It is 9:00 A.M., Monday, November 9, 1992. I am interviewing Mr. Ignace Sebbio, a retired Niles elementary school principal. The interview is being conducted at the Niles Board of Education Offices located at 345 Warren Avenue, Niles, Ohio. A brief background of Mr. Sebbio. Mr. Sebbio received a B.A. from Youngstown College with dual certificates, an elementary certificate and a secondary certificate with teaching fields in English, History, and Italian. He received his Master's degree from Kent State University. His first teaching position was in elementary education, where he found a home. He spent the next forty-one years in elementary education; fifteen years as a teacher in grades four through seven, six years as a teacher and principal, and the next twenty years as a principal. He retired in July of 1992. I will now begin the formal interview by asking Mr. Sebbio a series of questions.
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Q: I would like to begin, Mr. Sebbio, by asking you if you would please tell us something about your family, your back ground, your childhood interests, and development. Are you ready, Mr. Sebbio? I realize that, at first, you're going to be nervous, but I'm sure, Mr. Sebbio, as we progress through the interview, things will start falling into place and we'll get right Into the swing of the action.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, I am first generation on my father's side; on my mother's side, I am second generation. I was from a family of eight children, born and reared in Niles. We're all graduates of the Niles City Schools, and we were all shaped by the depression of which President Garfield said, "Being poor is the best thing that could happen to a young man." He may be right, but being poor is no disgrace, but it's awful inconvenient. Well, what could I say about my elementary and secondary education. It was rather routine. We went to school. I started Monroe School and had some marvelous teachers. in those days, we came to school, we sat in our seats, and the teacher presented the lesson. We did it and this was pretty much all my elementary education. The teacher was the boss; we listened and we did our work. We tried not to have our parents come to P.T.A. because the teacher would probably tell her some of the high jinx that we would do. So, often when there was P.T.A., we never would tell our parents. I think it was with everybody in the neighborhood; we didn't want our parents at school; we didn't want our parents to find out what we were doing. But, we all passed, that was the good thing, and I don't recall anybody failing in my class. Although, when I would go to the next grade, there were people there who were from the previous grade, but I don't recall anybody in any of my classes failing. High school was different, the war came. World War II came. in my junior and senior year, I worked during the summer and after school at U.S. Steel in McDonald. My grades weren't as good. They dropped from A's and B's to B's and C's, but I was glad to get out. I was glad to get out of school. in many ways, it was boring and when it was over, I was delighted. But I had no choice, I went to the Navy. The war was still on, but in eighteen months the war was over, and I entered Youngstown College under the G.I. Bill and that's where I went into dual education and I graduated there and I got my first job at Lordstown in 1951.
Q: Were you a teacher at Lordstown?
A: Yes. I taught there for three years; sixth grade the first year, sixth grade the second year, and seventh grade the third year. An interesting thing at Lordstown, they asked me to teach typing to my seventh grade class. I said I didn't know a thing about typing. I never had typing. So they put me in a typing class with beginners for six weeks, and after six weeks they had me teach the class typing. It was very interesting and it followed the usual. The success of the students followed the usual procedures. The bright kids did the best, the average kids did average, and the slow kids who were also falling behind and having difficulties in the other subjects, were also having difficulties in typing. I recall one girl, after six weeks, we tested her. She had typing; she typed forty-one words a minute. Her father was so taken up with the program, that he bought her a typewriter. But that was interesting, and that's one of the nicest things I enjoyed about Lordstown. There was something unpleasant about Lordstown. One guy tried to get me fired, and I didn't appreciate him. He went to the Board. Well, I did something rash, being a young teacher. His daughter had a stack of gum everyday. Finally one day I said to her, "If you're going to chew gum, we're all going to chew gum." And I separated it and gave out all the chewing gum to the class. We all chewed gum and the father came to the Board meeting and wanted me fired.
Q: The second question I would like to address to you Mr. Sebbio, if you can relate to your college education and your feelings about if you were well prepared or if the university prepared you well to enter the field of teaching. As I understand, you spent four years at that time it was called Youngstown College, not Youngstown State University.
A: That dates me, sir.
Q: And, you basically went to school after serving in the Navy, and you were going on the G.I. Bill.
Q: So, if we can get back to your college days and how well do you feel that you were prepared to enter the field of teaching?
A: I think Youngstown College did a good job with me. And if there is any fault, or any blind spots with me, it's my fault not the university's. If I didn't study all the time I should have studied, it's not their fault. They gave us the assignments; we had the textbooks, and if I would go to the Elm's Ballroom at night instead of going home and studying, it's not their fault. I enjoyed all my professors; they got up in front of the class, they presented the discussions; they challenged us, we'd argue back; they ran off our discussions; they challenged us, they forced us into new ways of thinking. I enjoyed it. If I have any fault with Youngstown College, it's not the college as a whole, maybe it's the Education Department. Because, I felt the teachers made the students do the teaching. Not all of them, but about half of them. We would go to class the first day, and the professor would divide the number of students in the class by the remaining days in the semester. And two or three of us were responsible for all succeeding classes. I said we didn't get the benefit of the professor's and his experience. He sat back and he threw out some bait and we'd argue about it. We pretty much were teaching each other, and at that age, all twenty and twenty-one years old knew the same thing. We really didn't give anybody any insightful ideas; we just put in time.
Q: Do you think that, as opposed to the theory that you were getting, you needed more practical experiences that could be related to you by your professors' experiences?
A: As I look back on my student teaching days, they were awkward; they were awkward. Because I knew I was not in charge of that class. I knew that the regular teacher, sitting in back, was in charge. But I would go home, and I would practically memorize the lesson and go and put it before the kids. But I knew my presentation was stilted; it was awkward, because I wasn't the boss. I was never relaxed in my student teaching days. I'd never dare make a joke or anything; I just wanted to get through. I don't know if more of that type of experience would have helped me. I think what would have helped, I think, if we had professors with practical experiences in the public schools, who told us about the problems and how they failed or succeeded in solving them and what to look for. For instance, one thing I was never told in an education class, when you're walking your class to the lavatory, stay in front of the line. Because, if you don't stay in front of the line, they're going to bolt down there and run everybody over. Little things like that, I suppose, that will make a subtle difference. And, that's really the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher in the end, because in the end, as a teacher, I think you're judged on classroom management more than test results.
Q: The third question I would like to ask you, Mr. Sebbio, relates to the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship. How did you become a principal in the Niles City School District?
A: I'll never forget. I'll never forget, Mr. Bruno. But first, let me say before I recount this little incident, this is an incident that did not get me the principal's job. And, the first thing you have to know about this incident is that William McKinley was born in Niles, and I was teaching in Niles. Because after Lordstown, after three years, I came to Niles. But it's important to know that William McKinley was born in Niles, three quarters of a century before. Here's what happened. I walked in to the building one morning, it was early January, because William McKinley's birthday is around the 29th, and the principal hailed me and said, "Mr. Sebbio, I want you to put on a program for William McKinley." I was completely dumb founded. I never put on a program before. I was overwhelmed. To be honest with you, I tried to worm out of it. So I said, ~Miss Morrell, why a program for William McKinley; don't you know he is considered one of the third worst presidents in the country? He rates after Harding and Grant." Of course, that remark came back to haunt me after.
Q: You said the teacher had asked you or the principal . . .
A: The principal had asked me.
Q: What was her name, again?
A: Miss Morrell.
Q: Would you spell that for me?
A: M-o-r-r-e-l-l. And I'll tell you why it was a bigger boner than normal. Because, Miss Morrell's family was an early family of Niles, along with William McKinley's family, and the early families knew each other and there was this rapport; this respect that they had for each other. And, for me to throw cold water on our native son, was a horrible blunder. Because, when I went to my first principal's interview, the Superintendent, Paul Smith, zinged me, even before I sat down. He said, "Sebbio, I hear you don't like William McKinley. You better get along." And, I did not get that job.
Q: So, Mr. Sebbio, you're saying that the reason why you didn't get your first principal's job was because you had not known that William McKinley was the favorite son of Niles and was born in the City of Niles?
A: Well, I knew he was our favorite son. But, I didn't know politics like that would play a factor with me.
Q: Bringing in the factor of politics, in school systems, do you feel that school systems are political or would you classify them as "apolitical?"
A: As much as they try to be "apolitical," there is a factor of cultural influences and sometimes it's political, sometimes it's religious. Because, I remember when I first came to Niles. At that time, all the principals seemed to come out of the Methodist Church. All the Sunday school teachers, everybody wanted to be a principal who was teaching Sunday school at the Methodist Church. However, those times have changed.
Q: Are there any other interesting stories you may have to tell us regarding your interviews for a principal's position?
A: Well, this one was not an interview, but it determined my position in the school. This one was another incident that had repercussions. This was a different principal. This was a succeeding principal, Miss Anderson, who also was a close friend of Miss Morrell and they all belonged to the Eastern Star. And, early morning at the schools, it looked like an Eastern Star meeting and not a public school. But anyway, I had to put on a program for the school. I really don't know if I volunteered this or if they asked me. But, my program was based on an incident that happened in school. in the winter time, the kids bring the snow in the building and the janitor is mopping the floor. And some teachers, I don't know, they just weren't thinking or what, they marched their kids through the wet floor and the janitor would steam and he would tell me about it in the boiler room when we were having lunch. And so when I had to put on my play I was going to put on a comedy based on the teachers' walking through the janitor's wet floor. And, I had my largest boy playing the janitor. He was in the middle of the stage, mopping the floor. Of course, the student body is the audience with all the teachers. And he's mopping the floor, and my tallest girl acts as the teacher with the rest of the class coming behind and walks right through his wet floor, and he stops and picks his hat off and throws it on the floor and shakes his fists in the air. And the kids begin to laugh. And the teachers begin to laugh. And, a few moments later, the teacher and the kids come back and walk right through it. This time the janitor is even more furious and pantomime and he throws his hat on the floor and kicks it. Here is something I'll say, I want to interject here. We had this young kid dressed with tear off clothes. We cut off his sleeve and his trouser leg and sewed them back on. So, in a few minutes, a kid comes by and he sees the janitor working, and he goes there and pulls off a sleeve. Of course, the audience is howling. But, I could see the principal is not very enthused about. But, the next step is really the clincher. The kid comes by and he wants to pull the leg off of the janitor, but its sewn on too damn tight, and it won't come off, and he pulls off the janitor's trousers, my actor's trousers, and the kids are howling and the teachers are laughing, but the principal goes up on stage, brings down the curtain, and says, "We don't treat our janitor this way." We all went back to our room, and the kids said to me, "Mr. Sebbio, didn't Miss Anderson like our play?" I said, "No." He said, "Why not?" I said, "No. It was too avant-garde." And that was in my background, too.
Q: But you eventually, Mr. Sebbio, did become a principal in the Niles City School.
A: Yes, yes. in 1966. I became the teaching principal for six years. I taught the sixth grade in the morning, and I devoted the afternoon to the principal's duties. But, I tell you, there was a great many interruptions. There were so many interruptions that they put the phone in my classroom so I could solve some of the problems momentarily there. It's not a good situation being a teaching principal, but when there's no money you can understand it. in fact, even before I became a teaching principal, Miss Morrell was a full-time teaching principal; she taught all day. But that's the way all of them did in Niles, except the very biggest (schools).
Q: When did you eventually become a full-time principal?
A: In 1972, when I went to Jefferson.
Q: What motivated you, Mr. Sebbio, to become a principal? I mean, there's something that had to get you going.
A: Well, I'll tell you. Some of the motives are probably not so clean-cut. First of all, if you want a promotion in education, you got to leave the classroom. So that's one of the things. So you like to get a promotion--number one. Number two, you want the extra money. Some of it is financial. They pay principals extra money. Some of it maybe was arrogance. I felt I could do a better job than what was being done. And, I also felt that being a principal was easier than being a teacher. in most cases, I found that to be true after twenty years as a solid principal with no classroom responsibilities, I find this true. I think, at the building level, being a principal is easier in a full work day than being a teacher. But, however, they don't pay you to do something every minute when you're a principal. They also pay you for your judgement and your maturity. But then too, I wanted to be a principal. Because, as a man in elementary, I got tired of being asked, "Why aren't you a principal or why aren't you teaching high school?"
