Today is June 5, 1997. We are speaking today with Mr. Jone Sutherland in his home located in Glade Spring, Virginia. He was the principal in Washington County, Virginia from 1964 to 1991. He will be discussing his experiences as an elementary school principal.
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Q: Mr. Sutherland, would you begin by telling us about your family background; your childhood interests; and your development such as your birthplace, elementary and secondary schools, family interests?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Dante, Virginia on December 12, 1933- the middle child of three in the family (an older sister and younger brother). My father was a coal miner and my mother was a housemaker. This area is very remote in the hills of Dickenson County. As a result, our opportunities were limited, particularly in the areas of education and cultural development. I went to a one-room school. At that time, we had a primer. I started primer at five and then went through seven grades in a one-room school. This was somewhat handicapping in that our teachers did not have degrees. As a matter of fact, in the fourth grade I think I had three different teachers; so, as a result of that, I'm sure I was lagging all along the road in elementary. However, around the sixth and seventh grades, I think that as a result of hearing everybody being taught from grades primer through seventh grade, I think I had begun to pick up quite a bit because, as I recall, particularly in the areas of language arts, I became fairly proficient. However, in mathematics, I continued to lag until I got into high school. At the end of the seventh grade, I went to Irvington High School--another remote high school in Dickenson County. I think there were like 150 kids (eight through twelve). I think there were 33 in my eighth grade class when I entered, and most everyone graduated. I think close to 33 graduated. I found when I got through high school that I was lagging in everything, particularly in mathematics as a result of this remote area of the system. It took a lot of catching up to do, for sure, when I got to high school. I found that I didn't know many of the things the students already knew, particularly when we got into mathematics--formulas in mathematics. They already knew the formulas, and I was struggling to pick them up. But, as we went along, I seemed to catch up and did fairly well. I can't remember what my ranking was of the 33 graduating, but somewhere around about third or fourth in my class in terms of grade ranking. As I went further to school, I found that these remote areas, although you had small pupil/teacher ratios, you still lacked the facilities, the equipment and the money to adequately prepare you when you were thrown in with students from more affluent situations. However, it was very enjoyable. As a result of small classes and one-on-one and one-on-ten numbers, we were able to perhaps get a background there that made it possible for us to go on to college.
Q: Would you discuss your college education preparation for entering the field of teaching?
A: As I went to college, Hiawassee Junior College, which I didn't mention on the form a while ago, I went there for two years--Hiawassee Junior College in Tennessee, before I came to Emory. There were no degrees or anything awarded from there at that time. As I went there, this was a small college (I believe there were 500 of us), and I, of course, enrolled in the basic programs in languages, social studies, mathematics, and sciences for two years there. As I was going through those two years in the junior college, I found that I had perhaps a better background in the language arts and the social studies fields than I did in mathematics and science. As a result, in junior college, I only took the mathematics and science required to get through. I had begun to set a major at that point in time in English, perhaps thinking about, since I liked English and it seemed to come easy, of being an English teacher in high school. I think at that time that's what I was thinking about. I finished junior college and came to Emory and Henry College and continued two more years with a major in English and a major in Education. I was thinking, particularly when I came to Emory that I would and did want to be a teacher. At that point in time, I don't think I was thinking about administration as much as I was teaching. I think my interest was in high school rather than in elementary at that time. I received a degree there at Emory, an MED. Then I got into teaching almost immediately.
Q: How many years did you serve as a teacher?
A: My first experience was doing one-half a year filling out for my sister who got married and moved out of the area, and then one-half a year in an elementary school there in Dickenson County. After I receive my MED at Emory, I got a job teaching English at Irvington High School, and I was there from August 20 to September 10 when Uncle Sam came along and said he wanted a few good men. I was drafted. The principal thought I was deferred, but I was drafted. I went straight on from there to two years in the military. As a matter of fact, we were both so shocked that I had to go on that when I got to Fort Jackson, S.C., I called him and told him that he would have to get a replacement for me for the rest of the year. He said, "I can't believe it. You are supposed to be deferred!" When they looked at the school board minutes, there was no deferment. I ended up spending two years in the military after having taught for less than a month. That broke my teaching for sure. Of course, in the military, I was not necessarily in the teaching field but was a medic working in personnel. I did not get into teaching until I got out of the military in 1958. I got out of the military in 1958 and came back here and Joan, my wife who was my girlfriend at that time, was teaching at Chilhowie Elementary School. She let it be known to the principal at that elementary school and the high school, too, that I was looking for a job teaching. It just so happened that an opening came at Marion Senior High School shortly after I got out of the military. Some young man was teaching there and, unfortunately, had a car wreck and wouldn't be able to come back. I took his place and that's how I got back into teaching--went into Marion Senior High teaching English. I was at Marion Senior High for five or six years and while I was there, I started working on my Masters of Education at the University of Virginia. As quickly as I got my masters at the University of Virginia, Dr. E. B. Stanley, who was superintendent of Washington County Schools called me up and asked me if I would like to take a little school over in the Lodi community, Liberty Hall. I said, "I'm sure I will. I'm looking for a little more money, and I have my degree in administration." I talked to Dr. Mock, who was superintendent then and told him my plans to see if he wanted to offer me something equal. He did, but I chose to come back to Washington County because here is where I lived, and here is where I knew the people. I could do a better job back here than I could in Marion which is out of my territory to a certain extent.
Q: So you began your principalship in 1971. When did you retire?
A: I began my principalship in 1964 at Liberty Hall. Then I continued until 1991, when the early retirement program became available through the State of Virginia State Department of Education. At that time, my wife and I both elected to take early retirement.
Q: I wonder if you would discuss those experiences of events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career. How you feel about them now?
A: I think that I began to think about a job apart and beyond the area where I lived, which is coalmining. I picked slate and did a lot of outside work around the coal mines, and I think I began to see that coal mining was not what I wanted to do because the money was not very good in the coal fields at that time. However, it got better than teaching as I got into teaching. Sometimes, I think money-wise that I would have made more money as a coal miner than as a teacher. I remember I had a teacher who applied to teach. He was a coal miner, and I told him, " You may be making more money than you would teaching art (he wanted to teach art). He said, "Well, I make $120 a day." I said, "You will only make about $60 teaching art." Of course, he continued to be a coal miner. I didn't want to get into coal mining. I wanted to further my education. As I went along, I think I became interested in teaching because many of the teachers, particularly that I had in high school were good role models. I looked up to them a whole lot, and I think I wanted to be like them. So, I think those early experiences of wanting to get away from something, the coal fields, and wanting to get into something which I thought was important--education- was an incentive for my going into that direction.
Q: You talk about the circumstances surrounding your entering your principalship. Would you elaborate more?
A: I would like to say that I enjoyed teaching tremendously. I liked the close relation with the kids. I liked kids very much all through my school work, and I think that was one reason I wanted to get into teaching. I like to work with youth. I have had the opportunity in my community to work with kids in Sunday School and other places, so I think that I became interested in that. However, as I was working around the schools as a teacher, I found that I was interested in the whole facet of the program rather than just the curriculum. I was interested in the building, the buses, the custodial--I liked the whole thing. I thought I would like to do something to help with the whole thing. That's what prompted me to go towards the principalship. Then, of course, the money, too, was an incentive to go that direction.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education? How did it evolve over the years?
A: I think, perhaps, that my early life there with my mother and my uncles and aunts, particularly on my mother's side, was a very pleasant experience. My mother was very humane. My grandparents were so humane and my aunts and uncles. I was thrown into this environment because we lived in a very close radius there. We could be at everybody's house within a period of about ten minutes walking. I was in and around very gentle natured people. I learned a lot from them. My dad was a coal miner in the mines from daylight to dark, and I didn't get to see him much on the weekends. I was thrown there with my uncles who were young, and I had a lot in common with (them), and with my grandparents who, my granddaddy particular was a farmer, and he was home all the time. I was thrown into his keep a lot of the time. I learned a lot from him--his common sense approach to everything. I know he used to say things like, "Fellers, we are all drinking out of the same trough." What he meant was, we are all in this life together. Also, I remember he used to say, "Now, Jone, the still sow drinks the slop." What he was saying was, if you listen and look and observe, you will learn more than you will if you get in there and hog and root around all the time and be so forceful. I think that I learned there in my early years in this small community rural life this business of getting along. The church was the center of our cultural life at that time perhaps because that was all there was--and the little school. I think I began to relate to people, all kinds of people, all ages of people, and I like people. As a result, I think I wanted to do a job that would help people. I thought teaching was the thing. As I taught a while, I thought that I could do more and needed to do more with the whole plan. I think I developed a philosophy of helping people, particularly helping kids, helping teaching teachers, helping make the whole panorama of the school system work from an individual school standpoint. I think my liking people and being interested in people, particularly kids, was the result of my early years with a very humane mother and extended family.
Q: As you progressed through your education at the undergraduate level and graduate level, did your formal education help you develop that educational philosophy?
A: Yes, I think it modified my philosophy as I went along. I began to see as I got into competition in college in the university that you could not be successful unless you managed or handled what you were learning. I found that you need to develop skills in order to do the educational scene. Just wanting to help people and wanting to help kids particularly, was not enough unless you had the skills to do it. You needed to know what they needed and how to relate to them and how to bond with them so that you could, of course, work with them. I took several courses in college and university in the things that I needed to know in order for me to return to my setting and do some things I wanted to do with the people in the area in which I lived.
Q: We know it is important to be a good manager when you are a principal. Can you relate your experiences and events in your professional life that influenced your management philosophy?
A: I found out pretty early in my work area that I could not do it by myself. I could not do it all. Although sometimes, I wanted to set up a little one-room red school house and be the king and everybody be my subjects. I realized that I did not have the know-how or the time or the skills to do that. As a result I had to manage. I had to hire people who could do the job and knew what they were doing and depend on them to do it. I realized that I couldn't be an expert in all areas of curriculum and that I needed to call on supervision from the central office, from other areas for inservice using available people from the colleges and universities for inservice, as well as central office personnel, as well as community leaders. I found that I was better as a manager than I was at being a specialist in a particular area of the curriculum. I tried to develop management skills real quickly.
Q: We know that harmony is so important in the school. Can you tell us about how you created a successful climate in the schools where you were principal?
A: Someone has said that 'so goes the principal, so goes the school,' and that was the philosophy that seemed to speak to my thinking. If I could set a proper climate, if I could set a humane climate, if I could set a climate where everybody wanted to succeed, where every area of the school--each area from teachers to custodians, to cooks, to bus drivers, to aides, to the students, felt they were important, felt that they were needed, felt that their job was the most important job around the school, that this would inspire them to do their very best. I wanted a climate in which teachers could relax and do their best, not feel pressured, not feel 'snoopervised.' I tried to develop an environment in which they felt I was interested, that I liked them personally, and respected them professionally not only that they were a professional cohort but that they were also a personal friend.
Q: We know teachers expect a great deal of the principal. What do you think are a few of the characteristics or things that teachers expect a principal to do or be?
A: I think they want you to know your job. I think they expect you to know what you are doing to stay up front. I think they expect that you should be willing to do what they do and be a leader and go beyond what they do. I think they want you to be a person they can come to confidentially and express their aspirations and their inhibitions, their fears on a confidential level and that you will try as best you can, yourself, and with the help of other people, to help them do a good job. I think they expect you to be a role model morally and professionally. I think they demand that you stand up for them and support them when they need you.
Q: As a follow-up question, would you describe the expectations, both professionally and personally, that were placed upon principals by their employer and the community during that period of time that you were in the principalship?
A: When I first got into the principalship, I felt that the principal was definitely the single leader of his school--that he was expected to make the decisions and to come for help only when he couldn't make an intelligent decision. I think that during the earlier years, there was more freedom to perhaps explore new ideas and to do just about anything that wasn't harmful to the kids, or to the teachers, or to the community. This was before things grew to an extent that they required a lot of professional help from every area in the community to get the job done. In the early years of my principalship, I was pretty well the educational leader of curriculum. I was in charge of everything. I was in charge, at first, of hauling food into the lunchroom. I was in charge of making sure kids came to school and of making sure that everyone was fed. My first two years were very enjoyable because after I got the kids there, the buses came in and the custodians and everyone was there doing their job, I had a lot of freedom to get out and visit in the community. Sometimes, I spent half a day in the community and maybe eat lunch in the community around Liberty Hall. This situation changed dramatically in the next ten to fifteen years. You just didn't have the time to get involved to that extent in the community.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to topics of personal leadership in recent years. Would you please discuss your approach to leadership and describe those techniques which worked for you during your tenure?
A: I tried particularly during my earlier years to serve as the educational leader in the schools. I think it wasn't until I got in two schools as assistant principal, into two large elementary schools, large by our numbers here in Southwest Virginia, (roughly in the two schools, there were close to 2,000 kids and probably about 70 teachers) I found that I could not maintain the same structure and/or pace in these two large schools, working with seventy teachers, that I had previously in smaller schools with ten to twenty teachers. I had to make some adjustments there in terms of how I organized and approached the curriculum. I worked curriculum to a large degree in the two schools. As a result, I had to secure a lot of inservice through the central office and from various other areas, sometimes a specialist from another school or another system. Sometimes a college or university would provide me some good help. I found that I had to make many adjustments going from two smaller schools to two larger schools. I found that I had to become a facilitator rather than, you might say, a role leader in that structure.
Q: There are those who would 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 view on this issue?
A: I found that the central office to be especially helpful to me because the principal is so involved in many areas other than the curriculum that he needs some specialists, particularly in the curriculum area, to help. I found that I relied heavily on the supervisory staff for the teachers, I relied pretty heavily on the support staff supervisors for help with buses, lunchroom, custodial, and those areas. I felt that I was the leader in these areas, but I needed additional help and support from these folks. I used them very, very much. I think they learned about my school and were more supportive probably by the fact that I was utilizing them than they would have been had I not been. I think they felt that I needed them, and wanted them, and gave them a positive feeling about the school. As a result, I feel that kept things on a positive level.
Q: In your tenure, you've seen a lot of people come and go , like superintendents, supervisors, and assistant superintendents throughout the system who ran the system different ways. If you could have been the man in charge during that time, what would you have done to make things better?
A: I think that during my whole tenure there as principal, that I found that the central office and school board had to do with what they had. In the earlier years, there was not people to do a lot of supervision and help with individual schools. As a result, everything did fall on the principal. As time went along and as more money became available, particularly more state and federal money, we realized more of an abundance of supervisory help to get involved in the schools. In the earlier years, you pretty well had to be the king of your school because the administration was very small in the central office. As a result, you adjusted to that--to taking care of all the needs. As the central office staff became more plentiful and with more people installed in more specific areas in the central office, I found that utilizing them was the route to go. I always felt that this was to my advantage to use everybody that I could find. I never got to the point that I didn't need some help, and I always called on them, sometimes more than they wanted to be called on perhaps. But that was the way I like to run it.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would be the best advice you could give them?
A: I would think that the number one priority would be, "Are you willing to put in long hours?," and "Are you willing to deal with a lot of people?" "Are you willing to do a lot of reading and take a lot of courses?" "Are you willing to stay on top of the educational system?" "Are you willing to give up your nights and a lot of your weekends?" "Are you willing to take phone calls at home about a lot of things and sometimes frivolous things?" "Are you willing to be cooperative?" "Are you willing to give and take?" "Are you willing to be supervised?" "Are you willing to deal with a lot of details?"
Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for a principal if you were interviewing people for the principalship? What would be your ideal requirements and how would you go about screening those people to become a principal?
A: I think that one of the requirements should be a good background in several areas of curriculum. I think it would be advantageous for any principal to have had a liberal arts education in the first few years--three or four years of liberal arts--to get a feel for the whole panorama of the instructional program. I feel that this person should be a person who likes to manage; a person who likes to make decisions; a person who is willing to live with the decisions he makes and not become unduly burdened down with them; a person who can roll with the punches--take a lot of flak, and be willing to go on and stay positive in spite of all the negatives that sometimes surround the job; a person who above all likes people, and likes kids, and all facets of their lives--their aspirations, their fears, and everything involved in dealing with young people.
Q: Do you think it is important that the principal be actually involved in community affairs? During your time as principal, what civic groups or community organizations did you belong to?
A: I think the community always expects the principal to be involved in at least some things. It's probably impossible to be involved in every civic function that is available in the community; however, I think that a principal should choose at least one or two activities depending on what is available. I was always involved wherever I was or whatever community I was working in, in the Lion's Club. Usually if there was a citizen's committee or Citizen's Club, I was involved in that. I helped assist with Little League and things that kids were involved in. I always attended a church in the community that I taught, occasionally, if that was not my homebased church. I would attend with my wife in order to see the types of activities and kinds of things that were being done in the various churches in the various places that I worked. However, I never did join a church in a community just to be in that church. I simply visited, keeping my membership in my home church where I lived. Most of the time, as a matter of fact all of the time that I was in the principalship, I never worked in the community that I lived in. I was never fortunate enough or unfortunate enough to work in the school in my community. That had its pros and cons, its negatives and assets, I'm sure. At any rate, I think the principal has to be involved in some things--not everything--but some things.
Q: It has been said that there is a home/school gap. 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 citizens who were important to the well-being of the school?
A: I think that we see this home/school gap changing from year to year and from community to community. For instance, in the rural schools that I taught, the home gap was a result of not knowing the value of helping the children at home. In the larger schools that I worked, I found the involvement was not as great as it should have been because both parents were working in the larger schools in the suburban areas. I think that one way we can involve parents is through the PTAs and other school activities that we have. However, this does not reach or meet the needs of many of the parents that we need to interact with. I think that a good home visit is very important, particularly when students are either not coming to school regularly or not doing well in school. If a home visit is impossible, a phone call--try to make contact in any way that can be done, because I think that if the parents think that you think their child is important and that their education is important, they will get involved more. You have to light the fire from time to time in your community in any possible way you can to keep the involvement going.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of the evaluation?
A: The evaluation process, I think, is an on-going thing. I think that you can best work with the teacher that is seeing you a whole lot, and that you don't have any surprises for him or her. They know all along how you feel how things are going. They know as a result of your continuous visiting in the room, in the halls, around the building. I think that probably one of the best ways to evaluate a person is to look at their motivation, their interests, their rapport with children, the community and the parents. You cannot neglect the curriculum evaluation in part because that is, of course, the meat of your program. But unless all of the other supportive areas fall into place, the curriculum will be neglected. I always made the point to make a lot of short visits rather than one or two formal visits. I wanted them to always feel that I might visit or could visit and that I was not looking for anything to be punitive with or to be critical of, but looking for ways that I, with what I knew about the program, could help them. However, you do have to, in the end, put down some remarks/comments for improvement or for continuing the good job they are doing--that all of this comes much easier if all along the road you have been talking about everything that has been going on so there are no surprises when you write down something at the end of the year.
Q: In your tenure we know that you probably found some teachers who were dissatisfied. How did you handle those situations?
A: The best way that I found to handle this is to do a lot of talking. Perhaps, too, this person is unhappy, or dissatisfied, or has personal problems, or has some things about the system that is bothering them, is to make them feel comfortable with me, be standing at the counter every morning to speak to everyone, make them feel that I am interested and comfortable, that they are comfortable with me and that I am comfortable with them. Then, start talking about how things are going. "Just how are things going today?" "Are there any things I can help you with?" "Do you need any help from anybody?" If you know you do need to give someone some help, you try to work them up to it rather than impose it on them. You feel them out and get their feelings. Many times, they will ask for help. If you can get them to ask for help, you've come a long way. However, if you have some teachers that have grievances that are not solvable or there are no solutions to it within your own school, it would be very advisable to secure as much support service as you can from the central office or from anyone who can help you with what the problem seems to be.
Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal? Have you had any involvement in any of those activities during your time as principal?
A: Fortunately, I didn't have any reason for dismissal during my tenure. I have had some folks who needed more help than I could give them. I have had folks who didn't want as much help as I thought they needed. I have had those who tended to resent a lot of suggestions. With those you simply keep on keeping on--you don't give up on them because you know they can teach or they wouldn't be there in the first place. You keep working with them in every way you can hoping that dismissal will not come about. However, this does happen from time to time, and if it does, you should have very good reasons and they should have been laid out all along the road so that you don't surprise them with a dismissal or probation at the end of the year.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools? What features and characteristics are present in less successful ones?
A: I think as I worked my own school and visited around in other schools, I found that a cheerful environment was mandatory. You could not operate with people (in an environment) in which there was stress, strife, fear, anger, distrust and chaos. The most successful schools that I have been in and been associated with and looked at and viewed and evaluated from time to time as an evaluator, I have found that the attitude of the principal would set the tone for the attitude of the teachers who would set the tone for the attitude of the students. To not have a positive attitude and a feeling of respect and characteristics that are positive in nature, it would be very forceful and very hard to carry out a program of learning in an environment of that nature.
Q: Salaries and other compensations have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections on the compensation system of your school system during the early years you were a principal? Give your view on the development in this area since then.
A: When I started my principalship in 1964, I started at $5,500. There was a base salary of $4,000 and then you got $2 per child that you had at that time. There was no scale or negotiated thing between the superintendent and the principal. The only thing that was not negotiable was the $2 per child. The base salary for principals at that time was negotiable. There was not a sliding scale or an index of any kind. Simple, "Would you do it for this?", and then you got $2 per child. My last year, I think I was making $44,000. That was 30 years later. We had scales, indexes, and various other systems, and you knew all along what you were going to be making and why you were making it. The money increased quite dramatically in the thirty years. However, the money to start with was so low that it took thirty years to get a decent salary. I was ready to retire when the money was getting pretty good.
Q: In most systems, we have tenure or continuing contracts as Virginia does for their teachers after a probationary period of time. Would you discuss this situation and give us your opinion of continued contract status?
A: At the time I started working in the schools, actually I started teaching--I taught five or six years before I got into administration, you had no tenure or continuing contract. There was no formal evaluation, and you talked all along the road about how things were going. There was nothing said at the end that wasn't said all along. There was no paperwork, no scales or anything in terms of how you were doing. To a certain extent, that worked rather well in light of the fact that the principal or administrator felt they were responsible to keep telling you all along the good things you were doing and the poor things you were doing. I think, as a result, it promoted more dialog than perhaps the paperwork that it involved. You had a closer relationship with the principal without the paperwork than you did with the paperwork. However, I do know and feel that there has to be paper trails, particularly since the systems have gotten larger and schools have gotten larger and teachers are evaluated in many more areas than they were originally when all you had to do was make sure that everybody- that all the children did well, that children and parents were happy, teachers were happy. That informal relationship has changed the same as other areas of culture has changed. Those things will never be again, and I wouldn't want to go back to that informal system. However, as I say, it did have some positive effects, I think.
Q: As you know, public schools in this country were founded on the principle of free public education. Would you give your view of this concept and indicate your feelings on how practical this approach is in today's time?
A: I think universal free education is definitely a goal for which we should shoot. However, I think we have to be realistic and realize that it takes money to do this even with the amounts that we realize from the state and federal government, various grants, and things of this nature, it still is an expensive venture for parents that have children even in elementary school. There are a lot of expenses. I think if in the USA, we would put our priorities in the right order and view education as the important institution that it is, (perhaps, other than the church, it is the most important institution in the country), I think we could provide some pre-education beyond secondary. I would like to see kids to be able to get a year or two years beyond secondary with a lot of the expenses paid. I think that through the community colleges and things of this nature, we are going in that direction, but it still is an expensive venture for a lot of people who have several children and not very much money.
Q: If you could change three areas of public education as you view it today, what would those three changes be?
AOne that we just mentioned. I think our priorities are wrong. For instance, I could have made a lot more money driving a truck than I could being a principal. I think we need our priorities in the right place. Education is the foundation of our country. I feel our strength lies in educated people. I think that we need to convince the public that the schools are important. Another area that is important to me is the fact that kids go out into the world from high school and sometimes even from with just an elementary training without any help or assistance in terms of how to function as a person in the society. For instance, they don't have enough direction in terms of how to establish a home and a marriage relationship. We are not doing enough in high schools and probably in elementary in terms of the psychological realm of the student's life. For instance, I'm not sure that in the high schools students are aware of the problems they are really having because they have no guidelines to go by. They assume that everybody has some of the problems they have. Perhaps guidance has taken up the slack in some of these areas, particularly in high school and to some extent in elementary education, but I still have a feeling that we have a lot of frustrated children that need somebody they can bond with and talk to. Perhaps we need a course in high school in general psychology. I think so much of the success of a child, particularly success of anybody in general, is geared to how they feel about themselves. If they feel positive and good or if they are burdened down all the time with personal problems and problems that are solvable if they just had someone to relate to or perhaps talk to.
Q: How would you describe your relationships with the different superintendents who were your bosses during your tenure?
A: Fortunately, I had what I think were effective superintendents. I had probably a half-dozen altogether during the thirty years. Each of them operated somewhat differently. Each of them was supportive in somewhat of a different way. I always felt that I had their support and their backing and that I could go to them if I had a problem, and that they would not hold it against me later for not being able to solve it. I'm sure that they wanted me to succeed because it made them succeed. However, I never felt that I had anyone who was not a friend or a support system. For that I am very thankful.
Q: Would you describe your participation or how you handled the civil rights situation back in the '60's? What was your involvement in that period of time?
A: In 1965, when Washington County Schools were integrated, the county decided, with the help of Emory & Henry College, to set up a summer school prior to going into the fall session called Pace I in which we brought together the kids from the county, elementary and high school, who wanted to come to summer school. As a result we got a pretty good mixture of blacks and whites. The black ratio that summer was probably 35%. We were able to help bridge some of the gaps and alleviate some of the fears and phobias that could have or did exist. We had a pupil/teacher ratio of 8:1 kids. We had the basic courses for them plus recreation and gym. We fed them and brought them into Patrick Henry High School. I think we brought in about 600 kids with enough teachers for a pupil/teacher ratio of 8:1, I believe. That was one of the most rewarding experiences I had as an administrator in that I worked with that program. It helped me that fall when we were integrated in my own school to have had some experience on a large level with a lot of kids and a lot of teachers. We hauled them on busses, went all over the county, kept them two-thirds of the day, and sent them home. They left with a good taste in their mouth. We picnicked them at the end and all of that kind of thing. We didn't have a fight at all. I guess it helped that fall when all schools were integrated to have done that summer program.
Q: It has been said that curriculum has become more and more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time that you were principal and compare it to today's situation?
A: Although the curriculum is basically divided as it was years ago when I first got into the basic disciplines: language, social science, science, itself, and mathematics. Each of those areas has certainly expanded. For instance, when I first got into it you had reading, you had spelling, you had English. Now you call it language arts. It encompassed the whole thing, but it's a coordinated effort in which you teach all the languages under one umbrella. In some other areas, math and science, it has been coordinated much better than it was originally was as separate disciplines. The social studies has been integrated to a great extent with language arts. There are a lot more guidelines and a lot more resources to help to do each of the disciplines than there were originally. There was one textbook for one discipline. Now there are various resources, multi-media, all kinds of machinery, apparatus, and techniques to help you deal with those basic disciplines. They are still the basic disciplines but they are handled differently- looked at differently.
Q: There are some that say that standardized testing improves instruction. Give us your view on standardized testing and indicate if you feel it does improve the quality of the instructional program.
A: I always like to see test scores to see where a child was along the pattern or continuum of their education. I think that test scores are very vital; however, I don't think we could, can, or should use them as a guide to develop our curriculum. I do think that test scores serve the purpose of taking the temperature of a child along this continuum. It helps you to see his strengths and his weaknesses more vividly than do just daily tests, or unit tests, or things of this nature. I think the standard tests scores help you to see him in light of what he should be doing as compared to the other students in his school, in his own county, in his region and state. I don't think we should teach toward test scores; however, I do think we need them to put them down as one vehicle and one unit under which we use to guide us through our instructional programs for the children.
Q: If you could make some suggestions to universities and colleges as to the way they prepare their candidates for administration, what suggestions would you make?
A: One of the most effective things that I realized was probably some things that you are going through or have been aware of is the in-basket technique. That is you take a basket full of problems and you solve them. You have a bundle of problems on paper and you take them and work through them: problems with kids, curriculum problems, bus problems, problems with personnel, etc. I think the in-basket technique is very effective. Another thing that I think would be most helpful to administrators is, they need to be paired (this may be a question a little later) with a very effective administrator so they can see what he does well and what he doesn't do so well. You learn a lot by seeing what not to do. I think I learned probably more from my mistakes than from my successes. It's very imperative that administrators have a good person to work with prior to getting into administration.
Q: If you could reflect back on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you would consider your administrative strengths and your weaknesses?
A: I think my strengths would be in dealing with people, ranging from the kids through all the support services, right on up through the faculty teachers: being able to empathize with them; being able to put myself in their shoes; and being able to anticipate problems before they happen. I think my weakness was in being too humane. There were times when it was hard for me to be objective when I needed to be.
Q: It has been said that a good leader encourages subordinates and peers in staging celebrations for their successes no matter how small or insignificant they might be. Tell us about some things that you did during your time to celebrate with your staff's successes.
A: We used to have a little computer printout--note sheets--that simply said, "You did a good job..." and you wrote in what it was. I tried to find something every week for each faculty member, and not only the faculty but the support staff, too--custodians, bus drivers, cooks and aides--and say something positive and good. Sometimes it was hard to come up with something because you had not seen much. You had not been around that much, but you could always remember something to say. They started to look forward to this. In their plan books, I always wrote them a note (I always checked plan books every week. I would take them up on Friday and read them over the weekend.) I would always write something positive on them. Even though sometimes the teacher would get in a hurry and not do a very good job planning or maybe be rushed or sick, I would always put down something positive anyhow. If I wanted to get something done that wasn't being done, I would say it in a positive way. I remember that teachers got (at first they were apprehensive about my reading these plan books) to the point where they looked forward to it because they wanted to see what kind of feedback I would give them. They knew it would be something good, but they just wanted to see if I could say something different. I remember one Friday, I had to be out of town and I didn't take up the plan books. This teacher had worked so feverishly the night before, Thursday night, to have it ready for my taking up on Friday, and I know I went by the rooms, as I normally did, and picked up one at a time. This gave me a chance to see if they were doing what they said they were doing. I told her I was not going to take plan books this weekend. I said, "I've got to be out of town." She said, "Darn! I worked half the night last night getting a good plan!" I said, "OK, just let me look at it now, and I will see how you are doing." So I wrote her a very positive compliment. I always felt that just something positive, it didn't have to be anything big, was something they looked forward to. You get them accustomed to something and they want it, even though at first it was somewhat apprehensive in that you want to cut it apart. They found out you weren't and they wanted to see how you reacted to what they were really doing.
Q: Talk about your decision to retire--some of the reasons that led to that decision, if you feel that you retired too early, if you feel like you did not retire too early, if you regret it, if you do not regret it. Talk about retirement in general.
A: Originally, I planned to stay in administration until I was 62, until social security time. In 1991, the governor came out with an early retirement system for state employees. I met the criteria for retirement and pondered it a long time before I decided what I should do. I looked at the financial aspect of it, and I was not losing a lot of money by getting out early. I was only 58 at the time. I could have gone another four years. Healthwise, I could have handled it four more years and maybe even more; but, I felt like the load was getting harder and harder and that eventually I would come to the point that I could not be as effective as I wanted to be or as effective as the system wanted me to be. I felt that it was a good time to retire since my wife was also retiring under the retirement system, and I had a small farm that I had not been able to keep the fences up and keep the brush down. I had a few cows I liked to fool with, and the retirement system provided our coming back 24 days per year and working. I knew I still had the contact with all my former friends because my friends were all in schools. I don't know my next door neighbors, but I know most all the teachers. It gave me an outlet to go back 24 days a year and be in the schools and be in several different schools. I couldn't see too may negatives. As a result, I made the commitment and have not regretted it. I did the 24 days for five years. I enjoyed every bit of it, but I decided I needed to spend more time on the farm. I haven't had any regrets at all except I do miss a lot of my friends--not only the teachers, but administrators and the supervisory people in the central office, school board people, the communities where I worked, the parents and those people.
Q: If you could pass along some advice to today's administrators, what would be the central theme?
A: The person who is considering administration should do a lot of soul searching, do a lot of talking. Talk to a lot of people who really like administration and talk to some people who have been in it and gotten out. See why they got out. What were the things they couldn't relate to? Find a college or university that offers some good practical courses that will be helpful. Find a college or university that will place you, if possible, with a good role model to help you see the whole panorama aspects not only of the school itself but of the whole community and all the things that the principal has to be involved in--much more than the curriculum although I believe the state recommends 70% of the time in curriculum. It's very hard to get that in, so you have to realize that you are going to have to be a manager of a lot of things. Curriculum is one thing you will have to manage the same as you manage the lunchroom and as you manage the buses. You will definitely want to be a manager and a person that works with people and can give and take, roll with the punches, be positive under dire circumstances, and be able to mix and mingle with people of various ages, abilities, various temperaments and personalities and all those things that make us all human.
Q: I would like to back up on one comment you made that we would be interested in hearing. Would you briefly elaborate on what you were talking about when you were at Liberty Hall and hauled food to the cafeteria?
A: In those days, you didn't have these food salesmen coming by selling food as we have today. We didn't have delivery people as we have today. In a little school the size of Liberty Hall, I believe we had 225 kids and seven teachers, the principal did a little bit of everything. He janitored a little bit, he occasionally helped serve in the lunchroom, he dropped by Piggly-Wiggly or another store and picked up some groceries on the way in (I would go out in the community and buy potatoes from some of the farmers). Just before I went there, they had raised their own potatoes on the school grounds the year before. It was one of those situations in which you improvised. There was no set role for the principal. You did whatever had to be done. I mowed the yard a lot of times, drove the bus occasionally, taught occasionally when a teacher was out sick. I went in the homes and visited and ate lunch with parents, and I hauled some children who had tonsil problems and had their tonsils taken out, took them to the dentist and had dental work done, and took them to Damascus and bought them shoes and clothes. The principal in those days did whatever there was to do. You did do some curriculum, but you did so many other things beside curriculum.
Q: It is almost impossible, with your varied experiences in years of your tenure, for me to cover everything through this questioning. I thought you might want to elaborate on something we may have left out or maybe spend some more time discussing at length one other area.
A: I would like to see high schools and colleges seek and solicit good people to go into administration and/or school related fields the same as they try to direct very aggressively people into other related fields. I think a lot of us got into administration accidentally. I remember originally in our county the way you got into administration you had to be a football coach. That was your best way. People got to know you, and school board people knew you and said, "There is a good man. He is a good coach. He likes boys and can relate to kids. Let's make him principal." I think at one time, all of our principals in our county were previous coaches. That is a good way to select because coaches have managerial ability and relate to people well and have an outgoing personality. I would like to see earlier in life for people to start identifying prospective administrators and help them go that direction so that they don't get into by accident or later in life when they find they have to go back and take a lot of courses or maybe start all over again with some of your university work to become an administrator. I think you can spot administrators early on the same as you can spot athletes or people that are good in art or good in science or math. I think you can spot administrators. This would be a step forward for colleges to spend some effort and time with a testing program to see if this person meets the criteria for administrative work, if they are interested in it.
Q: Mr. Sutherland, on behalf of myself and Foney Mullins, we would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience and relive these experiences that you have had and we thank you for your time that you spent with us in being very candid. We appreciate it.
A: I appreciate your asking me, Duane and Foney, to be a part of this discussion. It gave me an opportunity to vicariously relive many of my good days, and also, I had some bad days come to my attention as we were discussing this. I think it has helped me more than anything that has happened to me since I retired to look back, this is the first chance I have had, to look back and revisit many of the situations that were all real to me a few years ago. It had me even look back at my early childhood and some of the things that went on there. It has been a rewarding experience for me.
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