Former Principal of Hiddenwood Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia
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Q: Joan, I am most appreciative to you for so graciously consenting to be interviewed. I have the highest respect and admiration for you as an educator and I am looking forward to this interview. As I mentioned to you earlier, the College of Education at Virginia Tech would like to use the tapes for archival purposes. Thank you so much for signing the release form. You were the principal of Hidenwood Elementary in the 1970's? Am I correct?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Yes, that is correct.
Q: How many years were you in education, first as a teacher and then as a principal?
A: Well, you can count this up. I taught in Henrico County two years,then moved to Newport News and taught fifth grade for one year; that's three, and then I was a reading consultant for about five or six years. That would be about nine years.
Q: Will you take a few minutes to describe your school?
A: I would say basically the school, Hidenwood,was a very traditional school. I happen to believe in structure, reasonable rules, and regulations for children, as well as faculty. I would say a happy school, and that probably sums up the physical aspects of school. Now, as far as the curriculum, I was basically a back to basics person. I felt that reading and math were crucial in mastery- particularly now--and I felt more time should be spent on those particular areas. However, I felt with reading, you could cover every subject matter or every subject matter could cover reading. So, it was rather integrated in terms of reading and the other curriculum.
Q: You were indeed ahead of your time, considering the fact that nowdays there is so much emphasis being placed on reading in the content area.
A: I don't believe I was ahead of my time. I was backed up for a number of years when that's the way it was handled. You know, when I was in school, that was the way it was handled, and perhaps I just didn't progress. But I went through all that with the new math and this new method and that new method and quite frankly, I feel that the old method was the best. We all learned that way and we learned well. So, you know, I sort of kept that in the back of my mind. I learned it this way and I learned it well, so it can't be all bad. I was progressive perhaps in areas in terms of things that I felt were very important, and I'm sure you do, for example, current events, but I brought that into the total school picture. For example, every morning, I would always get on the intercom and we would all say the Pledge of Allegiance and all sing the "National Anthem" because I felt that every child needed to know how to say or sing one of the two, or both of them. I felt very strongly about that, and we did that every morning, and then I would always have things to say to the students, and some would involve current events and things going o# what have you. I felt that was very important that the entire building and the kindergarten through the fifth graders knew these things.
Q: I remember my daughter Melissa coming home every day telling me what Mrs. Upshaw told her students over the P.A. system.
A: I'm glad she remembered that but, at the time,it was important the children knew that we were there for a purpose, and that purpose was to learn. Whatever we did during that entire day, that it all went back to learning something. Whether it was through a school bus driver or the custodian, or cafeteria worker, there was always something to be learned in every situation. I think that is very important.
Q: I think that is very interesting. How about your faculty; how large was your faculty?
A: I believe there were about 25 to 30. I'd say 30 but that included the PE teacher and the music teacher and the people that were not there all week long. So, I think 30.
Q: Well,that was a good size, large faculty, I could say. Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: That's a very good question. Actually there are two reasons. One is that I sort of fell into it. I'll explain that a little bit more, but another reason was both my mother and father are in education, and my father, as a matter of fact, was my principal when I was in elementary school. So, I felt very comfortable with education in general, and certainly with administration. I just felt very comfortable with it because I would go with him a lot to do different things, and I sort of really patterned my own method of administration after him because he was a very good administrator. I figure if you respected your own father, not only as a father, but as an administrator, then there must have been something good. That was part of it. The other thing was I had been taking graduate courses and, at the time, I was a reading consultant and I was taking these courses in reading to get a masters in reading, which you needed to have in order to be a reading consultant. The state had apparently made some 3##changes in certification, and I had been hired prior to the changes. But in order to continue in that capacity, I had to get a masters in reading. Well, I started out in that program and it was very interesting, but I just couldn't get very enthusiastic about getting a masters degree in reading. I already knew how to read and I already knew how to teach it, and I didn't see how this was going to profit me or anybodyelse. So I thought, well, I think I'll change my major. The one that interested me the most in terms of what was available was administration. I was told that I had to get permission from the department head in administration, and without naming names, he's the professor whom the community is well aware of in the educational community, and he's a very difficult person. I made an appointment with him and I remember. I had to get permission to enter the admininstrative field. I made an appointment, showed up in his office, told him what I wanted, and he said we don't want women in the administrative office. Well, that set me off, and for one half hour I just gave it to this fellow, and I didn't care who he was. I was getting ready to walk out of his office, and he said, "Wait a minute, don't go anywhere." I said, "Why?" He said,"We want you. You're exactly the type of person we want. You may enter our department of administration", but he wanted me to defend a woman being in administration and I certainly could defend it particularly in elementary education in terms of administration. There was no doubt about my defense there and he recognized it. But he wanted me to speak up for what I thought.
Q: He was probably testing you.
A: Yes, that's right, that's right. So, we became very good friends after that, and, you know, that's how I happened to wind up an administrative agent.
Q: I do not recall at the moment the class, but your experience was related to us by another professor. You must have made a tremendous impression. You certainly opened the door for many of us to pursue a program in administration. Very interesting indeed. What was your school philosophy, and how was this philosophy developed?
A: You are asking me a question that I can't answer in terms of a specifically written philosophy. I know we had one, and it's been so long ago now that I cannot remember exactly what the philosophy was in terms of, you know, verbatim. But I would imagine the philosophy was something to provide an atmosphere for young people to learn and grow, and become adjusted. All those good words that we throw around sometimes and don't always really attach a meaning to. I knew what my philosophy was because that has not changed considerably, and obviously, if you are running the school, you have to go by your own philosophy, and mine has always been to enjoy what you are doing, whether it's learning, or teaching, administrating, or driving a bus, or whatever you have to enjoy doing it. If you don't enjoy doing it there's no point in continuing. That's life. You only have one life to live, and you say if you don't enjoy it, you get out. Generally, a philosophy would be to provide an environment that's condusive to learning, and with all the specifics tied into it and without going searching my brain for hours to come up with all the terminology, I think I have pretty well said what my philosophy might be.
Q: I am sure you answered this before, indirectly, but I will ask you again. How did you create a climate for learning?
A: Well, the first thing in terms of an administrator, I assume that you are, because it would certainly apply to teachers as well, I think the first thing is to be professional. This is a professional service, a professional occupation. You must instill in the teachers that they are professionals and treat them as professionals. Treat them as though they are indeed intelligent, and indeed know things that you don't know about teaching. Just because you are the principal does not neces- sarily mean you know every method and every way to get to the children. But the idea is to rather take the talents of those that are working under you and develop those talents and use them, but in order to do that, you must make them feel that they are worth something. So, to me, that is the first thing that I did as a principal and an administrator, was to gain profes- sionalism of the teachers and let them know I believe in them. Once they felt comfortable with themselves and they did indeed have something to offer, then they in turn, would give that to the students and the students would then identify them as being professional people. Your whole atmosphere then is condusive to something that you're there to do. It's a job, and if the students and the parents don't look upon the teachers as being there for a definite purpose and to be evaluated on that purpose, whether it be by the students or the parents or the principal or whomever, then you don't have a climate condusive to learning and you have people just standing around doing nothing. So, I think that's the first thing, and the other thing is to be very humanistic, to let the students and the teachers know you are human. You make an error - you tell them. And I expect that of teachers if they made an error, whether it be on the blackboard or in calling somebody's name. If they were wrong - admit it! Just say, "I was wrong; please forgive me. "Explain why they did whatever they did. Many teachers will make errors, particalarly the blackboard in math, spelling, and will never own up to it. There are students who are sitting in that classroom that know better and they know the teachers made an error. Even for one student, that teacher has got to admit to it. But think of all the students that didn't know she made an error, and they are absorbing that information that is not right. So, I think that's a humanistic approach by admitting that you made an error. That's how you learn. The students need to know that. That is the only way you are learning anything and that's to make a mistake. If you know everything and you always get it right, you never learn anything; you're always getting it right. There are a lot of little things that go into your school climate, teacher performance, and your student performance, but they're just common sense.
