Q: What schools in Fairfax County were you Principal of?
A: Well, you want to start with ... school.... high school and grade school in Wythe County in 19....? Well I started in Montgomery County in Elliston and McCoy.( put that.) I did a little teaching there, too. They made a painting at that school....in 1951 Fendall Ellis called me and asked me would I come and take the principalship of Max Meadows High school and Grade school. I believe that's correct.
Q: And where is Max Meadows?
A: That's in Wythe County.
Q: And then did you come to Fairfax County?
A: Then in 1958 W. T. Woodson signed me on as a principal of a school unassigned. There was rapid growth then. As well as bringing in ....W. T. Woodson and T. C. Williams at that time would go down in the southwest part of the state. In the particular year that I came up here, there were about, I think, seven principals came from southwest Virginia under similar circumstances and became principals in various schools.
Q: ...then what was your first school in Fairfax County?
A: My first school was at .... I double shifted with a school, my school wasn't completed that they had assigned me, Edsall Park. Now I did the the enrollment of Edsall park and they were transported by bus to Springfield Estates and we double shifted there until, I believe, until after Christmas. It's kind of ... it's on record that that was probably the biggest transport of youngsters without any interruption, other than their transportation, from Springfield when the busses loaded all of the students and they had not been in Edsall Park School and we came in that school and finished out the remainder of the day. I believe that the enrollment at that time, conditions up here were crowded, I believe there were 619 youngsters. (The tape was stopped to be sure the conversation was being recorded.)
Q: What school did you go to next after Edsall parK?
A: I then was appointed the principal of a not completed school. We did our summer work with all the teachers in Woodley Hills and the first time the youngsters or the teachers entered Walt Whitman was the first day of school. And amazingly the operation went very well.
Q: What level were the students?
A: This was grades seven and eight, one of the original intermediate schools in Fairfax County....and I knew that I would be the principal there because W. T. Woodson had told me in a visitation at my school that I would be going to Walt Whitman school.
Q: How would you describe the last school that you were a principal of?
A: The last school that I was principal of was Walt Whitman. In the interim of the Walt Whitman School, we opened up Walt Whitman as an individual school on Old Mount Vernon Road, and we were there for a number of years. The enrollments there were generally always above 1200; sometimes 1280. sometimes 1300. A few years later they converted Walt Whitman into Mount Vernon High School. At that particular time 600 of the Walt Whitman school went to Hayfield and was there two years at Walt Whitman school. At the end of the two years we went back to the old Mount Vernon High school and we picked up the remainder of school that had gone to Groveton, I believe. and Bryant. ...The opportunity of being a principal of a Junior high school or an intermediate school was extremely satisfying and very fulfilling. It came from a highly diversified background. we had over on the Potomac River the more affluent and we had some areas that they came from the trailer courts and we had A: .., in distance. We went as far as the Lorton and Gunston areA: And at that particular....for a couple of three years as the principal of Walt Whitman our children went to Fort Hunt, Lee High School, and Mount Vernon, predominately the greater number went to Mount Vernon. It did happen that way for a while. I found that the parents were very cooperative, we had a very fine faculty which. by the way, I was allowed by the personnel Department to pick my own teachers and also had the say in who would be the counselors, the guidance director and the assistant principal.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: By the good fortune of having...after the war, I'd been in the Marines and gone to college two years before, I was in the war in the Marines for four years. After the war I was visiting my- this is the truth, my brother-in-law who was a merchant and a pharmacist, things of that nature, and the superintendent of Montgomery County schools asked if I would go down for a few days and watch this school until they could get somebody to come in. While I was there I got attached to it and thereby hangs the tale.
Q: What aspects of your professional training prepared you for the principalship?
A: I think that my high school background, that under good teachers, I think that my preparation in athletics, I think my experience in the Marine Corps, in the fleet Marine Corps, and strange as it may seem, at the conclusion of the war on Guam, until they could decide what to do with the two divisions there of which I was in the third, they gave the youngsters, and they were very young youngsters in this fleet Marine force, opportunities to go to the school or either do other things that weren't as desirable. So therefore they got a number of people out and so I really taught school there for five or six weeks until these people were sent to various places like... .... and all of those places because we were fully prepared to invade the islands of Japan. And even our General said we would probably be the best read division that was ever disbanded, and that's in a quote by General ..., I think at that time was the general. well, when I came back home, I really by chance through the superintendent of schools, they were hard pushed to open the schools, the unavailability of teachers and for that reason by the good .... by a divine stroke of fate I had the opportunity to enter in to that and got so attached and so involved that I didn't want to give it up.
