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Q: Would you begin, Mrs. Lawrence, by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests, and development?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Okay, I was born in Infield, North Carolina, which is basically 95-South. And I was born into a family of about 8 children. I'm the oldest of the eight, and a lot of aunts and uncles are educators; that's what kind of prompted me to go in the field of education. I went to an elementary school basically that housed grades 1 through 8, so my middle school experience was right with the elementary level. And my secondary experience was of 9 through 12 experience. And my family characteristics, basically my father and mother were high school graduates but did not go to college. As I said, my...I have several aunts on both sides of my family who are educators and they kind of like encouraged me to go on and further my education.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher, and then how many years as a principal?
A: Okay, my preparation in college, I went to school for approximately four and a half years. I did start out as a home economist, which is a little different, and made a shift in the process about the first year. I decided that I want to do something a little different. So I'd always been interested in children, of course coming from a family of eight children, I had to kind of like mother some of my sisters and brothers, so I guess that's where I got the pampering and the really understanding of how to work with children. I've always done a lot of reading to my brothers and sisters, which gave me a lot of encouragement in terms of trying to help other students, other children. I went, as I said, to college for four and a half years, and made that shift and shifted down to Virginia Union University where I graduated in about three and a half years. It took me three years and a couple of summers to complete my degree. After that, I was employed right away in the Richmond public school system, and decided that I would continue to further my education with an early childhood education endorsement. Of course I was only endorsed in grades K through 8, so I went back to get the early childhood education endorsement as well. After, of course, we were going through a desegregation experience at that time, and I was shifted to a school in the West End called Mary Mumford. And the principal really became interested in me and said that I had excellent leadership abilities and decided to promote my leadership skills. And I entered UVA in some graduate classes. Because all the graduate classes were pretty much on campus at the time, I could not really drive back and forth and work. So what I did, I switched the classes that I had taken at UVA toward an administrative supervision degree and went to VCU. And that's where I got my graduate degree, at that particular time.
Q: Okay, what circumstances surrounded your entry into the principalship?
A: Okay, first of all, I'll be glad to answer that. First of all, I've always been the type of person that people looked at and always nominated me to do different things, and I guess it's because I've always put one hundred percent in whatever I do. And I'm pretty much a perfectionist, like for things to turn out very well. So my colleagues and my supervisors have always been interested in my getting into an area where there was an opportunity for me to have leadership ability. I started out my first supervisory leadership role was a reading specialist in the Richmond public school system. I worked there for about 7 years as a reading specialist. And while there, there was an opportunity for me to become a curriculum specialist. And of course, I was prompted again to apply. And I applied and I got the job right away. Consequently, I kept that position for about three years and that was a rewarding experience because I had the opportunity to not only supervise teachers but to actually be involved in the teaching aspect through demonstration lessons and through the ordering of materials, through working with the plans...the instructional plans that were in the school. And also through the evaluative system, process, I'm sorry. And with that particular process, I learned an awful lot because a lot of emphasis in the Richmond public school, as we know and probably everywhere else, is on reading and math, those core courses. So I was a real asset to the particular program where I worked. So in the meantime, I stayed there for about 3, I guess it was about three and a half years, and my husband moved out of the Richmond area, wanted to make a move, and I decided that I would move with him. So we moved to Prince William County, and at that particular time, I assumed a job right away as an assistant principal and had that for a year and a half. While having the assistant principal position, there were some opportunities for me to interview as a principal. And I started, interviewed a couple of times, and the second time I did receive a principalship and worked in a school that was in an area that was quite a distance out from the, I guess, central area of Prince William County. It as more rural, and I'll stop that right there.
Q: Okay, so your total teaching experience was how many years?
A: My total teaching experience, let's see, I was in the regular classroom for about 7 years, and about 6 as a reading specialist.
Q: And then a year and a half as an AP.
Q: And how many in the principalship?
A: Oh, this would be about ten.
Q: Okay. So you then have had opportunities to work in different environments, suburban, rural.
Q: Can you contrast a little bit for me?
A: Well, I will talk about...let me talk a little bit about the urban area...
A: ...because I can speak very well about the Richmond area. As you know, many of my colleagues refer to the urban area as having worked with, I guess, more at-risk students.
A: And parents who we don't want to say that they're less supportive, but the emphasis is on really trying to put food on the table for kids and therefore they did not have the amount of time to spend directly with coming to school and trying to be very supportive in school and work in the classroom volunteering and that kind of thing. So that was a little different, though oftentimes we had to go into the homes and really talk to parents and make home visits in the homes. So that was a little different. But it was one of the most rewarding experiences that I'd ever had for the simple reason that once you did go into the home with these parents, you had the parent in the palm of your hand. You didn't have to worry about them not supporting you at that time. So that was a wonderful experience. When I came here to Prince William, I went into a rural area. Of course I had one minority family in my school, and I was the only minority ... for two years I was probably the only minority...as a matter of fact I was the only minority in the school for two years, and then we did have a couple of teachers that I was able to bring in during my tenure there. That was a situation where there was lots of support and the economics was just totally different. However, it was very, very political. So my leadership role had to kind of shift in terms of the clientele that I had to deal with. So I spent a lot of time doing a lot of PR things in that community. The students came with the abilities, but a lot of it had to do with ... a lot of what I had to do had to do with the idea of explaining programs, doing a lot of activities at the school that would accommodate the needs in the community because the community was so rural, the school was the center of activity. And the school where I was the principal did have several generations of families to attend that school. So there was a lot of colledral, family relationships in that particular school. So the school was a country well-known school and everybody knew everybody in the school. Everybody was related, so that was quite different. Of course where I am now it's more of the real world, and I guess I could say there's more of a balance of the types of clientele that you would be dealing with in the real world. We have several ethnic groups in our school, which lends itself to a better balance in terms of how to really work with people in the real world.
Q: And have you found, too, that your management philosophy has had to change because of the different settings?
A: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
Q: Were there any significant events, though, in your professional life that have influenced your management philosophy?
A: Well, certainly, when you deal with a population of more affluent people you have more parents in your school. So you do have to spend a lot of time really talking to people, really making sure that there's positive involvement and not negative involvement. You have to spend a lot of time looking at people and reading people and knowing how to read them very, very well. Also, looking at the types of persons that you hire on your staff so that you can meet the needs of the clientele. You have to look very, very closely at because all teachers are not capable of dealing with different types of ethnic groups. I've had to also do a lot of staff development training and bring a lot of people to make a paradigm shift because so many of our staff members were not used to diverse ethnic groups.
Q: Okay. Briefly describe your personal philosophy of education and how it has evolved over the years.
A: Okay. In terms of my personal philosophy of education, first of all I believe that we are here as educators and should be committed to students. I believe that all students can learn, and I believe that students should come to school with certain abilities, that they don't have to be very, very bright kids, but at least have certain behaviors that would exhibit a learning environment that is conducive for positive learning in the schools.
Q: Okay. You talked a little bit about teachers and preparing them through staff development training. What techniques did you find that you had to incorporate in order to create a successful climate for learning?
A: First of all, I had to look at the types of teachers that I did have on the staff, what training they did have, and how we were utilizing the training that had been offered them. Then I had to do a survey, more or less, and put out a survey basically have them to give me some feedback in terms of what types of staff development that they would like to have in this building that will help them to meet the needs of their students. So we did do that. Once having done that, I had to look at our annual school plan, our data...all of our diagnostic data...to see where we are and really do a needs assessment of this building, and to say not only are we going to provide staff development in terms of the some of the needs that teachers recommend but looking at it from a global perspective, what bringing some staff development opportunities for the staff that maybe they have not addressed because of the needs based on our diagnostic data and all components of our assessment.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: Number one, they definitely expect you to be able to handle discipline. I mean, you can really make it with a group if you feel that...if they feel that you are a strong disciplinarian. The other thing is that when we look at teachers, so often we can be very, very selfish. I guess we can be selfish as administrators as well, but a lot of times want what's best for them and not looking at what's best for kids all the time. And that has been a very, very hard thing to try and get across to our instructional staff. And you do that, you find clever ways of doing that. Sometimes they don't feel the need...teachers don't feel the need to change. They feel that children should change all the time. And sometimes we are not willing to make that paradigm shift to make sure that we change and not the child all the time.
Q: Describe your views of what it takes to be an effective principal. Make sure you talk a little about the personal and professional characteristics of the good principal.
A: First of all, the principal has to be an instructional leader. You have to know content. You have to know how to plan. In a site-based management system, you have to know how to operate an organization in terms of working the finances. You also have to have PR skills and you have to be able to interact and be able to relate to all different ethnic groups. You have to be able to read people very, very well. You have to know your students, you have to be able to spend time with your students and be very, very honest and show a genuine concern. You have to be able to evaluate teachers and go into the classroom and know good instruction when you see it. You have to be able to be flexible; every day is not going to be a day that goes right by a law that you've put down, certain items to follow. And you have to be a person with some thick skin. I mean every day is not going to be a pleasant day for you and you have to be able to make very hardcore decisions that sometimes aren't really pleasant to everyone but you do it for the benefit of the organization and for what's best for the kids, and always keep kids first.
Q: You've described a litany of ideal requirements for principals. And could you discuss appropriate procedures then for screening those who wish to become principals?
A: Absolutely. You definitely want them to shadow you. I tell our teachers you do yourself a disservice if you just think that you're in it for the money, and none of us should be in it for the money. But it should be something that you really want to do, and the only way you can do it is to be able to actually shadow an administrator or a supervisor and really see if this is what you want to do. And also, I like to mentor teachers very, very much as a perspective administrator. Or supervisor and help them along the way.
Q: It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups have had the greatest influence on you?
A: Well, actually, there have been a couple of mentoring programs that I'll talk about what we've done in this school. We have developed a couple of mentoring programs, mentoring programs for teachers and mentoring programs for students. And with that, we have had to go out to churches to get mentors. We've had to work with the Marine Corp base to get mentors. We've had to go to banks to get mentors. And what we do is really have a lot of contact with the agencies in the community, and some of the agencies that are at the military level and churches and those types of agencies to bring people into the building because so often they, too, have negative perceptions about the school. And we try to keep them in the schools to see what's going on so they will be able to actually carry out a positive message from the school back to the community. So I've worked with churches, I've worked with actually Board of Supervisors. We invite them to be a part of a lot of our programs that we have. I've worked with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Agency to come in and do some ecology work with us. And our parents, of course you know, I work with the PTA and Advisory Council, we have parent advisory councils in each of our buildings in Prince William County. And I've had to do a lot of actually just bringing groups of parents in from the community and sitting down and just having some dialogue, just like you and I are talking now, about some of the types of things that they see that we are doing well in our school, and some of the types of things that they see that we could do differently. And it has been very, very productive because out of this I have gotten excellent parent advisory council reps to serve for two years on my Parent Advisory Council.
Q: There are those who argue that more often than not, central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue?
A: Well, I would not be honest if I would not say that there isn't a lot of bureaucracy at the central office. As you know, we have a site-based management school, and our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) site-based. But even with that, and I think there's more opportunity for people to have collaboration and take people through a collaborative effort in terms of making sure that all of our constituents assume ownership for what we are doing in our schools. But there are areas, and there are very specific times when site-based management is taken away and their time is given back to the central office. But I will say that it's much better than it used to be and we are growing in that area. But there is a lot of bureaucracy. We still deal with things that we would like to do at the local school level, and so often having to get waivers and present those waivers to school boards in order to get the okay or the go-ahead to implement certain programs. It's still there. In terms of the money area, the area of handling finances, and of course with this we have the opportunity to put excellent personnel in our buildings in many cases, and that can be very political as well. So...looking at the personnel issues and looking at some of the programs that we would like to implement in our schools, there's always the bureaucracy attached to it.
Q: If you were king or queen, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organization arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: Whoa, that's a tough one. I certainly would rather answer to less people.... For example, if you're trying to get something approved here in our county now it is routed through an organizational process. I certainly would like to see that process kind of dealt with in terms of lessening the number of people that we would have to deal with when we're trying to resolve issues. So instead of going through an area associate, the superintendent, and the school board, I think that the area associate...just dealing with the area associate would be an area that I would like to stop a lot of this bureaucratic procedure now that we have. And less paperwork. We are dealing now a lot with e mail and if you don't turn the computer on, if you don't happen to turn your computer on that day and keep up with it, you have lost an important message probably, something that was due, something like that. So I would like to see something set up so that we would have direct opportunity to go direct-line of a person that we could relate to in terms of getting the job done a little faster rather than going through all these departments.
Q: A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay plans, and merit pay. Would you give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you may have had with such approaches?
A: I've not had a lot of involvement with merit pay. And I have mixed feelings about that because I think you can never come up with the proper guidelines in order to award merit pay. And the reason is because students don't come to us in little neat packages. They come to us with diverse abilities, and if I had my way I would look at awarding the whole school, maybe, merit pay, not necessarily looking at children and looking at where students were when you got them, maybe looking at data related to NCE gains and growths that day, and looking at the students that we have moved out of the bottom quartile using NCE gains rather than looking at it from a wholesale standpoint. And there are so many less affluent schools who have moved students further along the way than the affluent schools. And I would have some problems with giving the affluent schools, the more affluent schools, the merit pay. So there are mixed feelings and it's because if all of our students came to us with very specific abilities that were alike, then, you know, it wouldn't bother me. But because of that, you know, it does bother me.
Q: Understand. Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: Well first of all, I feel that we need to...teachers need to be evaluated, I need to be evaluated. I think that people should be held accountable for what they do. I definitely feel that. And I feel that the only way that that would be done is to evaluate them. I think that it's a very, very serious thing to educate children, and I think we do our students a disservice when we don't do the best that we can for them because down the line somebody will pay for it. It may not be right now, but it could be later. And I feel that in many cases, if we did not evaluate or have an accountability component built in our system, I mean we would do mediocre work, and that's just how I feel.
Q: Salaries and other compensation have changed a great deal since probably you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school system during your early years as a principal, and give your views on developments in this area since then.
A: Well, I'll tell you this, I think my first contract was about $9,000 about 30 years ago. And I can say that things have gotten better. And I think that it has been better for the simple reason that maybe there's been more involvement in terms of outside people working with salaries and being very sensitive to that. And I know that as accountability...more accountability is put on all educators, I feel that we should be reimbursed for that kind of thing. So I feel that...I don't know if I'm really answering the question like I should, but I do feel that there has been a significant difference in terms of the salary scale of 30 years ago than it is now. And I think that it's due to economics. Things are more expensive now than they've been before. And I also feel that a lot of it has to do with accountability. If you can hold me accountable, then I need to be compensated for it in some way. Not necessarily on a merit pay scale, but at least compensated in some way.
Q: In most school systems presently have tenure or continuing contract systems for teachers. Would you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such a system?
A: Well actually it hasn't changed. I haven't seen any change in that area at all. The average teacher's put on a three-year probationary contract; I was too. As of course administrators are not put on ... don't have continuing contract status, so that hasn't bothered me, I've always managed to do a pretty good job. Hopefully as the years went on I've gotten better and better and better. So I haven't seen a significant difference in that area.
Q: Do you find that teachers, though, who achieve continuing contract status sometimes adopt this complacency attitude because now that I have that status I don't have to work as hard? You made a valid point with administrators not having any type of tenure, achievement of tenure; perhaps they continually try to work at optimum efficiency. Do you see anything with teachers with that happening with them?
A: Well I'll tell you this. I think it depends on your building administrator. Teachers tend to act as their building administrator. And if building administrators set high expectations for teachers and students and themselves, then I think we get what we ask for. But we get accountability from them.
Q: During the past decade, schools have become much larger. Discuss your views on this phenomenon and suggest an ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities.
A: You know that's hard, and I'll just speak from the school system in terms of the school system for which I'm working right now. We, as administrators, sometimes we get together and we say that we have to go through the same process with 300 children that we would have to go through with 600. And it's very, very hard because the paperwork continues to come, the programs continue to come, the demands from parents continue to come, the accountability component has not ceased, it's always there. And I feel that whether it's a small or a large building, the building administrator, if you want that person to be an instructional leader you do have to give the person help because right now, as you know, our communities with rearing practices of our students, you know, you don't always get the support there, parents are getting younger and younger, and basically the support mechanism needs to be there for that principal in order to allow that principal to alleviate him or herself from a lot of the daily discipline that you would have to do and get right into the classroom to see what is going on; you will have to give that person some support. However, I do feel that with very specific discipline plans, with very specific rules that are built in and with setting up the component where children are seeing accountability for their behavior, that helps an awful lot. But you still have to deal with a core group of parents that really needC sometimes you're actually counseling the, right along with their child. So we do an awful lot of that.
Q: And there are those who argue that a principal needs to be a good instructional leader, but some would say realistically they need to be good managers. What are your views on that and could you expound a little bit on your style?
A: Well I have a continuum of both; I have a balance. I feel that I'm a strong administrator in terms of managing funds, managing materials, managing the fiscal operation of this building, the grounds, making the climate a climate that is good for learning, making the climate that is positive for people visiting the school. And I think that one cannot be more than the other; you need to be both. There must be a balance. You must be a good leader and you must be a good manager as well as an instructional leader. One can't be overbalanced over the other. You have to have a good balance there.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?
A: Okay, with myCand this is from a personal aspectCI guess it's because of my instructional background, I used to be a curriculum specialist, and I do like actually being in the classroom. I would like for someone to really take the ball from me in terms of areas like discipline and maybe being in the cafeteria sometimes. And maybe spending a lot of time dealing with those things that would be less of a priority than instruction from me so that I could really do my job totally. And that's what I'd like.
Q: Could you describe your relationship with the superintendent and the Board of Education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general, and your superintendent's behavior in general? Toward you and your school.
A: Uh huh. Well, actually I guess...I have a tendency to be very involved in a lot. And I serve on a lot of county committees; I serve on a lot of committees for educators right here in the county. I'm pretty aggressive, maybe assertive, that I've been told that I'm that way. And I think that that has been a plus for our school because I don't mind speaking up for what we need. I don't mind speaking up for something that I feel that would benefit kids, or if it's something that I don't feel that has to do with education or has to do with my job or another teacher's job in this building, I would speak up and say I will support you but I don't necessarily agree with you. And in terms of the superintendent, I think that he means well, and I think that he does a lot for collaborative and consensus building. But he too is also held up with a lot of the bureaucratic issues that face him from the board and pressures from the community.
Q: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in time. Would you discuss the nature of your student body and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you have participated while serving as a principal.
A: Well I've been at this particular school for about five years and I have seen the ethnic groups grow. And with this, and of course our staff is pretty much transient, not transient, pretty much stationery, and our student's are getting more transient. Our staff, the average staff member I guess has been here I guess ten to twelve years. And in a lot of cases you know, you do get people to go and come. But for some reason, our staff is kind of pretty much satisfied with what's going on here. With being satisfied, though, there has been some concerns in terms of meeting the demands of the change in our community because it's getting more transient. I think the transiency has come so fast that our staff really was not ready, and I've had to do a lot of staff development to bring people. One of the first things that I did, I went and took a three-hour graduate class on multiculturalism in order to learn how to talk and how to interact with various groups because I knew my students were changing, the clientele was changing. I have tried to make sure that our staff does the same thing. And so many of them have participated in many of the classes the county has offered, a lot of the state conference classes and state conferences and everything. However, unless you are on top of them, the implementation would be lacking. We insist that what you gain from a conference, what you gain from a class, you come back and not only present it in a staff meeting or a faculty meeting, you come back and share on grade levels and you make sure that it's implemented into the classroom. And that has made a significant different. I'd also brought not only so often minorities, trying to get used to minorities being on staff, and as students, our nonminority staff members had a problem with that. And I've had to bring...change my clientele when I get a chance. Any time that there has been a person who has left, I have tried to put a minority in that person's place. I've not had that opportunity very much. But when they have left over the course of the five years I've been here, probably have had seven teachers to move or something, whether they were transferring out of town or moving to a brand new school that was being built. But in those positions, I've maintained getting some minorities in those positions. And when I first came, we had one on staff here.
Q: Have you found it difficult, though, to recruit enough minority teachers to fill your staff obligations?
A: Well, let me share this, and I'm going to be very honest. Recruiting the minority teachers have not been a problem with me. The problem has been once you recruit them, set up an environment to make sure that they stay. So the retention of these minority teachers have been a problem in Prince William County, per se, and that's an area where I work very strongly so I know that the problem has not always been recruiting the teachers as much as it is retaining the teachers. And we have had the problem of trying to get teachers ... get away from that old paradigm of trying to get teachers on staffs or in these communities that mirror the community. And see, that I want to get away from, and I've managed to do a lot of that. And not just look at the way we look and that kind of thing. I have some real problems with that because in the work world and in the real world, when they go away to higher education, you see all types of people for the most part. So I think we do, again, our students a disservice if we don't be sensitive to that area.
Q: Can you discuss a little bit for me your participation in handling desegregation and describe your involvement with busing or anything during that era when schools changed?
A: Well, I'm going to be honest again. When I was in Richmond it was very, very interesting how I got selected to go to a school that was inCand I won't call the school's nameCthat was in the West End part of Richmond public schools. And it was in a very affluent area. And of course my parents were very affluent parents. I didn't have any problem by being a fair-complected Black person; I think that helped me. Which was most sad. And I can't say that I experienced any problems until I got to move up into administrative and supervisory positions where I was in charge of making decisions with a less diverse group of people. And right away, my skin color became a problem for me. So I had done as much as I possibly can, I try not to let that beat me to death and let that be a factor or an obstacle in terms of what I wanted to do for students. And all types of students, I just refused to let that happen. I didn't roll over and play dead. And I will never roll over and play dead. And I think that has had a benefit to my career, and maybe to some it may look like it was not a benefit to my career. But I think we've made lots of gains from my not being able to roll over and play dead. And my career has just kept going, you know. But yes, I have experienced some prejudice, and when we did do some desegregation back in the early 70s, I was a part of the fair complected part that got sent to the more affluent school. And the darker colored Blacks were sent to another school. And I was part of that era. Sadly enough.
Q: And that's part of our history so we have to deal with that. But as an administrator, you've come a long way, done a lot of great things. Talk a little bit about curriculum. We know it's becoming more and more complex. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's school citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now?
A: Well, first of all, the curriculum a long time ago was pretty much cut and dry. There were lots of basals and things like that used. And so many of our textbooks were not sensitive to the needs of the diverse groups of students that we had coming into our buildings. And I think now we are more sensitive to this. Our curriculum is developed...well, a long time ago the curriculum was developed by x-number of supervisors and very little input from teachers in terms of goals and objectives, but teachers were expected to implement them. I think where we have grown, the area that we have grown is involving all of our staff members like teachers, our guidance counselors, in developing curriculum. And some of our students where we need them, as well as people from the community to develop the curriculum. And this has been a plus and this has helped us in order to make the curriculum much more sensitive to the needs of the population of students that we're dealing with today. And many teachers have the option now of not only working with basals but they have the option of working with many different types of supplemental materials to support the curriculum. And our students are exposed to much more of options in their education, many more options in their education, which has been very, very helpful because you are addressing learning styles, you're addressing interests and that kind of thing. So I think there's an improvement.
Q: Good. There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. What has been your experience with such testing and provide us your views on this effect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: I am not against standardized tests. But what I am against is the political ramifications that center around standardized tests and how they are posted in the community in the newspaper and that kind of thing. And in many cases a negative way. Standardized tests are designed to assess where students are, and assess where our schools are, and to make core curricula changes in that area. And as long as it's kept in that realm, there's nothing wrong with standardized tests because after all students do have to have some accountability, we do have to have criteria for them as they enter college. And some of our colleges are very, very competitive, and we do our students again a disservice if we don't prepare them at least for the demands that they will need in many of our colleges and higher educational institutions.
Q: What are some of the greatest pressures you face on a daily basis, and some of your biggest headaches or concerns about your job?
A: Wondering...getting up in the morning and not knowing what the day is...every day is different. You may think that you can come and your day is going to be perfect. And it can be different in that there could be some negative things that could happen within the day that could really make you very, very sad. And then there are days that are just so positive that would take all the negativism out of your mind and will make you feel that well, you're here, and you have done a good job. And that you are here for the benefit of kids, and things have been very, very productive. But no day is the same. And it's not a boring job. The thing that really does concern me now, it does not take but one issue to make a very, very positive day into a very political day. Principals are more or less in a fishbowl now. Everybody is looking at that particular person. We don't have a continuing contract; you can be on the job today and tomorrow you may be gone. We are put in very precarious situations. You never know from one minute to the next when that will happen. But you can't use a lot of your time worrying about what's going to happen to you. You just do your job and do the best that you can and keep moving along. So it's the political stuff that really...you never know when you're going to be written up in the newspaper, or something's going to be said negative about you. Of course, none of us want to be looked at in a negative light. So that is a concern, the concern of looking over your shoulders and reading people all the time.
Q: Can you describe one of the toughest decisions you've ever had to make as a principal?
A: Yes. In terms of...one of the toughest decisions that I've had to make as a principal is to actually really evaluate a person to have them fired. And I've had to do that. And that's a very, very tough decision to look at a person and tell that person I've given you an opportunity to be the best that you can be in terms of meeting the needs of students and I don't see you doing that. And having to do a template on a person and really monitor that person for a certain amount of time and look at seeing that person make no growth. That's pretty tough because so often people do have families, and I'm a very humane person. But you can't let that get in the way of destroying 25 to 35 lives a year. You know, so those are some of the tough decisions. And looking at making some decisions in terms of moving people around on grade levels and trying to get the most out of what people have to offer. And it doesn't make you a very nice person to some of your clientele.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?
A: I'd probably go take me a course on how to deal with oppositional people. And how to work with them in a very positive way to get them to not change their mind but change their ways in terms of...change the behavior, not change their minds, but change their behaviors in terms of how they interact with people. So I'd probably take a class, and I've seen some of these, I just haven't done it, but how to deal with oppositional people and how to deal with the media. Those are very...if you don't know how to deal with the media, you're in trouble.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: Actually, letting them do some internships in the schools, to really shadow some people for at least a month, six weeks at a time. So that they can go back and let those people be evaluated so they can back and where they have some problems, go back and correct them. I feel that a lot of the universities have given their students a lot of theory and less practice. Give the opportunity to put them on, it's just like put them on the job for training and let them get that field experience before they actually give them a degree in their hand to go out and be a principal or any kind of administrator. Supervisor or manager.
Q: Would you please expound a little bit about any type of mentoring programs that you may have had when you were just starting out in administration.
A: You know, there were people in my job...I can't say that I was matched with someone. But I always had the common sense, if I needed help I didn't feel badly about going asking somebody for help, or saying what would you do in a case like this since you've been a principal for a while, am I making the right decision here? I've not been the type of person who could not put away my pride and ask for help. So I extended myself for help to people more than people... I mean I had people to say if you need some help let me know, but to actually mentor me, no, I never had that. I got the knocks and bumps and I learned from that.
Q: What do you believe, Brenda, is the key to your success as a principal?
A: I think duration and setting high expectations for myself. And really rolling my sleeves up and doing as much as I can do to support people. And for the most part people did like me. And I am not going to say that, you know, if you have the mentality that you are doing it all in your building, that's not true, giving other people praise and credit. And looking at...spend some time when you come to a building, observe it and see where your support mechanism is. And using that support mechanism to do some things for you that you may couldn't do for yourself. And actually looking at key components in the community to support me so that people, if I need a friend, I always have one.
Q: Now that you're just about ready to retire, and you'll have some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.
A: Okay, my strengths would be the area of working with people. I've been told that I can have parents eating out of my hand. I can call any parent right now on the phone and ask them to come and help me do something and they will come. My strength is that...another strength that I have is that I have always been very, very honest. I don't know it all and I tell people I don't know everything, that's why I'm asking you for some help. And that if you see something that you feel that you know that I am going to experience some problems or some controversy with, come and tell me. But tell me in a meeting or on a one-to one basis with me. Don't tell me in an open meeting and that kind of thing. And always be willing to sit and listen. I think I'm a very good listener. And I mean well. And I expect the best out of people because I always give my very best.
Q: Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: Well, you know, I like to read. I like to travel, and I like to shop. And if I feel that if I'm going home to my family and cannot maintain a positive relationship with my family when I walk through the door, it's very, very funny. I laugh and I tell staffs this, I will stop and buy something for myself. I will stop and go grocery shopping first, try to unwind, or I'll put a tape in my cassette player in the car and listen to it going home. I'll put some music on and that kind of thing. Or I'll wait for a while until I get myself together and don't go home right away. The one thing that I had that was a plus for me was that I'm married to an educator as well, which has been a positive relationship to help me along. So I do have that benefit.
Q: If you were to give advice to someone entering the administrative arena, what advice would that be?
A: Be ready for it. And when I say be ready, be really ready. Be well trained as an instructional leader. Be well trained in the area of politics, in terms of working with political...the politicians in the community. Love children and be spiritually grounded.
Q: Would you discuss a little bit the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at this time, give your reasons, and a little bit about the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down?
A: Well you know, actually, Ms. Carroll, it has not hit me. It didn't hit me until last Thursday when I had an open house reception from...one of the staff prepared an open house reception for me. And it really did hit me. I knew that it was something that I wanted to do, but the time didn't hit me until last week. And when it did hit me, I really did have to sit back and reflect and say oh my gosh, I've really done this. And the decision that really made me want to do this is because in all honesty, I know when I have done the best that I can do and when I need to go on and give it to someone else. I think we have lots of talented people right on this staff that could really pick up where I have left off and go on and do a wonderful job with kids. And I've never been a very selfish person, I just think it's time to give the job to someone else.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service?
A: Okay, the good thing about being an administrator is that you do see the ends and outs of just about everything. You see the students grow. You see their interaction, you are able to interact with the students. You bring on new staff, you see staff members grow. You see a lot of physical types of things that you're doing for your building like your grounds and the inside of your buildings, see those types of things really come. You see parents coming into the school volunteering that you've never seen before. One thing that really did happen that was very, very positive to me since I've been here is to bring males into school, fathers into schools to work with children. Right now we have as many fathers coming, we're having a party today, and end of the year party for our kids. You see as many fathers coming in helping with this as we do mothers. You see as many minority parents coming in from all different groups. The other thing that is very, very positive to me is that I have always been able to attract a very good office staff. And they've been very helpful in terms of making the community feel that they're welcome in the school. And if I really had to say something that I could recommend that would be very positive for people is to really first of all want to do. It has to be something that you really want to do. And it's just so positive to see the difference that you make in terms of students. I just get so pleased when I see students who are able to decode and who are able to read and who are able to write. It really turns me on, especially when I've know them when they were very, very young and they were struggling. And to see them make a difference in grades 3, 4, and 5. It's very rewarding to me. And also to see...to come to a school where there is low moral on our staff and to bring that moral up where people work and talk together and do things together and socialize together. And really talk about instruction in a very intellectual way. That has been very, very productive. The thing that would be a negative thing for me, again, is so often the media...having to deal...I just do not like dealing with the negativism that the media portray in our schools, and especially with public education. And they tend to do that so much. It's very, very hard to get them to come and do something and publicize something that is very, very positive in a school. They always want to deal with a negativism. So if I had to say something that I probably would like to work on a lot that would be a benefit to a person coming in, that they should have a strength in, it would definitely be learning how to deal with the media. And that's an ongoing struggle for me.
Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there's probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you and I should have and you'd like to share as a final comment?
A: Oh my gosh. Your questions were very, very thorough. I can't think of anything except other than many of our schools have assistant principals. How has assistant principal worked in this process and what have we done to make the assistant principal feel that he or she is a part of the organization. And how many assistant principals that I can take credit for having trained and have inspired to go on and to be a principal.
Q: And will you talk a little bit about that then?
A: Okay. As a course, I had two assistant principals that have stuck with me. I've not had a lot of change there, but one has gone on to be a middle school principal. And she skipped the elementary and went right on to be a middle school principal. The one that is with me now we're still training and to see her grow so quickly and to learn so much and to give her, because I told her when she first came here, she said well what are my duties. I said anything that I do, we split it right down the middle. So to give her that opportunity and to not be jealous of some of the positive things and accolades that she gets, that's very, very important because you want that principal to grow and to be very productive as well.
Q: Well that's great. It's been great talking with you. I wish you the best in your retirement. I certainly wish I'd had a mentor like you helping me get through this process. And I wish you all the best and thank you very much.
A: Thank you, and it's been a lot of fun.
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