This is March the eighth 1995.This is an interview with Mr. Dewey Wilson in the living room of his home in Pulaski, Virginia. We're speaking of his experiences as high school principal of Pulaski High School and Pulaski County High School which is a consolidated school.
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Q: Mr. Wilson, would you begin by telling us about your family background and any experiences you had in your childhood (uh) and your interest an development at that time.
A: Well, I was raised in a kind of extended family not only a mother and dad and a brother, but I had a grandmother and for some time an uncle and two aunts that (uh) lived in the same household. So I had an extended family as far as (uh) influence on me (uh) I (uh) I lived in a (uh) area that was semi-rural outside of a small town in Tazewell, Virginia and we were (uh) we had a (uh) what you would call a semi-farm (uh) about six acres with it (uh) and I enjoyed all the opportunities that were available to me to (uh) climb trees and (uh) do the kind of chores (uh) as far as (uh) milking and taking care of hogs and (uh) and lambs and that kind of thing so it was quite (uh) a rural family setting as far as that is concerned (uh) As a youngster I just enjoyed the (uh) I enjoyed nature I enjoyed the (uh) my association with other youngsters and (uh) Did most of the things a male child would (uh) would enjoy doing.
Q: What about the elementary school that you went to, what kind of school was that?
A: I went to Tazewell Elementary and we started at that time not until you were seven years old and went to Tazewell Elementary School and (uh) went through Tazewell High School until I was a sophomore and then I graduated at Virginia High School in Bristol, Virginia. Can you tell me anything else you would like to know? (laugh)
Q: No, not on that, I'm surprised that you grew up in an area that was so close to where I grew up.
A: Is that right?
Q: Which was McDowell County in West Virginia, just across the line.
A: Well, I was born in West Virginia so (uh) and, and my family has a whole lot of roots in Bluefield and that area there.
Q: Well, I didn't realize that before the, before the interview, that there was really just a mountain between us there
A: Wasn't much was it.
A: Well that was a real grand area to grow up in and probably particularly at that time there was not too many distractions as far as things you could get into that weren't pretty wholesome
Q: What about your college education?
A: My college education, (uh) I went to East Tennessee State University with the idea of becoming a teacher, as I planned right out of high school. I was fortunate to have the influence of a very fine industrial arts teacher, that influenced me to go to East Tennessee State, which he graduated from and I did my undergraduate work at East Tennessee State.
Q: (uh) Did you do, what did you do your masters work in?
A: I did my masters work at Radford University, I took a few courses at Tech at that time that transferred to Radford University.
Q: How many years did you work as a teacher?
A: I worked five years as a teacher.
Q: And then, how many as a (pause) twenty, how many as a principal?
A: OK, I worked, I actually was assistant principal for two years and eight months and I was a director of instruction three years and one month and I was principal of Pulaski High School for four years and principal at Pulaski County High School for 18, so I was a principal for a total of twenty three years.
Q: If you could discuss experiences in your life that were like important decision points to go to school a minute ago you mentioned a teacher that encouraged you to go to school can you identify any other decisions points that (uh)?
A: That influenced me to go into maybe administration or into education?
Q: Into education, OK ?
A: Well I (uh), I had an excellent experience myself growing up in Tazewell with the high school being the center focal point and I expect that I attended everything that took place at the high school from all the athletic events to anything that took place for the (uh) for the defense drive because that was during the Second World War There were a lot of things that were sponsored through the high school that were a part of that and then I had another excellent experience in high school at Virginia High I I was an athlete and I,m sure that helped when I transferred as a junior to Virginia High School and I have identified with high schools all of my life
Q: Well, what circumstances surrounded your move to principalship from a from a teacher?
A: Well, (laugh) (cough) really, I was just chosen. I had no, I had at that time , I had no, I hadn't really done, I hadn't done any graduate work toward administration. I was a classroom teacher and I was chosen by the principal and the superintendent to take the position of a fellow teacher who had taught with me for the five years and started my masters degree work immediately and really, first, the first two years that I was assistant principal. I finished my MS degree at Radford University so (cough) as far as you know going into it I felt like that I had to take the opportunity to to go into administration. I never planned to go into it that early, I needed it financially, I could see it was a real well respected position at that time. I think it still is to a degree, but maybe its diminished some, and (uh) I, I felt that I had something to offer in administration.
Q: (uh) Did at (uh), from the length of time you were a principal, because you were a principal for a lot of years there, did your motives change any. Did motivation for going in, was partially money and that you felt you had something to offer, over time, did your motivation change?
A: Well, the only thing I think that really changed was probably dealing with society itself. Over that period of time, as I might have alluded to in my previous answer, I don,t believe that the position of principalship is possibly as respected today as it was when I first went into it. Although, I feel like it is still respected to a degree, that the school is run well, and it is, and there is the consideration that school is under good leadership. As far as other things that took place in regard to that period of time I really really felt like that I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to go from an existing small school of fourteen hundred students and be in on the planning of every phase of a comprehensive high school. That was a consolidation of two former high schools of fourteen hundred and ten or eleven hundred students. This gave me an opportunity that is rare as far as administration is concerned, and this really (uh), this really (uh) was I feel like a excellent opportunity for an administrator.
Q: Jumping off from that, can you, like, walk through the old high school for, you know, a visual picture of the old high school as compared to the new high school?
A: Well, the old high school of course, everything was lined up, down about three or four halls with classrooms on each side, an auditorium at the end, a traditional gymnasium at the other end of it. It was kind of molded to the top of a hill. It was built around a former elementary school, and it probably served the student population and the community well, up to a point, that it became overcrowded, and it did not have, did not have the space or the facilities to provide the type of experiences that the students probably needed.
Q: The new school is one hundred eighty degrees different from the old school.
A: Sure, it is. Sure it is.
Q: How would you describe it. From, you were in on the planning stage, from when you saw the architects plans or whatever, what were your reactions.
A: Well, of course we, we, we were fortunate in the fact that we had two years to actually do the planning, and to work with the architects, and that kind of thing. That it started out as an educational plan, which is I think the way to do it. And (uh), we (uh), we, we (uh) we were very idealistic (uh) in our thinking in regard to it. We tried to follow, as much as we possibly could, the modern research in regard to what was being effective, as far as schools were concerned at that time. And (uh) we, (uh) the architects, we went out of state to get architects, to (uh) or the influence of another fine university, the University of Tennessee to help in the designing of the building. Which we had an awful lot of opportunity to visit other areas and see what kind of facility they had there (uh). One of the(cough) overriding (uh) considerations for this school was that we wanted it to (uh) have an opportunity, we wanted it to include the opportunity for youngsters to have entry skills into the job market. So (uh) there was built a very extensive vocational building, in fact it probably was what one of the reasons the bond issue passed to the extent that it did. Because on one site, with two former high schools coming together, you could have a very, very fine vocational facility. And Pulaski County High School is true, was and is truly a comprehensive high school, as (uh) defined at the time that (uh) we were making the planning. And (uh) you know, I don't know how extensively you want me to describe it, but it was described along the lines of, of a departmental structure with (uh) academic pods for each of the areas, plus (uh) a excellent vocational wing, and (uh) all of the other (uh) usual programs. Plus (uh) you know, it (uh) the time that we went in there, we didn't realize that, that (uh) the extent that we were going to be able to (uh) realize (uh), for example radio and television production, such things as that, (uh) such things as, (uh) as (uh) the extent the, the extent that computer assisted instruction is, (uh) is now available to every student, almost in every subject, at the high school. At least we were going that way when I retired.
Q: (uh) You, you kind of alluded to this a minute ago, but how would you describe your personal philosophy of, of education? I think you were kind of, of referred to it in the construction of the school, the purpose of the school.
A: Well, you know, I, I (eh, eh,) its kind of a, my philosophy is not to different from what I feel like a broad philosophy of education is (uh). You want a in, in, in a broad sense (uh) it's (uh) taking care of the (uh) physical and emotional needs of youngsters. (uh) you want to develop these as extensively as you can and that's the, your (uh) that's the your academic your vocational programs and (uh) also through the very, very extensive activity programs that we were fortunate to have at the high schools that I was associated with.
Q: Has your philosophy, over the years?
A: No,no, I,I,I, you know, there might be other ways of approaching that philosophy of different (uh) different programs or (uh), for for example, you know, the computer assisted instruction as far as that is concerned. I don't think that in any way replaces the fine influence of a teacher but I think the instant (uh) the instant (uh) answers to (uh) questions and that kind of thing (uh) to (uh) reinforce learning immediately. I think that really has a (uh) has a real impact as far as education is concerned, a lot of possibilities there.
Q: OK, (uh)(cough) What experiences in your (uh) professional life influenced your management philosophy, as opposed to, I think, educational philosophy?
A: Well, (uh) I have, I have really been fortunate in the fact that (uh) I've had the backing of a (uh) and, and the cooperation of a, of a (uh) fine family, (uh) a wife and, (uh) and three sons and an adopted son (uh) four four sons, that (uh) I feel like that (uh) they have, they have given me (ah) the opportunity to (ah) to (ah) spend the kind of time that I needed to (ah) hopefully be a successful administrator and it is very very time consuming.
Q: Well, that, that's another question that I had intended to ask later but I'll go ahead and jump in now. How much, how many hours a week do you think you put in? (ah) Let's say in the last, the last year you were principal here, how many hours a week do you think you spent as principal?
A: Well, it-it varied, but usually my work day to a degree was from seven thirty to five thirty or six and often weekends. That didn't count being called out at night because of security reasons and that kind of thing to the school. Because, I am the nearest administrator, I was the nearest administrator to the school if there's anything happened after hours. But, (ah) in looking over, knowing that that was a possibility that would be asked, I'd say from sixty to sixty five hours. With (ah) the (ah) activities after school (ah) and (ah) in (ah) some of the follow up meetings, and that kind of thing, that were necessary as far as as administration was concerned.
Q: Ok. What techniques did you use to create a cli-, a climate for learning?
A: Well, (uh) I, you know, felt like the students have to be encouraged as much as they can. They have to be complimented as far as they're doing well. And, (uh) they, they realize if you're not being honest in regard to that but they, they appreciate that kind of thing and I think they also has to be consequences as to (uh) behavior that is not acceptable. And, we went through the usual kinds of things that you do as far as consequences and the usual kinds of things that you do as far as rewards are concerned. I think the esthetic appearance of our high school was excellent and has even improved in the years since I have been retired. I think that a clean school, a school that shows that the whole staff (ah) is concerned about the appearance, the cleanliness, the attitudes and that kind of thing, (uh) certainly help in the climate of the school. And, I think that the thrust of the school has got to be academic achievement, it has to be that (uh) this is really valued and that (uh) everyone realizes that (uh) the overriding (uh) goal or objective of the school is the achievement the (uh) the good achievement of (uh) academic preparation.
Q: Are there any unsuccessful attempts at at clim-,at (uh) experiment in climate building in the school? That,was there anything you tried that wasn't so successful?
A: Well, we first started there, it was before the concern about tobacco as much as it (uh) as it is now, from, from certainly what we know from medical research. So, (ah ah) to try to not be hounding students (ah) continually about the use of tobacco we provided, we provided five (ah) available smoking areas. This was (uh) unsuccessful, it (ah) it (ah) took away from the cleanliness of the school. The students (uh) violated it to an extent (uh) and (ah) smoked in places they shouldn't have, anyway. So, I would say that that was an unsuccessful attempt to try to (ah) to (ah) serve some students at that time and of course today we know, we know it was a very good (ah) successful attempt.
Q: Ah, What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: Well, I, I think teachers (ah) expect (ah) principals to, to back them. I think that (ah) they will (ah) be available and visible. I think that (uh) the (uh) teachers expect a principal to be knowledgeable and know what is going on. I think they expect a principal to encourage and recognize the good things that (ah) they're doing in the classroom and (ah) visit classrooms, if not for extensive stays at least to come when invited and sometimes when not invited and have an opportunity to (ah) to encourage (ah) the good things that go on in school. (uh) I think that the teachers expect the principal to interpret the programs of the school and (uh) particularly (uh) I feel like they expect a balance of this, recognition, (uh) to recognize everything (uh) from (uh) the fact of extra responsibilities and duties that studentss, that teachers have fulfill to outstanding recognitions that maybe come through the media and that kind of thing. So, (uh) that's some of the things that I feel like that (uh) teachers expect. An I , an I, I really do expect that they want the principal to be an instructional (uh) leader, (uh) this varies according to, I feel like, possibly the size of the school and the (uh) staff that is available, (uh) sometimes (uh) part of this is a delegated responsibility, to an assistant principal or (uh) or (uh) some lead teacher as far as this is concerned.
Q: What-what does it take to be an effective principal? What characteristics do you have to have to be an effective principal?
A: Well, I think you have to be highly visible. I think you got to be willing to do you paperwork and your correspondence at times other than during the school day. And, get out with (uh) the (uh) the teachers and the students and (ah) the custodians, uh the bus drivers, and (uh) an, an, be be very highly visible. (uh) This was my philosophy in regard to that caused, causing that sixty five hour week. (ah) So, (ah) I think that the principal needs to be, to be visible, I think he needs to be fair, I think he needs to be honest. I think he needs to grow professionally, (ah) through attending conferences, through (ah) being a part, as I was, of the Southern Association for twelve years. (ah) I think that (ah) the principal (ah) has to be willing to make hard decisions and I think after consulting with (uh) with (uh) staff, if that is appropriate with the problem or situation that arises. (ah) But, I feel, like that, (ah) the hard decisions have to be made as, as quickly as possible because they (uh) they mushroom into (uh) something they didn't start out to be or not quite as complicated as they started to be. I think the (uh) principal has to to (ah) be able to anticipate things. (ah) From his experienced background, (uh) and (uh) have a feel for the school well enough that you can anticipate things that you can, you can avoid.
Q: What (ah) expectations do you think that say the school board, the superintendent, your employers, would have for a principal? I'm think in terms of when you first started (ah) as a principal, the expectations they would have of you as compared to the expectations they would have of you in your most recent years as a principal. Is there a change there?
A: Well, I think the expectations when I started were, I, I, almost describe it for the first years as, (uh) such a limited staff, as far as administration was concerned. With a growing student body, almost by leaps and bounds, that (uh) you found yourself almost fighting fires, to (ah) to an extent there were just not the the amount of personnel, just, did not keep up with the responsibilities that were thrust on schools at that time. The, (ah) as compared to my last experiences as an administrator, I feel like that we (uh) we had adequate staff. I feel like that (uh) that it gave us an opportunity to (uh) think through our curriculum and think through our procedure for handling (uh) different situations that arrived in the school, (ah) in the school setting, (uh) the school environment. (uh) I think that (uh) I think that it was realized that the administration (uh) needed to (ah) to have the kind of help that could be delegated and particularly, you know, the school that I retired from had approximately three times the number of students that I had when we started. I was very fortunate in the fact that I did have assistants who (uh) had very strong (uh) very strong experiences in (uh) areas that were necessary to, I feel like, to run a very effective school.
Q: Okay, I wanted to follow up on basically the same question that I think you answered a minute ago about personal leadership, when you said you have to be visible and you have to be there seeing the people, and so forth. Is there a technique that worked really well for you when you had to make a decision or you were trying relate with people? Are there any special techniques that you used, other than being personally available?
A: Well no. The technique that I felt like I used in solving most problems was trying to . . . I used my assistant principals as a sounding board a great deal. To get another viewpoint and sometimes I had already made the decision the way I was going to approach a particular situation, but sometimes after consulting with assistant principals that I admired as far as their experiences were concerned, sometimes I would alter the approach completely, as far as this was concerned.
Q: Well, I think you gave a better answer than I gave a question on that, I was trying to phrase that in a way that . . .
A: Well maybe I didn't answer it the way. . .
Q: No, you answered it in exactly the way that I was antici. . . intending so. . .
A: Well good, (Laugh) (cough)
Q: There are those who argue that more often than not central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue? If you were king what changes would you make in the typical system wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Well, I feel that there needs to be a broad system wide set of expectations or regulations or this kind of thing, but I really feel like that the closer you can get to the students and to the teachers that as far as the operation of an individual school the better off you are. I really was impressed in some of my final years in administration that the movement was toward school based management of resources, this kind of thing because I really do feel like the majority of principals and staff are more capable of making decisions as to where the resources or the emphasis needs to be made. And, maybe some individual type rules or regulations need to be addressed for that particular school for the age group of the students being served, or that kind of thing.
Q: If you were advising a person was considering an administrative job, what would your advice be?
A: Well, I , I think very strongly that (uh), (uh), a person should know everything that they possibly can about a school as a classroom teacher if they ever expect to be an administer. My own experience (uh) I took up tickets without being paid for athletic events. I (uh) (uh) I did everything that I could and even volunteered for some things (uh) not at that time that thinking about (uh) that much about administration but as I said I just, I just liked the association with (uh) with schools and that was probably why I was recognized (uh) to administration from that. But I think (uh), I think mentorships are really great. I think if you can go through the experience of an assistant principal those are great. (Uh) if they're not that then a person should try to avail themselves of (uh) of a (uh), of ... of some experience that gives the true to life (uh) responsibilities of an administrator before they have the full responsibility. We call them practicums.
A: And during my time as administrator (uh), I had 5 that (uh) I remember specifically that went through practicums as a part of preparation for administration.
Q: You've prompted another question that I intended to ask in a few moments but (uh) You, you think the idea of a mentorship is a good idea?
A: I think its an excellent idea..
Q: Did you have someone who was a mentor whether officially or kind of unofficially . . . someone you studied?
A: Well, if I had to name a mentor as far as my own experience was concerned I don't think it might have been addressed that way at that time, but I had an excellent superintendent for all the years that I was (uh) that , that well for the majority of the years that I was an administrator. We thought alike to a great extent, and I never questioned the fact that I would (uh) be (uh) supported and (uh) I would be given advice. (Uh) that, there was a lot of security in the fact that (uh) this man (uh) really respected me and I respected him (uh) greatly, and (uh) I think that that influence had a great effect on whatever success I might have had as an administrator.
Q: Some people think that (uh) . . . we mentioned this a moment ago too. . . some people think that a principal should be the instructional leader and some people think the principal should be a manager, some have even suggested that it be someone with business management. (Uh) Which side do you come down on and why?
A: . Well I think you have to be a manager. I think you have to be a manager. I think the school needs and I think that needs to be in the hands of the leader who is the principal. (Uh) instructional leadership I tried to split my time as much as I could , but I was very fortunate in most of the period of time that I was in administration to have (uh) excellent people who I could delegate some of that responsibility to. I did not want to feel that I had the overall responsibility for the instructional program because that's something that you do not want to leave to chance and I thought it was too important to (uh) to feel like that I would (uh) that I would try to dove the tail that in with all the management kinds of things that have to take place particularly in the large school that I was principal of.
Q: Uhm, What would describe as the ideal requirements for principal certification?
A: Well, again I go back to the fact that I think there ought to be a mentorship or somewhere there where ah you had the opportunity to know about the real world of the principal ship without having thrust upon you (uh) the (uh) the the very seriousness of ah decision making and that kind of thing. (Uh), I think that as far as I'm concerned a principal has to have a course in law and he has to keep up with law ah because in this day of litigation and that kind of thing (uh) that has got to be a preparation. Public relations is another fine graduate course that I feel like all principals should have. Curriculum development is one that you've got to have if you're going to as effective as you should be in your instructional program. Ah, . . . I, I can't think of, you know, anything else that I feel like that.
A: Well, I think, I think, I really think, I really think, that (uh) the (uh) traditional preparation and and (uh) and (uh) that is provided by the nearby colleges I think its, I think its very adequate I think that coupled with the mentorship or assistant principalship and that kind of thing I think that prepares a person to be an administrator.
Q: (Uh), Its said that principals should be active in community affairs, and I, I know you were, what, (uh) involvement did you have in civic groups? Which groups, which groups were you a member of and which ones do you think had the most influence on the school?
A: Well, I belong to Ruritan which is a rural organization, and that was for several years in my early administration and I became a member of the Rotary Club. I was a member of that for many years, and I feel like the Rotary Club really influenced or supported the school very extensively through scholarships, through contributions to different activities, through, on occasions, supplying a few speakers to school organizations, through providing training programs in leadership for some of the students in student government. Providing experiences in government assimilation activities and that kind of thing.
Q: Okay, it is said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement has frequently been cited, particularly in recent years, as declining and it needs to be developed. What's you view on the issue of parent involvement in schools?
A: Well, I, probably that's one of most weak, the weakest parts of my administration. I started out with a small high school with a parent teacher association and it might have been my fault, it might have been the fault of the community we served but my teachers, because I felt like teachers ought to be there, my teachers out numbered the parents, that were there so many times that I felt like that if I wanted to have a faculty meeting, or that kind of thing, that was in my prerogative and we didn't have to call it the PTA. I think that where these are successful, and I think they're much more successful parent teacher associations at the elementary and maybe middle school level, I feel like at the high school level parent teacher conferences, booster clubs, the opportunity for the principal to meet with groups in the community to have coffees or that kind of thing in the school, and invite civil leaders in, parents and this kind of thing. I think that certainly would be the way to go and maybe its time to have parent teacher associations again. I, I never really that impressed with parent teacher associations. I was president of a PTA when my own sons were younger and I was very disappointed in the turnout, and maybe again it was the kind of programming that took place but I felt like the programs that were successful with PTAs when they were in existence were those that involved student performances and that's the kind of thing that also appeals to the booster clubs.
Q: Did you know of or did you ever try a . . . have a plan for trying to involve parents of students who were not active say for activities? Something through the PTA to bring in nonparticipating parents.
A: No, probably did not. I probably did not.
Q: There's a lot of discussion about career ladders, and differential pay and merit pay, how do you feel about merit pay and differential pay? And, (uh) have you had any involvement with-
A: I really have not had, I really haven't had any involvement. Our school division that I served really discussed this extensively form time to time. But, it did not seem to be something that was, that have been successful with the school systems that had tried it. I do feel like that people should be paid for excellent jobs that they do and if there is a way to provide for merit pay on the basis of outstanding performances, I think the good teachers should certainly receive pay. During my administration I felt like teachers who contributed to the activity programs in the form of sponsorship and coaching and that kind of thing, should receive extra recognition and pay and we finally achieved that during some of the latter time that ((uh)) latter years that I was in administration but I certainly, if there was an equitable way to do it and not have become a morale problem, I would certainly like to see a successful merit pay type of operation as far as a school division is concerned.
Q: What do you think would be the biggest problem in trying to get merit pay? Or the biggest, maybe problem, in the merit pay system, either way?
A: Well, probably in evaluating what is, what really is, what the criteria for a person being recognized as outstanding from a monetary standpoint or that kind of thing.
Q: I think the controversy recently centered on performance testing to determine who should get merit pay and critics would say that the person who gets the best students will have the best performance, and maybe the teacher who has the worst students should get the best performance. So how would you evaluate what was a good teacher? Do you have, do you have. . .how would you do it, how would you evaluate what was a good teacher?
A: Well, I think that the teacher who gets the best students they've got to take them beyond what is expected of any kind of average student. I think the teacher who wrestles with those that probably are, that require more different kinds of activities, and that kind of thing, to keep them interested, and that kind of thing. I really feel like that possibly I would lean toward that teacher, because I feel like that that is hard teaching. I feel like that the top of the spectrum, as far as ability is concerned, and that kind of thing, sometimes you can make the assignments and get out of their way and you can really have some successes there.
Q: Okay, there's a related question although it doesn't seem related perhaps. Teacher dismissals, if a teacher is not performing satisfactorily, how could you and should you handle that?
A: Well, I think you have the responsibility of,. . . the person had the motivation to come into the field to begin with, I think you have the responsibility to do everything you possibly can in the way of help and support and talking to them. And, pretty directly as to what is expected, what they are not, what performances are falling short and give them the support whether it be studies or whether it be maybe even a mentorship in their department or something of this nature to help and support them. I think ultimately, there are some people that probably have, like even in business that probably have gotten into areas that they're not suited for and I don't feel that you can continue to have students suffer or being neglected in a program that is very vital to them. If the teacher, because of some reason, is misplaced as far as their career goal or that kind of thing or something that maybe happened after they came into the field that caused them to be non productive. I think eventually, after all or quite a few attempts have been made and that kind of thing there has to be a process of termination.
Q: We're continuing our discussion of the features and characteristics of a successful school which Mr. Wilson has already addressed and now we're going to speak of the features and characteristics of schools which are not successful. What is it that you think, I know you've done a lot of observations in schools, what makes a school have problems?
A: Well, uh Roger I think it would kind of be a reverse of the things that make for a strong school. Probably one of them is a large staff turnover, that would indicate that there might be a problems, that teachers were not happy with the school environment, or the the administration, or the community or whatever. I think that uh its probably that its a school where students do not get along with each other, or respect each other. A school where there's not respect for the teachers in the classroom. Its probably a school which does not have adequate community support that is necessary for a strong school and its probably a school that the parents do not support to the extent that they should, the programs and that kind of thing, for one reason or another.
Q: The schools have been getting larger and larger in recent years and you were at a middle sized school early in your principalship and then you were at a large school. What are your views of the phenomena in the increase in the size of schools?
A: Well, . . . is, is that?
Q: What do you think would be the ideal size for a school?
A: Ok, well, I think that a school that can offer most of the opportunities for youngsters, those things academically and activity wise, and that kind of thing, is probably a school from 800 to 1000. Keeping the small atmosphere and the attributes and the things in a small environment and still have the programs that fit students needs. And particularly the special education and programs that challenge the gifted and talented. I think they can be offered in a school of 800 to 1000, uh that would be my answer to an ideal school.
Q: What about the recent growth in special programs and special students the LD programs and the talented and gifted programs and so forth? In your experience, in special student services and so forth, did you have, did you see the trend as being a good trend, to have special programs for students or would you rather see students put into mainstream classrooms?
A: Well, I really feel like that . . . that possibly the normal behavior of youngsters has, was expected in my early administration is not quite as expected as it once was. I feel like that possibly that students, to a degree, have not been expected to have normal behavior as much as they should. I realize that there are students who have special problems that possibly need to have extra attention and that kind of thing. An its a very expensive operation with small pupil teacher ratios but public education has been expected, and probably rightfully so, to provide a program for all students. No matter what their abilities and talents are, whether they're talented and gifted or whether they're at the other end of the spectrum, needing trainable attention or educational deficiency attention or that kind thing, I think as long as they're provided for to some degree in a segregated situation to meet their particular needs, that they probably ought to be mainstreamed as much as possible out of that. That is my answer.
Q: Okay. Salaries and compensation have really changed a lot since you entered the (uh), what are your recollections of the compensation at the school system when you started in your early years as a principal and the development since then.
A: Well, (UH) of course as a classroom teacher, I started out with, at $4,000, at that time the principal as I remember it, was making $8000, which would have been twice what a first year teacher was making at that time. Of course (uh) that kind of money, or that amount of money bought a lot more at that time too, when you think about the fact that it was in 1958, (uh) but I really don't feel like that in education whether its teachers or whether its administration, that its kept pace with the expectations that are put on schools and particular are put on administrators. I don't think its kept pace with business, and I don't think its kept pace with other governmental agencies as far as this is concerned. Although I feel like that our school division, probably compensated us, probably in comparison to other school divisions, probably pretty adequately. And (uh), . . . there was progress.
Q: Most systems, and all all systems in Virginia, have continuing contract system. Did they have a tenure system when you started, and do you think they should have a tenure system?
A: No, there was no such thing as a tenure sys . . . when I cam into administration and during some part of that early time, with the increase in student enrollment, and that kind of thing, it was, you felt fortunate sometimes, and in particular in some other school divisions, we were fortunate in ours that we had two nearby colleges that we could draw from, but in some school divisions at that time that it was a problem to just to get a certified teacher or just a teacher that was willing to work actively with youngsters in a classroom There was no tenure, teachers were expected to perform well, to serve students well, and have a very active instructional program and if they didn't over a period of time, there was probably not a whole lot of effort made to help them improve, or that kind of thing. There was just an agreement that you move on to something else or another school system or that kind of thing. I think, I think 3, I think the Virginia system is adequate I think it protects both the school division as far as providing a teacher core. I think that 3 years of nontenured experience where there is close observation and that kind of thing should be adequate, it should be long enough to decide whether a teacher is a value to the school system, and then they should have some protection in regard to their employment, and that kind of thing with the division.
Q: The next question is, is (uh) more related to philosophy, I guess, of education in the sense of historical philosophy, is that we've always had a commitment to free universal education. What are your views on the concept, and feelings of the practicality of such an approach in this day and age? Do you think it has changed from when . . .?
A: Well, I think, I think a free public education has made our country what it is today. I think that an educated citizenry certainly makes for a more productive country and a more subtle country as far as this is concerned. It makes for, it certainly makes for better communication and cooperation in so many things that are so important as far as society is concerned. I do believe that there has to be a challenge for gifted and talented students. I feel like they need to be drawn out into programs where they can be challenged maybe beyond what is the norm. And, (uh) so many of the foreign countries that do this (uh) to the extent that it might be detrimental to the overall society but I think we have to do some of this in our country to, (uh) to remain strong and viable and have the kind of people who can be leaders, the kind of people who can press us forward as far as technology and all of these kinds of things. I think you have to have, and I think you have to be challenged, I think they've got to have instruction and be given (uh) the opportunity to be creative and all of these kinds of things.
Q: So you would basically support the idea of magnet schools?
A: Yes, I would. Yes, I would.
Q: Okay, what about the opposite end of the spectrum? What about the students who perhaps are not your best students, (uh) maybe students you would not want in your school?
A: Well, I . . . The other end of the spectrum, I, I would've like to have had an alternative education program. With a smaller setting, particularly in a school of 2400 students, some students, I feel like, performed so much better or maybe if there was a smaller pupil teacher ration maybe with drop (uh) maybe taken out at least temporarily, until they mature and they can cope with the larger situation and have an instruction program more tailored to their ability and needs.
Q: Okay, okay, a lot of people complain about the (uh) principals complain about the amount of paper work and how complicated and bureaucratic its become. What are your views on that?
A: Well, (uh) I never, I never was one to enjoy paper work and I did it, I think I did it adequately but it wasn't something that was the most sought after thing as far as administration for me. It was the kind of thing I did outside of the school day. I felt like, as I've said in some of the previous questions I felt like I needed to be visible during the school day, to be available to individual teachers and groups of teachers and students, custodians, bus drivers, parents and those kinds of things that I felt like had to come first. But, it did make for a long school day, to take care of the paperwork. And paperwork and organization, is, is, some of it is necessary, the thing I detested were those things that I felt were going to land in a file somewhere just because some bureaucratic system needed another piece of paper to fall back on if they needed it, needed one piece in ten years, that kind of thing.
Q: Now that, that . . .
Q: You're then . . . This is a repeat of something that we hit earlier, but I want to make sure. You tried to do your instructional human relations part during the school day and tried to get your management, and so forth, part after school and at the end of the school day. So they wouldn't interfere you tried to separate the two?
A: AS much, as much as possible, I really, I really accept, you know, for telephone conversations and that kind of thing, I was fortunate enough that I could be reached just about anywhere that I would be in the building in the school that I retired from. That was not true when I first started. One telephone line to a school but I did take care of telephone calls and that kind of thing (uh) as as rapidly as I could. Rarely ever tried to leave one or attempted to leave one off until after the school day, because I felt that that kind of things needed to be taken care of as promptly as possible. But, I did take care of my correspondence and my plans for the next day and all of those kinds of things after school day was completed.
Q: If there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to make it a little bit more efficient and effective, what would those three things be?
A: I feel like the movement towards school based management is one of the things that I feel like has a whole lot of potential. I feel like I would have enjoyed that and I had a very short experience with that in the school division that I retired from. I think you need to cut the paper work down to what is necessary and I realize that some of it is necessary. And, (uh) I was really impressed with computer assisted instruction, and the use of technology and I think this will make teaching more desirable. I think that teachers will be able to do things that I think they always wished they had the time to do. I think that technology needs to be utilized as much as possible in the field of public education.
Q: Okay, is that your response to then to the question about changes in curriculum, as opposed to administration. If you could make three changes in curriculum?
A: (uh) . . . Well, part of that, part of that would be. I think the use of computers in the classroom for certain, particularly rote memory kinds of things, and that kind of thing, I think that frees the teacher up to to (uh) to personalize, and that kind of thing, and give them time to probably work with individual kinds of problems the students would have (uh). . .
Q: What else might you change though, on curriculum?
A: On curriculum, (cough) I think that there really needs to be a strong emphasis as far as the basic learning tools. I think we spread ourselves pretty thin as far as public schools and what is expected of us, as far as teaching family life education, and all of the other kinds of things that have been thrust on schools. I really feel like there needs to be a strong emphasis on the necessary core of learning kinds of activities and I think we're getting back to that to a degree. At my retirement, upon my retirement, (uh) > . . . I can't . . . you know, those, those are kinds of thing I feel like as far as curriculum is concerned.
Q: Okay, you have already alluded to your relationship with the superintendent, which I had intended to ask you but (uh) at this point, but we'll just switch to your relationship with the school board, especially in Virginia, where we have appointed school boards and they're switching now to elected school boards in this county. What about the relations of the principal to the school board or your relationship with your school board?
A: Well, most of my relationship with my school board particularly during the long tenure of the superintendent that I had for so many years was probably through the superintendent. We were fortunate that we had a lot of stability as far as school board was concerned. I think they were really dedicated people, I think they were very supportive of both high schools that I was principal of and they pretty well were willing to let the superintendent operate the schools and they (uh) they interfered with the operation of the individual schools very rarely and I think they spoke as a body I think they made their decisions as a body and I think they relied very strongly on making a good decision as to who their superintendent was and then I think they relied very strongly who that superintendent recommended for principals in our school division.
Q: That is related to the question maybe, which I had not planned to ask, but could, would you tend to agree with the philosophy that you hire the best possible person and then let they do what you hired them to do?
A: (unintelligible) I think you, if possible, you, and we were very fortunate in this school division in the fact that there were, was an opportunity to to observe student teachers, because of the strong involvement with the universities and the student teacher program, so you, of course I'm speaking primarily of teachers at that point (uh) I really feel like that during the later years that I was an administration, that we should have had in the county more of a training program for administrators and that kind of thing, because we were getting more elderly, the whole core of principals and supervisors and I feel like at a point we definitely have been providing more training and mentorships and that kind of thing for our own people. Because I felt like that we, to some extent, we didn't do justice to the people we had in the county that were very capable of taking over some of the administrative positions that came about in 1991 when there were a number of administrators that retired.
Q: Okay, (uh) I'm going to switch tacks almost pretty drastically here and talk about cultural diversity and challenges that's presented. I know that you were a teacher and a principal during the time of a lot of interest and concern> You had thing going on like integration, and a change from being a rural county, influx of people who were not old line people, so to speak, in the county, new people coming in for industry and so forth. What kind of challenges did that present you?
A: I really feel like that we had the respect in the two schools that I was an administrator of in the county of the black minority. Which was the only real minority culture that we had in the county, usually about 8 per cent which is a low percentage. I feel like that the early days of integration went very smooth which would have been probably 1962 and I feel like that the black student was accepted and there were some of the national upheavals, and that kind of thing, that affected attitude of minorities from time to time. Which was rightfully so, it probably should have. I feel like that there was probably a fight between a black and a white youngster that it was blown out of proportion as far as the racial connotation. If two, if two white youngsters, Caucasian youngsters, had a fight it was just a fight, it was, you know, that was the way it was looked at, but if there were some sides taken in regard to this with even the small percentage and there was some ill feeling, to some degree, among the races when a fight took place maybe because of how it turned out or the way it was handled by the administratively, or that kind of thing. And (uh), you were probably in that situation you were going to be wrong 50 percent, with 50 percent of the, of the 50 percent of the time you had to make a decision in regard to it.
Q: There has been a small number of, in recent years, of immigrants from Vietnam and Chinese, sometimes having language problems, and problems adapting. Did this ever present a real problem?
A: There wasn't, there really weren't that many. But, usually there was an opportunity to have that student scheduled and assigned to someone who had the patience and understood the language enough that there could be an interpretation if the student was having a problem. We did not have programs as such for English as a second language or that kind of thing. But, I think that primarily, the small number of students were taken care of. I realize that in other areas of the country that there probably had, it probably created situations where certainly had to be special programs designed for the language barriers and that kind of thing.
Q: I think you were saying that you were lucky in having a student who eased the way for you?
A: Right, right, with (uh) if. . .it was a two way kind of thing, if he found out that there was a problem from the black community or a dissatisfaction with the school operation. The way a black youngster or blacks in general were being handled, he addressed to that to me personally, and I certainly tried to, with the assistance of the staff, to go the root of the situation, and try to solve it. On the other hand, we would call on him if there was a situation where a particular youngster or particular groups of youngsters were having problems behavior wise or weren't taking their school experiences seriously enough, then he could usually go to the family and, and, and, see that changes were made or that (uh) that things were addressed and it was a good situation.
Q: It has been said by some people that standardized test can provide a way to improve instruction and (uh) and testing can even be used to improve the quality of instruction and the instructional program. How do you feel about standardized tests?
A: Well, standardized tests, if they're going to be beneficial to the instructional program, the results are going to have to be used. They've got to be used to address where the weaknesses are, what emphasis needs to be made, as far as weaknesses on the part of individual students or groups of students. And, through the years, I guess, there has been some disappointment, on my part, about the time involved in standardized tests. If there was not then a parallel amount of time to interpret them and actually incorporate the results into a instructional program that addressed some of the things that were identified by standardized tests. I feel like there probably has to be some standardized tests to indicate the outcomes of how successful individual schools or school divisions are, or that kind of thing. But I think, my feeling is, standardized tests the overriding value has to be, as far as incorporating or revising, or that kind of thing, the curriculum experiences of the youngsters. Otherwise they're not worth the time.
Q: And the money/ (laugh]
A: Right, right.
Q: Some of the other questions that I had structured to ask, you've already answered in some of your others. There are some questions about the pressure on you as a principal on a daily basis, and I curious as to how you cope with the pressure on a day to day basis. And if you would share any particularly tough decision you had to make.
A: Well, I guess one of the frustrating things about administration was that you would sit down on the previous day or you would sit down maybe at night after supper and you would plan your day, you would plan your agenda for the next day and then you would realize at the end of that day you hadn't touched on one item in regard to it because of things that came about during a particular day and this happened often. Due to the fact that I felt like, as an administrator, that I needed to know what was going on I needed to be a part of some assistant principals decisions and there were situations having to do with individual students, situations that had to be addressed to parents, and that kind of thing, you realize at the end of the day that you hadn't really accomplished what you had set out for. So, in the principalship, you have to be flexible, you've got to understand those kinds of things are going to happen. Now, maybe I got off the subject as far as addressing exactly what you wanted in regard. . .
Q: No, this is
A: Again, I feel an administrator needs to be high profile during the school day and the best of plans may be washed out on a particular day.
Q: I think, I also intended the question to (uh). . . Was there anything that you could do to relieve stress of the job and anxiety that built up in the job in the , possibly brought on in the things you were describing.
A: Well, I think one of the first things is good, the support of family and you know, it was important to me as to how may wife's day had been. What my children had been involved in and giving me a divergence as far as that is concerned. I had a very strong hobby, that I would retreat too and school was a good place to do it on occasions and that had to do with my love of woodworking. By my . . .it was my hobby, it was one of the things that was incorporated in my under school experiences as far as my BS degree in industrial arts. So sometimes I would retreat to the school shop and tinker around with wood or that kind of thing, that gave me a divergence and (uh) I always really felt like that my love of school activities, to see students performing, performing well, and that kind of thing, I felt that was a divergence that helped to relieve some of the stress as well as the other things that I mentioned.
Q: Okay. What was the role of you personal code of ethics in relation to you job; in relation to being principal? How you applied it?
A: Well, a sense of fairness, a sense of honesty, and I think you have to be a leader by example, I think you have to be a model for what you want out of people. You've got to lead the way in regard to that. And it is as much as what you do and what you model as what you say. I think out of my staff and that kind of thing, I was willing to dedicate up to make assignments with expectations and really to give strong backing to things that were delegated to staff and assistant principals. I think that sometimes our expectations of human behavior can be excessive. (Laugh) In regard to working with the many different people you work with in administration, so I think you have to be flexible in regard to that. I think you have got to respect research, and I think that you incorporate that as much as you possible can in the programs of the school and I feel like that everyone appreciates recognition for their accomplishments, whether it be students, whether it be from the staff from custodian through assistant principal and I think that also the accomplishments of your school board and the accomplishments of your superintendent and the backing that they get, I feel like that too often we feel we like it stops in the individual schools but we were fortunate in the school system that I retired from that we had very very competent people in the school board office that provided a great deal of support to our individual school.
Q: Okay, Is there any. . . In you preparation to be a principal is there anything that you can look at and say that it was extremely useful, or anything that was maybe not so useful in your training. Something that you can . . .
A: Well, those five years in teaching. You know, I would have to say first I really feel like two years in the Marine Corps was certainly helped to mature me after my high school experience, I mean after my college experience. I think that being assistant principal for two years and eight months certainly helped as far as preparing me for the principalship. I think being the director of instruction certainly helped me to appreciate more the instructional program and prepared me more to be an instructional leader as much as I felt like I had to be an instructional leader. I felt like that in my early experiences, that there was a program that could have continued to help not only me but other principals in the area. And, that was a monthly meeting of the District M principals and assistant principals in the District M which serves the same as the VEA when administrators were expelled, to a degree, from the Virginia Education Association, the , those meeting were terminated, and I really, really felt like that in my early experiences the sharing of ideas from other schools, that worked, the things that could be anticipated, and that kind of thing was very, very strong help. I felt like graduate classes such as school law, administration, curriculum, scheduling and that kind of thing I felt like they were very good. I felt like the graduate programs were very good, and I called on them quite often. I felt like (cough) that my twelve years with the southern association and having an opportunity to visit other schools and see very fine programs and programs that needed to be improved and my association with other members of the association committee who were everything form laymen to people from the state department of education, superintendents and quite a few other principals this was something that was very helpful to me and on the other end of it, at the time that I went through my formal preparation for administration you were required to have a minor and my minor was psychology. There were many things that I felt like were a part of that minor that were of no benefit whatsoever, and I have not seen a use for them. Although some understanding of human behavior and that kind of thing is very necessary. But, I felt like that on the other hand, I felt like some of that time could have been spent on some other kinds of preparation and it would maybe be more beneficial to me.
Q: Is that maybe a suggestion for the universities to or in relation to that questions, of things they could do to improve their instruction. If you could make a recommendation to the colleges and universities to do more of something or less of something.
A: Well, I think particularly, with the emphasis on including parents on the decision making and that kind of thing the importance of how to go about this, and the PR involved and that kind of thing, I think, as much help as you could have on improving on the school climate ways to go about that. There are some of the practitioners that I feel like the colleges could utilize, that have run or are running very successful schools as far as school climate is concerned that could be brought in to share their ideas with prospective administrators and administrators that are even practicing would be beneficial. I emphasize that the colleges need to continue to emphasize the importance in the preparation in understanding school law to keep principals out of trouble. I think that some, either one way or another, the colleges be a part of that, and I mentioned this several times, a mentor program and I feel like exposure to practicing administrators would be very beneficial to the college community because I feel like that in some cases some things are taught in isolation to the real world and what is involved in public education today.
Q: Reading into your response, would you like to have some kind of seminar type situation where you could get together with other principals and talk about problems and so forth. Do you think that would be beneficial?
A: Oh yeah, the program that I mentioned that was so beneficial when I first went into administration when assistant principal and principal as well, where principals got together over a meal and had a guest speaker and it always ended with a swap shop of ideas as to what was working in curriculum, what was working in discipline, what was working in athletic programs, what was working in PR and that kind of thing, kind of seminar type situation, and I missed that very greatly as the District M and we should have, as administrators we should have tried to continue that, and I did miss that.
Q: I thought that was what you were saying, and I remember District M and the situation.
A: That was along about the time you first came into education wasn't it?
Q: Right, right, at that time I was really active in the education association and the break up of District M eventually was one of the reasons, for a while, I took a sabbatical from the education association. Now that you have had some time to reflect your career, is there anything that you would like to share that you would consider to be the administrative strengths and weaknesses.
A: Well . . . I think the school administrator is still respected to (uh) , not to the degree that it once was, but I feel like that there was a time during the seventies that any position of leadership was somewhat questioned and I don't think that the school administrator position has (uh) been revitalized as far as respect is concerned, to the degree that it once was, as far as advice is concerned, I feel, I have felt since I have retired, and it goes back to some of the questions that I have already answered, I feel like that a person that intends to go into public education administration they should realize that they're have to remain flexible. I feel like they're going to have be a model for what they want to accomplish and what they feel like is important in education. I think they've got to be willing to make the hard decisions after they have, after as much thought as possible, after as much advice as they feel like is necessary, but to make those hard decisions as soon as possible. I think, I mentioned that you have to anticipate problems and do what you can to head them off. I think you have to communicate well and often. You have to tell the schools story and sometimes if the positive aspects of your school doesn't come out from the principal, then they're not going to come out at all. I think you've got to have a world of patience, I think you got to be a good listener, and I think you have to value the ideas of staff, other people, and very often students, as far as that is concerned. I think you've got to have a hobby, I think you got to be able to get away from it and if possible, leave it on your desk, not take it home with you, but that is very, very difficult, because there are telephone calls at home having to do with problems and mistakes you might have made during the day. I think it certainly helps if you can maintain, but I don't think you can go all out at this and I don't think . . . it happens to a degree by the thing you stand for but you need to be respected by your teachers and your students and staff and I always felt like that I wanted to be receptive to the ideas of the total staff from cafeteria workers, the supervisors from the central office that could be of help to me. I think you've got to be willing to grow professionally, I think you've got to evaluate what research has to offer and what it can do for you. I think that you've got use technology, you personally and you got to use it in your school as much as you possibly can. I saw this trend coming on, that it can be a great vehicle for personal improvement and save some time and at the same time be of a great aid to your instructional program. I think you've got to know what's going on in the school. I think you've got to spend time doing this and talking to individuals and observing what's going on. It's the reason I never got busy during school lunch, I wanted to be out with teachers and I wanted to be with students when they weren't under the direct supervision of other staff. I think you've know and be involved with curriculum and expect the students to grow in their academic achievement.
Q: If you were to grade your performance as a principal what do you think you would give yourself a good grade in? What were your strengths? What do you get an A in?
A: Well, I think it was fairness. I think it was honesty. I think I modeled what I wanted. I think I tried to be available. I think I tried to consider the feelings of people before I made decisions, even if sometimes there. . . there's one thing you have to recognize as a principal, there's a lot of times you're going wrong in the eyes of the people you serve, either students, parents, superintendents, school board or whoever. I feel like that I was willing to give the time that my position needed. I feel like that I was supportive of activities, I attended as many as I possibly could. I took my turn at supervision, plus I went to a lot of things I had no supervision responsibility. I think I was available to parents. I think that I was , I think I was around in this school division long enough that people knew me as well as I think I knew the community and that led to a confidence and a respect.
Q: If you had to say you had a weakness.
A: If I had . . .the weakness that I feel, and I feel it right now, is that of communication. I felt like, I've always felt like to a degree, that my speaking, (uh) that my writing, and my communication skills as an administrator were not what I would have liked for them to have been. And, I think that is a strong attribute for those administrators who have it.
Q: That is one of the characteristics, that we have been addressing in class. The features, and one that you just mentioned is modeling and communication and so forth, and the ability to communicate the idea and the expectation. I've asked you all these questions and we've been talking here for about an hour and forty five minutes. Is there anything that I've left out, that I've not asked that you'd like to say.
A: No, its pretty, its a pretty comprehensive interview as far as the administration is concerned. I appreciate the opportunity to express myself in regard to the administration, the field of administration. I enjoyed it, I think I was very fortunate to have the experiences that I did in it. Since retiring and going back part time as a classroom teacher, I really do respect the position and what teachers do for schools. I think the first thing that schools are all about is to serve students. But, I think, that the people who accomplish the most for the schools is when the teacher closes that door and sits down with a group of students to teach a certain discipline and to teach it well and to have an opportunity to influence the lives of students in a positive way in a particular discipline that they're working on.
Q: Good thought.
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