This is Tuesday, June 17, 1997. I am speaking with Mr. Charles Smythers in the Carroll County Historical Society's building on North Main Street in Hillsville, Virginia on his experiences as a middle school principal.
Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background-your childhood interests and development. (birthplace, elementary and secondary education, familycharacteristics.)
A: I was born in Woodlawn Virginia in Carroll County at the Galax Hospital. I always tell everybody that out of four children, I was the only one fortunate enough to be born in the hospital. The fact is my mother was ill at the time and that is the reason I was born in a hospital. The first school I attended was a two-room school through the seventh grade and then I attended Woodlawn High School. There was no eighth grade, of course, at that time. I graduated from Woodlawn High School and then I went to Milligan College and got my degree from Liberty. I got my master's degree later on at Virginia Tech. All the things that stand out in my family was togetherness, loving, caring type of people. Everybody at that time visited a lot and talked a lot and had a lot of get-togethers. Basically, it was church, decorations, reunions, funerals and all those type of things and so forth. In fact, people really basically at that time, almost everybody called everybody Aunt and Uncle, whether they were or not. The sort of thing that stands out in my family I think is loving, and caring - that type of people.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher? a principal?
A: I guess probably as far as being a teacher is concerned, I didn't have that much of a choice. I was borned into it. From a field of educators, my whole family, I counted it up sometime back. I had two sisters in education and my brother and my father and myself. I think a total of 177 years and my mother actually substituted and my wife is working at the school board office now. I guess the fact that I like people is the thing that led me to get into the field of teaching and the fact that my father was in the teaching time. Other than my family, I served six years as a teacher and coach and as principal thirty-five years.
Q: What schools were you principal at?
A: My first principalship was Gladeville Elementary. I was there four years and then I went from there to Hillsville Elementary for three years. I spent the remainder number of years at Hillsville Intermediate, then it became Carroll County Intermediate School.
Q: I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.
A: I think probably, I started out as a teacher and a coach. Mr. Hodges, Director of Instruction, came to me and he wanted to know if I would like to be a principal. I guess I always did want to, even though I said I didn't because my father had been in it when they opened Laurel School. My brother had been in it and other people, so I said, yes I would be glad to. I started as I said at Gladeville and I think probably there is something about it. I just wanted to be a leader, to work with people to see what I could do is the reason that I went into it.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship.
A: I guess like everybody else, I really didn't know what a principalship actually was even though I had been around it all my life. I think my brother gave me some good advice. He was telling me one time. We were talking about what may come up. I said, don't worry about it, I'll delegate it. He told me three or four things and I said I'll delegate it. He looked me in the eyes and he said, let me give you some advice, you can delegate authority, but you can't delegate responsibility. I found that out real quick. It comes to you and you are. You have to expect to do those things, but I have enjoyed it.
Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship? How did your motives change over the years?
A: I think probably two people, my father who was in principalship and Mr. DeVaught at Woodlawn whom I admire very much. Those are probably the reasons I went into it, plus the fact that coaching probably led me into it. I found out that being a coach that you had to be a leader, you had to be a teacher, you were responsible for that team - putting that team together. I think that probably had a lot to do with me going into the principalship.
Q: Please discuss the way in which you were chosen for your first administrativerole, as well as any subsequent assignments.
A: It basically came down to the fact just a sit down and talk type situation and discussing the fact what I wanted to do as far as the future was concerned and some questions pertaining to the fact - how do you relate to people, and so forth and what do you think the principalship should be? I looked at it as something where I could go and make a difference with teachers and staff and setting up a program - something that I could say, I DID THIS. Yeah, that's the reason I did it.
Q: Would you talk to us about your last school, describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building.
A: The following stands out to me: The first thing about any building is that it needs to be clean and well-maintained. I am talking about the grounds, the inside, and it needs to be attractive. By doing that, you could suggest putting up bulletin boards and things in the hall, and try to make it as much as possible a place that children would want to come to, to learn in comfort with the staff and to create a good atmosphere, where people could feel good about themselves. I think sometimes we have a tendency to make school kind of dull. Children need to be in a place where they can learn and have fun doing so. Be friendly, I think the key here is friendly. Don't hire anybody as an administrator that doesn't love kids. I think sometimes that is tough to determine. I think they got to feel good about being there.
