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Q: Mr. Sherman, I want to thank you first , for consenting to this interview. Both Greg and I do deeply appreciate it. We would like to begin this morning by having you tell us a little bit about your background, your early childhood interests, hobbies, so forth, where you grew up, and we'll go forward from there.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I am originally from Elkins, West Virginia. I spent most of my life there except, from 1959 I have been a resident of Virginia. I went to Elkins High School. I graduated from there in 1953. I entered Davis and Elkins college and, graduated from there in 1957. Like I said I was born and raised in Elkins West Virginia and got involved basically in athletics. I started out in college to be an accountant but, one day I decided I did not want to be cooped up in a room all day the rest of my life so I switched to education. My family background, I have a sister that is now deceased, both parents are deceased. Eventually I invested a year or two years in the service, when I got out of the service I came down to Virginia. How I got here in Virginia is real interesting. My mother kept clipping things out of the paper, the job openings. She took one out of the paper that said that Carl Tasey, a boy that I went to college with, had resigned as the basketball coach at Bedford High School. She saved the clipping and insisted I apply. At that time I could care less if I went back to school. I was single, had a few coins in my pocket and was enjoying life. To satisfy her I applied down here, came down for an interview and, accepted the job. I've been here ever since.
Q: Very good. Would you take a moment and discuss your education and the preparation for the field of teaching. I think you said you have been in education for thirty two years. Could you tell us how many years as a teacher, as a principal, and at what levels?
A: I have been at all levels. I started out as a high school physical education teacher and a coach. I moved from there to a secondary school as a principal. I went from there to an elementary school as a principal, and went to another elementary school as a principal. Finally I went to Staunton River Middle School were I finished my thirty-two years as a principal. Like I said I have been to Davis Elkins College and received my B.S. degree. I did my masters work at the University of Virginia plus, several additional hours at the University of Virginia.
Q: Would you talk about your ah, some of the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship.
A: Well, my wife and I were planning on leaving Bedford County. We had already accepted jobs in Prince William County and we had resigned. That summer I was working for the school board. As time came closer to leaving, she got a little leery about it. She kind of liked Bedford County. I was down on my knees painting at the school board office when the new superintendent came in. I just happened to ask him if there were any job vacancies would he consider re-hiring me. And, at the time there was an assistant principalship open at Liberty High School. I talked to the principal and so that is how I started in my administrative career.
Q: Did you intend on starting or re-entering as an assistant principal or were you just intent on regaining a job in Bedford?
A: I was just intent about regaining a job is what I said. Like I said my wife was a little bit leery about going that far north in Virginia.
Q: O.K. You really didn't have the motivation to become a principal but, obviously once you came into that position you decided you liked it. I'd like for you to discuss with us some of your motives and how those motives have changed over the years about the principalship.
A: Like I said the only reason I accepted it was because I didn't want to leave Bedford County but, once I got into it and then I began to work more on my masters degree then I became more interested and motivated. I got to thinking more about the age group of the child I'd be working with and, I enjoy working with kids, especially the younger ones. So, my motivation from that point on was to try to better myself to be able to help kids as I went up the ladder. I had no intentions of going on for a higher degree at that time. I was mainly interested in getting certified for the principalship.
Q: Are there any experiences in your life that constituted important decision points in your career? And how do you feel about them now?
A: Well, I can go back to my high school days and ah, probably the most influential person whose been a coach in those days. I came from a broken home and, he kind of served as a father figure for me. I just looked at him and felt that he did so much to help kids when they were growing up. I made that decision to try to pattern my style and my life after his and try to take some of that experience and maybe I can help some kids in some way.
Q: You mentioned before that you have been in all three levels of public education. Would you take us on a walk through your favorite school and, I'll let you decide which level you will walk us through, but please advise us of it. Would you describe the appearance of the school and any unusual features of the building.
A: I enjoyed working with the middle school kids and, you know, you've been here, I was real impressed with the building. I came from an elementary school and it was not quite as new as the one that I came to. We had at that time, when I came in seventh, eighth, and ninth graders in the school. So I functioned a year or two in that situation. One day the superintendent came by and said we are going to turn this into a middle school. He gave me nothing, he just said , here it is go ahead and do it. So that summer, right before school was out, we organized what we have now in Bedford County. The school itself, I was impressed with, in fact when they first opened I was interested in coming out, but I talked to the principal then and I was not willing to do what he asked me to do. So I was not interested in all those night activities that I would have to do, so I put that on the back burner. But given the opportunity to come out to Staunton River Middle School I jumped at the chance. I felt that being there would give me another insight into a different area of the county. I've spent my eight or so years here.
Q: Are there any individual features of the building that you remember?
A: Well, we had so many students, that we have especially in the locker area. We were having difficulties there getting the kids in and out of their lockers. Really no unusual features. I like the area we had for the band room and to have our separate band. We had a very good gymnasium. We had a real good physical education program for the kids. Like I said the newness of the building and we were able to adapt to basically a middle school concept. It wasn't built exactly for a middle school but we could alter some of the things and make it easily adaptable.
Q: Let me ask you to think back a few years, thirty two to be exact, and I know you came fresh out of college. You probably had a philosophy of education and what I'd like to ask you to do is explain that philosophy then, explain your philosophy now and explain to us how it evolved over the years.
A: Well back then my philosophy probably would have been narrow. I just wanted to get a job. I had been in the military service. I had spent two years in the army and gotten out. Back then my philosophy was basically you get out and make the kids do what they will do and down the road someplace you'll have success. But as I moved on up over the years I've kind of broadened that a little bit. I feel that all kids can learn but, I think we have to meet their style and their needs and try to get them to understand what is down the road for them. Prepare them for what big role or whatever decision they make or choose to follow throughout their lives.
Q: Thank you. Could you tell us how did you transfer this to the faculty at Staunton River Middle and, how did it evolve at that school?
A: Well, we tried to like I said my position, I feel that you work with the faculty. You get them to do what you want them to do. You do that by setting an example. You may go out and offer suggestions, you may get two or three people that you work with, and they think along the same line that you are and then you plant them out in the faculty. You try to get them to influence other faculty members. We did a lot or research on the middle school. We visited other schools Basically said we are going to a middle school and, if you don't want to be here, then we will help you find another position.
Q: I'm sure you have had several events or experiences, if you will, that have influenced your management philosophy. Could you discuss those with us?
A: Well, I'm proud to say I have served under about three or four different superintendents and, all of them have been different. I had a principal that basically let me do all the discipline. That is one reason why the at the secondary school I chose to get out of on my own. I was never involved with any curriculum planning or anything like that. My main job was discipline, we had thirteen hundred or fourteen hundred students with just two of us doing it. I got kind of burned out. So, I figured whenever I got into the principalship, I got a chance to work with people, then I would train them to help me and, I tried to use people in their expertise. I am not a reading person, so I would rely on my reading people in the reading area. If I'm not a mathematician then I would work with the people in math and let them kind of advise me. Then we have a shared decision type decision.
Q: That seems to me to be a technique that you used to create a successful climate for learning. Are there others that you used and would you describe those both, the successful and unsuccessful, for us?
A: I think you have to say we will or else. So some times you have to go that way. But like I say, I've tried to take people and place them where they will be successful.
Q: We all know that teachers have certain expectations of principals and, principals have expectations of successful teachers. Could you describe for us the professional and personal characteristics of the quote, unquote, good principal, as you see him.
A: I think a good principal, he gets to know basically his kids. He may not know all of them by name. I had a technique that I used to use when I would be walking up to a student. I may not know his name or her name, I would call them by a different name. They would say my name is not John. Oh, what is it? Then they would tell me and, I would call them by it. I think you have to have good community relations. I think you have to have good relations with your kids. And, I think you have to set a good example for your faculty. I would not ask them to do anything I would not do myself. And I tried to give them, for example, I like individuals who are kind of innovative. If they would come to me with a project, maybe they had gone to a conference and said hey, I saw this can I try it? Yes. Go ahead. And I would offer them funds if funds were available, to fund it properly. For example we had the first library that was, I don't remember what you call it, I forgotten it now, its called networking, in the county. And it came from a librarian who had gone to a librarians meeting. We funded half of it and, she took the bull by the horns in getting a grant. So we had that first library. I always gave the teachers the opportunity to function as they wanted to in the classroom. It was their classroom and as long as they could figure out a way for the kids to learn, that was up to them. I am not a dictator academically.
Q: Are there other things on this list of things that you perceive as things that teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: The only thing they expect is the principal to control the school. I think they expect the principals to protect them in situations that they may get into. For example, if it's a discipline problem, or if it's a difficult parent. I am not saying the teacher is always right but, we owe it to the teacher maybe in a confrontation, to basically support them. But, after the situation cools down or the people leave, then I think that I look for that teacher to explain to them why and how I would handle it, or how I want them to handle it. That's the way I look at things.
Q: Could you describe to us again, both personal and professional, the demands that were placed upon the principals by their employers both at the beginning of your tenure and near the end of your tenure?
A: Well, the first superintendent I worked under said you belonged to Bedford County except one hour on Sunday. So that was expected that you were on call basically twenty four hours a day. But, what I liked about him was if you made a mistake, he would bring you in the your office, sit you down, and tell you what you had done wrong and how he wanted it handled. How he would have done it. It wasn't just coming out to school and jumping all over you. The last one I served under to be completely frank and honest was kind of dictatorial. You basically did what was expected of you and in no uncertain terms. Sometimes you can function under things like that and sometimes you can't. I served under one that could probably have cared less, I mean he was there and a good P.R. man. If you went to him you could get basically anything you wanted as far as funds and what have you. Sure here it is take it. But the expectations under the first one I served under and the last one I served under were higher. You knew were you stood and, I survived.
Q: Having a little personal knowledge of your history in the county, being here almost as long as you have, I know that there is one more superintendent in there between the three that you described. Is there anything particular about that superintendent as far as the expectations that you remember?
A: Well, the first one that I served under in Bedford County was a unique situation. We had a county superintendent plus then the city had their own school board. So really the principal of the school and the superintendent (he hired and was basically the man in charge) although he had to report to the county superintendent. So basically that was the difference there. I mean here again it was back in 1959 and everything was kind of smooth and calm. Basically there was not that much pressure, that is, compared to today, the pressure that I think, is unnecessarily is put on school administrators.
Q: Thank you. A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and discuss some techniques which worked for you and an incident in which your approach failed.
A: Like I said, basically you lead by setting an example and you try to take the people were you want them. You can either lead them by the hand or you can set an example were you can take other people and use them to guide to reach your goal. I can't remember a failure right off but, I'm sure I had some. Let me think about that one a little bit.
Q: There are some who argue that, more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help, building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue. If you were king, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: If I was the king in my domain? For one thing I would become a little bit more personable about the situation. I would try to give these principals a little bit more leeway running their schools. Although I think there is certain philosophies that you have in different areas in your schools system and certain goals that each school has to attain. But I think too that you need to give the principals a little bit more latitude. Let them feel free to function in a non-threatening atmosphere. I would try to involve them more in the overall day-to-day operation of the schools in the school system. Plus I would get a little more help in the central office so I could go out and do what I am supposed to do. Let somebody take care of the particular areas that need to be done in the school system. Get out and visit the schools, get in and out, be seen.
Q: With the present emphasis on accountability at all levels how will this philosophy fit in?
A: I think it will fit in pretty good. You still hold the people accountable. There is still accountability built into the thing, I mean I leave you in charge of this school, then it nestles with you the certain goals and objectives to achieve during the year. Then if you don't meet those, than I can hold you accountable for them.
Q: Let's say we have somebody coming into the office who is really interested in administration and is considering a job in administration. What would your advice to that person be?
A: In hushed tone- You want to cut that thing off? Seriously though, I think the person and I'm looking at it from a broad perspective, I'm not looking at it from the narrow perspective now. I think a person comes into administration, I'd say go ahead and do it. I think you can have a lot of influence in the community and with the kids if that person is sincere. I think you need to go into it with an open mind. Your time is not yours, you'll be working a lot of hours. But, I would advise him to go into it if he asked me.
Q: A little earlier I asked you what teacher expectations for the principalship were. Now I would like to ask you about the requirements, the ideal requirements, for principal certification. Would you please describe what you feel are the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss the appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?
A: Okay, first of all I think the principal needs to be a teacher. Just like I think that teachers basically should have children. I think you should be a teacher first then, that gives you a table to operate from, a level table to operate from with the personnel that you will be dealing with. Because if I ask a teacher to do something I should be able to go in and demonstrate for that person how to do it. But if I can't than I found out what I couldn't do a lot of times I would get somebody to come in and work with the teacher. But I think the principal has to be a teacher. He don't have to be an expert in all areas but at least I can go in and give a demonstration. That way the teacher can see me teach that particular class. I think the principal needs to get into the classroom, just in and out. Not going in with a pen and pencil and pad and pencil to take notes but just to make sure that the teachers knows that he or she is around.
Q: You sort of led into my next question because there are those that say the principal should be the instructional leader of the school and, then there are those who say the person must be above all a good manager. Would you give us your views on this issue and describe your own style?
A: I think the principal really should be an instructional leader first and then the managerial part of it comes in later. I think the instructional program is the most important part of the school system. So I would prefer that an individual be adept in an instructional area. It could be at elementary, middle school, or secondary area. Managing a lot of times if you have good help say at secretary well that management end and financial, although the principal is ultimately responsible for that, if you have good support system than you can go out and do the instructional end of it. If you are in a situation with an assistant principal give them some responsibility, don't just narrow them down to say discipline. Give them some instruction but, make sure that they get back to you on a constant basis. Give them the latitude to function, that is why they are there. They are not there for just a long term or lifetime job. If you are hiring, then you get to hire your own assistant principal and, you hire that person for a specific reason.
Q: There are also those who say that a principal should be active in community activities. Could you discuss your involvement with community activities during your tenure and, please note any community organizations or groups that had the greatest influence on you.
A: I belong to the local PTA, and I think that is an investment, I have been in the Ruritan Clubs and I have been in the Lions Club. Basically the Lions Club has been the most influential because they have dealt basically with scholarships for the kids and, I have been able to lend a helping hand to it from that end. To make sure our community based program was helping kids.
Q: It has been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. Would you please give us your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and the citizens who were important to the well being of your school?
A: I think it is most important that the parents get involved with the schools, in fact there ought to be some way to hold the parents responsible for some of these kids. Both of you all know that a lot of times you try to get the parent involved and they won't. The avenues are there, you can always present the avenues. You have different ways, you've got the PTA but then sometimes you just have to get right down to the nitty gritty and say "hey, I need you here", Johnny's having a problem and I want you here or Johnny won't be. So you have to really work around all angles, I don't think you can have one way of getting a parents involvement. In some ways are just off the top of your head that just happen get a parent involved.
Q: A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay plans and merit pay in recent years. Would you give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you had with such approaches.
A: I haven't had any involvement with merit pay and I guess maybe our system here is a ladder type thing. I never knew were I stood on ours, really. You didn't each year fluctuated so much, you thought you were getting a raise and the next thing you knew you got the exact same salary. I can't see how merit pay would work. You have to have somebody to evaluate somebody else to evaluate another person. I wouldn't be in favor of it like I said you really would have to be to me up on basically everything. Up to snuff and be willing to fight two or three battles and make a decision on who was better than so-and so and so-and-so down the hallway. I wouldn't be much in favor of that.
Q: Okay, that leads into our next question, would you describe for us your approach to evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation.
A: The only evaluation system I have been actually exposed to is the one we have here in Bedford County. But, I feel it's a good system, it worked for me. I think first of all you need to get to know your teachers and know their strengths and weaknesses. Secondly, you need to be willing to help that individual instead of if there is something wrong in the classroom or something they are doing doesn't meet the school standards then I think you owe it to them to help them and give them some suggestions to alleviate the situation. For example if a person is having difficulty in reading for example. The person is having trouble organizing a reading program, they need some help in reading diagnostics and such, then me not being the expert I should go out and find that individual some help. Maybe assign him a mentor to help him overcome his difficulties. And I think I owe it to the teacher to give him all the help I can give. I think you need to be in the classroom observing and be able to document what you've studied. Then when it comes time for dismissal or what have you, than you need to have that documented. I think you have to have the ground work laid, but first you have to be willing to help that individual overcome some of the problems that they may be having.
Q: That sort of leads us to a question here because sometimes I know you and a teacher won't agree. And that brings up the subject of teacher grievances. Would you give us your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach in handling such teacher dissatisfaction.
A: I think that the grievance procedure has a place because I think at times you'll have some administrator that for some reason may have a petty dislike for an individual. I think that it helps to protect the individual plus it helps to protect the administrator. You can file that grievance and, I don't think it has to be from a negative stand point, I think it can be positive because it will help you as an administrator plus the teacher has her way of coming back at me so to speak. Making me more aware of being positive in my statements, make sure of what I'm talking about. Instead of just blanket saying of something being wrong. But, I think a teacher has that right to do that. I have had a couple filed against me. But, I think we were able to sit down and come to some understanding were I didn't lose and neither did the teacher win. But we came to a compromise and I felt both of us benefited by doing this. I saw a different of that particular individual and hopefully that particular individual saw a different side of me.
Q: And of course teacher dismissal is always a factor too. Could you discuss your involvement in such activities and give us your views on it.
A: Well I think basically before a person is dismissed I'll go back to the evaluation thing, before you dismiss an individual you have to have pretty good documentation. The problem, you have to have documentation and how you have tried to help that individual overcome that problem. You may have pulled in outside people to help with that problem. Then if the teacher does not over an extended period of time or a particular period of time than I think you have basically no choice as long as it is documented and your documentation can stand up than I think you have that right and responsibility to do that instead of letting somebody hang on year after year after year.
Q: Please tell us about the role of the assistant principal in your school. How would you or how did you utilize such personnel while on the job? Could you describe for us the most effective assistant principal with whom you have had the opportunity to serve and if you know what became of that person?
A: I think the assistant principalship is a training ground first of all. My philosophy was they will do anything in my school except sign checks. And I wasn't worried about somebody taking my job. Okay? I wasn't afraid to give them responsibility and hold them responsible for that. So that's how I functioned. I ended up with two and I gave each of them some definite responsibilities but, I felt that they could be involved in a lot of things outside their responsibilities. I don't think you can narrow it down to one is responsible for discipline and the other is instruction. I think you have to involve them in the total program. That is why they are there. The assistant principal that I had, well I've had several that have gone into the principalship. I am not going to make mention of any particular one I think all of them have done pretty good. I know one of them got out of administration whether it was because of me or what I know one got out. The other two, three, four are still in school administration.
Q: For those that are still in administration, and I appreciate the fact that you identified several, are there any common characteristics that you see in all of them?
A: Yeah, I think all of them are people individuals. They have good people skills good people relationships. I think they are willing to help teachers and others and I think all of them had their own strengths and weaknesses. But basically they had an understanding where they wanted to go, they were all goal oriented and all of them now have reached a goal they had set for themselves.
Q: Were going to shift gears here a little bit and talk about schools. Could you explain to us the characteristics that you see in our most effective and our least effective schools?
A: In your most effective schools I think you can have basically one thing to be an effective school. If you have your principal, your teaching staff, your supportive staff, I think they have to be concerned basically with kids. If they do not understand kids or have a liking for kids then I don't think you will have an effective school. I think that is the under lying factor. I think then the other thing you have to show a concern for kids then you bring the parents along and, you can see that in the development of the community. You can see the concern. I've been around, especially in the middle school I had the chance to visit all the elementary schools in the attendance zone. You could really see and feel in each school were there was concern for kids by the parents coming in and out. We talked to parents from different schools and their pleasure in the school, their support of the schools came out. I think basically effective school is one were it's a kid oriented school. They are there for the kids not for my personal gain or somebody else's personal gain.
Q: What features would you say characterize a less than successful school?
A: Well I think if you were to go into a least effective school you would go into one were you wouldn't see a group of happy kids. I think you would see a lot of grumbling I think you would see a lot of discipline problems. I think you would see unhappy teachers, not everyone, but a lot of unhappy teachers and, I think you would see an administrator probably that would sit behind a desk and not get out and associate with the staff in the school.
Q: During the past decade I guess bigger is better has become the philosophy of many school boards and school divisions. Would you discuss your views on this phenomenon and suggest an ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional learning?
A: Well I don't particularly agree that bigger is better. I think if you have a school of maybe about twelve to thirteen hundred students you can offer a comprehensive program. With a school of two to three thousand I think you kind of lose some of the community type of things. You are involved in one school over on this side and one school over here like I said in the previous question it has to be a community school. I think you can have your assistant principals in charge of buildings in different areas or different grade levels but, it all boils down to were I think you can offer a lot more. For example, the governors school. I think when you bus those kids out of here well, I think you can do just as well, if you had your kids here and keep them within the county. We have enough certified and professional people that we can do the same thing. I think that smaller too can be a detriment because you can't offer enough classes or courses to meet the needs of some of these kids. You have to come up with a median number of some kind because all kids are worth offering something for. If the kid wants to something, I think the school system has the obligation to provide that, whatever that child wants.
Q: The smaller and the offerings brings up a point that a lot of administrators have talked about and, I'd like to hear your views on distance learning, the computer in the classroom, or the camera in the classroom if you will.
A: Well, I don't think you can do without the human sciences, I think you can use a computer to supplement your instructional program. I think you can do a lot with it you can extend that learning situation. But, I think it all boils down, if you don't have somebody in that classroom to direct those kids I don't think the distance learning, the computer or the camera in the classroom is going to be of much benefit to the kids. You need that human that individual there, that human touch to make things go as they should.
Q: We've seen more and more programs developed with the special student in mind, G-T programs, English as a second language, your special education programs. Would you please discuss your experiences with special student services and, your views on today's trends in this development.
A: I can relate my first experience when I was at one of the elementary schools. I handled all of the special education students in the county. They were bussed from one end of the county to the other. Some of those kids were on the bus two to two and one half hours. I have had some real good experiences with that. When they went regional, it solved an awful lot of problems. I think as educators we are here to educate all children of Bedford County. But, I do have some questions about some of the types of kids that we have in school. I think you need to provide for them but, is the school the setting, the place for some type of your child with learning disabilities? I think the school can only do so much. It should only be required and expected to do so much for the children. I think we owe them something whether it be in school or someplace else outside of school to develop as much as they can possible develop.
Q: I'm sure you realize that salaries and other compensation have changed a great deal during your tenure as an administrator and a teacher. Could you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school system during your early years as principal and give your views on development in this area since then.
A: When I first started out as a teacher I think I was making about $3800. in 1959. The beginning teachers salary now is probably what 25,000 or 26,000 or something like that. That was big money back then. My wife and I of course we lived on pot pies with that first salary that I made, but we survived. But as we got into it and basically the salary increases I don't think warrant what is expected of teachers and or administrators. I think they need to be maybe not so much in line with your industrial types. For example if you take a person that has been out here working for one of these companies in downtown Roanoke and look at what a principal or a teacher has responsibility for here in the classroom, then compare the salaries, there is no comparison. The principal has the building, they have all of the equipment, then they have the kids. I think it should be at some point maybe not as much as they pay in industry in society but, it should be up were a person makes a decent living contacted with the responsibility that individual has.
Q: Most systems and I'm sure you are aware of the fact that here in Virginia we have a type of tenure that is considered the continuing contract for most teachers. Could you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such a system.
A: When I first came in I was so naive I didn't know what tenure was. I was just looking for a job to satisfy my mother. As I got to the point where somebody said this is your tenure year I thought what's that. Then I understood it. As you go on, you really become aware of some of the things around you. I think tenure is fine. I think tenure tends to protect some people, but it can also protect some people that don't need to be protected. I think it is the school administrators, it is our responsibility to make sure whenever a person goes on continuing contract that the person is deserving of being placed on tenure. You do that by your evaluation process, by offering that individual assistance, and if that individual accepts that assistance then you accept the fact that they be put on tenure and you don't have to do certain things.
Q: What are your feelings about a free public education?
A: It's not free,hee,hee. I think you say it's free but actually it isn't free in my opinion. You've thrown me a curve here Dave.
Q: As an old baseball coach I understand. I try to mix up my pitches. Let me go on to something else. A lot of administrators currently spend a good deal of time with paperwork and dealing with the bureaucratic complexity of administration. Would you comment on that situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time.
A: That's what makes the job hard. The job basically can be an easy job but, you spend more time behind the desk filling out papers and forms, and filing this and filing that, and filling out this report. Personally I would suggest that if a principal really is doing his job he would probably let the assistant principal do that. Let them do the paper pushing, let him get out and function as the instructional leader of the school. I know back when I first started you didn't have an assistant, you were everything. You were the cafeteria manager, the disciplinarian, you were the principal, you were the school nurse. I've gone through that situation before. But as I got into it and got some assistants you were able to free yourself and get away from this paper tiger that hounds all of us to death.
Q: I'm going to give you an opportunity to change three things in administration in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration. What would those three things be?
A: One thing I would give the principal latitude in running his own school. Secondly I would cut some of the paperwork like we have been discussing. Third, I think that the principal should be trained more or less as an instructional leader and be held accountable for basically for his school.
Q: Which transfers to curriculum. If there were any three areas of curriculum you could change, what would they be?
A: I think one thing go back to some how or another solve the textbook problem. I think maybe the textbook companies dictate the curriculum, the instructional program. I think we say we have the teachers involved but I think we can get the teachers more involved in curriculum and curriculum development. I think you need to develop curriculum specifically toward the area or areas of the school where it suits the whole students needs instead of a broad based curriculum. You may have this little segment that maybe gets this one school in the county.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school.
A: The superintendent of schools basically likes to have a hands on organization. He gives you some goals and objectives and expectations and you are expected to meet those. He does come in and sit down to discuss it with you. My relationship with him has always been pretty good. He nailed me a couple of times and I didn't feel free enough to express myself towards him at times. I didn't think that we had a collegial relationship between the two. I think he is more aloof, and likes to remain outside rather than become involved basically with his people.
Q: How about your general relationship with the school board? Could you comment on the general effectiveness of the school board operations in general?
A: The only time I went to the school board meeting is when I was called. I learned a long time ago to stay away from things like that, you get yourself in trouble. I have been up three two or three times. Basically it more of a relationship with individuals than it is with the school board. You usually talk to the one or two that represented your area if you have difficulty, or they would call you. I wasn't one of the ones who would call up the school board members and complain. As far as relationship goes, there again I think you need a school board that functions as one body instead of having different philosophies. I mean you should have different philosophies but, different agendas out of petty gripness and things like that. The school board needs to function as a body once the decision is made as the total board.
Q: And of course recently there has been discussion on the effectiveness of either and elected or appointed school board. Could you give us your opinions on the effectiveness what you think is a more effective school board either elected or appointed.
A: Well I have not been directly under an elected school board. I have been basically under an appointed school board members. Personally if it was left up to me I would have them appointed I would not have them elected. I'm not in favor of elected school boards. I think you can get people in there that are too much that have an ax to grind. And I think they have a little more influence well it's a personality type of thing. They have an ax to grind, maybe their child was wronged or something. I don't think some of them basically can see. I think if you are appointed then I think it a little more positive than when you are elected.
Q: Switch gears again or whatever you prefer to call it. Would you discuss your participation in handling the Civil Rights situation and describe your involvement with busing.
A: When the civil rights came through we had an, my first experience was with freedom of choice. You had the black children who came from the all black schools in the county. The principal was farsighted enough to have everyone prepared whenever these kids came in. We all had an objective but we all had a place to be and a certain role to play. I happened to be an assistant principal at the time. One instance that I remember, it's kind of funny, we came to school one day and there's a rebel flag up the flag pole. The rope was cut and the principal couldn't figure out how to get it down and neither could I but, we had one student shinnied up that pole and took the rebel flag down. He wasn't very popular with the rest of the kids for awhile. The individual it so happens is now a principal at one of the high schools in the region. It was kind of a turmoil time, you had to be on your toes, you were constantly pulling signs down off the bathroom walls and covering up sayings. Back then too, you had to deal with the George Wallace situation. I know that several kids were involved in the Wallace for President movement and I think he came through Lynchburg or Roanoke once too. We had some kids that cut out to hear him speak. I think some of them missed some tests and we ended up with unexcused absences types and we had to handle that. Also during this time we had a really solid base for the Klu Klux Klan in town. They met on the courthouse steps and they met at some of the schools and where I live they had a rally one night. It's kind of an eerie feeling just in passing by with their hoods and Gestapo type uniforms. Fortunately the superintendent at that time like I said he took a lot of the heat. He had a cross burned in his yard and things like that. We made it through with very few serious problems like I say we didn't have any problems. Very few serious types of problems. I think basically it went on to the type of child that came in the schools and the type of child that was there. The type of child that came in I think they had a goal in mind, they wanted to get an education and they weren't involved in this petty stuff.
Q: It has been said that recently the curriculum has become much more complex. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now.
A: Basically back whenever I first started you didn't have anything but the very basics, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Then you had foreign language in there also. So I think back then, we probably weren't, in fact I know we weren't as technologically advanced as we are now. I think that is what is throwing a kink in your curriculum planning we're getting so much technology and technology is getting so far ahead we can't keep up with it. Back then you sort of went on a slow pace, you had this to cover, that to cover and you went on a slow pace. Now, you are so much advanced in curriculum as things happen around the world basically it's based on technology and were are having a hard time keeping abreast of everything that's happening. Your schools are having to go in the computer age. Every child should have a computer, every child has a computer at home. But not in school. So the children are advanced maybe more so than the teachers are. So it is forcing your teachers to get into to become computer literate along the technological line. Some of the kids I've talked to since I retired man, they are far above me. I have a hard time turning the computer on. But anyhow the curriculum is getting so complex now and it is basically due to technology. Until we solve this technology problem in the schools we are still going to have this problem keeping up.
Q: There are the proponents of standardized testing that argue that it is a way to improve instruction. Can you discuss your experience with standardized testing and provide us with your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: Well in comparison I think in comparing school system to school system and school to school you are comparing apples and oranges. I think if you look at your testing program as a diagnostic tool to improve your instruction program I think you can identify some areas you need to work on. And you can identify some areas of strength. But I think it is taking an over all look at your testing program, of standardized tests and saying hey this will help. I think you need to look at individual schools, individual communities, and actually individual classrooms to further break it down. I don't think you can take a shotgun approach and say O.K. everybody's covered under this standardized test. Because here in our county you look at the three different high schools the clientele is entirely different in three of them. I don't think you can compare one to the other and say this school over here has higher test scores and this one is in the middle and this one is on the bottom. I think you need to look at each individual school as its own entity not compare it with the others.
Q: I would like to ask you a little bit about your workday when you were in administration. How did you spend your time during the workday and if you could give us an idea of the normal number of hours per week that you put in.
A: Well I always had the idea that I wanted to be the first one into school. I let the custodians beat me there, he opened the building, but I tried to get there before any teacher got in. Here again that was one of my quirks. I felt if I kept coming in late then the teachers would pick up on that and they would start following the same pattern. I tried to get there early for that reason. Plus you get there early in the morning and it's quiet and there is nobody around you can get a lot of things done in about thirty minutes before the kids start coming in. The teachers coming in asking questions. I usually, well we had a definite time, we couldn't leave until 4:30-5:00pm. but, there is a a lot of times you are there until 5:30 6:00 o'clock. It depends on what happens. Sometimes you have a child that you are working with or a child that missed the school bus and you were there. So I didn't particularly worry about a school day I'm a morning person myself, I like to get up and start my day early. So I didn't worry about the time.
Q: I'm sure you that you faced pressures on a daily basis. I was wondering if you could describe them to us and how you coped with them? So please, give us your concern about the biggest concern or headache about the job and maybe perhaps the toughest decision or decisions you have had to make.
A: The hardest decisions you have to make were basically in my opinion were dealing with personnel actually because you were dealing with a persons, I'm going to say bean and tater issue. Because personnel sometimes got you in trouble with a parent, you were constantly basically defending that individual. So, those are the toughest decisions you have to make. The hardest one that I have had to deal with, I got a phone call one time from a psychologist asking me if I knew this particular student. I said "yeah I know him." He said he has threatened to kill you. Of course my knees started shaking and I sat down. I had just knew he was in school at that particular time. So I had to go and get him and put him out of school. That was the hardest thing I had to do because I didn't know if he was armed or what and he was dangerous. It was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make. Another decision, one time I was dealing with a teacher and, she was accusing me and everybody in the school of listening to her on the intercom or listening to her out of the window and that kind of thing. So I ended up taking her to the superintendent, that was the superintendent that I most admired at that particular time. The first thing he said to the lady was I understand you are accusing Mr. Sherman of some things that I don't think he is doing. He sat the lady up and she jumped up and said I knew you would say it, I knew you would say I was crazy and walked out. The tough decision was getting it out the easy decision was saying hey that's it.
Q: Are there any pressures that you felt on a daily basis that you could describe for us?
A: Well you had good days and bad days. On a daily basis? I imagine discipline, discipline was the hardest thing that you dealt with in a school. And you didn't know when you were going to have a discipline problem show up. But you were constantly aware of that because you were out in the hallways and you tried to slow some of the things down. You would be in the cafeteria eating lunch and something would happen and they would come and get you. You would leave your lunch and go back to get it and the cafeteria people would have thrown it in the trash. This constant fear of something happening in your school and not being aware, not being present maybe to try to prevent it. Discipline was the biggest thing.
Q: Were there any tricks of the trade, so to speak, on how to deal with that? Or how to cope with those pressures?
A: I tried just to not think about it. But, here again, I think being seen out in the open takes care of a lot of discipline which in turn takes care of the discipline problems. Plus the fact, I always tried to tell the teachers if you control your classroom, you send one to me, what I do is my business, and what you told me basically was you couldn't handle the situation. But it is there constantly. You don't know when you are going to end up with four or five students fighting, you don't know when you are going to end up with a whole bunch of things going on at the same time.
Q: Well thirty-two years and ,most of them as an administrator, has really been a long tenure and a successful tenure. I was wondering, in your opinion, what was the key to your success as an administrator?
A: I always go back to the philosophy that you can lead a horse to water but, you can't make him drink. By that I mean, basically I'm a people person and I tried to give people responsibility. A classroom teacher had responsibilities for the classroom. An assistant principal had certain responsibilities for things I dealt to him. I gave and tried to treat people fair. Fair, firm and friendly. I'm not a screamer, I'm not a hollerer, I don't lose my cool that much, although sometimes I did but, I tried to give everybody the sense that they belonged. They had a part. They were important in the running of the school. I always tried to ask the and involve the faculty in a lot of the decisions that we made or that were made. I tried to get their input in a lot of things. Of course there are certain things that they can't, the decision is solely mine. But I tried to involve everybody, the kids, parents, and the faculty. I think if you have a good , a strong faculty, it shows the strong leadership of your principal. If they are willing to work with him, he's willing to work with them. It's kind of a collaborative type thing. You are all there for one basic thing and, that is the kids. If you lose sight of that then I think you have lost sight of everything.
Q: Would you please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.
A: I have always tried to set an example. My code of ethics would be one to treat people fairly, don't be something you are really not, and don't be two faced about something. Don't do something or ask the faculty to do something that you wouldn't do for yourself. I tried to be above a lot of things. I never like I said used foul language, I tried to make myself seem to be a positive type individual. I wouldn't ask anybody to do something I wouldn't do myself.
Q: Looking back into the preparation for your professional training what would you say were the most beneficial things that prepared you for being a principal and which were the least.?
A: One thing that prepared me for the principalship and, it's both a positive and a negative, like I said earlier on a particular question, I was never permitted to do anything except discipline. Well I look at that now as a positive rather than a negative as I did back whenever I was doing it. But I felt the positive side of it as an assistant that I would give my assistants an opportunity to grow and not just be a narrow minded situation. The negative side of it would be just don't try to control everything yourself. Pass that around a little bit even down to your teachers. Another negative thing that irritated me in my preparation would be some of the classes I had to take. I felt some of them weren't quite what I needed or would help me advance. But I did have two or three really good classes that helped.
Q: Let me pick up on that and take it a little further. What suggestions would you have for universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: If I am not mistaken, I think a lot of people are doing it. A lot of internships, give them first hand, hands on types of things, put them in the schools. If you have an individual that is coming in from say the county. Try to make arrangements with the superintendents office let them serve an internship get hands on even in fact say as far down as a teacher. I mean when they do student teaching. But still they need to go in, in my opinion, a little earlier in their career and see if this is what they really want to do. I think if they get hands on experience and, pick were you put the intern, so the intern gets the feeling of a total school program.
Q: Sort of a mentoring program if you would?
A: Right, right.
Q: Let me ask you was there a mentor in your life?
A: Not really. Like I said most of my ideas and philosophy came from a negative experience. But I never did have a mentor. I looked up to that one particular superintendent. I admired him. But most of my thoughts and ideas and how to's and not how to came from a negative experience.
Q: If you had it to do over again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship. And could you describe your feelings knowing now what you didn't know then about entering the principalship knowing now what you didn't't know then?
A: I basically was just thrown into a situation, a secondary principal situation, or secondary assistant principals into an elementary situation. But I had some experience. As I look back I needed elementary experience basically as a teacher in the elementary schools dealing with that type of kids. Plus the curriculum, especially the reading curriculum. So I think back that if I had a little more elementary teaching experience I would have been a little better off. Now as I look back I know it's a sure thing. Now if I had it to do over again that is basically probably what I would do. I would go back with hindsight and get involve in more elementary types of things.
Q: As we all know administrators operate in a tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity over these stressful conditions?
A: Well most of the times I lived about ten miles from school and I had a lot of time to think. And I could cuss anybody or fuss at anybody on the way home. By the time I got home I was feeling pretty good. On the way to school in the morning that ten miles gave me the chance to order things and get it in there. A lot of times tension, I would get out and walk, get away from the building for a while. Sometimes I would go in there and shut the door and turn the light out and tell the secretary I'm gone for thirty minutes, just leave me alone. Those types of things. Anything that you can do, find somebody else to talk to, I know there was a former principal here at this school I would meet in the parking lot, and both of us would relieve a lot of tension in the middle of the parking lot. Just by talking to somebody else.
Q: I know that you have been retired, working for the school system on a part time basis but, in essence retired for about five years now. And you have probably had some time to reflect on your career. I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?
A: Probably I had a soft heart would be my weakness. I probably wasn't as firm a lot of times as probably I should have been. That's probably my basic weakness. But, I feel my strengths overcame that weakness by being able to be fair and firm and friendly with the people. I consider myself a people person. I consider myself an individual who is not afraid to give another individual some responsibility to perform a task. And to me I was able to work that in and around my weakness. As far as that goes.
Q: Could you give us the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time that you did and sort of give us the reasoning and mental process you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: I always said I would retire at fifty-five. My wife had different expectations. She said all I'd do is lay around and get fat and watch television. But anyhow whenever Governor Wilder gave us the chance to get out early, because I was already fifty-five, and I had thirty years experience, that kind of helped the decision. It made it easier. But at that time I was under a whole lot of stress, I had a physical problem, and it didn't take me long to say hey I'm going out. But I have not regretted, see I've had my hands back in the school system for awhile, and I can thank the superintendent for that, retirement. But in preparing for it, retiring, I just kept a positive outlook and, said hey this is it. I told myself I would find something else to do rather then sit at home and watch TV all the time. I can truthfully say I had a positive outlook I did not have a negative outlook and was not worried about tomorrow or what the school would be after I left. I just accepted the fact that hey that school building will be there long after I'm gone. And there is going to be a lot of people in and out of there. When I turn the keys over to the man who succeeded me I had no problem. I just grinned and walked out.
Q: Could you give us any overall comment on the pro's and con's of administrative service and include with that, if you would any advice you wish to pass along to today's principals.
A: The advice I would give to a principal today is to be prepared, constantly. If you can be prepared. But again I think it goes back to the point that you have to be a people person. I don't think you can go inside your office door, close it, and then function as an effective principal. I think you have to keep that door open and get out. I think that is why you know there is the number of assistant principals that there are in the school. It gives that principal the opportunity to do what he is supposed to do at times. My advise to them would be to make sure that is what you want to do because it is a difficult job, a thankless job, and you are constantly getting bombarded from all sides. You are shot at kicked, bit and cursed and most of the time you have no idea what it is, so you have to be opened minded. You can't wear your heart on you sleeve and ,if you do somebody is going to break it. So my advise is to make sure that is exactly what you want to do and when you do, do it to the best of your ability and grin and bear it.
Q: Some writers recommend that principals adjust their leadership styles to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about that idea and to what extent did you practice individualized leadership?
A: I don't think you can have one leadership style and have a smooth running faculty. I think you can have a leadership but you have to adjust yours towards different individuals or different groups on your staff. I think you have your leadership style but you have to be flexible to bend with the wind and go which way. If you have forty or fifty faculty members and all of them have a different perspective, different from yours, I think you need to be able to bend yours a little bit, not change it but bend it a little so you can turn the corner. Just not be set in your ways.
Q: Some people also prescribe to the idea that good leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations for successes, no matter how big or how small. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as a principal and do you think it is effective?
A: Celebration for what now?
Q: Whatever the success might be. It might be something as simple as a two percentile increase in standardized testing scores or, it could be meeting a goal.
A: I think I've had a question, you look in the newspaper and you see your honor roll, and you see two or three columns of honor roll students. I sometimes question that, is that good or bad? Celebrations as far as, I think you can probably get carried away if you do too much. I think you need to do some. I think you need to toot your own horn a little bit in order to get it out and let people know what you are doing. There are some real good schools that do this and do it effectively but I don't think you have to do it for every little thing. If you did it is all you would be doing. I think you have to recognize success or celebrate you've got your assembly program and you have the end of school awards assembly. You can do it on an individual class basis, you wouldn't have to do it as a total school.
Q: I would like to think that Greg and I have approached every angle of the administrator that we could think of and put our hands on. Is there an area that I have omitted that you would like to comment on at this particular time?
A: I'd like to thank both of you because I know both of you, I've served next door to you most of the time, and Greg has served on my staff for a while. I hired Greg really. The only advise I would like to give both of you all if you are headed toward the principalship, make sure you want it, make sure you have good intentions and love for kids, and like I said before, don't wear your heart on your sleeve. Dave Higgins I don't think you've missed a beat, you've covered everything.
Q: Well, we will leave it at that, except for our thanks to you for agreeing to submit to our intense grilling for the last couple of hours.
A: Well I enjoyed it. You have to keep your mind shaA: every now and then. Sometimes you get lax if you don't do some of the things you normally would do and this keeps me on my toes.
Q: Well good, and again thank you very much.
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