Retired Principal of Penn Forest Elementary School in Roanoke County. November 22, 1996
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Q: Thank you for being here Pat. Pat, we are here to try and interview you for the Principal Archives here at Virginia Tech. We are really appreciative of you spending some time with us. I'd like to start off the interview, Cemil and I would like to start off, asking you or if you would tell us about your family background, some of your childhood, interests in development, where you grew up, what schools you went to, those kind of things.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Thank you and it is good to be here and it is always a pleasure to talk about education and what I've see in my tenure as an educator. I was born in St. Joseph, Missouri. My father was a county agent. I remember sitting around the radio and listening to the beginnings of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and realizing how that changed history. At that point my father was making a career change with the Department of Agriculture which took us eventually to Washington, DC. However, during the war years I lived in Atlanta, Georgia. So, after the war years, we moved to Washington, DC. We actually made our home in Arlington, Virginia. And I mention all of this because I think that having lived in our nation's capital and having met people who lived all over the world has probably enriched my background and in a way probably helped me become an educator. Growing up I had a younger brother who was really active in sports. And when I was sixteen years old, my parents had a baby girl. Now what that did was as a sixteen year old I had this new little sister to care for and I didn't realize it, but I was really developing the skills to be a teacher then. I did not plan to be a teacher, I just knew that I always loved children. So, while Susan, was never ever an interruption, she was always a joy in our lives. That helped me later as a teacher. An interesting thing about my family was that my mother didn't work and I would have to say that our home life was rather organized and calm and dinner time was an incredible enriching experience for us. Dad would come home from work and we would gather around the dining room table and my mother always had candles on the table. And she would put little bowls of celery and carrots on the table and after we finished eating we would sit by candlelight. Because of my father's interest in everything from science to history, we would really get into wonderful discussions having to do with what we did in school, what we were studying, world news, national news. Again, I think this helped me in my role as an educator. But at the time I didn't know I was going to be an educator. When I was in high school, my Dad said to me, "Pat, you need to plan on having a career. You never know when you are going to be called upon to be the breadwinner in your family. And should you marry, you may never have to work," because in those days usually women didn't work, unless they just particularly chose to. But he said that you just never know. I found out later, again, that he was well ahead of his time. I ended up in majoring in home economics and went to the University of Tennessee, where they had an absolutely outstanding Child Development and Family Relations Program. In fact, at that time it was a stronger background than the educational department was. And so, I felt again, enriched by having a lot of child psychology. Also with a BS. degree, I had an awful lot of science and math, and as teacher, you really do need no matter what level, you really do need to understand science and math. So, upon graduation, I did marry and I did not really have any career plans, but almost immediately got into early childhood program on the Marine Corps Base, on Paris Island, South Carolina. That was a half-day program. The second year, I taught second grade. That was a very enriching year for me. I had forty-two children in my class. It was totally heterogeneous, never taught a day in my life, but I had this wonderful instructional supervisor that came in and she gave me some bare basics and she gave me some manuals, and you know, it was pretty easy what to figure out to do. Also, prior to my graduation from college, I worked one summer at Congressional School in Washington, DC and taught a summer program. And again, I was given a lot of freedom and I was able, because it was summer program, to do a lot of creative work. So, that took me in my early years of education. My children, our two children were born, two boys, Edwin and John, and we moved from South Carolina to Arlington, Virginia. And we lived there for just several years and then after that my husband was transferred to Roanoke, Virginia. Roanoke, Virginia was a place that allowed me to see what a good educational program could be Roanoke County, where we settled, was growing. There were lots of new people that settled, so we had lots of new ideas and there was a lot of freedom given to the people coming into the area. So, all of this kind of sets the scene for when I got my first teaching job in Roanoke County, which was at Green Valley Elementary School, when I taught second grade. And I thought that it was the most wonderful grade. I did that for four years and then they asked me to become a reading specialist which I did for a year. And then, because the county was growing so, the Penn Forest Elementary School was built and about two thirds of the students at Green Valley then formed the basis for Penn Forest. I came to Penn Forest as an Assistant Principal. I received my Master's during that time of when my children were young. I want to say right here that something I think is terribly important and that is that during this process my husband was very supportive of my aspirations and I didn't really aspire except to be as good as I can be in the profession I was in., which was teaching. And you know, because of continuing education requirements in the State of Virginia, I began to acquire some classes and reached a point which these classes could apply toward a Master's Degree and my husband said, "You go for it!" I say this because had he not been so supportive I probably wouldn't have taken the track that I did. But I had a Principal in Green Valley who was instrumental in giving me leeway and encouraging me to try new things. I had a husband that was supportive of that, and all of this has really played an important role in my becoming an administrator.
Q: And what school did you graduate from with your Master's?
A: I graduated from the University of Virginia.
Q: University of Virginia in what year?
A: In 1972 and in those days, when you went to get a Master's you had to have half of your work on campus. So, for two summers I lived on campus and I just immersed myself in what I considered to be the most and the best that I could find of educators, and professors,. and attended seminars, and we had, as part of our graduate study programs, we would obviously have our classes during the week, but then we would get together in the evenings. We had great support groups. We talked about when we became an administrator, what we might do.
Q: Wonderful. Could you talk a little about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principal ship and how that evolved?
A: Well, it evolved because my principal at Franklin, who was at Green Valley when I was, talked to me about this new school, and she asked me if I would be willing to come to the new school. And I told her yes, that I would, because frankly, I did whatever she suggested to me. I thought that was what I ought to do. But she felt like she would like me to be her assistant principal, and in those days, you didn't have to go through a lot of the hiring policies that you currently do. So her recommendation was accepted. And the next thing I knew I was an Assistant Principal working for ten months of the year. It was an exciting time because we were able to make decisions about the school, about how the school was - not so much as the design, but once the design was established how we were going to organize it; where the classes would be, what they would look like, what the teaching stations would look like, what the colors would look like, the kind of communication program that we were going to have with the parents. All of these things were brand new. I had never been an administrator before, I had no preconceived ideas, I don't believe that Ms. Franklin ever had an assistant principal and she, her style was to have me basically, shadow her. So we were more of a pair, a team. And the whole time I knew that she was definitely the person in charge. But she gave me leeway to go out and try new things. And when they worked, she would give me credit for them. But when they didn't work, you know, she never blamed me. She never made me feel guilty, she gave me encouragement because we tried.
Q: Is this there person you feel was a mentor towards you?
A: She was a mentor to me, but not only towards me but for other people. She was such a strong leader we called her Moses, because she would lead us any place and we would follow her. Somehow, she would just come in and find the good things that you were doing. And it just encouraged you to work harder and try more things. She was really big in attending workshops, and bringing back new ideas and sharing those ideas. If you can visualize maybe a district-wide meeting in a vast auditorium, and Mrs. Franklin would - and we would meet and Mrs. Franklin would march us down in the front tow. We would follow Moses to the front row. But she knew that we wouldn't go to sleep down there and that we would be better participants. You see, she never wanted to miss an opportunity to learn. And I gained so much from her for that. Another thing that I gained from her that was carried throughout my career was that if children were in trouble, they were struggling, she would be the mother or grandmother to them. And she would let them know that it was okay, and that things would get better. And she would always something positive for that child. And you know, if you find something positive about the child, then the parents of the child are really going to be on your side. And her positive approach to people was something that really felt comfortable for me. So, she was a great mentor.
Q: It sounds that way, that you had a good relationship with her.
A: I think it was because she gave me freedom, but also there was this element of respect. Another attribute that she had that I've tried to carry through my career was that if for some reason a staff member was having a problem or they had not been successful at a previous school, she would just take that upon her self - almost a crusade to make that person successful. And you know, you think of a person being successful and you treat them as if they are successful, you are by and large going to get success. You are going to get the best that you can get from them. And in the years that succeeded after she retired, I never ever forgot that. And I think that that has helped me through many difficult times to realize there can be success, there will be success, if you don't find it just keep looking. You haven't looked the right way, haven't seen it from the right level or the right angle.
