps, they were self-contained with the teacher giving direction to these youngsters; and then the remainder of the day they were mainstreamed throughout the building. So that was one thing that we had to work on.
Q: Having been principal for a number of years, what kind of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do.
A: I think really teachers expect principals to be able to do everything. And I mean that in a good sense also. I think teachers expect principals to be up-to-date on what's happening with instructional techniques. I think they expect you to be up-to-date on how to handle students, discipline problems, how to talk with parents, and I think they expect you to support them. And sometimes you're supporting them by just letting the teachers know that you're there, that you're available to come to their assistance if needed. I think a lot of times, if you're having a conference with a parent, it is better to let the teacher have that conference by herself than for the principal to march in and be a part of that conference, because if the principal marches in you are saying in some cases, the teacher needs my support, and maybe the teacher doesn't need your support, so anything the teacher can do by herself and work with the children or with parents, do it alone first and then if you need the principal, the principal should be there to help you.
Q: Describe your views on what it takes, that you think to be an effective principal, that is, what are some of the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal."
A: I think, professionally, you need to have your degree in education or in administration or have enough courses to be certified in that. I think you need to be well read. You need to be up-to-date with the information in the journals and magazines and the textbooks. I think you need to attend professional meetings so you'll know what's happening on a local, state, and national level. On a personal level, I think that your appearance is important. I think the way you look, the way you dress, the way you act, your manners, your feelings toward teachers, your mannerisms, just your general attitude should be on a very, very positive nature. I don't think that a principal should be one who would project a negative image, and at the same time I think you should be even keeled. I don't think you should come in very moody one day and go into the office and slam the door and never see anyone, and then the next day you're Mr. Jolly and you're throughout the building. I think you should be consistent with your manners and with your attitude.
Q: As a follow-up, would you describe the expectations that were placed upon principals by their employers in the community during your period of employment.
A: I think when I began my principalship you were more community involved than you are now, because when I first came to Vinton, I was asked to join the Vinton Lion's Club which I became a part of. I was asked to join the Chamber of Commerce which I became a part of. We were very active in the PTA, the County Council. Many of the community as well as educational clubs we joined and became a part of that, and I think now it's not that important to be a member of let's say the Lion's Club and the Chamber of Commerce, etc. It's not that pressing, or I don't want to say demanding because it wasn't demanding even back then, but you are not as much a part of those things now as you were years ago.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to personal leadership in recent years. Would you describe your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and an incident in which your approach failed.
A: My thought on leadership has been one that you create an environment in which the people want to do things, and I think you create an atmosphere that way by mutual respect for them. For example, in each class, I had a coordinator who was assigned to kind of head up that classroom and I tried to leave those duties to that coordinator instead of going in and doing it myself I would let that coordinator have certain responsibilities and duties. The same thing with an assistant principal. Each person had a certain job to do and I would let them do that particular job, because I think a successful principal is one who is surrounded by successful people in their fields. So I tried to let the people who had responsible jobs do their jobs.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy or feelings about that evaluation.
A: I think teacher evaluation is one of the most important things that a principal has to do during the school day or the school year. I always approached it from the standpoint that I am here to help you. I am here to give you advice and support if needed. And during the observation I tried to be as calm and quiet during the observation as I could and not create a disturbance of moving chairs or coming in after the class has started or things of that nature. I tried to create an atmosphere that I am here and if I can help you I would like to do so. Then after the observation when we had the conference, I tried, if I needed to point out a correction that the teacher needed to make, I tried to do that in a way that was not caustic. In other words, I tried to approach it in a way that the teacher would say "Well, I'm sure I need to improve on that and how can I do it?" And then I'd try to offer advice as to how she could improve or he could improve.
Q: A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction.
A: I think right now we have a great grievance procedure set up in Roanoke County. It's a model that is a step-by-step outline for what the teacher could or should do if there is a grievance, and I think in most cases grievances are filed as a matter of miscommunication, because quite often if the teacher and principal will sit down, whatever they're disagreeing about is not so bad if they'll just talk about it. But a lot of times all of these grievances or misunderstandings can be handled on a local school level. That's my opinion. So, if the teacher and principal would keep that in mind, I think you'd have a lot less cases that would be taken to the School Board or Central Office. We do have a good manner and a good process for filing the grievance right now.
Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement, if any, in such activities.
