Principal: The Rayen School (High School)
1981-1982, Youngstown, Ohio
Choffin Career Center
1972-1981, Youngstown, Ohio
| Back to "S" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |
Q: Pat, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, birthplace, elementary and secondary education and things like that.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born and raised in the Youngstown area, in fact, the city of Youngstown
-- a place called Smoky Hollow. That's a lower part of the north side. I attended
the Madison Elementary School on McGuffey Road from K through 7 then I went
to Hayes Junior High for one year which was grades 8 through 9 and then I went
to Rayen, The Rayen High School, and graduated from Rayen High School. I enjoyed
my time in school, and I always seemed to have a flair for education because
I wanted to learn and I really liked the idea of teaching and being in front
of the class. In fact, I enjoyed doing problems at the board. I thought that
was quite interesting and enjoyed doing it. I was a member of the YMCA in Youngstown.
It's not the big one that's there today, but there was a smaller one called
the Newsboy's Club, and I joined that. I participated in a lot of, you might
say, sandlot type of sports and from there I gathered more interest in intramurals
and playing at the high school level.
022 I found that attending school was a lot of fun. I used to hate to see the summertime come sometimes because we had a break. Upon graduating from The Rayen School, I was drafted into the army and spent a year and a half in the army and upon returning decided to go to college with the G.I. Bill of Rights. I did do some carpentry work because it was my hobby as it is today; I enjoy working. I did all this because my dad was a bricklayer, and he was teaching me how to, you know, learn the construction end of the business. But after a while, I finally decided that I wanted to go to college and started at Youngstown College and then transferred to Kent State University where I did my undergraduate work and eventually my graduate work, my Master's degree, at Kent State University. I'm probably oh maybe about 15 hours short of a Ph.D. but never went on any further because I was too involved in the educational work that I was doing while I was Principal at Choffin Career Center.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching, and how many years did you serve as a teacher and a principal?
A: As I stated, I did my educational work at Kent State University. Now we're talking a number of years ago which probably began around 1949 to '53 I believe were the years that I attended there. I thought they had a good educational program; it could have been better, but I think for the time it was fine. And your other question was, I'm sorry....
Q: How many years did you serve as a teacher and principal?
A: I served 17 years, excuse me, 15 years as a teacher and 17 years in administration.
Q: Which aspects of the professional training in college best prepared you to be a principal?
A: That's a difficult question to answer. I really and truly, and this is my personal opinion. I really and truly don't believe there was a particular course that best prepared me. They exposed me to many kinds of "principalship," but never said "this is the way you have to be," and I found that by doing on the job, by actually on the job training I learned a lot more than I did in the classroom. Yes, there was some theory you got; I found that each individual -- each individual -- has their own style and you may not know it at the time that you're taking those classes, but eventually you develop your own style and there is no set spot. So I don't think there were many courses at the university that could take credit for me being a good or a bad principal. It's something that you develop as you go.
Q: What motivated you to become a principal? And this is a presumption, of course, that your motives may have changed over time. If they changed over time, how did your motives change for remaining a principal?
A: Well, my motives for being a principal were really twofold. One, I'm going to tell you right up front, monetarily, financially, it was going to help me and my family, and I'm not going to say that it wouldn't, but that was one of the aspects. But, eventually, the leadership part of it -- there was so much that was going on at the high school level at the time that I thought that teachers should be able to do, they weren't doing it. And, of course, my own principal at the time saw in me that quality, that leadership ability, to handle meetings, to handle committees, and to lead. He, therefore, not only recommended me but talked to me many, many times to get into the principalship -- administration -- so that I could become a principal at some time.
Q: Who was your principal at that time?
A: A beautiful man by the name of Clark White. He was the principal at The Rayen School. He was not only a good principal but he was a good friend.
Q: Would you take us on a walk as you remember Rayen? Walk through The Rayen School describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building.