Q: So, one of the things that motivated you to become a principal was the fact that you were a male teacher at the elementary level?
A: Correct, correct.
Q: And at the time, there was probably very, very few male teachers at the elementary level?
A: Yes, let me recount this. I think when we first came in, there was, I don't know, animosity on the part of the women teachers when we men first came in. And I recall my principal, Miss Morrell said, "Mr. Sebbio, what made you become an elementary principal?" And I said to her, "Miss Morrell, it beats the brick yard."
Q: Mr. Sebbio, you have also indicated that you have been a building administrator for over twenty years. Did your motives change, from when you first became a principal (as the years progressed) as to why you wanted to be a principal?
A: Yes, I believe so. in the early days. You know, strictly pride, and maybe some financial increment. But as you're in the game, you see that you're there for the children. You see the children come. And, you see some children who have everything, beautiful clothes, their parents drive them to school in beautiful cars. And, some children have very little, they come in rags. Your heart goes out to some of these kids, and these are the kids that you want to help. These are the kids that you go the extra step for. After you've been a veteran principal, it's not money any more, because it's not that much money involved. And, you'd like to help people, and in the end, when you all settle down, and you're through with education, you're sorry that you were not better than you were.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Sebbio, the next question I would like to ask is, if you would describe your philosophy of education and how it has evolved over the years?
A: Every time I hear the word, philosophy, I think of Will Durante, who said, in one of his books, "Philosophy cannot cure a toothache." And I think I am in a vast expanse of water and when, let me say, let's change this from philosophy of education to public school teaching. I think I am more at home with that than philosophy of education. It gets you into too many different byways. But, philosophy of education, I think, my philosophy in America is that education has two purposes. One is to make citizens of all of us. And, two, to develop us to our fullest of our capabilities. Now you may say, why does it have to make citizens out of us? Well, for instance, if you're born in France, you become a Frenchman by simply being born in France. You speak the French language. You go to French church. You have the French holidays. You become a Frenchman by just living. But here in America, the melting pot, we're all from different ethnic groups. We speak different languages in our home. We go to different churches. We have different holidays. We have different points of view. It's the job, it was the job of the public school and still is the job of the public school, to make Americans out of us, to make a like-mindedness out of us. It gives us a common history. It gives us common ideas of government, which is democracy. It gives us a common history. It makes us like-minded. It gives us something in common with our neighbors, and it gives us something in common with the people in different cities. And so I think that was the first job, I think, of the public schools was to make citizens out of us.
Q: So it Americanizes?
A: That's it. That's it. I would use that, yes. And then, I think, the second purposes was to develop our abilities to the fullest of our capabilities.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Yes, in this philosophy of education. I recall my first course at Kent State University. It was taught by Dr. Herr, who was retiring. This was his last class.
Q: Herr? How do you spell that?
A: H-e-r-r, at Kent State. He was a wonderful, elderly gentleman. And one day in class he said to us, "I don't know what to say to you about this education, this philosophy of education, because there are so many few hard facts to get a hold of in education." He said, "My best advice to you is get yourself a flexible philosophy of education that you can defend and stay with it." And I pretty much adhered to him since my time.
Q: When you were a building principal, what did you do as the administrator of that building to set the tone of the building, to set the climate in the building?
A: Really, I did nothing spectacular. I don't think I even spoke about setting the tone of the building. But, I think it comes from the attitude, my attitude. And, I think the attitude of every principal; like I spoke before, my earlier principals were Eastern Star ladies and every morning was an Eastern Star meeting. I was very mindful of that, and I didn't bring in any sectarianism in school. I always spoke education. I spoke literature. I spoke music. I spoke contemporary affairs. And, I spoke education. I spoke nature of method. I'd quote John Dewey now and then. So, everybody thought I was progressive. They didn't know I was a die-old traditionalist, but because I quoted John Dewey now and then, they thought I was progressive and I was radical. But, I think my demean or, my attitude, and my conversations with them, I think, they sensed that I was scholarly. And, they didn't come up to me and give me Polish jokes. We talked education. We talked culture. And, I think, more than anything, my own frame of mind, and my own demeanor, I think set the tone of the building I was in.
Q: What kinds of things did your teachers expect of you as a building administrator? Did they expect you to be the educational leader in the building? Did they expect you to be the man who would administer punishment? Exactly what did you think or do you feel the teachers expected of a building administrator?
A: Mr. Bruno, they treated me like God. Every time they saw me, they wanted something.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, I appreciate your last comment, and I could understand why you would say something like that. But, what do you think it takes to be an effective leader in a building?
A: This business of being a good manager, or being a good leader, reminds me pretty much of the question when I was first in college. They said, "You know. This is dualism. Do we teach children, or do we teach subject matter?" Well the fact is, we teach subject matter to children. You have to know the nature of the subject matter, and you have to know the nature of the child. Now, I think the same thing as leadership and management of a building. Although leadership is a little different, I don't know what leadership is. If somebody said to me rather flippantly, says leadership is telling people no, and making it sound like yes. And then I read, oh a little remark, that leadership is leading people where they want to go. And it takes more than that. I think a leader has calm and seasoned judgement, a man of experience. It takes those things. To be a leader, you have to start solving problems. You can announce you are a leader, you may have all the qualities of leadership, but if you don't solve problems in the building, you're not a leader. It comes with your success, being a leader. It grows with you, it is not automatic, a leader.
Q: Probably what you're getting at, is that in order to be a good leader, the first thing you probably have to establish is credibility within your building.
A: Yes, I say this. You have to come to your building with a reputation as a good teacher. I've known a case where this principal came to the building. The principal was assigned to the building. The principal did not have a reputation as a conscientious teacher. And, when the teachers heard that this individual was coming, they said, "I know, I don't want to say he or she what this individual's like, but she's not going to tell me, or he's not going to tell me what to do." This individual had a strike, maybe two strikes against. And, you have to come first of all with a reputation of being a conscientious teacher, and they respect that. Then too, you have to be a working principal. You cannot be a lazy principal and just talk. And, as my time as a principal, I taught, well within the last five years. I taught fourth graders. I took the slowest group of kids in the fourth grade and I taught them reading. I did that for two years. in another year, we had a large sixth grade, about thirty-five kids, and the teacher asked for help. So, she said she would give me the bright ones and I said, "No, I'll take the slower." She said she wanted to work with that group, and I had eighteen kids with the highest grades, and I taught them sixth grade arithmetic. I also, last year, we had a very gifted fifth grader.
Q: By last year, you're talking 1991-1992?
A: 1991-1992 school year. Yes. We had a very gifted fifth grader who came from a gifted school in Youngstown and we tested him and I was teaching him . . .
Q: Mr. Sebbio, you described two qualities and characteristics of a good principal. Are there any others? How about decision making?
A: Well, decision making depends. Some decisions are easy to make. When you know what's right, it's easy to do the right thing. When you don't know what's right, then you're in trouble. Probably as a principal, my most difficult decisions occurred when there was trouble between the staff members. Especially when two staff members come together, and they're having a problem, one is accusing the other of something else and so on. I was never able to satisfactorily solve those problems. I remember, I think, I took my advice from Dr. Essex from Youngstown College. He substituted one day in the psychology class, and I remember him mentioning, he said, the last thing he wanted, the thing he hated the most, was trouble among the staff. But he said, "I tell them from the very be ginning, there are no winners." When you come in, I praise both of you, I blame both of you. I go right down the middle and you go out more angry than you came in. Try to get along. And that's the way I worked it; and they went out so angry, they said, "That principal was afraid to make a decision."
Q: Mr. Sebbio, I would like to talk to you a little bit about your instructional philosophy and your beliefs as to what good teachers do in classrooms. And, maybe, you could cover that for me.
A: Yes. I think, truly I was influenced too, by Dr. Herr by this remark, "Get yourself a flexible point of view you can defend."
Q: Dr. Herr?
A: Dr. Herr of Kent State.
A: Yes, and I have come to believe the best, I don't know if it is a philosophy or method of instruction, is the traditional method. I know its not perfect and there are children who fail, but I think by far it's the best. I think it this. You give the kids a classroom, a desk, a set of textbooks and a marvelous teacher from which they'd steal from home for and just set them loose. And try to keep those kids in their seats about over half of the day, doing their assignment, discussing with the teacher, and so on. I think the traditional method works better than any other method, but I would say not to be so blind that you will not consider other innovations. I think you have to be flexible here, but also you better not be too damn flexible where you fall for all the scams that come down the pike. And in my lifetime, I like to mention a few scams. I think that by far the biggest was new math. When I was told, Dr. Hettings of Kent, says this new math was brought in as strictly a P.R., a promotional thing by Scott Foresman. And, it worked so well that they were selling math textbooks and everybody jumped on them. in fact, they started having new, new math. He said new math, the way I look at it, was an attempt to algebratize the arithmetic in the elementary and the children were not ready for it. in fact, anybody who has taught mathematics knows that mathematics is a discipline for the above-average mind. And, when you try to get to algebra with these young kids, it's a losing cause. And, I recall our principal, our high school principal, in a principals meeting, Robert Sharp, saying one day, "New math ruined a generation of math students." So, I would advise teachers and principals and everybody, be careful about these innovations that come down the pike. Let somebody else, let the training schools put it into operation and see how it succeeds there. They have the personnel and the money. Let all the experimentation go on at training schools. Don't experiment with the kids and lose them.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, another question I would like to ask you is about the community and what do you feel their expectations are of a principal?
A: Well, I'd say they expect the principal to help them out with all their problems at school. in my time, they'd come in and they'd ask you for a certain teacher. They'd expect you to give them the teacher of their choice at the beginning of the year. Two, if their child is having problems with the teacher, they want you to take that child out of that room in the middle of the year. Three, if it's not that, then they want you to intervene with the teacher in some way, which is really, I think, a legitimate demand on their part, to improve that situation, when their child is having problems. So often I get, there are, let me say, parents who know how to work the system. And, they come to you, and if you don't help them, they cause you a great deal of grief. These are very activist parents. They know how to work the system. They know how to get their way. You have to be careful with them, but I've had some weird requests from parents. Some times, parents call me up and ask to put in the money for lunch for their children. That I didn't mind. I know that the parents were hard up and sometimes they didn't give it back, but I didn't care, sometimes they did. But, let me tell you the most striking request that I ever had from a parent. It occurred about, I really don't know if it was here at Bonham School about five years ago. A mother with twins came in the building. She said she wanted to speak to me. She closed the office door and said, "Mr. Sebbio, will you help me get rid of my husband?"
Q: In what way did she want you to get rid of her husband, Mr. Sebbio?
A: Well, I was astounded, but I said, "You need a lawyer." I was quick witted to put it that way. "You need a lawyer, you don't need me." She said, "I haven't any money." I said, "Go see the Red Cross, they help people." And as I look back on that incident, I didn't think she wanted me as a hit-man, I think she wanted a couple hundred bucks from me to go see a lawyer or to keep on living because I know things were hard for her. But that was my most striking request, but I never closed the office doors since that day.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: Teacher evaluation is the most delicate part of the principal's job. I think every thing mitigates against doing an honest job. I say that. Why do I say that? Well, it's because if you're a principal, certainly, within the system, you have known these teachers life long. You have gone to their weddings. You have gone to their funerals. You have gone to their baptismals, graduations parties. And, you have fought common battles with them. They help you solve problems in the building. You have this tremendous rapport with them. All of sudden, it's part of your job, but you're called upon to tell them what's wrong with them. It's been very difficult with me to do that. And yet, every teacher thinks they're a great teacher. Now, why should they think that they are a great teacher? They graduated from the same college I did, they have the same certificate I have, they have the same graduate degree that I have. So, on paper, they are just as equal. And, it's difficult for them to take criticism. And it's very difficult. After a life time, I think if I had to do it over, simply this, if I had a teacher who needed help, I would try to help her in any way I could. And, if she didn't correct it, I would just ask her to resign. If she didn't resign, then she would be nonrenewed. That would be the hell. But, then the biggest problem is the tenured teacher who is not doing a good job. Now, I have graded tenured teachers low, and I've graded them high. I recall one tenured teacher I graded what I thought what she deserved, which was low. I didn't grade her low on purpose. And, then she went to the lounge, but I heard about it afterwards. She said, "If that's all he thinks about me, then that's all he's going to get from me." And, she became a worse teacher. And, I have graded mediocre teachers high, only to have them come to me one time and say that they did something that I didn't expect, something marvelous, and they said, "Well, Mr. Sebbio after that evaluation I didn't want to let you down." So, it's difficult, it's difficult for me to say what to do. I say this though, to be a principal, you have to be able to fire somebody. If you haven't got that, you're not going to be a complete principal. You got to be able to fire the unsatisfactory teacher. It's a difficult thing, I know, it mitigates against all your Christian ethics and so on, but I would say to anybody who is going to be a principal now a days, "Are you tough enough to fire somebody?"
Q: Mr. Sebbio, as a building administrator, how did you support your teachers, what avenues or what approaches did you take?
A: Practically I was blind. I supported them practically 100%, no matter what happened. They expected that of me. If they would shoot a student in the middle of recess, I would have to support them. They expected that, that I would have to find mitigating circumstances and that the shooting was justified. And on the whole, I always did support them. I always did. Practically always, the two incidents I didn't I'll come to that, but I did support them and, obviously, sometimes I did it by relating to the parent that the teacher has a countless number of judgements and decisions to make everyday. Every minute of the day, somebody is pulling on her skirt, they want something and she has to make these decisions, and she'll be the first to admit that sometimes she doesn't make the wisest decision, but she had no intent to hurt or harm anybody and so on. And most of all, parents, although they may not be convinced, they come around to your point of view because you have the reasonable point of view that the teacher would not have done it if she had more time to think about it. But, at the moment, it was the best thing she could think of at the time, and I don't think she should be criticized for that. But, I'll tell you, on two occasions, I did not support the teacher. And I apologized to the parents for the teacher. Now I'll tell you about this. This teacher called this boy who was, he was a cut-up, but she called him a "son of a donkey." And I apologized. And, of course, I tried to mitigate everything by saying that little junior was a little pill in class, he wouldn't listen to the teacher, he was disruptive and so on and I said she just lost control of herself, and I apologized for that. Then I apologized to a Jehovah Witness mother one day. She came into the teacher and she wanted to give the teacher a book on Jehovah Witnesses. And she said, and the way the mother said to me, "I just wanted to show the teacher where we are coming from, what our beliefs are." And then so on. But the teacher, who by the way was Catholic, I'm Catholic, so I don't want to say that as a put down, the teacher said rather off-the-cuff and without feeling, "Oh, you people." And the mother came to me, practically in tears, and I apologized for that. I said it should not have happened. We should have been more sympathetic. But those were, of my twenty-six years as a principal, I supported teachers in every case except those two.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, what characteristics do you feel are associated with schools that are considered most effective, and what features would you use to characterize less successful ones?
A: Let me say, effective schools succeed in their purpose. And I think their purpose is to transmit our cultural heritage to the student, and that's to become better members of society, but also that fulfills the function for society, transmitting our cultural heritage, but on the personal level, the school has to develop that student to its fullest capabilities. I think there's two purposes here in a democracy. You teach for society and you teach for the individual. I'm just getting off the subject for a moment, it's always a struggle between society and the individual. There's always tension; they're always in a state of tension. I think that the effective schools have effective faculties. They have bright, intelligent teachers, but just as important as being bright and intelligent, you have to be energetic because I know a lot of bright people who are lazy, and so on. So, the effective schools' teachers, not only are they bright, but they're also very energetic. I think number three is effective schools have high expectations. And they require students to do their homework, fulfill their assignments and when they don't, must do something about it to get these children to fulfill the requirements. And I think, four, effective schools have community support. If you don't have the money to hire to keep these teachers, good teachers, they go someplace else. Truly a good system is like a good industry in the community. It's important, it's just as important as GM or Ford or anybody else. A good school system makes people come to your community, and it's this business, oh, I know it's cliche, but the school system and society are co-determinants, that means society creates the schools, the schools improve the individuals and the individuals improve society. And you have this co-determinant action going on all the time between society and schools when you have good schools.
Q: Maybe I can interject something here, and that is "good schools make for a good community and a good community supports their schools."
A: Yes, yes. I think we are both on the same wave length there. Yes.
Q: How about ineffective characteristics, Mr. Sebbio?
A: Ineffective characteristics, I think, all those to a lesser degree. Well, no. The purpose still stays the same, you know, to improve society and the high-minded purposes. The names and objectives still stay in place, but the individuals who have to carry them out, have failings in fact in every organization. Even with perfect organizations, the weakness is human nature. The weakness is always human nature. And teachers who don't teach, teachers always adhere to philosophy of education, so it allows them to do nothing, this hurts the students. The kids don't come out as well prepared because they're not given the information, they're not given the skills to work with and then, too, in less effective schools, they don't have parents that have kids do the homework, and the parents always have an excuse: the dog ate it, the dog ate the textbook, we had to go to Grandma's and so on. The parents do not support the teacher and school. They always have an excuse why little Johnny is not working up to capacity. They usually say this, "Well there's a personality conflict between the teacher and my child." And I say impossible. I said I was a student myself, and I said I listened to the teachers and I did my work, if I liked them or I didn't. I said, now the teacher is fifty years old, your child is seven, there's no personality conflict between a fifty year old and a seven year old. You do what the teacher asks you to do. You know, well sometimes that usually works, but ineffective schools you have ineffective parents, ineffective homes. And you don't have the support of the community to run a first-class system.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, now given the present complexity of administration, 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: I thought about that often. I often thought about that. It's really, I don't think, it's the areas of administration that need improvement, it's the human equation that needs improvement. Is there trust. Now for instance, some teachers look at administrators like cats and dogs. Just because they are administrators they don't want to cooperate, you know. And then there are some young administrators and so on, who want to be Napoleons, you know, and so on. I think it's not a method of improving any particular aspect of administration that I know of. I think they were all reasonable, all the things I've been asked to do or anybody else to do or what are the rules and regulations are. They all have been reason able. What goes astray is distrust. There are too many people out there with different agendas. Some are strictly personal agendas; what they want to see done and they don't care about the others. I often felt this when I made a request to the superintendent that I was one of seven buildings in the system. When I made a request to the superintendent he had to balance it off against six other buildings, and often, I was helped, but even if I couldn't have been helped, it was because I knew there was no way to help me because there were other problems that demanded more immediate attention than mine.
Q: So, you're saying that you would not change the processes or some of the characteristics of educational administration; you would just hope the human aspect of getting along with people, teachers, administrators, students, non-certified staff, is important to the effectiveness of educational administration.
A: Yes. Because as I go to the Board meetings, because I have to go to these Board meetings, and even P.T.A. people simply want their way. The up and they want something. And it it could be done, I know the Board would give it. The superintendent would give it to the principals, if he possibly could. But some are just so one way, they want their way; and there are some people who don't seem to want to compromise. And these are the people who throw monkey wrenches into the system.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, since you are now a retired principal you should feel very uninhibited. Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent, basically, in the terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school. I know you worked for several superintendents, and if you want to go back and look at all of them, that would be fine with me, but if you want to go back to the superintendents who were there when you were a building administrator.
A: Let me say, first, I, from my first year in education to my forty-one years in education, I worked for ten different superintendents. I'll start in Lordstown, two at Lordstown, Mr. Baker, my first guy who gave me some good advice. I liked him, but the religious right drove him out. They would come to the Board meetings and say, this is completely off the subject but I would like to say it. They would come to the Board meetings and say, "Oh I prayed all night that Mr. Baker would know what he is doing, etc., etc.," and he moved out. I liked the guy, he was al ways fair with me. As a principal I worked for four superintendents and truly they were all fair and cordial with me and they gave me everything they could give me. I really had no complaints, I was treated fairly. I think all superintendents were like L.B. Johnson, L.B.J., they wanted peace.
Q: L.B.J. is referring to Lyndon . . .
A: Lyndon Johnson.
Q: Lyndon Baines Johnson.
A: Yes. I remember, Dr. Renwand would say when we'd come in, I'm like L.B.J., I want peace. in fact, . . .
Q: This is Dr....
A: Dr. Renwand.
Q: Renwand. R-e-n-. . .
A: w-a-n-d. He was the first superintendent that I worked for in 1966, and he would say, "I want peace." He wanted it so peaceful, he didn't even want to know we existed. And I think that was pretty much how every superintendent wanted us to manage our own buildings, and keep problems at a minimum. He knew he couldn't keep problems at zero, but he would say to us, "I get complaints about everyone of you damn principals every week, but I don't tell you, because I know they're petty." Truly I was treated fairly in every instant, and I know every body else was, I think. I don't know of anybody who had a legitimate complaint against the superintendent that we worked for because they tried to solve all our problems, even when we couldn't solve a problem, they did it for us.
Q: Very good. Mr. Sebbio, I would like to discuss with you or talk to you a little bit about your professional code of ethics and how you have applied these ethics throughout your career.
A: I know teachers have a list of codes of ethics and principals have them too, but I think I read them once and I've never read them again. And, I think my code of ethics can be summed up in the Golden Rule, "Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you." I live by that, I started that when I was a young principal, and I believe that more than ever today. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Treat them with kindness, even when you're having disagreements. Treat them with kindness. It's always worked. It has always worked for me. No, no, I take it back; almost always worked for me. But I'll tell you, even when it didn't work for me. This person came to me and said, "Mr. Sebbio, we disagreed with you, but you were a gentleman about this." So, but, if I have to give advice to a young principal, I would say, I don't want to say be a, I don't want to push born again Christians or Christianity, but I think it's simply a good rule to treat other people the way you want to be treated. And I would say if you're sincere about that, and you're polite and kind in every situation, I think you'll survive. I think you'll survive, and you'll be able to do a better job. You can't get people to work for you who are angry with you or you zing them a little even though you're right. Even though you're right and you come down hard on them. They don't forgive you. They don't forgive you. Sometimes, you know we're right because we're so damn right. Our method of imposing, we try to impose our rightness on others, and that's what hurts. Sometimes we're often right, but the methods we go about in bringing about what we want is wrong, and so I think, it wraps up in that one little rule. I don't know if that's in the Bible or not. It doesn't make any difference where it came from, I think its the best rule I've ever heard.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, It's probably been now five full months since your effective date of retirement. I know you have had some time to reflect on your career. I Just wonder if you would share with me, what you consider to be your administrative strengths and your weaknesses.
A: Yes. I thought about that because I recall when Mr. Meredith first came to Niles, ten years ago. He brought in all the principals and asked us that question. And I thought, "Oh God, what is this, self-incrimination day? Does he have to self-incriminate us, what is he?" But I thought about that and I think our strengths and weaknesses resolve, provided we are reasonable people and we have our degrees, we are reasonably prepared for our job. I think our strengths and weaknesses come from our humanity or lack of humanity. I think it comes from your experience; that you grow from day to day with the problems that you had. Did you learn from your problems? Did you remember, remember? Can you create experiences from what other people tell you, from ideas? Now that's a terrific strength not many people have. People who fail in reading are those children who do not gain experience through ideas and I think it has a correlation here for a principal when he's on the job. He has to learn, he has to learn from his experience and, of course, if you don't think about what has happened to you and that experience evaporates, then you have a lack of experience and that hurts you. If you don't learn from your experiences then that hurts. I think strength or weakness is your perception of human nature. If you're wise in the way of human nature, I think a leader has to be wise or manager in the ways of human nature. He has to know when somebody is handing him a lot of bull and some body is just giving him excuses why he doesn't want to do something because he's simply lazy, and so he adheres to a policy that doesn't want to do anything. For instance, mostly I think I remember my kindergarten teacher. We'd ask him to teach alphabet now a days and teach about seven or eight words, but they'd come with the idea, well my philosophy is we don't have to do that. My philosophy is that we don't have to pick up a pencil and so on. Sure it's good to adhere to that, that philosophy, because all you have to do then is go to your desk and file your nails. You know, you don't have to do anything. But, I think a principal has to be aware of human nature. I think sometimes the two most important things for a teacher or a principal or any man should know is, he has to know his game. So if you're a principal you've got to know the education game. You've got to know the classroom teaching game. You've got know the educational ideas and contemporary ideas out there and you've got to know human nature. You've got to know human nature. You've got to know when somebody is just handing you a lot of bull and somebody is being selfish and they are looking after their own interests and nobody else's. Although there is one other thing, I think was a weakness of mine, I didn't have enough nerve to fire anybody. And I think a principal should have enough nerve to fire somebody who doesn't belong in the classroom.
Q: I am interested to know Mr. Sebbio, as Superintendent of Schools, what led you ... Mr. Sebbio, would you share with me the decisions or the process you used in arriving at your decision to retire?
A: I believe, Mr. Bruno, I came to the point where I said I had enough and I don't want the job anymore. I was sixty-five, my financial status was more than enough to support my wife and myself, so I called you up and told you it's curtains.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, could it have been you considered yourself well healed. No, I'm just kidding. (laughter) I'm sure that's a decision that you had to discuss and you struggled with for a period of time; it had to be.
A: Yes, I thought of going with Mr. Tabor (a retired Niles Principal) the year before and then I didn't. But, the last year, when I asked the teachers to follow my advice on a certain situation and they followed their union leader instead, and I said, "Who the Hell needs it!"
Q: Can you expand on that?
A: Well, that was my problem with the aide. I wanted to handle her one way and they wanted it another way and they kept making excuses why it wasn't working out and so on and . . .
Q: I see, that was the problem with the teacher's aide that you had in your building?
A: Yes, I thought by using the teacher's aide as the computer instructor, I thought I had the best instructional program in the City of Niles. Because when teachers used to teach computers, none of them knew a damn thing. They would come in and they'd push in, . . . they'd have other kids come in, sixth graders, . . . push in the software; they would have half the class on computers and the other half sitting in the other part of the room doing their work, and after fifteen minutes or twenty minutes were up, she made them trade. The teachers hardly knew any thing about computers. The aide knew more than anybody else. in fact, some teachers asked that the aide do the teaching for them. They could send half the class up to the aide, and they could stay in the classroom and work with the other half. I thought that was a very nice idea. I thought it made for a better instructional program, but there was a teacher who, . . . the phrase I wanted to use, well I don't want to use that phrase . . .
Q: Use it.
A: . . . who was angry, who had conflict with the aide, and one of the conflicts she had with the aide, I tilted toward the aide, because I thought the aide didn't do anything wrong, and so on. But she wasn't going to let go and she used to tell the teachers she prides herself. She moans and bitches until she gets her way and she got the teachers on it. When I asked the teachers to let this thing go, it will all be solved at the end of the year and they didn't go with me, I said, "Well, I'm not their leader anymore." They're union people, you know, they talk, they're professional, they all hang together. And so, I said, "I was sixty-five." And I counted up our income, my wife's and mine and our portfolio, and I said, "Who needs it!"
Q: Mr. Sebbio, I'm interested to learn about what you feel were the pros and what were the cons of your administrative service, and, if there is any advice you would like to pass on to today's principals, or even a superintendent.
A: Well, I would say a con of my administrative services was I should have fired some people, I didn't. But then, I always mitigated that by there were worse teachers in the system than what was in my building, and why should I let these go and the others I knew about were getting fantastic reviews, you know. It was unfair. You know, you think of that. I could have got rid of this poor old gal be cause she can't make it, but she is still better than who was in the other building over there, who everybody is bragging about. You know, then your conscious works on you. Are you doing right and so on? And then, one teacher, one time, I thought I wanted to get rid of, in composition she beat the other teacher who had a reputation of being a better teacher.
Q: And I know which one you're referring to.
A: Yes, so you know. Although if you're not brave enough to fire somebody, you know, that's a real disadvantage for you, but then if I would have, I know I think I would have felt worse about it and so on.
Q: So that was the con. What you didn't like?
A: Yes. That's the con.
Q: What were the parts you liked about the lob, Mr. Sebbio, that kept you in there? Evidently, you were in it for twenty years as a building administrator, there's something that kept you there.
A: Yes, I enjoyed it. And why I enjoyed it, I can't tell you, except it was conducive to my background in education. Having all those years of college, you know, I'm going back for extra work and so on and truly I was interested in culture and so on and reading and I was reading, and literature and culture, and education. I was interested in it, I was interested, that's what kept me going. And then there are little perks for instance, it's more rewarding than teaching, not much. They say, well you don't make anymore than a teacher in the long run, but you do make several grand more than teachers and so on. And it pays the utilities and the interest, the utilities and the taxes, you know, and it did more than that I think in the end. It was maybe four or five thousand more than what a teacher in my category would have received. So, it's financially more rewarding, that's one of the pros. It's easier than being a teacher, except on a few occasions, when some big, six foot four brute wants to come in and deck you. You truly have the problems of everybody in your building, but the parents are very reasonable, except now and then. I had a guy come in, six foot four; he wanted to trash me because I paddled his son. Then my advice to teachers or anybody else, don't paddle anybody at the end of the day. This kid went on the bus and he spit on the kid next to him. And, the bus driver brought him into me, and I paddled him. And, of course, he went home and he had red marks on his behind, and his father called me up and said, "I'm coming down and I'm going to work you over." So, I called the police. But my advice is never paddle anybody near the end of the day. Outside of some of those moments, it's easier to be the teacher in many ways, because a teacher is booked up every minute of the day, with the exception of her free period. And, she has to make all those decisions all the time. And truly, when you're a principal, and you're not feeling well, all you have to do is go to the office and close the door. You know, spend the day that way and not be bothered. But, if you're a teacher, you can't do that. The teacher is on the barricades all the time, and I'm on the barricades with it too, when there are parental problems or there is discipline problems in the classroom, but she's on every minute of the day, and I'm on the barricades some of the day. I think those are pros of being a principal. The extra money, it's easier, and when you want to truly, when you want to relax, or say loaf, you know, you can go in the office and close the door. Teachers cannot do that. The only time a teacher can loaf is on their free period, except if they are shrewd. They can give the class a lot of busy work and they can sit back at their desk and file their nails. And, they could do it that way and so on. Now a con of being a principal, what did I say . . .
Q: That is was basically the fact that . . .
A: . . . a father comes in and wants to deck you. Also, I think attending Board meetings is a con. I don't miss the Board meetings, I miss some other things in education and so on, but I do not miss Board meetings. They have become too shrill, the parents have become to angry, they are to damn confrontational for me, for my gentle soul.
Q: Mr. Sebbio, there is a model that has been proposed by two authors, one is Kouzes and the other Posner, which, more or less, describes the behavior patterns of effective leaders. And I'd just like to delve into each one of these with you, and tell me how you felt you fit into these patterns. The first behavior pattern that an effective leader does is challenge the process. And, by challenging the process, I'm referring to change, change in tradition.
A: Well, to apply challenge to process to a principal, I would like to speak toward that end. A principal has no way of challenging the process. The principal is the long arm of the superintendent in the building. Now, if he is going to throw a monkey wrench into the business, he's in a hell of a lot of trouble. Organizations move in the direction the people in charge of the organization want them to move, and if somebody gets in the way, he is ground up, and is gone. So, my advice to principals, don't challenge a damn thing; go along, get along.
Q: Okay, the author then goes on to the second behavior pattern, "In spiring a shared vision."
A: When I see that, I think too many born-again Christians are getting into education. You know, we used to have purposes, themes and objectives. Now, it's been elevated to almost a para-religious process, and a shared vision is nothing more. What are the aims, what are the purposes of education? My part in America, to make Americans out of all of us, that's from a diverse group and to develop us to our fullest of our capabilities. That's our purpose. Now, if they want to say what's your shared vision, I would tell them that's my shared vision, and I wouldn't put it in a para-religious context.
Q: Okay. Another behavior pattern they refer to is, "an effective leader enables others to act."
A: Well referring that to a building principal. Who do you want to act? Well, it's the staff. Well, they use the word, empowers teachers to act, but then teachers are the most active actors in the whole school system. They are dictatorial. They have more power in their domain than the principal has, the superintendent has, or the Board has. The Board is responsible to the public, the people. The superintendent is responsible to the Board. The principal is responsible to the superintendent. The teachers are responsible to nobody. But they're absolute dictators in that room. When they tell the kids stand, they stand; turn to page thirty-eight, they turn to page thirty-eight; keep your eyes on the board, they keep their eyes on the board. So really, I don't know, you don't have to empower teachers to act, because they act pretty damn much now the way they want.
Q: Okay. The fourth behavior pattern that a good leader exhibits is, "he models the way."
A: Yes, I can see, as in the school, a principal is the head of the instructional program, and a leader in the community, and the community looks to him for respect. He's got to be scholarly, and he has got to be a gentleman. I think that's the way he models the way. He is a gentleman, he is sympathetic; he tries to solve problems of the home. You know, where it relates to the school. He tries to solve the teachers' problems. He always acts in a scholarly and dignified way, where others who would be in his company, would be embarrassed to act otherwise.
Q: The final behavior pattern exhibited by an effective leader is that, "an effective leader encourages the heart of his staff," relating it to a principal he is the cheerleader for the teachers. How would you reflect on that?
A: Well, I don't know.
Q: How have you gotten your people to do things or to come around to decisions or changes you would like to make in your building?
A: Well, let me see on that. Encouraging the heart. I think it's more of an individual concept, as teacher, as a teacher on staff. As I recall, if I would ask them to do something, the first thing they asked was if it was being done in another building. And, if it's not being done in another building, they're not going to do it. And, so your encouragement of heart has to be one-on-one. You know, you have to go talk to them and say, "God, you were marvelous last night, I wish I had a million dollars to give you." You know, and so on. You can do it an individual way. One-on-one, talking to people, but I don't know about encouraging the staff because there are always some negatives in the staff. You want them to do something, there's always haggling. Well, I don't believe in that. We should do it this way. If you can encourage the staff to go your way, you're a Hell of a guy if you can get them all at once. in the last union problems and so on, I couldn't get the whole staff to go one way. My last example was how I wanted to handle the aide and I had this one person who fought it and the rest of the building stayed with that one person. They didn't stay with me, although, . . . I take it back, one did stay with me, and she spoke up at the meeting, and said, "No you're not doing right," and so on. And that was Mrs. Larmey, and she spoke her view in front of them, and in fact, for her standing up to the rest of the staff, they sent her a nasty card. She showed me.
Q: I understand how those things go on. Well Mr. Sebbio, we've sat here, we've talked, we've chatted, you've made some interesting comments, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and the appropriateness of your words. Is there anything that I failed to ask you that you would like to talk about or discuss in this interview?
A: No, I think you covered the gamut. in fact, there was more here than I could really talk about. And really you have drained me, Sir. You have drained me.
Q: Well, I appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule Mr. Sebbio and . . .
A: You mean raking leaves?
Q: Raking leaves. And this will conclude our interview, and it is 10:30, Monday morning. Thank you once again Mr. Sebbio.
A: Thank you, Mr. Bruno.
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