A: I think that's one of the hardest, most difficult things that a principal has to do. Because I don't think there's anything worse than telling a person "Your job, your performance is unsatisfactory." And, I had very few cases in which you actually had to dismiss a teacher. I don't think there is any pleasant way to do that. Even at its very best, it is bad. I think the best thing you can do is try to talk to the teacher and say "Listen, everyone was not cut out to be a teacher. Maybe you should look at yourself and see if there's not another job that would best suit your needs other than teaching." And in some cases the teacher would say, "Well, that's exactly right. I really hate teaching." And in some cases the teachers themselves have looked at themselves and said I need to get another job, and they did. And that's the best way to handle it but you can't always do it that way. Some of the least effective teachers feel they are doing a great job and that's where you have the biggest problem, and that's where you have to talk with them and work out an outline of how they can improve their job performance, and that is one of the most difficult things you'll have to do.
Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style.
A: I don't think you can separate the two. I think you can be a good father and a good husband at the same time. I don't think you have to say you're either a good husband or you're a good father. I think both are important and both are necessary. and you have to be master of both if you're going to be a successful principal.
Q: Sometimes people say Central Office policies hinder rather than help building-level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this?
A: I know we all complain about the reports from the Central Office, but deep down we do more complaining than we should perhaps. I guess I did when I was principal. But I do know and I do understand that these reports from Central Office are important. They're necessary and they are things that have to be done, so I guess we should really look at it and be more cooperative with the Central Office staff in completing all these reports, because I'm sure they don't send reports just to be sending reports.
Q: What would you see as a possible change or changes in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Probably a joint effort from central staff to consolidate reports. An example--at the beginning of each school year you have four or five different people requesting--I'll give you an example, your school enrollment. And you have to fill in these reports and fill in these forms, and it's the same information going to several people. So I think if you could have one central information bank at the Central Office you could save a lot of paperwork on the individual schools, and I'm sure the local school could do the same thing.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: If you really enjoy working with people, if you have been successful with your teaching and your goal has been to be an administrator, I'd say go for it. I think it takes a special dedicated person to be a principal or assistant principal or administrator, and if you think you can do it and you feel real dedicated toward that, I would say go for it.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions. What weaknesses would you comment on in the traditional programs of training for administrators.
A: There are certain courses now that some of the universities offer in which the teachers would come in and serve an internship with a principal late in the afternoon. I had one my last year as a principal. The teacher would come from the high school and arrive there around 3:00 and stay from 3:00 until 4:00. Now, at 3:00 in the afternoon the teachers are gone for the most part, the children are gone, and I thought that was really a waste of time. We put in the hours but I didn't feel they we accomplished that much. I think if you have an internship it should be during the day when the children are there, when the teachers are there, and that would be a very effective approach. But I think on the scene, working in the school is the best approach for certain aspects of becoming certified to become a principal. Of course, I know you have to have the basic methods courses and so forth, but that is one area in which I think we should definitely stress and that is having the on-the-site, during the school day experience in working in the building.
Q: What do you think would be the ideal requirements for principal certification and appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?
A: To be certified at a fifth year, to the college course in which that person would serve an internship for one year in a school building, and I think that would give that person time to say "I do want to be a principal or I do not want to be a principal."
Q: What aspects of your professional training best prepared you for the principalship? Which training experiences were least useful?
A: I think the most useful was my student teaching experience. I had that in Martinsville High School, and that just reinforced my thought that I did want to be a teacher. And I think some of the least helpful would be some of the methods courses I had. I thought some of those, purely the professors were out of touch with what had happened in the school. The textbook had been revised three or four times, but the professor still gave the same test, used the same notes. I think some of the methods courses are the worse things we have in the college level.
Q: You've touched on this a little bit, but if you might want to add any more about your view on the mentoring program for new administrators in which an experienced administrator is paired with a neophyte. Have you had any other experiences with such an approach.
A: I think such an approach is great. When I started in as a principal, we did this on our own. The superintendent or the supervisors did not mention it, but we just, for some reason we just did it on our own. My former principal was my mentor and then when I became principal, when a new person would come in I'd call that person and say "Hey look, if you need some advice, need some help, call me." So I think we did it on our own, and it was great. We had a feeling, and we tried to impress on the new people, if you have a question, don't feel like it's a weakness on your part. We all have questions, and if you have a question, find out what the answer is instead of doing it wrong.
Q: Do you think that the present school system should set up a mentoring type program?
A: I'd be 100% for it, definitely.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the assistant principal, and would you discuss your utilization of such personnel while you were on the job?
