Interview with Carter Thorpe


This interview took place at Chantilly High School in Chantilly, Virginia at approximately 1:30 pm.

| Back to "T" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |

Q: OK, lets start with an easy question. Is how did you decide to get into education to start with?

thorpe audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: How.

Q: Or why?

A: I went to teachers college. I was born is Washington, DC. and with the thought of maybe eventually going to medical school. So I started taking, teachers college was free and I was poor they go together and taking science classes but the more I thought about other things, teaching appealed to me, so I just changed my mind and went into teaching.

Q: Instead of medicine.

A: Right.

Q: Oh good. Um, Well how many years were you a teacher?

A: 5 years.

Q: 5 years and then you became a ?

A: A science supervisor for Fairfax County.

Q: That was basically a curriculum specialist for science.

A: Right,right, and then spent 25 years as principal at Thoreau Intermediate school.

Q: Now you opened Thoreau didn't you?

A: Right.

Q: Was that fun, did you request to do that?

A: Oh yes, right well, once I decided to be a teacher I really wanted to be at the Junior High School level, because that's were I had the best teachers of my whole life. You know they changed my whole life, my Junior High School teachers.

Q: How so?

A: Just great teachers, encourage you know,and so did very well and when you do very well in something you are. That was my best time in all of school, junior high school. I just had great,great teachers and it wasjust fun. I became an English minor. They said you had to have a minor in addition to a major field. so I had such a great 7th grade English teacher I said well I'll be an English minor. And that's how I got that business. I started teaching at McLean High School. uh in fact I was at McLean High School when it opened. and taught science and english. and then the first curriculum specialist Fairfax County ever had was a science supervisor and so he'd come around to see us and then he took a job with HEW and so they needed some poor soul and so they said would you so I did for one year and it was a good experience. You know working Central office you learned at lot of things. You learn how the system works and which button to push and which bell to ring to get things done. you Know. and I was science fair director for Northern Virginia. At that time Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and Prince William all went together for one science fair. And so the two winners and I went to Indianapolis to the National Science Fair. Good Experience. But at the same time intermediate schools were coming along. they were not in existence in 1959.

Q: They were still combined with the High Schools.

A: Seventh grade went through elementary school. Eight through twelve was high school. So when I was teaching at McLean High School I was teaching eighth,ninth, eleventh, and twelve grades. So, when I was in Central Office you know you listen central office wasn't that big . The Department of Instruction was over the 10 cents store in Fairfax. And so we moved to Page avenue which is where the Superintendent is housed now. But at that time finance, construction, and personnel all were in that new building. There was plenty of room for every body. There was plenty of room to spare. And so we worked their. They were working the plans formulating the opening of intermediate schools. So I was right there so I did the science room design and equipment for them. I helped formulate the first schedules and so and then they put out the search (pause for the school bell to ring) for principals well you know they needed principals and I am interested so I just applied and I got i it t.

Q: So did you have your masters degree?

A: Almost, Almost. But I've never been an assistant principal in my life. (pause for school announcement) so that's how I got into intermediate school and teaching.

Q: Did you finish you Masters?

A: Oh yea very quickly.

Q: Very quickly.

A: In that first year. I think a. I had maybe a course to take in comprehension.

Q: Well, how many intermediate schools opened?

A: Eight.

Q: Eight opened all at home time.

A: Yes

Q: So that must have been very exciting.

A: It was. Exciting in some ways and very difficult in other ways. Well, Madison High School had just opened one year before and they had grades 8 - 12. So when we opened the intermediate school, Madison was kind enough to send me back to intermediate school 53 kids that had failed the eighth grade.

Q: Oh my gosh!

A: So I mean they knew all the high school tricks.

Q: And what year was this again?

A: 1960.

Q: 1960.

A: And so that was a challenge. and I was so young and experienced, 29, It was a young time.

Q: Yes

A: But I learned fast you know and the buildings moved into the building was I guess maybe eighty percent complete. No cafeteria, no shops, no gym. and that special project end of the building was just not completed . But we opened and we mottled through.

Q: How many kids did you open with?

A: Almost 1,000.

Q: In an unfinished building.

A: Right. And of course the county was growing at a great rate in those days. Like a classroom a day,Fairfax County. And so everybody was crowded or over crowded very quickly. And so it was not long before I left there we were up to 1500.

Q: And the school was built for ....

A: 1000

Q: It was built for 1000.

A: We had like a dozen temporary buildings out back, but they didn't enlarge the cafeteria or the rest rooms. We had just one gym for 1500 kids. You can appreciate.

Q: Yes I can.

A: What a you know we had class sizes of 60 in gym and it was just well I'm not sure you have a huge gym here no doubt and maybe you have an auxiliary gym.

Q: Well we just have the one main gym.

A: Just the one main gym.

Q: This is the auxiliary gym.

A: Well our gym was about this size divided in half and we did have a corrective gym. (pause for school announcement) but it was tough in those early days. You know, and Fairfax County then was not what Fairfax County is now. By a long shot. You know curriculums weren't fully developed and I say I was the first special area supervisor in science and eventually they added other areas.

Q: But the science was the first?

A: And the only reason we got that was the Sputnik and the Russians. There was a lot of pressure on in Science, So Science they needed science help and that's how science got a little added boost early. A lot of things came along like NDEA, National Defense Education Act, and that put a lot money into science and foreign language instruction. And so science and foreign language had money to spend for equipment that everybody else in whole school system wanted but did not have.

Q: They didn't have money to ..

A: Right. In those days, ah, when you came to Fairfax county you came for 2 days of orientation new. New teachers came so you went to orientation 2 days unpaid days before contracts. Starting salary at McLean HS was 3200.00 .

Q: That was for a regular instructional teacher.

A: Right. I don't care how long ago that was $3200.00 still you know and you couldn't afford you had to have another job just to.

Q: To get by.

A: Yea.

Q: What was your salary when you started as principal there?

A: Ah, well it's a funny thing I went from a classroom 9 1/2 months I guess teachers were then 9 3/4. And so I went to Central office and became 11 month employee and so then they calculate your salary up from 9 1/2 to 11 month you know they just pay you the additional 6 weeks. And so you went from 11 month to 12 month you just figured up another 11th more or 10th more and made you. $6100.00 was first year principal.

Q: So there was any difference from the teacher scale basically except they paid you for 12 months.

A: That's the only way in essence they had to promote people. You see to give you any kind of more money. You'd have an athletic director in a high school, guidance director, principal, assistant principal. As schools got bigger, you added an assistant principal for instruction. So those were the only administrative positions. Basically your salary was determined by how long you worked. Then the eventually got to the point where they indexed salaries based,you know, teaching . And so the Southern Association say the principal has to make more money than any one in the school. Or it did say that , I don't if it still says that or not. But and so that helped out a little bit too since I was so little and so poor.

Q: Well, let's talk about your leadership style. What do you think your leadership style or styles maybe you used more than one while you were principal?

A: Well, lets say what the principal, what I think the principals job is (pause for school announcement) In the kind of school I was in not like a secondary school, Chantilly , Robinson. The principal's an instructional leader. And so the principal must be a good teacher himself or herself. If you don't know what good teaching is how can you help other people become good teachers. That's the principal role of the teacher of the principal.

Q: It looks like its working alright.

A: Good.

Q: Now where were we? So your leadership style was kind of stay out of the way and let your good teachers do their thing.

A: Oh no. I wouldn't harass you know. But supervision is part of what goes on in a school too and I had a school small enough.

Q: How many staff did you have?

A: Oh , I guess maximum we had maybe 70. Most we ever had. And then in time we got down to 55 or so would be the working level. But teachers, I want them to feel comfortable with me walking into the room. As comfortable as you can with anybody walking into the room, you know. This was before Career Level II, you know. And.

Q: How do feel about that? How do you feel about that? Say merit pay and ..

A: Ever since the day one of school I've been for merit pay .

Q: Oh really.

A: Oh sure. I mean what other business in the world pays every the employee exactly the same in and upon a built in production plan. And its just not right that some people come in and just you know, you know, you've been in school long enough to envision people float in and float out in a school this size you could have a horrible teacher in the secondary level could be here ten years and the kids won't say anything because ... depending upon the subject of course. If it were a subject they're physically interested in, you might get some complaints. But if you have a poor teacher that's willing to float along. You know these guys they'll float along too. Lets just enjoy the day.

Q: Right.

A: And so, and the career level II thing while it's murder on administrators and teachers think they are the ones that have it tough . They don't begin to have it as tough as the administrators that are doing the observing and writing the reports and things. Because it is much easier as an administrator if I can say "Well you know hello Mary, you OK and I'm OK " and things just go along. But if I've got to say your a 1,2,3 ,4 or 5 and you think your 1 and I think your 3. Then friendship is going to be stained, when I say your a 3 and you say you're a 1.

Q: Do you think the administrators now can handle that strain?

A: NO. Well, but this had to come along eventually you've got to get better administrators who are instructionally oriented, you know. You've got to have people in it that know good teaching. The skillful teacher program is great program and if for the money career level II cost the county just to get people interested in talking about skillful teaching and what is good teaching and what is not good teaching. They've got their money a thousand times over. And those morons that did not pass the merit pay system, you know. They shot down an awful lot good work by a lot of good people. And it's sad really. There's a man on the school board, Tony Carnelli, and I went to junior high school together and high school together and we played ball together, semi-pro ball together. You know, we're just good friends. We went to teachers college together. And he didn't really go into public school teaching but a little while in Arlington and then he ran the overseas program for the department of defense. He's head of all the overseas school programs for the department of defense all over the world. And he's on the school board and we were talking store and he said for 11 million dollars they could implement this program. So you know, it is something less it wasn't the money. 11 million dollars to Fairfax County is. I mean they spend as much on video tape.

Q: A billion dollar budget. Right.

A: So, I'm not sure really I haven't really had a chance to talk to anyone to find what the real reason why. But for once teachers could make a respectable living. I have a wife that's still a counselor at Robinson.

Q: Oh really.

A: Yea, And of course she gets an extended contract, I don't know if you are extended contract?

Q: No , I'm on a teacher.

A: Teacher contract. Well she's a counselor and she goes an extra 2 weeks or so.

Q: She's probably on 10 month or 10 1/4.

A: 10 1/2 or whatever. And not that she needs the money, she's doing ok. But, she could have made almost 60,000 dollars with the career level II.

Q: Has she been evaluated?

A: She's going through it know.

Q: Me too.

A: Is that right. And you know it has some bugs to it. But I mean there isn't a business in the world that doesn't judge and evaluate performance. And to say that you can't do it in teaching is crazy.

Q: Do you think the eight standards are a valid measure?

A: It's like most things the people doing the evaluating they have a pre-mind set coming into to the classroom. You can't help but you know. If you've been watching the person teach for five years and you don't know anything deal about them. I mean career level II observation is not going to all of the sudden give you a great deal of insight that you didn't have already. It will give you some and it will force you into making...

Q: That tough decision.

A: Right. But I can't believe that a person who knows you doesn't come into your classroom you know, a least thinking your a very good teacher. You may fool them entirely. And a smart teacher , I mean if I know I'm going to be observed, I would say little friends we're are going to be observed today and we had better be at our best. Right. I mean at least in the high school they understand.

Q: Right.

A: Because that observer is going to leave and you're going to live with me the rest of the school year. So, but I'm just joking. I think it's a great program, a great idea. It does put more strain on. But that's not bad, that's not bad. Some strain is good.

Q: Well principals have so much stress anyway. How did you handle the stress?

A: Well, that's why you have 2 pictures here. See that one has hair and that one there doesn't have hair. Those first years as principal you learned a lot . So many times that first year, I wanted to put that chair under that desk and just walk out. And crying out loud I loved teaching at McLean High School. It was fun. Even at $3200 I thought its great to be paid to do something. Principal brings a lot more responsibility. And you have to learn to be a leader. Now the County moves you up more gradually. You have to go through the step by step. Its hard to be able to say to another adult you need to change and do this and this and this. This is not good. And it took me a little while to change from a totally teacher mentally to include administrative mentality. It easy to tell a kid pick up the trash around your desk. You know.

Q: Right.

A: Its another thing to tell a teacher that your room is a mess. Right. And you don't say it in those words but I mean . You say you need to fix the bulletin board , you need to do this. And ,ah,and sometimes you have to say some teachers and you don't see this until you get away from the classroom, just totally unreasonable. And we used to talk about it and do this kind thing at the faculty meeting every Monday we'd have a faculty meeting. It may last 10 minutes. It may last 20 minutes. Now it was just a little touch base with news. I learned that trick at Mclean HS. It was a good trick. All Mclean HS would have a faculty meeting every Monday. So that you don't have the phys ed department in this little world, English department this little world, you know, don't bother my world. You don't know people. Come together on Monday afternoon for 10 or 15 minutes, have coffee, you're talking. This persons been here you get to know these people back and forth. If you need to go talk to somebody in the science department, you can go do it. If the coach needs to ask how's my star athlete doing,you know.

Q: Right.

A: Well, you know that person. And they become concerned about your concerns. And so that was one of the greatest administrative ploys, if you want to use that term, that we had. Everybody was friends with everybody and knew everybody. Everybody knew Ralph. Know how many people know Ralph at Chantilly. (Dr. Thorpe is referring to Ralph Chapman a physical education instructor at Chantilly HS. Ralph use to work with Dr. Thorpe)

Q: Right.

A: Now maybe not even within the department do they know Ralph. Right. And it is so difficult. That the reason why I was always opposed to 7 through 12 the big school. It's impossible. I had a friend Bob Russell who started at the same time.

Q: He gave me your name.

A: Right. Well we went through the same orientation,new teacher orientation together. And he started. When he left Fairfax HS, he went to Lanier as Assistant Principal. And I would have to have done the same thing except I had been working Central office one year and they just new me. And they needed somebody who was just breathing to go in there. Ah, Bob is a super guy. But, he learned too. He had a principal Mr. Coffee who was the first principal at Robinson HS and Bob taught at old Fairfax HS which is Paul VI now. But his major, he taught music. And his room was in the corner and the room was L shaped. And Bob was a good teacher. He had a good personality , great ability. But his first year, he went , he told Mr. Coffee , he says, he says "Mr. Coffee, I can't teach music in that room. I can't see all of the students. If I don't get a different, I'm going to have to quit. " So Mr. Coffee just look him the eye, and says, You go to give me 30 days notice. And so that ended Bob's resignation and he spent his 30 years in Fairfax County as well. But that comes with time. And I'm sure he didn't say it in a critical manner. In fact, Bob followed Mr. Coffee as principal of Robinson. But the big schools. Oh anyway, I was talking to Bob one day and he'd been at Robinson a year or so. I said is so and so there, teaching. I was in his office. He says just a minute let me look. He has to get out a page to see if so and so.

Q: He didn't know.

A: Incredible. Incredible. Know that's too big in my estimation. When your suppose to be the educational leader of the school. If that's what your job is defined as, and you don't even know the people in the school, how in the world can you do that. So 4,000 people in one school in too big.

Q: Too big.

A: I remember when Bob Davis opened Chantilly High School. He and Lake Braddock opened schools at the same time. They had a year off together to plan. They went all over the Country. And I saw Chantilly High School and all I could do was just shake my head. You know, how is somebody going to expect to teach in this huge room. I still today think its a dumb idea. You know. (Pause to fix the tape recorder) (2A180)

Q: Were you ever involved with the dismissal of a teacher?

A: So we were talking about dismissal and teaching. you know, one lady went to court and I was on the stand I guess for 2 hours.

Q: Oh my gosh.

A: Well, I was not the only one. You know it was like they were suing for a quarter of a million dollars. I mean they couldn't sue. The school system wasn't ..

Q: And what year was this in?

A: Of my principalship?

Q: Because a quarter of a million dollars is really not much for what the sue for things now a days.

A: Maybe like my fifth year or so.

Q: So around '65 or '66.

A: Right. It was a lot of money to me. They couldn't have squeezed that out of me even if the sold me cell by cell. I wouldn't have been worth a quarter of a million dollars.

Q: You had insurance to cover that didn't you?

A: Well there were 2 other principals, 2 high school principals also had asked to get rid of her and when I did too, you know, they said well just terminate this thing. So you go through a school board hearing, you know , we had the meeting with the superintendent and the school board backed up the dismissal. And then of course the suit came. But I said to the lady , you know, I said I'm not going to be able to recommend you again for reappoint next year. I said you can resign by such and such a date. I don't if the date was April 15 or whatever. You know, I just let it ride on out. So she said ok. Then on April, next day, the 16 or 26,whatever it was, she comes in my office and say I decided if you are going to get rid of me you're going to have to fire me. I said well ma'am .


A: Ok. Right. no . I didn't want it that way but you know, I can play the ball game. so she stayed through that year and the next year was dismissed. That's those kind of things. You know most of time people.

Q: And she was just a poor teacher.

A: Yea, well I mean, what happens you know, your one personality today you might not be the same personality 15 years from now. And unfortunately you know in the school system there are no back offices. YOu know, you got a player on your team you give them a job in the supply area, ok, or give them a job in the front office or something. A coach can't make it any more you put him, you give him something else to do in the organization. But in the school system there is no other place hardly. They do have more slots know than they used to. But you either had to be an administrator of some kind of a teacher of some kind. There just weren't those little help with help with that staff development this. Get in trouble today they send you to see John Schreck and there you are in staff development for a little while. Ah, and those kinds of things happen today. But, in those days you either had to. A friend of mine who came here was a principal in the southern part of the County. He was my guidance director for a few years. A great human being, absolutely great and I asked him one time what's the difference between here and Pulaski,Virginia? He said well you probably have more good teachers per school than we there but we didn't have as many bad teachers as you do. The dismissal procedure wasn't all..

Q: It was easier in Pulaski.

A: Right.

Q: They just said forget it.

A: Right. Right. In fact one of the very bad things we did in Fairfax County, I thought from a principals stand point. It used to be that part time people were just hired for that one year. It was a great screening device. Now, part time teachers have the same kind of tenure rights as anybody else. And, you know you could see a person teach and you see their personality and how they're going to fit in and how they work. And we picked up a lot of great teachers that way. You know that started part time for what ever reason, their family or what ever they didn't want to teach full time. And they just 2 or 3 periods for you and you could see them and that was a great recruiter. I picked more great teachers that way than you could shake a stick at. So, but all those things change and today everything is you need a lawyer on the right and a lawyer on the left in everything you do.

Q: That's for sure. You talked a little bit about staff development. Did you do anything or what do you feel about staff development from a principals viewpoint? t?

A: Well, it depends upon the size of the school of course. But there isn't anything more important. The first important job is hiring qualified good people. The second thing is how you work and develope with those people. You need to be growing as a teacher all the time. Just as you need to be growing as a principal all the time. You should be a better teacher at the end of 5 years than your were at 1 year. Ten years you should be better than you were at 5 years. And the way that happens is learn to take more avenues, more ways to better handle things. You gain more confidence. And all of that is staff development. And you just keep working, working. But you need a good coach, you need a McCool, who knows how to teach. You need a Red Jenkins who know how to teach.

Q: So they can help each other.

A: Ah, you need a coach. And certainly you learn from other teachers too. I used to think it was unfortunate in that the people you get to do the most observing are not the teachers. But we would, that's part of staff development, we would set up times you could go and observe another teacher. Some one would cover your class. And you see things a whole lot differently from the back of the classroom than you do from the front of the classroom. And after you've had a chance to see this, and this, and this. Ah then you say my gosh why did that person do this , you know, do I do that, you know, and that's how you learn. One of the first pieces of equipment we ever bought was this video camera and that was when they first came out. Well they're a great teaching device. We never really got the mileage out of it I thought we would. You know, I thought a person would like to see themselves video taped and they could look at it.

Q: Nobody, wanted to do that?

A: Nope. I still think its a great idea. In Arlington County, they hire so few people in the elementary schools that the perspective candidates come and teach for a panel. So you can see the person personality and this kind of thing. I think still a great device would be if in teaching colleges or where ever you take your training, if you are video taped teaching when you are student teaching. You could present that to personnel and let them take a look and see. In head to head you can only get so much. And a lot of people are maybe a little bit shy adult to adult, but when you get in front of that class. Like I read in the post this morning about a great teacher died, the Latin teacher at Woodson High School. I don't know if you've ever heard of her or not?

Q: I probably would know her name.

A: I don't know her name either. To tell you the truth. But, I mean , she made latin, I've seen her on tape before, just super. And you know I had Latin in high school. But she was just a super,super,super teacher. And there are tapes out, I'm sure the County has tapes of her,you know. And that's a great way to and we used to do that at faculty meetings too. Just watch a teaching tape of someone for 5 minutes. Good. What happened the first 5 minutes of class? What happens the last 5 minutes of class? Are you in charge of the last 5 minutes or are the students in charge of the last 5 minutes? Well, if people think about that. Ah, one of the problem when I was a science teacher, in still problem you have a desk like this , you have one student sitting there and one student sitting here, and your going to give them a test. Might as well give them one piece of paper and say both of you write on this.

Q: Say share.

A: Right. There are ways to beat that. But still the arrangement of class is a critical thing. I've seen people have a the classroom , this is the whole classroom, them the put the whole class bunched up in this little space here then kids are so close together. And the teacher has all this room to roam around. Crazy. Everybody needs some space in that classroom. And you've got to be an awfully strong Christian if you don't know #7 not to look at that paper. I mean, you know, and that kind of thing ,falls into classroom management. What happens those first 3 or 4 minutes is very important. Math teachers have learned and others are learning. But a Math teacher will come in with they'll by 5 drill problems on the board. Skill drill they call'em. And so that reinforces and repetition is still the mother of learning. I don't care how great a ball player you are when you go to spring training you still practice the pitcher covering first base on the bunt. You've been there 20 years but you still do that. And you learn how to slide into second base and the second baseman learns how to hit the bag and throw to first. Major leagues practice that. What makes you think that kids don't need reinforcement. Now the brighter you are the less repetitions you need. And the slower you are the more repetitions you need. And for slow children repetitions do not bore them. They gain confidence. And just to run through something once or twice and expect them to know it. You're making a big mistake because it ain't going to happen. Know those are the things you learn from experience. That the things that an educational leader can impart ,you know, not preaching , but just talking about those kind of things. And so (pause for school announcement) each Monday I'd try to have just one little idea that we just, not that I was the great soothe sayer of all times, but somebody's got to talk. Or sometimes I'll just have a person, I've seen something that they would do good, you know. Or you can say, well we used to play games to in the faculty meeting. So it would be fun, enjoyable. And but each and every thing has a purpose for doing it. You learn a little trick here and you learn a little trick there. Then before you know you have a whole bag of tricks.

Q: A whole bag of tricks. What was you biggest headache as a principal?

A: Cafeteria, lunch. We never had an adequate space for the kids after lunch. They had to stay in the cafeteria for 30 minutes. Now you put 30 ,300 to 350 to 400 kids in a confined space and they're are going to stay for half an hour and they can finish eating 10 minutes. I mean it takes jobs army to keep that under control. But you must keep that under control. If you're not in control there ,what happens there goes right back, right back to the classroom too. And well I heard a principal say one time , he said I'm a cafeteria drop-out. But lunch is a big problem. Ah, today when I came into the office and across from the office is the auditorium, outside is a chair and right next to the chair is a tray with food still on it. This is at 1:20 in the afternoon. Ah, well that sends a message to kids. Ah, should not be, I'm not George ( refering to George Keim principal at Chantilly HS) I've known for a good while too. But that should not happen. And the kids, well high schools they got into a bad habit, they got into the habit of letting kids eat lunch outside.

Q: Any where.

A: Right. I mean. How do you think you can possibly police and control that. You can't. And you know people have gotten to the point sometimes where they are just afraid of high school kids. You cannot, if your afraid you don't belong here. Your dead in the water. And you've got to be able to say, friends this is what we're going to do. And so I know, well I know at Robinson and Madison, the two schools I'm more familiar with, they've stopped. You know, you eat lunch in the cafeteria you don't take it out. Know fortunately those schools and this school are big enough that after you've finished eating you can go to an area or to go outside, something. You know, and so you don't have that confined kind of thing. I've been at T.C. Williams , there they have off campus privileges at lunch time. I mean. You can just write 10 volumes of the problems you're going to have,you know, if you allow kids in cars off campus at lunch time. I mean.

Q: To go and come back.

A: Or to go and to go. And ah, you know, some common sense has to be applied and high school kids are growing up but they are not grown. And, people give them too much credit for sophistication that they do not have. I mean, freshman in college have a hard time, you know, adjusting to things. But, all kids need some kind of boundaries. A lot of times the poor parents by the time they get to high school gosh if they can just live through 2 more years. So they quit. But you can't quit. If you quit its big trouble too. But I've been rambling on and I'm sure you have a lot of questions to ask me.

Q: No , I just have a few. I've been trying to watch. You've answered a lot of them. You had said what your biggest pain was the cafeteria duty. What did you like the most?

A: Just seeing everyone do well. You know. I say to my kids when I was teaching. I said I'm giving you an A instruction. The only thing that keeps you from making an A is yourself. But I believe that. If your a good teacher right. Why wouldn't all the kids do well? Do a certain number have to make A and a certain number make B, and a certain number make C and D. I'd be thrilled if everybody in the school name was on the honor roll. Because that means that not being at the junior high school level intermediate school level, you know, you don't have to pass Algebra I. Every class is basically a general education class. And a kid ought to be judged on the basis of what his abilities are. If you've got an 80 IQ and you can do these problems and you can do them well. That's the best you can possibly do. Your A. In my book. You know. So the more kids did well. The better I liked it. And every time we could . Well I went through a lot of band directors from great to horrible to great. But the last band director and he's still at that school is super. Super band director. If there's any better in the County I don't know who it is. Ah, but the program just keeps growing, and growing, and growing and those kids do so wonderfully well. Every time they go to a competition they always get a top rating. And we had a yearbook, and a magazine and school newspaper. And they always won, not always won the top awards but if they weren't first they were right close to it. Because that's excellence and if you talk with them about excellence and work toward excellence you'll have it. I think.(

Q: And that was rewarding to see those kids do well.

A: Yes.

Q: Well, we talked a little earlier about evaluation . How were the teachers evaluated? What system was used when you were evaluating?

A: Well when I first started evaluating as principal we had a 5 point scale. Just like 5-4-3-2-1, just like. Um. and those were difficult times. When you said the person was a 4 and they thought they were a 5, 5 being the top rank. You know. And so the County eventually got tired of that system. What is the purpose nothings going to come of this evaluation any way.

Q: Did you rank different categories or just use one ranking?

A: Oh yea. There was everything. Everything from instruction, to control, to classroom atmosphere.

Q: Then did you total those up each category or average?

A: Well, There were 6 things on each topic and you took an average of those. But 3 was average and very seldom would you go below a 3. you know, Ah mean if your saying a person is less that satisfactory you've got a lot of problems. You've got to make sure that they are that. Because just like the kids in class if you destroy that persons confidence I mean their dead. And so you had to you know its better to err on being more liberal you know and talk about this is a pretty good area but these are a couple of things I think you need to think about a little bit. You'll be surprised when you get up there what some people do. They do some of the craziest things. In gym sometimes you all do this too, and gym is not so bad, where you give 3 points for this and 2 points for this, and 5 points for this wrestling and 4 points you know. But in history class, (pause for school announcement), you know that gets a little much. Who would read a composition, a kid writes a paragraph and says this is a 87. Who reads a composition and says this is a 87. What is a 87 on a composition. I don't even now what that is. you know and so that kind thing. I've seen people and they spend hours working their grades. They hate to see the end of the grading period. They get out the calculator and add up all these dumb numbers. Ah, 98.2, 93.45, Almost an A but not quite. Being out of the classroom all this time, ) but it use to take me about 20 minutes to do grades for a whole class. I can do Billy Smith, I can quickly see what letter grades he's got and I knew what kind of work he did and I never had any problem giving a grade or I never had it questioned. Only 1 time did I ever give a F grade while I was teaching and the kid had missed so much time. Ah, he had some kind of bone disease you know and just being so dumb and new, I just figured you know the kid hadn't been here half of the time. The truth of the matter he was one the brightest and smartest kids you know. Ah, and I always felt bad about that you know it came back a couple years later when he had to go into some kind of full rehabilitation program asked me about that grade. I said Lord yes I'll be glad to change it. You know, it worried me a great deal. You know, he was a very bright capable kid and was doing as well as he could. But I just listened to other people. And they said, well at first we didn't have grades like they have now. You know out system wasn't as swift. We used to have a visible file and the homeroom teacher would have to pull out this tray and there would be a card in there for every kid in your homeroom. So you'd have to know in Mrs. Johnson class you had 4 kids and you'd find the name and put the science grade on there. I mean your talking about mass confusion. You couldn't believe what that was like. But it never bothered me I'd look on there 5 D's and a B in my class. I'd be happy. Just because he's a D he's not a D in my class. You know, and ah, it didn't make any difference if there were all F's and I gave an A. I never was pressured into going along with the crowd. Along that line you know. I gave a child a grade based on what I thought he was doing in my class. And, I always did feel that way. And the same way with teachers. Not every teacher is equally talented. Right. I love to go to Jeffersons school now. There's a guy there who's name is Ed Anderson. Used to be a math teacher, in fact, I taught is wife when she was in the eighth grade. But he was the math chairman at Marshall High School, and not only a great math teacher he's head of the Math department at Jefferson High School. But that's a super school in certain respects. They need a leader. They've never really had a principal. Ah, because its so easy for those kids. What is it? Its a gt center glorified.

Q: Right.

A: But the thing is they got college level teachers and college level programs for them. And that's great. And, they just have freedom to run academically but they don't need freedom run.

Q: There still kids.

A: Right. Exactly. And while they don't do stupid things. If you were to just make an announcement, everyone is expected to leave the cafeteria clean. Everyone would leave the cafeteria clean. I mean there's not that kind of a problem. But, Its too easy for your head to get too big for your body. And that's there biggest problem they have. And they need somebody very bright and still have a little degree of orderliness about them to run that school. They have people like that. I don't know if you know Bea Justison or not. She's head of all Special ed..She's Assistant Superintendant for Special education. Smart girl. She came here as a psychologist in the area 3. And we were going to meet up in Luray for A preschool conference for administrators. And so she rode with me and they said to me your taking a lady that smokes cigars. Well, I pictured a lady smoking big fat cigar well she smoked the little ones. She's very bright and she could run that school super. And there's just a lot of great people like that in the County. There's unbelievable how many great teachers there are in this school system. You know, the buildings rat trap but I mean always they've had a lot of good teachers. And its only been recently that they started building good buildings too. You go to some of these intermediate and elementary schools and you wouldn't believe how many nice bright walls. You know. It's like a Hyatt Hotel. And then but, those son of a guns that built junk holes, you know, I mean they're going to have to answer some day.

Q: Some day.

A: Because it makes just not fair. Its just not fair. Ah, that kid has great facilities in one place and you can't make everything . The water can't be level. But I mean you don't have to have Mount Vesuvius and the Dead Sea. But that's all part of growing. And when I first came to Fairfax County, well in the District school system everything is pretty well organized. When I came in they gave 2 science books and a pack of names that they used for scheduling and that was it. You know, good luck, go to it. And now things, I have watched the escalation and the improvement of the school system and its growing really. Every County if it has good leadership it has the potential of being one of the greatest school systems in the Untied States. I think.

Q: One thing I wanted to ask , was thinking back 25 years was a long time to be at one school. Can you think of any major historical events that may of had an effect on your school and how you dealt with it? I know during the 60's there were a lot of things going on.

A: Those were tough times. Fortunately, there were more tough for a high school than for an intermediate school. And, ah, what happened, this is just my own opinion, the high school job became, as the schools kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And you asked more and more from of a high school principal, the educational leader said punt. There just no way that a human being can do it. And so you get people in that are manager kind of people. You know there good people. And they may be good school people too, but they don't even think of their jobs as educational leaders of the school any more. They may meet with the department chairs. They may meet with the whole faculty twice a year. That's a coward's way out. I still look forward to the day when the great high school principal will emerge again in the County.

Q: And not be building manager but be instructional supervisors.

A: Well you've got to be a motivator. Let McCool run this school, put him up there and see what he says. He's a great coach. And I bet he'd make a great principal too. I don't know. But there a certain qualities that go into being a good coach and being a good principal too. You know but there are so many dumb things that come along. There so many reports and things that drive you crazy. That the principals look forward to going to the high school league meeting. Can I get through another year. And it shouldn't be that kind of job. Everybody's glad when June comes. That's one thing you learn. That school always opens in the fall and closes in the summer. That's one thing you can count on. In between a lot of things can happen to you. A lot of things can happen to ya. And you change as a person too. I guess your talking about the school. The only bad thing I can really recall. I got a call one morning about 2 o'clock in the morning says the school's on fire. So I go over there and sure enough it is. The wing is flames are shooting out. And the school is very close to Dunn Loring. And that time they had a lot of volunteer fireman and all the volunteer fireman had gone to school there. They all said Hello Dr. Thorpe how you doing. And eventually they got it put out. We had a hard time there for half a year while they were redoing that wing. I left the school just before they went into renovation so I did not have to go through that misery. Even though we just had one gym and one of the outcomes of the renovation was a second gym.

Q: Well that's good.

A: Its not a large, you know, its really a nice school plant now. If you ever get a chance to go by and see that little school. Its just as super. The library is so beautiful and nice. And the cafeteria's remodeled and a lot of things. But a school, you could take the worst school building if you've got a great faculty, they're going do it.

Q: What was the most difficult thing you've had to do while you were principal?

A: It was to fire those 2 friends. I still think about that.

Q: It was hard to do.

A: Well the younger one died. He got some kind of kidney disease and died. And I guess its a blessing. You never recover from something like that. And the other man, just a super human being. And why? It have bothered me as much if it was faculty to faculty. You know when your working close relationships then friendship's going to build.

Q: You were friends.

A: I understand that fully.. But with students that's a no no. I 3 days of school, I would say to men. We would have a faculty session. I would say do not, do not, after school have that door closed with a girl student in your class. I said it could be innocent as the world but if somebody in the theater hollers fire, I mean your dead. I don't care if they were on the roof and it was in the basement. I doesn't make any difference. And just do not put yourself in a compromising position. I tried to give that little speech at the beginning of school because I guess probably because of the experiences I've had. But it just ain't worth it. And you know how many times in the course of a year in Fairfax County that this little problem arises. In a school this size you understand well. Ah, and you multiple that by all the schools in the system. Well, I mean. (Pause to advance tape)

Q: Probably one last thing is there anything I haven't asked you that you would like to say?

A: Well, I one time had a good friend that was working on the County salary, PTA thing. And that's how a long time ago you used to get salary raises. You put the PTA working for you. You put them out front. I said, and this was the day when high school, intermediate school principal make 40,000 dollars. You know that was good money. She said what can you do to improve the school system . I said pay the high school principal 100,000 dollars and make him in charge of that school and hold in accountable to see that things run well and that kids are getting a proper education. It would be the greatest investment. Without a principal you have no school. You could have a good principal and have a bad school but you can not have a good school with bad principal.

Q: That's true. Very true.

A: Ah, if you don't leadership, that exudes confidence in the people. And if they don't have confidence in the principal that the principal is going to stand with them as well as behind them, as well as in front of them. Then, things just, I hate to see just coasting.

Q: What advice would you give to a person going into administration?

A: Ah, you have to be willing to work very hard. You know, I used to, you know who Vince Lombardi is, I used to show Vince Lombardi films. And you know, little things that come out of the Lombardi film, but I mean, it says if your 10 minutes early your late Lombardi time. And he has a film called Second Efforts on salesmanship where he's talking to a salesman but he use his football. And you've got to be able to work and build the positive in people. You really need better performance than you have ability. For a long time in this school system and it may still be true but we got so much better caliber women in the school system than we had men. There were not that many avenues for women so you really got a better caliber a better mentality. And so times have changed. We got better men as time went on. Ah, but you just keep working and encourage that person. You know, a teacher said a funny thing to me. I left just before Career Level II got started and so when she made it. She said "I was amazed because I never knew how I was doing. When you were here you'd tell me that you appreciate the good job your doing with the kids and you'd be in the classroom, you know what's going on." And she had the confidence of knowing that I thought she was a good teacher. Well people need to know that. And just as a kid needs a pat on the back so does a teacher need a pat on the back. You know, and you have to be very careful when your walking around the building how you say hello to a person. You say hello as a principal to 150 people during the day. But if I just say hello to you in a very off-handed way my mind is some place else, you say oh what have I done now. What is he mad at me for. And so you just need to be thinking that your scoring points all the time, either positive points or negative points. You very seldom are you staying in place. (technical difficulties again but Dr. Thorpe was finished with his comments.)

| Back to "T" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |