This is November 11, 1998, I'm speaking with Mr. Lindell Wallace in his beautiful home in the Greenbrier section of Chesapeake. We are here to do an interview history of his principalship.
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Q: At this time Mr. Wallace, I would like to ask you a few questions. First of all, would you give us a tell us a little about your family background, your childhood interest and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: My childhood background is sort of like a blue-collar background. My family, mother and father both worked in a factory. As I was growing up I only had one sister and no brothers, so I kinda came from a small family, a median family. Ah, I guess my childhood interest was, well ah, I wanted to be a policeman at one point in my life and then, if not a policeman, I thought that maybe a military officer would be in line. But none of those things materialized, so my dreams didn't come true.
Q: Would you discuss, would you discuss ah, your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher, an assistant principal, and a principal?
A: Well, my teaching career ah, lasted for three years. I taught school for three years in elementary. Ah my, then I became assistant principal in the elementary for five years, I was in middle school assistant principal for six years and I was a high school assistant principal for six years, which is a total of seventeen years of assistant principalship. Then I became a principal in the elementary for one year, then middle school for six years, and high school eight, which is a total of fifteen years, which should total thirty-two years, ah as a principal and assistant principal. In my final year, I was assistant superintendent of schools for one year. So it gave me thirty-three years of service in education, in administration.
Q: Well, tell me something, ah, Mr. Wallace, ah, do you feel your experience as a teacher or an assistant principal prepared you for the principalship?
A: Well, yes I think so. When you are a classroom teacher you tend to ah, have less focus than you would if you were an assistant principal. I think the reason that ah, that helped me was because when you ah, as I said before when you are a teacher your focus is sorta narrow to just teachers and ah, students. Then when you become an assistant principal your focus is sorta somewhat expand, your interest then becomes greater, because you have to deal with teachers, parents and students, and anything else the principal may give you to do. And as a principal, you have to see the big picture, because the buck stops there. So you have to be in a position then to deal with all of the other things we talked about prior to becoming a principal. So it's more of a big picture kinda thing when you become the principal. You see you got to deal with all of it. Elementary you have teachers that will deal with kids through out the day even in the cafeteria, restroom, playground, whatever. Middle school kind of give them more freedom of movement and then the high school the activities are just unbelievable so it makes a difference. And by being ah, ah, assistant principal and a teacher I felt that it has really, it really, played a part in me being a principal.
Q: Well, Mr. Wallace ah, would you talk about some of the circumstances surrounding your interest into the principalship. What are some of those things that happened during the time you were appointed as a principal.
A: Well, I think ah, I was kinda fortunate in a way ah, before I became a principal ah, I had a lot of school board members who thought I should have been a principal a long time ago. Ah, ah, I was unfortunate in a way that I worked with a lot of principals that didn't want me to move out of the building because they thought that I played a bigger role in their success than I thought I should have. But lucky enough I had a superintendent who came to town and listened to some school board members and gave me an opportunity to become a principal in an elementary school. So, as a result of that I became a principal ah, with the good wishes of ah, some school board members as well as the superintendent. Ah, and I became a principal in an elementary school ah, for just one year and the next year I went to a high school setting. But, without that situation I think that I might have still been an assistant principal longer.
Q: What was the superintendent's name?
A: Dr. Rondell Edwards.
Q: Well, what really motivated you to ah, to want to be a principal?
A: Well, I felt that I wanted to have my own building to see could I do a better job than some of the principals I worked for. I worked for some principals that I thought that I could have done some things better and the only way that I could have had an opportunity to prove it to myself is to have my own building to make my final decisions. I have had situations where I have gone to principals and I thought that my decision was a good decision and it was ignored but later found that it was the best decision to have been made and if I had been principal I wouldn't had that stress. So I got to a point that I felt that it was time and it worked.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education and how it evolved over the years?
A: Well, my personal philosophy of education is I'm one of those guys who believe that all kids can learn, but can learn at different rates if given the proper support and time. As principal, I tried to see to it that all the teachers receive the proper tools to work with the kids, so that they could give them the best education possible. It does not matter how good the teacher is if you do not give them the support that is necessary for them to work with that teacher is not going to be successful and neither will you. And because I was able to give as much support to my teachers and to ah, my students ah, and because I believe that all kids can learn at different rate, I was fortunate to have had the privilege of winning the most improved school for three years in the city and I did it because I think ah, we all work together as a team and when our teachers came to me and said I needed whatever. I tried to get it if I couldn't get it they realized that I couldn't get it because someone above me ah, wouldn't allow me to do it. So when you give that kind of service to your teachers and to your students ah, everybody wins.
Q: You know you got a little bit into my next question, ah, what experiences, events in your professional life ah, influenced your management philosophy, please discuss these events in detail.
A: Ah, you said to discuss the events and what else now?
Q: Your philosophy, your managerial philosophy. You were just talking about some of the things just then about how you managed your teachers and everything, ah.
A: Well, as I said earlier, ah, I kind of had an open door policy with my teachers and with my parents. It worked for me, some time it doesn't work for other people. It worked for me only because I was willing to listen to a problem no matter how big or small and sometimes people think they have problems. They don't really have a problem until someone sit down and listen to them and let them work it out themselves. But because I had an open door policy ah, I guess that helped me to be successful as well as my people, because they knew that if they could come to me if they had a problem big or small.
Q: Could you give us example of maybe one situation that you, you ran into where your management style was successful?
A: Ah, lets see, let me think of something that I can think of that made my management style ah, more successful than others. Ah, well let me put it this way, I felt, and I still feel that, ah, the Lord blessed me with having good people skills and I was able to ah, manage people by, I guess, with the type personality I have, I just don't know what I would do sometimes, or what I did sometime to make people enjoy working for me. It's just that people tend to do the kind of things I ask them to do, and I just can't, for some reason I have had people ask me before, how do you get people to do certain things for you and I just don't know, I just, I guess they trust me. I think there is a trust level there that they have for me and ah, when people trust you, you cut down on a lot of other kinds of problems, because when there is a trust level there is creditability. So, I guess, my experience has been in 90% of the time people trusted me what I said, and I tried to live up to what I said, you know I came from an era that a hand shake meant something, so that's a pretty tight question.
Q: What kind of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do and I guess you might have just answered that question, but what kind of things do you, do you think principals, ah, teachers expect principals to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describe the personal and professional characteristics of a good principal.
A: Okay now, you asked me two questions. And the first question was what kind of things teachers expect principals to be able to do right? And I think that teachers expect principals to be able to, be able to lead, make decisions, stand up for what you think is right, make good suggestions, be accessible or visible, ah they expect you to be able to listen and be flexible. These are the kind of things that I think, and I also think that teachers think that you should be, well you should be as a principal open minded and willing to ah, take charge, take chances. I mean, if a teacher, if a group of teachers come to you and say Mr. Gibson, we have thought about this situation and kids are not passing and, and its my English classes. And, the English Department has gotten together and we thought that we need to do whatever. Could we try it? As the principal of the school, if it makes sense , you should be able to say, yes try it. If it doesn't work, then we will get back. But you shouldn't be, you shouldn't put people in position where you don't trust their ability. Give them a chance to try it and in most cares if teachers come to you and ask you to give them the opportunity to do something, in most cases they will make it work. So you kinda leave yourself in a position where you put the weight on the teacher to do it and if it doesn't work you can say now wait a minute I gave you the opportunity to try this and it didn't work now do it my way. But first give them the opportunity and I think this is what they would like from principals. And the other question was what now, describe
Q: Describe your personal and professional characteristics of the good principal.
A: Well, I think that an effective principal should be fair but firm, should be proactive, he should lead with a beginning with a beginning, with an end in mind. I think that if a person, if you are going to a leader and if you are going to someone or to a group of people to your teachers and say you got an idea and in the back of our mind you should have what you think the end results should be, rather than say we need to do so and so and so. And then once the person may say for what, but you got to have in your mind why, so I think that people respect you when you go to them with a plan and have a conclusion. And a good principal and an effective principal should always have a win-win attitude. If we are going to do this no matter what it takes, tell me what we need to do and we will do it. We should have a win-win attitude if you go in there with doubt, you are going to give, you are going to leave doubt in the minds of your people and you cannot afford to do that. So that's my feeling on an effective principal.
Q: A great deal of attention have been given to the topic of personal leadership in the recent years, please describe your approach to leadership and discuss some techniques which work for you and an incident in which your approach failed.
A: Well, as you know I kinda hit on this earlier, ah, but we want to try again. The approach to leadership, again I think that the person has to be trust worthy. I just believe in that I just, it is one of my pet peeves ah, if you are not trust worthy ah, there is no creditability, so I think an approach to a good leader is ah, a person has to be a person that can be trusted. And I think a person has to be consistent with their coworkers ah, you cannot do something for the English department if you are not willing to do the same for the Math department, because people tend to talk. And if you make a decision for somebody else, if its going to effect other people, it should be the best decision for everybody. Ah, you got to try to maintain a positive outlook when you are working with your coworkers. You got to try to make yourself available to your people ah, you also got to have again good people skills. You got to get to know your people's strengths and weaknesses and you must be a great communicator. The approach to good leadership you just got to be able to communicate to your people. They got to understand where you are coming from, you got to understand, they also got to understand why, where you are coming from and why you are coming from that direction. I learn that educators like for people to tell them exact kind of things, they don't like for you to kinda beat around the bush and make them guess, because they have to deliver that back to sometimes to students who might ask questions. So they want you to come to them straight. And along with that, they got to be again, I'm going back to my old thing, there's got to be a trust level there. So that approach to me is, that's my approach to leadership.
Q: What about one situation where you failed? Where you recommended something and it didn't work out. I know you were so successful can you take a minute to think of something that didn't work out?
A: Well, you know, I think one thing I can said that probable created a failure for me was at one point of one or two points is sometimes people miss read you. You know you can be overly nice about things and people will take that as a sign of weakness and do something different then what you told them to do and thought they could get by with it because I didn't do it in a dogmatic faction. But, then I had to regroup and call them in and say that's not what I told you, that's what I told you, but that's not how you carried it out. So then I had to regroup on that and then after that ah, you know I was little more straight about what I expected, but in a nice way. You know, you know we always say that we can agree but not be disagreeable, so I think one or two cases I was like too nice about the way I wanted something done and they sort of took their time in getting it done. And I felt that my mistake was they took my kindness as a sign of weakness and then I had to regroup and then after that I had no problems. That's about the only thing I can think of. I've been, I've been pretty successful with people doing things for me, when I've asked them to do it. And I cannot think of anything that I can pen point other than that.
Q: Mr. Wallace ah, I happen to know that you have served as a principal on three levels of education. Please discuss some of the differences between elementary, middle and high school principalship and we're talking about responsibilities and also differences as far as students are concerned.
