Interview with John Alwood


| Back to "A" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |

Q: Dr. Alwood, I really am excited to be here today with you to talk about your principalship, and I appreciate the time you're taking to share your experiences and your perspectives on the principalship. Let's just start right out and ask you: could you tell us how many years you were in education - total number of years?

alwood audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Well, I started in 1949, so I guess you could count them up. But, I was in the Navy five years and went to school one year. I think when I figured it, it was actually 37 that I would say on the job -teaching, principalling and that kind of thing.

Q: O.K. As a principal then how many of that?

A: I started in '64 so I was 22 years.

Q: O.K. Why did you become a principal?

A: Well, I think because my dad was a superintendent of a small school in Michigan, and I always enjoyed my home life and what he was doing. In a way, he was a superintendent, but he was acting as a principal because of the size of the school, and so right from the beginning when I went into teaching, it really was with the goal of taking a leadership role.

Q: O.K. That is really interesting. I never knew that. What do you think it takes to be an effective principal?

A: Well, I guess I would call the relationship building and building a feeling among your people that - particularly the professional staff- that you have something to offer, and naturally you want them to buy in or to follow you. I think you only do that as you earn their respect and get to know them as colleagues and friends. I just believe in that collegial relationship. A leader has to be seen in that light.

Q: Could you tell me.. I understand you were a principal in another state. Could you tell me how you came into Fairfax County?

A: Well, it's an interesting story that I've told a few times, but mostly I guess in close circles because it was strange. I was principal of a small school in Michigan- a small high school - and my wife didn't like Michigan weather too well. She had grown up here in Arlington. We visited yearly and on spring when we were here for Easter vacation, in lieu of spending a couple hours on the golf course because it was raining, I called the personnel office and told them I was in town and had some time to kill and would like to interview for principalship. When I think back, it's kind of amazing! They invited me out and I spent twenty minutes with Jack Burkholder, Asst. Superintendent for Personnel at the time. Out of that little conversation, and which wasn't really anything but a contact point, eventually he called me in Michigan to check on whether I was serious about being interested and I was. I came and I interviewed and eventually I was offered a job.

Q: Do you have any regrets? I guess not, you were here a long time. But do you have any adjustments to make coming from a smaller school district into Fairfax County?

A: No, nothing very serious. Because in a way, the adjustment I had had was when I moved to the principalship in Michigan, you know to get that start in a leadership role. I moved from what I would call not a big, but certainly a quality academic suburban high school, to a more rural county small town where almost people lived on different sides of the tracks and for us, living really changed then. So maybe the move here was less than a cultural than a living adjustment than that one was. Of course, my wife was from here and we'd been here. I'd been around enough. We had moved - I'd been in the Navy - been enough places that I wasn't tied to home. My parents didn't think that was probably my greatest decision. But it worked out great!

Q: Now, I know that you opened Lake Braddock Secondary School. Would you talk about your experience of opening a new school - being the first principal of the secondary school - what it's like to hire teachers and how you went about that. Could you share with us those experiences?

A: O.K. I've had occasion recently to talk a little about that with Bill Trussell because Bill, of course, is opening Braddock Park. He called me and wanted to visit a little about some of those experiences. So it was pleasant to do that. I think probably the most important factor and the thing that I had a fairly free hand with - and this was the year '72-'73 - was the staffing of the school. It was still in a growth (period) so that it wasn't the problem of placing teachers and where are teachers going to work and were worried that if you moved somebody because there won't be a position, etc. all the things that are occurring today. So I was able fairly early - had a year of course to get ready to open school - but I was able to start early on interviewing teachers and really spent alot of time on that and that was rewarding for me. I think probably the school is what it is today because of the people that came in and started. One thing that I learned early and I did alot of, I never hired a person on one persons say-so. Whether it was mine or somebody elses. I decided were going to be together. There ought to always be a double check possibly involving a chairman and asst. principals, and myself. In general, I saw everybody, particularly those at the beginning. I definitely believe it. Until I ended that part of my career, I tried to interview and put my stamp of approval or disapproval on everyone that came. So the interviewing part and the staffing part was one of the more and naturally one of the great parts of it. The other part I remember was the library media program was to be so huge. The librarian, who was a gal named Sue Walker, was one of the first persons employed. So spending time with her just to learn myself something about what was available and what we could do was for me an education. Then Sue left actually a week before the school was opened. She left and went to Pennsylvania. Just got a family job situation. When we opened the school, we started with another person. So that was also a trauma after working here together. The other was the building was under construction. It was a chance to go down and visit with the building superintendent and just say, "Could we make this kind of change?" or "How much trouble would it be to do this instead of that?" Nothing amazing or extensive, but still that feeling that you were involved in putting it together physically as well as professionally was also a key part of that year. The other thing that probably I was able to do then that's not as common now is that the superintendent provided a fair amount of travel, time, and money to go visit other places. The reason being the school was open, the school was large. We did alot of teaming. That was in the original design. So there were lots of things that we had to work at. Not just me. But people on the staff did a fair amount of visiting of other schools in the country.

