Interview with Arthur Watson


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Q: Okay, Mr. Watson. Could we have your name please?

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

A: Arthur Watson

Q: Okay. And, Mr. Watson, how many years were you in education?

A: Let's see, you know, I had all that stuff figured out at one time, uh, 39.

Q: 39 years, okay. Could you describe the schools you were in?

A: Well, let's see, my first teaching experience was in a one room school, in 1935. I had fifteen students and taught all grades. I made a stab at teaching primary grades, didn't figure I was doing to good a job so I decided I'd go back to school. I had a temporary certificate to just, I had three years of college, and dropped out one year and taught in this elementary, well, all grades through the eighth grade, to the eighth grade. And decided I had better go get my degree, so I went back to CU the following year because I was a senior, almost when I started. Anyway, I graduated at the end of the summer quarter and took a position, a job as a coach and history teacher in Flagler, Colorado. That was my first real teaching experience, taught history and coached.

Q: All right. When you retired, where was your 20 school? Was it Platteville here?

A: Well, it was RE-l. Superintendent of schools, let's see, well, Valley, three schools involved, three towns involved. And reorganization Platteville, LaSalle and Gilcrest, all had reorganized and that's where I finished my teaching, thirteen years as superintendent in the RE-l. I retired just a little bit before 65.

Q: Did you need special classes in administration from the college?

A: Yes.

Q: How many districts did you serve in all together?

A: Well, let's see, the first teaching experience, the real teaching experience, after graduating I took the job at Flagler, that was really my first teaching experience, and I was there four years. Then I took a job as superintendent and principal at Seibert or Arrila, Colorado, no, at Seibert, Colorado out in eastern Colorado. Well, eastern Colorado is where I grew up, Hugo, Colorado, in that area. And, then from Seibert to Arrila, Colorado, another small school and I was superintendent and principal, and did some teaching and also supervised study hall at various times. And then from Arrila went to Stratton, Colorado, and was there six years and was coach, superintendent and principal. And, it was a good experience. Had a good basketball team. And played finals for State Championship one year. In the smaller schools, at that time they only had two divisions, small and big, so we were runner's up in the smaller schools' division. From Stratton went to Limon, Colorado, and there I served as superintendent and high school principal and was there seven years and from there went to Eagle County and was there five years in Eagle County. I was the first superintendent that, after that reorganization, and there was really a lot of hard feelings. It was a difficult situation. At that particular time, Eagle county, there wasn't too much money, in fact, Vail was just sheep pasture, at that particular time. We did get started, there were five different schools, not five, high schools at Mentern, Red Cliff, Gypsum, Eagle, and McCoy. Are you familiar with any of these?

Q: Some of those, yeah. Not all of them. Eagle, especially, that's a big place.

A: Oh, my gosh, yes. And, we started it off and at that time they didn't have any buildings that were worth a darn. Then we got a bond issue defeated on it, weren't ready for it yet. And I had to hire the, well, we had, the board had the University of Denver do a study on the high schools, and so on, and they recommended that some of the high schools, some be combined, so Eagle, for example, combined with Gypsum which had been the County High School and at Red Cliff had started a building and then the roof collapsed on it. So they had to get it ready, so we combined the Mentern and Red Cliff high schools.

Q: You've been a lot of places.

A: Yeah.

Q: What year did you retire?

A: 1977.

Q: 1977.

A: Well, let's see, I left Eagle in, and came to RE I and was here thirteen years.

Q: That's where you finished up, then, in 1977?

A: Yes.

Q: Okay. You're from a small town and currently there is a lot of difficulty recruiting teachers in small towns in eastern Colorado. What methods did you use to attract quality teachers to the district, and what resources did you utilize?

A: Well, of course, one big resource we had in Eagle County was the skiing, and we prepared a booklet on it and what they could expect as far, they could get free skiing and things of that sort. But that, particularly there, and at that particular time it was quite booming, like it is now. Then in, I guess, really, about the best thing, if you could get a person or, is aware of the opportunity in the smaller communities, and likes more, and emphasize their good qualities and push them and work hard on that. And the thing that, of course, Eagle County with the skiing was, well, it wasn't easy at first, but it became well better known as a resort area and then they finally got a few buildings, particularly the hotel building. And the area around the Vail area was, well, a rich class and a poor class. The mining area at that particular time, the New Jersey Saint Company company was Gillman. And now Gillman is strictly a company town. But they made a few houses available to us for rent to teachers or principals and we were able to, I think, come up with some pretty good administrators that I guess wanted the challenge. And, of course, after, all of us were ready to leave about after five years, and, but we had, one thing, we were able to put our administrators on this particular, I guess. It's hard to, it takes me time now.

Q: Sure, that's all right. That's perfectly fine.

A: Not get it all right off the bat, and then maybe it will all clear up ten minutes later.

Q: How did you attract teachers in Platteville, here, in this area? Greeley, that really helped.

A: Oh, yeah. We were no trouble. And then we were able to have a salary schedule that was competitive with the area around Denver or some of those. Greeley, it wasn't hard to get the teachers here. A lot them were working on advanced degrees, or maybe their wives were working to support them while they were working on their degrees. So it wasn't difficult to get teachers here, but it sure was in. Well, for example, in starting out for sure, Eagle County and Red Cliff were not very attractive communities at that time. Most of them, particularly Red Cliff were, working in, well, I guess in the mine. At one time the mine was on strike so it was a little hairy, it was a little difficult at that particular time. They were a big taxpayer. And at that time they weren't receiving any money to speak of off of the skiing areas. Believe it or not, that was a sheep pasture, and then that really started.

Q: So you were there when it was just getting started.

A: Yeah, I was the first, reorganized superintendent.

Q: All right.

A: It was challenging for sure. One thing about it, even though there was a lot of the cattlemen versus the miners, I'd say. The lower end of the valley was the cattlemen and the upper end was mining. And the differences of all the people on the upper end there were some big cattle ranches down there. They weren't anxious to see that the taxes were gonna. It was challenging all right. There was one particular range up there, it was quite, a politically they wanted to keep all the money they had to accumulated and they the time that they really got organized they didn't want to see any other part of the county get of that. That was Burns, Colorado, the upper part of the valley, board members in that area, and they were pretty powerful politically. Then we had one man from, board member, that graduated Yale, at empire. He was much opposed to the reorganization and when we had our bond issued, it was Denver and Rio Grande got together, I suppose, put up some money. We got beat, we got beat bad.

Q: Once you had applicants for teaching jobs, what method or how would you go about choosing the applicant? Did you have certain criteria or qualities you were looking for in an applicant or were you looking sometimes for minorities, or things like that?

A: Well, towards the end we were trying to get minorities. Of course, we had a pretty good size of mix with the population, both in Mentern and Red cliff and so, yeah we were looking for minorities.

Q: How about other qualities in teachers. What other things would you look for?

A: Well, one thing we try to warn them that it was a small community, were some of the things.

Q: You wanted someone who wanted to work in a small community?

A: Yeah, it was in their favor if they did. Or if they had had the experience in either growing up, in a small community or a. One thing that I'd had some experience with in regard to the other thing, the State Department of Education was, they started a small schools project and it was financed by the Ford Foundation. And I don't know whether, do you know Bob Gate, superintendent there at Meeker?

Q: No, I don't.

A: Well, anyway there were several small schools that were picked by the state to experiment with programs for small. Where you'd have a class of maybe four or five kids, and you would, it was pretty expensive to have that type of outfit. we worked, the State Department coordinated and there were, it was when I was at Limon when they started that and we were one of the first ones to get involved. And trying to find things. And we found that in order to run curricula when you only had two to three kids that were going to take the class in maybe advanced math, or something of that sort, at that time it was tough to get teachers, to get, I've forgotten now how many. But anyway, for the small we used the CU. I, some of the words just escape me. Anyway, we were enrolling in extension courses through the colleges.

Q: I see.

A: ln order to make sure that they'd get this, so they'd get their program better, we would have a teacher, some teacher supervise them, and we had one particular and one that did a good job as was recognized for it was a fella from Bronx in New York that was a librarian. I'd never really given the librarian much credit for doing anything or getting the teachers and kids to use the library. Well, this guy was really something. He had that library all the kids used it. He had shiny memory boards. Really it was really something to see the work he got out of those kids. We had our workshops over in Aspen right around Rangely. We had, that particular annual, I felt that it was really helping to expand the curriculum, in most cases just let those kids that were real smart go. In a lot of cases they were doing all right. ln most cases they needed somebody pushing them.

Q: Who would pay for that additional education for the teachers?

A: Usually we, either the district would pay it or we would get some money from the foundation program.

Q: So you would both pitch in a little bit. Once you had new teachers hired to the school, how did you orient them. Did you give them any special in-service training at the beginning or any meetings or anything like that?

A: Well, we had all the meetings and that sort of thing. Usually we got together at appointed meetings. And then each individual school would get their staff together and work on some of the things that they thought were necessary. But as far, oh, and then we would pay tuition, or at that particular time, the college would grant, say a student teacher, to all student teachers, they would grant enough money to pay their supervising teacher a little extra, not to much. But they did, if they, well we could take, if they were teaching full-time as a teacher, then that particular teacher at that time, would have free his tuition, they matched tuition is was it amounted to. It worked out very successfully until they finished their college. I guess it was a bookkeeping problem, they were paid directly rather than take a number of hours.

Q: That's a really good staff development activity. Were there any other staff development activities that you used once the teacher had been there a while?

A: Mostly in connection with the university, Dr. Lucatiche at one time was running a program in which they were taking these kids in their first or second year, and what it amounted to we they available or could they handle a situation if they were, as a freshman or sophomore, project whether they thought they would be a good teacher.

Q: Did you have any special methods that you used to determine what was needed in staff development? Did you do surveys or just walk through the buildings and talk, interview teachers, or listen to your administrators or?

A: Well, usually we had our staff and administrative meetings pretty often. We were all close, so there wasn't must difficulty as far as travel was concerned. Actually, we usually have two or three, I guess you might say abusing kids, the teacher credit. I was never to happy with them, as far as that goes, because it seems to me in some cases so of them would use it to mess around rather than do the job. It was kind of hard to pressure, to meet to try and establish salaries and all of that sort of thing. They were always bringing up causing extra time, and we have. And, of course, as close as we were to Denver and the mountains, and so on, I think most of the teachers would take the kids for field trips. Probably, it wasn't, they'd wait until the end of the year, and then at the end of the year it was all locked up, particular trip. I guess it's a little better now. But that particular time some of them took advantage of it and some of them didn't. I always felt, that really from the standpoint of the things that were worthwhile, we didn't get as good a job as the small schools project. I think our program in Limon was probably more successful than any other because of this one fella that was working there. He was very fine, but he quit and went back to the Bronx. But, he really was something, I know the kids probably really liked him.

Q: You mentioned him as being an effective administrator and today there's a lot of concern in education about evaluation techniques and working with teachers. And we spend a lot of time in teacher training working on evaluation techniques. Would you describe how you evaluated teachers in your building?

A: Well, having the school principal involved and school superintendent, I think I was lax in some of that because I think was except for this Ford Foundation project, I felt that we really accomplished some things on that. But, in a smaller school you have some, I guess by chance, things happening. Either you get somebody criticizing a teacher and you've got to work with them to see what can be done or there was a particular incident where there was a kid who slapped a teacher or something like that, I guess you'd have some in-service training.

Q: What are your ideas on the most essential parts of an evaluation if you could do one. What would you look for when evaluating, what do you think makes a teacher?

A: Can they interest the kids in what they're doing. They may be a little different, no binded by the old rules and so on. Like this one particular one who was a librarian and a history teacher. Now he had the kids digging deep into and using the library, and of course, when we could pay him, he was one that we, if you get money for things he did, and the board would also give some money for. The interest that the kids might take, you can tell, you don't have to sit there all day, sometimes you might if they have discipline problems, probably, but the fact you can tell sometimes, not by being in the room but by being in the hall or something of that sort, in order, see some kids in the hallway and wonder what they're doing out of class. At one time I had an evaluation sheet that I'd give to and evaluate each teacher on a score level and then meet with each teacher to discuss it. And some of them didn't like it at all, but that is a strict evaluation, just a written evaluation, I think that was the only place that we did it pretty thoroughly there. The other schools, with less than 100 enrollment, or something like that, it was pretty difficult to find the time to be much, inadvertent some of their evaluations, just happened. You're having trouble or something of that sort, or they weren't handling the job and would have to be notified that they would have. And this was one thing about Jim Burns, I don't know, he was the principal for me there at RE I and he was right in Platteville. And he was the best principal, the best person I ever saw in evaluating, he would sit down with them and talk to them, and of course, after a while we made that mandatory.