Q: I know you were instrumental in having the additions put on the building many years ago. Can you describe what the building was like and what you added on and how you were involved with that?
A: The main part of the building itself was built in 1936 and a very unusual type of brick - beige. I still say it is the most beautiful building in the county. When we were able to match, the architects and the contractors were able to match those bricks and even when they put in some new windows and so forth, I think it just added more to it. The visiting committee from Marion, well one man the principal, I can't think of his name right now, but he said of all the buildings that he had ever been in, he had never seen a building have renovations, we had three different renovations, come together and look like that building did. I thought that was a pretty good statement coming from him. I think that one of the keys about it - most buildings - a lot of school buildings are built and they say, okay teachers here it is, principal here it is and so forth. We were allowed by the superintendent of the school board to go places and look at furniture, you know librarians, and all those different type things and so forth and to make it "their school." We got input of the kids and everybody else as much as possible. I think back on the three renovations. Do they ever want to go through renovations, you say no but yes, it is the best experience you ever had. I think people become cooperative working together and you become closer to your unit and I think building programs are great for, even with the kids, and it is safe to work at and I know you can do that. It is important. It brings everybody together and when you add on, you look at philosophies and all those things. You don't build buildings. No, you build for students to be there. You don't build buildings. That's the key to it. What I recollect of the building, is a main rectangular section today inside where you have your administration and the academic areas. On one side you have the gymnasium and the shop areas, on the left side, and on the right side you have the Home Economics and different classrooms on the right side above the cafeteria. Yeah, we tried to lay it out as much as possible, you know by parts, departments and so forth. Sometimes that gets to be impossible, but I think it is good to do that. It is good to do it. One thing missing that I would add is I think there should be some place where, in probably in every department where there is a double room, where you can get more than one class in. That's what I would suggest that we don't have. Advance technology of computers and TV, inner-hookup, and besides the intercom system all helped to bring it together.
Q: Could you describe your work day? That is, how did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours per week you put in?
A: I have no idea how to answer that. Technically, all the people that I have ever hired as administrator, I tell them you definitely have to be there at 7:30 and leave no later than 4:30. You need to be there before any buses come in and also you don't want to leave until all the buses basically have time to get where they are going. I think that is the only way you can run a school. As far as number of hours, you know basketball, sports and all those type of things, I guess you would average probably about 60, I don't know, I am just guessing, 60 to 70 hours a week at least, sometimes more than that.
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them. Describe your biggest headaches or concerns on the job. Describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make.
A: Tough question. I think probably, I guess the thing that bothered me the most about being principal of the school was that every child can be reached. No doubt in my mind, every child can learn. I think that sometimes maybe the people you work with don't believe that, and I think the other side is that parents don't sometimes support the idea that your teachers, your staff and everybody involved is doing the best that they can, and they need to do their part with it. So the question is trying to get students to do what they need to do to learn, and working with the teachers, try to get them to do that and everybody working together. So, I guess the pressure, all the pressure I see in being an administrator, you have a lot of headaches and so forth is the fact that in my case is you never know what is going to happen. There is something always for a long time I tried to figure out to stay ahead of that, but I learned a little later on you can't figure it out, so you need to quit wasting time about it, but anytime that you have to suspend a student, I think that sometimes that you do. That is the toughest thing you ever faced, because the student comes to school to learn, and you send him home. That is a tough decision. I think it needs to be done, but it is a tough decision. Anytime you have to talk to a parent, unfortunately a large percent of the time you're always wrong. That's the way they see it. Even teachers and other staff members and so forth - any time you have to sit down and talk to one and say hey, this is the way it is, this is the way it has to be. But I think the fact is if you do that, one-on-one, you know, they respect that fact and things work out a lot better. Those are the answers to the question as I see it.
Q: Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal.
A: I think basically I would have to sum it up or say the thing is that any time that I can see a kid do better than he did before he came there. I think you see that a lot along the way. I think anytime you hire a teacher and work with that teacher or a custodian, whoever the case might be, and they become a better person as you work with them. I think that is one of the best things you'll ever see. I was fortunate enough to work in some programs. I came into my first principalship with a Headstart Program and Chapter I, just starting out, so I had a good time. They called it 89/10; we said basically you got 89 things to do and only 10 days to do it in, but you learn how to budget your money and work with what works best and work with teachers and get them involved. I also worked with ungraded primary at Gladeville and at Hillsville Elementary, we had a pilot program using simple compound machines and manipulative devices, which I thought was a super program and science and mathematics, with kids where grades didn't mean anything. You said 70 percent of the children will work on behavioral objectives is what you're working about. I would like, I think education should be like that. So, we've had headstart in the building, we've had, I think probably the most, I don't know whether all of them are satisfying, but one of the most satisfying is the middle school concept, when we went to that. Then you look at "The Child", this is what we are doing, and you look at the faculty and the staff and you had to learn as an administrator to involve people more and listen to what they had to say. I found out that you get a lot done if you ask your staff to get involved more and so forth. I think a lot of the consoli-dation, I loved it. We brought together children from four schools, I guess it was. We sat down and we had I think forty some cheerleaders that year and SCA, all officers from every school and so forth and we took them through that first year. The kids, its true, that if you'll pat them on the back and kindly show them the way, they will do anything and do it right. You know there were no problems whatsoever. There was never any conflicts or confrontations, never did hear one word about I'm from here and you're from there, never heard one time one word, which is what if you let children do and pat them on the back, they can do, and they will do. That will sound it out, so I think that those are the most exciting things that I have worked with.
Q: Please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.
A: Ah, I think basically mine is I believe that everyone should do what is right. That is my philosophy, do what's right and the old saying is do unto others as you would have them do unto you, respect others and they will respect you. To me, if you treat students right and you treat your staff right, they will treat you right. It is caring and loving for one another and then things can be successful. I just think you got to make them feel good, and then they will work for you and do what is right. You can take any student or any faculty member basically and sit down with them one-on-one and talk to them, and there is no difference than there was 50, 60, 70 or 80 years ago. You know you got to listen more now, and that is good. We need to listen to people involved and so forth, just making them feel good about themselves is the key to it all.
Q: Please discuss the way in which you learned to lead; that is, what procedures or experiences you were involved in that contributed to your effectiveness, and the contribution that professional graduate education made to your progress.
A: I think probably that it came from, I mentioned that my father was principal and my brother was principal and in high school I had Mr. DeVaught, something about Mr. DeVaught, that stood out all the time. He was a leader. I think he ran a school, he ran "the school" and that doesn't mean that everything had to be his way, but he was the leader, he got in there with them and he involved students. I think basically, as I said before, being a coach I learned if you are going to be successful as a coach, you have to be a leader, and you have to get that team together and work for it. I think also during that time I was president of the CEA. I think that helped and also working in the church - chairman of committees and boards and so forth. I think all those things led, but I guess as I said before it came down to the fact that I just wanted to say, I should say this is my school. I know when I retired one night I went home, I said something about "my school" and my wife said it is not yours now. But I guess when you are there, it is yours.
Q: One model of leadership describes people as either assertive, supportive, or contemplative. Would you please categorize yourself and give your reasons.
A: I think little of all probably if you narrowed it down, it probably goes assertive. I can be a boss. I think a good administrator has to be a boss. You have to say eventually this is the way it is and if it is necessary because I said so. You have to believe and then carry it out, whatever your policies are and carry those things out, and I think the other one would be supportive. I think that you've got to encourage your people and you've got to support your people as they make decisions of the one concerned. I think some others come to play and so forth, when I think about it, but it would be assertive and supportive.
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 change yourself to much. It's like a leopard changing its stripes. You know, you can't do it. You have, I think, two things like I said. Number one is you have to be known; I don't think you have to tell them that you're the boss, that you're the leader, okay? The second thing I think is if you do involve them, they will know that. So whatever you believe, you have to stick to that. That's your philosophy, if not you are in the wrong school. Okay? Now, I think you need to involve your faculty and staff as to what you are doing and to keep individual characteristics of everybody, you have to adapt to that type of people and maybe that department is a different type and I think you don't change the way you lead, but you make sure you understand who you are leading and who is involved, use them as much as possible.
