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Q: Mr. Butler, how many years were you in Education as a teacher and as a principal?

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

A: Well, I received credit for forty-two years. Two of those years however were at the Orphanage school and that did not count toward retirement.

Q: So, you were in education a total of how many years?

A: I received credit for forty-two years. Three of those years were in military school.

Q: So, you were in education forty-two years. I probably will not live to be in education forty-two years.

A: You may.

Q: Mr. Butler, would you describe some of the schools you were in.

A: Well, I was a principal of a small high school on the eastern shore. This was a small school but we won the championship in basketball for both counties and played for the Tidewater Championship and lost by one point. We played for the championship at the College of William and Mary. A: From that school I came to Maury High School as a teacher. I taught biology and my major subject, history. After two years, I was made principal of the John Marshall Elementary School. At that time the school had 700 and some pupils. We had no assistant principal. It was just the principal and the teachers. You were real close to the pupils. Frequently, I would observe in the classrooms. View of the fact that I enjoyed history, at times teachers would get me to digress and talk to the pupils. I found that very enjoyable. However, I consider my success there was largely due to the fact that I played with the students on the school ground. I had organized play and played with them. When it snowed--when we had a snow storm I would announce that we were not going to cut recess. I would announce that there was not to be "snow balling" in the building but we would have a snow ball battle outside. I would go out there with them. We did have order in the building. I did have proper conduct there. We did have organized play.

Q: And you participated yourself.

A: I participated myself. And from there I went to James Madison which was a larger elementary school. I had organized play at James Madison. I conducted the boys side and a classroom teacher looked after the girls and the smaller children. We had excellent ball teams. I enjoyed that very much. We followed a similar procedure in the classroom.

Q: There was no question about that and I knew them.

A: I think for a principal you must have affection for the pupils and the teachers. You must consider their problems and help them solve them and work with them. A successful principal of an elementary school has to know his pupils and teachers rather well and be a friend and work with them. And he has to keep order and I think he has to be a rather good detective. If any damage occurred in the building he should be able to spot it. Many of the elementary schools now have assistant principals. Then, we did not have assistant principals. And the principal also had to be able to work with the custodian.

Q: Oh, I'm sure the custodian especially then as well as now was a very important person in the school.

A: A very important person.

Q: Mr. Butler, why did you decide to become a principal?

A: Well, I don't know. I enjoyed being a teacher more than being a principal. Now, about my decision here in Norfolk. I was teaching at Maury and was very happy with what I was doing. I was teaching biology and also history and I was enjoying it. I was told unofficially by the assistant principal that I could have principalship at an elementary school if I wanted it. And I told them that I did not think I would apply for it. I liked what I was doing. A member of the school board came by and observed in my classroom and then he told me I was being considered for principalship. And, I said, "thank you." And I still did not apply. The superintendent came by and observed in my classroom and he said, "come down to my office." I went down to his office and he offered me the principalship of John Marshall Elementary School. And, I said, "Mr. Mason I like what I'm doing and I want to go home and talk to my wife about this." So, that night I talked with her and he came by the high school the next morning and saw me and he wanted to know the answer. I told him I would take it. The reason I did was a $500.00 difference in salary. That was the reason I became principal.

Q: At that time $500 was $500.

A: That is right. Your salary was about $2000.00 or something like that. $500.00 made a difference.

Q: So for teaching at that time you were receiving $2000.00 a year?

A: Well, when I came to Norfolk I received $1500.00 but then I had night school which paid extra and I had summer school. So, I made about $2500.00 for the year.

Q: Mr. Butler, I think I know the answer already but, I would like to hear you say this again. What was your school's philosophy?

A: Well, if I had a philosophy it was to be fair to everyone and try to be considerate and also have a certain amount of feeling and affection for the students. You had to be proud of your school. And then you had to look after the ones that were not doing so well. For example, at one time during the depression in a school the size of John Marshall we were giving 52 students a day free lunch. So, we just had to consider the needs of pupils.

Q: You had to be a human relations person.

A: Yes, as a matter of fact, and I do not say this in a boasting way but frequently I took money from my pocket and gave it to the students.

Q: How did you create a climate for learning?

A: Well, I of course observed in the classroom. And I talked with the teachers. And in the faculty meetings you would have programs pertaining to learning. The teachers themselves were a great help--the good teachers. As a matter of fact, I would call some of them in- one at a time--and I would tell them I wanted some advice. "Do not consider how I feel but tell me how you feel about it." And I would get a great deal of help that way.

Q: So you used your stronger teachers to pull up your weaker teachers?

A: That is right. I used the strong teachers to help me pull up the weaker teachers. I let them participate in faculty programs.

Q: What role did you play in public/community relations?

A: Well, at one time after World War II, I was President of Norfolk Education Association. And of course being president we worked with the community. At that time I decided that the teachers certainly needed more in the way of retirement--the older teachers. I went "to bat" about that. We went before the authorities downtown. First, we went to the school board and at first they turned us down. But, then we went to different clubs and we did secure supplemental retirement. They at one time were not averaging much more than $300.00 a year. But then the money was increased. They were supplemented by the city to the extent that they got 1/10th times the average salary of the last five years. So, they got that. You might say, I could have been risking my position doing what I did.

Q: There are probably a lot of people around indebted to you to this day.

A: Well, most of them are dead now. However, they did get it through at that time.

Q: That is wonderful. What do you think teachers expect principals to be?

A: They expect them to be considerate, reliable and dependable. They have to be fair.

Q: Mr. Butler, how did you evaluate teachers?

A: Well, I observed in the classrooms. I found out the pupils' reaction to a teacher. The pupils had a good idea as to who was a good teacher and who was not a good teacher. I found that parents as well as the pupils considered certain teachers good or bad. I tried to be as considerate as I could be in writing the observation.

Q: What is your philosophy of education?

A: Well, of course you have to have a certain amount of facts--a certain foundation. It is good if a principal has a good background in several subjects. I taught at one time English, Science, Math and believe it or not French. Though, I could not speak French today. So, I had a background in several subjects. That is a great help to a principal when he is observing.

Q: You knew what to look for.

A: That is right. You knew whether a teacher was right or wrong in statements that they made. If a teacher made a mistake I would not correct her before her pupils. I would tell her privately about it and then let her correct it.

Q: What do you think it takes to be an effective principal?

A: First, feeling affectionately--toward the pupils and teachers--wholesome. A principal can find that being a good detective helps in keeping a smooth running school. If something happens in the way of misconduct such as a building being broken into, you should be able to analyze it--find out what happened. Furthermore, you should have the goodwill of some of the children that have been bad. They will in turn help you to solve problems. I have found them to be most helpful. They usually know what is going on. The bad ones know and the good ones do not know.

Q: It has not changed. What pressures did you face as a principal?

A: Well, during the depression the fact that children did not have adequate food and trying to see that they were taken care of. Some of them did not have adequate clothing and I would get clubs to help. In one instance I have had parents to try to take over and run the school. That only occurred one time.

Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do to better prepare yourself for principalship?

A: I found the teachers helpful. For example, at the conclusion of a session we would have a "brain storming" session. They would make recommendations that they thought would be good. We would list these recommendations and I would largely follow them. We would follow them for the year. So, I found that to be a good help. I believe I would follow a similar procedure if I were principal again.

Q: Today, "brain storming" is still a big item. Even within the classroom teachers allow the students to do "brain storming."

A: That is wonderful.

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: Well, I handled them on an individual basis. Whenever possible I would support a teacher when she was having difficulty. I gave her support. I would try to be considerate of the "human side"--both teacher and student.

Q: How do you think we could improve eduction or teachers?

A: Give teachers and principals a broad background in subject matter. Then also encourage them to consider the human side when dealing with students.

Q: How did you handle the Civil Rights Issue, the Busing Issue, etc.?

A: I happen to leave--retire from the job as principal of Northside--the year before busing came into effect. So, I did not have to confront busing. Around that time we had 1500 students and 53 were Negroes. We got along very well. In most instances you did not know they were there. I would treat them as individuals. There was one Negro boy who was living in a foster home and he did not like what he was given by the home to eat for lunch. He would come to me for money for food and I would give him the money so he could eat in the lunchroom. I found that boy to be most helpful. If anything was wrong--really wrong--he would come to me and tell me. He was not afraid of the boys because he could "lick his weight in wild cats." He was not afraid of other boys bothering him. I found that our relationship on the whole was rather pleasant. There was one boy who came to us that had been sent out of a largely Negro school--a black school. He had been giving trouble for fighting. He was about 16 years of age but looked to be in his twenties. I finally did get rid of him because he caused too much trouble. He just could not make it. I suspended him and refused to take him back. He could come after school hours and do his school work but he could not attend any more during the day time. He was the only one that caused trouble.

Q: What procedure should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?

A: He should be successful teacher.

Q: An excellent answer.

A: And he should have a broad academic background. And he should also be a natural leader.

Q: How did you handle your assistant principal?

A: I considered the assistant principal almost on the basics of equality.

Q: In other words, he was consulted.

A: We worked together as a team. I found the assistant principal most helpful. We were very good friends.

Q: Did the assistant principal at that time do most of the scheduling?

A: The assistant principal did most of it. If the assistant principal was capable he did all of it. Occasionally you got an assistant principal that was not as capable as others and of course you had to help them.

Q: Were the assistant principals in charge of all discipline?

A: No, when I was an assistant principal I would say I was in charge of about 80 percent. But when I was principle of a school it would depend on how strong the assistant principal was as to how much I would handle and how much he would handle. I would always come in on those serious cases but would give the assistant principal considerable latitude. Roy Rawlings--who, if you remember--was very capable. With him, I could turn most of it over to him.

Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern?

A: I would say the welfare of both the students and the teachers. You wanted to see how well they were measuring up. When you had the standardized test you wanted to know how your school was measuring up academically. And, then of course, athletics, for certain, schools' athletics were very important. When I was assistant principal at Granby, either the principal or I attended all basketball games or wrestling matches or anything like that. That was policy. One of us would be there. So, we just considered the whole school as most important.

Q: What was your biggest headache?

A: Well, there were many headaches as principal because you are on the firing line. But, I guess some teacher who is not doing as well as you had hoped she would do would be a big headache. But we were interested in the pupils with real problems and some came with real problems. There might be "drink" in the home or something like that. You had to consider the home background- the situation. They received special attention.

Q: What do you think of Career Ladders of Merit Pay for teachers?

A: Merit pay would cause a lot of hard feelings toward the principal. It would be a disturbing factor in the school. If you could say that every time every decision was accurate and everybody believed it was accurate then all would be okay, but that is not the case. So, merit pay would cause trouble. It would cause a bad relation between the principal and the teachers.

Q: What do you think of the Standards of Quality, etc. established by the State School Board?

A: Well, I think on the whole they are very good but they have not established very many or at least, they did not when I was there. You largely ran the school independently. Plus, downtown, the higher authorities, had an influence.

Q: What do you feel are some characteristics associated with effective schools?

A: Well, you would have a good relationship between pupils and teachers. A good relationship between the principal and teachers as well. A principal can be a real influence in the school but he needs to have the goodwill of the pupils on the whole as well as the teachers. And, he needs to feel the same way about them.

Q: What do you think of the testing procedures, S.A.T., etc.?

A: Well, I think that is a help. You need that. However, some who do not do too well on SAT's make very good teachers. They have a "human side". The pupils like them and they like the pupils and they try to improve their knowledge of the academic subjects. They do that as they go along.

Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal?

A: There was one teacher that had trouble on a moral basis. I finally had to let the teacher go. She had an opportunity to correct it but did not. That was probably the toughest decision.

Q: I would think that would be a very difficult thing to do?

A: The principals themselves did not let her go but the authorities did.

Q: Do you feel you were a manager of a building or an instructional leader?

A: Both, in other words you would not exactly manage the building but if there was damage you would take care of that. You would make the person pay for the damage. You worked with the custodian. You should be helpful friends.

Q: What do you think your key to success as a principal was?

A: In the elementary schools it was largely due to the fact that I was interested in the play part. I would play at recess with the pupils but I still maintained rather strict discipline in the building. I feel that was largely the key to success and then, too, if I had the goodwill of the pupils. I did not worry about not having the goodwill of the parents.

Q: Good point, you felt that school was for the children?

A: That is right. If you had their goodwill you would have the goodwill of the parents.

Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?

A: You had to endeavor to be fair with everyone and endeavor to help those in trouble.

Q: You tried to give everyone some hope.

A: It was especially true during the depression years. Some did not have adequate food at home and you had to help them.

Q: Mr. Butler, I've really enjoyed talking with you. You do not know just how much I appreciate this. In a lot of ways I see that school today is a lot the way it was 20 or 30 years ago. Maybe we are a little bit more formal in the way we do things but I believe our mission is the same.

A: Now, the human size should be the same. And I might say that you did a good job.

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