Q: Was Lake Braddock your third school then?

A: As a principal. I was a principal of a school in Michigan. Then when I first came here, I was at Edison for six years. Then Lake Braddock was the third.

Q: Because of starting the school and hiring all the teachers and even down to checking the building site, did this effect your attachment and was it, so to speak, your "baby"? I've heard people make comments, not about you, but other people in charge of projects about, "Well, that's her baby," or "That's his baby". Did you ever have that feeling? Did you ever think of it like that?

A: I didn't during the time anymore than the other schools I was at. I do believe - and the great thing about the principalship - is that it should carry the mark of its leader. You know sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad. So in that sense, ass three schools, I'd like to think people looked at them when I was there and say, "well, they're his!" There were lots of things that came up at Braddock, as you mentioned, maybe something I wanted to see fly and it didn't. Finally when it would die, I'd hear something to the effect, "Well, gee, it should have died long ago." I'd say to someone, "Well, why didn't it?" They'd say, "People knew how intent you were on seeing that work and just didn't want to give up on it so quickly." I didn't realize how much or how many things there were that maybe I had at least sold somebody on trying. But I don't apologize for that. Again, I think it can be opened up for criticism. So if people don't like something, the can ... sometimes we don't hear the words, so I can't comment on that. The other thing is that it's interesting the number of students I've met in the last year - and these would be graduates, and I'm talking hundreds, maybe tens or twelves - who have said to me. "You know, Lake Braddock without you just doesn't seem to be the school I went to." Because when they spend six years there, I think they do identify, even if it's just by name. When they graduate, I guess that's the last person they see and hear from.

Q: O.K. What you just said about sharing..people might not have shared the worst. Did you ever feel isolated from your teachers and staff? Did you ever feel like you might not know what was going on out there in your school? Did you feel like your administration was open and that people could talk to you about concerns?

A: Well, I always felt the latter. That in general, I was in tune. That people would come see me. Yet, as much as I felt that way, I would run into situations with someone. I would just have to say to them, "Now, why didn't you come and tell me?" They'd say. "That's not easy." So I guess even with someone you think your open.. I think teachers have that same problem. They do believe they're ready to listen and they're in tune with kids. There are alot of kids who just don't see adults that way. But how do you break that? I don't know. So there are lots of teachers who do come to the principal because that isn't what principals are for. That happened a couple of times with people I really felt close to. It wasn't just a stranger I didn't interact with. But somebody I had a real on-going relationship both in school and outside of school. We were good friends. He said, "I sat on this for a long time. I was afraid if you heard it, you'd get upset about it".

Q: That's interesting. What do you think of Lake Braddock's philosophy? In talking about philosophy, how was it developed? Was it part of your philosophy or the teachers? Did you get input from them as far as trying to establish a philosophy at Lake Braddock?