A: I've always been a person that if I have a person like an assistant principal or coordinator or a guidance person, let them do what they have been hired to do; and, for example, the assistant principal would be assisting with discipline problems, with conferencing with parents, assisting with the cafeteria-- anything that should come up there, classroom observation. I think all of these things would take and assist the principal-- would definitely be of value, and I think it's a joint effort of working together. Sometimes it's hard to say the assistant principal will do these 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 things only. It's hard to do that in an elementary school or any school. There's certain things you can say the assistant principal will do, for example, be in charge of scheduling, would be in charge of assigning duties, bus duties, things of that nature. But a lot of things it's hard to assign. When a problem comes up if the principal is not available the assistant principal will assume that role. So, I like to give the assistant principal a lot of control.
Q: Would you describe the most effective assistant principal with whom you had the opportunity to serve and what became of this individual?
A: I think I'd have to say two. One would be Deanna Gordon, and one would be Lorraine Lang, and they would be my two most effective and I'll tell you why they were effective. Number one, they were bright, intelligent, they were mature, extremely mature. They did not mind working. They could get along with people. They were very verbal in expressing what they believed and what they did not believe, but yet they did it in a most cordial and effective manner. And they were just good, nice people. Where they're at today--both of them are in the Central Office and both have their Doctor's Degree and I'm proud of both of them.
Q: I know you worked with several superintendents during your career. Would you describe these individuals and your relationship with them in terms of general demeanor toward you and your school.
A: I feel good that during my career I've been very fortunate in working with three tremendous superintendents. With Dr. Horn, my first superintendent, he was the true educator. He was the type of person that, when we would have a meeting and we would be seated in the auditorium, when he would arrive we would all stand, and I think that would be unheard of in this day and time. But we did it through respect for him. He would be a true educator. With Mr. Burton, I think he was more--and I really liked Mr. Burton--he was more a politician. More of working with the political groups and getting things through that way. And now with Dr. Wilson--Dr Wilson is one of the greatest business managers that I have ever known. His knowledge of finance, his knowledge of public education, I think is tremendous. So I have deep respect for all of these three superintendents, and I feel very fortunate to have worked with them over the years. And I always had a great relationship with these people. I can never recall a time that I felt uncomfortable in their presence.
Q: It's been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal, and compare it to the situation in today's schools, citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now.
A: I think we're doing a lot of great things right now. But I think we're trying to do too much. Especially in kindergarten and first grade. I think we would be much better off if we would have kindergarten more of a social adjustment than we do academically. Now it is too academically oriented. I think kindergartners are expected to do too much too soon, and I think we are creating a lot of our problems. And in first grade, I think we are demanding too much of first grade youngsters. If we could back off just a little I think we'd have a happier, better adjusted child if we would not put too much pressure. Especially those two years of kindergarten and first grade to perform. I think it's all to perform, and the child doesn't have time to be a child.
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them.
A: Even the routine operation of the school you are under certain pressures. For example, it could be a parent who needs counseling, or it could be a teacher who needs counseling. I think the best thing you can do is just take one problem at a time and work with it, and work with it to your best ability. And if you do that, at the end of the day, you'll say I have done what I could do to solve these problems, and I think you'll be content with that, for the most part.
Q: Describe your biggest headache or headaches or concerns on the job.
A: The bus, the school bus problem. I think there's a reason for that. The reason is the children are on the bus, and you do not have any adult other than the driver and the children are, well, they're so use to having parents tell them what to do, and in the school, having the teachers tell them what to do, when they get on the bus they don't have anyone to tell them what to do, and they take full advantage of this. So your biggest problem, your biggest headache would be the bus.
Q: Describe the toughest decision or decisions you had to make.
A: Probably the toughest one would be to advise a teacher that you felt that perhaps she should enter another profession. And that would probably be one of the toughest things I ever had to do. But if I had to do it over I would do the same thing again.
Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experiences with such testing and provide us with your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: I think a certain amount of testing is necessary in any school or any school division. You have to know how we are performing, but I think too much stress is put upon what children are doing in individual schools; because you can tell before the test would be given which schools were ranked highest and which schools were ranked the lowest. The same way a teacher can tell in her classroom which children would score the highest and which children would score the lowest before the test is given. I think we make too big of an issue of saying that certain schools in certain areas make top scores, and I think that is wrong for the children. I think that is wrong for the community because it's just no need to stress all these things. Now maybe if I lived in the elite neighborhood where you made all the top scores every year--maybe I would feel differently about this. But I just happen to be in one that made a good score. Hardy Road made a good score, a commendable score, but it wasn't the top score in the county, and I knew that before the test was given because I have a different clientele. You do not have the professional people that we would have in some of the schools in Roanoke County. But I think too much emphasis has been put on test scores.
Q: Could you describe your work day--that is, how did you spend your time. What was your normal number of hours per week you'd put in?
A: I normally spend my time when I come in at 7:30 and I'd try to leave by 4:00 in the afternoon. And I make no apologies for that. I do feel that the principal who is putting in 12 to 15 hours a day should evaluate what he is doing. I've always felt that way. I do not feel that the job requires 15 hours a day. If it does, I think you should get some additional help in the school. I think you should put in a normal amount of time. That doesn't mean now if a problem comes up that you aren't there 12 hours in one day. I have been there. But for the most part, I do not think that the principal should be spending all of these excessive hours in a school building. I just think that you'd be better off, I think you'd be more efficient if you would go home, relax, do some things to relieve your stress and then come back and do some more work. But I think you can overdo this thing of hours in a building per day or per week.
Q: Kind of in connection with that, principals as we've said, constantly operate in a tense environment. What kind of things did you do to maintain your sanity under stressful conditions.
A: I had several techniques to relieve stress. I like to walk, like to listen to good music. I had a hobby of taxidermy and those are the types of things--I never was a yard person. I never did like to get out and mow the grass and dig in the yard or have a garden. That was not my thing at all. But walking and things of that nature I enjoyed, and I think that was a release of stress for me.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?
A: Probably, the first one would be in terms of a more efficient manner of ordering supplies. I think that takes a lot of time for us. That administrative duty that just causes a lot of time in ordering and assimilating what you need in the building. I think perhaps another area would be in the area of scheduling. I think that is a process which we, when we mainstream all the special ed. kids that we have I think that's an interesting thing that we should do. Also, I think we should evaluate the possibility of having a private transportation system for the county which might save the taxpayers money. I don't know, but I think a study should be made of that. Then as far as the overall operation of the school, I think there's several areas perhaps you could evaluate from the standpoint of how the building is cleaned. I know we have tried that with a janitorial service, and that has not proved satisfactory. I think if you have a custodial staff who is there during the day and they feel they're part of the school, you get a better job done than if they come in, they never see you, they never see the teachers, they never see the students, they just come in and clean the building and leave. The experience I had with that did not work out too well. I did not have that experience with the lunch program, but I'd be interested to see how that would work.
Q: Are there any areas in curriculum that you would change if you could.
A: Yes, the first thing I would change would be the curriculum in kindergarten. I think I would eliminate a lot of the stress that's put on children to perform in the area of reading. I would have kindergarten a more social period for that child at that age, because you have children who come in who have not reached their fifth birthday until after they've been in school for some time. Not all children, but a lot of children are not ready for academics when they're four years old. In first grade, I think we should have less stress on academic study. You should take it gradually, and then by the second grade I think children will be ready to perform the way we want them to perform perhaps. But I think too much stress now is put on performance in kindergarten and grade one. Also, I think we should evaluate the grouping. I have always grouped for certain subjects, like reading and mathematics; and I know a lot of studies have been made concerning grouping, but what I'm concerned about now is the really big stress to mainstream all special ed. children. I know we said we should put these children with the least restrictive environment, but sometimes the least restrictive environment is a self-contained classroom. So I think we're going overboard now with the mainstreaming bit, and we should carefully evaluate what we're doing, because I believe that every child should be entitled to a free public education. The best one possible, but at the same time I don't think any child has the right to interrupt the education of another child, so I think we should really evaluate what we're doing here.
Q: I know that when you were principal of Hardy Road Elementary School, its motto was listed as "A child-centered school". Could you give us a little history or background on how and why that came about.
A: When we started making plans for Hardy Road School, the coordinators and teachers started meeting sessions, and we began by talking about what we would like to do at Hardy Road School. And the more we talked, everything seemed to come back to the child. We wanted the child to be happy, we wanted the child to be successful, we wanted the child to be the best all-around person that he could be. So, then it just kind of evolved that our thinking was on the child, and not on the teacher. And then all of a sudden it just came out--I don't know which one person said it or which one group said it, but all of a sudden we were taking about this school would be a child-centered school, so it is something that evolved from the meetings of discussing what we wanted to do there. And I think we really carried out the theme throughout the years I was there.
Q: Could you think back to 1972 when you first opened Hardy Road Elementary as a new school--what were your feelings at that time, particularly since this was a new concept--the open-school, and I also understand everything wasn't ready for opening day.
