This is a transcript of an interview with Mrs. Natalie Vaughn, retired principal in Alexandria City Schools.
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Q: Now Mrs. Vaughn, the first question. Could you share with us how many years you were in education and your experiences?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was in education 35 years, and of those 35 years 11 of them were teaching in the classroom. In addition to being a teacher I served as guidance counselor in Prince William County, plus taught a course in vocational guidance, had group guidance sessions with the girls, and then I went down to North Carolina to the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro and the Dean of Women. I stayed down there four years, came back and worked at Bowie State Teachers' College in an administrative position, it was more in student personnel. And then finally I came to Alexandria 24 years ago -- it has been longer than that now, it was 1958, I came to Alexandria as an assistant principal. I worked at Alexandria until I retired in 1982. I had been principal of four elementary schools in Alexandria and I served at assistant principal at three elementary schools.
Q: Now why did you decide to become a principal after your other experience?
A: Well I don't know if I decided or not. I think some people are born great, some achieve it, and some have it thrust on them. It was thrust on me as assistant principal and then I moved up. But I did like the administration, I decided the classroom wasn't for me. I enjoyed it immensely, but unfortunately I was teaching social studies -- specifically history. I love history and geography. Most of my students did not. And I got rather discouraged, so I went into guidance; I got my Master's in Personnel and Guidance. And, I decided I would rather work overall, and that's the biggest reason.
Q: What if, okay, I think you told us of some of the events that led you to be, to your principal's position. Do you have any other events that might have led you to the principal's position.
A: Not really.
Q: Now let's look at the climate. How did you create a climate for learning in your schools?
A: We started out, in our schools, we usually, I find out if you let people know what you expect of them, they will do better. And my biggest, I think, success came from the idea is that the children knew what was expected of them. I had already met with the teachers before we started school, and they knew what was expected of them.And the last few years I was working we had a student handbook. I had a student handbook for the last, I guess, for the last 8 years of my career I had a student handbooks. And we took, at the beginning of the school session we would take time out and go over the regulations in that handbook. And suggestions for study and also I would encourage the teachers, they were in a grade level working as a team, then all of them should have the same regulations. It wouldn't be right for a child to go into a classroom where they could get up anytime they wanted to sharpen a pencil, and another teacher would not allow them to do it. Or it wouldn't be right to be in a classroom room with one teacher who said you could chew gum and another one who said you couldn't chew gum. And so therefore, they all had to come together and decide as a grade level what their regulations for that particular year. And the beginning of each year the teachers met with their children and went over what was expected, what their objectives and goals were for that year. And also what disciplinary actions would take place if the rules and regulations were not obeyed. We find that when children know in advance what you expect of them they do better. And the same thing with the teachers, if you let them know what you expect of them you get a better job. Our student handbook was sent home to each parent. It wasn't given to the children. It came in the mail with a bus schedule from the City of Alexandria, and it went home along with the letter telling the children their responsibilities.So, and we encouraged the parents to go over with the children at home also. So that's how we got that climate there.
A: Well I consider myself the instructional leader, the school leader, and the friend to the students and the parents. And I made parents feel that they were very important. That they were welcome, in fact I would tell them, I said these are your schools. You are paying taxes and you are sending your greatest gift you can give us, you know would be your children. So I always built that up that how important the parent was to this whole school system. I tried to learn my parents names and try to be sure I get them associated with the right children. And learned about the brothers and sisters. And luckily by being in Alexandria and it turned out I knew half the parents parents, and it made it very good. And we found out that they knew me and they could come in.I would stay after school, our office always was open until about 5:00 o'clock -- we were supposed to be closed at 4:00 or 4:30. So that if you, and most of the time I was even there after 5:00, and they knew that if they wanted they could come in and I'd try to make schedules for them. Most of my parents were working parents. And so they could come in. And we had parents in later years; after integration had parents from the city government, and so forth. But I tried to be as fair and to everybody -- not get excited about titles. I have to tell you a little joke that a lady told me that I was going to be paired with MacArthur School in the Seminary area of Alexandria, which is one of the richest areas in Alexandria, and she was telling me what to expect, that there would be generals, and I just nonchalantly said to her, I said to her, "What are you getting so excited for? You've go the Pentagon just up Route 1." I said, "Of course we've got plenty of generals, lieutenant colonels, you get them by the dozen." And I said, "I don't see any sense in getting excited. I would treat that general's child the same way I would treat a sergeant or private's child, it didn't make any difference." Because as far as I'm concerned some of the most, the highest ranks sometimes doesn't mean you have the best child. And I was very fortunate in having one child whose father was a Rhodes scholar. He was a White House Fellow, he was the "Golden Boy" of the Pentagon when he was there; a very young man. But he and I got along very well and his wife and all, and they appreciated me. Not too long ago I got a message that he had asked for me. And he is now, he was stationed up in New York and he asked a friend about us. So, I think that that's it. With our community relations I've tried to go to activities in the community. The churches, I would go to programs if a child told me he was going to be singing, or if appropriate if I could I'd go and on my teams, we had little league teams. Saturday morning was the only time I had to sleep, but I would try to get up and at go at least one time during the season, go to the basketball playoffs and cheer them, and make a big deal over them. And when they came back I would have the coach give me the names of the outstanding players and we would make over them. And my coaches were very good to us. They insisted that the boys and the girls too had to maintain good averages -- long before the other people started talking about grades and sports. So we've always been very fortunate.