A: Okay, you said that you ah want me to discuss the three levels. The first thing we have to talk about first I think is ah, the time and the commitment is the great differences in the three levels. Yeah, there ah lot of time that you got to deal with in elementary, but you don't have as, but you don't, you have more time in high middle school and you have more time in high school. Then you got to have a commitment. For example, in elementary, the less time involved with students, as principal, because your teacher is going to make sure that that child is with the teacher from the time the teacher, the child gets there in the morning until time to go home in most cases not unless he is a trouble child. Ah, they take them to the restroom they take them to the cafeteria they take them where ever. And as I said earlier, in middle schools, there are more times, there are less times that you have to deal with ah the kids. Oh I'm sorry, it more times, because there are more activities. They become, they start to have more activities ah in middle school and they have a little more movement than they did in elementary school. And because they are not use to the movement in the beginning you have problems, because they sort of take advantage of it and you have to make sure that you have your people visible. And in high school they have gotten use of the movement and everything, but they have more activities, more movement and more time on their hands. Because some kids are free and sometime that at certain points. You have athletics, you have debates, you have dramatics you have so many kind of things, so high school you just don't really have a life. Your life is school and I think that the difference in the three, each level, there is more time and commitment that you got to deal with.
Q: If you were advising a person who was considering an administrative job, what would tell them.
A: If I was advising a person to, that's taking an administrative position. Whether he is my friend or not I'll say, I'll tell them that they will have to make sure that they are committed to doing a job, doing the things that are necessary to do a good job. There is no set formula that you can seat down and talk to a person about being an administrator, because each situation is so different. You can be an administrator in one building in the same district and go to the next building and you got another kind of set of problems. So the real thing that a person has to have is commitment. You got to be committed to do what ever is necessary to do. You got to be willing to give and to take. It cannot be your way all the time. If you are going to do a good job you got to be willing to give some. If you are going to be successful. If you going to go in and try to run things your way and your way only you are not going to make it, because its, its not possible. Its just not possible. And you got to be also willing not only with commitment comes time, but you have got to also be willing to put the time in and you can't, you can't be a clock watcher to be a good administrator. So you just got to make sure that those things are set in your mind and is something you have decided to do no one can, no one can tell you to do that, you got to do it yourself, you got to want to do it. And in most cases, if you say, well I'm going down to put that time in. If you do that, you're be successful, but if you go in with the kids and leave with the kids, you'll not get things done. So that would be my suggestion to a person going in, cause if you have there is no point.
Q: Would you describe ah, ah, discuss with us ah, teacher evaluation and could you give example of what you consider a good teacher.
A: Okay, Well now, I think teacher's evaluation is very important for now and I think its necessary. And I think its necessary, because it is important it is impossible to help someone if you don't have a barometer to use to evaluate that person. So, if you didn't have an evaluation instrument of some type, there is no way that you could determine whether the teacher is teaching ah, the kids properly are you could not determine whether the teachers are writing the right kind of lesson plans, are whether that teacher is good for that particular class or school. So, I think that an evaluation instrument is very vital, because that would give you an opportunity to judge that teacher in some way. I don't think that should, and I think that's for anyone I think everyone should have some kind of way of measuring people's ability. And I think this is one way of doing that. And I also think that a good teacher is a person who cares about kids. I think a good teacher is person who is always looking for a better way to, to educate his or her students. I think ah, a good teacher is one that communicates with students, parents and those in authority. I think a good teacher is a person that keep a person informed whether its information good or bad. I think that information is important for the administrators to know. I think the parent should know that his or her child is not during well from the teacher. And I think that a good teacher will seat down and talk with a child and say look, you are not doing well in so-in so and so and , and lets see what we can do with this. I think a teacher is a very poor teacher when they have all the information and not share it. So, I think those things are key elements of a good teacher.
Q: Would you discuss the teacher dismissal process and ah your involvement if any with the dismissal of a teacher?
A: Well, Mr. Gibson ah out of three-two years I have never had the opportunity to have to dismiss a teacher and I think I was lucky, because it is a lot of work involved in that. Ah, I do know that in order to do so you must have very good documents to support your task. My, my stress has always been to do everything that I can do to save a teacher. If I had a teacher in my building that had some problems, I made sure that I gave that teacher every, every support mechanism that I should come up with to support that teacher, to help that teacher, to become a better teacher. But, if I felt that I had a teacher in my building that was not good for my students, I would be willing to dismiss them. I have had situations where I thought teachers, teaching was not the best thing for that person, but before I could do a lot with that situation that teacher was transferred out of my building or transferred out of the district or whatever. I never had to dismiss a teacher, but I do know that there is a lot of documents that you have to have in order to do that. And I also know that, you have two, you could have two problems with that. If you can get that teacher in the beginning, its not quick as bad, but once the teacher continues, then its not that easy, because someone has let that teacher though cracks. Usually, in the first one or two years you will know whether the teacher is a good teacher or not. I think its an indictment on the principal to allow teacher to continue to do a poor job and not try to change that person before the three years rolls around, because after that it becomes a headache. But I, I personally never had that opportunity to have to dismiss one. But I have had it, I have had reasons to be concerned about some and I also had reasons to sit down and try to help some as much as possible.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in turns of his general demeanor towards you and your school?
A: Well ah, couple of things, I got along with my superintendent and I think ah, in most cases, because I stood for something. Number (1), I wanted the students and teachers to be successful and I was willing to do anything that it took to accomplish that. And as I talked earlier, because I had like an open door policy I never had a real problem with teacher, parents, kids going to the superintendent saying to me that ah, saying to him that they are unhappy. So ah, I really never had a real problem with my superintendent they understood where I, how I stood. They understood ah, how I felt about certain things. They under, also understood that I, my leadership style was to ah, run my building and when they interfered ah, we did it ah, on gentleman terms. We didn't raise our voices. That worked because my teachers understood that ah, I didn't allow superintendents and assistant superintendents to come into my building disturbing them. If they had a problem with my teachers or if they heard something about my teachers they dealt with me and I dealt with my teachers. So, I really never had a real problem with my superintendents ah, trying to take over. If they were to call me and we would always end up ah, working things out if there were a problem. Ah, so, because I, they understood what I stood for and how I felt about my people in my building and the people who work for me. They tend to respect that and I only had an opportunity to work under really well, four superintendents and they all understood how I did business. And it worked, you know, but you do that in the beginning. Say look, let me run my school if I have a problem I'll call you, if you have a problem with me, you call me, if you have a problem with one of my teachers let me know, because I don't like being in a building where a superintendent or assistant superintendent come in my building, upset one of my teachers, leave me with an upset teacher and they are gone. Let me upset that teacher if there is to be someone to upset that teacher and they respected that. So, that situation worked for me. And I guess I was successful as result of that. Because we could talk things out before it got to a point it was out of hand. If you do it that way, you don't let things really get of hand. Because they come to you and things have gotten out of hand, its kind of hard to retract things. It too much water under the bridge at that time. But if a superintendent has a problem or hear something about a teacher and they say call me, say look I understand so and so and so, would you check and get back with me. You know we can kind of bring it to some kind of conclusion, I mean bring to some kind of ending. So that worked and that's how I worked it the whole time, but I told first to let me, let me run it.
Q: Mr. Wallace, could you tell us your approach to assigning tasks to your assistant principals?
A: Well that was always kind of easy for me, because I always saw a principal's role as like a P. R. person and if a principal is going to tie himself down to doing various duties, then you are not going to be able to run your school. So what I did first was I would always try to get to know my assistant principal's strengths and I try to get to understand their comfort level or comfort levels if they had some before I made any assignments. I would always try to assign them duties that they are comfortable with. But before I would give them their assignments I would set down and I'll discuss it with them. Say now, I want you to do scheduling are you comfortable with scheduling, yes sir, are you sure, yes. I'm going to tell you so you will understand how I do business. I going to expect you to handle scheduling. If you have a problem come and see me. But don't let somebody else come see me about a problem that you know about. Can you do it that way? Yes sir. Now I trust the fact that you can do this. Now, if I get uncomfortable then we will get back together. But I'm going to give you that responsibility, because you say you are comfortable with it I know you can do a good job with it and I trust you. Now I don't like surprises, you know, so don't surprise me with something that I can't support. I don't want someone from downtown calling me saying the schedule is not right. We'll going to meet periodically about this schedule, you will tell me everything about that I need to know. But I will not be looking over your shoulder. Until I'm uncomfortable, so and I do that so that they will understand that I do trust them, because I gave it to them. But I'm not going to just walk away and ignore the fact that I am principal of this school and I'm not responsible totally. But again people need to understand that you trust them. People got to know that. I never try to put a person in a situation that I know that they will be a failure, because when they fail, so do I. See, some people for some reason can't understand that if, I heard a principal talk more then once saying I'll get him, I'll put him, I'll make him, I'll assign him to so and so and so, he's not going to do a good job so I'll get rid of him, but that's not how you get rid of people. You give a person an assignment that you feel that he's going to be successful with, because his success, your success depends on him. If all your people around you are successful you get credit, you the good guy, I mean you the guy, when I got the most improved school in the city when the superintendent announced that. Even though my people did the work, he called me to the stage. And I stood on the stage and I said my teachers did a good job. Well, one of my assistants said that I didn't mention her name, but I, I'm the one who get credit. But if I had put my teachers and assistant principals in a situation where they couldn't be successful, I lose. So, ah, when you make assignments, to make a long story short, ah, before you make assignments you need to have in your head some qualities in your mind that you think that person have and a perkman that some qualities that you think he can do well with an assignment and you give it to him. But you also make them, him understand or make her understand that now you are not going to be stuck with that forever. You do a good job with it now, we'll talk about something else so can learn the whole administrative ah, system. You don't want to make a person to be stigmatized to assistant principal in charge of discipline. Because that what happen and they say oh that right he's in charge of discipline and people eventually would get the impression that's all you know. So, what I did when I was principal, I kind of rotated I had like Mr. Pociask was the in charge of scheduling. But I said Rosa, this summer, all during the year when you get a chance, look over his shoulder, because I want to give you the scheduling next year. Because I think principals ah, assistant principals need to know how to do scheduling, because that can make or break you. Scheduling, money and women will kill you. So that assignment has to be based on two things, ah, the strength of a person and his comfort level, you don't give a person an assignment based on his weaknesses, ah, you try to stay away from that.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kind so things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?
A: If I had to do it again, how would I how would I better prepare myself for my principalship?
A: Well, you know that's a tough question and the reason it tough because even though I look back on some mistakes that I made and successes and some successes I have had, I think if I, excuse me, I think if would try to do it all over again there are some things I did poor that I would do again, there are some things I did poor that I might not do again, but the things that I might not would do again might not out weigh some things that I have done. Because there is no magic, there is no magic in being an administrator. Some of the things that I did in the past that might not work I might try again it might work for example, ah some things that I have done as a principal that did as a principal. Somebody might come behind me and try to do the same thing and could be a failure. And the things that I did that might not worked too well it might would have worked if I had done it another way. For example when we talk earlier that I think a person are some people mislead, misread me one time when I gave them an assignment, because I was nice about it they wouldn't look at me like in a little joking kind of way, but you know I was sincere. And they took the time to get it done and I had to regroup. Ah, but I don't think that I would have done a lot of things differently, because I had, I had a pretty positive career. And there is no career that you can get involved with that will be perfect. And when you deal with people like we said earlier, when you deal people, it depends on the chemistry of your building that makes the difference. Ah, each building has, has a different chemistry. And the teachers are different because of that the kids are different. Kids come from different neighborhoods which makes a difference in their chemistry. Teachers, some teachers been around longer in one building than others. So, I don't know what I would do to change some things I'll done because I could change some things that I could do and get put in a situation and it may not work. So, that's a real loaded question, loaded because it's too open ended, you know there's a gap there that you cannot close, if you try to close it and walk in to it, it can open back up wider.
Q: Mr. Wallace, would you tell us the key to your success as a principal.
A: Well, I think the key to my success, as a principal was my longevity as an assistant principal. As I mentioned back further, I was an assistant principal in elementary, middle and high for a total of about seventeen years and with that time, you know, I had an opportunity to get to know a lot of things about running schools because in many cases when the principal was out of the building, I was in charge and I had to make decision and a lot of times I made decisions because I was in charge. Another thing I think must have caused me to have success as a principal is the fact that during my tenure as an assistant principal, a lot of the people who were in a position to make decisions when I became a principal were assistant principals along with me and I had the flexibility of knowing who they were and we had a good, well a fairly good relationship when we were assistants together and they understood when I called and wanted some support. I didn't have a real problem getting that support. There was a time when I could get some things from people that the principal couldn't get because I had a kind of rapport with those people from time back. Another thing as an assistant principal you learn a lot of things, like scheduling. You learn a lot of things about how to find different kind of resources. You get to know who to call when you need certain kind of things. You do all the kind of things the principal don't want to do, so you get to learn the good and the bad and the ugly. So as the years pass, I decided that since I will be a career assistant, I was going to be a good career assistant. In order to do that you had to be in a position to do the things that the principal asked you to do on the spot. So you learned by doing and that's what I did, I learned by doing and it helped when I became a principal. The only difference I had as a principal was I had to be the person who made the final decisions. Prior to that I could always say that I can't make that decision I have to go back to my principal, but as I said earlier, to be a principal you have to be able to see the big picture and I was forced to see the big picture as an assistant principal because I was an assistant principal K-12. That means that I had experience in all grade levels. So sometimes in most cases you learn by doing. If you don't learn by doing, I mean, it's not worth doing. So that within itself gave me some latitude that a lot of people wouldn't have had going in for the first time or second time or being a one-year, two-year assistant. I got, I was on-the-job training and I made sure that I learned as much about it as I could. As a youngster my daddy would always tell me that if you whatever you do do a good job even if you were a street sweeper cleaner, so I tried my best to learn everything I could about being an administrator through the years that I served as an assistant.
Q: Mr. Wilder could you describe your workday. You have already alluded that as a high school principal, it took up a lot of your time. Ah, how did you spend your time and what was the normal number of hours you put in per day?
A: Let's talk about the workday first. There was never the same formula for a workday. No matter how much you plan, ah, your workday ah, the majority of the time you could never get around to what you plan. So what I did was during a workday as a principal of a school, I spent most of my time in the halls and classrooms and restrooms outside, wherever. I tried to be as visible as I could because I couldn't do anything. Most of my time in the afternoon was spent in the office after school was out. At that point, I was able to have my faculty meetings, I was able to return my telephone calls, I was able to complete my reports and do the kinds of hands-on things that you would normally do on a normal job on a daily basis, but when I was in the high school setting, it was so many activities and so many things going on during the period of the day that you could not do any hands-on kinds of things until the kids were out of the building and in some cases even though some of the kids left the building, you still got your football team there, you got your cheerleaders there, you got your basketball team there, and sometimes you had all kinds of activities going on after the school is out. So you still feel the stress of being out there. By been in the school system long enough that I could hear a noise and I could determine whether that noise was a fight or just noise. You know your ears get attuned to various kinds of noise and various kinds of activities. So, I would take a chance in the evenings to go into my office with the door open and do the hands-on kinds of things that would normally take that normal people would do during the day. My time I've seen times I would come to, go to work at 7 a.m. in the morning and at four o'clock, I would go across the street and get me a sandwich because I had a JV basketball game at 4:30 girls; 6:30 boys; varsity at seven o'clock, 7:30 girls and about 8:30 or quarter to nine for the boys, so I would be in that building from seven o'clock in the morning to sometimes eleven o'clock at night. My average time that I spent in school, especially high school, I guess between nine and fourteen hours a day, which was paid for six hours, but I stated earlier that you can't put a time on being an administrator, so that again goes back to the commitment that a person has to make in order to be an administrator, but a lot of time was spent in the halls, a lot of time was spent in the cafeteria, a lot of time was spent outside the building, in classrooms and other places. When my reports was done when I did my reports it was in the afternoon mainly. Sometimes I would get there early in the morning and try to get some things out, but I had a lot of time spent in school settings in the span of a day, in the span of a week, and as I said earlier, my average, my days run sometime between nine and fourteen hours a day on a good day. So that was my experience with that situation.
Q: Mr. Wallace, ah, principals operate in a constant tense environment. What kinds of things, ah did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: Well, a couple of things I tried to do ah. Well the first thing that I forced myself to do was I would try to do the best that I could do under the situation and then I could tell myself, say well I couldn't have done any better. I did the best that I could. In my heart I knew that that was all I could have done. Somebody else might have felt that I could have done more. It sometimes released my stress somewhat if I knew that I could have done anymore than I just done, that I did, but you had to have some kind of outlet as an administrator. I had several because I do not believe in living a routine-type life. I like a variety. I've always liked variety, so ah and I realize that I couldn't do one or two things because the hours wouldn't allow me. Like for example, some people go to the gym certain times of the day. You couldn't do that as a principal because one day you might work to four o'clock, the next day you might work to ten. You could do it in the morning, but you got to be to work so early that you couldn't get in the gym before time to do that. So, I had to do other kinds of things ah and I went to a movie sometimes, sometimes I went for a ride, sometimes I would go and try to find something that I haven't had to eat in a long time, something special, but whatever I did, I tried to make it special for me. If I had to do it by myself I did it. If my wife didn't want to do it with me, I did it anyway what made me feel good. And, you as an individual would know what make you feel good, what make you tick. So you do the kinds of things that make you tick, especially when you were under a stressful situation, but your tried so hard everyday to relieve that stress by trying to do things in your building that would eliminate the stress, because stress will kill you. When I had, like I said earlier I had a variety of things that I would do. Ah and that worked for me. When I couldn't do it that particular day that I planned to do it, I would make sure the next day I get it done. Cause you have to maintain your own sanity, nobody can do it for you and you in your heart knows what makes you tick. So, I forced myself to do some things that I enjoyed or sometimes I'll say, well this weekend I'm going to Atlantic City. So I had the weekend to look forward to, so the next weekend I would spend some time with mother and daddy. I always enjoyed doing those kinds of things. I'd get mother and daddy to come here for a couple of days and because I liked to bounce things off my dad. We had that kind of rapport. We could bounce things off and he would say, well I'll do so and so and have you tried so and so. So I had like I said the variety is important. Some people just like doing certain things. Some people liked going sailing, some people liked going fishing and I mean I'm not a fisherman. I don't hunt, but I have other kinds of vices I enjoy. But, it's not no one or two things, because I get tired of one or two things too fast. I've done them, I've been there. So, I forced myself to do things that I enjoy doing and sometimes like I said earlier, you can't do that day sometimes, but sometimes I set long and short-term goals to do things, you know. I might decide to ride to D. C., I might decide to go to Richmond, whatever, but I get out of the environment. There are some of the ways that I kind of reduce my stress, but the most important thing you need to do is try to run a building so that the stress is not there. Ah, when you see things that are causing a problem, you need to try to correct it as soon as possible. You can't eliminate all stress, but you can reduce the magnitude of the stress, if you can. Now it's hard to reduce stress when somebody is putting it on you. You know you get stress from above, you can't control that, but you can control what's in your building. You can call your people and say look we're going to do so and so this is not working. Let's do something else, you know. But when you getting called from your superintendent and he's saying you need to do so and so and so, or you'll not doing so and so and so and you need $10,000 to get it done and he's saying I don't have it. You need to find it, then that becomes stress that you can't control. And, I always try to put myself in a situation where I can control my stress. Ah, that's what happened to me. I started seeing that my last year in the school system. I couldn't control, I could not control the politics of the system. And I said well, you know I can't control this, it's too big. So I was in a position to walk away from it. I don't normally walk away from stress, but I got to the point where I could walk away from it and still get the same benefits, so I walked and it worked (laughter). I walked and worked and I've had fun since then.
Q: We truly appreciate this interview with you, ah Mr. Wallace. In closing please summarize your experiences as a principal looking at the good and the bad. Ah, also describe anything else ah that you feel would interest candidates for administration. Ah, ah, you might even tell us something about your experiences dealing with parents, maybe some of the positive things and some of the negative things in dealing with the community or with parents.
A: Okay, in closing we're going to summarize the experiences as a principal looking at the good and bad times. Let's try to go the good times first. Ah, usually I try to do my bad stuff first, I save my best for last, but this time we're going to do the good things first. Ah, some of the good things that I've experienced as a principal are: When you look up in your office door and you see a guy standing in your door who has been a problem child. He has been in and out of jail and you've talked to him time to time, he's been in and out of jail. He has just been a problem all his life, all the time you can remember. He come and tell you, Mr. Wallace I thought I'd come to see you and let you know that I work for the FBI now. You say what. You work for them or you're running from them. You know (laughter). Ah, if you're walking downtown and some kid sees you from across the street and say, Mr. Wallace how you doing man, you got a minute? I say yeah. Man, I'm telling you, you really helped me a lot. You just don't know Mr. Wallace. He said I, I tell you I wouldn't be where I am now if it weren't for you, and I thought you were a bad fellow, but I tell you Mr. Wallace you are so-and-so-and-so. Just last night, last night, I was in Kempsville. I was crossing, coming out of the drug store, going across the parking lot. A car passed and stopped about fifty yards from me and a lady rolled the window down and said, are you, are you Mr. Wallace. I said yeah. She said did you use to work at Riddick Weaver. I said yeah. She said josh. She said I used to have a crush on you man. (Laughter) She said I was in the first grade. She said I used to love you to death. She said all the girls used to love you to death, Mr. Wallace. I said well you all were babies then and I don't remember your name. She gave me her name and I don't remember it. And she said, I'm going home and I'm going to call my girlfriend and tell her I saw Mr. Wallace. She said we loved you to death. She said Mr. Wallace, you still look good, you know, she just went on and on and on. And it really make you feel good I say you know it's been thirty years or so since I've seen you. You know and I'm telling you and was just last night, uh, huh. And then when you look around and you see your kids doing well, they are in school. As I mentioned earlier, I was really telling the truth when I said that I was able to win the Most Improved School three different times. That means that a lot of kids at my school have done well or did well. They had high test scores and high attendance and those kinds of things worked for me, so that's a good feeling and then when parents call you and say Mr. Wallace I'm so happy you're in this school because my daughter is so pleased with you, I mean, you know on and on and on. Gives you a lot of good positive talk on goals and you get a lot of positive street talk. You get a lot of positive information by way of your wife, by way of your friends that people send things, tell Mr. Wallace so and so and so. Sometimes, Ann would come home and say I saw one of your kids and tell me things that this girl thinks well of you, something like that. They are good things and then you know, ah, when you have to deal with parents who will support their children when they know that the child is wrong, that's when it becomes work. The other thing is fun (recreational) when the good things happen. But it becomes work when you have a child, for example, when I was in Manor High School, the bell sounded one morning and the kid was standing on the crown by the square, you know that brick wall that goes around the square, standing with his arms folded, foot back on the wall. The bell sounded, I was out there and he didn't move. So I said hey young man the bell sounded. He kind of looked down, he was a tall kid, he looked down at his foot on the wall. So I said, you hear me. He said I heard you man. I said wait a minute my name is not man. And I can't tell you what I said, but I put my finger up his nose and got nasty and his boys just kind of disbursed. So he just kind of moved kind of slow, walking down the square, went on around by the cafeteria, to the telephone. Called his mama. Fifteen minutes later she showed up. I saw her. So, I didn't move. I stood in the hall and talked to some of the people. She went in the office. She said, well went in the office and asked for the principal. They called me on the radio. I said yes, Ms. so and so is here to see you. And I said yes I'll be there. I took my time because that's what I usually do when a parent comes in a hurry and wants to raise some sand. I took my time getting to them. You can't walk right in and I jump for you, you know. So eventually I went to the office and she was sitting in the main office and I looked at her and I said, you would like to see me, come no back. He was sitting beside her. She was huffing and puffing, out of breath. So, I said well sit down what's wrong, come in the office and sit down. What can I do for you. My son tell me you cursed at him. I said he's right, then I said he's exactly right, I did. Nah she didn't say that. She said my son told me you raised his voice at him. She said he also said you cursed at him too. I said you are right about that. So I looked at him and I said you never heard anybody curse before. She said that ain't the point. I said but. She said I don't raise my voice at my son. I said well I don't either normally that's why I asked him to go to class three times. I said I thought he had a problem hearing. So I had to raise my voice. She said he raised his voice at you because he asked you to go to class? Yes, little mama, but ah ah. That's why I come out here. I said the bell sounded; he's going to try to impress his little friends. He had four or five boys standing around him and I informed him that the bell had sounded and if he heard it and he didn't move. So I went to him. I said did you hear what I said. Yeah I heard you man. I said that when that damn bell sounds, when that bell sounds in my building, you go to class. So he didn't like it. So she said Mr. Wallace. She said every time my husband goes out to sea I have problems with him. She said let me tell you something young man. I said let me tell you this. I said if that bell sounds again and he's in the hall, if he doesn't move, some way, somehow if I can't get him to respond by my low voice, I'm going to raise it again. She said let me tell you something boy, the next time that bell sounds you go to class, but mama, I, he I don't want to hear it. That worked. If I had walked in there and said well I didn't go out there; she'd have jumped me, but she knew she had to fight me and she know I was right. But then I had other cases where when I was at Mapp, I wouldn't allow my boys to wear earrings, and it worked. But one parent bought his son a stud for Christmas and he came in after Christmas with a stud in his ear and some kids came and told me, said Mr. Wallace so and so had a stud in his ear. I said what. I said you better go and tell him to take it out. So they went and told him to take the stud out of his ear, Mr. Wallace is here. The boy got nerve so he saw me. He took it out quick. (unintelligible). That next morning he came in he went home and told his daddy that he not supposed to wear earrings and his daddy bought him in. I understand you're not allowing boys to wear earrings in the school. I said yes. He said well I just bought my son the earrings for Christmas and ah, I want him to wear it. I said I don't have any problem with that. I said, but under this roof I got a different set of rules. Your rules at home fine, I don't have any problem with that, he can wear anywhere he wants to. But under his roof, they are my rules and I said and kids need to understand that there are different rules in different places. I said your son understood that because he took his earring out without me telling him. He said well I want him to wear it. His name Stanley. I said Stanley, you gonna wear in this building or not. No sir. Yes you are going to wear it. I said are you telling your son to be disrespectful to me. No, I'm not telling your son to be disrespectful to me, to you, but you're being disrespectful to me. I said wait a minute now you not talking to that child. I was calm. I said I'm not your child. I said but I have got different rules than you have, so your child got to learn that he has follow rules in different places. Now here's a child, who's sitting here saying he doesn't want to break my rules and you're saying that he should break them. I said what kind of, what kind of message are you, are you sending your child. Well I ain't going to spend that kind of money for nothing. If he won't wear the earring, I'll kill him. So, I said you don't have to do that, but when the bell sounds he can put it in. But to make a long story short, he went straight to the newspaper, newspaper, radio. He had call-ins. Only one person called to support him. Everybody said I'm glad to know that there's a principal in this world that will stand for what's right, you know. Then Dr. Trumble called me. Lindell do you think that situation is worth what you are doing? I said well it worked, it worked. He said well you are not Michael Jordan. Well, I said Michael Jordan is making millions. Michael earned that, these kids might go to the paper one day and look for a job. People tend to judge you by the way you look. People tend to think that a guy that wears earrings and things got a little thug in him. I said these kids not ready for that yet. Well I think I'm just gonna forget it. I said the man was going to have a stroke. So he at that time had backed off, but he realized that, when he found that a lot of parents would support me. He didn't want to get in the middle of it. But a lot of little more situations happened than I can talk about that made that job hard. Teacher can make a job hard for you. Teachers can be your worse enemy or your best friend and you know that. Your worse enemy or your best friend because they can do two or three things. They can lay low and do just moderate stuff for you. They can lay low and put parents on you. They can lay low and put their kids out to get you, so then you'll in a box. You can't crawl out of that box, that's a tough box to be in. The only you can crawl out of that box is you know you need to get out of there, you know. So that's when being a principal is not, that's a bad part of being an administrator. But there is, to me, there were a lot more good things as being an administrator as I look back than bad. Sometimes things can be so bad that it seems like it's worse than it is. In many times, many cases, I've told the superintendent and parents that the school is not as bad as it seems. It's just that you got one or two bad kids that's so bad that it hits the street. For example, a kid can walk in your school with a gun. They don't say that John Doe walked in the school with a gun. Manor kids guns. Ah a kid at, there is guns in Manor School, there's guns in Churchland, things like that. So it gets people to thinking, God they got guns over there. One kid can have a gun, could be a cap gun, but it gets out like that. If you would sit down and tell your assistants to bring all the kids in that are troublemakers around here, I bet you would be lucky to get fifteen, but those fifteen can create so many problems for you that you think that you got bad, you got a bad situation. But the other 90% of the kids are just moving on, not causing any problems. You don't see them, you don't know them. But just the same ones keep coming back and back, back and forth and I think if you pulled those fifteen out, that fifteen more will surface. So you just can't clear it up, you know. So that the bad kind of thing you face as an administrator. And the hardest part of all is making the right decision for that kind of element, because you have no place to send that kind of person and the people who can help you will back away from you and say that's your problem. No, we can't do so-and so-and-so, that's your problem. You need to do so and so and so, you should have done, you know, that kind of thing it becomes you. It's never, when you're in a bad situation, it's never us, it's you. So I think that's some of the good and bad things that you find when you're in administration. And if there is anything else I could say to a person who's interested in being candidate for administration today now ten years ago, you could have said one thing, fifteen years ago you could have said something different, five years ago you started saying, hey man, you know, and today you say to a person who wants to go into administration, you say you got to be an attorney. You have to be a counselor, you have to be a psychologist, you got to be all, everything balled into one that teaches you how to work with the human mind. Because people don't take things today because you say, you need to do this. You got to be able to listen and tell them why. And if they not, if they don't want to listen, they are still going to move on. So being an administrator today is not as rewarding as it used to be. It may be as rewarding, but you don't see the rewards like you use to see. You see now more of the other side. You know, you read about the times when schools were a safe haven, it was a nice place to be in and this and that on other things, but now when you read about school in the paper and listen to news, its all negative. And that's the mentality of the people today. When they are in the ninety's, because school is not a nice place to be. But to go in as an administrator, you got to go in with that in mind and you got to go in and say I can, I can deal with that. You know, but you got to have more psychology I think, you got to have a good since of people. I mean, you just can't make a person an administrator today because a person, because you like that person. You got to say, hey now I like you a lot, but this has nothing to do with you. But, there are some skills you don't have and you need to be successful. Its not easy today and I, because I have been in it so long I saw it reach a point when it leveled off then I saw it start going back down. You can't, it like a run away train, you can't stop it so big it so wide spread. And you got people now that will support kids when they are wrong (unintelligible) I mean no matter what a person does they'll find a way to make excuse for them. And I came from an era of right and wrong, not black and white whose right and wrong. When I was a principal I would always say in my head I'm going to deal with right and wrong I don't see black and white I don't see color I see right and wrong. If you were wrong and your daddy was the mayor, you wrong, you got deal with the situation that way. But today, if your daddy is the mayor and you wrong they will find a way to put him back into the system. So the, the person whose going in today has to be able to take some to be concerned and some frustrated kinds of situations. You got to be strong and say in your mind I lose this one, but I'm going to win the next one you not going to win them all. When you will be going to school whatever the teacher said or principal said was law one. You didn't have no argument, you could even go home with it, didn't want your mother to know about it because you knew you were going to lose. You know, so I think if a person is accounted for an administrator today, you will need more then , you need a degree, you need a degree on paper, but you need that degree that you can't get in the classroom. Because you can't teach, you can't teach somebody how to be an administrator. It something that you just got to, see I think a leader is born. You know, I think, I don't think can force a person to be a leader. You put all the elements in front of him, but he's going to leave out one of the top once that makes a difference. And a lot of leaders fail, because they don't listen. They think their way is the way and I think a good leader can listen to a child five or six years old and learn something. You know, for some people say I'm the principal ain't thinking about, I know how, you don't know it all. When you went to a leadership position if you want anything you got to know all the answers. And all the answers that you come up with that are right you had a good day. Because what happen to you is people know the answers they will lay back then you'll see. Sometimes they will ask you questions, they know the answers just to see how, how well verse you are. And see what I used to do is to say I'm not sure. I say I'll find out, what about you? What would you do? Never did I get up and say so and so and so. I was never, I was never too proud to say I don't know. I say, we will do this thing, but we will do this thing together. Because I don't know any more about this thing then you do. But with, if its successful then we all win. See, I never, I never go in and say you take care of this you take care of this and you take care of this and I'm going to do so and so and so. Because I, I know so. This is something we haven't decided, we, no I, but Wilson, everybody in that school go crazy for saying I. We, have an assignment, now lets see if we can sit down and see how quickly we can work it out. So ah, I said a lot to get to the point that a person interested in going into administration today, I don't think he should talk too long to a person who has been in it for a while, because they will say I wish I was out, I would want to go back into administration. I have turned down four jobs since I've been out, you know because I sell computers, software, hardware and stuff in the school systems. And I, and when go to the, the school systems I meet with the superintendents, because I can, you know, I can get in the door, because I was you know. And a lot of, I work down North Carolina now and a lot of guys in Carolina who work in those school systems 1200 kids in the whole system, 3000 kids in the whole system and here I am been in a school system with 80,000 kids. They want to pick my brain. You want a job just call me. So ah, I think that's the kind of thing I would be cautious about when I talk to a person who has a desire to go into administration today. Just say look man, it not going to be easy, but just do your job, because you make the kind of decisions at this time. Its a job that you got to know people. Then you got to have a certain kind of skills that you, you can't get from books. And you got to be kind of open minded, and you can be open minded and still be in charge. And you got to assign people, you got to be willing to help people, but the key is having strong people around you. Assigning good people to certain kinds of position you just kind of have to teach, teach. I'll tell you when you said that where are now you are getting bored, but I'm telling you the truth being a principal in high school today (unintelligible).
Q: Mr. Wallace we, we definitely appreciate your willingness and response to the questions and this interview. And no behalf of Dr. Patrick Carlton we do appreciate you taking this time to give us, to answer these question and may the Lord bless you and have a nice day.
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