I am pleased to be interviewing Dr. Henry York, a retired intermediate school principal. Today's date is Wednesday, January 13, 1988.
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Q: Let me begin by asking you, how many years have you been in education?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
Q: And as a teacher?
A: A teacher for nine years.
Q: And as a principal?
A: Twenty years as a principal.
Q: O.K. So that leaves five of other?
A: \I was an assistant principal and counselor.
Q: Could you please describe you school for me?
A: Frost Intermediate was a 7th and 8th grade school in a fairly affluent section of Fairfax County. It was opened in 1960 with an attendance basically from the rural section of the county. It served 1/5th of Fairfax County when it opened. At the 11th feeder elementary schools. And the attendance area dropped over the next 12 years as probably four or five other intermediate schools opened serving part of that area, so the attendance area became smaller and smaller. Probably had 35 buses the first year because of the large distance and some students rode maybe 45 minutes on the bus. Of course, that dropped considerably at the last year -- the last couple of years. I had 1,100 -- 1,050 students the first year and grew to 1,650 at its peak. And the last year it was down to around 1,100.
Q: So you were teaching in your beginning principalship in a very new state-of-the-art building?
A: Brand new. A brand new school, as a matter of fact, it wasn't completed when we moved in.
Q: And that brings in some additional concerns?
A: Right. Well, we had P.E. classes in the cafeteria because the kitchen wasn't finished and our whole home ec suite was not completed so they were meeting in regular classrooms, but teachers adapted pretty well.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: I had originally intended to go into law school, but I had started teaching to earn a little money to go on to school and I liked teaching so much that I never decided to ever leave it, and then when I got into counseling and was scheduling youngsters who and having to make the master schedule for rural high school and things of that nature, I began to learn I liked the administrating possibilities, so when the intermediate program started in 1960, an acquaintance called me and asked me if I would like to be an assistant principal. It sounded like a good idea. I tried it and liked it very much and I was working on my doctorate at the time and several possibilities opened for principalship and I decided not to take them, of course, because I was working on my doctorate and finally the superintendent called me in and gave me an offer I couldn't refuse. A brand new school and opportunities to pick a lot of my staff and my assistants and organize the school the way I thought it would effectively run and meeting the needs of the city and great opportunities, so I leaped at it.
Q: When you were principal, how did you evaluate teachers?
A: When we first started off, the evaluation was probably -- it was a five scale -- one through five; with five being the top, probably on six major areas involving maybe 200 different points, but it was a checklist, an overall ratings of one through five, with three being average, and the principal could do as many visits or as few visits as he wished. It was entirely up to the principal and the only obligation to even meet with the teacher would be to discuss the evaluation in the end -- if the teacher wanted it. The practice was simply to put it in their mailbox and they were to sign it. I found that I got into most teacher's rooms ten or twelve times a year and then my practice would be to simply write a little informal note on the good things I saw and maybe a suggestion. The only followup conference we generally did was with teachers who had problems and followup and discuss these with them. Probably got in a lot more times than we do now with the formal process because we could go in for ten minutes, twenty minutes, and we didn't have to make any advance plans. Although teachers would invite you to come, knowing that they were going to do something special that day.
Q: Would you like to comment on the way they evaluate teachers now?
A: Well, with Fairfax County, of course, they are into merit pay program which has changed the evaluation procedure considerably. Not too many school systems are doing this yet because of the complexity of it. I was talking to a principal today who said it has added about five hours of work for each teacher who is up for merit pay in addition to the regular probably eight or ten hours of evaluation time. Much more formal today as you are probably aware (head nods and hand gestures) with a preconference with the teacher about their goals for the year, setting up formal visits, having a teacher give you a lesson plan, a set time to come, then visiting the teacher, supposedly trying to spend a whole class period with the teacher, conference afterwards with the teacher, giving them a write-up of the visit twice a year, and then a followup conference at the end of the year on the formal evaluation. Then if they go into merit pay or want merit pay, then there is a lot of special things beyond that, a lot more time beyond that with the teacher subjected to or having a visit with the principal appear and then an outside expert in the subject area, which requires a lot of scheduling with teachers, a trained teacher from another building and that teacher has to have a very set time so she can get a substitute to come into the class. So it is a lot more rigid and supposedly if we have a problem if the principal has a conflict and can't get there or the teacher has a problem that day, it is not as easy. A principal might have to say to a parent, I am sorry, I've got to leave now, I have got to be in this teacher's classroom. That is not always easy to do, plus the fact that if the principal goes into the teacher's classroom and it is obviously a bad day, the teacher is not well or the kids are acting up or something, it is not as easy for the principal to say, I'll come back another time. He is more or less obligated to spend the time there. And this puts constraints upon the process. It is much more formal, much more rigid. And the teachers not being evaluated or the good teachers that you don't go back to see a second, third, fourth time really kind of feel left out sometimes, they really wonder, even though they know the system, they say, why don't you come and see me, I'm doing some good things too, but if they are in the cycle that they are not being visited that year -- they kind of like the principal to come and see and be able to say, you are doing a good job, that is important to them.
Q: So you think the feedback to excellent teachers is decreased as a result ... ?
A: I think so because you tend to say, Mrs. So and So is an excellent teacher and I don't have to go into her classroom this semester, and then you are liable to realize it is almost the end of the year and I really haven't visited her. I think it is important -- I think they all look forward to that. They all like security in knowing they are doing a good job, plus there is always the opportunity to ask a teacher not doing too well to visit this teacher's class, if you know what that teacher is doing. And that is very important.
Q: You mentioned being around your teachers is one way of making them feel recognized for what they were doing, are there other things you did consciously to reinforce teachers?
A: Yes, very much so, we encouraged the teachers through both a formal and informal programs to visit each other's classes. One of the local staff developments that we did in our school was that each teacher would visit other teachers a certain number of times in a year. They had a little write-up to do to give to that teacher, not to give to the administration. They simply indicated on their little report for the year, these are the classes I visited and if they had good recommendations. Now what we asked them to do was be very frank with that teacher and tell them the good things they saw and if they had any ideas for improvement. We did a little staff development -always giving the good things first and then never mention more than two to three suggestions that you had so that there would be a good rapport. We found it very effective and I really started it prior to the Southern Association evaluation, knowing there was going to be a team of people in my building and our evaluation that first time was to be the week before the Christmas holiday, (changed posture) which is the worst time in the world to have people in your building. So we wanted the youngsters to be comfortable and the teachers to be comfortable with different adults in and out of the room so we tried that in the fall as an in-service development and the teachers liked it so well that they asked to keep it. And we found it didn't work if it was volunteer, the good people did it; the ones who needed it, didn't, so they decided that the first year teachers should do six of these and the experienced teachers should do three to four in a year. And they were very comfortable. And incidentally, the student teachers were ones that they visited frequently because they had a lot of up-to-date ideas, particularly on audio-visual and things of this nature and they would pick up ideas from seeing student teachers teaching.
Q: In brief, what is your philosophy in education?
A: Well, I think that the school exists for the opportunity to broaden the experiences and broaden the understandings of our student population, regardless of the level, and that the whole system should function strictly for making that experience more beneficial, whether it's the food service, the custodial support, the bus system, it's all to make that classroom teacher and that student in the classrooms' time more effective and increasingly more available. Part of the problem we have today is so many disruptions to the classroom and I think that broadening the youngster's experience, the opportunity to explore, the challenge, the questions, and to think for themselves is better. That would be basically my idea. It is from the old Socrates ideas.
Q: Right. What roles did you play in bettering school/ community relations?
A: Partly in inviting parents to come for small group discussions, to encourage them to come and visit although I find that the more comfortable the community is with the school, the less likely they are to respond to those and we have to come up with more innovative ways to get them to there. The elementary has the little second-grade Mrs. Jones' Lunch Day, where they invite the parents to come. We used to have the -- back in the old days when there was Armistice Day, all the government people were off on November 11th, so we could get a lot of them to come to school. As the years have gone by, less and less of that is likely. But we went to small groups with special invitations, for example, the students in the learning disabilities program, or the students in the speech therapy classes, or the students in the gifted and talented sector program. These parents felt they had vested a built-in interest because of the special needs of their students so we could have a little coffee in the morning with some of those teachers present and we always tried to have the time cover these two class periods so we could get teachers in their planning periods. We would have a counselor and one or two of the administrators and as many of the teachers as possible in an informal coffee with these parents and with school people doing maybe only ten minutes of talking and then basing the rest of the flow of the program on what the parents brought up. The other one was probably an activities night. Back-to-School Night was fine -- you get a lot of people there until you get the second child go through the school and they know the teachers, and they don't feel the need to come again. But we did an activities night program which was sort of like a three-ring circus, they had physical ed activities going on in the gym, home economics activities in the home ec classes, industrial arts labs, science labs, English debates or public readings, art labs going on with students acting as both demonstrators and guides for the parents. For the students, the teachers simply stood to the side and the students would explain, we've got five of our eighth grade science labs experiments and there is a student at each experiment to explain what's going on. Very effective -- we might have six or seven hundred parents come out. A tremendous turnout.
Q: And a good learning experience?
A: A GOOD learning experience. They really went home feeling quite good about some of the learning experiences and activities. I saw one industrial arts teacher do an interesting thing one year with us. He ran an industrial arts lab one night a week, where the student could bring his -- in this case, at that time, the father, with him and they would do whatever the student and the father wanted to do in terms of all the industrial arts projects underway. They could learn to use the equipment and the teacher would be there. The teacher did this all on his own one night a week, he just came back for two hours. It was a great community relations program, a tremendous program.
Q: What does it take, in your opinion, to be an effective principal?
A: Well, I think there are three things: the first one is interpersonal relations. You have to be able to get along with people, you communicate with people, to have empathy, understand their needs, (head nods, emphasizing points) you have to have a very good knowledge of the broad curriculum. No subject matter material, not in-depth, you don't have to be a French teacher to know how to teach effectively a foreign language. The other issue is you have to have good administrative abilities, you have to be able to do all the administrative details or know who in your staff can do them effectively. I dealt with office staff, I have picked people who had skills that I didn't have. I had a former P.E. teacher as a guidance director. A former industrial arts teacher as an assistant principal and a former band teacher as an assistant principal. So these were areas where I didn't feel were my expertise. I was much more curriculum-oriented and these people were in the fine arts or physical education area. Building a good staff based upon their abilities here.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal and how did you handle them?
A: Probably the worst pressure a principal has is parents wanting their children be placed with a certain teacher or not wanting their child to be in a certain teacher's class. And the easiest way to handle those was simply tell the parents that most cases students were assigned to classes "catch-as-catch-can", wherever they fell. And if there was a teacher who was extremely good, we were very happy to have that person on our faculty and hopefully they were doing a good job with as many students as they possibly could. On the other hand if there was a teacher who wasn't quite as desirable, then that's the person we needed to know specifics from the parent, whether there was a specific complaints and we would work to improve that teacher or in the worst of circumstances we would have that teacher either resign or move from the teaching profession. You run into a lot of those. Generally speaking, a one-to-one conference with that parent was pretty effective in working out a resolution. Let's try it, let's see what the problems are, and let's work it out. occasionally there is a student and a teacher personality conflict problem and those are the ones that you have to 11 bite the bullet and make a move.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?
A: Well, probably the best thing in the world is to have an effective rapport with your faculty -- an open-door policy. With the relationship with the teacher, before we get too far down the line, come on in and let's talk about it; if it's somebody else, I'll talk to you first --let's get that other person involved and we'll try to resolve it. Very few go to the extreme of a formal hearing -- sometimes we might have the teacher ask to have somebody else on the faculty, maybe a member of the advisory committee or somebody sit in with it -probably once every two or three years, I might go so far as to have somebody from the professional association, the Fairfax Education Association, come in. But that was usually in very extreme situation. The majority of the times that I have a teacher association representative in, a person conceded that my position was probably correct, I may have had a procedural violation that we had to work on, but that the teacher needed further correction on her own part if we have the groundwork laid. The main thing is to provide the teacher with a clear knowledge of what the problems are and what needs to be done.
Q: Did you ever have to fire a teacher?
Q: What were the circumstances?
A: One was alcoholism and this fine teacher, as far as his teaching was concerned, (subject looked off into space, as if remembering) when he would teach, but he would be absent and he had really a severe drinking problem, not at school; but was pretty much under the influence physically and mentally. I have had to fire teachers or work for their dismissal who were -- one case was senility was developing. A very bright person had developed some senility and once involving a teacher who just simply did not like kids. And it is interesting, I had her husband in the conference and he asked her to leave and said her letter of resignation would come in the next day. He said he always wondered because she doesn't want have children of her own, and it was obvious from what she was saying in the conference that she doesn't like kids. That was some time ago, the woman probably wouldn't follow her husband's suggestions today, but that's basically -- one is senility, one is alcoholism, and the other is the only who just didn't like kids.
A: I think she probably saw it, she did come in a talk to me, she did give me two weeks' notice, and she said I have concluded I will be much happier doing something else.
Q: How can we improve the educational process in general?
A: Well, I think that two things: one is the teachers be involved in teacher preparation program that becomes increasingly more realistic -- I think too far -- it has been theory taught by people who have either never been in the public school classroom or have been too long out of touch with the public school classroom. I think our B-TAP program, for example, material will move own to the college level. We are already seeing college professors beginning to use things some of this actual practical type of material. Too many teachers will tell you I walk in the classroom, I'm standing with a piece of chalk and my textbook and a blank rollbook and that was my preparation for facing the kids. Everything else was pure theory. And even practice teaching can be a problem where teachers have a master teacher, but not one who wants them to teach, who wants them to sit and look at what this master teacher is doing and they will even fudge on the reports that this person has put the number of hours in which they should because they will consider they are in the room, they see me but it is not like doing it themselves. That is the number one thing and the other is to have a very intensive program of in-service development, staff development, whatever you want to call it, right at that local school level. I think our master teacher program -- one of the concepts where this teacher's released part-time and works with a beginning teacher in the same subject area and has an extra hour or two that day to be in the classroom with that beginning teacher and then they sit with them and make suggestions and come up with ideas and let that person -- they take over and teach one lesson and say here, here's some sharp ideas. Here are some things we found that work and I think that's a way of getting that teacher to be much more effective and everything we are talking about means the kids learn better. The students have the opportunity to learn better. Plus the fact that the master teacher can learn from the beginning teacher.
Q: In the first decade of your principalship, civil rights came to the forefront. How did this impact on your school?
A: Well, we moved from an all-white school to a school serving -- probably about 5-10 percent of the school would have been black at that time. The school adjacent -- one of the intermediate schools nearest to us was a former black high school. The students moved out into the neighboring schools, we kept the black teachers with white teachers. I think it went very effectively because Fairfax County had time to prepare for this. We were not a decision-making county, a court decision. We weren't under court order, but they saw this was a necessity, and they had plenty of opportunity to work with the administrative, the principals and staff development. We had lots of in-service opportunities for teachers in preparing for this. Plus the fact, fortunately, that Northern Virginia at that time was a rather progressive area and already many of our parents were associating with the blacks, white and black parents associating with each other at work, children were becoming a little more familiar, the neighborhoods were beginning to become a little more integrated, and it was just the schools have had not found this yet, so that made it extremely effective. it wasn't the big jolt that it was in deeper Southern communities where we had a lot of traditions and all that could be broken. It mainly was the fact that we had a year and a half to prepare for this jolt.
Q: And when did this take place?
A: Probably, I would say -- I am just speculating now, I am talking about the mid 160's to like '67. I am just guessing because again it was so smooth that it wasn't a radical jolt. There was nothing that really created a problem that calls it to your attention. The teachers moved out to the other schools and it was just as if they were being transferred under any normal process. And the fact that our no one school received a disproportionate amount of minority groups moving in suddenly. It did not become a radical adjustment. There was some concern by parents of their students leaving newer facilities and moving into the old all black high school which had now become an intermediate school -- Luther Jackson. And there were the normal talks about facilities, about wash basins, toilet bowls, water fountains, and in the parent groups that we met with these people, the parents themselves took care of it. They said well that's old wives tales, what do you mean a water fountain? It is ceramic, it's washed, it's scrubbed, it's sterilized, what difference does it make who drinks out of that water fountain? So I think that people saw that some of their old wives tales, their old traditions and all were based on ignorance or superstition or lack of facts. I think the parent orientation, the human relations activities and the publicity given by our public relations office really served a good purpose there.
Q: Also during your tenure as principal, special education became more commonplace to the public schools and, in fact, was legislated. How did this additional role affect your job and your school?
A: Well in many cases, it made it easier. When I first became a principal the only special program was remedial reading and it was a good program and it helped a lot of youngsters but we had many youngsters with other problems. We were beginning to get speech working with students but it was limited and then all of a sudden, we found that we needed special education programs for students who mentally or educationally weren't keeping up with the group and it was sort of like water rolling downhill, as it got going, we saw that, no, you couldn't group all these students together. You had to have students who were mentally handicapped, emotionally handicapped, learning skills handicapped, the learning disabilities program which is one of the newer of the special programs really took a lot of youngsters and suddenly said, here are youngsters who do reversals and can't spell -- never will be able to spell -- and we can't educate those and a matter of fact, they can go on to college and be successful. Then, of course the last was the gifted and talented program and we said here are youngsters who are very, very bright. I wonder how far they can go if they are challenged and challenged they were to the point these youngsters are doing college level work and many of them early in high school. A beautiful job, but not at the expense of saying they can't grow up as a normal youngster. I think that is very important to have the opportunity to play in sports and do the other things that everybody else gets to do because there is nothing worse than the ugly duckling ...
Q: Right. Or the nerd??
A: Right. That is very bright, but very unhappy. Any youngster in that role needs to be part of the group and this is what we have done also with special ed in most cases -- we have tried to keep the youngsters in as normal as school setting as possible, provide them with special help they need to function. The laws says the least constrained environment and that is very, very important.
Q: I think we have covered this in part, but maybe not in full. What do you think of the standards of quality established by the state school board?
A: Well, I think in many cases it is duplicated by what we already have in progressive school systems like Fairfax County. We really have run two systems, we have our own guidelines that are standing up and the state's standards of quality. I think the state's standards of quality say the real role .....(Side 2, 001) As I said, we need these standards of quality to definitely keep us on the ball, but specifically in areas where we are not providing the minimum things the youngsters need. The minimum course offerings, the minimum experiences, and within the class, the very basic things are covered. I think definitely it has been a lot of work -- a tremendous amount of work with the committees that have set these up and the difficulty is to say that these are being met, because there is no way that you can pay to send committees in to see that all of these are met -probably the crediting standards like the Southern Association and the state evaluation is the best way there.
Q: What is your opinion of merit pay for teachers? Do you think it will be effective?
A: Well, the last big committee I served on as an active principal was meeting once a week for a year and that was the pilot program for merit pay. A lot of the criticism all along has been the concept that every teacher is paid the same. The teacher who does the outstanding job is paid the same as the teacher who does a very mediocre job, and they both have moved along each year getting a pay increase, getting a longevity step, and it's been discouraging, I think, to good teachers, excellent teachers to say, I work like a dog. I grade all the papers before I leave school, I work at home, and so-and-so just goes out and has a good time, their papers may get back to the kids late or they may throw them away, tests are late being graded and that teacher gets the same pay as I do. I think those good teachers should be rewarded. I have no complaints, no problems with the merit pay concept. I think the problem I see with it is the amount of time involved with it and when a system cannot finance it fully. my question would be if you have ten teachers in your building that are master teachers -- the parents know it and the rest of the faculty knows it and if for some reason, you could only give it to two, that would be a problem. if it were fully funded, then I really don't even really find fault with the extra time involved with the principal. I think the -- we might look at retired master teachers to serve on the evaluation committee or retired administrators to serve on them and relieve some of the current personnel -- the teachers who have to have a substitute when they go out and do this. The teachers go out for a week of training during their contract -that means they are out of their own classrooms.
Q: That means they also have to prepare ...
A: Right, they have to prepare for the substitute. And most good teachers even though we feel it is a reward for them to get this recognition, to go to a meeting, to go off to this training, that most good teachers don't like to be away from their kids. They just want to be with them and I think that is my second concern -- is the amount of time.
Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal and why was it so difficult?
A: Well, that is a real tough one. Probably the toughest decision I ever had to make was to sit down with a lady who was probably a very favorite of mine and tell her, yes, it was time for her to retire. She had been a master teacher in many ways and was beginning to lose it, still very effective, still respected by parents and students and her peers, and she really wanted to know, was she just as good as she ever was and she wasn't.
Q: How long had she been teaching?
A: She had been teaching for something like 45 years. She started teaching when she was 18 or 19 in the old normal school setup, went ahead and got her education, got her doctorate when she was 61. Very good teacher, but it was time for her to retire. And she's had a ball. She's had a ball since she has retired. That was tough, because personally I respected her very very much.
Q: And you probably didn't respect her any less..
A: No. Professionally, I knew it was time for her to go. The difference being today, she wouldn't have to retire if she didn't want to and that has its problems too, I think.
Q: What aspect of your professional training best prepared you for principalship?
A: I would say being an assistant principal for four years. on-the-job training, far better than any course work. There was a lot of in-service work with that. i had opportunities to participate in a great deal of committees, staff development activities, evaluation seminars, and things of this nature, but the actual experience would be when the principal went off to the national convention and he was in California and I was it for one week in the building. I had to make the decision, some which could not be put off, discipline decisions, personnel decisions, problems of this nature, parents -- angry parents, had to be dealt with then. And I knew I couldn't go down the hall and knock on the door and say I've got this problem. I had to make the decision. And that's the best training.
Q: On the job.
A: on the job.
Q: Could you describe your typical workday for me and how you spent your time?
A: Well, O.K. (Subject shifted in chair; thought aroused excitement). Arriving at school about 7:30, which is a half-hour before staff had to be there because I would have teachers there that early. That was the opportunity to answer little questions. I usually go into the lounge, get a cup of coffee, and talk to any teachers that were there and be in the office if I needed to be. But mainly, I stayed out of the office because the phone would be ringing. The phone rings all of 24 hours a day, I think, in a school office. I would see the buses were in, the children were in class, if we had a problem, a decision made whether we delay class because of weather until the last buses got there or how we were going to handle the late bus, see that the morning announcements were made or all other staff members were there doing their jobs. We always use students for making announcements because kids listen to others kids better than they do to adults. Then I would spend, probably right after classes were underway, for first period was probably the best time in the world to get something done until after school hours. I would talk with my secretary about the days activities, she would remind me of appointments I had made and usually I would sit then with for ten minutes with a cup of coffee with any of the staff that could be free, the assistant principals, the guidance directors, and in just ten minutes, we would talk about the day. And then it would be walking the building, visiting classes, working on reports, generally, reports in the school come in bunches. And I had a philosophy that every counselor and every administrator should be out in the hall every time that classes broke so we just wandered the building every time the classes changed. We had a chance to talk with kids, talk with teachers, I asked the teachers to be at the doorways so we could talk with them and they could supervise a little bit and greet kids as they came in and out of the classroom. Plus the fact that working my way back to the office after the class had started, I could look in on two or three classrooms and if I saw something interesting, I could stay a few minutes and compliment that teacher. Lunch, I would take a little bit of the lunchtime to be in the cafeteria. We always liked to have a couple of administrators in the cafeteria during lunchtime. Very important at the intermediate level because the youngsters are much more viable there than they are in high school. High school you have a serious problem -you don't have enough adults in the building. At the intermediate level, we found three adults in the cafeteria and the day went well. The teachers liked this because it meant the children come back to their classroom were calmer. The afternoon would be a repetition of the morning probably. We would be out in the halls visiting classrooms, meeting with teachers or parents -- more parent conference seem to take place in the afternoon because fathers could take off and come home on the way home from work. After school would be after-school activities and I always encouraged each counselor and each administrator to take part in one after-school activity with youngsters such as one of the counselors would work with the SCA, maybe and each of the counselors would help sponsor a club or at least help the person sponsoring the club. We had what we call a Frost Bowl -- it was like "It's Academic" or "College Bowl", it was an academic inter-mural and each of our counselors took part in that after school helping with questions and things like this. Then about 3:30 to quarter of four or 4:00, depending on the time the school closed, we had the late buses and get the youngsters off on their way home and then I would say, from about 4:00 to 5:00 was when, again I would get together with the secretary or any member of the administrative staff and we could sit down and talk with about problems and what we would do in the next few days. The secretaries or maybe somebody who was doing the textbook materials order or the teaching materials or school supplies order would come in and we would sit down and work on that. I didn't get much work done on school reports unless I could go off somewhere in the building and the funny thing was I could never be off where nobody knew where I was. I could find a conference room somewhere and a secretary would always find me. The last thing in the day would probably be my secretary and myself talking about tomorrow. And she would turn my calendar over and say, now, you have to go to the school board office first thing in the morning, you have a meeting there and probably won't be through there until about 10:00, so you have no appointments tomorrow morning and no classroom visits. We never went too much beyond the next day because it changed so much.
Q: What time about, would you say, was your typical leaving time from school?
A: Probably 5:00 to 5:30. Sometimes I was able to get away on time, (subject smiled) which is 4:30 but if I was coming back for a school activity, I would try to leave at 4:30. So I could have time to go home and prop my feet up, or if there was a school board meeting that night that I was attending, I would try to leave on time. But couldn't be a clock watcher too much. And the good teachers don't, interestingly enough; I would often see teachers there at 5:00 when I was ready to leave. In some cases, I would go by their rooms and chat with them a few minutes and suggest maybe they ought to go on home and take a break.
Q: Over the past decade, schools have become larger and larger with student population at times exceeding 4,000 for secondary schools. What do you feel is the best organizational arrangement in schools this large for administrator, teachers, and students?
A: I think the sub-school concept is probably the best where a counselor and an assistant principal work with that group very closely and it can be either a two-year, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 or it can be like the old sponsor picks up the class for the freshman year and remains with the class for four years. Either way that seems to work in that community. The problem in the large school is that nobody gets to know the students beyond the classroom. Sub-schools idea we've tried in the past where you grouped five groups of students together maybe 150 students and they have the same English teacher, the same math. As they get into high school, that is very difficult because they begin to diversify and you don't want to group all of the prospective chemistry students in one class in the freshman year because you don't know that's going to be. . . Plus I don't know that's particularly good, I think they ought to be grouped for other reasons than that. Anything that helps a counselor and a teacher get to know the students better.
Q: What do you feel is the ideal size of a school for the best administrative, instructional leadership?
A: O.K., some of it depends upon staffing patterns because a lot of times staffing is based upon X number of additional hundred students per every X hundred of students you get an additional counselor and an additional administrator. But I would say that the intermediate level, somewhere around the 1,100 group, that's the junior high school level. And I would say in elementary school it ought to be about 600 - 700. A high school ought to be 1,800 to maybe 2,000 and the reason for this, it gets too expensive for the community to provide the multiplicity of foreign languages, sciences, advanced math, and vocational classes, if they don't have a large enough student population that would permit that staffing.
Q: All research points to the fact that excellent schools have administrators who are actively involved in leadership for educational expectations. What are some of the techniques or strategies you have used to involve yourself in educational leadership?
A: Well, I think that one of the best things is the opportunity to attend state and national conference and take an active role in leading seminars, conducting discussion groups or simply participating if you are beginning. The exchange of ideas and experiences is tremendous. I ran into a former high school student of mine at a state principals conference about 15 years ago. He had just been appointed a principal at a junior high school for the next year and we had gotten there and registered and he said, can I talk to you, this is my situation. And I said, sure, Wendell, but let me get two other people here and instead of going to this first seminar, we went off and spent three hours while he picked our brains. How do you set up lunchroom schedules? How do you decide how your study halls would be arranged? How do you work your assembly programs? How would you handle shortened school days because of bad weather? Just picking and taking notes and things, not that he had to use those ideas, but at least he was able to see here are three different people and they handle it three different ways, and I can take from them. But this is what you get in some seminar groups. I think the other thing is to be willing to say, I don't have an answer to this. Does anybody in this group know how to handle this particular problem? And sometimes, it's not very comforting, but nobody has a perfect answer for you.
Q: Did you have a model person you patterned yourself after? Somebody who served as a mentor?
A: I think for a couple of years I did, and that was my first principal I had worked with as an assistant principal. He happened to be somebody that I had gone to college with so I knew him pretty well and he knew me pretty well and I used his ideas probably for a couple years as a principal.
Q: And then you outgrew them ... ?
A: I outgrew them and not surprisingly, he would call me for ideas. I found this to be very effective and I -- right up until -- well, still now, I do get calls from principals who are younger, much younger, and said, I've got this problem, do you have any ideas on it because -- not necessarily that I had a better idea than they, but they want to know if I'd gone through this experience and what was the result of what I tried to do on this.
Q: What were the most pleasant principalship activities you were involved in?
A: I think probably the most pleasant would be to hire a young person right out of college and see them blossom into an outstanding teacher. I probably worked in twenty years as a principal with, probably -- I have a list that's about 400 and some different teachers I had on my staff and we didn't have a lot of turnover. It was a very good school because we went up and down in population and we added and lost. And probably in that time, I had five teachers who I hired or were hired for me as beginning teachers who were what I would call excellent teachers from the very start. The rest of them had to learn and to see them become very good teachers knowing that their youngsters were going to blossom under them too. And when I talk about teachers I say this simply from the standpoint that I know their relationship with their youngsters. And the youngsters are going to succeed if they have good teachers.
Q: What were the most unpleasant experiences you were involved in?
A: Probably having to discipline teachers and that'snever pleasant because you have to turn around the next day and work with them again. It's not like you can discipline from a distance. Having to tell them that these were their problems and they have to correct them and here was suggestions, but nevertheless, they had to be corrected if they were going to continue in the profession. And that's never pleasant, but it'ssomething a principal has to do if he is going to be effective.
Q: What is your own experiences did you find most beneficial in helping you maintain your sanity as a principal at a hectic pace?
A: Well, one was an understanding wife. The factual so that she never ever asked me to discuss the school day and the things we discussed at home about school day were the funny anecdotes. I made up my mind when I went into the principalship that if I brought work home such as working on the master schedule, I wouldn't do it until after dinner, I don't care how long it took me in the night, but I would not do it until after the dinner hour. And then I would start doing it, and then when I finished, it would go back in my briefcase and I'd never refer to it until I got back to work. I never brought the school home. And I said if I ever got to the point when I came home and I was going to be worried about what was going on in school, then I would have to do something -- go back to classroom teaching or something. Don't mean I didn't bring work home with me, but I didn't bring school concerns home with me and that, I think, was a main way of maintaining some sanity. Plus, laughing at myself, I told teachers, I told students I probably made three mistakes by 8:00 in the morning, so it doesn't bother me about making mistakes. It bothers me if I don't learn from them. And I think that's the important thing. Not taking the concerns home, I never left the school without trying to finish everything I could but there was always going to be a teacher I had to see the first thing the next morning or some student with disciplinary situation waiting on me or some parent wanted to come in and talk about something and you know these things are coming up so if you sit around and worry about them, then you don't ever get away from them and I think that that's the important thing. Getting away from that and not -I could read professionally or read for pleasure but not bring that particular worry home and certainly not talk it over at the dinner table, by any means.
Q: What have I not asked you that I should have? I can tell that you've prepared and you've brought your thoughts together. Are there things I haven't asked you that I should have?
A: I don't know if there is any big deal, but maybe something about what do you look for in a teacher. What do you look for in a teacher? I think the same thing I look for in an effective principal, an effective counselor, an effective anything else. How do they get along with youngsters? I would say my interviews would start off by saying, tell me about yourself. Tell me about how you work with kids. Have you ever..... I've never worked with them . . . Have you ever been a Boy Scout counselor, a Girl Scout counselor? Have you ever gone to Boy Scout Camp, Girl Scout Camp? How have you related to other youngsters? What are your favorite sports? What are your hobbies? What did you do as a youngster? Play any sports? A team captain? Anything like this that gets them talking about their relationship with other people. Now there are probably 20 things you can't ask legally in their interview. Are you married? Do you have a car? Do you drive? Do you drink? What religion are you? All those good things in the past. But you can always ask a person, tell me about yourself. And when a person opens up and talks about themselves, how do they put "I"? I did this, I did this, I did this. Or we did this as I was growing this. The youngsters in my neighborhood -- we would do these things. And I think that this person is a team person. They work together and they pull together. Can they sit in a meeting of five English teachers and contribute and I would throw out probably some imaginary things, O.K., this is your first day in a class, how can I handle a kid, how are you going to do seating arrangements? I don't really care which way they do the seating, I want to hear them say and then why. Do they do them alphabetically? Do you put boys on one side, girls on the other? Do you let them sit where they want to? What is your purpose in seating youngsters? Just something to get them talking about that. And get them thinking. A lot of them say, "Well, I never thought about it." So I make them think about it. I probably spend an hour interviewing prospective teachers, most of which I wanted them to talk about themselves, and then I say, O.K., I've heard you for about 40 minutes, let me tell you about me a little bit, because if you come here, you need to know about my personality, too. And it might be while we walk the building. Particularly, if they came by after school, I'd like to take them around and show them the departments, the children, some of the facilities. Just talk to them.
Q: There was one question that popped into my head this morning. What, early in your principalship, they experienced the loss of a president and how did that affect students at the time?
A: Well, we happened to have Pierre Salinger's youngsters in our school at that time and he was the presidential White House secretary. And we had a youngster come in from a dental appointment who had heard of the incident -- but not the pure details. And it was a warm day, the room doors were all opened for circulation and he walked down the hall with a transistor radio blaring out the assassination information and for a moment there was a little pandemonium because youngsters in those rooms heard about this who had their parents in the presidential car or caravan -- and we had to make a quick decision. This is what you do, what do we do right now? The word is getting out, the first class change, it is going to be all over the building, so the guidance director and myself happened to be right there and heard this going down the hall. Well the first thing we did was grab the kid and take the radio and say, look you can pick up the radio in the office later. Get on to class. Then we caught some of the information ourselves on the radio, got as much detail as we could, and then got on the intercom and interrupted just before the class period was over and said, this is the current information we have and we will make a further announcement at the end of the next class period to keep you up to date. We do know, as far as we know, that this is the only extent of this situation, so that, I think relieved some fear. The other one was with the missile crisis. The Cuban situation when we had parents actually pulling their youngsters out of school to move back with the parents or grandparents in the Midwest to get away from Washington. Parents, particularly this father who was very close to the CIA or presidential planning here, executive planning knew we were in a very serious situation. Wasn't a lot fortunately, but there were generally some panicky people. or others who said, you have to stay -- you're the president, fine, but I'm going home. But most of the those, it's good if you have somebody who just to turn and say, I got my opinion, you're the adviser, what do you think we ought to do, really quickly-like, here. Respect a decision, but I want your -- it's I, it's all . . it's me in the end. I want your opinion real quick, real quickly. But that's not -- those things happen all the time. Ray Watson, the principal at Annandale High School has the three suicides. He had to deal with that. That's the worst you can probably have because so many other kids get guilt-complex. Could we have done something? We knew these youngsters when we've something. It's bad enough to have a youngster killed in an automobile accident. Then you have the tears, but this is a loss and the kids feel it very seriously. But the suicide has been a real problem. And we've had those sort of things. Like when a favorite teacher dies. That can be a real tragedy. But that's part of life. The youngsters know that, but they are immature enough to the point that they don't want to accept it. But I think again, we as adults -- sometimes you just can't teach your English class, you have to let them talk it out.
Q: If you had to do it again, you would be a principal?
A: Sure I would. I think it is a great experience. All GOOD principals are still classroom teachers, though. They all wish they could be both, stay in the classroom and yet still be a principal and generally speaking, most principals realize that they probably are principals because they think they can do a good job organizing, picking people, putting people where they are best suited, matching some students to some teachers, and using the talents of other people. I think Eisenhower was classified as one of the best presidents because he knew how to use the talents of other people very effectively. He was a good administrator in using talents of people to get the jobs done and I think that what we sometimes as principals feel. I know how to pick a good counselor from working with seniors and I know how to pick a good English teacher to be a department chairman and get the work done.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Well, I think -- I had an experience today going in on a food service evaluation into a local high school and a student chases me down the hall calling me by name and said, I was sitting in the classroom taking a calculus test and I looked up and said, there goes Dr. York, and he was an eighth grade student some years ago, and the teacher says, the kid says, I think that's Dr. York, and the teacher looked out and said, it sure is -and that was a young man I had had as a student many years ago, who is now a teacher. And the teacher said, you go down the hall and get him and bring him back to my classroom and I thought, "That's great, that's great." The youngster felt enough that he wanted him to do it and the teacher, who had been a student, agreed with him and -- right in the middle of a calculus test and that was just as important to him as when we had a little contact. Then **, incidentally, went into the cafeteria and asked the student, how do you like your lunch, and we talked about his lunch, and what are you doing since you left Frost and that was another student who knew who I was. That makes me feel good.
Q: That makes you feel good. Make you feel really contributous.
Q: Well, I would like to thank you, Dr. York, for sharing with me your professional history with its many insights into the principalship.
A: Thank you, I enjoyed it.
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