Q: Tell me what was your typical workday like as a principal? Let's talk about the last school that you were in, Walt Whitman. What did you do all day?
A: I always managed to be at my school. All my life I've been an early riser, I would be the first one in my school. And a number of times the last one to leave it. My Job was to get there always be available to talk to any teacher or any parent. I had a rule that the child had the high priority, and that the parent had that, and I would walk the halls and see face-to-face the whole time I was there, and rarely was there any exception....of the teacher, the bus drivers, or the youngsters knew I was on the grounds.
Q: Did you spend more time in your office or outside your office?
A: I spent only the time in my office that was necessary for a degree of privacy to talk to a student, or a parent, or a teacher.
Q: Tell me about... thinking back over your career, the three most pleasant things you were involved in in your principalship.
A: Well, I think the three most pleasant things would be that I saw youngsters of various backgrounds get interested in school, go on to high school, and by getting to know them personally, or their parents, and made an effort ....that to see that they would graduate from some school, either college or technical. In fact. in one of my illnesses a few years later, a young lady that treated me was in the eighth grade in my school in 1963. That warmed my heart. But the thing that warmed my heart more, that I would personally take youngsters to each feeder school and talk to the incoming seventh grade, face-to-face and spend half the morning acquainting them with what might be expected and dispelling rumors. In the summer the school was open to any small group that wanted to visit it. And then another thing that I always liked would be the introduction on Back to-Class Night where you would have your largest turnout, to introduce all the teachers and to tell the parents that if anything at this school is not to the benefit of the youngster, or any happening, that there would always be... that a rumor is always halfway through the community until the truth gets started, and that anything that can happen in Alexandria bus station can happen in this school. And if you have a complaint, rather than going over the fence to your neighbor, bring your neighbor down here and we will both go to the superintendent together. And if things ever get that bad I'll take full responsibility cause the school is my, our, school. And I would always say as you have met those teachers, they all have degrees, and we have the reputation that we might sometimes in a comical or good humored way, that we could out -look any faculty in pleasantness and warmth of any faculty in the county. Sometimes that had its slight repercussions. But the enjoyment was, that there would always maybe be a few that perhaps didn't like the way that, some aspect that they didn't like the school and I would always try to get them to bring it out and talk about it. And there was always an open invitation to any parent in this school to come down to the school, got their chair, sit in the hallway or sit with me. or keep up with me, and see for yourself that we do have some youngsters in this school that visions of sugarplums do not always dance in their head. And that I am well aware that parents send us the best that they have, and we had for a long time there a rather strung-out, highly diversified place where we drew the children. We had the congressman, the general, and we had the construction worker, but we had the best thing that you could have. We had youngsters. And I would always say that the parents always send us the best youngsters that they have and we got the freshly scrubbed and we sometimes get the runny nose. But despite the splendor and the greatness and sometimes the boastfulness of this Fairfax County School system, that we always try to keep in mind that it is the youngster that we teach. And from that I think that it was fairly well accepted. And then another thing that we did that I had some leniency in offering--enrichment courses or additional reading, and I would always try to set aside somewhere in my schedule for persons having reading difficulty, to have additional help in that areA: We had a good school paper. I always thought we had a very warm and personal school. And to this day I miss it and I go back to visit schools from time to time.
Q: It sounds like you've had a lot of really pleasant experiences, but tell me about two or three things in your principalship that were not pleasant experiences.
A: I think, in a small way one time during integration, up here and even though it was fairly smooth, down in the southwest there was a small aspect of that. And I was in favor of integration and I was in favor, in fact of the resolution to the governor of this state through the VEA-- we were a group of 1000 in a resolution to keep the public schools open. ( Attachment #1) Also, inevitably in any group, most people have some notion that one way of getting some type of recognition for their community civic club, or get some personal recognition. They will attack the school and because, see, most people have attended public schools, therefore they think that they have something to say, and they do. But I was always a great believer that any person walking through that door-- hear them out, be slow to react; but I always admonished the teachers that we listen to their conversation but we do not take their abuse. And I think that there is another thing that appeared on the scene in The 60's and 70's. we were not without our problems with the drug situation and drinking and absolutely smoking, which thank God to a bunch of mothers starting very early, that now in the public school you can walk into any intermediate school and you will find very little smoking. We had some trying times as a result of the situation of the war and integration; however, we came through that much better than I ever expected.
Q: Let's talk for a few minutes about some leadership things. You as a principal in the building were the leader in that school. What did you as a principal do to set the climate for learning in the school?
A: I set the climate that you're always available. That the number one priority in that school is the youngster that has the problem and he wants to talk. I always said that the door is wide open, come straight in, it's open to teachers and parents. And if you have anything to say in an unpleasant way, it could be or could not be the truth, but we will always deal with any person in this school as long as it's not in some conspiratorial way, or another motive, that our first purpose is for that youngster that comes through the door. And if you ever lose sight of it, then you might lose sight of what you held out that you feel. If you are a teacher you are older than that youngster and you know ....that coming through the door. You see, public schools are available to all people. It would have to be safety or the detriment to a youngster, to himself or to others, I would be very reluctant to suspend a youngster. And then there was seeping into schools in a few years here, student's rights and responsibilities sometimes made some people more assertive. You had some apprehension of some people by administrators, that you had to be very careful because there were lawsuits-- threats of lawsuits, and ....time-consuming. And there were discipline problems, discipline problems were to be expected. And my attitude was to try to change the youngster if you can, rather than suspend him. It's better down at school if you can control him and he's not affecting the welfare of others or disturbing the class, let him stay in here. And another thing that I've thought of, and to this day I don't know how successful it would be. but I've been out of it now for nearly 12 years, and I've had the opportunity....I retained very few youngsters in the 7th or 8th grade. The fact, I can almost safely say that a parent would have some difficulty with me if they insisted that a youngster be retained I would....if they wouldn't I would send him on.
Q: How did you work with teachers in relationship to this concept of not retaining students?
A: I left the teaching up to the head of the departments in the teaching. I let them go on their own, and I let them keep a close eye on how they were doing in high school and how well they were doing there. The first thing you do, you have to have a teacher that has a disposition and has the interests of the youngster at heart. If you look around and have some choices you can generally be fairly ... and can get that. And if you'd have an unhappy teacher, tell the teacher, unless it was a case that was so erratic that it demanded more than just conversation or exchange of unloading them in another school, I would always say maybe you should go to another school or seek employment somewhere else, or else maybe there was something in this school that would keep people here, but there must be some learning going on down there and it must be done under some pretty.... I was always a great believer in a good warm, pleasant room. I always liked to create something of a love for learning or the expectancy of going there, you're going to be happy while you're learning something.
Q: How would you describe your own leadership technique?
A: Well, I've been known to be, at least from other people, sometimes too lenient, granting too much responsibility. I've never felt that way. I've always felt that that classroom teacher that has that youngster at any particular time, is the one that has that youngster, and to try to keep that teacher free from interruptions or unnecessary duties, let them teach. And I would say that we were fairly successful. I was never removed as principal from that school. whether that meant anything or not.
Q: What do you think it takes to be an effective principal?
A: I think it takes the disposition of some kind of mission, you must really like what you're doing, and you must really have a good thought that you're on very important things and that you can have some influence. Whether it's a youngster that's going to be a football player or doctor or preacher or mechanic ....somewhere bring out in that youngster some qualities he possesses, that when he goes out there in the years to come, that he's going to be a better person because he's passed through your school. I believe that from the bottom of my heart and I hope that it will always remain that way. And it has some difficulties, some powerful difficulties.
Q: Can you tell me about some of the pressures you faced as a principal?
A: I never really faced the pressure of losing my job because I always felt that I could get another Job. And, due to some good luck in my life I was not going to be starved to death if I lost that job. That in no way gave me any type of an arrogance or any feeling that I'm always right. I've always thought that maybe sometimes if you think you're so right and it's not working, then maybe it's not right and it better be three or four people look at your situation. It never disturbed me for a parent or a teacher or a youngster to disagree with me as long as we could talk it out and it wasn't done for another motive. As long as it's a good, honest motive that you're disagreeing, that maybe ....it would be the benefit. I've changed schedules and I've told teachers that any time I have removed a kid from the school-- I mean from their class--l wouldn't remove them unless I'd talked it over with them, and I didn't want them to think it was any reflection on them. I just thought it might be better if this youngster were out of their class and in another place-- perhaps they would get along better. And I think that if you can establish that, that works fairly well. I've always wanted to get the question across. that the only thing that is ever really, really that important down at the schoolhouse at any given time. if you have a fire or something that's endangering them, get them out of the building and keep them safe. Mostly these other things will keep until tomorrow; and try to be a slow reactor but a sensible one. Use that old whatever-it-is that you're supposed to possess-- that good old common sense every once in a while will solve a few problems.
Q: You mentioned to me on the telephone about a discipline paper that you had worked on at one point. Can you tell me a little about that?
A: Well, I think that discipline, the only true discipline, is if you can implant into a person a type of a self-discipline. Discipline is something that is always connected with some larger outstanding problem, say a fight in a school or a disgruntled someone-- or a class disturbance, or things of that nature. I'll read some of these things. ln fact. last night, I reread the life of Melvin Landes which ... Melvin has something ....in my book ....kids during the great dress thing and I told this one time and it brought the house down. We were having this tremendous problem up here and we thought that school can't open tomorrow unless everyone knows that you have a shirt on and you have a belt and all these things. We spent one full day and night up there at Lee High school. So Melvin Landes broke the ice and said, If it will help you any, a kid came to me and said, Mr. Landes. Jesus Christ wears sandals. What are you going to do tomorrow if Jesus Christ walks through that door with sandals on? Well, he said, If Jesus Christ comes through that door tomorrow son with sandals on, he's not going to this school, just like you're not. Now that's a fact.
Q: Who are the people that you think helped put this paper together?
A: I think such people as Sam Coffey, Craig Hill, Burke, Harold Hodge, Sam Willis, Melvin Landes. Taylor Williams, oh, you could go on and on. To be real honest with you ....I always kept things, like when I was on the sex Commission in the county for all these years. To be real honest with you, I don't know, but I can say that what is in here comes from the utterances of various people like Harold Ford, W. T. Woodson, Melvin Landes, Craig Mill, oh my God, it's just a conglomeration of all these teachers. This came into existence I think, somewhere it got into print, and somebody just wrote it up and handed out some copies. I think most people threw them away, but I didn't, I kept it. In fact, I mailed it to one or two schools. Ball state one time wrote me a letter, said I was supposed to have one of the better middle schools in the state of Virginia and would I send them everything I had. Hell, I just bundled up everything I had and sent it to them. (see Attachment #2)
Q: Is that when you developed the Handbook for Teachers?
A: No, this Handbook for Teachers was down in Wythe County.
Q: So you developed that down there?
A: The one that's down there now got its start, they'd never had one. The Handbook for Teachers up here, I think I've got it, if I don't it's up in the attic.
Q: Do you remember what kind of thing were in it?
A: Well, I'll tell you, just a second. I think Jim --- gave you something didn't he? It's like I told you ....
Q: You have maps and everything.
A: W. T. Woodson spent a whole day with me over there one day. And when he got ready to leave we'd had an all day outing. And he said,"Sam, I've certainly enjoyed it, but you know we've both violated regulations, but since you're from the country and I've hired you and been down here with you, if you won't say anything about it, I won't. I always think a great .... a sense of humor is the best thing you can have"
Q: Who helped work on this handbook?
A: Everybody and their brother. Let me show you something here, DonnA: See this? This was in '59 and It's better than this one.
Q: Now this is the one that you did?
A: Yeah, they gave me my degree down there at Virginia Tech on this one. see Attachment - Page from the handbook> Wait a minute, they didn't let me by that easy. I had to write a baby thesis, and everybody down there at that time, 60 principals from all over the state and two or three employees from industry started with that particular group I was with and every one of those scoundrels amounted to something, are now office-holders, superintendents, and everything else and I kept up with them. But, .... they must not have had much of one up here. <handbook statement of purpose: Ordinarily staff members are happier and more secure when they know what is expected of them and are informed of the general objectives towards which they were employed to direct their efforts. This handbook is an attempt to express in written form this information. Statement of purpose read from the handbook.>
Q: Did you write that?
A: I wrote that.
Q: What did the teachers think of this handbook?
A: Well, I gave it to 250 of them in my Sunday School class that was the one of the best in that city down there, including that little girl over there. (reference to the church librarian> assembled this book and we gave it to every teacher in the county. Louis Perdue was the Dean of Admissions down there, and they didn't have anything down there then. We got the duties and responsibilities of the staff. By the way, I showed it to some of them up here and there's nothing new around all this stuff. Instruction, wait a minute, I think we even described what a principal ought to be.
Q: You've got that?
A: I'll tell you one thing, Sam Coffey took that and put it in his handbook out in Fairfax County.
Q: The work of the principal is comprehensive in scope, all inclusive. calls for coordination. integration, differentiation, leadership. followership. creativeness. and efficiency. The type of duties required from a principal are supervisory, administrative, organizational, and social. The supervisory function of a principal is perhaps the most important, and he should, by definite allocation of administrative effort find sufficient time to perform his supervisory duties. He should carefully divide his time among the various areas of his responsibility.- Definition of the role of a principal read from Sam's handbook.> And so that found its way into some handbooks around Fairfax County?
A: Why, hell yes, it was better. I'm serious. Now I'm not taking anything away from W. T. Woodson, but I'd go to all these state meetings and I'd learn something. And you know good and well, if I hadn't had cancer, being a politician, that John Burkholder and that crowd would have had a contender. Jack Burkholder was teaching 7th grade when I was a principal ....the first principal and I came to Fairfax County. He would see all that crowd I grew up with, including your buddy John Schreck, Burkholder, Davis, and all of them, I knew every one of them personally. And when the schools had been closed, hell I got to know everyone in the state cause I was for keeping the schools open. Man, you could get your name known then.
Q: You got a lot of publicity?
A: I got the scars to prove it.
Q: What do you think your key to success was as a principal?
A: Luck. No. I just enjoyed it. See, after being in the war, what the hell did I have to be afraid of? I got decorated twice, got shot at, and all that stuff. Then I came back here and I'm supposed to get upset? Half that crowd I was with were Indians. See, I know what it is to get shot at and suffer. I know something about the Indian. Three-quarters of that company were Indians, and when they got back home they couldn't even get back on the reservation.
Q: What would you tell someone who is thinking about being an administrator? What advice would you give them?
A: Well, there must be something to being one because I tell you one thing, I think right now still in Fairfax County there's 11 of them that started in my school. And I think I made a count here recently and at one time, counting West Virginia and Fairfax County and Tennessee, there were 20 principals that at one time passed through Fairfax County. And you can't walk in any school right now that there isn't somebody that I didn't take over to apply for a job. I worked at this Donna, in a funny way. I believe in it.
Q: What did you do in your building to make teachers feel important. what techniques did you use?
A: Well, number one, I always had a pretty good start. They let me pick them. And if you get to really talk to them, you can tell ....if you'd walked in my school you'd have gotten a job. If you'd been in my school, you'd have been a principal without having to have a masters degree. If you don't believe it, ask Joyce Croom. You know who was the first woman principal in the elementary school? Joyce Groom. I remember when people were laughing at, now watch all this cause....Doris Torrice knows I'm her friend. Dot Duncan does.
Q: How would you describe your role in public relations?
A: I say again, I'm pretty lucky. I can deliver over 2300 votes up here every year.
Q: How about when you were a principal and you had to deal with the community, your public relations . What did you do?
A: When anybody came in to my office and this is the God's truth, if they were disturbed, I would say, It looks like you're upset. If you'd like to have a word of prayer, I'll have it with you.- And see. you're not supposed to pray in school. That wasn't school, that was my office. And I've had that to happen. Hell with that argument. I always tried to stay within the reason of the law and common sense. It's when Page Johnson and that crowd started school law you nearly scared every principal in the state to death. You've got tremendous rights and most principals lose this by default. The law hasn't changed. You're a principal. You're not supposed to have every day pleasant. And besides, there's some people in the community you don't want to like. If you want the God's truth, when I went to Max Meadows, the postmaster ....said "Come here Sam, I'll tell you how to get along there in that school up there, you don't know anything. And I said. That's right. And he said, "Make .... mad at you. I said. Where is he? He said, "He happens to be right over there.- I went over and started an argument with him. That's the God's truth. People make light of it, but that's still true. I was with a group one time, talking with maybe 10 people, and a woman got up right in the group and said, Sam Willis, we all love you, you handsome, smooth-talking son-of-a-bitch, but my kid is never going to school with a god-dammed Niger." Well, I said, I'll tell you what, it's been a long time, I've worried about my identity for years, and now you've established it. But, I'll tell you one thing, I'm still for that black boy.-
Q: Tell me more about how you handled the civil rights issues.
A: When civil rights came up I'll tell you what happened. When Martin Luther King got Killed, Earl Funderburk dispatched Jim ....to come down and help me. And Jim said, Do you have a plan?" I said, You're damn right I've got a plan, Jim. You see this Bible? I'm going right out there under that flagpole. The first crowd that shows up, we're going to pray for Martin Luther King, and I'm going to lead the prayer.
Q: Did it happen?
A: Then along comes the police with their helmets on and their shotguns. I made every kid watch that program through and through and they got so sick of it that they asked permission to come out and go home. To be real honest with you DonnA: where I learned this, of all places was in the Marine Corps. If you've ever been in A: ...attack, where the Japs are coming at you, them son's-of-a-gun are going to kill you if you don't keep a cool head .... you'll luck out anyway with a cool head. And I remembered that. And I remembered something else. I remembered the kids just out of high school less than a year later, that they buried them, piled them up. My God, then I remember the mining town. See, we were fairly well off at one time. We still are, everybody went broke in my service. Education is something. The high school football team I was on in -- let's skip the ones that got killed in the war, everyone of them graduated from college. One of them is a Bayside principal right now, three of them became principals, ministers, engineers, two doctors. That's why I believe in education. I believe in this. This isn't just some idle talk. You can draw a lot of conclusions about me. but I generally show up.
Q: What was your biggest concern os a principal?
A: My biggest concern as a principal, that there would be some quality left out, that teaching might suffer. that a type of achievement would occur that you might lose out with youngsters .... some of you youngsters study the courses that would lead-- that require a little more effort than others-- to insure that you have preachers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen-- and that you learn something. Then another thing that I've always felt, that you have to bring out the very best quality in a person to learn that he can benefit people. End of side one.) It's important that people in school read books-- The Rise of Public Education from 1870 - 1956 in Virginia" It used to be in each school library. I have a copy of that, too. At Max Meadows .... DonnA: at my school some kids came to me one time and said they wanted to read the Bible. I said. Get a few of you together and I'll be the sponsor. Now listen, we're stretching the rule here, brother. But now if you're Just trying to con me, you and your Bible are going out that room. We got along pretty good down there. I let them go read it. I just checked so that they weren't riding the late bus. .... and you know why we had static? Some parents wanted to know, What are they doing over there? and Who is indoctrinating who? I called them in one day and said It's all ...." and you know what some kid said to me, It's my damn mother. See, those are facts.
Q: Tell me about the moral and spiritual values handbook that you talked about.
A: I think I got it. Now, yeah Donna, this was reworked at a workshop. It had already been in existence. Donna, excuse me. (Tape was turned off so he could rest his voice.> This was about 1958 and the community was questioning prayers in the school. There was this ....A lady got up and said, "Mr. Willis, I understand that you pray in this school.- I said-- Who has told us to stop?"
Q: I see that there are quotes in here about the Bible, talking about religion and so on, lots of quotes, Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln....
A: I remember looking around here a while back, they couldn't find their copy. I'm going to run it off. I'll get you one.
Q: I would love a copy of it.
A: I'm going to show you one thing here, this is a fact, we were having a little trouble back in a few places. You see this? I came over here and there's four or five mothers. I immediately stopped everything, went up to the Xerox machine and run that off. I had a kid in my school one time when I was at Max Meadows .... I don't know what happened but I often wonder .... she could quote that Bible. I'm not talking about quoting it, you could ask her and she could tell you what it was. Her name, I believe, was ....there's some very well educated people in the southwest part of this state. There's a fellow down there who couldn't read or write. He used to come up and sit and talk to me. His two kids went on to ... I stayed after them, they were sharp .... I would have never known that he couldn't read or write ....
Q: But, he wanted something good for his children?
A: He owned his farm and he knew how to farm. They graduated. In fact, there's a big farm down there now.... They went up to --- and got degrees in animal husbandry. A kid down in Lee County got his veterinary degree.
Q: How would you describe yourself in your building? Would you say that when you were a principal you were a manager or an instructional leader?
A: I would think I was a kind of a manager. And I don't like that word, because I think the primary purpose is that there is some instruction and learning going on. And that there is a lot of by-products coming from that learning and development of that quality within. See? I met a sergeant one time I served under, couldn't read or write when he came into the Marine Corps in 1911. I learned more from him than I did anybody.
Q: And he was ....
A: Taught himself-- wrote the most beautiful hand, had the best vocabulary, yes sir, his name was Watson, Gunnery Sergeant Watson. It was 11941, he'd already been in the Marine Corps .... 31 years. To this day I .... see, he couldn't read or write, taught himself, read all the time.
Q: So you were the manager of your building?
A: I never liked that word, Donna.
Q: What word would you use that's better do you think?
A: I've never found a word. I think a principal is a person that has to know that the people under him are a lot smarter than he is and better qualified in all of the fields. I've always felt I was fairly well qualified in English, Sociology, and History. because I majored in it. And my certificate says that I can teach it. But, I've always felt that good principals are good principals and superintendent types .... and work for it. There are some excellent superintendents in this county. There were then and there are now. There are people that look forward to going to that school because they are in charge of so much and they've got the crowd there to do it with. In this church, where I've been for 30 Years, I know who the good Sunday School teachers are. If you have a kid that can't wait to go to Sunday School, you've got a good teacher. If you've got .... gossiping about the kid, and this and that, get rid of them .... I've always been a believer that you ought to have hired teachers in the church. I've been pushing that for years, it's impossible, don't have the money. And not to depreciate, there's some very fine teachers. We've got a church here, I've been here .... 30 years almost, 29 .... If you'd ask me what a principal was, I'd say a principal has to be about a cross between an apostle of Jesus Christ, a psychiatrist, a mule skinner, a coal miner, a fighter and a Baptist preacher. You know, he's got to cover all of them.
Q: Based on the fact that a principal had to be all of that, how would you as a principal help establish the educational philosophy for your school?
A: You get them all together ....getting them talking and get two of the best writers in there and tell them to write it down and somebody will sign it for them. That's the way we did do it.
Q: Sam, what do you think are the characteristics of an effective school?
A: I think the characteristics of an effective school .... that there is some general order; that you can detect that they like it; and there's a kind of a pleasant, warm atmosphere; and they all have a kind of a good feeling about it. I think it can rub off, I think if you run into a teacher that you know is .... to her that work is drudgery, or to him. or if you run into a person now that says I can hardly wait until I retire. I never have thought a hell of a lot of those people. I didn't want to retire, I would go back to work tomorrow if they'd let me. I do go back .... I go up to school and read, anytime I want to come up there. I don't want to wear out my welcome, I know I'm smart enough not to do that. Some people say I do it because I'm using it as a guise to get votes for the candidates. That isn't true. No, I think you just kind of feel like you are something, and you are.
Q: If you had it to do over again, would you become a principal?
A: If I had it to do over again, yes. And the fact still remains, I'd consider it a blessing that I lucked upon the opportunity to be a principal, and that's the God's truth.
Q: Thank you. I have just one last question. Are there any other questions that I should ask you?
A: I think that what we need now ....that we do have now. I think that the question should be asked. You have as a teacher 150 people that will cross your path-- keep a good sense of humor, keep some good thought that you're in there to help them bring out some qualities in them that they possess. And that they are important, no matter where they come from. It's almost like that story one time, Donna, that you and I have heard many times. There was a man one time that was very distressed. He didn't know what to be. If he'd see an engineer he'd want to be an engineer, if he'd see a doctor he'd want to be a doctor, if he saw a surveyor he'd want to be a surveyor, if he saw a groceryman or this or that. So he finally said, "I'm going to do something I've never done before. I'm going to pray about it. And as he prayed, there was supposed to have happened, it came to him the vision-- be a teacher-- someone will write your book, someone will survey your road, someone will doctor your patients, someone will paint your picture. If you're looking for something that you really want to make a contribution, be a teacher.
Q: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me Sam. This concludes the interview with Sam Willis.
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