Interview with Dr. Charles S. Thomason

April 25, 2000

I am interviewing Dr. Charles S. Thomason, retired public school administrator for Tazewell County. Today’s date is April 25, 2000. We are at Dr. Thomason’s home in Bluefield, Virginia.

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Q: Dr. Thomason, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, talk about your birthplace, your characteristics, what early education you experienced?

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

A: Mike, let me begin by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this activity and I think the principal certainly has an extremely important influence. Because it is the principal that has direct control over the factors that determine whether the school is a high achieving or low achieving school. As far as me personally, I grew up in a rural area of Mercer County, West Virginia. I was the youngest of nine. …Lived on a farm; it was kind of a subsistence type situation. At a very young age, we performed a lot of chores. My father and mother passed away when I was 12 years old. The educational expectations for the siblings were not real great. It was kind of a situation where it was a very traditional setting. My father was a farmer and local politician. There was a one-room school in the community and that school consisted of four grades. We usually had about 26 students in that school, grades one through four. We had an outstanding classroom teacher. It was a one-teacher school. We had reputation of when the student from that school left there to go to a consolidated school, we had a reputation of having the wherewithal to read and understand what we were reading and the teachers were very complimentary of the education that we had received at that school. And we contributed that to the teacher, because she was … she was an excellent teacher and certainly had the respect of the community and she just did a superb job. All of the students always remember her and had great admiration and respect for her.

Q: Dr. Thomason, would you discuss your college education and preparation for becoming a teacher? How long did you serve as a teacher before moving into an administrative position?

A: I did my undergraduate work at Concord College. I attended school at Bramwell High School, a small high school. I graduated in 1952. Remembering back, we had … it was pretty much a basic program. I don’t remember ever having the services of a counselor. So, evidently, they didn’t have a counselor at that school at the time I was attending. So, I certainly didn’t, you know, get any guidance or direction from the school as far as attending a teacher preparation program after graduation from high school. Anyway, after we finished high school we, and I say we, my mother and father passed away when I was 12 years old and my sister came to live with the family and she had a son that was about the same age as I was. So, we went to school together and were very close, you know, friends through out our school. But, after graduation from high school, we really had no plans for the fall. But the fall rolled around and whatever happened we arrived at Concord College, enrolled in a general curriculum, spent the first year in a curriculum, generally, that all freshmen attended, continued in school there and prepared ourselves to be teachers because it was a good teacher preparation school. It had a good reputation. We, … my interest in school was the sciences and also social studies. So, when I graduated from Concord I had a bachelor’s degree in social studies and in the general sciences. And, after graduating from high school I got my first teaching job in McDowell County, West Virginia. I taught for two years in a middle school setting. After teaching two years there, I moved to Tazewell County. That was in 1967. I taught in Tazewell County for one year and at that time was invited by the Superintendent to come down and interview for a position that was open in supervision. It was the secondary supervisor’s job. I interviewed for the job and we had the understanding that if I didn’t fit the job or the job didn’t fit me, he would give me the opportunity to go back as a classroom teacher. But, I started in that position in 1968 and continued working with the same school superintendent during the time from 1968, in fact I stayed in the central office from 1968 until 1991, working in various positions. I can remember, you know, I was an administrative assistant, a director of instruction, assistant superintendent for administration, assistant superintendent for instruction. Then we had an administrative change, as far as the superintendent was concerned, and I requested that if a high school principalship ever came open that I’d like to be considered for it. And, of course, one did come open, very soon, and I was given the opportunity and was quite anxious to take on that challenge. So, basically I served for three years as a classroom teacher before I moved into the supervisory position and I served another 21 years before moving into the principalship.

Q: That kind of answers Number three there. Would you please describe your philosophy of education? How did it evolve over the years that you served?

A: Oh! I am a big believer that given enough time and the right kind of instruction that most students can be high achievers. I think that every youngster should have the opportunity and the quality of instruction to allow, you know, him or her to equip themselves with the necessary skills to be successful. I have always felt that as far as the educational program … I certainly when I started out in the beginning I was very rigid. I had a certain set of standards and I thought, you know, the students had a responsibility to adhere to my standards and to … and I certainly, you know, think now that I was too rigid and over the years I have certainly changed a lot of tactics and a lot of my understanding. I basically felt, you know, then and probably, you know, it’s a truism and that is if students aren’t learning teachers aren’t teaching. As hard as I would try some days students just did not seem to be, you know, accomplishing what I expected them to accomplish. And, but, I think that I still believe that, you know there are many ways to teach and we just have to continue to explore every option to reach students. As far as the position of the principal I think, you know, it is highly important to give all employees an opportunity for participation in all decisions that affect them, as far as the workplace is concerned. I think that if the employees can have some ownership into the school; and if employees can have some control over their professional destiny, they’ll do a much better job teaching, than if every thing is imposed on them and they are being told to do this this way and that kind of situation. I think that … I think one of the… It’s very important for us to continually to assess student achievement. and to. … I think we have to examine very closely all of those variable that are associated with higher student achievement and we have to a lot of research and we have to continually research and be on top of what the variables are that are making a contribution to student achievement. But basically, I think that as far as the principalship is concerned and working with teachers, I think that teachers have to have an opportunity to know that they belong to the school and we always have to work on cultivating their self-esteem. I think that is very very important. Because the way a person thinks about themselves influences greatly how they do their work. If they think of themselves as being a great contributor and they have the wherewithal to think that I can do a great job in teaching this group of youngsters, in my opinion they are going to be a lot more successful than if they have an opinion, you know, that, you know, that this group of children, you know, are impossible. That kind of mind set.

Q: So, if I can summarize it in maybe one word, you seem to be saying that you …your instructional philosophy and the way you and or your philosophy of education as well as your instructional philosophy was one of empowerment. Where you , where you challenged the teachers as well as students to take all they could get.

A: Absolutely! I think the principal has to be empowered before he can empower the teachers. By that, what I mean is I think the principal has to be given the authority and the responsibility to operate the school. But, then, on the other hand, he’s got to be given the support and the resources to get the job done. He should be held responsible for operating the school and having a high achieving school. But, then, of course, he should have the backing and he should have the resources necessary to get the job done.

Q: What sorts of demands were made on you by teachers or by the community, the central office, or by the school board? Can describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis? What was your biggest headache, your greatest satisfaction? What does it take to be an effective principal today?

A: I think the greatest demand placed on me by teachers was the protection of instructional time. I can, you know. The teachers just always got upset if you interrupted their instructional time. And, I think that is one of the areas that I tried to watch very closely, was trying to protect their instructional time. I think that teachers expect, and rightly so, an environment that allows them to teach. And, by that, I think you have to, you know, have a safe environment, and you have to have an environment with a lot of order. A principal spends most of his day making decisions. And, I think, often times, a principal doesn’t have the adequate information for many of the decisions he makes. And, I think it is real important that any time that you can allow the teachers or the other staff members to make some of those decisions, that that is an important part of allowing them to improve their self-esteem and allowing them to kind of take control of their own professional destiny. Everybody likes to be in control of their professional life. And, so, I think in giving them, you know, the responsibility to make decisions is very important. Now, what it takes to be an effective principal. I think an effective principal needs to be a … a strong instructional leader. Now, I don’t think you just say to the staff, "Now staff, I am a strong instructional leader." I think you have to exhibit the behaviors that prove that you are a strong instructional leader. Now, what are those behaviors? Now, one of them, as we just talked about. One of them is that you have got to protect their instructional time. And, the other one, or there are many others, but some others are, you know: you have to prove that they have ownership in the program. You must give them an opportunity to participate in the program. If you are going to set goals for the school, be sure that they are allowed to participate in the goal setting activity and that they agree on the goals. Not that you just come in and lay down and say, "Now teachers these are the goals for the school", they will never buy into them. But, if they help develop the goals, they probably will, you know, help buy into them. I think you have to have a strong emphasis on academics. Now when you have a strong emphasis, you can’t just go in and say, "Now, people I am the principal of the school and I have a strong emphasis on academics." I don’t think that will do the job. I think what you have to do is jut continually work with the teachers. Give them feedback. Allow them to give you feedback. So that the teachers will know what you are doing. And, you have an obligation to the school to know what those teachers are doing. If you get into some difficulty and there is some question about whether or not a particular teacher is teaching, the principal ought to be able to go before the group that has that question and say, "Yes, I know this teacher is teaching. I have been observing the teacher." You know, and how does that teacher teach. You should know those things. I think you have an obligation not only to your self, but to that teacher to be able to do that. I think you have to be able to give instructional assistance to teachers. If if teachers. If teachers perceive you as not being able to assist them, then they won’t seek your help. Teachers have to be able to perceive you as being able to assist and help them with instructional problems and instructional matters before they will even approach you for help. And, I think, you know, that’s very important. I think you have to constantly evaluate your student achievement to see what areas are students achieving in and what areas do we need to pay attention to. That kind of thing. You have to plan. A principal has to be a good planner. But not only do they have to plan, they have to be able to implement those plans. You know, it is one thing to have a set of great goals for the school, and not be able to implement those goals. I think you have to have the skills to implement the goals. I think you have to set reasonable goals for the school. Then, of course, you have to be able to implement those goals to be successful. I think those are some of the, some of the areas that are very important for the kind of instructional expertise for a principal to have to be able to be successful. But, that is only part of them. That'’ kind of the end of the iceberg. There are many others.

Q: One of the things I heard you say there was some words about modeling behaviors and that brings us to a question of personal leadership. We have looked a lot at personal leadership in recent years on the national scene and around our local area as well. And, I heard you say that you subscribe to a participatory sort of style when it comes to leadership. Could you describe some of the techniques that worked for you and some that did not in leading your faculty and leading your students to achieving their goals?

A: I think you have to a great asker. I think you have to ask many many questions and you have to be sure that the questions you are asking are the right questions. That comes into, you know, the principal’s instructional expertise. If you are a great asker and if you asking the right questions, then you have got to be a superb listener. You’ve got sure you are listening to what those teachers are saying. Because, there are some pretty sophisticated skills involved in working with people. And, 98% of the work the principal does is in a person to person relationship with those teachers. And, it depends on what you are going to accomplish and it depends on whether or not you are going to be successful. That is where you are implementing the instructional program. It’s working with those teachers. Giving them feedback and allowing them to give you some feedback. And, personal skills. The reason personal skills are so important in a school is that you have to establish rapport with teachers, members of the community, the students. Everybody! You spend most of your time in a person to person relationship, so it highly important to be able to establish rapport. But, also, you know, you have the job of mediating conflicts, you know, built in conflicts in the schools. You have to work constantly at building cooperation. Not only within the school but you have to build cooperation in the community to solicit their support. You have to persuade them to support the school. And, all of those are very important considerations. I think, you know that you have to be able to represent the views of teachers. And, you have to be able to maintain objectivity and fairness. And, especially, you have to be able to do that under pressure. You have to maintain the community’s confidence. You certainly have to build consensus, provide feedback, working on setting agreed on goals, and conferring with teachers about instructional matters. All of those are personal leadership qualities that are very, very important. I’d say that I used a lot of techniques that worked and probably, you know I have to be completely honest about this, at times some things that didn’t work for me was often involved in the arena of resisting change. You know the teachers would come to you with suggestions and ideas and if you don’t react to those appropriately and give them some notion that you feel that they are important and they are worthwhile suggestions and maybe we should try some of these things. I would probably give myself a little lower grade on the fact that, often times, I probably caught myself resisting change where I should be helping promote it.

Q: You mentioned maintaining community confidence in the school, what are some of the way that you … How did you accomplish that? How did you maintain community confidence?

A: I think one of the… The most important thing you have to consider is credibility. Does the community as being a credible instructional leader perceive you? Are you a credible principal of the school? If you can get by that hurdle, you can accomplish a great deal. I think you have to listen to the people of the community when they come to you with concerns. I have, I think you have to be genuine with them and I think you have to say to them, you know, how you see things. And give, you know, some credence to their perception of what’s going on in the school. You have to make them feel like that they belong to the school and that what they have to say is important. And, you have to give them due consideration in whatever their concerns are. I think that the best way to maintain the confidence of the community is to operate a school that has a strong instructional program. Be sure that when the students leave your school, if they are going on to college, they are successful; if they are going into the world of work, they are successful. Certainly, you want them to have the skills necessary to be successful after they leave high school. I think, you know, that if you can maintain community confidence best with having a quality instructional program.

Q: You mentioned some of the same things that you used with your faculty and staff, being a good asker and a good listener in responding to that question. I was wondering was or were there a … was there a body of people that you would commonly seek input from in the community? Or, just how did you test the waters there? How did you look out into the community?

A: I, I think, you know, that that’s a very good question. I think that, yes, I had key people in the community. Some that were excellent supporters of the principalship and also some that were not so great supporters. Generally, you got two different views from those people. But, I would, I would try to communicate with those, with all of the people in such a way that certainly left them feeling that their views were important and that I w9ould get back to them. And, I did get back to them with whatever their concerns were. And, I think I always owed them that. I always treated with a great deal of respect. And, I think I worked hard to earn their trust. And the feedback that they gave me I think, you know, it indicated to me that they did trust me with their children and with the instructional program. And, you know, I felt very good about that. I think, you know, that I tried to provide them with a lot of information and then I tried to allow them to make their own best judgement about what was happening without trying to lead them, you know, in any way that I didn't feel like was the professional thing to do.

Q: So you sought to build, or you were using team building skills there, building consensus and establishing your credibility. I understand. Let’s look at your personal training that you underwent for the principalship or for administrative endorsement. Can you describe those aspects of your personal training which best prepared you for your administrative duties?

A: I think I had a great advantage in having had the opportunity to work in supervision before I became a principal. I think that was a distinct advantage. I think the supervisory experience and the time that I had spent in the classrooms, I think I got a genuine feel, you know, from teachers about what they were thinking and what they needed and conferring with teacher about the instructional program. I think, you know, that that gave me an opportunity to …I think in working in supervision, it gave me an opportunity to help teachers build their self-worth. By that I mean that I always tried to, where warranted, to give the teachers, you know, back positive feedback. And, where it wasn’t warranted we’d talk about, you know, problems if there were problems. But, I think, you know, that that directly working with teachers was my best experience.

Q: What suggestions might you offer to universities as a way of helping them to prepare or better prepare candidates for administrative positions?

A: The university should be very certain that when principals leave the university that they leave with the expertise to do a good job as a principal. One of the things that I think that would be

Q: We just had broached the question on suggestions you might have to offer to universities as a way of helping them better prepare candidates for administrative positions. Would you please discuss that?

A: I think the university should be certain that principals that leave the university, that have been prepared for the principalships, leave with the expertise necessary to operate and provide instructional leadership for the school. Because, it is the principal that has the wherewithal to control all of the factors to determine whether or not they operate a good school. I think one of the things that I’ve always felt would be a good idea and this has happened … I think the concept of a long-term intern for principals, maybe like a year of working with a principal that is recognized as a credible instructional leader. I think that would be an excellent opportunity for a principal to get to know what’s involved in the principalship. And, I think, you know, a person that has worked with a highly recognized, a principal with a lot of credibility, a person that is a true instructional leader, I think that would be a great opportunity for a principal before they go into the principalship.

Q: I hear you talking of a mentoring program of sorts.

A: Yeah, absolutely. I think that would be a … Most of us have mentors and we like to think that we have learned a lot of what we know from individuals that were deemed to be outstanding in their work. I think that would be a good way of getting on the job experience. That would be very worthwhile and certainly be very helpful to a person going into the principalship.

Q: I remember from personal experience that you were quite active in community affairs in Tazewell. Obviously you felt that the principal should be active in community affairs and you mentioned it earlier as one way of maintaining community confidence in the school, Discuss your involvement with and participation with civic groups and other community organizations? Lean to the idea of whether or not your involvement influenced the school and how it might have?

A: The school belongs to the community and I think that the more involvement that you can have that is a communication device for allowing all groups in the community to know what’s happening in the school. I think, you know, if you get out there and you can allow the community to perceive you as a credible leader, I think that the personal interaction among those many groups out there in the community give you kind of a … places you in a position to build some consensus and build some support. I know I belonged to the Rotary Club. I attended Rotary Club each Friday for lunch and often gave programs and participated in Rotary Club. I attended all kinds of advisory groups that were related to the school. I attended booster group meetings. Often, you know, I had the opportunity out in the community to kind of mediate situations of conflict and had the opportunity, you know, in many of those situations to work towards building confidence and maintaining confidence in the school. I think it’s very important to be very active in community affairs. In fact, I did not live in the community, but I would be an advocate of the principal living in the community and being a very important part of the community. Because, I think, you know, that there is a there’s a … The principal is a role model. I think it is great for the young people to know what the principal is doing and what he is involved in and what his interests are. I think it is highly, highly important to be an integral and very vital part of the community that you are working in.

Q: Rotary Club sponsors Interact Clubs in schools, Kiwanis has school affiliations as well, and other do as well. Are those programs beneficial for the students or is it just something else for them to do?

A: I’m familiar with the Rotary Club and the Interact Club at the high school. I think that they Involved in a lot of very worthwhile activities. I think some of the activities were of lesser importance, but I think they can be very important. The truth of it is, they are what ever you make them to be. They can be important. I think the Rotary Club has some Interact programs where students are allowed to visit other countries and other countries’ students come here. They have many programs that are very good. I think, individually, those program are whatever they are made to be with the Rotary Club and the sponsorship and the students. Whatever they want them to be, they can be. They can be excellent. They can be mediocre. Or, they can be almost meaningless.

Q: Let’s turn now to teacher evaluation. How did you approach teacher evaluation? Was there a set of tools that you used? What’s the best evaluation tool available to administrators?

A: Each fall at the opening of school, along with the staff, we always reviewed the county teacher education evaluation policy and always set up classroom observation schedules. I thought it was very important to monitor instruction, to give the teachers feedback. But, I think if you are talking about any one particular part of the teacher evaluation process, I think what you need to do is to be sure you are working directly with the teachers. Know what the teachers are doing. Allow them to know what you are doing and to be sure that in every step of the way that you afford the teachers due process. If you have a teacher that you feel is not doing the job, then I think you have an obligation to that teacher to give them an opportunity to improve what they are doing. And, give them time to improve what they are doing. And, I think over a period of time if you, if you decide and the teacher, you know, maybe decides that they are just not getting the job done, I think the next best thing to do is to try to counsel the teacher out of the profession. Now, whether or not, you know, that is successful, it depends on every individual’s, you know, situation. I think you need to be fair. You have to exercise objectivity. Again, you have to follow due process. You have to give the teacher a chance to improve. If none of that works out and you can’t counsel the teacher out, then, generally, you have to go the route of recommending the teacher not be re-employed and see what happens. But, basically, the teacher should be given plenty advance notice if you are going to terminate a teacher’s employment. I don’t think that, you know, there should not be any surprises. No surprises! Teacher have been told they have been doing a good job by the principal and they’re doing a good job by supervisory people and maybe even the superintendent has told them they are doing a good job. I think to all of a sudden to surprise the teacher to say you are not going to be re-employed would be a great disservice to the profession. I think a teacher. Again, I think a teacher needs to be told in a very honest, open, and genuine, you know, situation if they are not going to be employed be given time to try correct whatever deficiencies there are and if none of that works out you might go the termination route.

Q: You had mentioned earlier that you did a lot of observation in the classroom and I am assuming that was your primary means of teacher evaluation, now, were you personally involved in all those evaluations? Or is that something you ceded to your assistant principals? Or did you have a schedule? Or did you rotate it about? Just how did you go about it?

A: We had a schedule, both the principal and assistant principal visited teachers. And always, on every visit I always gave the teacher a written assessment of the class session. I talked with the teacher and gave them feedback and allowed the teacher to provide feedback about what was happening in the class and what, you know, they were trying to accomplish. The assistant principal would do the same thing. And, then, of course, we would have a minimum number of classroom visits. If the teacher was on full evaluation, we might visit the teacher five, six, or seven times. If the teacher was on partial evaluation, we’d probably visit like three or four times during the year. And, we would share notes. And, you know, share information. And, of course, all of the information that we were sharing with each other as the administrators of the school, of course, the teacher already had that information in hand. So, you know, we wasn’t talking about or sharing information that the teacher did not have.

Q: You alluded a moment ago to teacher dismissal and described your feelings there how it should come about, were you ever involved in a dismissal of a teacher?

A: Yes, I’ve been involved where, you know, the information is presented to the school board and t eachers were dismissed. You know, based on the fact that their work was just unsatisfactory.

Q: And yet, you had followed the process you had described, sharing the evaluations with him, developing a plan of improvement, and I think you used the phrase, "counseling them out of the profession?"

A: Yeah. That, you know, the counseling out part, you know in some circles might not be considered an appropriate strategy. I felt as if we had to get to the place where you had to terminate, you know, a teacher’s employment, then it might have been the best of two alternatives. If that was not successful, and generally, you know, the information that was presented to the school board for dismissal was usually adequate. I don’t ever recall of having presented information and the school board not supporting the recommendation. Of course, the recommendation has to come from the superintendent of schools. Any recommendation that comes from anyone else, whether it comes from the principal or supervisor or whomever. First of all you have to convince the superintendent of schools that the recommendation is the right recommendation before you proceed, you know, to the school board with it.

Q: Did you also, during your tenure as secondary supervisor, make classroom observations in that post as well?

A: Constantly. That was the primary duty of that position was to work with teachers on curriculum, supervise certain programs and visit the teachers in classroom observations was the lion’s share of what went on in that position.

Q: You mentioned one role of the assistant principal, that of sharing evaluation duties, how did you utilize your assistant principals? Could you describe the characteristics of the most assistant, most effective assistant principal with whom you worked?

A: There were three of us. What we did we got together and kind of assessed together as a group the strengths and weaknesses of each other. Then, of course, we wrote job descriptions. We wrote a job description for the principal and we wrote a job description for each of the assistant principals. But, we felt as if were very important for each of the three principals to have experiences in all the different areas. As far as working with student discipline, as far as working with observation of teachers and as far as working with the community and all those different areas of responsibility, we generally tried to share them. But, it’s needless to say some had more strengths in certain areas than others. Of course, I think we learned from each other in working what to do in certain situations. But, we met every Monday morning and planned the weeks work. Things basically, proceeded rather smoothly. We made sure we had clear goals about what, you know, we were trying to accomplish in the school. The assistant principals were just as important as the principal. We made sure the assistant principals had the autonomy to do what was necessary to be done. If it were the right thing to do, then, certainly, t they’d have the support of the principal and the other assistant principal. We always, you know, tried to work in a way that would take advantage of the instructional expertise of each the individuals involved. But, yet we like to, you know, share the responsibilities in a way that everybody could have an opportunity to work in the different areas. So that everybody would be familiar with what each other is doing and what the job entails. We worked, as what we felt was a good administrative team. There was a lot of loyalty to each other. A lot of loyalty to the school. And, a lot of loyalty to the students and the community. I think, you know, that each of the three principals had a feeling of a high degree of efficacy. That is, the feeling that I can do what needs to be done. I thought that was very important.

Q: I hear you describing a cohesive management team; comfortable with one another and as you described, loyal and obviously respectful of one another.

A: We had an excellent situation in that we had in addition to me working as a principal; we had a female assistant and a male assistant. That really worked well. The lady principal did often times have a need to work with female students with personal problems and the male assistant principal had the opportunity to work with male student on some particular sensitive problems. But, it was an excellent situation. I would think that this a biased view, certainly, but we were very proud of our team and got a lot of positive feedback.

Q: That is one of things our cohort has emphasized, and that’s team building among the administration. I can see where it might be difficult, but your, your group seemed to hit it right off the bat. That is really good.

A: Of course, we had known each other for years. And, you know, I certainly felt very fortunate to have, you know, two excellent assistant principals that could … and both of them have gone on to greater and better things and they have been very successful in the world of education.

Q: Let’s turn to hiring, Dr. Thomason. What is the role of the principal in the hiring of personnel?

A: I think the primary responsibility of the principal is to be sure he can convey to the director of personnel what kind of skills does this person you are going to employ need. What kind of person are you looking for. You have got to, you know, be able to convey that to the director of personnel in a way that the personnel director can refer people to you that have those kinds of skills and the expertise to fill the needs of whatever job that you have to do. I think the principal certainly needs to interview any of the potential applicants and have a recommendation as far as the person that is going to be employed in the job. I was always great on bringing a teacher applicant in and letting them tour the school, meet with the department head of the department the person would be working in, meet with the teachers in the department and let the department discuss with that person what kind of professional, the type of skills that was needed to do the job that they wanted to do. I always felt as if if you could involve even the teachers in seeing what are the potential applicants available for the job, what are they like? Then, you know, having an opportunity to say, "Gosh, you know, this particular individual would meet our needs exactly. Would you, you know, please consider that person." Then maybe sit down and talk with them. I think, you know, it’s important. And again, I think that engenders that sense of belonging and sense of, you know, participation, and sense of ownership into the school and to the program. And, after all, you know, teachers feel like if they are working in the department, they need to have some say so about what’s going on in their department. I think if you give them. I think, good management decisions are always delegated to increase that participatory opportunity for whomever is involved in it. Whether its custodians or aids, or whatever, you know, job it is. I think if it is a cafeteria worker, if the cafeteria workers all buy in, you know, to a particular employee and say, "Gosh, you know, that person has the skills that we could really use in this department." I think it add a lot to the sense of moral and sense of ownership.

Q: I hear you talking of a school culture and using that culture or community of the school to bring new members in. That sort of process. Using the panel of teachers to do that. How about we move on to personnel management. What approaches, you talked about this some earlier, approaches that you used that contributed to your effectiveness as a manager of personnel?

A: Well, again, I think you have to have the sense of ownership. Some of the things we did, we had like social committees and teacher recognition programs and advisory committees for teachers and we had curriculum committees and we would set up ad hoc committees and all those kinds of things. But, I still, you know, you know, go back to that practice of allowing persons that have a professional responsibility to make some of the decisions, it enhances, you know, there self-esteem. I think, you know, if you have the opportunity to be fair and impartial with them and work directly with those people . You’re going to have a sense of involvement that you don’t have otherwise. I guess I would characterize my style somewhat as being a pragmatic worker. Also, I would be one that would delegate a lot of responsibility to teachers if it was a decision that affected teachers. If it was a decision that affected custodians, you know, I’d delegate, you know, that. I think it builds some opportunity there for self-esteem that is difficult to engender anywhere else. I think at some times that, you know, if you have a, you know, talking about using praise, my idea was you should give positive feedback and praise where it is warranted. But, one of the best ways to give praise is to find somebody that is a, you find some one who has a lot of respect for what you are doing and maybe tell some other people what a great job that employee is doing. That is a great way to let praise get back to an individual who is doing a good job.

Q: Now it may have fit your particular situation with your management team as cohesive and comfortable with working with one another as you were but, most other principals operate in a pretty tense environment with a lot of demands on their time and on themselves to do a variety of things. What sorts of things did you do to relieve the stress generated by your working conditions?

A: I think the principal and assistant principals, they have an obligation to not allow the school to consume their entire lives. I think if they. I think they need to get a worldview. They need to lead a balanced life in order to do a good job in the school. I think if you get a school and spend your entire life in the school, your view will become so narrow that you won’t be able to assist the people that you are charged with the responsibility of trying to help. I think you have to step back and get a wide view of everything. I think you know that. I spent my time, a lot of my time with my family and my friends. I like to fish so I’d go fishing. I think that you have an obligation to work and do your job in the school, but I think you also have an obligation to keep yourself well informed about what’s happening outside the school. You need to read and you need to what’s going on in the news and you need to have discussions outside the school as well as in the school. You need to have a social life. You need to have a life that is more than just the school. Because, if you’re just in the school I think you‘ll become so narrow that you won’t be able to do your job and do it well.

Q: You mentioned fishing, I’ll just share this with you, Harold Golding, principal at Carroll County High School fishes every morning. So long has he can get out there you know, its not icy or something, but he goes everyday. In recent years special populations have gained a lot more of attention and there seem to be increasing numbers of students identified with special needs. Could you discuss your experience with special student services and your views on the trends that more and more students are being identified in need of these services?

A: Well, we were always working to try determine how to better serve the needs of these students. These are high need programs. They are expensive programs. We’ve.., I think we’re still learning about how to better address their needs. We provide some outstanding services. I just think that we need to continue to. They are taking a larger share of the school budget. But, the need is there and if we are going to serve them we need to serve the properly. We need to learn how to better serve their needs. I’m totally in favor of serving those students. I think they should be served. I think society is going to be judge by how we serve them and how well we serve them. I think that we just continue to work on learning how to better serve them. But you’re true, the current. I think we are identifying the students for these services with different criteria from time to time. I think the reason the numbers are getting greater is we are constantly changing the criteria for identifying them. But, I think they have great needs. It is a real challenge to try to serve those students in a worthwhile, meaningful way.

Q: You mentioned earlier that one of the most important things you could do for a teacher was to maintain instructional time. What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning in you school

A: Believe it or not, Mike, we worked on. We always tried to, I thought it was very important to provide a clear sense of purpose and direction for the school? Try to

Q: Dr. Thomason, we were talking about techniques you used to create a successful climate for learning in your school.  

A: One of the areas that we worked on a great deal was attempting to provide a clear sense of purpose and direction, so the staff would have a good understanding of their responsibilities. And, I think by doing this the faculty gained a sense of important and purpose. And, I think, you know, it motivated. I think if people know what’s expected, then they will work a lot harder and be more motivated to try to be successful. I think that, again, it had a good climate in the school. You have to give the people the responsibility for doing certain things the autonomy or authority and then support them and give them the resources to get the job done. If you can set the goals for the school or any institution as a group and get everybody to buy into those goals, I think that you, you know, you are going to be much more successful in accomplishing what you expect to accomplish. I keep coming back to this business of efficacy. I kind of interpret that term to mean if you believe that you can get the job done and if you believe you can do what the students are expecting you to do, then, chances are, you know, that the chances of your being successful is going to be greater. But, I think, you know, that you have to be motivated to do a good job. And, I think if you have the autonomy and the wherewithal to be responsible for your own professional world and your own professional life you’ll work a lot harder and you’ll be self-motivated to do a better job than what you are trying to do. And, I think if you have a clear direction and a clear sense of purpose, then you are going to work harder when you are trying to accomplish things.

Q: Are you familiar with the SACS School Improvement Model?

A: Yes.

Q: Much of what you have said, or what I hear you saying, I have been reviewing that myself, much of what you have been saying here is contained within that model. Consensus, goal-setting, empowerment, sense of mission or mission statement and so on. It was just interesting to hear you say that. Since you have had time to reflect on your public school career what would you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?

A: I always worked very hard trying to demonstrate that being a successful principal is an important job. I thought that was a big part of my job. I felt like that I had control of my own professional life. I was proud of the profession. I felt like I certainly made an impact on the lives of many young adults and young students. Generally, I delighted in the challenge of the role and felt that I had control of my own destiny. If you were to ask the teachers at Tazewell High School, I would think they would probably say to you , and I would be interested in knowing, that I think, they would say to you we had control of our own destiny. Because, we had the opportunity to make decisions that affected our own professional lives. I think, you know, that was very important. I think it was very important, you know, to give them that authority and to give them some ownership into what we were doing. And, I think that they had a genuine feeling that that happened.

Q: How about an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service? You have a unique perspective of being three different levels, for want of a better word. You were in the classroom you were a supervisor, secondary supervisor, and you were also a building administrator. What advice would you give to persons interested in pursuing administrative endorsement these days?

A: I think there is no question in my mind that the principal’s work and principal’s expertise can certainly affect teacher performance and, ultimately, pupil achievement. I think, by and large, that is what the principal is there for. And, I think, you know, that it has been demonstrated that the principal has a definite influence on what happens at the school. I think that as far as any advice that I would pass on, I would say that the principal should equip themselves with the leadership behaviors that are high, very high in emotional support for teachers. They should have developed a wide-open communication system. And, that they should be genuine in what they are doing. They should not, you know, be fakey or try to be anything other than absolutely genuine. And, I think that they would gain the respect of their teachers and they would gain the support of their teachers. And, I think, you know, that would be very important. I think they should develop and demonstrate those leadership behaviors.

Q: It has been said that good managers encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations of their successes. To what extent did you engage in that practice during your tenure as principal? And, to what extent does it improve morale and the organizational effectiveness?

A: I think it is important to recognize teacher accomplishment. I think the principals really need to be very thoughtful and careful in supervising the staff. If, you know, and I have said this a number of times, but I continue to think, you know, if teachers have a sense of control over their own work life and ownership in the way the school is operated, they are going to be a much better employee. They are going to be a much better teacher. I think, you know, that giving teachers a voice in decisions that affect their jobs will make them, you know, a different kind of person. Again, I think it allows them to have a different mind-set. They think about things differently. Rather than having, you know, a lot of notions imposed upon them. I constantly, and this, teachers really appreciated this. I constantly wrote short notes to the teachers, thanking them for something, you know, that they had done. They really liked that. A little personal note. Just a little personal, handwritten note. Just put it in their box, their mailbox. They would pick it up and, you know, it would enhance. I could just see, you know, it really enhanced their self-esteem and the felt better about themselves. They felt like they were a part of, you know, an important part of the school. We had awards programs. We recognized teacher achievement and student achievement. You know when you recognize student achievement, oftentimes you are recognizing teacher achievement. I thought that was, you know, very important.

Q: Now, let me touch on that just a little bit more. Traditionally, awards programs are open to parents. Are you saying to me that you would recognize teacher achievement or particular achievements by teachers at awards programs?

A: We did both. We had program for students and programs for teachers. Oftentimes, the community would be in attendance. Which, I think was, you know, a good way to do that. I thought it gave the teachers some recognition in the community. We got good feedback, you know, from parents.

Q: And, that helped to establish the credibility of the school?

A: Sure.

Q: Some principals believe that teachers and other staff members are well motivated and reliable self-starters and other believe they must closely monitor the activities of their employees. What approaches did you customarily use in your administrative career to monitor this situation?

A: Well, I usually tried to work very closely with the teachers. I felt like, and I agree with the statement that some people are self-starters and self-motivated more than others. But, I think the principal of the school, it is his obligation to know what is going on in each and every classroom in the building. For no other reason than if a parent comes in and says, "Do you know what is going on in that classroom?" I think to say no would be an indictment on what you are doing as far as your job is concerned. I think you should be able to say, "Yes, I know what is going on in that classroom and how it’s being done." I think, you know, that you owe that to your self. But, more than anything, you owe that to the teacher, to be able to say that. Yes, I think, you know, that you have to do all that sort of thing in order to give the teachers feedback. I think, that’s, you know, very important. I don’t think you need to go in there for any reason other than to try to assist and help the teacher and to know what is going on in that classroom. The only way that you are going to know that is to work very closely with the teachers with the instructional program. So, that they will know that you know what they are doing and they will know what you are doing. I think you are going to be able to build a lot of trust and respect. I think that’s very important.

Q: You served in a period in which school boards were appointed to their positions. Would you mind discussing your views on elected school boards? Do you think the election process helps or hinders students overall?

A: Its very difficult to argue with being more democratic, since, you know the school’s belong to the communities. I think that during the time that school board members were appointed, I think there were some excellent persons appointed to the school board. They were people with excellent preparation and qualifications. But some of these same people probably would not have submitted themselves to an election, or gone through the election process. Yet, they were willing to serve on the board and they were good people. I think they served well. But, I think with the direct election process that the community has an opportunity to work more closely with elected representatives. I think either system can work. I think school board members being elected is a more democratic process. It gives the community a closer link to the schools. I think for students it is probably overall better. I think that in some instances, but this would be true in all of political life, that oftentimes and sometimes and it may happen, you know with a school board member, they may be seeking election to accomplish a very narrow objective. But, that could happen, you know, with any company. But, I think that, generally more important than the process is who you have as individuals on the school board. But, again, in all of politics you have some excellent people that could serve in positions that will not submit themselves to an election. But, after all is said and done, I think the more democratic. If the people in the community really want to know what is going on in the school and really want to communicate with school board members, I think if they are really concerned, and the get out and vote and they elect the best members they think could serve them. I think the elective process should be the best process.

Q: I have probably omitted something important that is weighing on your mind. What have I not asked that I should have asked and how would you respond to that question or those questions?

A: I think if the principal is going to be, and I think he should be, more accountable. But, on the other hand, I think he should be more empowered. I think he should be given the responsibility. People should be give the responsibility and he should be given the opportunity to be creative and opportunistic and be able to make changes and see if they work and so forth and so on. I think the principal needs to be empowered to work with his teachers in a way that he can prove to the community that he is a credible principal. And, that he knows how to assist students, teachers and students. And, if he assists those teachers in the appropriate way, it is going to end up in improving student achievement. That is what we are all working for. Because, again I have said this before, if teachers perceive the principal as possessing little expertise, then they are not going to seek out his help. I think that is very important. But the last thing, Mike, I’d like to say is that teachers and the principal, they all need to believe these children can succeed. Rather than saying, you know, it’s the socioeconomic status of the students, or it’s the race of the students, we ought to go back and say, "These children can learn and it is up to us to change our attitudes and our profession’s and find a way to teach them.  

Q: I think that is a wonderful way to end. Dr. Thomason, thank you for your time this afternoon. I really appreciate it.

A: Thank you, sir.

Q: Just as a point of personal information, you mentioned your, the one room school, what was the name of the one room school and the name of the teacher, would you mind sharing that?

A: The name of the school was Sandlick Elementary School.

Q: In Mercer County?

A: Yes, in Mercer County. And the name of the teacher was Mrs. Barberry. Of course, she is deceased.

Q: Some teachers have a way of affecting, making lasting impressions on their students.

A: They absolutely do.  

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