Interview with George Trombitas


This February 27, 1994. This is an interview with Mr. George Trombitas at his home. He is going to give his views on the high school principalship.

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Q: Would you begin George by telling us about your family background, interests, and development as a child.

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

A: O.K. My parents came over here from Romania. Dad was sixteen years of age and Mother was fourteen years of age. We lived in an area near Leetonia, Ohio. We had a farm. I have two brothers. Farming was our livelihood. We lived during the depression years. We attended school at Fairfield School which is in the present-day Crestview School District. We were housed in the middle school at Crestview. We attended school there until our junior year. Then from there we moved to Canfield. We finished our schooling at Canfield. During the years at Leetonia we had the opportunity of participating in extra-curricular activities. We played football and basketball. One of stipulations that was designated by our parents was that, if we went out for an athletic endeavor, we had to participate and not quit from that endeavor. So therefore we had to do this. We lived approximately seven miles from Crestview School. We had to walk that each evening. When we got back each evening, we had our chores to do which each one of us had fifteen cows to milk and take care of. We had a family meal together and then we did our assignments at home. I graduated from Canfield High School in 1941 and went to Ohio State on a partial scholarship ($500.00 which at that time was quite a bit of money). I participated with the freshman football team and then was drafted in January 1943. I went into the 254 field artillery attached to the 82nd airborne. We did our preduties in Camp Gordon in Georgia and then we participated in World War II by jumping at Normandy and went through the war. I returned back home in 1946. I started at Ohio State and had the opportunity to go into veterinary medicine for a couple of years. Then I did not have enough money to finish that program. So therefore I graduated with a degree in dairy husbandry. Then I received a position with farm bureau in Tuscarawas County. I was in charge of the farm bureau plant at Uhrichsville, Ohio. I spent two years there and through the wishes of the doctor, because I accumulated too much dust and had a spot on my lungs, he recommended that I find another position. I had a superintendent from Tuscarawas, who would come in and we would discuss education and other problems. I told him my situation and he asked me if I would be interested in teaching in the Tuscarawas School District as a chemistry, physics, math, girl's phys. ed., boy's phys. ed. and I coached football, basketball, baseball, and track. I spent approximately two years there and then had the opportunity to move into the Leetonia Exempted Village School District teaching in 7th and 8th grade science and math. While in Leetonia I drove school bus for a period of seven years and then I was moved up as a principal at the high school. I spent thirteen years as the principal and thirteen years as the superintendent and six years as a teacher for a total of thirty-two years.

Q: What things in your life do you feel were important decision points that you look back now on as critical to your position of principal?

A: I think that some of them were the basic background from my parents. My parents were very strict in discipline and realized the value of an education and required each of us to finish high school and pursue a college career. Also after I started teaching, I had a gentleman by the name of Dr. Woodrow Gepthart, who was the superintendent of schools here in Leetonia. Through his wishes he actually talked me into taking the principalship and at that time I did not have certification and therefore they gave me a temporary certification with the stipulation that I receive my Master's Degree. I think that each superintendent afterwards had a great amount of influence on me regarding my career as a principal and later a superintendent.

Q: What was your motive to become a principal?

A: My motive to become a principal was to impress upon the public and through the teachers improve education as much as we possible could within the Leetonia Exempted Village School District. I might say also that I think through the endeavors of these people, by being fair and honest, and working with the public through public relations and by getting along with the public motivated me. I tried to find some things out about the community. When I became principal and when I was a teacher, I would try and visit each one of my student's homes to find out what their background was like, the needs within their home and working with them. In fact that was one of the requirements of my teachers. They would have to make a home visit to find out what the home life was like. I think through this we are able to find out and help these youngsters get an education.

Q: If we would walk through your school, while you were the principal, would please describe the appearance of the school, first of all, and then some unusual features of the building.

A: We had a lot of commendations that Leetonia Exempted Village School was one of the cleanest schools within the district. We were fortunate to have two people, two gentlemen, one was Mr. Perry and one was Mr. Altomare. They were so dedicated to keep the school clean. A lot of work was done, especially during the summer period of time in order to keep the school clean continually during the year. They did a tremendous job in reference to this. I think that discipline at the time was very important. I might say that I instituted a study hall with no teacher in it. We called it an honor's study hall. Youngsters were put in the study hall and they would do their own studying and work according to their own capabilities. They also worked with the library at the time. If they finished their work, they would be able to challenge and improve themselves in reference to their education.

Q: What would you describe as your philosophy towards education?

A: I think that my philosophy toward education would be to work individually with each youngster. When I was teaching, one of the things that I always worked towards was group teaching, to the extent of helping each individual student. I think that it is very important that you do this. Along the same line, like I mentioned previously, youngsters that would finish their work I would challenge them to go to the library and pursue the curriculum area that we working in. In order to keep them interested in their education at that time. Also I mentioned previously was visitations to the home, having people come in beyond the days so assigned to have parent teacher conferences. I would have the parents come in and sit down with the youngsters and try to discuss their problems. Through the help of all concerned, many of these boys were successful by finishing high school and went on to college and pursued their life goals.

Q: What techniques or expectations do you feel are necessary to be an effective or a good principal?

A: I think that number one is that you have to get along with your staff and you have to work together. Number two, in other words, curriculum and follow rules and regulations in reference to your school policy. Number three is good public relations and working with the youngsters, working with the public. Also you have to spend a considerable amount of time within the school itself and attend the different endeavors that these youngsters are participating in. I think that this is very important. I think that any time someone achieves and is acknowledged, something should be done for that person as an incentive. I used to write letters to each of these youngsters commending them for it and if certificates were feasible, I would send certificates. I think that two of the most important, you have to be fair and honest with each individual and you have to treat each individual so that nobody feels that someone is treated better than someone else.

Q: How do you think the expectation of the principalship changed over the years both professionally and what the community expected when you first started as compared with the end of your career?

A: Some of the change in the principalship is due to the increased number of students does not give the principal much leeway when working with these youngsters. I think that principals previously were required to spend more time with the youngsters. I think that this should be one of requirements now. I reference with class visitations to see how the youngsters are doing, going to their homes, and attending athletic endeavors. I think that too many of these things are now delegated to other persons. I can be sympathetic and realize that the load of the principal at the present time probably is considerably more than it was previously. I might say that I remember that when I was the principal that I also was the athletic director. I was the one that was required to attend as many athletic endeavors and other activities that the youngsters participated in to be present and show that we appreciate their endeavors. I still think that if the principal has the opportunity, I think that they need to spend more time with the youngsters. Students need more guidance because of the discipline and family problems that children have at the present time.

Q: How do you think that the family and children themselves have changed over the years from when you first began as the principal to near the end of your career?

A: I think the one thing that has caused the great change has been the dissolving of the family to the place where you have the mother or the father as the only guardian who is responsible for these youngsters. You go back and the family used to do a lot more together. They used to go to church together. Now this is not being done to any great extent. I think that we have to work with these youngsters. I know that these youngsters have a lot of problems. I think that principals, even though they are over loaded, they have to spend more time with the youngsters and try to help them solve their problems, many which we did not have previously.

Q: The course that we are taking is in leadership, what type of approaches and techniques worked for you with respect to leading your high school?

A: I think that we have to start outside the high school itself. I think that we have to join a number of organizations to talk to the people, talk to the youngsters and listen to their problems. Attendance at various organizations is very helpful. At the present time I belong to Ruritan and I use to belong to many other organizations. By talking to these people and trying to work together, I think we have a better means of communication between the schools and the local community. I think that this has to be done and I think that this has to be done a lot more. One of the requirements should be that you have to go to church. Try to spend as much time, even if you don't live in the school district, as you possible can to show the people that you are interested in the school system. This would be helpful when you are trying to pass a levy.

Q: What would your advice be to a person who is entering the field of the principalship?

A: I think that my advice to that person would be to consider the amount of time spent at the school and in the local community itself. Each year you should try and improve yourself my attending inservice meetings or taking courses. I think that you have a good public relations program working with the community and the youngsters. I think that you have to be fair and honest with these people. You need to use facts and have the parents come in to solve problems. You need to work together as a group. You need to have a lot of knowledge with respect to curriculum I think that you should develop a handbook. Also the sending of a news program to the local community. It is very important to stay close to the community. If you apply and do these things, I think that you will be very successful as a principal.

Q: There is a dichotomy when it comes to the principalship. Some feel that the principal should be an instructional leader, while others feel that the principal should be a manager. What are your views on this issue and describe your style?

A: I think that it is very important that you do both of these. I can remember that when I was principal, I use to spend one or two days a month teaching a class within the school system. I think this very important to sit in on a class to find out what is being done at the time in reference to the class itself. I think also that you have to be up-to date on financial situation. You have to explain the finances of the community through the help of the superintendent. You should work together. If you did know most of this then you would ask the superintendent or the board of education in order to get more information on this. You should know what is going on within the school. If there was an issue on the ballot, you should work with a committee.

Q: The next question deals with the home-school relationship and parent involvement in the schools. What are your views on this issue and how did you attempt to get more interaction with the parents in your school?

A: I think that it is very important that you have parent involvement within the school itself. I think that the development of committees that involve parents so that they actually know what is going on. I think that you should have the involvement of parents in the extra-curriculars. In order to get parents involved, I think what you are going to have to do is make some home visits to bring people up-to-date. I think that a newsletter would be very important to inform the public on what is actually going on. I think that you have to be fair and honest. You need to bring the true facts to the public itself whenever you can especially with a levy. If things come out later on, and they are not true, then I think that you have a considerably amount of problems. In order to pass a levy, you have to be honest with the school and the community.

Q: What is your approach to teacher evaluations as a principal?

A: I think that every teacher should be evaluated each year. I think that the evaluation should be in reference to a written form, one, and think the other should be a verbal. These evaluations could be done by the principal just by walking into a class to see what is being done. I don't think that an evaluation should be the end product in reference to the termination of a contract. I think that the evaluation is very important in order to improve teaching. I am a firm believer that continuing contracts are not as feasible to the teaching profession as they should be because individual contract from year to year are more important and I think that there would be a better job of teaching.

Q: George, the next question that I would like to ask you is your feelings regarding your dealings with unions, especially in the areas of grievances.

A: I have had that much opportunity in reference to grievances. I am a firm believer that education is a profession. Dedication goes beyond the call of duty. I think that a lot of times the too many things in reference to unions limit what can actually be done. Let's just face the present situation in reference to make-up days. The law says that we have 182 days that include teacher inservice days plus parent teacher conferences and five days for snow. The number of days in session is according to the number of days missed. I don't agree with this. In other words, I think that if you are going to have 182 days then the calendar should be so assessed that you can set aside five more days that would give you a difference of ten days. I am going to give you my own ideas in reference to union salaries and so forth. I don't agree with unions. I don't think that we should have unions within the school. I don't believe in tenure, because I think if we do the job, we have nothing to worry about. I know that over the period of time that I was a principal and superintendent that some of the teachers that after they get tenure they seem to be somewhat lax in their working in reference to the education system. The only thing is that we have our present system and we have to abide with it. Every time a teacher does something extra, she has to be paid for it. I still think that you have to have dedication. I still think that you can still do this and not have to pay them.

Q: Next question deals with that in recent years more and more programs have been added to the schools for special groups.

A: Examples would be speech therapy, hearing, special education, gifted and talented, etc. What are experiences with these services and what are your views of this trend of having more and more programs put into the schools? I think that a lot of these programs are very important. However, I think that if you are going to have these programs then you are going to have to increase the hours per day. I don't think that the number of hours that we have at the present time are sufficient in order to teach the youngsters. We should be teaching the basics, the three - R's, reading, writing, and arithmetic. I think that through the addition of some of these programs, you are going to have to have a reduction in other areas. I am a firm believer that we should go eight hours per day in order to get these programs in. I think that's the only way that we are going to be able to do it properly.

Q: The next question George is on salary and compensation, how that has changed since you entered the profession. What is your recollection with respect to compensation during your early years as a teacher and a principal and how it has developed since then?

A: When I first started, I received a salary of $2100 which included the teaching plus also the co-curricular and extra-curricular activity of in the athletic field. Increases were very minimal over the period of time. I can remember when I started as high school principal, I received $8000. I received $18000 when I started as a superintendent. I think the salaries of the teachers are not to the par that they should be. After all they are the educational persons that have to do the job in order to have these youngsters go further on to be doctors, engineers, etc. When you consider the salaries of these persons, I think that you have to consider the salary of educators. I think that they are finally getting to the place that they actually should be.

Q: Administrators presently spend a good deal of time dealing with paperwork and bureaucracy that is forced on them by state and federal mandates. Would you care to comment on this situation during your career and compare it to the problems that we have this day and age?

A: I recall back as a principal, we had quite a bit of paperwork, but we did not have the paperwork that the present principals have at. I would recommend that if mandates are going to be required then money should be there in order to supplement that mandate. In order to improve and help the principal, I think that extra money should be given in order to pursue these areas. If extra money can be given then people can be hired to help the principal in this area. I know that when I was principal, I was athletic director. I realize now that the principal with the number of new athletic programs could never do this job. So you have to have another person. I think that it would be the same thing with other mandates that are required because as they increase, it increases the load of the principal. In order to supplement this, I think that extra money should be given and people should be hired to do that work.

Q: Given the present administrative framework and its complexity, what would area of administration do you think could be changed to improve the effectiveness of the educational leader of the building?

A: There are many areas that could be improved. One would be more assistants to help the principals and more teachers to help in many areas. If the mandates are going to be increased and requirements for the school itself, I think help is needed. More guidance personnel, maybe a good public relations person to explain our programs.

Q: As a principal, George, what was your relationship with the teachers?

A: I think my relationship was real good. We probably did more than what they do now. I used to set the schedule a teacher meeting at least once a week. We would discuss different things. I would bring different items that I thought would be favorable. We made a decision as a group. After all once these are in place, the teachers are the ones who have to follow through. My door was always open. The teachers could come in at any time that they so desired and talk things over. I think that I had a good relationship with my teaching staff during the years that I was principal.

Q: As a follow-up to that question, what was your relationship with the superintendent while you were the high school principal?

A: I think that I had a real good relationship with the superintendent during that period of time that I was principal. I worked with four different superintendents and then when the last superintendent left, I was moved up as superintendent. The relationship with these superintendents was very good. I kept the superintendent involved and up-to-date on anything that was going on within the school building. A memo three times a week was sent to the superintendent on different things that transpired and then he would send it on to the school board so that they would be kept informed in reference to what was going on.

Q: As a high school principal, what was your relationship with the board of education?

A: I think that it was real good, because one of the requirements was that I attend board of education meetings. If anything came up that was important or questioning, I would be available to explain it to the board of education. I think my role with them was very good and I think through their endeavors and their appreciation of me is why I was moved up to superintendent.

Q: You have had the rare privilege of being a teacher, a principal, a superintendent and a board of education member. How has your view of the principalship changed over the years as you filled each one of these roles in your community?

A: I think the change to a great extent is the amount of work that is actually required by the principal at the present time that probably wasn't previously. I didn't have the paperwork that these principals have at the present time and I know that with funding the way it is, it is very hard to get some of this work done. I think with computerization has helped to a certain extent, but there is still a lot of work to be done in reference to helping the principal. I think another area is the testing programs that have been placed on the schools. It takes more work than at the time when I was principal. I think in general the principal now has more work to do, he has to be more educated, he has to take more inservice work. It is very important that they pursue these areas in trying to further their education whether it be through inservice or taking courses during the summer or during the school year.

Q: Would you describe your normal work day as a high school principal, the kind of activities that took place, and the amount of time that was spent?

A: When I was principal, I always tried to be the first one in the school building. I would walk the halls, talk to youngsters, and listen to their problems, then spend the time with teachers and with youngsters during the school day. I very seldom spend too much time in my office. My office hours were spent after school. As I mentioned before, I was the athletic director. I used to have to develop the athletic program, get officials, and so forth. I was also responsible for some of the bus routing. I would also ride the school bus at least once a week to see what any changes on the route itself and recommend to the superintendent if any rerouting of the buses would be feasible. These were most of the things that I had to do along with different programs, athletic dinners, assemblies, fire drills. All of these were very important in reference to the principal. You worked with students, you worked with teachers and you spent a lot of time.

Q: As a high school principal, George, what was as far as you were concerned the biggest problem you had to deal with or your biggest headache on a regular basis?

A: Probably your biggest problem was discipline, but at that time we had different means to cope with discipline that you do not have at the present time. I think that as long as you were fair and honest and respectful to these persons, I don't think that you had many problems. I know that over the years that the discipline methods that I used a lot of the graduates come back and thank you for what you did at the time. It was appreciated then, but it is now and it's done me a lot of good. I think that it was probably the biggest one. In reference to the cleanliness of the building, I never had to actually tell the custodians to clean. this or to clean that, because they always did a good job. I had a good teaching staff and they did a tremendous job. We worked with a program out of Lisbon and we hired some of the youngsters to help us during the summer and also during the school year. That was the Manpower program. We had that at the time too. We helped some of these youngsters so that they could purchase things. We did have the food program, but it was not to the area that it is to the present time.

Q: What would you consider the toughest decision that you had to make as a high school principal?

A: I think that probably my toughest decision was, and this was the only one I had to do, three youngsters came into the school building that were drunk from the previous evening and I had to bring them to the office and the policy said that I had to recommend to the superintendent for expulsion, which I did. These youngsters were expelled for ninety days. That I was one of the hardest things. I look back over the years and that was the only time I had to any expulsions. That was one of the hardest things. I do see these youngsters every once in a while, like I said before, you get thanks from them, thanks for doing this, because it actually taught us a lesson. Hopefully that endeavor was fruitful.

Q: What would you consider the key to your success as a principal?

A: I think the key to success is being fair and honest with each youngster. If a youngster has a problem, call him in and sit him down and I might say one thing, now working with the Juvenile Court, at that time we had a judge, Judge Tobin, and I can remember that whenever we had a meeting he would say, "George, you never bring your boys down here." I said that we don't truthfully have problems and the reason for that was if a boy did something wrong we would call him in and sit him down, we would talk to these youngsters and try to solve their problems along with their parent. At that time it seemed to work. I realize that the situation is different now. Discipline that was given at that time cannot be given at the present time. I used to make the home visits and spend a lot of time in the homes, talk to parents, talk to youngsters and see if we could help them solve their problems. I used to work with youngsters. I used to have a class after school, especially in math and science which were my major areas. We would try to help them so that they could graduate from high school.

Q: What do you think, either through education or through your own life, best prepared you to be a principal?

A: I think that the best thing that prepared me to be a principal was the discipline and the respect that I had for my parents which actually lead on as I went into the service. I had the opportunity to play athletics and discipline there was part of life. That has helped me and I think through observing some of the other principals that we have had and the superintendents. This has helped considerably. Also you watch some of the teachers who are well respected by the students and I think that through their endeavors it helped you to fashion yourself and do some of the things that they are doing.

Q: Now that you have had time to look back on your career, would you like to share with me what you consider your strength as an administrator?

A: I think that my strength as an administrator was the ability to get along with the public and ability to get along with youngsters. Like I mentioned previously, I still like to think that being fair and honest and respect that you have for each other has actually helped considerably. Listen to the problem of each youngster. Try and help them solve their problems, because a lot of youngsters do have problems and I think working together with them and their parents you are able to solve a lot of these problems.

Q: What were the circumstances that led up to your retirement?

A: I'll tell you, in total I had thirty-seven years and I think that it got to the place where I think that I burned out. However, after being out for a certain period of time, you kind of miss working with youngsters. That is what actually led up to it. I've done the best I possibly could in order to meet the standards of being in retirement.

Q: What would you consider the pros and cons of being a principal?

A: Some of the pros would be that you do the best job that you possibly can. You work with the public. You work with the teachers, work with your youngsters, spend time with them. You are going to have to be the lifeline, the center for the public and work with them. You are always going to be criticized for whatever you do, whether it is right or wrong. You are going to have to except this criticism and I think in order to improve yourself in all areas, like I mentioned before, attend inservice meetings, further your education, visit your town, spend time with youngsters, spend time with parents.

Q: In spite of my best efforts, are there any questions I omitted or you would like to answer or any closing comments you would like to make?

A: Some of the things after so many years in education you think about and you would like to debate with different people and even though I have written a number of letters to the governor of Ohio. One of the things that needs to be dealt with is savings, especially in the areas of transportation. Transportation to the extent where different school routes go over the same roads in order to pick up certain youngsters. I think that they are going to have to reroute or redistrict the state of Ohio in reference to the transportation system that we have at the present time. Another thing that I have thought about over the years is that youngsters should have equal amount of funding behind them. I realize that this is not available at the present time, but i think that the legislature and the state board of education should find a means in order to furnish the same amount of money behind each individual. I know that in special classes the need is a little bit more. These are two issues that need to be addressed at the present time.

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