A: The Rayen school that I taught at and I, of course, attended as a student
in my years, the four years that I attended there, it's a large building, well-built,
and very spacious. Classrooms -- much light. A lot of rooms had southern exposure
so that there was plenty of sunlight. A beautiful, large auditorium where assemblies,
or plays, or a capellas or whatever band concerts could be had. A beautiful,
large cafeteria where students could bring a lunch or buy a lunch and, of course,
the two gymnasiums -- one for the young ladies and one for the men and a nice
large fieldhouse where the basketball games were played. A beautiful football
field that had been there from back in the early 20's. Rayen probably had the
largest halls of any school that I have ever been in at any time in my lifetime
even to this present day. It was a pleasant building; it was a building that
had practically anything and everything a student could want. We had everything
from academics down to the general courses, but when I attended Rayen School
it really was succeeding with
the academic backgrounds.
Q: So you had two gymnasiums. Were they connected in some way?
A: No. One was on the east side of the building, and the other one faced the north. The one on the east side of the building was the one where the young ladies had their gym. They could come through their dressing room through a tunnel to that gym and then, of course, the other gymnasium faced north and that was where the young men went, and we came through a hallway and not a tunnel to that particular area.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: Teachers, in my estimation, feel that principals are supermen. They expect, in my opinion, that principals are to do everything they can't do. They have the idea that the only thing that they have to do is teach and do nothing with discipline. They feel that they don't need to do any kind of additional work in their fields and that the principal is the educational leader and he needs to recommend to them on any advancement in their field or any changes in their field. I found that not all teachers, God love 'em, many teachers took their jobs very seriously and they not only did their own discipline problems, they helped you with discipline problems because they helped to provide you some insight when you were working with some young students that had some problems. Good teachers, and I'm not saying that all teachers are not good, but many of the good ones exhausted all kinds of things before they sent them to the principal. They tried to take care of the kid themselves. They used the counselor in counseling; they contacted parents, but I found that there were many that didn't do anything. If a kid misbehaved, they just wanted to send him to the office. And it's very uncanny, sometimes I found in studying some of these problems that came to the office, they weren't really problems per se as they were disagreements between teachers and students. And I'm sorry to say, it's my opinion that there were many times that teachers themselves precipitated the problems that came to the office. They were not the students' and so those were difficult problems to work with because teachers I knew had precipitated the problem and it was difficult to try to tell the teacher "Hey, my friend, you are the problem and not the student." And I think sometimes those particular teachers, not all of them, were the ones that were satisfied with their everyday teaching. They became very comfortable but didn't have any insight on how to change their own educational curriculum to make hea
Q: ay for the future. What are the personal and professional characteristics of the good principal?
A: I think the two main things: you have to be friendly; you should be friendly but not familiar not only with students but with the teaching staff because then that causes you a problem that when you have to make a decision, then by being familiar makes it difficult because then you can't honestly and truly make that decision that you know you have to make. You have to worry about the consideration of your familiarity with that individual. The other thing is that you have to be firm but fair. You've got to be consistent. Whatever kind of agreement or disagreement that you have not only with teachers but with students, you must be able to be the same way every time. When I mean the "same way," you're not going to give out the same kind of information, but each problem has its own -- how should I -- characteristics so you have to deal with each one, but you have to be, how do I want to say this? I'll just go back to what I said earlier, firm but fair.
Q: What professional and personal expectations were placed on principals by boards and the community during your period of employment?
A: Well, I found that they expected too much of you. When you became a principal, you were supposed to be everything to everybody. You were the epitome of the school and the school district. You were to set examples and you had to do things that, I sometimes felt, that were really not relevant to being a teacher. They expected, and I guess that they still do today, they expect you to be a person above everything. And you should be, but they won't give you the opportunity to be yourself and I think that when you are with your family and when you are with your neighbors, you should be just one of the group. But, unfortunately, boards of education and teachers sometimes do not make that differentiation that you're just a, when you're with your family in the neighborhood you're still a principal. You have to carry that around with you, and it sort of sometimes becomes a little extra baggage that you don't really have to have. Because, if you have to carry it with you all the time, it does produce stress, and having to weigh everything and worry about what you might do or say that might offend somebody becomes very, very difficult to handle.
Q: What things did you do in either your professional or personal life -- you mentioned stress -- to handle that stress to allow you to continue to do your job and be a human being?
A: Well, first of all, my family came first and I tried to spend as much time as I could with my wife and children and enjoy them as much as I can. I also used to like to do yarork and reading, and two of the things I like to do best, I like to work out. I used to run a lot and then I went to weightlifting. The other stress reliever for me is working. I like to go into my little wood shop that I have and make different kinds of crafts. When I go in there, I'm in a different world and everything just fades away, and that's what's very important to me.
Q: Do you suppose expectations on principals by boards and the community differ today from what they did when you were principal?
A: No, I don't think so. In fact, I think in some boards of education I think you'll find that it's even worse. I notice that sometimes, unfortunately, board members feel that they have the right to tell principals what to do, what not to do, and that never set right with me. I don't really think they've changed that much. I really think they still expect you to be the epitome of society in that particular community in which you live and they expect a lot from you, sometimes a lot more than you should give.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in effecting change. Can you discuss your approach to leadership and describe the changes you were able to bring to the schools in which you were principal?
A: Well, I'm not afraid to admit that I was a very aggressive leader. I never, in any way, tried to hurt anybody but I found that sometimes the only change you're ever going to get is that you have to move with it. You have to do it! If you don't, even when you're deciding to make changes you are going to find the naysayers. There's always ten people to tell you ten reasons why you can't do something. And, I reiterate, I was a very aggressive person. I was firm on what I wanted to accomplish, and unless we did it, we never could find out whether or not what changes that were made were going to be good or bad. So, if you sit around and discuss for hours and days about why you can't do something as opposed to doing something -- you just have to be a good leader and do it. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't have some kind of a study. You should've thought it -- the problem should always be well thought out before you go ahead, thinking the pros and the cons, but once you've decided you just move ahead with it and have the people come with you. And you're going to find that there are a lot of people that will join and work with you, and those naysayers will still be saying "no" all the way down to the end. The change might be fantastic, and when it is even those individuals will never say or give you credit that it was good. However, I will caution anybody that once you've begun with something and you find, and you honestly find, that that particular change you wanted to institute isn't going to work, then you must do one of two things. You must either stop it immediately or move it another direction because bad change is not good at all.
Q: Can you remember a specific event where your approach failed to create the change you wanted?
A: I guess I'm going to sound very egotistical, but I'm going to have to tell you "no." Whatever it is that I really worked ahead with, I found that those changes were good. In fact, as I go back once in a while and talk to some of the individuals that are still in place they still are using some of the techniques and the changes that I used.
Q: If you were advising a person today who is considering a job as a principal -- getting into administration -- what would that advice be?
A: Again, it's my opinion that you are leaving the teaching part of education and moving into a big fishbowl where everyone will be looking at you and will be expecting a great deal from you. And unless you really and truly feel that you can accept that and unless you can really and truly feel that you can lead, I mean really and truly lead and have people say to you "no, that's not a good idea" and have a lot of derogatory things said to you or people that will constantly give you innuendoes about your leadership, them you should not be in it because if you can't take it and continue to move on I think you're going to flounder as an administrator for the simple reason that you'll find that your feelings, you can't wear your feelings on your shirt -- on your shirtsleeve. You just absolutely have to just move on and do what you know you have to do. But, if you are squeamish about what people are going to say about you, then my advice to you is I wouldn't get into administration to be a principal.
Q: It has been said by some, and one sees it in the newspapers occasionally today, that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. Would you give us your views on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and citizens who were important to the well-being of the school?
A: Well, yes, I think sometimes that there is too much involvement from the home to the school. We are professionals as teachers and administrators, and we run the schools and we try to be up to date on the ideas of running the school. One of the things that always troubled me is that parents want to get too involved. Any teacher, excuse me, any parent that had any kind of a college background automatically felt that they were a teacher. You get an individual who is an attorney or a doctor, we never told them how to be an attorney or how to be a physician. And we have some mothers and fathers who were in the liberal arts and maybe in some other kinds of fields but, all of a sudden when they come to school, they are experts in education. We were trained to do what we did -- are doing, and I resented many times the fact that they got too involved and fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, I was never afraid to tell some of the parents that "I understand where you're coming from; I appreciate your input; however, the kinds of things that we're trying to do are educationally best for our children, not what you think they should be." Sometimes that was received in good spirit, other times it wasn't. I always felt that the home needed to be, but not completely, involved in the schools. I really and truly think many of the problems that we have today are caused by parents at home or the lack of what they do. The biggest problem in education today is that. I don't mind if they want to help or serve on a committee, but they're not there to tell us what to do because they were not trained in the field of education; they don't know the outcomes; they don't know why we do it, and I think many of the -- I just have to come out and say it -- many of the problems of discipline and other kinds of problem is because mom and dad are not there to be with their children and work with them. And when a youngster has a problem at school, instead of coming to school and helping us resolve the problem, they add to the problem because they think the problem should be resolved in a different way. That always concerned me, and it still concerns me today. I don't mind, again I repeat, I don't mind the help, but I don't like their "meddling" in the educational process.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: This is a very difficult subject, and it was one that I never relished but I did do the evaluations. I have to say to you that I never used, oh, I used the blanks to fill in the blanks, but my evaluation of a particular teacher was never on that particular day. When I walked through my building in an everyday process I was always accumulating the pros, the cons, and everything else about a teacher. You just can't walk into a classroom and sit there for 45 minutes to an hour and say this is what this teacher is all about. That's not evaluation. Evaluation of a teacher is when you see him with his colleagues, you see him in teacher meetings, when you see him with students and how he reacts and interacts with those students -- his whole process through the whole year, that's evaluation not a particular time because the board of education says "evaluate this particular teacher twice a year and pass judgment on him." So, yes, I did it but I always kept little anecdotal records of the things that teachers did and they were never always negative. There were a lot of good things; there were many, many, many good things that teachers do, and that they need to be stroked, so to speak, from time to time to tell them that, hey, they've done a good job. But, by the same token, you just can't hide it if they've done something they shouldn't be doing, you've got to let them know that, too.
Q: Would you give your views on the desirability of grievance procedures to a principal, and what was your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?
A: Well, again I use that old philosophy of "firm but fair." I made sure that we had a policy, if I remember correctly I always had a handbook. Now, I never was really uet about a teacher grievance for the simple reason that I felt that sometimes a grievance was just some teacher having a frustration on some particular item and they just had to vent their dissatisfaction with it. Again, in the years as a principal, I never did have a grievance put on me. I was able to sit down and discuss the problems with the individual or individuals and were able always to work out whatever was on their mind so, again, I had no problem with grievances and I think if you sit and you listen -- that, sometimes, is also very, very important. Let them if they must, let them talk to you and you listen -- not necessarily always have to make great changes but listen because sometimes we have the knack of talking back and we're talking at somebody. Once in a while it's important that you listen to what their problems are.
Q: Were you involved as a principal in any cases of teacher dismissal?
A: No, I never did. I would have to say that I always documented many of the things that I thought were important, but I have to truly say "no, I wasn't."
Q: In recent years more and more programs for special group of students -- LD, Gifted and Talented, Non-English speaking and things like that, have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student services and your views on today's trends in this area.
A: This is another area that always troubled me. I always wanted to help the students; that's the name of the game. The name of the game is to help all the students. With the handicapped, LD, SBH, and you name it and all the other things, the problem is I feel that education has spread itself too thin. We're out there trying to help every and every kid with every personal problem that he has. It's not going to work! We cannot; we just cannot reach all those youngsters. I'm saying that we should, but I doubt if it's all going to work because there are so many youngsters that might be in the same particular class of a disability that have such differing problems that no one individual teacher or teacher's aide is going to be able to help those youngsters. I'm not averse to helping them; I think it's our duty, but I believe what we've done in our zealousness to help all these kids, we've overextended ourselves in many places and unfortunately what is happening, we're beginning to spend so much time with a certain group, that we're neglecting other group and that's my concern for the future that we don't do that.
Q: Principals presently spend a great deal of time complaining about the amount of paperwork and bureaucratic complexity in their jobs. Would you comment on this situation during your career as a principal and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the current situation?
A: Well, I don't know. Maybe I was one of the few that didn't mind the paperwork. I just felt that the paperwork was needed and I was able to always find time to do it and many times after doing the paperwork, it helped me as I interpreted facts and figures or whatever type of information we were gathering. I always let it work to my advantage so I guess I'm going to have to be one of those few that never really complained too much about the paperwork. However, I would be quick to add that, yes, we did a lot of paperwork but I know what I did and how it helped me. But I would certainly hope that the paperwork that I passed on to whoever was getting the information was able to help them because the life of a principal is busy enough without adding a lot of additional unnecessary work or what I would call "busywork." He doesn't need it; the principal doesn't need busywork.
Q: Did you find that you were able to do much of that paperwork during the actual school day?
A: No. I would have to be honest and say to you right here and now there were many, many nights that I stayed long after students and teachers were long gone and fortunately or unfortunately many times Saturday mornings between 9 to 12 or 9 to 2 on Saturday mornings in the quiet of the office I was able to complete all that work and to get caught up on a lot of correspondence.
Q: This is one of those pie-in-the-sky questions. If there were 2 or 3 areas in the principal's job that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the principal's ability to administrate to administrate, what would they be?
A: That, to me, is a very difficult question. Of course now, with the advent
of the computer, that certainly I would hope is helping the principal. I really
and truly believe that one of the things that always troubled me was spending
too much time on discipline, and if we only had an ombudsman, I guess that might
be the term to be used, someone who could work with those problems and take
away some of the wasted time working with discipline problems that were so --
that shouldn't even be in the office. And that would give the principal more
time to do some other things, and of course the other thing that I always thought
was important not only for the traditional high school was curriculum, and for
the vocational the curriculum again. I think the curriculum needed to be changed
with the changing times. I find that some of our students just didn't know many
of the things that they should know as a good citizen and, of course, with the
vocational areas we need to have a constant changing of vocational types of
jobs because they change. They've gone
410 from the traditional type of journeyman type of work to many of the services that we're providing today, and so I might say those couple of things I might look at.
Q: You mentioned vocational schools. I think it probably ought to be asked: what schools were you principal at and for what periods of time?
A: I was an assistant principal at The Rayen School for two years and a principal at Rayen School for the years 81 and 82, and then, of course, I was principal at Choffin Career Center, in fact I opened that building back in 1973. I was one year, 1972, in the old Wood Street School which served as the career center for awhile until the new building opened. I was there from 1972 to 1981 then I went back into the high schools.
Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of Choffin Career Center and how it evolved over the time that you were there?
A: When the philosophy of vocational education in the 70's, let's say 72-73, was to find a youngster a job and it was sort of geared "by the department of vocational education" that these students would not go to the university for any academic work, but they were going to go into a particular field whether it be printing, welding, carpentry, cement work, food service. They were going to spend two years and when they graduated from Choffin Career Center, they were going to go directly into that particular field and spend the rest of their life in that area. Fortunately, I never shared that opinion, and I guess sometimes I was at odds with the Department of Vocational Education because I felt that students who did attend the vocational school should not be labeled as part of the workforce and only the workforce -- that they should also have the opportunity to go and do some academic works. And, fortunately, some of those youngsters proved me correct. I can remember, still, two students that we had in our electronics class who excelled. They were good youngsters, and they excelled in electronics, who later went on to Youngstown State University to become electrical engineers through the tenacity of studying and taking additional courses and being accepted at the university and going through their program. And electrical engineering, by the way, is no easy feat. So I think from the time that I have been at the vocational school and today I think you'll find that there is a big change in their philosophy, thank goodness, because I don't think we need to label students that they can only do a particular thing; there are many students that can do a lot more if we only show them the way.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent or superintendents, in terms of their general demeanor toward you and your school?
A: Well, I think I've been fortunate. For all the superintendents that I've worked with, they were not only personal friends, we were good friends and I was always able to discuss with them, pro or con, anything at all without ever having anybody angry at me. Yes, there were times that we disagreed, but we were never disagreeable. And many times I was able to enforce some things that maybe the superintendent didn't think that he thought he would like to see in the schools, he always -- "he" meaning the different ones that I had -- they were always able to give me that latitude to do what I thought I should do, and I've always enjoyed that kind of a relationship with them. They were always positive. I think that's the term I want to use; they were very positive on changes or any kinds of any little issues I wanted to work with they were positive. They'd say "Go ahead. Work them out; see what you can do."
Q: Who were these superintendents that you worked for?
A: I worked for Dr. Robert Pegues and Emanuel Catsoules who recently retired.
Q: Would you discuss your general relationship pro or con as a principal with the board of education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general?
A: Well, I guess you might say this is a touchy subject. I'm going to say what I have to say. I have always found that I could always work with boards of education, but I think you'll find that boards of education members mean well, but they don't do that much for schools. Many, many of them are politically motivated. They have what I call their own hidden agenda, and many times you can find out what that agenda is whether it's going on to a higher political job or something personal with them. And, unfortunately, until you get to know them better, you sort of have to walk on eggs and feel them out to find out exactly where they're coming from. And then, occasionally you find that one no matter what you do, they're never happy. So, although, I was able to work with different kinds of boards of education as a principal, I found that sometimes they were meddlesome. Some of them should never have been elected to that particular office.
Q: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in time as it has been for quite a few years. Would you discuss the nature of your student body or bodies and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as a principal?
A: What do you mean by "cultural?" Could you, are you saying like black-white?
Q: Black, white...
A: Hispanic, different kinds of minorities?
A: Okay. I thought that's where you might be coming from. I spent about, I would say almost 27 years, in the city of Youngstown, Youngstown Public Schools, which I'm very happy that I was able to spend that time because I think, if nothing else, it made me a better educator all the way around, not saying that the suburban schools you can't find it there but because of the makeup -- of the kinds of students -- that we had in the city schools, it made me a better educator. I was able to communicate with the different kinds of students because we had a lot of different kinds of minorities. We had the Hispanic, we had the black, we had some Asian, and it began to change as time went on. You must, if you're ever going to work with these students, you must understand where they come from, and you must be able to understand what they're saying. And I don't mean by them voicing words. I'm saying you have to actually live what they live. The problem that we have with these kinds of students is that we see them on our own level at school, and we all do put on "airs." We're doing the things that we know we have to do because we are educators and we are in a facility where everybody tries to get along and understand what we're trying to do; however, to really understand each of these kinds of students, you must be able to spend time with them or some of their family to understand their ideas, their ideals, and what they expect out of life. And until you can actually understand the black student -- and what he wants, where he comes from -- the Indian student, the Hispanic student, then you can't help those youngsters at school because many times, you can -- it's very easy to misunderstand their motives because of their cultural differences.
Q: We finished on the last side on the cultural diversity question. Was race or race relations ever a problem at either of the schools where you were principal?
A: From my perspective, I'm going to answer that question by saying "no.)" However, the Youngstown schools are probably, or were probably at that time, 60% black and 40% white, and I, being the principal at Choffin Career Center was a lot different than at Rayen School. At Rayen School the school was predominantly black and that did not trouble me; I have no problem with that. But at Choffin Career Center, we drew students from seven schools, the five city schools and two parochial schools so we had black, Hispanic, and white students coming to Choffin Career Center. As far as my teachers were concerned and as far as myself and the other administrators, there was no problem with race. In fact, there wasn't that much of a problem with the students. I was really pleased about that; even though we had such a diversity of students coming from five different high schools to a central high school, we did not have a "racial problem," and I was glad about that. That's not to say that there wasn't a problem once in a while that a black student fought a white student. You find that anyplace, not just there. So I have to answer your question "no." I didn't see it a problem, and as far as I was concerned we had as many good black kids as we've had good black kids. I think everything went well.
Q: Could you describe your work day as a principal? That is how did you spend your time? How many hours per week did you normally put in?
A: Well, there was never, ever, a 40 hour work week. I arrived at Choffin Career Center or in my principal's office about 7:15 am every day. School never started until 8:00 am, and we left at 3:30 pm, so I was there from 7:15 to 3:30 and when everyone left, I never left. I never left the office until, more often than not, at least 6:00 every night, and that was because so many things were happening during the day. If it wasn't a regular school day it was so many meetings and other things to do that it took from the time the students and teachers left for me to be alone to get caught up on telephone calls, reports, and any other kind of correspondence that had to be done, plus, plus any evening kinds of activities that I had to attend as a principal at the school. Now at Rayen School, we had football, basketball, I think you'll understand that, and the principal attends all of those. Once in a great while, well, both myself and the assistant principal attended, but once in a great while I might send the assistant principal in my place to an away game because of maybe a prior commitment or something like that, but rarely. I attended all those extra-curricular activities, and again at Choffin Career Center and at the Rayen School, Saturdays -- that was not exempt. I was there many times, arriving about 8:30, 9 o'clock -- 9 o'clock usually. I usually stopped someplace, had breakfast, and then go to the office and spend no later until 12, 1 o'clock on Saturday mornings because I had to get caught up to start on Monday, to start with the desk being clean so that I could go ahead and start a new work week.
Q: Describe the toughest decision -- I know you had a lot of tough decisions -- but the toughest decision you had to make as a principal.
A: I made a lot of tough decisions. Well, I think I can remember one that really troubled me and I had to make, and that was to inform two young senior students, and funny it still sticks in my mind, to inform them they were not going to graduate because of their attendance. The teacher had come to me and they weren't discipline problems, they were just absentees; they just did not want to come to school. Although they were seniors, they did not put enough time in their classroom to receive any type of a passing grade, and they refused to do any work. And so it was very, very difficult for me to sit these youngsters down and inform their parents that here they were seniors and that they were not going to graduate with their class. I think that was probably the toughest thing for me to do to inform a young student, or students in this particular case, that they weren't going to graduate.
Q: What was the key to your success as a principal?
A: Well, I like to go back to the -- I know maybe sounds redundant -- the old term of being firm, but fair and being consistent whatever it is that I did as an administrator to not only the students but to faculty, to the custodial department. I was always... that, to me, I sort of wore that was a badge that I was the kind of a guy that was firm, fair, and consistent. But I was very sensitive to people's problems and it bothered me many times, in doing what I had to do sometimes I really wish I could have been able to bend a little bit better. But, unfortunately, I couldn't, but I was sensitive to people's problems and that sometimes could get into your way if you don't stick to what you think is right.
Q: Knowing what you know now, would you enter the principalship if you had to do it over again?
A: I've often thought about it myself, and I say "no, I don't think I would," but I would be telling you a falsehood. I'm just the kind of a guy that likes to be a leader. I'm the kind of an individual that wants to do good things and makes some changes, to make good changes, not just changes for the sake of changes but good changes. And I think if I had to do it all over again, I probably would do it. But one of the things that I would hope that I would try to make less stress for myself, and hopefully that I could be successful in doing, but I think that I would do it again.
Q: We talked about stress once before. One of the terms that didn't come up is "sanity." Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things were you able to do on the job to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: One of the things, oh there were several things I did. When we were facing a problem I would try to jot a few things down on paper and then leave it, walk away from it. Sometimes going into my office, closing the door, and asking my secretary not to put in any calls unless there was an extreme emergency. And I did have a little radio; I used to like to put the music on to calm me down, and then there were times when I would just take a walk. I would actually walk through the building or walk away from the school campus so that I could get a different perspective, and in those very, very, very rare occasions where I thought the problem was so difficult and you try to maintain your sanity, you try to seek out an individual who would listen, not tell you what to do -- there is a difference now -- someone you could sit down, talk to very openly, say what was on your mind and, as he listened, you were able to develop an answer to your problem. So those are the three main things I used to do, and more often than not, it was usually another administrator because he, or she, could be more sympathetic. And I wasn't looking for sympathy, but they could understand your problem a lot better than just saying it to someone who wouldn't understand the point you were trying to make.
Q: In several of the questions and answers we've gone through, there's a common thread I've begun to hear about being out in the building and walking around and walking away from a problem and so on. It sounds like you are a proponent of the Management By Walking Around theory. Would that be a fair statement?
A: Yes, absolutely. If you want to know what's going on in your building, you have to see it first hand. I never did like the idea of students, other administrators, or teachers come to me and say, "Did you know...?" I want to know first hand. I was the kind of a guy that -- I didn't like surprises, and I thought it was very important that I knew what was going on in the classrooms, on the football field, in the gymnasium, wherever/whatever covered the school campus, I wanted to know what was going on. Oh, come on, I understand that you're not going to know every little nitty, gritty thing, but the major issues, the major problems, the major things you should be aware of, and by seeing them firsthand you could have a better judgment on how to maybe rectify a problem rather than listen to a "he said, I said, you said" kind of thing. Yeah, I certainly do believe in going through the building. A principal who sits in the building in his office and closes the door is actually oblivious to what is going on, and that's not my style.
Q: Since you've had some time to reflect on your career, would you share what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses as a principal?
A: Again, I guess my ego comes out here. I would say my strength is: when I really and truly believe that something I was doing was for the betterment for education. That is, if it was an educational policy, changing of the curriculum so that youngsters could learn better, or something that could benefit students, or if something that could help teachers, I listened to all the proponents of the arguments and those that were against, and made the decision, and followed through with it. I was aggressive that way -- to do because I didn't like putting everything into committees because I found sometimes things get buried in committees and nothing is ever accomplished. So, I think one of my strengths is to start a project and see it through its completion. And, the weaknesses -- I really didn't think I had any. That's being egotistical. Maybe, just maybe, and I'm not sure that it's a weakness. I just didn't have time, sometimes, to become friendly with a lot of my administrators or teachers like I wanted to be, to get not only to know them as an instructional leader, in other words knowing them as a good teacher in the classroom, but also as a person so that I could make better judgments maybe from time to time. But, I'm not even sure that's a weakness so if you want to call it that, that you might use that as a weakness.
Q: What do you remember with the most joy about your life as a principal?
A: Ah, I love this part. Probably, well it's not probably, it is when I meet
students after they have graduated and years have gone by, and you might meet
students at a function or just on the street, and they come up to you and they
hold their hand out, shake hands with you, or even sometimes give you a big
hug and say, "How are you? I'm so glad to see you, and do you know that if it
weren't for you, I wouldn't be this or that. And I remember certain things that
you did," now they may be things that you completely forgot, and sometimes as
educators we just shake our heads and we say we get one class after another
and we work with those youngsters but sometimes we never see the end product
because they leave us and they go on. And some we see for the rest of our lives
'cause they stick around; others we don't. And so some of the things that, some
of the things that have touched me is that some students that I haven't seen
in a long time and a youngster came up and shook my hand and hugged me and said
"Gee, you know, Mr. Sebastiano, if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be a physician
today. I'm married now, I have my own medical practice, I have three kids, I'm
doing well and I remember how you counseled me and you talked to me. Another
young lady, a nice black young girl, very brilliant young lady, and I had her
in classes and she said to me she wanted to do something with her life. And
she thought that she would like to do good for people, and she became a judge;
she went to law school; she's now a judge in the northern part of the state.
So, and there are more stories I could tell you like that, and those are the
kinds of things that made education for me worthwhile to have some of these
youngsters come back and say to you "It was because of you; what you
did; what you said," or some little thing that you did to encourage them to make them go on to become a better useful citizen.
Q: In your career as a principal, did you have an assistant principal that was particularly effective, and what's your view on the role of the assistant principal?
A: I've had some good assistant principals, and I've had some that were not so good. I've had an assistant principal that he and I shared a lot of the same philosophies; in fact, sometimes I was so proud of him because he even went beyond some of the things, and I was the kind of an individual that if he did, I let him do it because I wanted to see him not only succeed, I wanted him to be able to take the reins as a leader and going ahead and doing those kinds of things. And, having an assistant principal like that was great. It was fantastic because he added an awful lot not only to me as a principal but to the staff and the students. However, I've had the other side. I've had an assistant principal that, good individual, hard-working, but he had to be told. Maybe that's not the right way. In other words, he always sought my opinion, and he always sought me to give him the answers to problems. And I used to tell him many times, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." And I often, I never scolded him, but I used to say to him that it was important that he learn to make some decisions, good or bad, and that from some of those bad decisions he would make, he could learn something from it. Although he was a hard worker and just did anything and everything we asked him to do, but he always found it difficult to extend himself a little bit for fear that people would look at him in a negative way. He's still in education, and I think he's pretty close to retirement, but he's still an assistant principal. He's never gone beyond that so I kind of feel that those individuals he's been working with saw that little flaw in his character, and that's why he's never moved.
Q: Despite my efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have about your career as a principal?
A: I really have to commend you. I think you've done an excellent job. I can't think of anything right now other than the fact that being a principal or an administrator is a very lonely job. It's a job that you have to like; you have to accept. And some people will call you autocratic; some people will call you dictatorial. But, when it's all said and done, a principal has to make a decision, sooner or later, and it's difficult because there are always going to be the individuals that are in your corner and then there are going to be some that are not and some who could care less. So it's important that one becomes a principal or administrator, knows and understands that many times he stands alone, and he must make those very important decisions that affect a lot of people. And he should think about it and then make the decision. I think I would just add one more thing that sometimes a good principal is not one who talks at people but who will listen and then make decisions from there.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Sebastiano. I appreciate your sharing your recollections for the oral history of the principalship.
| Back to "S" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |