| Back to "W" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |
Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background - your childhood interests and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born and reared in eastern North Carolina, in the city of Tarboro. It is about 72 miles east of the state capitol. I have one older sister and one younger sister. Presently, my mother is the only parent left that is living, my daddy died in 1990. While growing up, I grew up within a segregated society and attended a segregated 1-12 union school. In school, I was active in sports, baseball was my love. As an elementary and junior high student, 8th and 9th grade, I began to become very interested in football. After that in high school, I pursued that very vigorously to the extent that I had a football scholarships to college. But my mother was very terrified of me playing football in college so that ruled that out. But I had what I considered to be, at that time, a happy childhood. There were ups and downs in my growing up that effected the family because of society or factors that impacted us as a race of people at that time. But having over come that, I feel very good about my childhood in retrospect by growing up in eastern North Carolina, and about the efforts that my parents made to give me all that they could give me.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher? a principal? Which aspects of your professional training best prepared you for the principalship? Which training experiences were least useful?
A: I enrolled in college in 1962 at North Carolina A&T State University and my major was Industrial Arts Education. It was primarily Industrial Arts Education because of the interest that I had in vocational courses in school and the vocation of carpentry instructor that sort of served a mentor for me. During the summer, I worked with him as a carpenter and that was a natural off shoot in terms of a major in college. I graduated from college in 1967 and I went into the military for three years on active duty. I returned to teaching in 1970 and I taught for three years, from 1970 to 1974. Then I obtained a position as an assistant principal in the same school system, Guilford County. From there and three years later to a principalship and then 17 consecutive years in the principalship at the elementary school level. With respect to professional training that best prepared me for principalship, I think it is two-fold. The administrative program that I had at A&T gave me a lot of theory about school administration but, my military training also gave me a lot of practical experiences relative to management and supervision of individuals. I think when I couple the two, I think those are the pivotal areas that made me successful. I can't think of an area that I would say had the least amount of usefulness. I think at that particular point in time when I was going through the training, I found that some areas maybe humanities/art, that those areas may have been useful. But as I progressed and as I have grown older, I can reflect back on discussions about the humanities/the arts and I can see where those can fit into the life of a principal with respect to leisure. Like now, I collect African and American art prints. I collect architectural renderings in print, but those are things that I studied about as a student that I saw as being useless. At this point in life, they are providing some usefulness.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: This may sound a bit bizarre, the major thing was I couldn't stay in the classroom. It bothered me to be in the classroom. It bothered me because right out of college I was in the military and I was in a supervisory position. I had a lot of latitude in terms of going and coming when I wanted to go and come, coming into a classroom I was confined. I was there in the morning and I couldn't leave until the afternoon and that really, really, really bothered me. In order to provide some satisfaction for myself and to move on a line in terms of supervision or administration that I had some familiarity with, that was when I sought out the principalship.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education? How did it evolve over the years?
A: I think to a large extent it's reflected in the early exposure that I had to vocational education in high school. I think it centers around the undergraduate major of Industrial Arts and hands on types of activities. I believe that people learn by doing. If I had to pin point one philosophy, I guess would pin point the experimentalist philosophy. I think that if people have an opportunity to become involved in something and can associate it with themselves that they learn it in a much better way. As I said, that probably evolved from the background I had with the early vocational training and the Industrial Arts major in college.
Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it was developed and how it evolved over time?
A: The instructional philosophy at a school in practicality is sometimes structured based on the instructional program that's set by the Board of Education or the State Department. I firmly believe that time and learning theory has the utmost importance in the school day. That if students are given the time to learn, that they will learn. And then, based on that, I think an instructional philosophy of an administrator, should be to structure the school day in a manner where it provides the utmost time for teachers to teach. That developed from some conflict that I began to have in 1978 after my second year in the principalship with scheduling pull-out time for students in a manner that students wouldn't miss reading to go to reading, with respect to Chapter I, wouldn't miss all other subject areas to go to Speech or any other of the pull-out programs. So I became interested in the concept of parallel flexible scheduling that was being promoted by Prof. Lynn Canady at the University of Virginia. From that point, began to work with that within the school system with the support of the superintendent and some members of his staff and ultimately did a doctoral dissertation on Parallel Flexible Scheduling and Its Effect on Reading Achievement.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe successful and any unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you were involved?
A: Whether or not it was successful I think depends a lot on the individual that was looking at it. With respect to a successful climate, I think opportunity to learn and time to learn is one thing. I think another element is fairness and I think it is just that basic. Fairness with students and fairness with teachers. If you don't have those two aspects in a program, you are going to alienate a large percentage, a critical mass I think, of the staff. If you do have those elements in place, you are going to alienate a percentage of the staff at any rate, but unfairness alienates a great deal more than fairness. I think fairness simply puts some people on guard and it keeps them from being what they want to be and most of the time what they want to be is outside of the norm. I think probably some unsuccessful experiment in climate building that I became involved in early on, and as I look back over them now, was probably providing at times too much directions for some people. There are people who need direction and they need directions to different degrees. If I provided an over amount of direction, that sort of gave the climate a damper and it took away from some people the ability to move along at their own pace. I guess I could simply classify it as over kill. Compensating for some people that would not do, that it was an over kill for those who would do. But that is something that you very seldom see when you are in to it, when you step back out of it you can see it.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on--what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal."
A: I think teachers, in general, expect principals to know something about teaching and learning. Teachers expect principals to be able to make decisions, to find resources, and I think most of all, teachers expect principals to be fair and equitable in their dealing with him. I think to be an effect principal first of all you have to trustworthy, and you have to have knowledge of developmental principles and practices with respect to child growth and development. You got to know that kindergarten children walk in mud puddles if you are an elementary. Therefore, you won't scold them and you won't allow teachers to scold them in a way that is condescending since this is a developmental pattern that they have. I think effect principals are good managers. In addition to knowing something about the instructional program, I think an effect principal has to be able to manage the organization and bring about the resources that will promote and effect teaching and learning because that is the very bottom line for schools. The personal and professional characteristics of a good principal - a good principal is a good listener and empathetic, that is a personal characteristic. A good principal does not differentiate in terms of problems that effect his or her staff members based on rank or status. If a teacher has a mother that is sick, that is no more important than the custodian's mother that is sick. So a principal has to demonstrate those types of examples and behaviors so that all people in the school organization can see and understand that. Professional characteristic - a good principal is always learning and striving to increase his/her knowledge about education in general, administration in particular.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and an incident in which your approach failed.
A: I would say, a good leader has to be tough enough to fight. I believe that strongly. A good leader has to be tough enough to fight yet humble enough to cry. I think that marks the individuals leadership. Beyond that, a good leader has to be human enough to make mistakes and has to be able to admit to those mistakes. That comes from the experience that I had in the military. When I met for the first time General Westmoreland in Vietnam and I saw those four stars running up his collar, across his hat and he said to me, "Lieutenant, how are you doing?" I said, "Fine, sir" and he said, "Have you made a mistake today?" I said, "No, sir", of course and he said, "Well you haven't done anything. Because, if you haven't made a mistake, you haven't done anything." I think beyond that, a good leader has to be resilient enough to bounce back when the leader is hit by hostile fire. And, there will be the times when a person's leadership is challenged, when a person will make a mistake, when a person has to be able to get up, get back on his/her feet and go on with the program. Some techniques which worked - I think I have basically described those and when you encouch those with good communication skills, being a visionary, I think those are techniques that will take a person through the management of an organization as a leader. I think they worked for me. I think one incident or approach that had failed for me was at some time putting too much trust in some individuals. Misjudging individuals to the extent that you don't monitor as close as you should their activities. Not in an over all manner, but some individuals. I think that was one thing that has failed for me in one instance.
Q: There are those who argue that, more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help, building level administrators in carrying out there 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 think that central office people violate a cardinal principle of schooling and management and that is, they forget why they're there. The only reason you have a central office is because you have a school. If you take away all of the schools, then the superintendent has nothing to manage. The supervisors have nothing to supervise. I think a lot of time, central offices start with principals that forgot where they came from. I don't think that the policies, themselves, will hinder building level principals. It is how these policies are interpreted and how they are administered. That's not to say that there ought to be different policy for every situation or a different interpretation of a policy for every situation. But, I think that at times you have to look at the environment of a given school, look at the policy, and then look at how you can work within the limits of that policy to provide for the children. If you keep in mind that the children are the very bottom line rather than adhering to the policy, I think that everybody can move forward then. If I were king, what changes would I make in the system-wide organizational arrangement? I think that I would bring about a superintendent that really could subscribe to this notion or this idea that "All Children Can Learn". A superintendent that believed in equity and fairness, equality of educational opportunity. A superintendent that truly understood that one side of town is not going to have the same resources but that every child in that school system was due equity. And in doing so, then the superintendent will surround himself or herself with the cadre that reflected that same philosophy. If you have that philosophy emanating from the top then it is going to permeate the entire school system, then everybody is going to be about that. Then the have-nots, even though you may not improve some of the social lot of life for them, certainly they are going to have equity with respect to the reading, science and math when they came to the school.
Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?
A: I feel that instructional leadership does not say that the principal has to do it all. It says that the principal has to take the leadership role. I think the principal takes the leadership role in a number of ways. Leadership is an influence process and if the principal is really imbued with the knowledge of instruction; if the principal knows about different methodologies of teaching; if the principal knows about different forms of curriculum, then you can influence people to want to follow your lead and support your program. If the principal only knows about how many yards the star halfback ran on Friday night, that is going to turn off people who have an interest in curriculum as it relates to co-curricular activities. If the principal can not talk about the Comer School Model; if the principal knows nothing about cooperative learning and those innovations in education, then it is hard for that person to lead a teacher who is steeped in those areas. Because the teacher simply doesn't have the trust in the principal. That was the style that I tried to use. I tried to stay abreast of what was happening in education and then to be collegiate with teachers in terms of discussing these new aspects, coming together and charting a course that was best for the school. Even in doing this, the principal has to be a manager, has to be a leader, and can't advocate those particular aspects of management or principalship, because you can't allow a teacher to take an instructional idea and push it in a given direction if it is not going to be educationally or psychologically sound for a student. A kindergarten student can learn calculous if you reduce it to a small enough quantity, but that is not psychologically sound for the student. There are some teachers that will reduce high school social studies to a point and teach it in the elementary school but that is not psychologically sound for the student. Therefore, a principal has to know enough about that particular aspect and try to influence the teacher in a given way. If you can't influence the teacher in a given way, you have to sort of gently nudge the teacher in a given way. I think that is an aspect of being a manager, leader and administrator.
Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?
A: I don't know what ideal certification requirements would be. Recently in a meeting of the Standards Board for North Carolina, when they discussed the new masters program and some standards that they will require students to have who are completing their degree, I saw a lot of the recommendations as being very lofty. Things we want this student to be able to do when this student completes the program. A lot of them are predicated on having had the opportunity to interact in situation A, situation B, in a field of clinical situations. I think certification requirements have to be nominal in the sense that they say at the end of the process, here is an individual that has satisfied the requirements of the program and has the potential for being a principal given that there is going to be some kind of induction period where we can look at this person's performance. Possibly, certification for the principalship ought not really come until the person has served in some type of vice or assistant principal role and that person's qualities are revisited after a year. And, after it can be said by a practicing administrator that this person really has shown the qualities necessary for moving to the principalship and now we offer full certification, opposed to provisional certification. I think along with the requirements for more and more clinical experiences in the preparation program, that there should be some type of induction program to finally cap off certification for the individual.
Q: It has been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. Would you give your views on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and citizens who were important to the well being of the school?
A: One thing that I didn't realize initially was that parents are an asset to the school and that parents are going to come into the school, one way or another. It's impossible to keep them out. It's impossible to keep them from talking about what happens in the school at the grocery store, at the fire station, or at the ball field. It is impossible to do that. So, you have to come up with a scheme that involves them in a positive way. Realizing that you are not going to get 100% involvement from the parents in a positive way. You can get an appreciable amount that can enhance the operation of the school and the mission of the school, that being the education of boys and girls. You have to treat parents and citizens as clients, I think. You have to respect the fact that you have in your school the most precious thing in the world to that parent. Whether the child lives on the hill or in the hollow, the child loves the mother or parents and the parents, overall, love the child. I think the schools have to realize that, recognize that, deal with that and find a way for every parent to make some contribution to the school. There is nothing better than a young child seeing his parent do something for the school, whether it's plant a garden, run a PTA meeting, put up a light pole, or help pave a driveway. If that child could see this, fine. If you look across the spectrum of parents in the school, you have those that are blue collar, white collar, but there is a contribution that everybody can make in some way. So, it's up to the principal to make sure that every parent comes in and makes that contribution and enhances the schooling of the child.
Q: Do you feel the school is taking on more that it can handle since it has assumed the responsibility to address social ills such as drugs, AIDS, child abuse, violence, and absence of parental support, therefore, jeopardizing its mission to educate the child?
A: I think the school is the only safe haven for some children, the elementary school in particular. I think that its taken on a lot, but the school didn't ask for it. It was given to the school. It was given to the school beginning with Brown vs. Topeka in 1954 and with Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in 1974. I think the schools have done a humongous job in bring this about. So, no other governmental agency has chosen to step in and take this away from the schools because the schools have a captive audience. I think the problem has come in in that governmental agencies have not given schools the resources to bring this about. If we look at child abuse, violence, absence of parental support, these are problems that really effect schools. If you had enough social workers on staff, then, if you have a school setting where you have these types of situations, you always have someone there on hand that could intervene between the child and the parent or the child, parent and the situation which that's at hand. But, I think agencies have chosen not to give a great deal of monies to the school systems, and the school systems have chosen to put some of the money that they receive into staff cars, lavish office furniture, and things of this nature rather than having two supervisors share the same car and send a social worker down to yonder school that has a problem. I think that if superintendents would look at it this way, it would be fine. Its fine for the superintendent to have $75,000 worth of furniture in his suite, he's the superintendent. But, down the hall, around the corner in the central office the carpet ought not be as thick and the cars ought not be as long, if there are cars at all, for some of the other personnel. Those funds could be sent down to the schools and it makes it better for principals if the principal has the resources to work with.
Q: If you were an administrator approaching the 21st century, what curriculum steps would you implement to ensure children's success?
A: I think full integration with technology, a greater awareness of how to implement the information that we have about learning styles. I think we are fully aware of the fact that people learn in different ways, hemisphericity is nothing knew, its something that they studied years ago. But, how do we get these 26 students who are morning learners, afternoon learners, tactile learners, visual learners, how do we implement that in a way that's going to be effect for the students? How do we integrate information systems technologies, the different technologies, all of this into the curriculum that will replace textbooks and things of that nature so that students learn in a manner that's best suited for them and they learn with the latest technologies that are available to them?
Q: A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay and merit pay in recent years. Would you give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you had with such approaches?
A: I think my involvement with differentiated pay, in particular, made me observe in-fighting on the part of staff members. I think for the most part, teachers in schools have always taken on additional duties and responsibilities and they have taken these on with pride. When the state or states come along and says, "I'm going to pay you for being for being coordinator of social studies", then someone else wants to be coordinator of social studies. I think merit pay has its potentials if you have administrators who have the guts to evaluate people on what they do. To take some of the extraneous variables, the social factors, gender factors, racial factors, out of the evaluation of the individual. They have their place, but, they have to be implemented in such a way that they are going to ensure equity, they are going to ensure fairness. The only way that I know how to do that is to let that rest with the administrator or the administrative team and, encouch that with some aspects of peer evaluation and things of that nature, come up with a workable plan for that school district with the latitude for some schools to modify it to that particular school. Merit pay in School A might have to take on a different connotation than merit pay in School B, because School A may have a multitude of problems that School B does not have. If a teacher has to be there at 7:00 in the morning and work continuously until 3:00 in a down graded situation, opposed to a school that is in an up scaled area with a bit more resources, a lot more parental support, then you can't look at merit pay the same for those two schools.
Q: What is your personal and professional view of site-based-management as it relates to teacher empowerment?
A: I see a vision and a reality aspect of site-based management. The vision is that you give a school all of the monies and they hire the teachers, they hire the bus drivers, they do everything. The reality of it is that a great deal of things would have to remain centralized in the school district, simply for the protection of the school district. Things like personnel management and things like that, the use of federal funds. Site-based management to me is simply a mechanism for carrying out the tenets of an effective school. Site-based management to me means simply the involvement of the total staff or the total school into the operation of the school with the understanding that there are some decisions that simply remain within the purview of the principal, that they aren't shared. It has been said that when the planes going down, the pilot doesn't call a meeting. The pilot is responsible for acting at that particular point in time. In this new day, teachers or educators seem to respond best to things that they have a hand in. I don't believe that teachers want a hand in making every decision. I think that is how we have misconstrued site-based management, in that the school improvement committee or the leadership team has to determine what numbers will go on what parking spaces and when. That's not a function of the school improvement team, that's an administrative function. An administrator does that, but when we are going to look at a new thrust in curriculum, sure we involve the school improvement team or the site-based team at that particular point in time. Teachers are not automatically empowered in my opinion. I think that has been misconstrued, that some teachers feel that "I have a say so". I think the teacher that has power, has the say so. In order to have power, a teacher must have information, or any person, must have resources and the person must have support. If you don't have those, you don't have power and if you don't have power, you can't be empowered. If a teacher wants to teach math on the black top, if you've got some information as to why, if you've got four other teachers that support you, and if you've got the resources to take to the black top to teach it, then you can become empowered, but you only become empowered if the principal acknowledges the fact that you have power and will allow you to do that.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: I think the checklist that we have used has been a misgiven. I feel that evaluation should be more narrative rather than checked off. I realize that it makes it more subjective and that makes it more subject to law suits and things of that nature, but I think the evaluation should speak to what the person contributes to the total school program. The way the person deports their self at the school as a professional. How the person deports himself or herself in the profession, I think that's a better way of evaluating teachers. Now, if you could combine the two as subjective and objective measures, I would say fine, but it ought to go beyond a generic check off that says a person gives feedback. In most situations where you have 1-2-3 observations, even if one is unannounced, if I know you're coming in, I'm going to give you a good show. I'm going to give you everything that you need and you'll have no choice but to check it off. I gave feedback, I had my papers ready, my presentation followed the steps that day, but what about other days. I think teacher evaluation ought to have some type of peer evaluation that goes along with it. If not peer evaluation, some type of peer comment about what this person does at the school.
Q: A good deal is said these--days about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction? Would you comment on the strengths and weaknesses of tenure for teachers? Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in such activities?
A: I think a grievance process is a basic constitutional right and you can't take that away. It was a long time coming and you can't take that away. I think there has to be a way for a person to redress grievances that they have in the school or school system. Most school systems have a grievance policy that will address those. I see nothing wrong with that because I believe that each person in a system, not just teachers, but each person in a system should be granted their due process rights. I don't see a basic weakness of tenure. I look at tenure as a statutory right to employment that's granted after a person has done a given thing. Now possibly those given things may need to be strengthen in different states, but I think it is alright for a person to obtain tenure. But, I think then we would go back to the evaluation process. The evaluation process should address the tenure teacher just like the probationary teacher. The tenure teacher should be able to show growth, development, those types of things. Tenure means nothing in some states because, like North Carolina, generally declared an at-will state. Whether you have tenure or not, your tenure doesn't give you that must protection to work. Even though tenure is a property right and property can only be removed by due process of law, it simply means they have to go through a process to remove it. The process is sometimes dictated by the governing structure, so if they are calling the shots it really doesn't matter. But, I think that people ought to have something to strive for, tenure. But after they get tenure, the evaluation process should keep them on keel. I have been involved in two or three dismissal activities. One was with a probationary teacher who became a teacher, because her parents wanted her to become a teacher, really didn't have an interest. After going through a process that dealt with additional certified persons, she was recommended for non-renewal. I think the thing that made this a bit more plausible for all concerned was the fact that there were two teachers on the team that worked very diligently with the teacher that was dismissed and that the teacher understood going into the end of this process that it wasn't a reflection on her as an individual. It was a reflection on her desire to be a teacher and she said to me, when I told her that I was going to recommend her for non-renewal, that she understood but, that she would give it her all from that April through the end of the year. So, I subsequently, put a letter into her file to the effect that she deported herself in this way, she has this attitude, was very willing to offer any recommendation in terms of character for her in terms of any future employment. The other case I was involved in was with a tenured teacher and that case did not go through simply because dismissal is an act that is carried out by the Board upon the recommendation of the Superintendent. Regardless of how much documentation you do at the school, if the superintendent doesn't see fit to make that recommendation, if the board doesn't see fit to act on it, then you've been spinning your wheels. That's been my involvement with dismissal, sometimes dismissal brings too much of the dirty linen of the school system out to the line. So, they choose to send it over to another clothesline some times.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the Assistant Principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel while on the job. Would you describe the most effective assistant principal with who you had opportunity to serve? What became of this individual?
A: Let me start from the back. The most effective assistant principal that I have ever known is sitting before you now. Seriously, I never had an assistant principal. An assistant principal, in my opinion, should have the same qualities as a principal. If we look at what I will speak to as three roles of the principal - instructional leader, resource manager, and communicator. I think an assistant principal ought to be able to participate in those roles at the same level as the principal ultimately, even though the assistant principal may not start out doing that. The assistant principal should strive to reach the same level as the principal with those specific roles. There are some situations where assistant principals are much more well versed on instructional matters than principals, are better communicators than principals, or they know more about the managerial aspects of the schools than principals. I feel that an assistant principal should be utilized in the same way and should be given an opportunity to touch every aspect of administration at the school. Because, administration, just like you have a site-based team in schools, ought to have an administrative team if you have one, two or three assistant principals. I think that in summary the assistant principal simply should have the same qualities as the principal or the potential to do the same for a principal and ought to strive for the principalship unless the assistant principal is in an area where there is a move toward career assistant principalship. There are some areas where the duties and responsibilities of assistant principals are elevated, some of the amenities that go along with those jobs are pretty striking. Particularly, if you are a single assistant principal or something in that order.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: I suscribe to Edmonds and Lazarts philosophy on effective schools, those seven coorelates. I think the one that sticks out in my mind the most is teacher expectation. I think that when you look at human nature, if I expect that a person can do something, tell a person that they can do something, and encourage them to do something, that person would do it. I think that one sticks out in my mind most among the seven and then involvement of parents in schools and instructional leadership on the part of the principal.
Q: In recent years more and more programs for special groups of students (LD, Gifted and Talented, Non-English speaking) have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard.
A: To some extent, I think special programs become a class society. If you look at a program like Gifted and Talented, the program will generally recognize the gifted, the person that has the high academic ability but, it doesn't recognize the person who has the talent to tap dance, the person who is in the vocational program who has the talent to develop and lay an arch out of bricks, a double arch out of bricks. It takes a talent to be able to do some of those things but the program only recognizes the person who can do well on the paper and pencil test. The person that's in the automotive class that can take an engine down and put it back together blindfolded and can tell you exactly what's wrong with it, that's a talent. But, the program recognizes the gifted as opposed to the talented. Then LD and ADHD, those to some extent have become rich man diseases. If you are going to be realistic about it in schools, kids that have-not are either full time LD or they're special ed. minorities, kids of different ethnic origins, they are the ones who get labeled for the special ed. or full time LD programs. I think that probably there needs to be something done to address these particular areas. I think these particular areas came about because teachers some years ago said I can't address the LD student, I can't address the Gifted, I can't address the EMH so they put them in the specialties. Now the trend is beginning to reverse with the inclusion. I think we have to look at it from the stand point of ways that a teacher can address the needs of students without the labels involved, but realizing that some students just are not going to be functional in a class and some students may have to be labeled. But, if an LD classification saves a child from some other parts of the school program that the child considers painful, sometimes parents will get their children qualified for this. Then they can take the SAT in a room by themselves for as long as they want because they have this special classification.
Q: Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paper work and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Would you comment on the situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time?
A: I would say they aren't true administrators because true administrators learn how to handle paperwork. In this day and age, it's going to come. A true administrator, over time, learns how to handle paperwork, learns how to delegate, learns what to look at and what not to look at, and understands first and foremost, that it's a sixty hour a week job. That your paperwork is sometimes done after your church service, if you go to church on Sunday or Saturday, that it's done late in the afternoons, that maybe there is always an hour put aside at home, in the home office to do this paperwork. Then, beyond that, with the technology that is available today an administrator ought to truly encompass all the technology available to include cellular phones, pagers, computers, electronic calendars and schedulers, all of those things to assist with the paperwork.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?
A: I think one would be clerical support. I think that clerical support goes beyond simply typing a letter, answering the phone. I think that needs to be up scaled so that secretaries and treasurers understand that there is simply more to the job than that. Where they don't make final decisions, they make some recommendations and they structure some activities so that the administrator simply has to look at it and make a decision. A secretary can respond to a letter by doing a draft a putting it on the principal's desk for him to approve rather than have the principal to structure the draft. I think a second area would be, I would change the configuration of the school office and also, enhance the technology. I think there are so many things that can be done in businesses today, with technology it simply makes it easier. If you can use your Sears charge card or your Visa card in California and you live in North Carolina and that data is transmitted in an instant, then we ought to be able to transpose some of that to a school office or school system, whereby we don't have to spend 30 minutes on the phone to solve a problem. E-mail, faxes, those types of things, I think that we ought to have the resources to bring those into the schools. I think the school office looks too much like a school office, the old factory notions of schools with the desks in a row. I think the school office ought to be such that there is a receptionist, that those persons who answer phones and have private conversations will be in alcoves away from students and parents who come in. Treasurers would be in areas that are quiet and different from the general receptionists or secretary. I think that if we look at the fact that we are a profession and we are sometimes judged on our professionalism in conjunction with IBM or with MicroSoft. Even though we don't have the resources, an office can look like a business office depending on the level of the school and then other parts of the school can look like classrooms. I guess the third thing I would probably change would be the knowledge that all of school personnel have about the business side of the school. Since we are in larger society, we are regulated by the federal government, we are regulated by the state government, if there's a report needed at 2:00 then teachers need to understand it has to be in at 2:00 on Wednesday not on Thursday. That one tardiness might be holding up everything else and it throws a wrench in it. The importance of the business aspect of the school so it can push the instructional aspect of the school.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the Superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school?
A: I have had several superintendents. Quite unfortunately, I got along with only one and that was Douglas P. Magan, from the University of Virginia. I think the major point was that Douglas P. Magan, III treated people like people. I think that's the key. Superintendents are generally people who were once principals, associate superintendents and superintendents. I think superintendents sometimes forget from whence they came and they are controlled too vigorously by a board of five, seven, nine, or eleven people. That every complaint that comes in to a board member or a complaint that comes in to the superintendent from a parent is not valid. The immediate response of the superintendent ought not be to fix this problem, when it may not even be a problem. I feel that superintendents should have these qualities and beyond that superintendents have to practice the same types of tenets of equity and equality as the school principal. If I am expected to be equitable to all of my teachers, then every principal in the school ought to receive the same courtesies and amenities from the superintendent. In the absence of that, some people have problems with a superintendent and I was one of those. Cadre members at the central office sometimes adopt the superintendent's philosophy. If you've been a naughty boy according to the superintendent, then Cadre member B, who's subordinate to the superintendent, can not say that you're a good boy. That puts him out of grace with the superintendent. So, your request for carpet for a kindergarten teacher, first year, might not be looked on as favorable as somebody else's request.
Q: Would you discuss your general relation, pro or con, with the Board of Education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general?
A: I try not to talk to school board members about school. I try to be courteous to school board members. But, I think, school board members sometimes forgot that they didn't have any direct governance in control over principals, they had it over the superintendent. That the state law established the school district, say in North Carolina for example, and it required that there be a board to govern and set policies and procedures for that district and, that the board hired a superintendent to become involved with the administration of the district and, that principal reported directly to that superintendent. To report directly to the board, or to speak openly, freely and frequently with the board about what's happening in the school and the school district, set up a conflict of interest. And, that cuts in to the effectiveness of the entire school system, the board, when you have situations like that. I think board members have latitudes to come to schools, to speak to parents, to speak to teachers, but it ought not be a witch hunt or fact finding venture. If they want to know something about what's going on in a particular school, then let the superintendent find out, that's his responsibility.
Q: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in time. Would you discuss the nature of your student body (bodies) and comment on the problems, challenges and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal?
A: One thing that I tried to do was to exercise a believe that every child should see himself or herself in the school curriculum regardless as to what the cultural orientation of the child was. To involve the parents of culturally diverse students in the school program. For example, one activity we had all the parents in at the school simply to have them tell us the importance that they attached to education in their native land. When there were winter celebrations, Christmas, the winter programs, to have participation from those students from the different cultures with respect to how they celebrate it in their land, have the parents come in and be involved with the school, with the classroom, about the tenets of education that held near and dear, even some parents brought textbooks from schools of their native land. I think the over riding principle, is that the principal respects diversity and requires that the staff to respect diversity. That's a part of the school culture, that we are going to respect the diversity of everybody in the school.
Q: Would you discuss your participation in handling the Civil Rights situation (integration) and describe your involvement with busing?
A: No specific involvement, in 1970 when I began teaching in Guilford County, that was the year for desegregation for the Guilford County School System. The duality was broken down that year. Simply to be a participant in that process and personally outspoken against things that I felt were discriminatory, that's the extent of it in the school system. I feel that principals of color, then and now, have that charge. I just feel that principals of color have that charge now principals of color may do it to varying and differing degrees. If principals of color don't point out the inequities in the system there is a strong possibility, and I said possibility, that they won't be pointed out. Some people will do it in a blatant fashion, some people will be a little more serene in pointing them out, but I think that they have to be pointed out.
Q: May I ask you a question that is not included here. Do you feel that integration has helped or hurt particularly minority students?
A: I think it has helped, because without integration there wouldn't be the equity that we have now in terms of resources. In the separate but equal situation, there was the separateness but there was no equality. Even at this point, given that when we look at integration, we have to look at not only integration of the schools but the integration of the society. Because, integrating the schools without integrating the society to a some degree would have brought about the same situation.
Q: It has been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools, citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now?
A: I think the knowledge base has grown. There is simply more to teach, more to learn, but there are different ways of teaching it. As I said before, the use of technology, the use of what students bring to the classroom are things that will have to be considered now with respect to curriculum in the schools. I think that is the most changed area of the curriculum. I don't see it as being negative because the society has changed. The positive aspect of it is that it provides more for the students to know about the world opposed to simply just the students immediate surroundings in a state or county.
Q: So, you see it as global.
A: The curriculum is becoming more global and any student, through technology, can talk, if they have the right technological equipment at home or in the school, can talk to a person in another country. Students come to kindergarten or first grade knowing a lot more than the textbooks perceive that they know. I think a lot of times the teacher will teach them what they know, as opposed to us developing a curriculum in the school or the latitude in the school to find out what they know and take them from that point.
Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with such testing and provide us your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: I think that if there is some form of disaggregation, whereby, I am going to determine how many people, what students, what classification of students, what category of students does not understand homonyms and then teach or remediate homonyms, then standardized testing is effective. If I am only going to use it to register a school or student and then compare that student to somebody else or compare that school with somebody else, it's no good. But, if I am going to use standardized testing to measure progress from point A to point B, if I am going to disaggregate to find out the effects of teaching, who is giving the most failing grades, who consistently gives failing grades, what students consistently score low, what teacher's students consistently score low, then I'm using standardized testing to enhance the instructional program.
Q: Could you describe your work day and the normal number of hours per week you put in? What were some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them? Describe your biggest headaches or concerns on the job.
A: A normal day goes from seven to seven. I think because in the principalship there is always something that will come up in the course of the day. Facetiously, I said seven to seven but seven to eleven, because principals sometimes are still involved on different nights with the school program at 11:00 PM. And, you get from 11:00 PM until 7:00 AM and then you become involved again. It is a never ending cycle and I think that's one thing that potential administrators will have to understand. It's a seven day a week job. Pressures that are faced on a daily basis - the "To Do" list doesn't go as it's printed. I think that frustration causes more headache for a lot of people because there will be those interruptions that will come in. There will be those interruptions that will appear to be trivial that will always come in as you know and simply destroy the day. You cope with them by rolling with the ups and downs. The principal that does not learn to continue to add to and modify the "To Do" list, delegate, re-delegate that's where we are looking at administration I said if we change clerical assistance, elevated it, so that some of those little problems that come in can be handled by a clerical person, it would make the principals day a lot better. I think the pressures have to be faced on a day to day basis and the principal simply has to learn how to roll with the punches. I guess the biggest headaches that I had were needless interruptions from central administration. I can understand parental interruptions because as a parent, I guess even now my daughter came to me the other day, a college student, with a problem and I attended to it quickly. Parents feel that their elementary or high school student has a problem they are going to attend to it quickly so that has to be dealt with by the principal in accommodating. But, the fact that the plumber wants to take a sink apart in Classroom C, in the middle of their social studies lesson and they have all of their artifacts out and they have worked so hard for this, but it is more important for him to take the sink apart than it is for the classroom instruction to go on. That presents a problem when I say the central office can send them out at night to take the sink apart. Those are the biggest headaches that I think I experienced.
Q: What suggestion would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions? Comment on weaknesses in traditional programs of training for administrators.
A: I think the easiest way is to put the potential principals out in the schools, as interns. Not for a semester, but as students who do clinical observations in the schools over a period of time, in some systematic, sequentially, organized fashion. The first course, they go out and they watch what a principal does at a PTA meeting or they watch what a principal does at a staff meeting. Then as they go through the courses, those clinical experiences increase until there is a long term internship, so that the person actually understands what goes on out in the schools, can bridge the gap between the theory and the practice.
Q: That suggestion that you made, do you see that as a weakness in the traditional program?
A: A definite weakness.
Q: Since you have now had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative successes, strengths and weaknesses?
A: I truly think that my successes center around students and staff members. I think when I talk to former students and staff members, I get a joy and a charge out of some of their reflections on ways that we helped children and ways that I supported them. I think that is a strong thing. I believed in supporting teachers and students to the utmost degree. Even teachers who were not disposed to being a part of the program, or being on the band wagon, supporting them to the extent that you could. I think my greatest strengths, I think they were in two areas: management and instructional program. My terminal degree was in curriculum and teaching, not in administration. But, my management abilities I developed from my 23 years in the military. It taught me how to do 1, 2, 3 things at a time and how to plan. That I consider to be a strength for me, I think it worked as a detriment to some people because some people saw it as being more militaristic rather than being organized. Impatience, is my greatest weakness. Impatience with apathy, impatience with racism, impatience with ignorance and I chose to communicate it. When you communicate it, then that sets you apart, it targets you, it labels you. I think there is probably a political gain that has to be dealt with, a political aspect of the principalship. Knowing the superintendent is incompetent and telling him he's incompetent are two different things. I chose to tell him and other people within that area. The person who really does not want to be in turbulent waters would chose not to tell people that or point out the incompetencies of the central administration to people like that, not in a blatant fashion. That is a personal thing, a person has to make those decisions of how you deal with it because not dealing with it could blow your head off. Dealing with it could cause some relief. The end result sometimes will be the same but it's better to go out satisfied than not satisfied.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire from the principalship at the time you did, giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: I characterize mine as an early retirement because I have this belief and I'll always have it, there's doubt be an element of equity in education. I had a group of students in my school district who were simply having a problem coping and I had done all that I could do to help them, along with staff members and parents. A request to the superintendent for assistance had a deaf ear turned on it. Something as simple as if I had another social worker, I could help some of these students. Given that here is a high school in the district that has a .71 drop-out rate, that has a full time vocational counselor, given that these students, in this particular school district, 99% of them are going to college at any rate, that this full time vocational counselor is at this high school simply because it's a state allotment. Let me have this person for one day a week and I can assist some of the students that I have over here that have problems. But, when a deaf ear was turned on that, it made me think this person does not want to help me and in general, this person does not want to help students. Because, that was a request that the superintendent could have responded to and convinced the other principal to be disposed to. I guess I came to a point that I was tired of fighting and mentally, not only mentally but physically, it had begun to take its toll on me. I didn't know how much toll it was taking on me at the time that it was going on. It was every morning at 7:30 in and you fight all day and then you come back the next day and you fight all day. The fights not only developed inside of the school, they developed out side of the school at central office and contingencies of parents. When the show down came, I simply felt good about it. I had no regrets and I have no regrets, never in a day will I have any regrets. I sort rest with this quote in essence that goes this way, from Abraham Lincoln, "I do the very best I can, the very best I know how. If the end brings me out alright, okay. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing that I was right would make no difference." I feel good about that, I did what I feel I had to do. I did it in a lot instances my way and I think that the thing that comes back to me now when I talk to former colleagues, in the system that I worked, they feel good about past associations, some of them knew I feel good about them and I take it from there and I'm happy.
Q: Despite our best efforts to be comprehensive in our questioning, there is probably something we have left out. What have we not asked you that you think we should have? Or is there anything that you would like to add?
A: I guess the one thing that I would say, and I provide this information to prospective principals now, and that is, I think that the student has to, or the principal has to, realize that the principal is a person and that's important. The principal can not give his entire life, being and soul to the school. I think a lot of principal of old, and me to a large extent, did that. You look around one day and the little child that you have, whose PTA meeting was always on the night that you had your PTA meeting, is walking across the stage and it's too late then. Two years ago, I went to Mill Run, Pennsylvania to see Frank Lloyd Wright's house, Falling Water. I had studied about it, had read about it, had put off going up there because one summer they were painting the school and I had to be there. The next summer, I was transferred and I couldn't do that, couldn't leave then, school was too important and there was always something. I neglected myself, as a person, and I think a lot of principals do that and those individuals coming in to the principalship should realize that the principal is a person and should regard that, cherish that, because it is hard to recapture that after it is all gone by. Once the child walks across the stage at eighteen, can't become a six year old anymore that you give a bath to in the afternoon. I think people should be cognizant of that in the beginning.
| Back to "W" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |