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Q: Mrs. Wadley, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development (such as your birthplace, elementary and secondary education and family characteristics)?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Mount Vernon, New York to Victoria and Walter Bennett, lower-middle class parents who greatly valued education. I attended elementary through high school in an integrated school setting, moved to an academic high school, where I performed fairly well but probably could have done better. Nevertheless, from the time I was a child I always wanted to be a teacher, and so when I graduated from high school I entered Howard University, majored in secondary education, graduated with a bachelor's degree in English. I then pursued a masters degree for a year but decided I was tired of school and wanted to get right into the practicality of it all, so I taught junior high school in Washington, DC at Shore Junior High School for three years before moving to California. Once in California I taught for five years and after that I was approached by, the then principal of the school where I was teaching, who encouraged me to go into administration. I did earn my masters degree in educational administration and became an assistant principal as soon as, actually prior to finishing my program. I went from an assistant principal to a principal, middle school principal, junior high school principal, high school principal, and then I went into central administration as a...there's an area leader where I had thirteen schools that I supervised and then I became the director of secondary education for seven secondary schools and adult education program and vocational education.
Q: Great. Great. So with that you pretty much answered question number two. Is there anything else you wanted to add about that question?
A: I feel that preparation for entering the field of teaching...preparation that I received at Howard University, I think, prepared me very well. There is something about attending predominantly black colleges that tend to almost over-prepare you for the task ahead, and even though my first year of teaching was very challenging, it had nothing to do with my preparation at Howard. I think it was just newness and my own immaturity, but after my first year I was sailing, so I really do appreciate the education that I got from Howard.
Q: How would you discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now?
A: Hmm, experiences or events in my life that constituted important decision points... Well, as I mentioned earlier, I always wanted to be a teacher. I remember, as a child, playing school and I always wanted to be the teacher, so there was never any secondary thoughts about what I would do as an adult. I always loved children. I had three brothers, two of whom were much younger than I was and so I learned early how to relate to younger children and also older people. I was always a very responsible child. I never went through some of the growing pains that many young people of today go through because I always had responsibilities. I either had to take care of my little brothers or I had a job, or both, and so I didn't have a lot of time to whittle away with idleness, and my mother used to tell me that an idle mind is the devil's workshop, so when I was faced with hard work in college, that just kind of came as second nature to me. You know, I never backed away from that. The other opportunity that I think that really helped pave my way in education had to do with being able to recognize opportunities when they came. I got into administration, actually, through a kind of a quirk. I was teaching as a regular classroom teacher, general classroom teacher, and one of the administrators was transferred to another school, which left the school with a female principal and two assistant male principals. There was no one in the building at that time that she felt could adequately relate to the girls. This was a seventh and eighth and ninth grade school, and so the principal, feeling that I was a good disciplinarian and related well to the students, approached me and asked me if I would volunteer to work with, work in the office, I think one period a day for a year. And, of course, with my love for young people and feeling that I could help someone, I offered to do that. Well, I got much criticism from some of my peers who felt that I was being taken advantage of and I was being used, etc. etc. But I didn't see it that way. I saw it as an opportunity to help someone. As a result of that experience, by the end of that year I was approached by a principal at another school who was looking for an assistant principal. I had no credentials. I had done no work towards getting one. I was a young, single parent and really wasn't interested in school, but he said he had heard that I was doing such a good job, and he and my principal encouraged me to go to summer school and start working on my administrative credentials. I did. Not with much encouragement from the person who was, then, dean of the school of education, who was very biased, didn't care for women, and he definitely disliked minorities and felt that the push to integrate the teaching staffs and the administrative staffs in that district was coming on too quickly. And so he tried to discourage me from getting into the program. He said, AGo home and take care of your child.@ Well, that was the wrong thing to say to Jean Wadley. I then decided that I was just going to show him that I could do both, so I enrolled in his program, because there was no way he could keep me out. I had three courses that first summer semester, two of which I took from him. I got two A's from both of his classes and at that point he decided that maybe I wasn't such a risk after all and he did a complete, 180 degree turn about and became my greatest advocate C got me an emergency credential so that I could start being assistant principal that very fall, without a (inaudible) credential, assisted me in every way that he could, so that I was able to get my masters in, within that school year, and then encouraged me to go and try to pursue a doctorate at the University of Chicago, but I declined, because at that time I was looking forward to remarrying and so I turned that down. My point in saying all of this is that sometimes what seems like an adversity can become your greatest challenge and opportunity, and so I would advise young people to listen to their hearts and follow what they think is the best thing for them because you never know where that road's going to lead you.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: Okay. Kind of hit on that. I served six years as an assistant principal at a middle, and then a junior high school. My last year as an assistant principal I was assigned to work under a principal who I could, not only not learn anything from...I really couldn't even respect him as an instructional leader, and so after a very difficult year working with this gentleman I decided that, perhaps, I was more principalship material than I had actually given myself credit for. About that time an opportunity for a one year principalship came up because there was a school in the District that they were getting ready to close down and they needed a principal for one year, so when I approached the administration about a transfer in assignment, they asked me if I would be interested in going to Stockton Junior High School for a year, and of course, again, I grabbed at the opportunity because, in my mind, it occurred to me that this would be a wonderful opportunity to determine whether I really wanted to be a principal. I figured - you have one year. You could either make it or break it or at least get a taste for what it's going to be like, even though it was a difficult assignment because they were closing down the school, and so I jumped at it and I went to that school. Again, under some adverse conditions because I followed...there were two people at the school who had been there for twenty years who had applied for the principalship and the staff, of course, was hoping that either one of them would have gotten the assignment, and when I received the assignment over these two people, there were some hard feelings about favoritism or what have you, but again, I didn't let that deter me. I just went in. I proved myself. I did the best possible job that I could do and at the end of the year the teaching staff gave me a wonderful send-off party and some of my main non-supporters, I guess, again, indicated that they were very supportive and that we had had a good year and so all ended well. From that I was assigned to a permanent position as a principal in another school, which was also a very challenging school - low academic achievement, high disciplinary problems, poor community relations - and I went over there for a few years to turn things around.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education. How did it evolve over the years?
A: That's a good question, especially the second part. My personal philosophy of education is that the schools exist to serve the children. I also have discovered that over the years the higher you go, the less that philosophy seems to come into play in serving districts. As a teacher I always felt that every teacher felt the same way that I did...that they all felt that all children can learn, all children will learn under me to the best of their ability if I'm going to be devoted and dedicated and do everything that I can to make this happen. Well, when I became an assistant principal I discovered that all teachers don't really feel that way, that different people go into teaching for different reasons. Some go into it for the money, or lack thereof. Some go into it for the vacation and the fact that they think it's an easy job C you work nine months, you get off at three, and if somebody learns fine, if they don't, it's no biggy. That was very disheartening to me and so I said to myself, AWell, maybe being an assistant principal, you don't have that much of an impact on what really happens in the classroom.@ So when I became a principal I applied my philosophy that all children can and will learn in order to affect the attitudes of my teaching staff, and also my assistant principals. The higher you go in education, the more you learn that the children are the least of the problem. And I said that too many people and they look at me kind of wearily, as if to say, AWell, you know, what are you talking about?@ And what I'm talking about is that the children come to us as results of their parents, and they're the best children that their parents have to offer, in whatever state they come to us. That's the best that they can do and they may not all be where we would like them to be when they come into our various grades to subject matters, but they're where they are and a good teacher can teach anybody. A master teacher is a master teacher because of that very fact, because he or she has proven that they can master any of the shortcomings that the youngsters may have and teach them, at least to the extent of that child's ability. Well, as I said, I got somewhat discouraged the higher I went in educational administration because too many times I felt that the emphases were on things other than the actual learning of the children. I have come to the conclusion that lack of money or funding for education is not the problem, is not the reason why students fail to learn. I truly believe that because I've been involved with all kinds of federal and state programs that feed money into the schools and the children do no better. Again, this is California, so this may not be a true statement everywhere, but I have a feeling that it probably rings true more often than not. Dedicated, well-prepared, nurturing classroom teachers from pre school up to the twelfth grade are what make the difference in whether children learn or fail to learn. When I started teaching in Washington, DC we had leftover books. We didn't have copying machines. We had one raggedy ditto machine that worked half of the time. We didn't have any audio-visual materials. We had a chalk board and seats, desks and a dedicated teacher, and my children learned more from day one to the end of the year, in Washington DC with limited resources, than they learned in Stockton, California, that had all kinds of Title I, Chapter I monies and equipment and books. Not because I was doing any less job of teaching, but because the emphasis was on material things which I was able to use but, I don't know, I guess what I'm trying to say...I won't say the DC children learned more. I'll say they learned just as much. I'll put it that way, because the children that I taught when I first went into education, I think they learned. At least they made progress month to month, if not more, from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year. But there was a lot more money spent, I guess is what I'm trying...to achieve the same results that I was able to achieve with little or nothing. The evolvement of my philosophy probably I feel that children are learning less now, with more, and that bothers me because I just believe that...if doesn't happen in the classroom and if it doesn't happen with the teacher and coming from the heart of the teacher, it's just not going to happen regardless of how much money you put in, how many of the programs you put in. There are so many programs in the schools now, it's almost impossible to find the three R's. Again, this is California. Virginia I'm not sure. With anti-gang programs, anti-suicide programs, breakfast programs, lunch programs, after school programs, lock and key programs - all of which are good - but sometimes I think those monies detract from what children actually need in order to function and become capable, moral citizens of our United States. What we're going to do about that, I don't know and I'm probably rambling so maybe we should go to the next (laughter).
Q: Okay. How would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it was developed and how it evolved over time?
A: Okay. Again, the philosophy of my school was pretty much said by my own philosophy and my own leadership style. Even though the district did have a philosophy, it wasn't as personal as I felt it should have been. It was more - all children can learn - and kind of take it from there. And my philosophy was that all children can learn and WILL learn, because we know children can learn, but will they learn depends on how much teaching is going on. And if there's no learning, there's no teaching, so my philosophy at my school site was to inspect what I expected. I expected my teachers to give direct instruction, to supervise their children, to show some nurturing and caring, and to be able to diagnose those youngsters and prescribe teaching methodologies that would cause them to learn - that they would learn. And so I inspected very carefully what I expected my teachers to do. I attended their department meetings which was kind of a new thing for them, especially since this is a union country where contracts dictated pretty much everything that teachers did and didn't do. But I would attend their department meetings to see that the items being discussed had to do with curriculum and classroom management. I met with each teacher on a regular basis, even when it was not their year to be evaluated. These were non-evaluative conferences. I shared with them their grading practices as compared to other teachers' grading practices, because there were some teachers who felt that AI have all the worse kids in the school,@ and I was able to share with some of them that AYou have the same kids as the other teachers and these youngsters are not doing that poorly in other teachers' classrooms. Maybe we need to be looking a little closer to the source of the instruction.@ That, again, evolved over time because when I began as a principal I was mainly concerned with keeping the youngsters safe and trying to keep down as many problems as possible to keep the school's reputation high. And there was a time when that was, certainly, very much needed because the schools were in disarray in some respect. But after we...as I grew in my principalship and as I was able to experience more what children really needed, we moved from...not from keeping them safe because that's always a priority, but I discovered that if you don't have a good curriculum and effective teachers, you're not going to have a controlled school. That no matter how well you're teaching or how much you want, the two have to go hand in hand. Students have to feel safe. They also have to feel that they're learning something in their school setting, and so we were able to combine safety along with a strong learning environment that made (inaudible comment)...it's all about times. I guess what I'm saying is the instructional philosophy of the school has a lot to do with the leadership style of the principal. The principal can set the tone for his or her school. If the principal is businesslike, task oriented, student oriented, concerned with the whole child, he can probably communicate that to his or her teachers and the teachers that don't come into that understanding, hopefully, can be encouraged to go someplace else or change and that the instructional leader of the school has to be the principal of the school based on his or her personal philosophy.
Q: What experiences or events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy, and if you will discuss these events.
A: Okay, a lot of the experiences and events...I'm kind of overlapping as I go from one question to the other. I don't wish to be redundant, but again, experiences and events in my professional life that influence my management philosophy, one had to do, again, with observing other administrators, and either imitating or not imitating their styles, based on the results that I felt they were able to evoke from their student bodies. Again, a lot of it had to do with my personal beliefs. I believe that morality and values can and should be displayed and taught in the school setting. A lot of people may not agree with me and I'm not talking about teaching the bible, or doing anything that's unconstitutional, but I think that the way teachers dress, the way they carry themselves, the way they relate to their students, has a lot to do with the way the students, themselves, behave. I was principal of a high school for a year. This was a very challenging high school. It had a reputation for being the worst high school in the county. It was gang ridden, low teacher morale, high crimes and violence and vandalism...the only real spark in that school was it had an outstanding athletic program, which the community took great pride in. It was kind of a community based school, too, because they used it for a lot of community activities, which was very good, but the community was in a low socio-economic district and there weren't very many expectations coming out of that school, other than the athletes being able to compete and with everybody on the football field and the basketball court. When I went into that situation, I told the faculty and the students, this school has a lot of potential. First of all, it has a lot of community interest, which is good. The community, the people here, want something to happen at this school. All they've been really exposed to has been the athletic program, so they know that really well, but we need to educate them about how students achieve. How you get teachers to teach and raise their expectations for these students who have never been expected to do anything, and so we got involved with parent meetings, getting involved parents on the school side council. I shared every policy and guideline that I could get my hands on that came either from the Federal or State Department of Education, and parent involvement...got teachers to change their attitudes, to some degree, and to have some expectations for these students. Just because they were poor and from an inner city area was no reason not to expect that they couldn't perform. We were able to raise the math scores in that one year fifteen points and the reading scores by eight points, which was unheard of for that school. You tend to get what you expect from students. If you don't expect much, you're not going to get much. We were also able to curb the gang involvement because I instituted a gang prevention policy. This was prior to the state of California ever instituting one because it was kind of assumed that we can't tell these kids what to wear, and my feeling was you could tell them what to wear if it's distracting from the educational environment and from the learning environment. So we were able to implement a dress code, which did much to improve the student conduct, to implement some preparation periods for their math and the English teacher, to help them help the other teachers in preparing on going strategies to raise student achievement, and get some parents involved. One of my, I have to say, one of my accomplishments was one of the parents that I got involved, who had never been involved with the schools, other than to be a rebel-rouser and criticize everything that the schools did...one of those parents, several years after I left, ran for the Board of Education and became a board member and he gave, credited me for opening his eyes as to what one person can do in a school district, so I felt really good about that.
Q: what kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views of what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the Agood principal.@
A: What kinds of thing do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Teachers expect principals to be able to do everything (laughter). They expect them to be all things to all teachers, yet if you probably sat down and asked them to list six things that principals do, they might not be able to come up with six, however, what it takes to be an effective principal. First of all, a good principal has to be knowledgeable of people, children, adults. He has to have a good...he or she has to have a good interpersonal relationship skills. Good principals, effective principals need to be knowledgeable and that doesn't mean knowledgeable of every subject matter, or every grade level that's being taught in his or her school, but certainly he or she needs to understand learning styles, teaching styles, supervision techniques, and be able to recognize when learning is not taking place and have some strategies as how you could correct that. Good principal and effect principal needs to be community minded. Principals are looked upon as being community leaders and when effective principals don't get involved with their communities, it tends to take away from the confidence that the parents and people in the community might have towards that principal. If you have a principal who loves her students, loves his or her job, relates well to adults, all adults, because in the teaching field, and especially as a principal, you come into contact with all types - the good, the kind, the beautiful and the ugly. And sometimes it can be very, very stressful being a principal and dealing with all types of people, but you have to have that skill that allows you to appreciate people, especially the parents of your students, and your teachers for who they are, what they are, and where they are in life whenever they come across your path. An effective principal has to be willing to glow, willing to learn and stay professionally involved in developing his or her skills, whether that involves going back to school or updating skills that may be a little fuzzy, and basically, inspecting what he or she expects from his or her school. And I think if one does that, he or she can be recognized as an effective instructional leader because, basically, that's what the principal is. He is also a manager and all-around business partner with the school district, but his primary role, the primary role of a principal is to be an instructional leader for that institution.
Q: There are those who argue that more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue. And, if you were king, or queen in your case, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Okay, let's see if I can answer that as briefly as possible. There are those who argue that more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help, building level administrators in carrying out their responsibility. That can be very true. Central office administrators often times forget what it was like to have been a site person, if they have been one. If they haven't, it's worse yet because they have no idea, not a clue, of what principals do and the demands that are made on their time. Going from a principalship to a central administrative office I was able to understand that and keep that upper-most in my mind, and so my policies and strategies for working with administrators at the school site level, basically, went like this. How would I like to be treated if I were that principal or that assistant principal? And that's the way I tried to treat my principals. Nobody wants to be called to a meeting at the last minute just because the central administrator thinks it's important, because there are things going on at the site that the principal may think is important, or more important. Nobody wants to be mandated or told that you have to implement such and such and such a policy or program because it came from the federal government, to the state, to the school, without adequate time to prepare and comprehend what you're going to ultimately be asked to do. And sometimes central office administrators, who often indicate that they're being driven by higher powers, either the state or the federal government, into doing things and then there's kind of the domino effect. You know, the state forces us and so therefore we have to force you and the principals have to then force the teachers and so it becomes an on-going, blaming, finger-pointing proposition, rather than everybody asking, what is going to be best for the students of this county or of this district? And then how can we best do that with the least amount of disruption, interruption to the total learning process If I were queen, what changes would I make in the typical system wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness? One thing that I would do would be to require central office administrators to spend some time, over a period of time, back at a school site. I have heard this advocated in several school districts and usually it's greatly resisted, but as one of the best things that I ever did was to be a principal, go into central administration, go back to being a principal, go back into central administration. I did this twice and each time I came back into central administration, I was a better central administrator for having been at the school site for a period of time, and it doesn't have to be a whole year, like I did, or a long period of time, but just long enough to realize and remember what it's like. Principals don't have the luxury of going out for hour lunches, or have half-hour lunches (laughter) quite often. They don't have the luxury of kicking back and taking breaks and sitting down and relaxing whenever they feel like it, because their agenda is propelled by outside influences - students, parents, teachers, anybody, everybody who comes through and wants to see the principal. You can't say, AI can't see you now because I'd like to take a nap or I'd like to take a walk or whatever.@ You're on call. Principals have not a job, but a life style that ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day. They don't have the luxury of not showing up, because the kids are going to be there, whether they're there or not. They don't have the luxury of not observing and supervising their teachers because if they fail to do that, then the program will fall, other people will take control. If the principal's not in control, the teachers will be. If the teachers are not in control, the students will be, and eventually you have havoc because nobody's really in control. So, central office, sometimes, I think they tend to forget that a principal has a very, very difficult job and I would probably require that they spend, maybe a month, every two or three years, or some period of time close enough so that they don't get too far away from where they've been or where they should have been in order to be effective supervisors of building level administrators.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: My advice to a person considering an administrative job is, please realize that when you go into this position, it is a life style. It is more than an eight, nine, ten hour job. It has to almost be your number, or certainly your number two priority. If you're making a good salary, the reason you're making that good salary is because there are going to be expectations of you and responsibilities and that you will have a lot of authority, but with authority comes major, major responsibilities, so make sure that this is what you want to do. Being an administrator is not a title, per say. It is, as I said, a life style and you have to be ready for the challenge or else you're not going to make it.
Q: Let me check this and see if we...I need to turn the tape over. Let me stop this for a moment.
Q: Okay, we're back with question number eleven. There are those that 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: Okay, I've touched on that also, and again, I feel that the principal has to be both an instructional leader and a good manager. A good manager in that he's able to juggle all of the different roles that come into play in being an effective principal. He has to be able to manage the programs which, from year to year, vary but are usually multiple and this includes site level programs, programs that are...that come down from the (inaudible) to be SOL testing or all of that business. He has to be able to supervise and evaluate and manage the teaching staff, as well as the other staff at the school - the assistant principals, the counselors, all the off-site people that come on to the site. He has to be able to manage his time and schedule so that everything falls into place without a lot of conflicts and that he's able to share with all facets of the school program in a way that makes them realize that he or she is interested in that particular program. For example, when you have an athletic program, and you have both boys and girls sports, an effective principal has to be able to attend as many of those games as possible, for both the girls and the boys, so he's not accused of being, showing favoritism to either one or the other. An effective principal, especially at a high school, has to not only support the athletic programs, but also the other programs. If the drama department is presenting a play, you have to be present at that play, so that you're not accused of favoring the athletic program over the drama program, and on and on and on. The budget, which is seldom talked about, but usually a biggy, and sometimes a downfall of some principals, is a major .are we still on eleven?
Q: Yeah, we'll continue with number eleven when you were answering question, there are those that 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, and would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style.
A: Again, the principal, an effective principal, has to be both a good manager and a strong instructional leader for the reasons that I've just given and it's possible to do all of these things, but it's difficult. It's hard work and you have to be dedicated and realistic and also able to set priorities in your time management so that everything gets taken care of in an effective manner without wearing yourself out, physically, mentally and emotionally, because being a principal, especially a high school principal, is a very, very difficult task.
Q: Okay, the next question is, would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: Teacher evaluation is a must. Quite often people have the feeling that teacher evaluation is something that principals may not be really qualified to do, and I've heard of peer evaluation and other kinds of clinical supervision techniques that different school districts use, however, I feel that one of the main responsibilities of the site level principal is to evaluate his teachers, and the purpose of evaluating teachers is, first of all, to help them to continue to grow and to improve. That's why in the clinical supervision you have all the various steps - the pre-conference, the pre-evaluation conference and the post-evaluation conference, and all of the steps in between, to assist those teachers who need assistance. After teachers have been supervised and assisted as much as possible, the evaluation tool should be used to either determine whether or not they remain in teaching or move on to something else. Many principals find this very difficult to do. They find it difficult to recommend a teacher for non-hire, or for non-rehire, but in essence, this is a responsibility of the principal. There are some people, some teachers who should not have gone into teaching in the first place. Either they went in for the wrong reasons, or they weren't appropriately prepared, or they show no interest in improving. If this is the case, then those people should be encouraged to leave teaching. The principle purpose, again, of the evaluation is to help improve those teachers who need improving and to maintain those teachers and keep encouraging those teachers who are doing a good job. No teacher should fear evaluation from an effective principal, and no effective principal should fear evaluating a teacher, regardless as to how good or how poor that teachers is, because if a teacher's doing a good job, the principal should be able to encourage that teacher, keep them pumped (I guess is a word the kids might use), keep them motivated and learning, by offering professional development and training that's going to assist that teacher. If the teacher's a mediocre teacher, the principal should be able to help, with other personnel, offer resources, and support for that teacher to improve as quickly as possible, with whatever means that the school and the administration can provide, in the way of training and furthered education. And if the teacher is poor, the principal's responsibility...I mean poor and shows no sign of improving, or no willingness to improve, the principal should be able to say, APerhaps you would do better in another area, or teaching doesn't seem to be something that you are really cut out for.@
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the assistant principal? Discuss utilization of such personnel while on the job. Would you describe the most effective assistant principal with whom you had the opportunity to serve? What became of this individual?
A: The role of the assistant principal should be to prepare him or herself to become a principal. I know everyone doesn't agree with that and there are some people who indicate that they are veteran assistant principals. I was like that myself when I first started. There are some people who remain assistant principals, but I think they should be prepared and trained to become a principal. An assistant principal should be exposed to all the roles, duties and responsibilities of the principal, which would include supervision of teachers, supervision of students, curriculum development, budget management (which so many of them do not get any training for), parent involvement, supervision of soft money programs, and any other role that ultimately would prepare him or her to become a principal. They should not be given the role of, the complete role of disciplinarian. It is a thankless and ineffective use of their time to be solely used as the bad guy. And I've seen that happen where a person, because they were big, or strong, or mean, or whatever the principal felt that he or she needed at that time, was given the task of just disciplining students, just disciplining students year after year after year. When that person was ultimately assigned to a principalship years later, he felt miserable because he had never really grasped the true meaning of being an instructional leader. He didn't know about scheduling, which is something I should have mentioned earlier. He didn't understand the budget or money management, and when he wasn't...when his presence wasn't at the school, there was no real control, because it was a controlling by fear atmosphere, and so consequently the person failed. The most effective assistant principal that I have ever worked with, and I've had several, went on to become principals, and did a very good job, and I'd like to say I think a lot of that had to do with my training of them in their assistant principal roles because I tried to share my philosophy of education with my assistant principals, and the ones that bought into it usually went on and did very well.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: The characteristics that are associated with the most effective schools are a positive learning environment or climate, which includes a feeling of safety, a feeling of caring by the principal on down, a feeling that every child is important in the school - everybody is somebody, a concern for the parents and their involvement - not just in participation, but their actual involvement in how their children learn. It helps. It helps to have schools that are neat and clean and open, but again, I've found that that's not the most important things, because I've worked and been principal in schools that were almost a drudge. My children have learned it's more difficult and people don't come to school, probably, with as positive...an attitude as those who have better facilities, but when they meet caring people in that place, sometimes they can overlook the exterior or the interior of the building. Effective schools should offer programs that fit the needs of the students, including extra curricular activities, because that helps give the children something to look forward to other than the primary curriculum of the school, and to feel that school is, kind of, a second home. Effective schools should have sufficient materials, books - a book for every child, adequate classroom teachers, effective substitute teachers, and any supplementary programs that those might need in order to catch up or stay on par with their classmates, if they're having problems in the areas of reading, math, (especially reading and math). I guess that's it. I said before the richer schools are not always the best schools. Rich, meaning, money -wise. I've seen schools with lots of money and their achievement level never improves. Pretty schools. Everybody seemed happy, but no learning is taking place. Everybody's so busy having fun that there's not a lot of learning, so it's all about caring and knowing that you, as a principal, can make a difference. That your teachers, if they're dedicated, can make a difference. That these children, whose lives you touch, can go out and go back into their communities and make a difference. And if enough people care about that, that happens. If you have an absence of that, then you will have a less successful school. If you have a school where the teachers don't really care about their students. I don't mean all the teachers, but I mean a large part of them, who aren't in touch with the community and the parents and the community leaders and don't get involved with their school, other than to just put in the hours that they have to be in the classroom, where the school isn't safe and people can walk on campus and create all kinds of havoc and not have anything happen. It doesn't mean you have to have police forces in all your schools either...gun toting characters walking around waiting to shoot somebody. Where from one year to the next people don't analyze test scores and strategize as to how they can improve them. They settle for status quo. That's a less successful school, an ineffective school. That has nothing to do with money, in my humble opinion.
Q: Most systems presently have a tenure or continuing contract system for teachers. Would you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such a system?
A: I never did question. When I entered the teaching profession, again, I was teaching in Washington, DC, there were, to my knowledge, no tenure or continuing contract systems for teachers. That was good and bad. One of the good things was that, when I went in as a teacher, you had to take the teachers exam, the DC teacher exam, and if you passed that exam, you went in as a probationary teacher, and I think you stayed probationary for two years, and then if you performed satisfactorily, you became permanent. That was good. The bad thing was that there were over half of the teachers, probably three-fourths of the teachers at the school where I was assigned, who had never passed the DC teachers exam. They were, what they called, temporary teachers and some of them had been temporary for twenty years. To me, that is a detriment to a school district, to have teachers, educators, who are unable to pass an exam...maybe not initially, but after so many years, they are still temporary teachers because of an inability to pass a written exam. So, it was probably good that there was no tenure, but they didn't do anything about it so it might as well have been tenured, because for all intents and purposes, they were tenured teachers and they were pretty much on the same salary scale as those of us who were probationary. In California, they have a very strong tenure contract. Teachers who teach for three years, satisfactorily, become tenured teachers and it is almost impossible to get rid of them. The drawback of that system is that there are some teachers who do well for three years, or four, or five, and after that point they become tired, or they feel that they have it made and they know that in order to get rid of them it's going to take about eighty percent of the principal's time during that year to supervise and evaluate and document them for dismissal. And so, consequently, when I first went into teaching in California, it was almost impossible to get rid of poor teachers and, in fact, the district that I served in, they hadn't fired a teacher, I don't know, in years - fifty, sixty years. Now, it is a little easier to get rid of probationary teachers after...within a two year period...at the end of their first year or at the end of their second year, before they receive tenure. Even though the tenure is protected by contract, they have loosened up the laws, somewhat so that teachers who don't make it within the first two years can not be reassigned. But it's a very tedious process and the principal in the district that I worked at, the principal did not have the authority to do that on his or her own. They could recommend, but then the union had to be involved, the board had to be involved, you had several hearings and a lengthy process, and there were still many teachers who probably should have been released, who were not released, because principals didn't want to go through the process, or mid way through the process, some technicality, or something, came up...was discovered and the teachers were let off the hook. So, I think tenure has its evils, but it does protect those good teachers who are looking to a career of teaching and the benefits of the teaching profession and a retirement, etc. I think it depends on how it's used, whether or not it's good or bad.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his or her general demeanor towards you and your school?
A: Superintendents tend to relate to principals based on what they feel to be the success or lack of success of that principal. The less problems you cause for the school district, the better they like you (laughter). My relationship with all of the superintendents, and for awhile there was quite a turnover of superintendents in our district, because as I've said, it was a very challenging district, but I always had a good relationship with the superintendent. And probably because I didn't create...my school didn't create problems with the district. Most of the problems that came to the school were settled at the school level. My staff and I were able to deal with irate parents, school environment and setting, school climate, all the issues around the bilingual education and special education and because we didn't have a real need to rock the boat, because we were able to deal with most of the issues, and because I was considered an effective principal, and because the achievement level rose during my tenure there, the superintendent looked very favorably and very kindly on me, and when I needed something, I was always able to get it. When I needed his or her support, I was always able to get it, and I never had any real negative feelings with any of the superintendents that I worked under, either as a site administrator or as a central administrator.
Q: And finally, would you tell us the key to your success as a principal?
A: Well, I think my key to success as a principal has a lot to do with my personality. I've had people tell me that my approach to being a principal is very much a Acommon sense approach.@ That all the things that I didn't get out of a book, which there are a lot of them that you don't get out of a book, learned to deal with through good, hard common sense, which I find is a short suit in education sometimes. People feel that all the answers should be in the book. If it's not in the book, they don't know where to look. My basic personality and style, which is one of common sense. Caring. I display an attitude of caring for all people. It doesn't matter their race, their age, their education, their station in life. I'm a Christian woman who feels that principals and people in education serve a real purpose and our purpose is to help children become the best that they can be. So because I've taken that philosophy into everything that I've done in the field of education, from the classroom up to central administration, I've never been disappointed with my job, or seldom been disappointed with my job. Always been very highly thought of, received all kinds of awards and recognition in the district where I worked for thirty years. Enjoyed good community support, through my church and through the general black community, as well as the white community, and I really believe that some people are...I won't say born leaders, but have some natural abilities that enhance their leadership skills, and I think I've been one of those people. I can just reach out to children, young children and young adults, and they know, they sense, that I care about them, and also I'm very intelligent (laughter). And I think my intelligence, combined with my personality, helped me to become an effective principal.
Q: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for spending the time with me and this concludes our interview.
A: Thank you for the interview. I've enjoyed it.
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