Q: Let me change the tape here.

A: And this Ford Foundation project was when I first met him, I didn't realize, he had the longest tenure, I think, of anybody, in the state as far as superintendents is concerned.

Q: With the tenure laws requiring strict adherence to our progress procedures today, and teachers union providing additional security, how did you go about discipling teachers when needed?

A: I thought, as I said, most of the evaluations after I became superintendent was done by the principal and I would try to encourage them, of course they could go into several things that the State Department would have special things. ln certain cases, if there was trouble there, I would tell that person that their job was questionable, as far as that goes, ordinarily with a coach or something like that, who didn't have too good a season, so you ask for, you tell them to face the fact that there's going to be problems unless they improve. And, of course, we tried to be very careful in regard to this, where, if we could give them a chance to improve and then if we thought there was a chance that's the procedure that we usually followed and in most cases it seemed to work pretty good. It's tough, but it has to be done. You can't show any favoritism.

Q:What were some of the most common reasons for disciplining teachers?

A: Lack of having their kids improve. That, of course, I think that the main thing, I think this was true particularly in regard to... , he just had a knack of being able to sit down with his teachers and tell them, of course, it was mandate later on, but. Well it was part of the negotiating of the contract in most cases, the you had to sit down with the teacher and discuss with the teacher the evaluations that they got. didn't do that personally, like I said, unless it was where I felt, I did do it with the basketball coach and indicated he had troubles going here and we put him on a probation basis. Told him to improve or else and he didn't so we fired him.

Q: So dismissing a teacher was as difficult then as it is today, a tenure teacher?

A: Oh, one thing you have to do, we would notify them, we would must notify them that their contracts weren't going to be renewed. In most cases, of course this one fella, I'd already told him we weren't going to renew his contract and he was a good ... himself, and he couldn't get fired to his players.

Q: But it wasn't as difficult then as it is today, you don't believe?

A: Oh no, I don't think we ever had any major problems, unless we did, in some cases we usually had some decent coaches that that we didn't renew their contract. That's what we did with any of them teachers that we weren't going, they were usually aware that what was going on.

Q: What procedures did you use to dismiss a teacher? How difficult was dismissal? Were there special procedures for dismissal? You indicated earlier that you always gave them a chance to improve, and told them where their weaknesses were.

A: And like I say, Jim was particularly good at that, and I know of one case that recommendations came in and they, of course, the central officers and everything was, all the teachers and principals evaluations were put in my office and you knew pretty much who was going to be good and who wasn't, as far as that goes. Most of, of course, particularly when we got into minorities situation and we would try, and we did get a couple of administrators who were good at working with minority kids. guess they still do. But, I had this, we almost had a calm down, but we sure thought at one particular time, we almost had... simmer down. It wasn't one thing. We had quite a few Hispanic kids, the kids themselves, weren't, we had good kids on both sides of the fence, and persevered and the communities were polarized in some respects to regard to the first reorganize. It, they were, it was tough.

Q: Today there is much talk about merit pay, teachers' salaries, carrer ladders and structuring teacher salaries, can you describe teachers' and administrators' salary ranges during your term as administrator?

A: Yes.

Q: And structuring teachers' salaries, can you described teachers' and administrators' salaries and salary ranges during your term as an administrator?

A: Uh, I, of course, there is a great deal more money being spent even though a lot of people think it isn't utilized properly. But, salaries are much higher for administrators, which teachers, figure it back amount of the entities, probably, I would say that the education profession did about as well as anybody in trying to cope with the increased costs, but.

Q: Was there a standard teacher salary? Did you get a raise?

A: No, just usually comparisons, like in our particular area the schools are pretty much outside of Greeley, the kids. What's your salary schedule there, how do you get a raise, how much?

Q: With us?

A: Yeah.

Q: Uh, I think I'll probably get right around $2,000.00 raise, but there are hours built into it, you take hours at the university, they give you a little more, those kinds of things.

A: Oh, yeah. And Masters course, we were being most agreeable to our teachers to go and get Masters degrees, because that would increase their salary.

Q: That's how you got a raise then, was....

A: Well, it increased ours, and then, of course, as the base went, raised, usually then everybody got a raise then. Of course, at first RE-l wasn't too rich, you might say, but here they had the nuclear plant coming in and then the oil and the gas, so salaries got to be pretty good in this area, about as high as Cherry Creek or some of those.

Q: Did they also get raises for being in the district every year, get increment raises?

A: Yeah, usually, depending on that's where most of them could go back and get Masters degrees and then get a pretty good step raise. Plus additional raises, like maybe ten steps without a Masters degree, and fifteen with Masters degree.

Q: Then years of service, first year, second year, went up, so it went up vertically and horizontally?

A: Yeah, yeah.

Q: I see.

A: ln most cases they got a pretty good raise.

Q: Was that also true in your early days in being an administrator, would you describe that for us, please?

A: I can tell, not as an administrator, well I can too, my first job as a teacher at a rural schools was $75.00 a month. And discounted 2%. That was

Q: Why the discount?

A: Well, the county or district wasn't getting enough money.

Q: So they took it off.

A: That was Depression years, 1935, and so, and then all the administrators' salaries, what I, when I retired I was drawing $27,800.00. Most of the administrators are comparable, today are around $45,000.00, probably, I would guess. All the, most administrators' salaries have gone up, maybe not all the way to some of the higher companies, bigger companies, and I, let's see. I think I left Eagle County and I could have gotten more than ... now look what they got.

Q: Yeah. Was there a difference between the salaries of men and women? Secondary and elementary? Responsibilities?

A: Well, you played it by ear really. ln some cases, now the good teachers that we had working on the Ford Project, we asked them to get, we paid them extra. I don't know if that satisfied the other teachers, but in order to keep them on staff why we did, and then we would increase teachers to improve. Maybe you'd want a teacher to change their, being a good teacher, but you think bigger and use them other places, too. Of course, they would get extra, it got to be an extra load. ln most case, of course, at that time $1,500.00 was a pretty good salary. That is for teachers, administrators, of course, being the administrative job I took, was asked they offered me the same as I was getting in salary just for the experience. I told them no, so it was, they did increase it, but I thought that was pretty close to the last time, and I coached then and taught classes, taught history classes.

Q: Today all teachers who serve for three consecutive years in a school district qualify for tenure. What, if any, system was in place when you began your administrative career?

A: Well, of course, the colleges, they were trying to gear themselves as far as officers and teachers, too, of course, there was quite a difference there for a while and colleges were involved, too, they were having all sorts of meetings with teachers in order to prepare them for the tenure act, it was quite a dissention among the teachers and administrators and the boards. Just how things were going to be operating, and I know, for example, UNC held a number of meetings warning of this coming up and also encouraging there people who would be involved maybe in the negotiations process how to ...

Q: So the administration was opposed to tenure pretty strongly?

A: No, I wouldn't say that they were opposed to tenure, they realized, I think, it seemed to me that backed a lie and you better work out a process where it's not going to disrupt you all the way through. And the, I think, there was quite an emphasis on the higher boards of education and administrators and teachers to go through this process. Of course, as far as tenure is concerned, well, like legal, the legal lawyers would indicate to the boards just how far they could go or should go under the law. In most cases, of course, the teachers wanted and liked to open up the negotiations publicly. The boards weren't to happy with that situation, but again, it was something that was going to happen and you could postpone it for a while, but I think felt that it was something that was going to have to be done. Then as, I know, I have thought that one of the things that would help our district would be if we did get this increased license, because for we could be at least in the medium or better as far as salaries are concerned. In most cases the superintendents would meet and discuss what are you going to have, and usually everybody would come pretty close to having the same type of salary and about, so that they would be competitive and, of course, a lot of the teachers were, particularly when they got pretty well on the salary schedule, they wanted to try to , but it's, there's always been pressure from the community or the public as to how good your school is and the. When you look at the average at what the teachers are drawing now and administrators, it's one heck of a lot better. Even ten years ago. But, more power to them. Well, in some cases I think the administrators are getting to much, I not, I'd like to be one of them. But for that particular time I was, when I retired it gave me enough to look forward, I'm not rich by a long ways, but . Got two kids through college and got a little put away.

Q: What other types of security was provided for teachers and administrators like retirement insurance, what other things did the district provide from the early to the later?

A: Medical, now it is even the dental is in the districts are getting that. I know that in some cases they'll give them, in order not to make the salary look so good to the, well, I can't get, I think of something and then I can't remember it.

Q: That's all right. ln the real early years, when you started back in Eagle county, and you know, when you first started administrating, were there any kinds of insurance systems them, retirement systems that the teachers had, and the administrators?

A: Well, they had the PERA all along.

Q: Right through, so that was something.

A: Yeah, well, it turned out to be pretty darn good. And right now, of course, then gradually it went on and took care of the medical or hospitalization.

Q: So at first all you had was PERA?

A: Yeah, and of course, that was in 1951, somewhere.

Q: That's when that came in?

A: Yeah.

Q: And before that you didn't have

A: It wasn't mandated, so you could or you couldn't have it. And, but, and I know that my check was real small in 1951 That's when it started. So when I retired, well, I got 27 years worth. And you could get, you could withdraw it and still have a pretty good retirement after twenty years. And then another proposal that was set up at age 55 if you had thirty years, and they still have it, that's still in operation, then well, of course, right now the health plan is the newest thing that can be deducted from your PERA. It's been, PERA, I think for the teachers and education as well as all state employees, it's pretty darn good retirement.

Q: I'm glad I'm under it.

A: I sure was glad I was, I didn't see how much some of them are drawing now, but I thought I should have stayed with it longer but wife said . but it's, I think it's a pretty good profession and I think in most cases teachers, pupils are in pretty good shape. I see things that are bad off we in education, but the more you look back at some of the guys you worked with or worked for, it turned out pretty good.

Q: What do you think the most difficult part of being administrator in the schools is? If you had to say one most difficult thing?

A: Well, I don't know that it would be to bad a turn, but it would just be some of the, the public, particularly those that have an axe to grind. They'll get on the board for that reason, do a good job, but varied at various times. But one time it was a teacher crisis when there wasn't enough teachers available. And they, and in some cases it's the money as far as the evaluation in the school district and to as how far as they can go and what they can do. But, it most cases, you can work around those things or work with them, I always felt I was very fortunate with the boards that I had, and we were, and of course, they were hired , but I thought they would get some people that would maybe do a good job. Get them on the boards and respond to criticism and, or public spirited. I think you got a sense of satisfaction of the ladies who are doing what they can with the kids and the public, too. I had quite a few of them. And very good teachers. Farmers make good school board members. Of course, Eagle county had, like I said a fella from Yale had a ranch over there. But he'd been very much opposed to reorganization and fought it all the way. A pretty good cattleman. I know that he was very supportive o: me and he didn't vote for the bond issue. Fought it all the way, the first one anyway. But he was a remarkable man, talented and rich. And he was a Yale graduate and as a result of losing the board, the bond issue and needing the space, he bought a trailer put it up above Mentern there, so we could have another classroom there, well, he became one of my greatest friends, we were best friends, and I am no longer in Eagle county, used to have a lot of friends along Yorkridge, built a house and put a lot of beds there, for when . When Vail was first getting started, remarkable man, he well, he'd get had some of the students ask me to recommend some students that needed money to go on to college. I know the one boy that I thought would be the best advertisement for it wasn't. But he did get started in school, but, you think of all the good things, you kind of tend to forget the, like a lot of those things, they reorganized there several rural districts, and we had Catholic school, elementary school, and I found out that the Catholic priests were just as human as the rest of us. Fine men. But they didn't really have the money and we had to show some progress that things were better and so we hired a, I'd had in Arrila I'd a couple that . The man, anyway, I coached them in coming to Stratton to work there, and we had to.

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