Interview with C.E. Miley


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Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?

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

A: I started teaching in 1935 at a little school in Clarke County. I taught for three years and then was asked if I was interested in going to Fairfax County as elementary principal. I thought it was quite a challenge at that time and my wife and I and our small daughter decided to go down. Then after two years in Fairfax the superintendent at Clarke County, where I had originally taught, called and asked if I was interested in coming back to this school where I had taught as principal. This was a small high school and an elementary school. I taught there for eight years and the county was consolidated and I was asked if I would be interested in coming to Berryville as principal of the combined school. This was in 1949 and I was principal here until 1971.

Q: Did the schools, the high school in this part of the county and the high school in the southern part of the county...

A: That's right. The one in the southern part of the county was very small and there was talk of consolidation. It did not set too well with the people in the southern part of the county but eventually the schools were consolidated. The top three grades came over to the county seat. Later on, about four years later, the entire school was consolidated.
Q: Did you find, when you said the southern part of the county was not interested in that consolidation, similarities between the battle of consolidating as it was back in 1949 and 1950 as the split in the community today with the new high school being built that that type of situation was similar?

A: No. It was similar, but here was a community losing their high school and that's not true today. It's been this way for four years and now I assume there's no split between the southern and the northern parts of the county.

Q: But there were proponents to say, yes a new consolidated high school was necessary and those who said, no I want to keep my high school just like today. They said " we want to keep the traditional high school where it is and the other part is saying..."

A: That's true, that's similar. Yes.

Q: What subject did you teach when you were a teacher and did you enjoy the teaching now that you had a chance as a principal, now retired, and can reflect back and why and why not?

A: I thoroughly enjoyed teaching at Boyce although I had not had practice teaching. I came in rather cold because I did not prepare for it when I was in college. But this was back in the deep depression and I was offered this job and I felt it had a future. And I accepted and I taught social studies and a science class. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the students, getting to know them and I was also coach and was interested in athletics and with both athletics and teaching I felt I was perhaps a ----integrated in the school and community by doing this and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Q: You said that you were offered a job right after the depression. Had you gone to school preparing?

A: No. I graduated from Roanoke College in 1935 and started teaching in this small school in 1935.

Q: When you went to Roanoke College were you preparing to be a teacher?

A: No. No way. I actually did not know what I wanted to be. However, I did teach as a senior classes in physical education for the coach. And I became interested in this and felt if I ever had the opportunity I would like to do this sort of thing.

Q: What were you studying to be at Roanoke College?

A: Frankly, I did not know. I went as an athlete and I took a political science course and this was my major.

Q: Do you recall if Roanoke College had a program to prepare teachers?

A: They did not - other than what I did in physical education. That was the only education course I had.

Q: Different from today's "teacher colleges"?

A: However I did have to go to get some education courses after I came to teach here. I went to a school in West Virginia - Shepherd College.

Q: After your teaching why did you decide to become a principal? Was there any person who influenced you? Was there a philosophy that you had that you wanted a school to have? Was there a particular event that occurred? What transpired that you became a principal?

A: Well, I was at this small school for three years. I was teaching there and I, as I said before, the superintendent asked me if I would be interested in going to Fairfax County as an elementary principal and I thought it was a challenge. My wife said let's go and the principal at this school where I was teaching had some effect on my decision. He was easy going. You would hardly know he was a principal. He helped - he worked with students. He was just an easy going person. It was a small school and we got along very well together. In fact I was the only other male in the school but we had rapport and fellowship and he urged me to go ahead and go to Fairfax and I wasn't too interested in the principalship of the elementary school, per say, I wanted to get with older youngsters and when this opportunity came this principal I was speaking of retired. The superintendent called me and asked me if I was interested in coming back and I said yes.

Q: And so you replaced the principal you had before?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you find yourself in your years of principalship doing things and acting in certain ways that had a reflection on this previous principal? In other words was he a model?

A: I would say he was a model, yes. He was the only principal I was acquainted with. I liked his style. I liked the way he went about his work as principal, his association with teachers and students and I just felt it would be a challenge to work with a high school group.

Q: The idea that you came out of college and began teaching and had no formal preparation for this job and stayed on the job for only three years and became a principal like that it is remarkable that the tenure that you had as a principal was so great with such little formal training.

A: Well, when I was at Roanoke, my coach there was interested in me and he asked me if I had ever thought about going into teaching and I had no idea at that time and this was when I was a senior and he asked me if I was interested in helping him out with his physical education classes and I said I was and I practically took over his physical education classes. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know if the college students enjoyed it but I did. It may have set off a spark about teaching by working with other people.

Q: You mentioned that you coached while you were teaching. Did you have an opportunity to have any coaching or assisting a coach while you were at Roanoke?

A: No. It was purely in the physical education program.

Q: What did you coach?

A: Everything. I coached football, baseball, basketball and track. At this small school we had a six-man football team and outdoor basketball until we got a place to play inside. Of course, baseball took care of itself. I coached the track team and taught physical education, taught a government class and was principal of the school.

Q: You taught football. Did you have a regular schedule? Were you in a district, a league, Virginia High School League or anything like that?

A: Yes. We played six other schools. It was a district and in fact the second year we were in the district we were fortunate enough to win the district championship in six-man football. The first year I don't think we won but one game.

Q: All of your hats that you wore in education teacher, coach, principal for the number of years that you were in education I'm sure that you have formulated in your own mind an off the cuff type philosophy about education. What are your view points of how you perceive education?

A: As we all know education is "on going" from the time they start school to the time they finish high school or college they are individuals. I felt you took a youngster where he was and tried to develop his potential as far as he could go. Create an atmosphere where he wanted to learn to work with him as an individual to teach the whole pupil, the whole youngster in all the areas you could.

Q: Do you find the areas in dealing with the youngsters today has so many different departments and different avenues than the students you worked with in the beginning of the '50's?

A: I would dare say yes. I don't know if I could deal with the pupils today as I did with my pupils then. I don't know how I could explain it. I just don't believe I could.

Q: Do you see a change in today's student?

A: I see a change.

Q: Do you think that the automobile is a major factor?

A: Oh, yes. We are more mobile now. Youngsters did not have cars. They seemed to appreciate what you did for them more. This type of thing.

Q: Television?

A: Television. Working parents have a great deal to do with the youngsters today. We didn't have too much of that back in the 40's. We had some, of course, but it did not seem to effect the youngsters like it does today.

Q: To be a principal you have to possess good leadership qualities. In your opinion what are one or two things you feel that a principal should possess as far as leadership is concerned.

A: Well, as far as possessing, I think you should have a certain personality to get along with the faculty. You should be fair with them and honest and work with them and protect them. Protect the students, work with the students, be fair with them. I found that to be about the most important factor in my principalship is being fair and this has come back to me ten-fold from students that this is a quality that is necessary. You have to be firm with faculty and students and you have to have their respect and I think you gain their respect by being fair with them dealing in their problems and helping them to solve their problems and become better teachers.

Q: Lots of time as a principal you have to wear two different hats, you have to be the nice guy to help to show leadership but then you must turn around and reprimand a teacher for something they've done or discipline a child for his behavior. How do you find the adjusting from Jekyll and Hyde?

A: Well, I don't really think it's a Jekyll and Hyde situation. I think the students who need discipline know they need discipline just like you might have a situation in your own family. They do something they know they should not do. You punish them. They still like you. They love you. In the high school I think it's a little different situation. If a student does something wrong and you punish them, I don't think they feel animosity toward you at all. I have experienced that year after year even after I retired. I think it comes back to you and it makes you feel pretty good because they knew you were fair and that you didn't wear two hats and the same way with teachers. They know they need talking to, in a sense, of not doing something they should not in the same sense as punishment with a student.

Q: Do you consider principalship an action in the form of management design or educational leadership design?

A: I think that it should be both. Perhaps a principal should be more inclined in favor or educational leadership in favor of management. However, management is necessary. You have to have management in school. You manage so many things. You have to manage the physical plant, you have to manage supplies, you have to do so many things which does take a lot of time. Some times the principal gets carried away in management and does not pay as much attention to the educational phase of it. But I guess I was more management inclined in the school running properly, that this was done and that was done, and there are a thousand and one areas to go into this. We did get into educational programs in school and state. We didn't get into the standards of quality. I was out of it by that time. We were evaluated and that was a year or so of self study. This brings you back into the educational cycle from time to time and other areas are brought up by the supervisor or faculty themselves which brings you back into the educational side of your responsibility.

Q: Do you feel that in your early principalship that management was the important part and that you allowed your teachers to handle the educational part because that was the place for them to excel-- the classroom itself?

A: You are so right. You hit the nail on the head as far as I was concerned. In the beginning, because I was so concerned with the operation of the school, the management side of the school than I was the educational side and that's not good but I think it should be about...

Q: What do you think about career ladders for teachers, with teachers at the bottom of the ladder as far as the educational stair step goes?

A: I think really it depends on the teacher, what they want to do. If they want to pursue education and become administrators then this ladder is available. If they become assistant principals, principals and go further into administration of schools as a superintendent of schools that are available, but these areas are rather limited positions are limited so I think a teacher should know exactly where they want to go and what they want to do. There are rewards in teaching, there are rewards at being a assistant principals and principals. It depends one the individual.

Q: Do you think that because there is a lack of vacancies up the ladder that they don't even pursue and prepare themselves for that? Do you think it is discouraging?

A: Discouraging, yes, because the positions are limited. Very limited. What do you think about merit pay?

Q: I think it sounds good. I think the administration of it would be most difficult. I'm very happy it did not come up when I was principal. I think it becomes difficult for the principal to say whether this teacher deserves merit pay and this one doesn't. It becomes in some cases favoritism. It does happen in the best regulated schools and whether this is good. I think good teachers should be rewarded in some manner. I just don't know about the merit pay part. What consumed the majority of your time as a principal?

A: I don't mean to sound officious, but minding the store I think would be. Management of the building, getting supplies, requisitions, seeing that your program was running smoothly, I guess that more than any one thing. Working with students before we had guidance, working with the student, disciplining the student. The assistant principal was usually in the guidance. My assistant principal for a number of years was really a guidance person. To use him as a disciplinarian was not compatible for me and I did most of the discipline in the school and he was the guidance person. When we got a guidance director then he became the disciplinarian.

Q: What would you like to have spent more time on. What other responsibilities prevented you from doing that?

A: Going back to being more curriculum minded and educational leadership in the school, I felt this was part of my deficiency. I did not do enough of it. I left it up to supervisors or teachers themselves and this doesn't always work. It might in a small school but not a large one.

Q: Do you feel the central office policy prevented you from accomplishing goals you felt could have otherwise been obtained?

A: At times. But generally as principals I would discuss programs or goals that we had with teachers in faculty meetings. I would talk it over with the superintendent and get his feelings and try to justify what we were doing or what we wanted to do. Try to sell him on it. Occasionally this did not work and we were hand-cuffed to a degree in doing some things.

Q: Can you remember incidents that stick out as being the most pleasant?

A: There were a lot of them. Seeing the pupils succeed. Handing out diplomas at the end of the year to seniors who I didn't think would graduate. Giving out rewards at assemblies. Congratulating teachers on doing a good job at whatever assignment we might have been working on or complimenting teachers on doing a good job. You feel good about it. These are some of the areas that I felt real pleased with.

Q: During your principalship a new high school was built and you had to go through the procedure of moving your organization from one plant to another in midstream while school was in session. What was your biggest problem?

A: This was one of the most interesting jobs during my principalship. We were in a small building and it was necessary to consolidate the entire county or at least the high school. Our new building was completed and we were ready to move into it in early 1954. The job of scheduling, orienting the students and teachers was a tremendous task. It was interesting. Certain days I brought a class over to the new school and we would go through the school and see the rooms. Before they were oriented as to what classes would be , they came over here and showed these students where their rooms would be and what procedure they would go through, their lunchtimes, ringing of the bells, and scheduling within the school. This was a task for the teachers also. Then when we came over we could go into the auditorium and have our question and answer period. Getting lunch lines straight, getting the bell schedule worked out. It was very interesting. We lost a lot of time in school, there's no question about it of getting them to become adjusted. To them it was a big school. To me it was a big school. There were just so many things we had to do to become adjusted to the building.

Q: Did you see whether the move affected the children in their learning progress?

A: Definitely. They enjoyed it. We picked up our books, so to speak, incidentally it was on Groundhog Day, February 2, 1954, and walked over. They put their books in their desk and we went on with school the next day. But the fact that they were coming into a new environment I think they gained by it in the fact that they were coming into a new school and saw things they did not have in the old school. They liked it.

Q: How do you think it affected the teachers in that day or so in preparing for their classes?

A: It was frustrating. I doubt that there was much preparation. More in getting them adjusting to coming over here. They all had their schedules and they would go over with them. I think it worked out. We were complimented on it and the transition how smooth it was. I felt good about it, the teachers felt good about it, and the students felt good about it.

Q: Did you see the teachers acting like the students in that they were excited about it?

A: Most of them. Some of the older teachers were not quite as excited as we were. I say we, I was younger then.

Q: How do you think the integration of blacks and whites educationally and socially affected the children?

A: First of all we had a freedom of choice. Only those blacks who wanted to come to this school could come or would come. We had, what you might say the academically minded students coming. The integration there was not difficult , academically. Socially it was new and strange. We had very little problem the first couple of years because, I don't like to say this, it was a better student who came the first two years. Academically, those who were interested in school. The transition there was very good. After that when it was completely integrated there were management problems. Educationally we had to adjust somewhat in our teaching. We worked in our faculty meetings on this. Socially there was very little mixing. In fact it was non-existent the first two years. Athletically they were good athletes. For the first couple of years they were not inclined to want to participate. After that most of them wanted to participate.

Q: You said the first year was optional. Did those blacks who did not want to go to the new high school continue to go the black high school?

A: Oh, yes.

Q: Then, within a couple years or so they were mandated to attend the new high school. Was this in the long range plans? Did this act as a buffer?

A: Well, it acted like that. Whether it was a planned thing I don't remember but they were told that those who wanted to come and take courses that were not offered in the black school could come and I couldn't tell you the exact number but there were those who wanted to take courses and felt they could improve - they came.

Q: There didn't seem to be many social problems?

A: None what so ever.

Q: In meeting a strange situation that first year were there any blacks on your staff?

A: Yes. There were two that I recall, a math and a business teacher. There were certainly no problems there. We worked very well together.

Q: How much assistance did they give you in the transition of integration? Were they helpful to you?

A: Definitely. They would work with other teachers in this area. Particularly when there was complete integration. We didn't have a great deal of trouble but there were those who came because they were part of the school. Those who did not want to learn and some trouble makers just as there were some trouble makers among the white students. It was a little tense at times but I feel with the work of the black faculty and the work of the faculty here working together the transition was good. It could have been a lot worse. But I feel that it was good.
Q: Do you feel that it was more of a desegregation situation as opposed to an integration situation?

A: Yes. And it took some time before there was an integration.

Q: Do you think that the school today that you were principal of is integrated today?

A: I don't think so. It is desecrated. This is a very difficult area. There is some integrated and there is some that are not. We will always have this. In my feeling we had boys, particularly the athletes, who got along splendidly. And I think this rubbed off. Girls, we had probably more problems than with the boys.

Q: Prior to the actual day, is there any one thought that you had that you said I like it because...?

A: I'm not sure that I liked it. I was sort of jealous of my own school. We had a good school and I didn't know what this was going to do because I had seen, read and heard so much about this integration of races that I felt that it might tear my school. I know that this was a selfish approach and I learned to change this approach because of the students who are still individuals who came to us. We tried to work with them the same as we would with the whites.

Q: So you are saying your philosophy changed?

A: Yes.

Q: Did your curriculum change?

A: Not to a great degree.

Q: It is said that public education is the white man's creation because they don't teach black history, black culture things along this line even though they set a week out in winter time as black history week, black history month. You were not directed by your school board or state department that now that you were integrated you would incorporate some classes because we are now integrated?

A: No. We had no directive at all other than what we did within our own school through teacher meetings working the black teachers and so forth. No, there was no directive. We did have black history month. Everyone participated in it-there was no feeling there at all. It was part of the youngster's learning about black history. Whites learned about it as well as the blacks. I did not feel uneasy about it at all. We did feel uneasy about sometimes these youngsters felt that they did not belong. They became upset and reacted in a disciplinary way and that was not good, but I guess that happens in all schools. But as far as the curriculum itself we did not change it into what you were speaking of.
Q: What advice would you give to a person who was considering becoming a principal?

A: Come in with your eyes wide open. Be fair, be considerate. Don't jump in the water until you have tested it. Work with your teachers. Be fair with them. Be fair with your students. I haven't mentioned parents yet but you have to be fair with them and these are some of the areas that I feel that a principal must, must have.

Q: If you had to do it over again and know what you know now, do you think you would undertake education as your profession? Teacher or principalship?

A: I really don't know. What I read or hear about secondary education today I doubt very seriously if I would want to attempt a principalship. I would be very much interested in an administrative assistant to a superintendent. As far as the problems of the principalship, I really don't know. Of course, you never know this is a hypothetical question. If I were a teacher and I had the opportunity, I don't know. I don't think so in my position here.

Q: Is there anything that we have not talked about here that you would like to talk about in the field of education?

A: I really think that you have covered the waterfront very adequately. I was very apprehensive when you asked me to do this. Very apprehensive. After we got in to it in this format I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Q: You made a terrific subject.

A: Thank you.

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