A: When we opened, and I suppose in that first interviewing, was where certainly the discussion that I generated basically were those that you've got to know the student comes before the subject. I think in general that would have been the first key thing. Lots of times I also said that the process is more important than the product. I think that was the approach I wanted taken with everything we were at. If we had decided to make.. I guess I never believed, for example, the decisions were normally right/wrong decisions. They're the best decisions we can make at the time. It could be they're not the best one. But, at least, we can look at it, get the data and then make the best decision. So I never..Just like something this simple, "What time do you open school?" There's no right or wrong time. Some people just about died about whether we're going to open at a quarter to eight or a quarter after eight. The product isn't the important thing to me, but the process of how you do that. And make people feel, however they feel, that at least they were heard, and they had a chance for input, and they've got some sort of say-so in what we're doing. Philosophically, that's important. I think a teacher has to generate the same thing with kids. Somehow as we work together, we're trying to get to a product, and there will be a process involved that has your best interest at heart. It's easy to talk about, but hard to do. I think that as I talked to the interviewed candidates - and I would do it today if I were interviewing - somehow what I would try to pick out of that interview is, "Is this person willing to think that way?" You know, willing to find ways to deal with the trouble spots that come along rather than saying, "That's the way it is!"

Q: Hearing you speak about this - the process being so important - is that what you would call "The Lake Braddock Way?" Maybe I should back up. How did that come about? Was it you who established that or was it the faculty, in general?

A: That term came about..we would do some things that were a little unique with the staff. That was originally how it came up. But the looseness about it, in dealing with one another, with constraints. I think the "Lake Braddock Way" originally came out of that environment. If we had a faculty meeting and something weird happened..I mean who cares? We had a faculty meeting, I think the first year we had a song feast. We went down to the music room and Bob Stanback ran a fifteen minute sing-along just like you'd go to church and have hymn-sing. People were looking at each other..we had a great time! Our faculty meeting went from there. Of course, Dale Rumberger came, and he added alot of zest to whatever we did. I think the "lake Braddock Way" was intended to say, "We can be together, we can have fun, but we know the task at hand." The teachers in their environment would implement that. Then tied with that is hopefully the important thought that the person you're dealing with is just extremely important to what your doing. That's where the process gets into it. Whatever you say, when you make a decision for that youngster, it's that young man or young woman that's important in this, and that's when you got to accept that - that's the "Lake Braddock!" Because you're an adult - you've learned to deal with hardship, hopefully a little. Sometimes that isn't true either.

Q: Let me ask now, then. Would you consider yourself - I think I know your answer - would you consider yourself a manager of a building or an instructional leader and then .. well, what would you consider yourself at this point?

A: I'd like to be thought of as the latter - an instructional leader, but some managing has to be done, naturally. But I was not happy, I suppose eight or ten years ago, when the discussion was the principals that are hired should be managers. That's just not my view of the principal's role. Sometimes I'm not sure the instructional term says it. But if anything, he's a manager. He's a person who works with people to see that the teaching-learning environment is good. I think that's what an instructional leader should be.

Q: What leadership techniques did you use then to create a climate for learning? Do you think it stemmed from any of your leadership, or was it strictly with the teachers?

A: When we started, again we were smaller, and so not just my direct involvement with my assistants and the chairs which I always, for my years made sure the chairman were under my direct supervision. But I interacted with them and with the staff. The thing I would guess that would be different about the sessions I had with both these groups, from what I know from other principals, is that we didn't talk about managing a building. If we did, I would, particularly with the administrators, I would just nail down how much time we're going to be on a subject. Because if you don't, you're going to spend all your time on something like every year- how are we going to take attendance, or what are we going to do about the tardies, or where the supplies are, and all that. It had to be talked about. We came into those (problems). If necessary, I had a three minute timer. If we got on a topic, I just put the timer out and said, "When it goes through, you're finished! That's the way it is!" That was accepted. The same with the chairs' meeting. If you got those people talking about how the teachers are teaching and what's going on with the kids and where the weaknesses are..that has to carry on. I tried early to meet with all the groups, but eventually it got away from me. It wasn't meaningful because I could only do it once a year, at the most. But originally, people did alot of teaming and believed in it. I led alot of workshops on teaming. I did alot of the Human Relations course and taught that at one time. So I guess I had to have ways to interact with the staff. Even though they had other direct supervisors, I really worked hard to make myself available. I delegated and I've always been willing, I think, once I do that, to let someone else do it. In all the areas that I would call manager, I basically delegated those out. I would say, "That's yours to do", and some of the people who worked for me came to me. They weren't used to..they were used to doing it, but they always had to get someone else, like the principal, to really do it. I mean why give it to someone to do it, if your going to spend all that time on it? So I think that built some real strengths in those people. And as a result, I never felt constrained by time. Because that was a priority.