Q: That is the kind of mentor we all hope for. It is often said that the principal ship should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement and participation in civic groups and community organizations. Which community organization groups have the greatest impact?
A: The organization that I have spent the most time with is my church. In the role of a church member I have taught Sunday School and after I became an administrator, I taught adults, which was an interesting balance from what my early training was. Particularly, I have done a lot with training families in parenting and communication. I've even done money management, that sort of thing. I also have sung in the church choir for just about as long as I can remember. And uhm, the church that I attend, is in or near the school. where I taught or as an administrator. And what that has done is given people a chance to see me as an educator and then me in a volunteer role or in a service role. Through my work in the church, I also had other positions; such as I was the first woman member of the Pastor Staff Committee, I was the first chairman of the Finance Committee, and I was the first woman lay leader in our church and I have served as a result on some district and state committees. This has given me a broad overview to meet people on a variety of levels and lifestyles. It also helped me grow professionally. I've done some civic things basically that relate to the school; served on the local Mill Mountain Zoo committee, I've worked with the United Way, and have been a part of educational groups such as and Delta Kappa Gamma. But, primarily, my life has been spent in the school and the school committees. The PTA, I am very active in the PTA served on the county level. I have also served as President of the local Reading Association and served on the State Meeting Council and found that to be very rewarding.
Q: Wonderful. It has also been said that there is also a home-school gap and that more parental involvement in the schools need to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and with citizens who are important to the well-being of the school.
A: That's a great question! When our school, Penn Forest Elementary School was first built in 1972, it was built as an open-spaced school. At that time all of the schools being built in Virginia were being designed to being an open-spaced school.
Q: You were talking about the home-school gap and how you dealt with parents and citizens.
A: So, when the school was first built and designed because of the type of school it was and we had carpeting and at that time other schools did not have carpeting, we had a very flexible type of program. For example, reading groups were not held in chairs as a rule, there might be a reading group might be a circle on the floor. Well, needless to say, parents did not understand maybe, this style of school, nor did we have grades, we had conferences. So you see that parents didn't have grades coming home and they were wondering how their children were doing. So right away we realized that there was a gap between what the parents knew about our program. So what we started was a volunteer program for parents. And we encouraged the parents to get involved and we started out with probably fifteen volunteers. At the end of my tenure we had over four hundred volunteers, about two hundred and thirty, came in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. So what happened was once we got the parents into the school, we got them involved with what was going on. They came up with ideas of how they would help and how they could be supportive. They have already contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars almost all of which were put back into the school, what didn't go back into the school went to the PTA Organization or the parent volunteer organization. We also used parent, once-a-week, we had open reforms, and we would get the coffee pot and just say, "Come join the Principal!" or come have coffee with the Principal. And we learned a lot about what parent concerns were in the early years. As time went on, that didn't seem to be needed, because the parents were already in the school. So, that's kind of how we involved parents. The other thing is that we utilized parents in a way that was not detrimental to the children and the staff members, but helped them. And so parents over the years have felt like they were contributing and spending their time in a worthwhile manner. Teachers and staff members realized that parents had so much to give and they started making plans for parents. And I'll give you an example how this has been innovated: we had a committee that parents had asked this question to teachers - If you could have whatever you wanted in your classroom, what would that be? And then teachers began to brainstorm and say what would I have, would I props for plays, would I have classroom educational games, they would have guest speakers to come in. Well, this developed into what we called a Parent Enrichment Committee, which basically did this for every class. If a teacher, for example, was teaching science, or social studies, and they knew that they wanted to have for example, an Indian speaker, by the way getting a speaker from the American Indian Community is not an easy thing to do. And so the teacher would say, "Could help me with these speakers?" So the parents would do the research and come in with the resources, so it tuned out to be a really, really, good relationship, a partnership. The school program that we developed here was then used as a pilot even for state parents and volunteers. We' ve been really, really, excited about what has happened.
Q: So you became a prototype for other schools to copy.
A: You see, it seemed to me to be easier to get parents in and show them what you were doing than it was to spend all your time explaining. It was easier for them to see. And so because our school was in an area that was growing, and continued to grow over the years, we would have a lot of parent visitors that come into the school and it was always exciting them the school. Basically, you didn't have to explain anything, you just showed them what was going on, and so when parents settled into our school district, they made the choice to settle, I 've not tried to talk them into coming to this school. They made that choice because of what they had observed and what they wanted for their children. So, yes, it turned out to be a wonderful, wonderful partnership. Yes, I think it was a prototype and many other schools have used the same plan because it works.
Q: How would you go about motivating teachers?
A: Well, I think the best way to motivate teachers is to find them doing something good and glean that out. One of my favorite things to do was to walk through a classroom, I called it dip-sticking! But you can see something going on as your are walking through and you point that out to the teacher, either right then and there or you write a little note and leave on their desk, or put a note in their box. Something that I find is really good - if you see something going on in the classroom, you say, "Oh, boys and girls, I tell you, you are so lucky! Let me share with you what I have just seen! This makes me feel so happy!" While the children feel good about whatever it was that they did that was good, the teacher feels good because he/she feels responsible for having done an outstanding job. So everybody comes out a winner. Look for all those positive things that you can, that really makes a difference in how children learn. I think there is positive things and then there's positive things. I'm talking about motivating people, that help staff members know that they're being successful in what they're doing.
Q: As a kind of follow-up question to that, tell me how you would evaluate teachers, based on your philosophy.
A: Roanoke County has developed a plan over the years which I think is kind of outstanding. And that is that Roanoke County, and this is my style, separated evaluation from instructional supervision. And so all through the year, there really was a formal plan for instructional supervision that involved a lot of informal _________ and characteristics of that and evaluation. Evaluation itself, was done in the Spring, it was a formal process, but I, dare say there was never a surprise with a staff member. When we sat down over the evaluation, no one was ever surprised. So therefore, evaluation was never a threat. We took care of what might be problems or potential problems way ahead of time. And, by the time it got to the evaluation table, if it was a problem area, then I talked about the things we did to work on to help strengthen that area. So, for the most part it was not seen as a negative sort of thing. And because we separated it out, they were used to sit down with the teacher to talk about instruction, whether it be a formal conference, because you observed a formal lesson and were having a dialogue or just an informal one. Because you would have a dialogue with the teacher, that when the teacher comes to the evaluation table, is a stronger teacher. Its really like a celebration evaluation, because it is a celebration of all the wonderful things that had been accomplished. And the teacher also realizes, or the staff member, that in the evaluation procedure, that they would share the things that they felt really good about. But, also in the instructional process, that was always part of the instructional process, was what did you feel good about. So, while it may seem like they are entwined, it was really two separate processes.
Q: Great. Based on all those things, could you tell us some of the characteristics of what you would consider good effective teachers?
A: I think an effective teacher first needs to know the class and look upon the class as a group of individuals. And how the teacher can best meet the needs of each student, still realizing that it is a class. So, for the teacher to look at the students as what do they need, who are they. In other words, every teacher has an agenda she has to do and the state requires certain things, but at Penn Forest, she has leeway in how she comes about this. So I think good teachers need to have that flexibility. Good teachers need to know what effective instruction is. And as part of Roanoke County and as part of our school, we've had a lot of staff development about what good teaching is. And I would reinforce that when I would go into the classrooms and observe, and reinforce that at faculty meetings and reinforce it in weekly newsletters that would go out to the staff. So there was this constant awareness of what effective teaching is.
Q: Tell me Pat, this has been really wonderful! The next question is what does it take to be an instructional leader? What would be a good instructional leader?
A: First of all, I think that an instructional leader needs to know what good instruction is. I personally think that it helps if a leader has experienced success in the classroom for herself or himself. In the earlier years of being an administrator, I feel that my early success in the classroom carried over and there was some sort of awareness on the part of the staff and parents that I really knew what I was talking about because I had experienced success in the classroom. So, I think that believability has to be there. I think an instructional leader needs to be able to roll up her or his sleeves and demonstrate what you are talking about. And you can do that by actually getting in and teaching classes. One thing that really proved to be successful at our school, that from time to time teachers may need to be out of the classroom, perhaps they had an emergency doctor's appointment, or their child had a conference, or for whatever reason, they knew that they could come to me and I would teach the class. Or they had a parent conference that would extend beyond what they thought it was going to be, and in those situations, I would get in there and teach. That did two things, first, it gave me a chance to practice the skills that I had heard about and secondly, it gave them a chance to see it actually happening. I suppose demonstrating and being a role model is what we are talking about.
Q: One question that is always asked of principals is to describe your leadership style. And I would also be interested in the evolution of your leadership style.
A: I would say that my leadership style is positive because my nature is to be positive. I think one's leadership style reflects their basic personality. And that can be very good because we all are different and therefore, as leaders we approach whatever situation we're in from the standpoint of who we are and where we are. But I do approach life from a positive standpoint. I mention a little earlier that integrity is an important part of being a good leader. I want to take you back to my early years when I was at University of Virginia (UVA ) and we would be sitting around in our little circles in the evening discussing how we would do certain things and I decided the best way to be was to be democratic. At that time there was a lot being done on business, being democratic and giving people a say. Well, I found out early on that there's democratic and there's democratic. If you are democratic where everybody has equal say, I found that early on that it is really hard to get anything done. For example, if you have ten people representing a social club and you have ten different ideas, you are going to spend an awful amount of time developing a system in figuring out what you are going to do for a party. Over the years, I learned that being democratic took on a different role. That to be democratic and effective, you need to be organized and need to have a system. You can be democratic that you involve everybody in decision-making as to how to organize, how things are going to be set up. But it may mean not everybody is going to be involved in every decision. So, my leadership style developed from the early years thinking that it was going to be just completely democratic to realizing that that didn't totally work. And then I felt like, after the first third of my years as an administrator, that I probably pulled in pretty tightly to have tight control. Now, I also was a good listener and sought a lot of input. But eventually I felt the key responsibility was going to be mine to make decisions, if the decisions didn't seem to be forthcoming from the "body." In the last half of my administrative life, I found out that you can really have the best of both worlds. That you can delegate and through a democratic process you can really have everybody to be involved and you can have people making decisions and the decisions be something that is going to be - the decision would be good for everybody. But this didn't happen automatically, it evolved. It evolved from seeing what works and what was effective. At our school we basically had an organizational structure for every single group that met as a group. For example, the custodians met, I met with the custodians. We didn't meet when we had problems, we met routinely, like once a month. How are things going, what do you find to difficult in your job or frustrating or what would be more helpful to you if you could have this in your job. What is going well? Same thing with the cafeteria ladies. They would take a lunch break around ten-thirty every morning, and I could always find them there, so I would go and we would chat. A lot of times we would chat for no reason other than getting a feel and getting input from one another. Basically they needed to see me as not a threat, so when the time came when we had to make some really tough decisions, they realized that I would be on their side. But that I was able to be the person responsible for the overall picture. To be a leader you have to be willing to make those tough decisions. So, I found by meeting with the custodians and the cafeteria people, by meeting with the para-professionals, by meeting with the secretaries, by meeting with the teachers, by meeting with the teachers by grade levels, in small groups you began to get a picture. You begin to establish trust. So, I would say that is my leadership style. Eventually we went from having these small groups that met periodically to then having what we called a head teacher's meeting, which our planning council, which was held about once a month, if needed. And these people would bring ideas from the subgroups into the big group. And sometimes it was just a matter of communicating of what's going on, sometimes it was a matter of a need to make some decisions. What happened over the years was that we got real good about making decisions. We also, when things didn't go well, we got better at being able to decide why they fell apart, why it didn't go well. Now I will give you a great example because I think that this is a classic example of leadership. And what I did when there was really a big glitch. We had invited a person, a speaker, well, the person invited herself to come and talk to the staff about foreign language. And so I said fine and that the supervisor was going to do this. When she got there and she told them about plans for foreign language and that all children would be introduced to foreign language it would be in the classes and so forth. She really got a lot of flack from the staff. Number one, she wasn't prepared for that, number two, while the staff wasn't ready to hear what they heard. And at the end of the meeting it was really a bad scene, I think, for everyone. The staff came to me and they said they were sorry that they acted this way. We began to talk about what could have prevented it. I went to our guidance counselor and I said, "That it was just about the worst meeting in the world. What do you think? What happened?" She said to me, "I'm not sure there was a clear message of why that person was here and the expectations." So I then realized, ah-ha!, that was a case of where I as a leader even though I had said that this person is coming and I had talked to this person, it really still wasn't clear. And so I realized that I had to take the responsibility for that. Now, I will tell you that it was real hard for me to take a look at myself in a way that, you know, maybe, I had been ultimately responsible, But out of that then, at the next faculty meeting, I said to the faculty, I said, " You know, we all have our annual goals." And I said, "I want to share with you what my goal is. My goal is to have my faculty meetings to be effective, to be meaningful, so that we all come out with clear expectations and we won't have a repeat of what happened before. And in order to do this, this is what I am going to do..." Then I listed two things that I was going to do to make the faculty meetings more effective. And I said, "What do you suggest?" They took over from there and they said, "Well, we need to...." We need to respect everyone's opinion, the same people talk all the time. We need to not do that. They came up with a plan and so they then set up their own procedures and then from then on we were able to evaluate the meetings as to these guidelines, that we had established together. So, out of what could have been potentially a good scene for everyone, out of that came a real strength-building process. Then I was able to use that same plan or outline for every problem situation that came upon, you know, or some variation. It also taught me that if you are open and you're honest, and forthright and your integrity is in place, then your staff is going to support you. So they didn't condemn me, because I hadn't done all, we were all in this together. So that's how being democratic has evolved. I could go and tell story after story where something like that has happened, but you see how the ownership has come. That's the democratic part. It takes time to establish this, you just don't do this in even one year. But when it happens, and this process falls into place, it is so beautiful, and it is worth all of the work and time that it takes.
Q: Wonderful! I am going to give you some interesting questions. Tell me the type of people you find very difficult to work with, the types of teachers.
A: The types of people I find difficult to work with, especially teachers are those people unwilling to try things or to change. And from time to time you will have a new curriculum, a new manual, and new ideas of presenting maybe just basic information in a new way, and I find frustrating when people don't see that there are new ways to do things and seem unwilling to try.
Q: Would the Standards of Learning come under that heading?
A: They do somewhat, but you know a teacher has a lot of power. A teacher can go in the classroom and basically do whatever they want to do. They really could if there weren't certain checks and balances. And I believe in professionalism in the staff and treat the staff as professionals. And I expect them to grow professionally. But in most instances, people eventually do get on board. I think for good example, a real good example of this would be use of computers. I still see a lot of resistance to use of technology computers for example, for classroom instruction. That's just an example. But I think that people miss out on a whole lot when they are unwilling to try new things.
Q: Pat, one of the questions that is being asked in the field a great deal is how many women have now become administrators, school principals. You have been in education a long time and how have you seen that change?
A: When I first came into education there were far more men that came into administrative roles than were women. In the elementary program a lot of men were former coaches, but that's to say that's neither here nor there, but that was a fact. As time has gone on, more women have come into the administrative ranks because for one reason women have stayed in the field of education longer - long enough to make that transition from the classroom into supervision/ administration. Two, frankly there are fewer men in the elementary profession as teachers so that there is a smaller base to pull from. I do want to tell a poignant story of how women have changed. When I became principal we needed an assistant principal, because I was moving from the assistant principalship to the principalship. So a man was hired, as a matter of fact he was a doctoral student at Tech, for that position. After he left and became a principal, another man came and became the assistant principal and he left and became a principal. And the person we considered at that time for the assistant principalship was a woman. And it was said to me, "I don't know about having two women together, two women as administrators. Usually it is better if you have a balance of a man and a woman." And then the person said to me, "You know, you have shown a woman can be a good administrator. And I have confidence in your judgment and if you feel that this woman would make a good assistant principal and you would be able to be a good team, then we will take your recommendations. So in the County, I felt like I blazed a trail for having a person be in a role based on their ability to perform, not upon their gender. So, that was kind of a neat story. Currently, there are far more women in the administrative role at the elementary level. At the secondary level, our County is seeking or seeks to put women in administrative roles in secondary schools because its been shown that they are successful. So, time will tell.
Q: I hate to make stereotypes, but do you think there is a difference between male and female administrators?
A: That's a hard question. By nature, I think that men tend to be able to make decisions maybe a little bit more quickly, sometimes they are able to make decisions with less "flack." Sometimes they can make decisions quickly they may end up making a decision that not everyone feels good about. I would have to say that within men administrators in our County I feel like we probably have equal strengths. To kind of add an additional comment to what we were talking about the evolution of women, I think that when I became a principal, I was the first young person to be appointed as an administrator. The other women administrators were much older and so that there were other young men and I think they did not know how to react to a young woman, they didn't know what she was going to be like. And I think as time went on they realized that I was willing to work hard and I felt like I had earned their respect. We did that by really working together and communicating with one another. So I feel real proud of the relationship that I have been able to have with those men and women.
Q: I guess as one of the other questions that I would like to ask is what do you see as the future trends in education and will those trends also change the roles of administrators?
A: Oh, what I see as future trends. One is the basic problem of resources, money and financial support. And I really don't have an answer for that. Except to say that I think the way education is going to need to go is to change in terms of how the school is organized. For example, currently schools run on a nine-and-a-half month calendar and you have the summer off. This is based on the agrarian society that we used to have, you go and pick cotton and things like that. Well, that is rather absurd in this day and time, but always dies slowly. I think that there are several important things that need to be taken into consideration and I think a flexible school calendar would do this. I feel that we need more time for planning and staff development for teachers and staff members. I feel that learning doesn't stop in June and begin again in September. So, I foresee the development of a year-round calendar. Certain staff members would be employed on a year round basis and that students will go year round to school but they may not actually go more days than they are currently going. They would have two or three weeks off and during that time they could work on special projects, they could do writing and reading, which is so difficult for them to find the time to do, but learning could be spread out. What I am saying is we no longer live in the world we lived in the 1800's and I think we are going to have to wake up to that fact. If we can show the public that we have a better way or a way that makes more sense with society as it is today, that the money will come, the resources will come. So I think we need to work a little bit more on learning and a different calendar year realizing that education will cost more in terms of staffing, if we have people that work year round. I also see this as a way of getting more equal gender into the profession, because some people do need a year round salary, not only for gender, because we have fewer men coming into the process, but we would have a richer variety of people coming into the profession itself. Because if I know that I am going to be able to work for twelve months of the year and that I can and that is what I choose to work for twelve months of the year, and I have some choices of when I am going to be off and when I am going to work then I might be much more inclined to go into education than opposed to banking or nursing or something else. For right now, it is really difficult to attract your top people into education, when they know that they would only be hired for ten months out of the year. So I think there is an exciting opportunity ahead of us. I also see more interaction between business and mentoring in school. I think that children and youth need to see why education is important, they need to see it actually being applied. We think back to Thomas Jefferson and when UVA was established and the professors taught by gathering students around in their homes and sat and had much more of a dialogue and the early apprenticeships that we all know about how they were so successful in skills and learning skills. So I think that education is going to need to go this way. And when it does then it will be really really exciting and I think that we will see education take the top level that it deserves.
Q: Great! We've had a lovely time looking at the school a little bit and you've mentioned and we watched the interactions. This is known as an exceptional school. So what we would like to know is what is the most important component that makes this school an exceptional school and would you define your role in that process?
A: Well, that's a big one. One word that I would use to describe what is happening or has happened is the word, empowerment. Through this democratic process that I talked about and people feeling ownership of what goes on, the term empowerment - and I feel that when I reached the point in my career where I could feel comfortable empowering other people to make decisions, to develop new strategies, and I would stand back and be the cheerleader. I then crossed that bridge to a higher level of leadership. Let me give you several examples. The first is about ten years ago, we became concerned in the early childhood programs of our County with the kindergarten program. It appeared to us to be more like a first grade program. And developmentally it just didn't make sense for five year olds to be doing things six year olds were supposed to do. Not only was it happening at our school but it was happening statewide. So I went back to the kindergarten teachers in March and I said to them, "If you could design a program that you would like to have and do anything you would want to do, arrange your room, and you had whatever resources you need, what kind of program would you have?" Well, they didn't do too much with it that first year and I came back in the Fall and I said, "Okay, what kind of program do you want to have?" And I think they thought that gosh, maybe she wasn't serious and so I posed that question again and I told them I was going to ask them again at the end of the year. And to make a long story short, by the next year, they had completely revamped their entire program. They had rearranged their room, their room was, as in kindergarten, as with anyone familiar with elementary school, with what they call the "housekeeping center", well it used to be a rather large area. But as we got more towards the first grade program it was relegated to a tiny little corner. What these teachers did is that they opened up part of their room and made the housekeeping center the central part, they set it up like a home, with a kitchen, but they also had a living room with computers, and they had books. In other words, it was like what we hoped children would experience. They developed their own curriculum, they developed their own reporting system. As a result of that I was able to serve on the Statewide Committee and we completely rewrote the standards for kindergarten for the State of Virginia. Another thing that happened then several years later, and what happened was because the kindergarten teachers met with success other people on the staff felt and saw that this empowerment could come and if they really wanted to try something they would have my support. And so this was a fifth grade teacher, who loved and taught science and she loved the hands-on approach. And so she came to me and she said, "How would I feel if she completely redid her science curriculum?" And she set it up as a lab, and I said, "Well, yes, that would be great! We all know that we learn better by doing!" So, she spent a year developing this, went to graduate school and attended classes, worked with the science supervisor to be sure that she wasn't leaving anything out. She used the textbooks as a resource and not as a basis for her work. Well she ended up being voted by her students as being the "Outstanding Teacher of the Year." She said, "You know I think my classroom would be more effective if I had it set up with tables instead of desks." The County bought special tables for her so that her science was taught in a lab setting. Then she took that aspect and opened that up for teaching English and Literature. And then had a more of a lab and group approach in the teaching of English and Reading, and a lot of writing and public speaking. The point of all of this is that this teacher developed something that was much more appropriate for her students. And she knew, she knew better than any of us because she worked with them. And the final example of empowerment - we talked about the important role of parents and their involvement. One day a parent was volunteering in the classroom, and this little boy was struggling. The parent mentioned it to the teacher and the teacher said that he needs glasses, he broke his glasses and his family cannot afford it. Well, this parent went out and found the resources - found a doctor to check his eyes, someone else to provide the glasses. From that this parent said that no child should ever have be without - without clothing, without medical attention, without glasses, without dental and so from that a Caring Committee was started. And so at this point no child in this school goes without being able to have clothing, medical, dental needs. Any time that there is a circus in town, tickets are bought for those children who can't afford it. Now, at either Christmas or Hanukkah, the PTA supports about twenty, over twenty, about twenty-five families, and providing gifts for the children and for the parents. And some people give money, some people give toys or the clothing or some people wrap! I mean it takes a long time to wrap these presents. Any time we have a play here at school, this Committee pays for every single child in the entire school to go to - no parent has to pay anything. They want all the children to be equal. Well, this came as a result of a parent's feeling empowered when they saw a need, where you get this feeling of ownership or what we call synergy, where we all put what we each have together and collectively we're stronger than we would be individually. And it just builds upon itself. And its been my pleasure to be able to talk with the two of you!!
Q: This was wonderful. Thank you very much.
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