A: We were so happy about the new school that we didn't know we were so miserable I guess, because when we opened that first day we had almost 800 children. We did not have a single place to meet them to say good morning to you. The gymnasium was not completed, the auditorium was not completed, the cafeteria was--we had enough chairs and tables so we could serve lunch and that was about it. So we had a group of teachers that would meet each bus and say OK, all first graders come with this teacher, or second graders go with this teacher right on down, and we had to lead each group to the classroom area. But we had enough volunteers and enough parents set up so that we did it very efficiently I think. But that was one of the biggest things--we could not see the children. Then, when we said welcome to them we had to do it over the PA system and we couldn't see them, and that, I thought, was bad to start the year. But the children loved it, and it all worked out really well. But a lot of things, for example, we laid carpet after the children were there, we painted classrooms when they were there. In other words, the first day of school one of the teachers and I went through and we counted 96 workers in that building. Ninety-six people. They were putting up blackboards, they were painting, putting in shelving together, and it was unbelievable how well the children and faculty cooperated. It was, I think, the first week with all the turmoil there, I did not hear a single child or a single parent complain about the work going on in the building. And I think that was typical of Hardy Road School.
Q: As a continuation of that, how difficult was it to get the community area, the school community to accept this new so- called concept of open school?
A: We had to prove it to them that it would work. I think most people are skeptical of things that are new, a new concept. Although open space is not a new concept, it was a new concept to Hardy Road School community. So, it was a constant education. It was a constant, I guess what I'm trying to say, we were continually telling the people what we were trying to do. We were continually giving speeches and talks. We would bring in the parents during the day for our grade levels and say this is what we're trying to do, and we did that throughout the time that I was principal there. You could not let it go for one single year. You had to continually tell the parents, this is what education is all about, and this is what we're trying to do. But I think for the most part the community accepted it really, really well.
Q: Many educators have often said they could have written a book about some of the humorous things that happened during their career. Could you relate some instances that you found particularly amusing.
A: I remember going into a classroom one day and the teacher was saying to this kindergarten class "Boys and girls, just remember that there are always 12 things in a dozen." And I saw this little hand go up, and this little hand of this little boy, Jason, said "That is not necessarily true." And I remember walking over, and I thought what is this little fellow saying. And the teacher said "Well, would you explain that." He said "Well, maybe you are talking about a baker's dozen and then you'd have 13." And I thought that was pretty neat for a child. But I guess one of the funniest things that ever happened to me was when this little kindergarten boy had forgotten his last name, and we were trying to figure out which bus to put him on in the afternoon. And we thought, well, if we figure out his dad's name, maybe that would help us. So I asked him, I said "What is your dad's name?" And he said "Daddy." I said "Well, what does your mama call your dad?" And he said "Honeybunch." I said "Well, does she ever call him anything other than honeybunch?" He said "Uh-huh, sometimes she calls him an idiot." I think one other one--another time we were trying to get a child on the right bus--and again, what happens, the child would come on a bus and he would get off, and we wouldn't realize he was a new child and then when he'd get to the classroom the teacher would say "Which bus do I put him on this afternoon?" And I'd say "Well, the bus he came off this morning." And they'd say "We don't know which bus he came off." But anyway, this little boy was there and we couldn't figure out where he lived, and then he looked at me and he said "I'll tell you one thing. Right beside my house there is a big sign." And I thought I have it now. I said "What's on the big sign?" He said "It says "STOP"." So I have a lot of things, most of them are surrounding kindergarten, but I guess I could write a book.
Q: Would you describe the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did, giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: There were several. I had taught 33 years and I had the one opportunity at age 55 to take early retirement and then get 35% of my salary for seven years and then my social security would kick in. I really enjoyed my job. I loved my job, but I'm also enjoying my retirement. I love to travel. I love to do things. I've opened an antique shop, and that's something I'd always been interested in. And it's wonderful to be able to go to McDonald's at 9:30 in the morning and get a ham biscuit. I never had that experience before, and I still have parents and I'll be out at the shopping center or something early in the morning, and they'll say "Who's keeping the school?" and even though this is my second year of retirement they still associate me with the school, and you're not supposed to be there. So I think that's the adjustment I've had to make is when I'm out like that people saying you know, should I be out this morning. But I've thoroughly enjoyed my retirement and I wouldn't come back for anything. But at the same time, I enjoyed my job when I was working.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there's probably something I've left out. What have I not asked you that I should have or that you would like to comment further upon?
A: Maybe one thing. If you had it to do over, would you retire early? The answer's definitely yes. I enjoyed my job but I'm certainly enjoying my retirement.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Stone, for allowing me to interview you.
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