Q: What do you think teachers expect of their principals? What do they expect the principal to be?

A: You're the one who ought to answer that, I guess, but after teaching last year, I might change my view about that. I think it varies more than we expect, and maybe that's the key. That the teacher has needs that are going to vary and expects the principal to know what those are and work on them. Some of them have needs for support in more managing areas, and it really hangs them up! So they need real support on how they deal with a kid who..absentee and make-up work, for example. All those things which they know how to do, but they want..if they've got problems they want support on it. Others want ideas through principals and chairs on what they can do differently. I guess I like to think teachers would like to think, particularly their immediate supervisor, whoever that is, really does know a little bit about what they're doing. If they could speak honestly with me, if we'd sit down together and talk about it, then it's just not. "Oh yeah, you're one of my teachers, I know. You're doing a great job." How does he know if you're doing a lousy job?

Q: How did you evaluate teachers, then?

A: In my own case? Well, I would...before we were into the system of..what I would generally do--and this is when I was at Edison--I think people who taught under me would say. I would say to a teacher, "You're on for next week!" What that would mean is they might expect to see me next, but several times. You know, generally, not one hour sit-down kind of visits. Probably a couple of visits near the beginning of the class, a visit near the end on a different day, a couple or three stop-ins. I might, as a result, be in a teacher's classroom five to ten times during the week. I might pick out half a dozen teachers for that particular week.

Q: That you would say, "O.K., you're on call." So that all that week they could expect you to drop in anytime.

A: Right. Rather than pinpoint. I just felt it was..and most of those people I knew well enough. But as far as the evaluation goes, that was the time I would evaluate. I would follow those up even before that was mandated. Even my little school in Michigan I had some good help and direction on working with staff in that vein. That is how that kind of thing evolved. So personally, I still think that's a far better way than what you're into now with the merit pay- where you go in for that hour. Something about that hour and just sitting there for an hour I think is an irritant to the supervisor as well as the teacher.

Q: Since you brought that up, what do you think of the career ladders-Career Level I and II, specifically merit pay at Career Level II? How do you feel about what the country is going through, now?

A: I had some really mixed feelings. I was in as far as the training. I'm pretty sold on the training. I was in on the first group that took the program as principals. I came out of that certainly a better person. There is no doubt in my mind that my teaching last year was better because I had been through the program. Of course, (I) knew the Braddock staff had to go through the next year, and we had some things going there between the TESA and other programs. As a result, the administrative staff and I spent alot of time discussing those issues. So I know I was a better teacher last year because of that. I'm still, I guess I do believe..well, I don't know if I believe it or not. But the better people need to be rewarded financially. I guess when Dr. Spillane came, he convinced me that the only way to raise teacher pay, in general, was to hook this to it. So I bought into that. We could either just sit where we are with nobody getting any money, or we can get some sizable chunks of money. Certainly, he produced that. That's one thing he said. But when I listen to people, and even at Science Tech last with some pretty good staff members, I'm not sure it's worth all the grief, the headaches, and heartaches. There certainly is alot of morale problems with it and that concerns me looking ahead. I believe we do our best job when we have fun doing it. Overall, I think what we're doing is going to improve teaching. For the really good people, I don't think..I heard today an interesting comment a little while ago, I don't know who the lady was, but she is a dancer, I believe, a ballet dancer. It was an interview on the radio about her career, she said something to the effect, "We've got to always think and not be satisfied with our work, if we're going to be at our best." She was talking about her performance, and you're not always at 100%. If you're satisfied with it, you won't be better the next night. She says when you become satisfied with your performance, then that's the time you should stop. I got to thinking about that with us. That in Career Level II, if someone gets there, and then is satisfied and thinks they're doing such a great job and doesn't get better, that's going to be a negative. But I'm not down on it as a disaster, which I know alot of teachers are really upset. But I think it's going to have it's troubles.

Q: Have you ever had to fire a teacher or dismiss a teacher?

A: Yes.

Q: Would you talk about that?

A: Yeah, I'll talk about it from two or three standpoints. If you go back far enough, and I go back a fair amount, when something would go wrong, even close to a moral issue, which today would be nothing, but I had a couple of situations, they weren't flagrant, but they were just out of order... There's a second kind of situation that I dealt with, particularly my six years at Edison. I ran into this where teachers who I thought weren't doing a very good job for me. Other times it was the way they treated kids. It really got me upset. I'd sit down with them and talk it through and say, "Hey, I'd do something else". The job market was good enough that people could listen to that and think, "Yeah, maybe, I could". Usually if they didn't treat the kids very well, they didn't like teaching anyway. I know I sat down once--I suppose this was eight or nine years ago-I was sitting down and listing some people I felt I had encouraged to get out of the profession. People that I liked! They were nice people! It was a list of twelve to fifteen people over six to seven years. People that I hadn't had to fire. I think that came up because I ran into a couple of cases where I was going to have to fire them. I said to myself, "I haven't really been through a whole grievance. What happened to all those other people that I didn't think much of either? It was because they were willing to move on their own. Then we got to the point where the market elsewhere, particularly the profession, jobs were tight. People weren't going to give up their jobs for anything. I had a couple cases where I had to file on some people. I didn't ever have to go to the board of level dismissal, because the people I dealt with either went somewhere else, someone else ended up with that problem, or people moved. So one experience I've never actually had is where I had to sit at a board level hearing saying, "He's got to go". I avoided it, missed it, fortunately.

Q: What was your toughest decision as a principal? Is there one thing that sticks out?

A: You're not limiting that to staff?

Q: Not just to teachers, but in anything--students, community, etc. Is there one thing you look back on that stands out, and you think that maybe you would have done it differently or that was tough?

A: I would...that's hard to answer. I've got a couple I could share. I guess it would be alright to share the decision. Once I canceled a play production some years ago at Edison. Again, I laugh because today it would be so tame. Times have changed, there's just no doubt about it! The drama director was a superior person and director. They had at the time as good a drama program as I have ever seen. But it was because of the content of the play that I just didn't think he should do it. I fanned it through a couple of people for advice. I didn't want to make my decision alone, they came back and agreed. I can still remember the day I told the kids and the director. I went down to the auditorium, that was a tough go. They didn't understand it, they probably wouldn't to this day. Those kids...the director walked out. He felt that...looking back, he may have been right. It wasn't a way out thing, it just had some sex in it that I didn't think we needed on the stage. So that was one. I had occasion two times, where I..I don't like the word fired, but that's what it was. I changed football coaches. In one case, I didn't like the way he was treating the kids. The other..he treated the kids great, but he just wasn't doing a good job and the community was all over us. You can say what you want, but I've never pawned those things off. In both cases, I can see sitting down and telling them. It's's a tough go.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, is there anything that you would do to better prepare yourself as principal, or do you feel that you were prepared and there wasn't anything lacking in your education or experiences?

A: Well, I guess as we were talking a little while ago, there's always something you could do better or improve. I think when I started, like a lot of people, you start're involved in, "we've got to give them something to do". You chase down the absentees, or go watch the buses, all those things. That's where I started. But I suppose, well what I know now, if I were ever to change that introductory way that people get involved in administration, I would have them do some of that because that is part of the game. But there has to be something better. But it took wasn't until I was a principal, I'd been a assistant (principal), so I had the whole thing, but I had some county resource people..and I was fortunate to run into a guy who convinced me that you could do the work with teachers, and you didn't have to get hung up on all the other stuff. Once I learned that, it changed my whole role. I know I'd never gotten a job here if I'd hadn't been able to share that in my interview. I couldn't believe they were even considering me. I only had a school with 600 kids, and I was all alone. But we were able to talk about having learned to work with teachers. I didn't talk about what type busses got in and all that. So that's what I would change. That somehow early, not only for myself, but for other people who want to get into that, make them realize where the important parts of leadership are.