Q: It has been said that good leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations of their successes, no matter how small or insignificant. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal, and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?
A: I think probably I'm not a person that puts on celebrations and dinners and those type of things, even though we had breakfasts and things like that to a certain extent and so forth. I believe if you feel people are going to be successful, you need to go up to them and say, you're doing a good job and I believe if people are out sick for a long period of time, when they come back or whatever, you need to say, I'm glad to have you back. I believe if there is a member of the school family that has a death in the family or sickness, funerals, or whatever, you need to be there, you as a leader need to be there. You need to show them that you care enough about them and then they will work their self to death for you. Basically, it is just showing that you care and so forth. I think a pat on the back, a good word, those type of things, certificates ah, sometimes its worth a little bit I guess, but the basic things is just to say, hey, you did a good job today. I went up to a teacher the last year I had, and I've had her I guess twenty years, and I said, this is the best year you have ever had. It was, but the thing is she needed to know that before I left. Yeah.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education. How did it evolve over the years?
A: I think basically my philosophy of education is that it's our job to educate every child that comes through that door and I think we do that two ways. One is critical thinking and problem solving. You got to teach kids to think and you got to teach them to solve problems, and then you prepare them for society. I think that if you talk to your industry, they say they had rather take on kids and train them the skills and so forth and if you teach them to solve problems and think, then they will take it from there. That's my philosophy of education.
Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it was developed and how it evolved over time.
A: My philosophy is to individualize and humanize. I think the old saying is that students forget most of what you teach them knowledge wise, but they never forget how you treated them, and I believe that. I don't think that there is any way that kids are going to learn like they need to learn unless they feel good about where they are. I think lots of times we have a hard time figuring that out, and I think lots of times teachers and staff forget the fact that we are working with kids. Another thing that we forget is that the fact that we were sixteen or we were fifteen at one time. I think it is important, that my philosophy was in working with kids, number one - if I am talking to a student, I talk to them as, not necessarily as an adult, number two - I talk to them as a father, number three - I talk to them as a principal and number four - I talk to them, if they are fifteen then I'm fifteen and that's when they listen and that's my philosophy. You take them where they are, and work with them. Make them feel good.
Q: What experiences/events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Please discuss these events.
A: I always been, I was brought up in a family that believed in discipline is important. I don't think you can have a good school without discipline and so forth. I think management in school and everything else. You've got to have order in whatever you do, and I think just the fact that I was brought up that way. Go by the book as an administrator. If you go by the book, whether people like it or not, you're always safe. If I worked with the school board, which I did, and the superintendent says Tuesday morning you jump five feet over the table, that's the policy, I'll jump or they can fire me. That's the way it is. If you do that, I just think you got to have order. There's no ifs, ands and buts about it. I mean that's just the way it is.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe successful and any unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you were involved.
A: I think the things that we mentioned, the fact of bulletin boards and all those type things, mobiles in the rooms and things like that, have some workshops on how to work with kids, stick with kids and so forth. I know you had in your Social Studies, you had contracts and things like that. To me, my own personal philosophy, I'd like to, textbooks as far as I am concerned, I'd like to throw them away. I don't mean you wouldn't have some of the - you would still have to go by the standards and all those type of things. I'd like to see a teacher create their lessons. You've got to have materials and supplies and so forth. Give them the money to get the supplies. Let them write the curriculum, the state help them with that. Let them write the curriculum, let them sit up there curious and learn by doing. You know. The only way the kids recall whatever they've learned and so forth is the fact that they are involved in it. If they are involved in the learning, they remember. If not, they don't. I personally would like to see no grading system. I'd like, you know, just levels. If you get there, you move on, if you don't, you don't. Right on up the ladder and throw the grades away. No K, 7, 8 - none of that - open schools don't work. All it does is take a teacher that's trained in elementary education and loves kids. That's all you have to have. You won't have any problem.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal."
A: There are several things. I think number one - foremost is, if it is in the handbook, teachers expect it to be important and should be facilitated. I think the thing they don't understand is the fact there are students who come to you sometimes and they begin to share and I've found - they say well they just tell you that. No, that's not true. Kids are honest. Kids are honest - almost like I always said 99 to 100 percent. Very seldom do kids ever have to tell you the truth in the office. Dog gone it, they are honest. There is no doubt in my mind. You still have to consider the fact that that kid is not doing his work instead of something different from that at this time. I think then there is a case where I think sometimes that, I've been a teacher - the teacher hasn't been an administrator. There is a difference therefore lots of times, that teacher doesn't understand why the administrator doesn't do what he wants to do. I think lots of times teachers send the students to the office, they expect him to get after him pretty good, but I'd call to the office a counselor. Let the counselor be notified of what's going on and so forth at this time. I think anytime during the year there might be a doubt, you need to sit down with that teacher and talk to them about it and tell them why you did what you did. I think it's important that you are up on it as far as it is concerned, but I think one thing that teachers wouldn't understand is that the principal's office is a counseling office also. I did more counseling than I did administrative stuff, you know, because that's just, kids you got to feel better when he leaves, my opinion, no matter where he's at in the office, he's got to feel better about it, and I think that is important. So I do think that they expect you to support them and we should support them. No question about it. The other side is they should support the administrator, you know, and nothing should ever leave that school. Nothing should ever go out that door. If there is something a teacher has got to say to me, then they need to say it and that's it, and I have got to say to them, and that's it. That's the way it is. You don't go out and talk, that's school business. Lot of people have been hurt because of that.
Q: Some principals hold the view that teachers and other staff members are, in general, well-motivated and reliable self-starters Other principals feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees to insure that they are performing "to standard." What supervisory approach did you customarily use during your career as principal?
A: I think probably in my case, I hired over the years, I hired most of the people I had, so I think most of them were supportive and most of them were ready to work and so forth. I think probably the lack of supplies and the lack of training, the thing I should have con-centrated on more and tried to but still should had more inservice training. I think we as administrators, sometime expect teachers to do this when they don't know what it is, so therefore we need to provide it. You have to, as administrator, not pay attention to the fact is they don't want to stay after school, that type of thing. Sometimes I was really sensitive. You know I didn't want to stay either, but you have to monitor it. No question. I would love to see teachers use checklists, a kid did this or didn't do it, forget the A,B,C,D's; checklists - he either did it or he didn't. We should be accountable. I worked in a furniture factory when I was in college and if we turned out an inferior product, you know what happened to us? We got fired. What product is more important than a child? To me, we should be checked, checked, checked. I firmly believe that. I would get into merit pay. I think that they would say, well who's going to determine it? I am. I think reward those who do the best job.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation.
A: I think probably our system is about as good as anybody's. I think that I use the evaluation as a time to sit down with the teacher one-on-one and let them tell me what they see about the type of year that they had and also, what did you help us with this year? What do you want to work on? Set up a goal for next year. You know people tell you that evaluation is not for hiring and firing. Well, it's not for hiring, you done hired, but you know if you are not doing a good job, it's going to be pretty low and if you are, but I think the main thing is to point out the weaknesses. Don't put down anything, you know tell them what will help them. I saw it as a time to sit down and exchange some philosophies and this type of thing with the teachers.
Q: It has been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools, citing positive and negative aspect of the situation then and now.
A: Well, I've been out a year, so there's not much change. The basic thing is technology, computers and everything, technology in the libraries - the whole works, this type of thing. That's the basic things. I still think we've got to look at that curriculum, I mean the instructional program in the classroom and look at the behavioral objectives. Forget about A,B,C,D's and then certain levels for kids and so forth. This is the thing that we are going to do and look and everybody be held accountable. I think we need to look at all that.
Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with such testing and provide us your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: I think they are good tools. Once again, most people say well you can't count on that standardized test. Yes, you can to. They are indicators of a problem or a concern or something about the learning of a child. It may not be fifty percent or sixty percent but is it says you are weak in problem-solving, you're weak in problem-solving so you work and the test - that's what we are working toward. I think through the Standards of Learning now, they are going to require certain things if they don't, I heard on the news this morning. They are indicators and we can learn from them, but you've got to get them out of the guidance office and look at them. They're good and once again you can argue with it. It doesn't matter whatever it is, they are indicators.
Q: Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paper work and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Would you comment on the situation during your administrative career and the problems you encountered.
A: I never had a problem with it. I also gave it to the guidance department and the assistant principal. I don't know. I never worried much about paper work. There's more than they used to be, but we are getting money now from the federal government and money from the state and so forth and you've got grants. When you do that you've got to justify it in writing. You know, whether you have it or not. I've always found that people who fuss about paper work usually will fuss anyhow and if it takes two extra hours and they are good teachers, let me go ahead and do the two extra hours. A good teacher or a good administrator will get the job done no matter how much paper work they have to do or don't have to do. I've never seen it that much of a problem.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence?
A: There are two philosophies on that. One of them is you need to get involved because you teach, you live in the community and the other one is you need to get involved, but watch how you get involved and who you're with and so forth. You've got to get in between. There is no problem with the club, but you don't, you know, they don't own you because you're are a teacher and you don't own them because they're club members. So you just have to be yourself once again as far as it is concerned. I've never been one myself to join anything unless I can really work at it. Therefore, I've limited the number of things that I've been a member of. I've been a member of teacher associations and all those things all my life and I worked at that and was president at one time. I was a member of the Rotary Club at Woodlawn one time. I was treasurer of that and I worked at that. I've been invited many, many, many times to join different things in the county and live by it, and I say no, because I did not enough time to work and do. Don't become a member of anything unless you are going to work at it. So therefore, I didn't. I thought I was taking away from the kids. The only exception, the fact is that a couple of years ago I joined the Carroll County Historical Society. I became president of it and I was dumb enough to take it again and then I took it again. So this is my fifth year on it and every year of course, I'm not going to do it anymore, but I think the key to the Historical Society right now I am working on two things or basically, two. One of them is the history of Carroll County and the other one is the history of Methodism. I hope to tie that into this area, Methodism in this area, okay? In the Carroll County history, what I am doing is going out and interviewing people all over the county, like you are doing now. I've been to Sylvatus. I've been to Coal Creek. I have one set up over at Vaughan. I go to all areas in the county and talk to different people, okay? The thing is I may never put it together. The reason I'm doing it because, I want to know what kind of people live in Carroll County. You know, this way you find out, by going to them and talking with them. We wade creeks and you name it. Whatever they want to do, we do it. That's now and that's history. That's the reason. I like history and I like the Civil War. I go to the Son's of the Confederacy in Mt. Airy, Jeb Stuart, because I like the Civil War. Some of the things they do I don't like and I tell them so, but I had a great grandpa that had four brothers in the Civil War, so I like that. I think those are two, and I'm a retired teacher and I am president-elect of Retired Teachers now. So I'm chairman of the administrative board and have been for I don't how long at church, Woodlawn Methodist Church. I guess there's something about it, I think I am a type of person that really doesn't feel comfortable in a club unless I'm the head person of it or working in it pretty strong. I don't know why. I guess that's because I was principal you know. I like to lead. I like to get that done. So I am going to wind up, it's possible I can wind up as chairman of the administrative board at church, and I am the chairperson of the Higher Education, I believe it is and president of Retired Teachers and president of the Historical Society at the same time which you don't do those things, but I like, I strive on that type of thing. I like to lead and I like to make additions. In church when they say, would you do this, I say yes. We talked about visitation and they said would you chair it, I said I'd be glad to. What I did with that, I took that, and I assigned people in our church. Everybody in our church that's retired or shut-in, they have a person assigned to them at all times with whatever they need and this type of thing and so forth. I personally take one day a week, ever how many days are needed, it takes at least one day and sometimes more. I go to Wheatland, to Elder Care, Blue Ridge or Waddell, homes. Any member of our church that is any of those, that is not in church, I take them a bulletin and just talk to them. Sometimes you go, sometimes you don't. It's amazing what that little bulletin means to those people. I went to see a lady over at Woodlawn yesterday, and her husband is have some problems, medical problems, and I think I had been in the house one time, but I have been taking a bulletin to her ever since I retired last year. In visiting as a visitor, you know when to go out and when not to, you know. That's an important part of it. She looked up at me yesterday and she said, you're a good man. That means a lot. That means a lot and I think that's what you do with clubs and so forth. The key with clubs is nobody uses you and you don't use nobody. You're just in a club. Some people join them for power. I don't join them for power. I don't care nothing about power. I like to lead, but I just want to help people and work with people.
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 give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and with citizens who were important to the well being of the school?
A: I think there is not enough interaction between the parents and the school. Number one, personally, I'll tell you up front I believe a principal and his staff should know how to run a school better than anybody else does. Therefore, they are the experts, and the parents are not the experts in it. I think the parents are good, you need to use them more or I need to use them to volunteer, this type of thing and so forth. The real key with parents in secondary and everywhere is support. They need to support me as principal of the school. You see I don't take my car to the garage and say, hey you know, you fix this now, okay. Now this is the way for you to fix it. Right? I don't tell them how to fix it. See, I'm not a mechanic. They're not a principal. They don't tell me how to be a principal. Now they can tell you some things sometimes, even though it may be cursing or help you. I think you need to involve parents more in resources, and things like that and volunteer work but as far as the actual operation of the school, no I think the principal and his people are the ones that's supposed to be running it, and they should run it. I think the thing probably that we haven't done and we need to be more of, we've got to do more of, is to educate our parents of what we are doing in schools so they will support us more. Yes, it's PR and it's good PR.
Q: During the past decade schools have become much larger. Discuss your views on this phenomenon and suggest ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities.
A: I'm a small school person. You know, I think probably an ideal elementary school would be 250 or 300. The first principalship I had at Gladeville, we had 420 kids and they annexed some of them to the city of Galax, cut it down to 320. There was as much difference as day and night between 420 and 320. There's no comparison. The numbers there that makes a difference. I think your class sizes are important too. You know, have a size lows. The lower the grade, the smaller they should be. As far as high schools are concerned that is determined a lot by the curriculum offered you have and so forth, and I agree with that but I still think that I personally would like to see them between 300 and 500 and no more.
Q: In recent years more and more programs for special groups of students (LD, Gifted and Talented, Non-English speaking) have been developed. Please discuss yourexperience with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard.
A: I think probably one of the best things that ever hit education was when they went straight into what they call Special Education, because I don't think we as teachers were meeting the needs of a lot of the kids in the classroom. We have kids with learning disabilities. We have kids with other types of disabilities. I think these programs have done a great job. One of things is those people who work with those kids, and I like the fact, I like it in Special Ed. where they have those kids in a room by their self more. They're going into the classroom, working more with the other teacher now, but I personally like it the other way better. I think Eddie Ayers is a good example of somebody who works with those kids and makes them feel good about themselves. I still think it ought to be separated in some cases, but I can remember we had students when I was in my first and second principalship of kids that could not make the grades. If we'd had Special Education, learning disabilities resource teachers then, those kids would have been more successful and I don't think we were successful with them. I think the key to it is your teachers, when they get them back in the classroom, mainstreaming them, you know if you take them into a learning disability class and then put them back and give them a fifth grade when they are a second grade reader. It never worked. I think that's gotten better all the time. Yeah, I have no gripes at all. I think they're great.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the Superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school.
A: I never had any problem working for any of them. I worked with some fine people, I think, I remember one time I had a, my philosophy is you put me here, let me run it, you know and support me. I had one superintendent call me up and he said so and so came in here and this, this, and this. I said let me tell you something. I'm the principal, right. He said, right. I said, well you want me to run this school. He said, yes. I said, well you let me do it then, you support me. He said you wait a minute. I got the message, and he said I told them I would look into it. I've looked into it. I said, thank you sir. Now, we always, we don't need to be close to the superintendent, but I think those problems need to be solved by me, the administrator. I don't think the superintendent can solve it. I don't think the school board can solve it. I think there's times it may be necessary that they help me solve it. They need to either fire me or support me. That's my feeling. Ah, I never had no problem with anybody.
Q: What is your view on the "mentoring" program for new administrators, in which an experienced administrator is paired with a neophyte. What experiences have you had with such an approach? Was there a mentor in your life?
A: I've worked with two in mentor programs and this gives them the actual experience on the job. That's the only kind. It wouldn't a whole lot. It works real well, where they spend a certain number of hours and you let them see how the discipline is carried out, how the instruction is carried, everything about the school system. I think it works good. There is a program that Virginia Tech has had over the years for training administrators. You know, you're on the job training. I think that's great. It always worked good. Then you can make that choice. You have to be thick-skinned, no question about that. My mentors? I didn't have mentors, as far as that type of thing is concerned as the book may say it. My mentor was my dad, my brother and Mr. DeVaught and Mr. Myers. Those people, that's where I learned. That's where I learned; see what they did and I consider those people mentors.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did, giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: Ah, I really don't know how to answer that. I prepared myself mentally for three years before I did it. Before that I couldn't have done it, because I was spending too much time on Saturdays, Sundays and evenings in the school building. I can't stay there forever, and I started preparing myself for it. I retired because I wanted to do something different. My first priority when I retired was to become more active in the church. I became a lay speaker in the Methodist Church, and I have enjoyed it very much. Anybody who calls me knows that I will be there. I love to do it, and I will do more in the church. Because I have told you before, I take upon myself to visit people. We forget people who don't attend church and are sick. I give a lot of my time to the church. I put the time into the Historical Society and Retired Teachers and those things. I love the outdoors. I have an old homeplace which has fallen down and may still yet before I get through with it. I have nine acres and have put windows in it. I have painted it The old chimney is on the ground, and I will have someone put it back together. I also will build an old porch around it. But I will never live in it. I have stretched some wire around it so that anyone in the family can have a picnic. Anyone can go there where my grandfather lived. I am enjoying the outdoors I mowed this morning. I've got a big garden and work in it. I love the outdoors, because I worked on a farm. Why did I retire? Well, my brother was in it for 44 year, my dad was in it for 42 and I stayed for 41 years. I debated for a long time. My health was still good, and it wasn't because of a record. I would have stayed longer, because I had applied for a job in the Central Office and didn't get it. I should have had it. No secret about it. That put me out two to three years earlier. I am enjoying being out and now I am glad I didn't get it because I am out. I just wanted something different. I have three boys, and two of them are coaches so I could go to their ballgames and watch them. My oldest, Gary, moved across in North Carolina and came in last week. We went to Salem Wednesday night to a ballgame. We went to Lynchburg Thursday night to a ballgame, to Charlotte Friday night to a ballgame and Salem Saturday night. He's down at Durham. I can go to Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pulaski of course tomorrow night - I'll get season tickets for that.
Q: You love the sports, I know that.
A: I love, I just love people. You know, I can go to Hardees or Walmart, Lowes and spend a half hour or an hour, two hours, chat and do what I want to now. Yeah, that's the good part about it.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals.
A: I think the pros as I see it, is you're the leader. You're responsible for what product you turned out. That's the pros of it. The thing that stand out with me, is the things that I miss more than anything else about principalship is the fact that I miss the students. I miss them, and I miss the staff, the people I've worked with over the years. The things against it; you got to be thick-skinned, you know you are going to be cursed. Very few people, the thing that bothered me the most about being an administrator is nobody, basically nobody ever tells you you're doing a good job. That's sad. See, we need to pat one another on the back and say, you're doing a good job. But most of the things you hear about are negative. Papers and those type of things, the publicity, the lack of I guess of positive support. I have no regrets. I would do the same thing again.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have?
A: Ah, I think we've probably talked about it. When we go into education, we need to, there's two thing we must know that children must have to be successful in school, or in their life. That's love and discipline. Those two things, you got to have those. So when you're hiring people, that's what you look for in them; the ones who love kids and can discipline kids. That's about it.
Q: Thank you today for providing all these ideas that you've expressed and the values that you have lived by and the experiences that you've had throughout your many, many, many years. I do thank you.