Q: What leadership techniques did you use?
A: That is something I never really thought about. I suppose if someone else were to analyse me, they may come up with some certain adjectives or techniques that I might have used. I think of them probably in terms of very general, for example, fairness. I think it is very important to be fair, not only with the students but with the faculty. I an other words, treating everybody fairly, and if you reprimand one teacher for something, you do the same thing for another teacher, and whether we like it ### or not, we are all human; there are some people we like more than others. That's just the human way, and its much easier to overlook what a teacher does if you like her or him as a person. Whereas, if there is a teacher that you don't particularly care for, when they make an error, or they make a mistake, you jump down their throats about it. That's where, to me, you have to be very careful and not show favoratism. You need to reward those who do their job better or more proficiently. Don't get me wrong, that's not what I'm talking about, I'm just talking about being fair across the board.
Q: You are referring to consistency, right?
A: Right, that# right. The other thing that I always felt was important, and I would always tell the faculty this; I will never ask you to do something I won't do myself and then pitch in and do it. In elementary school, it is a lot different than secondary school situations, in that the bulletin board type thing. Bulletin boards are plastered all over and they must be covered, if you will, with something. Traditionally, what they do in elementary school is say, well, this group of teachers are that teacher will be in charge of this one, or this bulletin board this month; and so on. Not only do they have them in their classroom, but I'm talking about just the hall ones. If I ever built an elementary school, I would not put any bulletin boards in it. I think they're important for certain things, but I don't think you need to decorate all the time, and that's what it would boil down to, decorating and not learning. Well, that would be one example, and so, even though the teachers were assigned a X month to do the next bulletin board, I also took my turn, so I would do the cafeteria one month, and the hall bulletin board one month, and one outside the office one month; then I took my turn with the teachers; that is very important 7##that they see that you are working with them. That's leadership style. Certainly, is important to delegate, but not always everything. That was my theory on it. My theory of delegation was to delegate those responsibilities that you know someone else can do better, and if you think that no one else can do better than you, then you better walk out the door. There is always somebody who can do something better than you can, and delegation is very important to make people feel important, and wanted, and needed, and all those good things. So I certainly would delegate responsibilities. Wel# they weren't really administrative responsibilities, because I would handle my own, but things that needed to be done in the building, committees to be served on or chaired, that type of thing, and certainly delegate those responsibilities, and say, here, you do this committee and pick your committee members, and not always say, "Here's the commit- tee. This is what you're going to do on the committee. These are the committee members. You are going to meet at this time." I don't think that's necessary. I think people like that are optioned to say, "I ought to set my own time, and pick my own committee members."
Q: To what extent were your teachers involved in decision making? Did they have any?
A: Sure, that's another leadership style where you do involve them, and I would say very heavily, I don't remember ever doing anything where we didn't all come together at some point and time and hash it out and say, what do you think about it and so on. I might go ahead and do it anyway, but they have an option to speak up and say what they thought, and certainly a lot of the decisions they would make. Not as a total faculty but perhaps as committee or a group. Every school would have certain commit- tees working on various projects, maybe to improve this area, whatever.It's normal, in any organization or any business, you're going to have that. You know, somebody in charge of this and somebody in charge of that. The only difference in schools is that you only have one in charge and a lot of others who are just al but not called "they're in charge." Decision making is certainly very important and crucial. The mundane things are never brought up, which is another charactersitic of a leadership style. In other words, if there had to be a decision made about a bus pickup or some time element or something like that, we didn't talk about it. I just went ahead and did it. A lot of things like testing; there's mammoth testing, as you know, a lot of times I would just do it. I'd say "Send me the fifth graders to the cafeteria - we're going to take a test, and then just give the test. I didn't ask the teacher; the teacher was thrilled because she didn't have to do it. It is a mundane task to do it hour, after hour or with each class. It doesn't require that much of a job.
Q: What many teachers detest is the disruption. That's right. So I can't pinpoint every thing I did in terms of how that fits a certain leadership role or style, but I may have had my own. What techniques were successful and unsuccessful in your opinion.
A: I am sure there were some things that I used and I didn't label as a technique, or whatever that were unsuccessful. Obviously, with the length of time I have been out of the business I probably filed that away as something to forget. We don't like to remember the unsuccessful moments and I am sure that they are there. Off hand I can't pinpoint one. I know that they are there. I can't tell you what they are because I have conveniently forgotten them. Well, it's been seven years. So it is hard for me to really pinpoint something specific. I wish I could. Probably if I thought about it for twenty-four hours, I could.
Q: Well, your faculty and patrons were impressed with your leadership, but I am sure you...
A: Well, I am glad they were. Parental input, that's another way to handle that. My dealings with children and teachers and parents were basically the same, but yet they were different. I certainly wouldn't treat a parent like I might a child in terms of what I might say to them, or whatever, but that's another area that is certainly very different, and you put on a different hat. When you talk with teachers, you're wearing one hat. When you are talking with parents, you are wearing another one. Not that they're any different, they are all adults and what have you. But you approach it from a different angle, and I think you have to do that, and I think it is expected of you. As far as dealing with parents, I guess the thing that works best with me, and maybe this is slightly prejudiced but I feel very strongly about is that I have my own child. And it is a lot easy to talk with someone about their child when you have experienced similar things with your own child. I find it very difficult to talk to somebody in the educational field who has no children.A lot of the things in the elementary school that you are dealing with are a matter of maturation, or maturing, and growing up physically as well as mentally, and if they're not, a parent will get very concerned but doesn't seem to be paying attention and this that and the other, which is a normal thing for a child to go through and unless you have your own child then it is an experience that, as a parent, it is hard to be able to tell them that and to understand what they are saying, and give them suggestions or ideas to help cope with it. In the elementary school, like I said, this is very prejudiced, but I can point to too many cases where the teachers that have children have a better rapport with children than the teachers who don't have children. Rightly so, particularly when we are talking basically about women. With men I don't think it makes any difference. I'm sorry, but they are not at home bringing them up either.
Q: What role did you play in public community relations?
A: As a principal, I was very active and am still active in the community as a whole. I think that is important. I did a lot of volunteer work, and worked with one of the large volunteer organizations on the Peninsula and continue to do that and serve on various community boards like Family Service, Travelers Aid and the Arthritis Foundation, which is all volunteer work. I've done volunteer work at the Nature and Science Center and various areas of the community. I think it is important; I enjoyed it. I did it because I enjoyed what I was doing. It took me away from education for a while. You know, it was nice to get out into the community and not be surrounded with blackboards and books all of the time, and see what other people are doing out in the community. Because you have a tendency to live in one building and that's about it. You develop certain ideas of needs that the community has; you can incorporate a lot of the ideas that people are doing; working out these problems in the community into your own school. One of the biggest helps is resource. By being out in the community, I learned about the closed closet that the PTA had sponsored, the food bank, social services, who to call for this child, who to call for for that child, and so on, and there are a lot of free community services available. But if you are not out in the community finding them, you will never find them. I use a lot of community services--social services and some of their programs right on through talking with people in major companies that had a need for this, that, or the other and maybe if we had a group of children who could present a program on that or do something; there are so many things that could be done which are beneficial to the children as well as the community. I think it is very important that an administrator be known in the community for they gain respect other than their respect through their own faculty and their parents. But community respect is just as important. How many times, and you know this, have principals been quoted in newspapers over difficult situations, maybe a book in the library or something like that, but it is important that the community recognize the individual and say well, "I know so and so, and they are active in this and that. They know what they are talking about." They have established themselves in the community as somebody people can look up to or they know that they have a lot to give and have earned a certain amount of respect by being out there. You didn't take any notes on that. You remembered that one.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be? How do they perceive their principal?
A: Number one: Supportive, I think. I can look back as a teacher, I expected the principal to support me, even if I was not whatever was, the instance or an overall thought or idea, I expected him to support me in my thinking and if my thinking was erroneous, to help me move around and to understand why it was or whatever, but I think the main support has to be in your daily actvities: the teacher wants that principal to back her up. Something happens everyday in every school, it just has to when you are dealing with that many people, and I think that is very important. I think it is important as a principal to give them that support. There are times when you can't give them the support that you would like to because they may be wrong. But you can give them support in making them understand or helping them to understand why what they did was wrong or what they didn't do was wrong and how to straighten it out. But that's number one support. And the question was what do you think teachers expect principals to be? I sometimes think they expected them to be in the school always--24 hours a day and on weekends.I think sometimes they thought the principals never left the school, and maybe they thought they should stay there. Time is another element, and I think teachers expect time from their principals. I think they deserve time. I think it is one of the hardest things that an administrator has to deal with, because you know as a teacher you think, "I'm the only one who has this problem today," or "I'm the only one with a problem today, so why can't I talk to him or her." And that's hard for the administor to deal with in that unfortunately every faculty member that day has a problem. I think teachers expect the principal to be professional.
Q: Going back to the answer you just gave me concerning time, do you feel that you practiced an open-door policy with the members of your faculty?
A: Oh yes, I did.
Q: Did they feel comfortable in coming to you with their problems.
A: Right. I wanted them to come to me with their problems. I wanted them to come to me before they went to "Joe Smoe" or the teacher down the hall, or the custodian, or whatever. Again, I felt very fortunate in, I like to have male teachers so I want that to be understood. I always ask for some male teachers--please send me male teachers. It is very important to have male teachers. There are not too many in the elementary field. I did have all female teachers. The one thing that a female admini- strator has over a male administrator is that they can share the problems and teacher problems are not all with children and teachers. They have their own personal problems. Being a woman I could relate to those and help them. You know I would never have gone to--I had two male principals when I was a teacher--I would never have gone to either one of them with some of the personal problems I had because I knew they couldn't relate to them and you know it would be just frustrating, I think. But with a female which is--then you have to turn over the coin--you are inundated with all the problems because they do feel comfort- able in sharing them. So you get the problems, they feel comfortable because you are a female, but sometimes too comfort- able and then you hear everything and you can't always hear everything. You don't have the time; its not that you don't want to--you really don't have the time, but I think teachers do expect you to, as you mention, give more of your time. And rightly so, I can understand why they feel that way. I think they have seen administrators that don t give any time, I think that happens.
Q: How did you evaluate the teachers at your school? Specifically, what techniques did you use to make teachers feel important?
A: You are not talking about the system evaluation procedures?
Q: Not the formal evaluation.
A: I could never seem to get a handle on those things anyway, they seem to change from year to year. One year you were doing targets and one year you were doing this, whatever. I evaluated teachers on several items, one was the ability to speak proper English. To me that is crucial in the elementary schools--the teacher is a role model and must speak well. Number two, which is tied into that, is intelligence. I don't care what any book says, what any professor says about, I have heard these theories, that the best teacher isn't always the most intelligent. It may be but I would venture to guess that an intelligent--I'd rather have an intelligent teacher than a dumb teacher, let's put it that way. So intelligence I think, is important. I think it is more important in the secondary level where you are challenged. Teachers are challenged constantly by students. In elementary school they are not challenged as much, so you don't have to know as much about the subject matter. But I think you need to be intelligent. The third evaluative tool I would use would be personality--the ability to get along with people - that's your personality. To me, that was very easy judgment. Everybody knows who the kids like. They know who the favorite teachers are. They may not be the best teachers; it's their personality. Of course, if you find the combination of intelligence,and speaking welland.#heregood personality, you've got a winner on your ####hands. Then are other items that are important but there are items that can be learned and that is presentation, methods of teaching. There are lots of methods of teaching and I am not one that would say this is the only method. I think there are many methods. The method goes along with your style and person- ality. I was a little distressed with the PET program - Program For Effective Teaching. I think it is a good program; I think the method is good, but it didn't always suit everybody's style. I think too many teachers tried to change their style to that method and it ruined their abilities. They were doing a good job without it and the final tool was what were the children learning. That's obviously the purpose of being there. So you have to make a judgment on test results and grades, and things like that.
Q: It is interesting that you have come up with the remark about PET because Newport News has just recently come up with four alternatives or solutions for the PET program. They have tried to modify the program and make it more acceptable to the teachers. I attended a workshop today and I was very impressed.
A: I am glad they did that.
Q: Because many teachers felt that they were very much restricted by the PET program, they had to follow a standard form.
A: Right. You are almost saying the same thing. I was one of the first principals to go throught that. The elementary principals went through it first; then my teachers were going through it. I found that they were very much intimidated by it and it was the good teacher, in my opinion, who was intimidated by it and that bothered me. That really did bother me. I didn't want them to change. They were doing a wonderful job and I didn't want them to change what they were doing. But they had to
Q: Melissa went from Hidenwood to Hilton School and her second grade teacher decided to take an early retirement because she did not want to go through PET and she was a very, very good teacher.
A: Did you go through it?
Q: I had to go. The Department Chairmen went first.
A: With children?
Q: No. Well, we, the department chairmen, went through the program and then we were observed while we were teaching our classes. Our supervisors came and observed us on a weekly basis. But it is being modified at the present time.
A: It was difficult for a lot of teachers particularly the older teachers. You know they had a set style. Some of their styles were wrong. I am not going to say they were all right, but for some of them their style was effective and the children were learning. It was very intimidating to have to stand up in front of your peers and teach in a method that was not you. There were some that would really come back in tears. I can understand why they got upset. But there was no reason to make them feel that way.
Q: What does it take to be an effective principal?
A: That's a good question. It.s too bad that we really don't know the answer, because then we would have nothing but effec- tive principals. And we know that's not the case. But I think there are a couple of characteristics, whether it is an effective principal or an effective leader - it doesn't make any difference, it's one in the same. Number one, is a sense of humor. Another important characteristic would be organizational skills; certainly as I mentioned before, intelligence is very important, although I didn't put it at the top of the list in this case. Time management you have to know how to manage your time effectively in order to be overall effective. I guess there are many others, no doubt. We'll wind it up with a good rapport with many different types of people. Now, that, I think does apply to being a principal because we do come in contact with many different types of people, unlike other businesses where you only deal with certain types of clientele - all women, all this or all that. Here you deal with everybody.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal? Did you feel that, at times, you were under a lot of pressure from various elements?
J; Yes, there were a lot. One of the pressures is a personal thing, in that I'm that type of person. I like to complete a day's work. If I have phone messages, or this, that, or the other, I like to do them all that day so I go home with a clean slate so to speak and I don't return the next morning with piles of paperwork and this, that, and the other. So that type of pressure was always there, in that you were scrambling around trying to wipe the slate clean before the end of the day. It wasn't always possible to do that. But that certainly is a pressure if you are that type of person. If you are the type of person that can deal with piles of stuff all over you desk and papers on the floor, messages packed up and that it wouldn't bother you. Another pressure that I particularly had involved parental pressures ins that I was the principal in the neighbor- hood in which I resided, and naturally some of the parents were also some of my friends and, at times, it was difficult, particularly in disciplinary matters to confront a parent with something their child should or should not have done,or whatever, and to it tactfully. That to me is pressure. If you can do it you're fine, but it is still a pressure that you have to withstand.
Q: Did you feel that those parents expected preferential treatment for their children?
A: Occasionally. I have to admit some parents would call me in the evenings, on weekend, stop by the house and their visit or call had nothing to do with anything but school. Obviously they were taking advantage of my friendship, but I think they quickly found out that it did not make any difference and that was another pressure that I had to deal with in that I really had to watch who I was socializing with in order not to make other people feel uncomfortable:or whatever. The other pressure which relates to this was I could never go to the grocery store and I didn't go for the entire time I was at Hidenwood School. I never went to the grocery store because I couldn't get out of there without five parent conferences. And that certainly is a pressure. My husband filled in very nicely - he went for me. But those are pressures. I guess they were pressures that bothered me, not as much as the pressure of what to do when a child misbehaved and it was a severe problem and how to deal with it, how to solve it, how to deal with the teacher who may have been involved with whatever the problem was. That to me was more pressure than trying to resolve it. Because that was something that had to be done immediately. I didn't have to talk to"Susie Jones#down the street even if she called me. Even at home at night my husband could have said she is not here. But you can't pretend the child isn't there. That was really pressure and I am sure there were many other instances where I had a lot of special education classes at Hidenwood. There were a lot of pressures involved with those classes in that there is so much paperwork involved in simple, what I consider simple things. What I consider very simple things you had to run it by lots of people on paper. And that's a pressure to me. I just soon do away with the paperwork but my theory on that was if the parent agrees to whatever you want to do and there's a signed statment saying that they agree with you, do it, and don't worry about the psychologist and the visiting teacher and this person and that person agreeing with it. The parent thinks it is a good idea, you think it is a good idea, you think it's a good idea, and the teacher thinks it is a good idea. It couldn't be all bad. Just go ahead and do it.
Q: Considering all of these pressures, how did you find time to be as visible as you were. I remember seeing you
A: Where did you see me?
Q: In the halls, everywhere.
A: That goes back to philosophy, and that's one, or my style. That was one thing I never mentioned. That's good you brought that out. I never stayed in the office, except if I had to make a phone call or confer in private with somebody. But I just thought it was much more important to be out there with what was going on. Education was going on out in the classrooms and in the hallways - not in my office. And I will tell you this, that I was in two schools and in both schools I knew every child's name. And to this day I can remember either their first or last name. I don't always remember if somebody would come up to me and say my son was in your school at Parkview. I'll say can you tell me the last name, and if they do that I can usually come up with the first name or vice versa. The only way I got to know them was to be out there with them. I enjoyed that. That's fun for me being with the children. Lots of time I would go out to the playground with them and I'll tell the teacher she can have a break, and I would take the class out after lunch. Play baseball, something like that, in fact I enjoyed it. Play baseball, in fact, I enjoyed it. And I got to know the children that way, which I think it is very important to know the kids, and which is another thing that school systems frequently do and ours likes to do this with elementary principals and that is move them around from school to school frequently, and I never approved of that. I didn't want to be moved. I thought that was inconsistent - very inconsistent. When you get to know a child in the first grade, its nice to see him or her all the way through to the fifth and I think it's nice for the child too. It's wonderful to have those memories. Most of our elementary children and many of our high school children do not have that memory any more because they are transferred from one school to another. They don't identify with a school. I know when I went to school, I identified with one elementary school, one high school with and all the same teachers and the same principal, the whole time I was there. And you don't forget these people; they do make an impression on your life. Whereas few have one principal this year, another principal another year and all these different changes, there is not time for one person to really make an impression.
Q: I think this is one of the reasons why there is not as much school spirit nowdays.
A: Yeah, because you don't identify with one school. And I think it is important. I don't think we need to get carried away with. I think sometimes there are extra-curricular activities which generate school spirit or get out of nand. I'm not going to get into the athletic program at this point. You know what I mean. But by the same token, there are some very rewarding memories for people -- that has nothing to do with pep rallies and things like that. I remeber that in school, and that's a part of my life.
Q: I believe you answered my next question. It has to do with the way you handled pressure.
A: Did I answer that? Yeah.
Q: Well, if you had to do it all over again what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship.
A: Well, that's a big question.
Q: Would you have done it any better?
A: I don't think in terms of preparation I would have done anything differently. I think I would have spent less time in undergraduate educational courses and more time in other areas, maybe philosophy or English or something like that. I don't think any one or any school that I am aware of, at this point and time, offer Administration; what they really end up doing and when the chips are down, I can tell you exactly where I spent most of my time. Now you did see me in the hall a lot of the time. But I also spent a lot of the time in the boy's rest room, cafeteria, in the boiler room, or on the bus. And that very much annoyed me because in all four cases I was not imparting any educational methodology or anything else to anybody. I was in the boy's room to tell them to quit writing on the wall or scrub it off the wal#. I was in the boiler room because we had no heat and it was like that from one day to next all winter long. We didn't have any heat and the building wasn't air conditioned. We had those problems to contend with. I was in the cafeteria so the kids wouldn't throw food and, I was on the bus because they were misbehaving on the bus on their long trip home. And I spent a lot of time in those discipline areas. I spent a lot of time doing that with very little training and the only training I really had in discipline was my own child. But what other training would I have possible had in trying to discipline children. Only that I went through it with my own child and he wasn't that bad. So I never had to contend with things I suddenly had to, like the child who brought marijuana to school in the third grade. I never had to deal with that, and neither did I any get any ideas as how to deal with it. There was no book written - no book for me to read - no professor to tell me, "Listen now, a boiler works this way. You have this switch and that switch and the heat doesn't come out." What are you going to do? There are a lot of practical things. The reason why I say I probably wouldn't have done anything differently, is a lot of these practical things I had already done in terms of my own interest. I knew how to tinker with the boiler because I enjoy mechanical things and do all that kind of stuff at home. I do the painting and the repairing and the electrical work and so on. My husband doesn't but I enjoy it, and I get great pleasure out of figuring out how this thing works. So that didn't bother me, but I can imagine for other people they don't enjoy that. Now I will say one other area we didn't touch on at all is very, very crucial in my whole existence of being a principal and that was something I didn't enjoy doing, and it took me a long time until we finally got where we are. I don't usually tell people about this, but the one thing I don't enjoy doing is being a nurse. I don't enjoy doing that at all. I faint at the sight of blood. When I first arrived as a principal at Parkview Elementary school, we.had a nurse one half day a week, and that was it. That meant I had to be nurse for the rest of the time, and elementary schools are set up that way. The high schools all had a full-time nurse, but not the elementary schools. A problem with that is elementary children don't always know where they hurt. They know they don't feel good, but they don't know why or where. They are invariably tripping, knocking up against something, falling on the playground, skinning their knees; you have blood. I had to deal with that,and I didn't like it at all. I spent two years trudging back and forth from my school to administration building, begging for elementary school the nurses. We now have them, but it took a lot of work, and we were many years prior to that when they weren't available, and the principal really did have to be a nurse. It upset me. I'll never forget one child, someone you know, fell off the jungle gym and landed on her head. Her ear was bleeding. Of course, I called an ambulance and I had to call her parents. I felt so responsible for that child. It was nobody's fault; no one pushed her. She just slipped and fell. So, I was responsible. I couldn't blame it on Johnny; he pushed her. Nobody did; she just slipped and fell. It was the hardest thing for me to deal with, in that if anything had been seriously wrong with that child, that would have affected me for the rest of my life. I know that. Luckily, she was fine and to this day she is fine. But that really bothered me. Not having a professional to call upon, I had to make that decision--do I call an ambulance right away, is it that serious? It looked to me as if I would have called an ambulance even if the kid scraped his knee. I wasn't going to take any chances because I wasn't proficient in that area. Nobody addresses that, nobody tells you "By the way, when you become the principal, you will also be the school nurse, or the school janitor, or whatever." They don't tell you that, and you do a lot of that; you have to. It s a big surprise. You either cope with it and deal with it effectively, or you are immediately labeled an ineffective principal. Teachers are going to say "Gee, that mess has been on the floor now for three days, why isn't it cleaned up?" You have to be your own custodian in terms of getting the custodian to clean it up. You know by all rights the custodian should recognize it there and clean it up, but sometimes they don't know it happened and you have to be on the ball and say, Hey, the light fixtures are getting dirty and I better remind Joe to get up there and clean them cause Joe isn't going to look at them because that's work for him, you know. You have to be on top of everything. That's right, you really do and those general things are never addressed. At least in my educational background, they have never been addressed. Perhaps now they are, I don't know.
Q: That's a good point.
A: You're a manager of people but you're also a building manager. You're responsible for a building and its maintenance and its heat and everything else.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?
A: How did I handle them? Well, there are procedures to follow in the school system and, naturally, I would try to follow the procedures and, frankly, I never had an official grievance to file. Maybe if I had stayed around long enough I would have, but I never had to go through the channels, so to speak, with a teacher grievance. Now as far as just the grievance, if a teacher had a complaint, you know we would just sit down and talk about it. Try to work it out but I never had a major grievance problem. I really didn't.
Q: Did you ever fire a teacher during your tenure as principal?
A: No, I never did. I attempted to at one point and time but no. In order to fire the teacher, or even to have a teacher considered to be fired, her performance would need to be docu- mented and documentation requires a great deal of time and time away from things you should be doing and time with an individual who you are hoping will make mistakes, which bothers me to begin with. Why would you want a person to make mistakes? But anyway that is what you have to do and you know if you are being watched, you are going to try your very best not to make mis- takes. You're not going to sleep in the classroom that day even though its been reported to the principal from very good sources that that teacher sleeps for the afternoon. So when the princi- pal comes in to document that, you're not going to sleep. So its pretty hard to get the evidence and there were situations like that I was trying to document. And when I would appear these things would not go on. There were other things of course but the point being that my word in terms of "I heard this" or "a good reliable teacher next door told me that so-and-so did this" or " a child had gone home and reported to his parents and I know them to be a very trustworthy family and so on, that the teacher hit him on his head, or whatever. Those cannot be submitted as evidence. It has to be documented by myself and I didn't have the time or the energy. Probably we'll all have to go through with it. It's probably a mistake on my part. I probably should have gone through with it but I....it just wore me out.
Q: Did you have an assistant principal at that time?
A: I had an assistant principal. I had two at the time I was at Hidenwood. The first assistant principal I had, and that was the time when I was trying to do this, was a very nice individual except he did not do any work. And I know why I was assigned this assistant principal. He had been to many different schools and each time he ...the end of the school year would come and the principal would boldly say I don't want him anymore. Please get rid of him. And so he would be shifted to another school and I hadn't had my turn yet. So I had my turn with this individual and it was like just having a person you had to look out for. He was no help. Another assistant principal I had was very good. And as a matter of fact, as it turned out, she was able to get this teacher not fired but the teacher resigned. And I have to say in all fairness, and she was a good assistant principal and certainly a good principal. She is no longer a principal. She is a supervisor of some type now. But I have to say in this instance with this teacher that I was not pleased with, she (the teacher) was of a different race than I. The principal that was able to "get rid of her" was of the same race and that did make a difference because I know in just my few connections immediately I was being labeled by that teacher as being prejudiced. And that wasn't the case at all.
Q: Was this in the early years of busing?
A: Well,this was after we had - yeah. It was just that teacher was black and by my approaching her with things I didn't approve of or didn't think were correct or were unhappy with. You know it was like the only reason you're doing this is because I'm .black, and had nothing to do with it. But you see if I were black I could have done it probably a lot easier because, you know, there was no other issue involved, except competency. But there that issue could have have been brought up and, of course, she'll say she, naturally as soon as I'd started a lawyer was secured on her behalf, you see, because I was starting this procedure, and that was part what the lawyer was looking at. You are white and she is black, and it had nothing to do with it as far as I was concerned because I had some wonderful black teachers, but I was after this particular black teacher because she wasn't competent and my assistant principal, who happened to be black and then became principal, recognized it, too, because we tried to figure out how to get rid of her. Well, she was finally able to do it, you know, not through firing but through another means, which is fine, I mean who cares now, but it was a little bit easier for her to do it because she didn't have that conflict to confuse the matter.
Q: Going back to pressure, you can say this was another pres- sure.
A: Yeah, that is another pressure. You know, I never felt uncomfortable at all and, and, but it was a pressure in terms of some teachers, but I have to admit on both sides. So, you know, it really didn't make that much of a difference to me. There were some white teachers that I had that if they had not been so close to retirement I probably would have pursued that but I knew they were going to get out; and, you know, as far as I was concerned they were not any better than this other one. I mean, you know, so that pressure of, but trying to rid yourself of incompetency is a big pressure, sure.
Q: Did we answer that question?
A: I think so.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: What was the original question?
Q: The original question was, how did you handle teacher grievances?
A: O.K. Grievances. We sort of got off on something. No I don't have anythingelse because as I told you I didn't have a formal grievance and any other problems or grievances teachers might have brought up informally. We'll sit down and talk about informally.
Q: How can we improve education, or teachers, etc.?
A: That's an overwhelming question because it is sort of a domino effect, and we are not only sure of which end we are going to push. O.K.? I have debated in my own mind many times. Do we start, you know, at the elementary level and work up in terms of improvement or do we start at the college level and go back. I finally have come to grips with the answer, and I think the only way to do it is to start at the college level with teacher training and work down, because basically I think that is where our problems lie. We have professors who are in teaching education courses who have bever been in the classroom themselves other than in a colege classroom. In other words, we have people who go to college, get their degree, go to graduate school, get their degrees, hired by the graduate school, stay there and teach or undergraduate school. Stay there and teach. A lot of our teachers in colleges have bever been out in the world, they've only been in schools, their whole life they have been in a school setting. You know some do, you never know that they are marvelous teachers. I don't mean to take anything away from them but in education, I think, you need to have some practical experience in order to know exactly what you need to impart to these people who are going to go do it. I could never understand a professor teaching elementary education who never knew what it was like when the child came up to your desk and said I think I am going to be sick and threw up all over you, or who never was in a situation where the mother was hanging around the classroom door wanting to watch to see what the child was doing all the time, or was never in a situation #ith thirty kids all wanting to raise their hand to speak out of turn at the same time, where you had to go to the bathroom so badly and you couldn't because you couldn't leave these thirty children alone. You know, there are just so many things plus all of the methodol- ogy and all of the other things you need to do, all the skills you need to have to teach these children how to read and, of course, that is the main thing. I mean that, when you think about it, I mean most people, the average "Joe" wouldn't know how You begin to teach someone how to read and yet we all read. So it can't be that difficult; yet there are certain things you need to know unless you actually take a child and teach" him how to read. How can you teach adults how to do that? Read out of a book. You know most teachers learn when they get in the classroom and start teaching, thats when they learn. They don't learn from the books, and I think that's where we have to make our changes. Now, we have to make teachers, number one, we have to make whatever programs they are involved in difficult. Too many educational courses in the undergraduate world are what we all know as crip courses, and I took them, too, because there was an easy A. There is no need. Why not taking history or calculus or something where you have materials every night -- common sense-type things -- you know, plus the fact we have all been through the system. Everybody has been through education. It's the law that we all go to school so we all know what they are doing, anyway. You see so, I think, the institutions have to make it a little more challenging, put a little more meaning to it, make it an effort to be an education major. Don't make it so easy. I see too many people that couldn't make it in physics and chemistry and biology; they cou#dn't hack that major and wound up in education. They are the people we really want? No. We want the people who say, hey, I like working with children, I feel like I am able to stand up in front of a group and impart information and blah blah blah, I want to be in education. We don't want the people who drop out of their majors, which is what we were getting for awhile. Now, maybe things have changed, I hope they have, I hope they have. I think that's where we have to make our beginning and say this is a profession, it's just as hard to be a teacher as it is an engineer, and very demanding, probably more demanding if, when the chips are down, they really knew. But there is no way you can really know until you do it, and I think that. The best professors I have ever had, and I am sure you can vouch , and we mentioned one that we both had and he is very highly regarded, was a teacher himself and a super- intendent himself. And he knew, and his approach in teaching was very practical, and you felt comfortable, but he was giving information that was useful.
Q: I would like to ask you one question concerning some of the issues of the time. How did you handle the civil rights issue?
A: O.K. You know, to me, let me go back a little bit because to me it wasn't an issue. Number one, I am not from this part of the country and where I went to school I've always gone to school with blacks. I am old, so I didn't know anything other than that until I moved to the South. When I started teaching in Newport News, it was a dual school system, which shocked me, honest with you. And, but more than that I didn't have to handle it for myself, I had to handle it in a way that was compartible with the people with whom I was working because they were shocked. I mean they were going through a shock, a lot of them, so, although it wasn't shocking to me, as a matter of fact as a reading consultant I worked in two black schools and one white, and I was the only one white person in the building in one school, but that it really didn't bother me and I didn't have, you know, it just didn't bother me because it wasn't anything I really had thought about it. It wasn't something that my family and I lived through and, you know, that top situation had never occurred to me. So that was alright. The biggest problem for me in dealing with it was economical levels. My experience had been in a small town and we were all of the same economic level. There was no rich and no poor and no project housing and, you know, we were all middle class people and, you know, maybe some of little less middle class and some of little higher middle class but basically black and white, but all of the same economic level which is very easy to deal with because are all of the same values. But when you take one group of children from a very high economic level and put them with a group of children from a very low economic level you have problems and to couple they were two different races. Now to take one race together and take the lowest from, let's say, wealthy white children and the poor white children to put those two groups together is hard enough, but to take two different groups from two different races and put them together you're asking for problems, and you are going to get them. And I had them in that school because of that but, you know, I dealt with it as best as I could. At least, I could show compassion for the children who were coming from poor economic environment. I thought is was very difficult for them to come to a lovely neighborhood with all the mowed loans and pretty homes, and all their classmates were coming in with their alligator shorts and their fancy bicycles parked outside and their little transistor radios and things like that which these children took for granted. I mean they were given those things and there was nothing unusual. The poor children, the poorer children, and in this case happened to be the black children, they didn't have this type of things and so they took these things. And one way I dealt with them -- and it may have been illegal, I don't know but I did it anyway -- and that's why you saw me out in the hall so much. At the end of the day when the children left, I've stand out there in the hall and I'll give them all a little hug goodbye. And some of them I was sort of checking pockets, what have you, and I, sure enough at the end of every day, had money from the teacher, I had pens from the teacher's desk, I had little things that were, you know, other children's belongings, and that's how I retrieved them, but we lost a lot of things, but that was how I contended with that one thing. As far as civil rights, so to speak, the most difficult problems involved, I guess, the white parents who didn't want their children going to school with black children. They were the most difficult cases and there were a number of them and, at a given point and time, they usually either they withdrew their child and put him in private school, if they were that concerned about it, and then later on the Newport News public schools opened some alternative schools which sort of took care of that problem, too. But that was hard to deal. I felt, in a way, I mean, I would take it personally in the beginning, because I thought they were pulling their children because they thought I couldn't run the school and, you know, I thought that was horrible and it hurt my feelings, but I learned to live with it. That was the way they thought and what they wanted but, you know, I think it is a hard thing to deal with if you don't feel the same way you don't belong in the public school system. So, you know, unfortunately, I think there are some people that do feel that way and are in the public school system which can cause other problems. I never had any problems with the teach ers, I never did. Well, if you maintain your sense of humor, you can get around a lot of things that would be difficult and I think that's part of the game.
Q: Well, those were very difficult times.
A: Yeah, they were difficult, sure they were and particularly for the community on both sides. It was hard for both groups of people.
Q: It is interesting how we have come around and now parents are taking their children out of private schools and putting them back into the public schools and they have regained their confidence.
A: Yeah, sure. But you know it hurts when you see these people taking their children out of school, you know.
Q: I also wanted to ask you about the busing issue. Did you encounter any problems with busing?
A: Well, you know, other that what I mentioned in terms of the problem in that particular school, were the two different groups being thrown together, but I did encounter some problems. The major problems were because the group that was being bused were the poorer children. Their families, and usually there was just the mother, and in the third grade that particular year I did a headcount and I found only three children living with both parents from the black community. In other words, no father present in all the other homes, and we are talking about four classrooms of children, but because they were poor many did not have phones and many didn't have transportation. So, if for some reason the child missed the bus, they had no way to get home and nobody to pick them up. There were times when they needed to miss the bus because they misbehaved and I couldn't let them ride on the bus, and my policy had always been to call the parents and have them to come down, but when they don't behave on the bus I can't let them endanger the lives of the other children. Well, there was nobody who could come and get them, they didn't have transportation. So, I took them.
Q: How did you handle the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education?
A: I didn't need to handle it, that was not a part of our program when I was principal, must have come into being afterwards.
Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?
A: Well, I think there are several procedures that you could use in terms of just identifying those people. I think they need to be teachers, and I'm only speaking for the elementary people I really can't vouch for the secondary administrators but as far as elementary, I think they should be teachers. Those teachers who receive the proper certification or educational background whatever you want to call it, should make it known to the admini- stration office that they do have these credentials. Now maybe they are not interested in being an administrator they certainly can tell them that too. But they should at least make it known. Then I believe the superintendent and the powers that they would identify those people that are excellent teachers and have the characteristics of a good administrator and proceed with ob- serving their performance and certainly interviewing them, which I would suggest be done one on one not a group interview They may want to go further than that and getting written ideas or statements, I wouldn't do that but they might want to do that .
Q: This next question, I believe, you answered it before. It has to do with assistant principals, and the question I have is how did you handle the assistant principals or did you have an assistant principal? I think you answered the question, but is there anything else you would like to add to this?
A: No, I think it is wonderful to have assistant principals in elementary schools, but when I started out, there were none. That was fine, but I think it is nice to have someone else to confer with. Elementary principals have nobody to talk to, except the secretary, but on some things you don't go to the secretary and say let's hash this out for a while. Well my biggest concern was that the children were pleased and happy in their situation, and the parents were happy with where their children were. In others words the biggest concern was that children were appropriately placed with the right teacher, so that everyone was happy. That is a hard thing to do.
Q: What was your biggest headache?
A: The headache was probably the parent. It was the parent. Anyone of a number of types, but there were a number of parents that complained about every little thing and there were some very legitimate complaints. Don't get me wrong and I would complain as a parent myself under certain circumstances, but some were not legitimate and they were just uncalled for complaints. I had some parents that weren't always rational;, they had their own problems and it was a convenient place to release their emotions, by using the I think a lot, too, that they could about anything l didn't do anything to them, it was only their child I was concerned about.
Q: Do you think that it was because of their background. After all, the parents of the white children in this particular community were quite affluent and they expected the school to pay special attention to their demands?
A: I think so, sure it's a lot of that. Then the other thing which entered into the picture propped up near the end of the time of my tenure and that is divorce cases. I had to contend with a lot of that, that was real pressure, not only on myself, but the classroom teacher. I can't tell you how many parents would come in and say my husband is not to have the children; they are never to go with him, I have a court order. Well to make sure that never happened was responsibility that I'm not so sure belonged with me. So, the parents were giving me that responsibility to be sure that the child did not leave with the other parent, and that is a real headache, because it really has nothing to do with your purpose of being there. The purpose of being there is to educate and not to worry about divorce problems, and a lot of children had emotional problems because of divorces.
Q: Didn't you have a school psychologist to work with the children?
A: None, and a lot of elementary schools don't have counselors. So, they go to the principal, and they have one talk. I would listen to them and give them a little of motherly advice and some official advice.
Q: What do you think of career ladders for teachers and what about merit pay for them?
A: I think a lot about it. I think it is fair that the best teachers be paid the most, and I don't think there is any ques- tions about it. The hard part is to decide who makes that decision and I don't know who should make that decision. If it were my school, I would say I should make that decision. I know who the best teachers are. But maybe I really don't know, I think I do, but maybe I really don't know, and I would vote against it if you brought in another principal and said let's rank the teachers. We would come up with a different rank, maybe. I would still say, I was right. But that is where the problem lies. If you work hard and you are good at it, you should be paid for it. I don't know how the problem will ever be resolved; I think someday it will be. I don't have a clue to tell you how it will be resolved.
Q: What do you think of the standards of quality established by the state?
A: Well, I think the standards of quality established by the state in the beginning were very nice and sounded good, and were idealistic and they didn't give us any money to do it. A lot of school systems didn't even touch on it. I think we did better than most. But, I think we do need to have standards of quality. It just bothers me a little bit sometimes as to who is deciding what these standards are, because many times they are not educators and they are not in that business, although they as citizens, they should know what they want out of a school. Sometimes they get involved in their standards that are very technical when it comes to schools. I think educators ought to make the decisions, I really do. Then, let the law body approve them with the money. I think educators should have the right to do that, and one thing that occurs to me is that the standards of excellence, which is the Governor's report. Of course every legislator up there, in Richmond, is saying we don't have the money to do this. I have talked to my legislator, which is my employer, and I said I don't understand why you are all saying this, you don't have the money and not everything we do in education costs money. I said one of the things they want to do is to lower the classroom ratio, teacher -pupil ratio and make it eighteen, I think. I said why don't you do that with first grade for one year and next year do first and second grade. It would take you twelve years to do it, but you would do it. Then these children that are coming along,that initially have started, what a wonderful education they are going to have all the way through. You have to make a start, don't expect to go in there and do across the board all at once. We are pretty strong in education in terms of innovative things, and it wouldn't bother any of us. We could hang in there with one step at a time. That is the way we teach. A lot of those people##ho make the decisions want grandiose change in education, and I don't think we need that much of a change. It isn't so bad. Basic teaching isn't bad, we just need good teachers.
Q: What are the characteristics associated with effective schools?
A: Well, I think that an effective school is one that has the atmosphere of happiness and wanting to be there. A pleasurable experience. It is very evident to walk into a school and to know that whether it is an effective school; it's something in the atmosphere. There is a lot of things that contribute to it, discipline is one and the other is casualness. You have to have a blend of both, and I think you can. We obviously do because we do have some effective schools.
Q: What do you think of the testing procedures in our SAT scores, etc.?
A: You are talking basically secondary testing procedures. What do I think of them in terms of how they are used?
Q: Yes, how they are administered.
A: Okay. The administration of the tests, I can't speak for secondary at all because I really don't know how that is handled. When you administer a standardized test, your administration of the test must also have some type of standards. Unless they have changed procedures drastically, I never saw that because each teacher was administering a test to her classroom and although she was given certain instructions, things weren't always the same. She had to start fifteen minutes early because Johnny had to go to music class, or the gifted bus was coming. All these different things entering into the picture. P.E teacher only comes one day a week and if we don't go today, then we won't see her again for two weeks and then so we will have to do the testing in the afternoon, which means the children may be tired. So everything wasn't standardized. In elementary school it is not standardized. As far as the use of the test they are very useful to professional people. I don't think they are useful for general publication, because I don't think they are not a true picture necessarily. They are indictators of a child's potential. It should only be used as an indictator. I feel the same way about SATs. They shouldn't make or break you, in which they do.
Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a prin- cipal?
A: To leave the profession. It was a very difficult decision, because I enjoyed being a principal, I enjoyed the work. There were a lot of experiences that were very rewarding. It was nice to have things to go right. It was nice when you had things going right and to have the community give you credit. It was just the most difficult decision to make, because I was giving up something that was enjoyable. Now I have to admit there were some things that were not so enjoyable and I decided that I had to forego these enjoyable things in order to have more peace of mind, because there were too many things that bothered me and quite frankly they wore me out. I was tired.
Q: What made you retire at the time that you did?
A: There were many things. Number one was the fact that I lived in the same community which gave me undue pressures. I could never get away from the children and the parents. There are times when you do need to get away. You can't deal with the same people all the time. My own son, went to my school and many times when I will come home from work half of the student body was playing on my front lawn. The pressure in trying to get rid of a teacher that I considered incompetent got to me a great deal, and I guess it got to me more because I could not do it. No one likes to fail and I considered that a failure. Most of the other things involved bureaucratic red tape type things. There were too many things that needed to be done that were just pushing pencil and paper. A lot of these had to do with special education and all the paper work that was necessary in order for a child to get help. I never understood that. If a child needs help we have special services for him and if his parents agreed he should have special services. There were also undue pressures in terms of administrative personnel demanding different things from you to satisfy their own goals. For example, one supervisor set a goal that she will contact each elementary principal ten times a year. And so, what they would do was to send you a form to fill out so that they can take it back to the superintendent and say that they contacted ten principals to see if they needed help this year. They didn't do a blessing thing. The princip## sat there and wrote all the stuff out; yet, they were getting credit for being so wonderful in making all these contacts. And that went on a lot and that bothered. So, in other words, you are in the middle and you have one group from below you, say your teachers who say why can we have this and when are we getting that and bla, bla, bla. And then at the top they are doing the same thing and you're sort of squeezed in the middle and how much do you give here and how much do you give there? Well, I didn't give anything up there, I gave it all to the teachers, as far as time and effort. But there were times when you didn't have a choice. You had to fill forms to satisfy the need and goals of those people and that was very frustrating. Then there were some very basic ideas--it goes back to philosophy--that I had and I felt very strongly about and in theory I was not allowed to pursue. One was in hiring. I strongly felt that if I had to fire the teachers, I should also have some say in the hiring process. When you have someone hiring and then you have the burden of firing, that is an unfair situation, in my mind, and I could not contend with that. Special Education was another area. I mainstreamed a lot of Special Ed. children, and that was years ago, and then I couldn't do that because of all the paper work that the state requires. I understand they are finally getting back and recognizing that is the way to go. I enjoyed having special education but only if they were a total partof the school. So, there were a lot of frustrating things I could not deal with in terms of getting them changed and when I say change I am the type of person who wants immediate change. That is one of my hang ups. I don't want to wait.
Q: Did you encounter any problems with the central office as far as establishing homogeneous classes?
A: Yes, I did believe in that, particularly with elementary children. Well in all instructions, if you have thirty children in a classroom you need to have them all basically at the same level, and if you don't, you are not using your time wisely. Number one, you have to prepare four or five different lesson plans for one subject, and you've got five to teach. So, that is alot of work, if you are going to do the job right. What happens is the job isn't done right, there are no lesson plans done, and the teacher just wings it through each one of these groups. So, If you have a group, particularly in reading and math, the other areas of the curriculum, I can justify in that they're not skill areas, they are content areas and if they can't read on that level , they can listen on that level. Sometimes, they can't listen on that level either, because there is a level of listening as well, but usually you can listen higher than you can read and get something out of it. There are other alternative forms of teaching, like movies, filmstrips, and other ways to get that content across, but in reading and math there is no way, excect to develop that skill. There is no way to do it effecti- vely than to have a group that you can handle all at one time. So you can teach them all at one time whatever skill there is. There will be a few that will have a little trouble grasping it, but they will catch on right away; but if you have a totally heterogeneous group one end of the continuum will be totally bored with what you are doing and the others don't understand why you are even there, and never mind what you are trying to teach, and that is not a good use of time or effort. I believe the administrati- on didn't always believe in terms of what I wanted to do. I did it anyway and for a while they didn't say anything, then they finally said you just can't do that any more and so I said O.K., but I felt as long as we were doing it that way the children were learning more and, unfortunately, a lot of people viewed it, as perhaps, a racial thing and there was nothing involved in this. It just had to do with where a child was and where it needed to go and how best to get there and put all those who need to learn subtraction in one classroom and let them all learn subtraction together.
Q: The interesting thing is that nowdays we have come back to enphasizing homogeneous grouping. We are now offering advanced courses such as AP History, AP Government# AP Biology. We are going to offer next year all kinds of AP courses. Maybe you left the profession too soon.
A: Maybe I did, maybe I did.
Q: I like to ask you whether you considered yourself a manager of a building or an instructional leader.
A: Well, I considered myself at one point and time as instruc- tional leader, but I think I ended up being a building manager. Now whether I am still perceived as that or the other I don't know. I don't know how I was perceived'but I truly feel I wound up as a building manager. I became #ore concerned with the trash out in the front and the newspapers, the rubberbands that the newspaper boys left there every morning as they folded their papers on the front of the school steps that became obsessed with the trash, which is the building manager, but, you know, that is an extreme. You know I did become a building manager in terms of discipline and all those that probably are part of education. But I didn't feel like an instructional leader. I surely didn't.
Q: What was the key to success as a Principal?
A: You consider me successful. Other people may not. Being able to get along with people.
Q: Alright. We are getting almost to the end of our interview.
A: O.K. I see, you only have fifty more pages.
Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?
A: I suppose is got to be number one. Students that I ... telling me the truth I could say if you are honest with me I can forgive you, but if you lie to me I have trouble forgiving you. Usually you got the results. I can forgive and forget if you are honest, but if you lie to me I probably want to punish you. Honesty, I practice that in my own life. That's why I am saying this. I also place high value on education , fairness.
Q: What are your feelings about the responsibility of the principal for identifying and developing future school administr- ators?
A: I've never really addressed that. It has crossed my mind because I certainly recommended individuals for various jobs, but I never thought of myself as playing a role, but I guess I did in sharin.g information and sharing ideas and not being intimidated. A lot of principals are intimidated that someone is going to take the job. I treated faculty members on my level, and if they were interested in administration, I certain- ly would recommend them, if I could. I never went out to seek a teacher and train her to be an administrator. If a teacher came to me and said I am working on my masters in administration, I would offer her assistance. Maybe principals ought to do this.
Q: What have I not asked you that I should have?
A: Good grief! I can't imagine anything. We have touched on everything, from instruction to custodial work to, I mean, I can't think of anything.
Q: This has certainly been a very interesting experience for me. I think the world of you and the opportunity to interview you has given me a great satisfaction.
A: I hope this will help you.
Q: I have always felt that the teaching profession lost a super administrator and our interview today has reinforced my belief.
A: I appreciate this.
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