Q: Did you ever consider other job opportunities in the county? Did you ever aspire to superintendencies in one of the areas or the top job? You mentioned your dad had been a superintendent. Did you ever think of that for yourself?

A: It's hard to answer. Not very seriously, let's put it that way. In fact, not at all until a couple of years ago, I began to feel too satisfied with my work. I began to say to myself, "You're not doing enough to be creative", and all that. I did put out a couple feelers on the area superintendencies--a couple were open. I did talk to some people about them, not very seriously. Had I ever been offered something, I don't know what I might have done. The only thing I considered seriously, and I just decided I wasn't going to work anymore. I knew that the personnel office was going to be shaken up at some stage. You heard that for years. It had to happen eventually, there was a need for it there. I did think that if there were a place I could make a contribution to the system, I thought it might be in the personnel office and directly taking that over. That was very recent, and I didn't know if I wanted to pour my life into something new at my age. Maybe down deep, I didn't want to take the risk of being rejected. Dr. Spillane didn't know me to an extent, so I did not do that. Of course, eventually it did open, and Ned Carr took the position. I think more importantly the principalship in today's environment is that you ought to work with kids and work on something important. You've got to stay at that level. You can't do much of that in the superintendencies. Then you really are a manager, and I didn't want to be that.

Q: Did being a principal effect your family life? Of course, you were a principal 22 years, so they definitely were used to that!

A: I think my family would say they enjoyed my being a principal. They enjoyed the status that came with it. Fortunately, I think I carried a fairly decent reputation, so I think I didn't have to apologize. From my wife's standpoint, the time constraints were never any greater than when I was teaching and coaching, since I did coach during most of my teaching. That was early in our marriage and that was tough to get used to. I'm sure Betsy would say that there were sometimes where being alone, before the family, was bad. I think my own control of my time as a principal was better than some think. But I seldom stayed through, even if it might have been convenient to stay. So in general, we always had dinner together. That somewhere between 5:00 and 8:00, we had a chance to be together. It certainly wasn't a problem.

Q: What would you have liked to spend more time on other than responsibilities as a principal? Were there other areas you would have liked to have more time? I've heard other principals say that with all the meetings they have to attend, it cuts into some other things they would like to do.

A: Yeah, the nights are controlled by the schedule and your willingness and feelings about how important things are. I always thought the involvement in those activities was crucial to your status with people. When you're talking four nights a week at some stretches of the year, naturally somethings got to give. In my case, I lived with it, so certainly it would have been family needs, or some of my church activity meetings which I'd get in conflict with, but I think what happened to me more so is when I had an open night and had a responsibility that was important to me. I think church would be the best example because I've been pretty heavily with that in leadership roles and in choir, so I could have spent two nights a week at church. Well, then you get a Tuesday night meeting at school and then a church meeting. That probably wasn't fair to the church meeting because I'd have to go to school. But, not too bad of frustration.

Q: In your years in the principalship, could you see a change in the students? With students rights coming about in the late "60's and early "70's, what changes did you see?

A: The stretch would be the late '60's--the Vietnam thing--that was a tough go. It just was as a principal. We changed the dress code and loosened the rules, many of which needed changing. The adults got so upset because we were loosening rules. On the other hand, there were the kids who felt all life was collapsing on them. So there were some tough days. I think it's when the student bodies became grouped into the cliques and almost became rivals. War isn't the right word, but suddenly there were jocks and hippies. You had to deal with that constant issue. Any day could bring on something in school. The special events became hard to run, whether school assemblies, graduations, award assemblies. It almost got to where you'd dread it. Then we made changes. We'd back off and not get them together, only in a voluntary sense. A lot of that has stayed. Certainly, the student body eventually cycled back out of that. The last four or five years, from the kids standpoint, I don't see it much different from when I first started teaching in '49.

Q: Were there ever any sit-ins?