A: Well I think a lot of them think that we're Santa Claus and God all rolled into one. You are expected to have every piece of equipment ready, every book has to be there and all. And even some minute things they could use their own ingenuity to create. A lot of them did not have the creative ability or just the logic of knowing that sometimes you can make do, or plan around something until you received your material. But most of the time, most teachers seem to know, most of my teachers were very sympathetic toward me, believe it or not, they really were. They'd say, "You work too hard." And they were very nice and they would come in, and I have had teachers to actually volunteer. They would say, "I don't want you going out there standing this evening, we'll come out in the hall and do it." And I had several of them, one of my most nonchalant young women that teachers at one of my schools came, and she was quite a character. She would always try to see if she could shock you into something. But I remember one time I was doing something and I said I've got to go check, the buses are getting ready to come. She said now you've been working all day, she got a group and they went out and manned the halls. And after that we started making schedules. But I thought that was good because they felt a little sympathy for me I think it was. The school community. [And I think I've told you about the communication.]
A: Well the school community includes everything. The school itself, within the school, the children need to learn who the custodians are, they need to learn the clerical staff. Then you go outside in your neighborhood, you should know the various agencies that come in; at least have visiting nurses. We had a dental clinic, and we knew that. Then we know about the churches, the boys' and girls' clubs, the YMCA, the grant programs. We felt that all that was part of the community. The PTA people would come in sometimes, they had jobs and they would come in and we would get materials from them. One time we even had a father that worked at the Pentagon. He was an official over there and they were working with drugs -- and this has been years ago, I know it's been at least 15, and he decided that we needed to get the children aware of marijuana was. That was before we heard all this hard stuff. And he brought me a package that had a plastic leaf, that was a replica of a marijuana leaf. And there was a pill that looked like a plant tab. And it was green and you burned it, and it gave you this odor of the marijuana. And that was to let the children know, if they smelled that or if they saw a leaf like that, that was marijuana. And it was so realistic that one of our staff people came in soon after the 5th grade had had their little session he sniffed, and he said something, he said, "No, no." He kept on saying to himself. I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "Oh nothing, I thought I smelled something, but no I'm sure I didn't." So I said, "Tell me what you think you smell?" And he said, "Oh no, no, no. I just must have made a mistake." I said, "Come on." So he told me, he said, "Well, I could have sworn I smelled marijuana when I got to this hall." I said, "Thank you." And told him what we had done. And in fact the man was supervisor of health and PE for the City of Alexandria. So our community is all of the school itself. The neighborhood in which the school is located, plus the city of, well in that case the City of Alexandria. And then I would also try to go to various activities within community groups there, and all. We'd even been to the Bethel synagogue. So we tried to, I tried to be known everywhere. So we would do that.
A: Well, we were doing okay, I think the Martin Luther King assassination was almost, was a catastrophe in this area. Because the children came to school the day after the assassination, and we began to have problems in the secondary schools more so than the elementary schools. And in one particular one was in the inner city was the George Washington High School in Alexandria. And it seems that the black students had asked that the flag be lowered to half staff, and the administrator had not been given any orders from the city administration to do that. And it caused confusion. Well then several people did come over. Some of the ministers in this city, some of the people that were staffers in Alexandria's administration came and talked. We did, it filtered down to the elementary school because there were parents who had children in secondary and they heard about it and they came over. But a number of the parents came, and they were sympathetic, they understood. In fact some of them began to apologize for the Ray man that shot Martin Luther King and said they were ashamed. And I told them that that was one white man and I know most intelligent blacks were not going to blame the entire white race for what had happened. And we hoped that later they'll realize that when one black man or black woman does something that it isn't the whole race. And so it was an adversity for us, but it taught us that one person is not a race. And therefore you shouldn't extend your hatred or dislike to the whole group for what one person had done -- and likewise we felt that a lot of the people who they should not do that with even our race. They should not say that one black man or black woman that has done something wrong, that the whole race is to blame. Because we had a man who came into our principal's office and cried; a young white fellow, he was in the psychological services, and he apologized. And then I came home, I was having a fence put it, and the man apologized for the assassination in my dining room, that he was so ashamed, and I say, "Why?" And so I found out that was a very hard time for us. Because parents were picking they're children up and whatever. And they came and got them. And there is always something funny -- no matter how bad something is, there is always something funny. This parent called me and said, "Mrs. Vaughn?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Quick, I gotta come get my children cause the nigers are running wild like h-e-double L!" And I said, "What?!" She said, "Oooh! I am so sorry!" She said, "I'm just excited!" Said, "I didn't mean that to come out like that." I said, "That's okay." You can come on if you want to." "You can come and pick up your child." And it was like she always worried that I would have taken that personally. And I, you know I realize that she was hyper at that time. So it was very interesting and funny at the same time.
Q: Very much so. Okay now, let's look at another area. We've looked at the school and community area, now back to the area of evaluating teachers. Did you have any standard way of having to evaluate this since it is such a big issue these days?
A: Our evaluation was based on the prescribed evaluation document that the City of Alexandria -- not the city but the School Board of Alexandria had in use. And we had to do it if you were a beginning teacher you were evaluated twice a year for three years. And then you became, we didn't use the term tenure in Virginia, but it was called a tenure contract teacher. And then it would be once a year. And of course now I understand it has been changed completely in that they only do a certain portion of the staff. As you can imagine at Tyler I had 80 people on the staff. And to evaluate all those people it was really something.
Q: What are some of the techniques that you use to make teachers feel important in your school?
A: Well, I would tell them that they were my instructional leaders and I expected them to keep current on everything that was going on. That they were suppose to go to school and they should read and share some experiences with their grade level. See we, elementary schools are broken down, we have what we call grade-level chairpersons, and they got a little stipend; like it would be the equivalent of a department head. But they worked and they planned their worked together. Because a lot of them taught, see rather than trying to have 4 and 5 grade levels of reading, then they would break the children down; one teacher would have 2 grade levels in reading, and another one would have 2, and the one that had the lowest would really have the smallest amount, but she would have the biggest crowd in a way, that she might just have one level of reading. And the idea was that we let them know. And they also knew they were important in that when they had conflicts with parents, or conflicts with anything, I would encourage them to come to me first with that first so that I would be aware of what was going on, so that I could be -- I was their protector in a way. Because I told them I would protect them if they were within the guidelines of the school system. But know if they had ventured off they were on their own. And so what we would do though when we had problems, with particular disciplinary problems when parents had to come in. I would usually have the conference in my office. I felt that that caused them to be less abusive, because sometimes parents would hesitate before they would get too abusive in front of me cause I would usually answer them back. But basically, we found out though that, I tried to make them, I would have them socialize together. And on times my philosophy was when I work, I work -- and when I play, I play. Therefore I would, we worked, I worked hard and they worked hard. And usually one a year we would have a party. And I would have it myself and they would say what shall we bring, and I'd say nothing. And I said all I'd like is a centerpiece for my table. And they would bring that and we've had some big parties in here. Because one school with the 80 staff members, I know about 50 of them came; he said bring a guest. So I would start weeks in advance getting ready for the parties. And it was nice to see them in a social atmosphere. We would have parties or pot luck spreads when we would have in-service stays or work days when the children weren't there, so that we would feel closer together. It helped out a great deal.
A: To be an effective principal you shouldn't be too much in love with yourself. And the fact that you shouldn't feel that you are above criticism, that you are above errors, and that you know it all. You should feel that you are a cooperative person. You should be working with the whole program you have. And I think that to be an effective principal it's good, all principals should have classroom experience. So that they would know what goes on in a classroom. All principals should be familiar with the community in which they work so they will know the type of environment the child is coming from. So that they don't put themselves above, they're a lot of people, and that's been our biggest problem with this bi-culturation bit. We had 2 sets of cultures. Who is to say whose culture is the better? Because each child brings from his home a certain code of ethics, a code of tradition, and so forth. What makes everybody thinks that the child has to be a middle class person with a certain standard. Now in his home his traditions mean something, so we have to learn to respect the class things. I never said anything to my teachers, the talked about certain things they had done. It may not have been what I would have done, but it's their privilege to have it. It made for a school when they had a few nuts working. They had their little ideas. Some people tried to shock you into what they were believing, and if you do register shock then they feel they have conquered you so don't say, you just go along with them. And you, but you still let them know that you don't give up your standards -- because then when you get ready to actually work as a principal, it is that what you put down is going to be what is going. My philosophy was if you don't like what I have here proposing to do, then please give me an alternative. But now if you don't have an alternative you have to go with me. And that worked very well, and occasionally someone would give me alternatives and we would try it. It if worked they usually got a little note thanking them for the suggestion. And if it didn't work we would say you know it's not quite working the way you wanted it. Maybe we better stop and redefine what you're working for, and it helped. The idea is you have to put yourself in the child's place, put yourself in the parents place, and put yourself in the teacher's place so that you could understand. And also understand what the upper echelon of the school administration is all about too. Because they have to get the public relations going from the Board -- you know the administration buildings board and the Board's policy. So we tried to understand everybody see. Now if found it wasn't going to work I wasn't hesitant in speaking up and saying I didn't particularly like that. So I have a very good friend now who still considers me a friend. I just saw him last week and he's an official in Alexandria, and he told my friends that he remembered me because he made some statements -- some very glib statements -- that he thought were right. He was comparing the public schools with private schools and he made a statement about homework. And I told him that, especially weekends, homework, my policy at my school incidentally, was that we did not give children a lot of homework on the weekends because in this area where we live we have a lot of people who have a lot of programs and things. The children go away, they go to places and if they've got to be dragging books it's hard on parents and their children. So we always made a policy of having homework from Monday to Thursday. And then even the teachers went home when the children went home and that was not the policy in Alexandria but in my school it was the policy. As soon as they cleared their room and the security room as they were suppose to do, they could leave when the children left after the buses were gone. And so we did those things. This man was very good, he wrote me the most beautiful letter when I retired that he had learned so much from me because nobody wanted to question him when he made his statement about homework. So especially when he said the weekend homework. The children had nothing to do, and I asked him what were the parents suppose to be doing? I said don't tell me we're suppose to be going beyond the school week now and going into the homes and taking over the parents job. Now how come parents can't get some programs themselves for the weekend? So of course he looked and so a letter from him made me feel he really appreciated it. And I think by being the way I am, I just went in because I don't seem to be, I don't get intimidated by too many people. And so, it was very interesting.
A: We'd go down into a section in the Olde Town section of Alexandria and we had people who, well every place you go though everybody had been to school one time or the other in his life or her life, therefore everybody's an expert in education. And we had people who were going to tell you what they did at Georgetown Prep. Or what they did in the Washington, D.C. schools, or what they did in the Rhode Island schools, but the schools in Alexandria were unique in the fact that we were suppose to be part of suburbia. But Alexandria was the most urban of the suburban areas because they had some horrible problems. You know with the low, the housing projects there, the low income and the thing it's just not for blacks. The Alexandria, uh, I've said this to even some of the officials. It's getting so it's not a place for poor blacks or poor whites. It is a place only for the upper middle class and most of them, that's why the enrollment is so low, most of their housing is extremely high and is mainly geared to just couples or singles. And that's why we don't have as many children because the people aren't even building homes for families anymore in Alexandria. That's why you have so many people coming down to the county. So that's it.
Q: Okay and I think you've told us how you handle some of those pressures, did you have anything further to mention that you would like to share?
A: Well no, because some of them are very interesting and I sometimes you know I have a joke whenever I, things got too much pressure I'd put on my gorilla suit. And the gorilla suit means that the flag is up. Take care. Caution. I would, I had one of my supervisors said, "Well, have you retired the gorilla suit yet?" I said, "Oh no, the gorilla suit's going to stay on until June the 30th until I actually retire." And I told him one time I'd unzipped it down a little bit, but then other times I said, "You know, I'll put on my gorilla suit." The teachers and everybody else knew exactly what that meant. We had faced a lot of pressures people tell you what this person used to do or that person. And then by being the first black principal, in 4 out of the five schools I served as principal, it was a pressure on me as a black woman to show that I could succeed. And it would be very interesting, some of it even with all the foolishness, some of it was very interesting. I was a Lee School that was at one time had been the school for all downtown Alexandria, the white school for downtown Alexandria, Olde Town, and I was there, and this person came in, they wanted to see the principal. Well both the secretaries were white. So I guess they expected the principal to be white. So the young lady said, "Are you the principal?" "Oh no," said "I'll go get Mrs. Vaughn, she's the principal." And so the person kept looking over my head when I did come out there still waiting for the principal. And so she said, "This is Mrs Vaughn." And the person just flushed very vivid. Pink, red, whatever you want to call it. The point is they just weren't accustomed. But once they got to know me I didn't have any problems there. Other pressures are trying to do what the predecessors had done. But I told them whenever I came to school to my stamp and my monogram is NSV, and it took the NSV standard. So most of them began to understand that.
Q: If you had it to do again, what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship if you could do it?
A: I don't think I would do too much to prepare because I think sometimes a lot of us read books and everything, we come in and we try to go according to a plan in a book written by someone who hasn't been in classroom or a school for years. And it makes it bad because the situations today in schools are so different. So I don't know what I would have done to prepare for it because I felt I was well-prepared when I came. That might be immodest of me but I really do.
Q: Alright Mrs. Vaughn, could you tell me how you would handle teacher grievances, or if you had any grievances.
A: I only had I think two or three grievances the whole time I worked there and they were very interesting. One of them was a teacher who came for the staff development program prior to the opening of school and the school was not air conditioned other than the library and the offices, and she said her classroom was too hot and she didn't come back. I always made the point though whenever we had these staff development programs in school was to call a meeting about 30 or 40 minutes before they were suppose to go home. So that would also let me know who was still there, and she wasn't there. Well I had been to see her for something else that she had asked for earlier and I did not find her but I did not say anything and then later when I had the meeting she wasn't there. So the next day I asked what happened, and she told me that she went home because it was too warm in her room. It was hot in her room. And I said why didn't you go to the library to work or come downstairs to work? And so she filed a grievance under some section, I can't remember now, but it was dealing with the health of the students. Well there were no students in the school at that time so that regulation didn't apply to her. So anyway, she just filed a grievance and it was decided to drop it because technically she was not right. And then another time we had a young man who did not show up on the day the school opened. And yet somebody said they had seen him in the area. He claims that he, nobody had told him when school opened. But his contract had it on there, the letters had it on there and yet he said he didn't know when school opened. And he came in the following day, so he was going to be docked a day's pay because you had to come in. And so he didn't file the grievance against me he filed against the school system cause they told him they weren't going to pay him for the day he missed. So that was uh, but he brought a note, he had a letter sent down from Woodstock or some place up in New Jersey where his grandfather was, and they said his grandfather was very ill. So maybe the other rumor was wrong, maybe he was up in New Jersey. But the grandfather was very cooperative in less than a month he died. So that proves his point. So that was dropped. And the other grievance was -- I don't think we had any more grievances. I've been very fortunate, never had any grievances. The first thing I never quaked in my boots when they said they wanted a grievance.
Q: Okay. Uh, did you ever have to fire a teacher?
A: No, that wasn't in my, I did not have, that is not part of a principal's duty to fire a teacher. Even uh, I would write things up and all, I've had to speak to teachers. One young woman got angry because she did not get the top reading group in the language arts group, and said I had put this other teacher in because she was black and this woman was black, the other teacher was black and she was white and I told her that as far as I was concerned that was insubordination. I said because it didn't make any difference to me whether the teacher had been purple or black or blue, all I wanted was the best teacher for the job. So I wrote her a little note _____, and that was all. But I never had any grievance like, any problems too much, and we never had to fire anybody because we would let them know in front what was going on. I'm a very strong believer in due process. Therefore, in the faculty handbook everything was spelled out, including walking in the hall with coffee cups; no teacher in my school was ever allowed to bring their coffee in the halls or in the classroom during class time, they could go to the teacher's lounge for their coffee break, or to the cafeteria. And of course there would be no smoking in the class area. So we managed to do that and they accepted it very well. Now the only thing about the firing, I don't think I've ever been involved in even a major grievance at all. We had one woman that had a grievance, that's the one I was trying to think of, she didn't grieve against me, she was grieving against the school system because she had been moved out of her job as librarian and she had to come over to the school where I was working. And that was it, but I didn't consider that a grievance against me, and of course it's not in the teacher's area of responsibility to fire anybody. You can recommend people or them give them an evaluation, like that.
Q: Do you think we can improve education, or how do you think we can improve education that teachers...?
A: Well the biggest thing we can do to improve education is to make it more attractive to young people. Because I was at a graduation no too long ago at a college and I think in elementary ed they barely graduated, I don't know, I think it was six or seven people. We have a little girl now that is down at one of our Virginia schools, I think it's Madison, and she's majoring in elementary ed. And every time somebody asks her what her major is she very apologetically says, "I'm going into elementary ed." And she just feels bad because education now, especially elementary ed, is low on the totem pole. And uh, we need to make it more attractive for people to come in. Because we have picked up some people that are, have done a great disservice to what I call a genteel profession. I'm really disgusted with them because when I went into education I was happy and I enjoyed it, and we had some people that respected us and we tried to live up to that respect that they gave us. And we're getting people in there now who are taking teaching just as a stopgap position. And they come in and they have really ruined it for a lot of really honest, hard working teachers. We've had teachers that come in two and three hours ahead of time. They're due at 8:30, some of them are there at 7:30, they are suppose to go home at 3:30, they go home at 4:30 and 5:00. They work, they do, all their plans are beautifully done. They know how to teach and everything. So we need to, in the schools now when we teach, in the college the, we don't have much teachers' ed any more, but we need to help them.
A: Well, as I told you the biggest thing I had was the fact when we had the assassination of Martin Luther King. The other thing was when Alexandria was in the midst of trying to balance, make racial balances, was at the same time that Fairfax County was doing the same thing because I had run into it, as a parent I had to run in with Hollin Hills School about my daughter. And then at school I was setting up programs in old Charles Houston School which was predominantly a black school. And we were busy trying to get children -- what do you call it? -- boundary lines straight for children to go to certain schools. A lot of our children went into the schools; they weren't accepted. I do believe we had a few whites that came to Houston School there. The teachers tried hard to get them to meld within the student body -- the children did very well. Although they had to be a good strong teacher, becalm even if a teacher had appointed, almost all of her appointments had been black and she would appoint a white, then you'd get a little flak from the black student. But I told her that wasn't right, I said you take the children and appoint them as, you know, for whatever the position is that you want. And so they did. And I had a cousin whose children were in the first group in Alexandria that were going to elementary, that was long before the time I'm talking about when they were doing it by, you had to apply to the courts though. And uh, she came up with a very good thing. Every time they had to get somebody for the library, clerical, something else for the student counsel, they would have elections and at that time you did not get, they didn't get the support from the white student. So the cousin told the principal, and the principal was a very nice person, and she agreed with her, that sometimes the teacher should appoint a few when she knows when they wouldn't get enough votes. Although that didn't work, that worked fine there. Now for instance, taking Fairfax County schools, since we live in Fairfax, over at Groveton High School when it was there, they had, to my knowledge, two SCA presidents who were black young men. And they had to be elected by the white, because at Groveton when my daughter attended it was 14 to 1; they had 1,500 children; there were 1,400 whites and only 100 blacks. So you know that the whites were supporting these two black candidates. One was boy named Vincent who was there, and the other one's last name, I can't think of it now, but I knew his mother very well, and he ended up, Vincent finished Howard and he has a very good job as a radiologist, and the other one went to Brown University and he's living in New England now. So it meant that the children with the civil rights the kids did better than some of the parents. When we paired in 1972, when I was the principal of the league, we had all the ministers came out and my minister from St. Paul's Episcopal Church down in Olde Towne. Very lovely man who had a son out there, and he came down and he stayed around and a reporter from the Washington Post was there, we were written up on the Post. And these children got along very well. And it was really great. They did very well and then the last time, and when school closed they must have thought something was going to happen, so they told me something would happen. So I rode the school bus back into the particular area that I heard there was going to be a real problem, and I rode the bus all the way and then a teacher came and picked me up. And so we didn't have any trouble. We did have trouble just before the parents start, before that September in the summer. This parent came to me and she was very timid, I don't know why because I'm just a little over 5 feet tall, I always tell people I'm 5'2", but I sat there and she came in, and a very nice woman, she's from a very affluent area of Alexandria in the Seminary Ridge area, and she came and told me that she was worried about the children. And about her daughter coming out there because her other daughter had gone to a particular middle school in Alexandria and the big girls had bothered her, and the big girls, she'd come in running home in the summer; and I thought she was going to tell me that somebody hit the daughter. And she said she'd run into the bathroom because she was afraid to go into the bathroom because of the big girls. So I listened to the word "big," "big," "big," so finally I just said to her, "Tell me Ms. Blank, are you using to be synonymous with black?" And she put her head down and said, "Yes." And she and I talked very nicely together. And at the end that woman came to me, I think it was the end of May or the first of June, the end of that school year, the daughter only stayed one year; she was in sixth grade. And she came and told me that we had been so nice and the child had done so well she was pleased. But the day after, I'm retrogressing, I'm going back further, is that uh, the School Board voted to pair Robert E. Lee in Olde Towne, with MacArthur School in the Seminary area. And, well it didn't happen, they didn't vote until almost midnight. So we didn't see anybody the next day but the second day after the vote, I had about four or five parents coming out, and this woman, they were all want to see, they didn't know where the school was, they had no idea there was a school back there, and this, that, and the other. So I was very patient with them, I found out that patience and humor was my salvation at that time. This woman said something about the school, and I said well now, you shouldn't get too excited about the schools -- her children told her they didn't know where it was. And one of them was a woman who was Greek, and it was, and she may have been, she may not have even been American born; I know their family's name, she was Greek she told me, she was from Greece, and I take it for granted she was not uh, you know, not a native American -- she may have been a naturalized American. And the other one was a politician's wife. And there was still another, and the other one was another foreign-sounding name, I think they had more problems with the foreign-sounding named people, and they're the ones' who escaped their own country, and they gave us more flak than some of the others. So this woman came and she kept on talking about the school, and I said, "Well, now you shouldn't get too excited, now I can remember when we began to do this thing just piecemeal, not all told." And I said, "I remember the children coming out here." And I remember when the first black children came here." She said, "This wasn't a black school?" And I said, "Of course its not." I said, "Have you ever heard of a black school named Robert E. Lee?" The American woman knew, the Greek woman didn't catch it. But she laughed, she said, "Your right, I never thought about that." "Because you see, I don't think any black school would have been name for a confederate general." So it was very interesting. So the humor and the patience paid off. So I think that covers it. Now on bussing, don't ask me a thing about bussing because I worked in one school in Prince William County, Fairfax County never had a high school [inaudible] for its black citizens until around 1954. And the children went to Manassas, Virginia, and even the kids whose parents were stationed at Ft. Belvoir, the Fairfax County would take the white kids from Ft. Belvoir but they would not take the black. So the black children had to go all the way to Manassas for a bootleg education, you know some of them went to Catholic school, but most of them went all the way to Manassas. Fauquier County had no schools for their black, no secondary school for black except in Warrenton -- you had to live in the city limits. So therefore, all those Fauquier children come from up in the, race, the steeplechase country, section of the country, up in Middleburg and Hume. All up in that part of Fauquier had to come down 60 miles each way to ride to Manassas. And you think that was bad, it turned out that Page County, which is Luray, and Front Royal is Warren County, they had black schools and they were trying to run a full comprehensive high school with about six children and it was too expensive. So they paid Prince William to allow the children to come down, they would come down on buses and there was a dormitory at Manassas School. So at that time I was working as a guidance counselor and a history and English teacher. So they came down, and so whenever I hear people talking about bussing I say don't tell me, you don't get any sympathy. I said the black children were bussed 60 miles each way, they went home every day. But now the Front Royal children stayed on the campus, they came down on the bus on Sunday afternoons and they went back Friday afternoon. A student was the bus driver and they stayed and they paid Prince William County for the board, lodging, and of course tuition. So it was very interesting. It was also horrible trying to keep a register book with children coming from so many sections each county had to have an accounting of their pupils. And in Fairfax you had to do two accountants if the kids lived at Ft. Belvoir. So the federal government wanted to know because they were paying for the Ft. Belvoir children. So if you took Fairfax and if you, if you didn't, if you had the Ft. Belvoir part of Fairfax you had two sections of registers to do. And it was very interesting.
A: In the, of the five schools I only had assistant principals in two schools because by the time I was working if you did not have 600 children you did not have an assistant principal. And uh, both of those principals were excellent classroom teachers and they had come in from, up the ranks, from the classroom, and they were excellent curriculum people. They had taught, they were very innovative, and they did all of the supervision of the instructional program. I told them, and I used to tell the teachers just because I was not directly supervising them don't get any wrong ideas, I knew exactly what was going to be taught. Cause as long as I could read those courses of study, I knew exactly what had to be done. But these people had the expertise of being fresh from the classroom. You know within a maybe a five-year period. And one of them had just come out of the classroom just about three years when I met her. And they, five years I'd say, and uh, but they were, you know, fresh out of the classroom and they were good, and they were people, they were chosen to become assistant principal because of their expertise. And it was very good so we utilized them. So I see, hear that there's something they'd want to know if I was, were you a manager of building or an instructional leader. I liked to think that I was both but technically, and in my own field, I was the manager of the building because I supervised everything, not just instruction. I was the manager, I was an administrative administrator. I did not profess to be the curriculum expert, I did not profess the teaching expert because I had been out of the classroom for many years. But, as I told him I knew exactly what had to be done. Now the assistant took care of most of the thing. When there was no assistant principal in the schools I worked, I assumed the instructional leadership role too. But I still maintained that my priorities would be the manager. And uh, we worked on all facets, not just the teaching of professional staff, you would work with the supporting staff. We'd work with PTA's, we'd work with the maintenance people coming in to do small repairs and everything. So we'd get to know everybody. And they knew if Ms. Vaughn asked for something, Ms Vaughn expected it. And they were very kind to me -- I think that the age had something to do with it.
A: I'm from the old school. See according to law, the school law course I've taken you cannot say anything about a teachers morals, you can't say anything, I mean I say teacher I mean educate his morals or about his lifestyle. That's not supposed to be, what happens outside the school is not suppose to be important. But I'm of the old school, I think the way you carry yourself at all times is very important. See, I have a middle-class "black bourgeois," "Christian," "Lady," attitude towards ethics. As my daughter told me it's nice to be a lady mama but people don't, you don't use the term lady anymore. But in my code of ethics is that you carry yourself in such a way that you respect other people and they definitely will respect you.
Q: Okay, wonderful. Now, what advice would you give to a person who's considering an administrative position?
A: Well I have talked to several young people who are doing internships, and I think some of them are just trying to get out of the classroom. And I told them it's nice to do that. But be sure you realize it's a hardship also. It looks good because you don't deal with class, but you end having the whole enrollment of school at your disposal. But if you're going to go into it go into it with the idea that you are going to make a difference, you're going to make a positive difference in the schools operation, and that you will be willing to be patient and also tolerant of different, of views other than your own. I guess the biggest thing I would say for any person going into administration is loyalty. Or any person going into public school teaching should be loyalty and positive self-image and a person who feels that he or she has something to offer and that you would want to be a PR person for your assistant. I worked at a college at one time, in North Carolina, and the president's was an old man, he was very interesting though. Turned out they were teaching education down there. The parent teachers were going to the school and get the people who were in charge of education and the majority of people in the department were all sending their children to private schools. And yet they were training teachers to go into the public education. So he said you know it doesn't seem to be that you have very much confidence in your education what your teaching is because your sending your children to private schools and yet you're teaching teachers to be public school teachers. And his little saying was: "Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing." And that just means that if you're going to eat the bread coming, just say, from Alexandria City schools then therefore you should be singing the praises of Alexandria City schools. If you're working for Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and you're eating their bread then you are to be PR expert for those school systems. And not go around, we've had some of the biggest flakes in school. Teachers who in their personal things will talk about the schools and somebody comes back and tells it, which means its bad. We've had even teachers talking about community. And so I always tell them, I said now if you're going to work for the City of Alexandria the you're going to be the PR. And if you're working for the specific school that we were in, then you were suppose to be building up the program -- if you don't like the program come and tell me and maybe we can do something about it. But don't go out, you know, as the term is now "badmouthing" the school systems because all school systems have problems. But if you keep adding to it you're just adding to them when you give the negative view because that's all the public wants to hear, is on the negative view. I think that's about the size of it.
Q: Wonderful! Thank you very much Mrs. Vaughn. Today is May 5, 1988, and we've had this wonderful interview with all the information from this retired principal. Thank you very much.
A: Thank you.
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