A: Yeah, I dealt with a couple of those even before (Vietnam). I can remember one in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was an assistant principal. It was my first high school system. I don't even remember the issue, to be honest. They were upset at the principal for something, probably the lunches, you know. I can see them today sitting in that lobby. They always told me, "You know he thinks he's in charge, but we know you are". In general, if you go back to the philosophy, "If you're honest with your kids, generally they'll do what you ask them to do, if they think you're fair". They did then. Over the years, I never had anything flagrant come out.

Q: Is there any experience that you would consider the most unusual experience, the most unique experience?

A: Apart from the hostage situation?

Q: That was my next question. I wondered if you had something to top that?

A: Actually, that has to be the unique one. That just doesn't happen. And it did happen!

Q: I wasn't at Lake Braddock at the time. Could you tell me about that from your perspective? What happened? How did you get taken hostage?

A: Oh, I could go on forever. We'll condense it to I guess what is important. I'd been out of the building and came back about 1:00 in the afternoon. I was told by another principal, Dot Duncan actually, who was coming into the building, some youngster just walked into the front door with a rifle. I said to her, "Well, probably a school prop. (we were doing "Oklahoma"), and I'm sure he's just taking the gun in". I walked in. Dr. Cockey was coming down the steps from the other way. I said, "Have you seen someone with a rifle?" He said, "Well, I'm here because I just got a call about one!" We went into the main office. The whole place had been shot up! It was a shock! He and I were there, the boy was down at the end of the hall. We had a brief conversation with him, there was no doubt he was in a real state of emotional distress. That was the scary part. It gets back to the whole problem of dealing with people when they aren't really in control of their actions and their thoughts. Dr. Cockey did alot of talking with him. I suppose that group that was own thinking was that until that calmed down, which would have been I'd say about 7:00 at night, a man really could make a decision based on thinking it through, that you had to be scared. Who's to say what's going to happen? We've all seen people do something in a fit that later on they say was stupid. Especially kids! So certainly, that was shaky. I suppose the experience for me now, looking back, was that the same thing hold true. If you're willing to talk and work, and take your time and see what's on people's minds, that you can work your way through those. There were eight other people involved in that. You'd probably get eight other versions of what happened and how they come about it. But that had to be the unique experience. Could I share another experience?

Q: Sure! Please!

A: I was often guilty of...people credited me with the statement..that there are no emergencies! When I was at Edison, I was observing a class one day. The class was pretty good, so I stayed through. The teacher was changing from English to Drama. I'd been up there for two hours and came down. I found out that in that time a truck had hit an electric pole in front of the building, and we lost power in the front part of the building. It was during lunch and they couldn't cook the lunch. They couldn't find me. People said it was an emergency--we needed you! I said, "Hey, there are no emergencies. You did fine right?" What could I have done? I could have come down. Somehow they got the people fed. Everything worked out. That was a real good lesson for me, too. Most time people will react to help things along. You don't have to get all worried about it.

Q: I remember when you told the faculty at Lake Braddock that you were leaving. That sticks in my mind--please correct me if my perception is wrong--is that you had talked about how your job had been so much fun for you in previous years, and the bonus was that you got paid for it. Now you felt like you had to leave because it wasn' had become a job to you. That was your decision for leaving. What had changed for you that it changed from something fun and like a hobby, to where it was a job: Can you pinpoint what it was?

A: That's hard to say. That certainly is a correct analysis in just the way I was feeling. In fact, I had made a speech to the faculty about the second year we were open: "Here we are again. You work somewhere and not get paid. What would you do? I hope this is where you'd want to be. That's the way I always felt." The last year or two it seemed to me I was loosing that zest. It was more of, "I do belong at work. I'd just go anyway, whether I belong or not!" I think it probably was a combination of alot of things. I think that just the stretch of time for one. Doing something that long, particularly at Braddock. I know Ann Jackle and I often talked about one of the neat things at Lake Braddock was that it was big enough that change took place without having to go somewhere else. You got renewed because of change of people, change of programs, etc. So instead of having to move somewhere to revitalize yourself to get a fresh start, you could do it right there. I think what I saw happening, probably was, "What else could I do in a creative way?" In fact, it was almost the opposite. The things we were trying to do, it was more, "You just can't do that. We've got to have everybody doing this." (I was) feeling a little bit constrained by that. I think I was just wearing out. The numbers are just huge there--a growing metropolis! Plus the, "I've done this before. Do I have to do it again?" I'm just getting older. I think it was probably all those things put together. I could have stayed. I suppose I could still be there. But again, I shared what I felt a job should be.

Q: Do you miss the principalship?

A: Not as much as I expected. I don't know...if I had to work doing something else, that might not be true. But I haven't been out that long anyway. I must admit that the break from playing the leadership role hasn't bothered me. I thought that it probably would. Bob Russell and I.. Bob Russell was at Robinson. He had a hard time with the change. He often talked with me about it. But, no, I have no regrets about it.

Q: What advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position? What words of wisdom can you give to me?

A: I think that one would be--if it's an interest that you have -make sure it's an interest because of what the job is and not because of the financial reward. Because that reward is going to shrink anyway, and it isn't as great as people think. I was at a big school and at the top of the scale. So I certainly was making a nice salary, but I also would have been making a nice salary at Science Tech on their contract if I were working year around. So I think that would be the important thing. I feel the same way about teaching, the job is too difficult to do for a financial reward. If you don't like it, you're in for a long life.

Q: Dr. Alwood, is there anything else that you would like to add to your comments today? Anything that I haven't touched upon that you would like to be a part of this tape to share with others?

A: One comment that would be related to getting into the principalship. I think that one thing today a leader has to be careful of, I'm going to call it, "Run carefully, and you run scared." You can't operate that way. By that I mean that if you're scared of parents criticizing you, your boss not supporting you, or changing something, you may ignore it or don't deal with it. I think of that coming up in a variety of areas. Certainly, the black kids--something we need to do or not do. I think of it in a religious area where I don't believe the constraints are as tight because we think they are. I think we run scared when we get close to getting something someone might think of as censorship. I guess I would suggest you can keep your overview and you can do a good job of knowing what's going on, but just make decisions and be willing to stand up for things that you think do fall within the realm of acceptable practice. The other side of that is that sometimes you get a case, particularly with students and teachers, for alot of reasons, you'll suspend the youngster for three days. Lots of times what the principal runs into is measuring how you support a teacher versus what the student really deserves. Both are really important. You can't ignore either of those. But in particular, say you've administered a punishment and you get the appeal. Of course you know it's part of the students rights. Most of the time, I knew what was going to happen in that appeal to the superintendent. If I knew he wouldn't support it, then I came back myself and took the brunt of that. I'd just go back and reconsider. I just said, "I changed my mind."

Q: So before it got to the area office, then you made the decision?

A: If I knew, yeah. I'd have to be pretty sure. It's a waste of time. I never got hung up--this goes back to who you are as a person--I never got hung up on the support issue. If I felt I had done my job well, and the area superintendent overruled me, that's his decision. That's something he's got to do, and I didn't come out of there bellyaching. That's just the way it is. But if I knew, then pretty soon I'd begin to see that he just isn't going to support this. Rather than go through that, I'd just as soon come back and probably go to the teacher and say, "Hey, let's deal with this at the school", because the teacher and the student need to see that the power is in the school and not outside. So that probably would be in the general realm of looking at the position of, "How do you become a strong leader without being a autocrat?" I do believe the involvement in the activity program is crucial. You've got a teacher working for you, and you don't even take an interest in it. One (way) is by attending or having a conversation about it. Naturally, the teacher begins to wonder, "Why am I doing this when he/she doesn't even care and never comes to anything?" There's so many of them, but I think you can spread them out. A great memory for me--I went over to a swimming meet one night with John Cockey. This kid came up to us and said, "What are you guys doing here?" We said, "Hey, we came to see you guys swim!" The kid said, "That's unbelievable! Even my parents won't come to meets, they're so bad!" It was funny.

Q: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time. It has been very interesting for me. I hope I didn't jump around too much on the questions. Some of your answers prompted me to pull out another question. Thank-you very much for your time and all of your experiences you've shared with me. I really appreciate it!

A: O.K.

| Back to "A" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |