This will be the interview of Mr. Carl Morell, retiring superintendent and a former principal of the Hubbard Exempted Village School District. The date is November 4, 1992; it is about 5 minutes to 11:00 in the morning in Mr. Morell's office.
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Q: Mr. Morell, would you begin by telling us about your family background--your childhood interests and development. Such as birthplace, elementary and secondary education and family, etc.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: OK, my family background is Italian heritage, both of my parents came from Italy. My mother was very young, and my father was a little bit older, which, my father put a great emphasis on education...was the way to make it through the system was to become educated. He took that seriously for himself. You know, although he worked during the day, he managed to go to night school and get his citizen's paper and he was proud of that. So, I come from a background that puts a lot of emphasis on education for better living. I was born in Hubbard, went all the way through the Hubbard schools, and all of my family went through the Hubbard Schools. So I'm back about where I started in the first grade.
Q: Very good. Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher? A principal? And a superintendent?
A: OK, I came to college as a late bloomer. I got out of high school in '50, decided that college was not for me at that time, spent a couple of years working and a couple years in the army and then with the GI Bill decided that it was time to get on with education. So I started to YSU in about '54, ended in about '58, and had a real good experience at YSU. I became a teacher; had an interesting experience. I was doing my student teaching out in Mecca in Trumbull County and I was doing it in the fourth grade. I spent about three days there. The superintendent came in, in fact my practicing teacher was his wife. He said, "My wife isn't coming to school tomorrow." And I said, "OK, I think I can handle it." He said, "No, she's never coming back." And he said, "Do you want a job?" Of course I said yes, it was a good opportunity for me. In those days you could do your student teaching on the job. And I did it. And you know, somebody said, "How did you do it?" I taught the way I was taught. So it was a good thing I had a lot of good experiences in Hubbard with some good teachers because I went back and did just that. And it really worked out well for me. I then moved on to Warren City, for a year, and came to Hubbard. I probably taught for about eight years, then became an elementary principal in a small school in Hubbard, 180 kids, one of each grade, and it was a good place for me to get my feet wet.
Q: How many years were you a principal then?
A: Then I must have spent, probably, I'm going to say, 10 years as a principal. And then I became an assistant superintendent and then I became a superintendent.
Q: OK. How many years total have you been superintendent or assistant superintendent altogether?
A: I spent about 12 years as the assistant, I was the superintendent for a year, in a holding pattern. This time I'm finishing up my third year as a superintendent.
Q: Please discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.
A: Hmm, experiences that I had would be ... that was a big decision for me to get out of the classroom and into the principalship, because I thought I was going to lose contact with the students, which I didn't want to do. That, for me didn't happen. It was a small school, so I was able to do a lot of things with kids and still keep my finger on student contact. So that was good for me. Events in my life which constituted important decisions...I had a sister who was a Spanish teacher. And even though things were tough, she found it to go to college. And she was sort of my inspiration. Once I got to college there was no doubt that I was going to be a teacher. And I just sort of moved into that. And everybody in my family, I have two uncles, a sister, and a brother-in-law; so there were a lot of people around who helped me decide that.
Q: Any circumstances during the time that you were either principal or assistant superintendent that caused you to make the decision to move from one area into the other, or was that just a natural progression?
A: Well, to be honest, probably, it was moving up the ladder. I felt that as I moved, within the school system, that as I became the principal, it was showing my capabilities, and I was able to make a contribution. And, you know, some of that, I had a young family, and some of that was that the money was right.
Q: Would you talk about the specific circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship directly from the classroom. Do you recall how that happened?
A: It was sort of, again, sort of a natural progression, you know, it was just that the job came open, and the board and...I had a real good mentor in my principal, which was Mary Snyder, who sort of took me under her wing and taught me a lot of things about school and she was also my sixth grade teacher. So when I came back she was the principal and she sort of helped me out. I always considered her as my mentor and when it came up to the principalship she then said, "Why don't you take it. I think you can handle it." And it worked out well for me. Yes.
Q: When you entered the principalship, do you remember any more specifically what motives there were for you to enter. You've said already that it may have been that your family was young. There may have been some monetary increase there. Someone told you they thought you could handle it. Would there be any other motives that you might have thought of?
A: Well, then it was like, once you're in it, you think, at least in the beginning, I thought, wow, I'm really going to miss this contact with the kids. How am I helping kids? But I think the principal, as the elementary... as the leader in that building, certainly has an influence over everything that goes on in that building. And I could sort of see that happening. The way I related to teachers was then how they related to kids. So, it was like a pass-down kind of a thing, and it was a challenge to change what was going on it that building to very positive kinds of things. And I liked that. I liked that.
Q: If you can think back to your first days as a principal, please take us on a walk through your school, describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building.
A: Small, small school. A neighborhood school and the people in that school wanted to keep it that kind of a school. There were 180 kids, there were six grades, there were 30 kids in a room, and it was a very homey kind of an atmosphere. It was a very plain, probably a 1920 vintage building, so it was six rooms, a gym which served as a cafeteria, and a nurse's office. It was pretty simple, but we all got to know each other in that situation. And that building is still standing today, not as a school. But it was a typical 1920 building as we see all over the countryside. No unusual features of the building, really, but I can remember those early days, instead of ringing bells all the time, somebody would stand up at the window and look up the hill, and say, "Here comes bus number five" and then we would pass it on like a fire brigade. "Bus number five!" And all the kids would go on their way. The only thing about that school was, and I know it now, small schools are nice, but, I think that you miss something when you don't have enough mix in the school. In other words, there was only one first grade, we couldn't do much grouping, we couldn't do that kind of thing when it's pretty limited.
Q: That's interesting. That probably ties into the next question a little bit. What experiences or events in your principalship, or your professional life influenced your management philosophy? If there was only one section of a grade in the building it probably changed a little bit how you would like to have done things. How did that influence your management philosophy, how do you feel now about managing schools?
A: Yes, I think that led me to more individuality of the student, I really think, and I think that's important, you know, to, no matter what kind of an atmosphere you're in, I think that you have to look at what is happening to each individual kid, and you can't look at them as a group. So that's taught me to, it gave me the time to listen to kids, to see how the teacher was interacting with them, so, and especially in a school like that, and in those kind of close quarters, there were about eight teachers, gym teachers and so on, and we had to get along, we had no choice. So we were doing cooperative team management, I felt, long before cooperative team management came along. We would sit down after school and plan things together as the whole school, so that's the kind of philosophy that I brought into it from those early days. I still believe that.
Q: Would there be any other experiences or events that you can think of or remember that may have had some influence on your management? Maybe some influence on your present superintendency management style?
A: I believe that you have to really involve people--parents, everybody in the community, everybody in that school has got to have, feel that they have a say. That worked real well in that small school. When I got to the next school it was really a big one, and Miss Snyder was the principal again. I became her assistant, so I picked up on her great influence. I really feel that. She would always say that I would not ask you to do anything that I would not do myself. So that carried over into all of my philosophy. I was really influenced by her.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe successful and any maybe unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you were involved?
A: OK, I think that goes back to my previous statements about the climate is created by the people who run that building. And if I am the educational leader in that building, then I think it shows. I've had experiences with some teaching centers and I kept hearing that your philosophy is showing in this building. And I didn't realize it, but it's like how I treat people comes back to me again. So if I'm giving bad vibes out I feel I'm going to get them back. I do believe in management by a lot of people is better. If I can possibly manage it.
Q: Sort of the theory that a lot of people say is the MBWA, Management By Walking Around, and getting involved in it.
A: Yes, yes, and I had to be involved in it; I can't do it behind a desk. I must get out and do some walking.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: Oh, just about everything. (Laughs) They're going to bring me a kid and they want me to straighten them out. I think; I'm kidding about that. I think the first thing they want you to do is really to listen. They want you to understand what is going on in that room. I think sometimes principals forget what it is like to be with 25 kids all day for seven hours a day. I think that that is what teachers expect them to do. I also think that they expect you to give them the materials, to give them the guidance that they need, the management techniques that they need. And I think that they want the supervision. If there's a better way to do it, I don't think that most teachers are opposed to it. I think that they want to be better, yes.
Q: Would you please describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal."
A: OK, the first thing, I think that the principal has got to be highly visible. I think he's got to be out there, and even, you know, sometimes it's easy to sit in the office, close the door, and do the work. But I found out that when kids are there, and when teachers are in the building, it's probably best for me to be out there and seeing what's going on and get the feel of the building even if I have to stay and do paper work later. An effective principal is one who is the educational leader in that building and you can get a feel for his style as to what's going on. Personal characteristics--wow, he'd better have a clear vision of where you want that school to go. Sometimes that's not easy, but I think without the goal up there of what I want this school to be then I'm going to have a hard time reaching it. Even if it's just a simple goal--job targets--this year I will...see every teacher two times; this year I will do something and pass that on to people in the building also. Let's have a joint target this year that we can work toward. And I think that people, I think that's effective.
Q: A shared vision.
Q: Something that everyone can buy into.
A: Right, exactly.
Q: OK. A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and an incident in which your approach might have failed.
Q: If you can think of any.
A: My approach to leadership is to try to get people to share my enthusiasm and my goals. That is not always easy to do. I think it's easier at the principal's level than it is at the superintendent's level. At least I found it that way. I think people, when I worked with them closer on a one-to-one basis at the building level, that it was, the contact was easier, and it made it easier to share our vision. My approach to leadership is probably not hardball, I try to get people to participate and see the rewards of participating. I do believe in team management and that sometimes is tough to get through. I believe that, this is going back to the superintendency, well, let me go back to the principal. I believe that the teacher has to have enough freedom to do what they want to in the room as long as they are working towards the same goal. You know, my style is different than your style; and the next one's is different from that style. So I think that once we set the goal, how you achieve that goal is a different style for each of us. I think superintendents certainly the same way, we find all kind of different techniques going on. Some approaches that have worked for me...that is not always an easy way to get people to follow. Some people want a more firm line to say do this, do this, do this, do this.
Q: They want a more prescriptive...
A: They want a more prescriptive kind of a technique and that just isn't my style. I'd like to give you the freedom to work at your own style as long as we're on the same goal. Yes.
Q: And I have to say that as a superintendent you've done exactly that, which I appreciate.
A: It's not always easy.
Q: And I'm sure there have been one or two times when it didn't work for you too.
A: I think that's the way you make people grow. I think that's the way you give people the chance to grow. If you're going to do it my way, that's just never going to work. My own approach that has failed, when I became the superintendent the first time, I think I was trying to model someone who was not my style at all.
A: And it was just like, yes, that looked like it worked pretty good for him. But maybe I better look at my own style. So I think that I have to know what I can handle, what will work for me, and hopefully get the job done within that context. Rather than just taking your style, it just might not work.
Q: And making it your own.
A: Yes, that's right.
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. And if you were king, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness? That's a long question.
A: I don't think that central office policies hinder, I think they make us work toward our own goal. I don't think we can all be doing whatever we want to do out there. Building level administrators...I think the same thing, sometimes the building administrator wants to say the central office is demanding this. And I think that might be another shield to hide behind. No, I think that, again, these are the guidelines that are coming down from the central office and how you implement those guidelines is OK. As long as we do the same things. But I do think you need the direction. And I think that, if these building level administrators have input into that central office policy, then I think that is even a better way to do it.
Q: So they can buy into the program.
A: What changes would I make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements? I don't think I'd make too many. Really I think that the system that I have been used to, you know, seems to work pretty well. I believe that you give a man the job; first of all, I think you go back to the board of education and have them, if it's possible, set the goal for this district. And then, step aside. And the same from the superintendency down to the building principal. If that building principal doesn't have enough autonomy to move within his own, then we don't need anybody. We can just do it by directives. We can just put it on a piece of paper. But that's not the way to do it.
Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?
A: Oh, I'd tell them to accept the challenge. I really would. I think that school is a good place to be. Not everyday, but I think that I do get satisfaction out of doing the administrative job, because I see down the road that it does pay off, it pays off for kids and it pays off for teachers. Yes, I would say it...accept the challenge. Yes.
Q: Any other kind of advice you could give them? Maybe something that they need to remember or keep in mind no matter how bad it gets?
A: Hmm. Don't take it personally. This too shall pass. It will work out, and if you're doing it for the right reasons then you are going to be able to weather the storm. If you see something going on that you think needs changed then go ahead and do it, even though it may cause you some bad things in the mean time.
Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals. Certification is probably a lot different now than it was when you first became a principal.
A: Right, right. I think that like student teaching, I think that the more we can get the principal into the work place and actually do some hands on kinds of things, through workshops and working with superintendents and actually spending some time in the principalship. That has to be a big part of it. And how do we screen those? I think that's the way you screen them. I see how a person reacts under pressure. I see how a person is doing it when he's actually there. I have no idea when he comes out of college how he can do sitting in the classroom, looking at a book. Yes, I do believe that you have got to spend some time on the job. In other words I think you have to look at how do you supervise, what is the content of a high school, what is the curriculum. I do think you need those kind of theory things and then strongly mixed with some real practicals. Right.
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 and which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence?
A: OK, I don't think that you can run a school in isolation. I do think you need to get out there, you need to see what is happening in the community and get a feel for it, and again you need that exposure. People...you've got to be visible and have people get to you so that they can express their views. I believe, well, for myself, it's like Kiwanis...I have belonged to Kiwanis for a while. I've been in a couple other organizations, pretty active in church groups, community organizations such as community chest; I've been a part of that. So, I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to get involved in the community affairs. I think the community wants to see you and how you are doing, and the news that you bring from the school to them. What had the greatest influence? I think PTA's and PTO's and those kind of things are good; I think that gives you a mix with the community. I feel comfortable with organizations like Kiwanis and maybe Hubbard Christians in Action. Those kinds of things that are change agents.
Q: How important do you think it is to have those kind of groups involved in the school when it comes time to go to the community for extra funding or help for the schools. Or maybe you want to ask somebody to donate money for computers or whatever. Do you see that as a real viable option?
A: Yes, I think that's important. I think that you constantly are making the community aware of what you're doing in school. That's not always an easy job. Especially from the central office. And these days with tight budgets, some people, we have cut down on office help. And that looks good on paper and it looks good on the budget time but it does not always give you a chance to pass on information that should be passed on to the people in town. So much misinformation goes out. That's why I think you constantly have to be in touch with your community somehow, one way or the other. If you can't do it through the written word, then just being out there and being visible gives you another exposure.
Q: Do you think it was easier to get to the community as a principal or as a superintendent?
A: I find it easier as a superintendent. I think the time constraint, at least it has been in the past, gives me more opportunity, yes, I think there's a different level of participation. I just find it easier to get out.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation.
A: My first philosophy of evaluation of course is always coming from a helping kind of an attitude. I think that as I look at your performance as a teacher, then I have to influence you, or convince you that, perhaps this is another way to do it. This is a better way to do it. This is something that might help you. So I come from a helping kind of a philosophy. I do like the job target kind of approach. I see nothing wrong with the teacher and the principal sitting down saying this is going to be my goal for the year and then explaining how I got to that goal and the teacher satisfaction that I'm getting from it.
Q: And then doing the evaluations through the year to see if that person is meeting that...
A: To see if they're working toward...I think that gives the teacher a sense of satisfaction to see that I accomplished my goal and it also gives me as the evaluator a chance to put my ideas into the mix, like why don't you try this. Why don't you try this.
Q: How about evaluation as a means of sometimes having to nonrenew someone?
A: Oh I think that finally if you have tried as the principal this, this, this, this, and this, and it's just not working, and the teacher, he's either in the wrong place or using the wrong methods for that school district, then it's time to say, maybe I'd better look at it as a nonrenewal kind of thing. And that comes from a whole different...I've worked with you ten times and I feel that I've really done my part and it just isn't working out. Maybe we have to go to the next step.
Q: OK, let me turn the tape over at this point. (Pause) A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction. Now I know you've had some teacher grievances.
A: Right. I believe that the grievance process, of course, is the way for a teacher to air her views and we start out with an informal process with either the principal or if its the superintendent's business I go to an informal...I would try at that point to hear the teacher's point of view. If it's reasonable and I can make it happen then I would make it happen. If it has been a direct violation of the contract and the teacher just isn't doing what is supposed to be done with the contract then I would follow the grievance process. But mine is one of, OK, let's sit down and talk about this. Tell me what's wrong. And maybe we can work it out without getting into a long, drawn-out business here.
Q: Before we get into any kind of legal...
A: Sure, yes, let's try to work it out.
Q: I think that's a good approach. Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in such activities.
A: (Laughs) How timely.
Q: This is very timely.
A: Discuss teacher dismissal. I've had ... Teacher dismissals are tough, OK. But I think again if...
Q: I recall one.
A: If I know my role and I have to say to myself, what is best for the kids in this district? Is this teacher effective enough? When that doesn't happen then I have to have enough courage to go forward. Tenure or non-tenure or whatever. And I think you try, at least I would, I'd try to do that as painlessly as possible for the teacher. I would try to say to the teacher, you know, it's just not working out. Perhaps you'd better leave. Then I would go to different grades of hardball from there until, and I would make sure that I had a case before I even touch teacher dismissal. So, have I done...I think the question I have to ask myself, have I done everything possible that I could do here to make this a good experience for the teacher and the kids. I've had some involvement in that, it's not always easy but I think it's paid off. Yes, and we've worked them out. Sometimes we get into some public problems but you do what you have to do.
Q: I think it's probably one of the hardest parts about administration. Dealing with letting people go when they're not doing what you perceive as their job description.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the Assistant Principal. Discuss your utilization of such personnel while on the job. And would you describe the most effective assistant principal with whom you have had opportunity to work. And what then became of this individual?
A: OK. My idea of the assistant principal is to free up the principal enough that he can get on with the business of being the educational leader in that building. I believe that that is the role of the assistant superintendent, any assistant, I believe is going to enhance that principal to do the planning, the involvement that he needs which is pretty tough to do without a good assistant principal. Sometimes it is just a catch-all and I don't like that role for the assistant principal. I think the assistant principal has got to see some satisfaction from the job. How I approached it, I sat down at the beginning of the year with the assistant principal. We discussed what I did best. We discussed what she did best, divided them up from there and then went on our way. And we worked pretty well. Gail Patrick was probably the most effective assistant principal I ever worked with because it was a lot of just that kind of thing. Gail did the teacher observations extremely well. She knew resources that she could send teachers to that I did not have. So we worked on that kind of a basis. And then when we had to get together we did that. So I believe you look at...I think you complement each other. Yes, I think that if we're both fighting each other and saying I don't want to do this and I don't want to do that, yes, let's just simply sit down and say, OK Gail, how about you doing this because you're much better at it than I am. And I think that takes a lot of knowing yourself in a non-threatening kind of way.
Q: Right. Being able to admit to what your strengths and weaknesses are. I think that's how Rich (Buchenic) and I work, too, real well. It's because he knows what he does well, I know what I do well and we just let each other do the things that we do best.
A: And I gave her the freedom to do it in the style that she was accustomed to and it might have been different from mine. She was much more patient. I want to get the job done five minutes ago. So she would hold me back and I would push her once in a while. So it worked out well. Gail's now a supervisor, and I knew that that was always her strength. And she's done well.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones? This is probably a good question right now with the state mandate to determine excellent and deficient schools.
A: I think that what I see in the most effective schools are the ones that have the most people involved. I see the least successful ones when things are being mandated from the top, and trying to make people do that when they are not ready to do that. I believe in participatory management from the bottom up. I believe that the kids are involved, the parents are involved, and I do believe that with that kind of involvement comes a very effective kind of school. It's harder to administer, but I do believe that that's when I see a sense of worth going on throughout that school. And I see, oh; it's what I see at the high school. I see some very positive kind of things, and that's good. It's very catchy.
Q: Thank you, that's good. We're glad to hear that. Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation method of your school system during your early years as a teacher and principal and give your views on developments in this area since then.
A: Oh boy, first job. $3600, and I was glad to get that. That was big money in those days. I think it...
Q: What year was that, do you remember?
A: '57. Yes, I made $3600 and probably did more with that $3600 than I can do today because I guess when you have to stretch it you do. I took it over a nine month period so that I was able to live. Without that I wasn't able to live and I got a job in the summer. The development has been tremendous. I have seen teachers and principals and people in school make great strides from where we were. I don't, I see that improving. I see the atmosphere between people who work in industry and the people who work in schools give more credence to "Let's try to be equals here". I think it's part of my job as the superintendent to give as much break as I can to improving conditions around me. I believe that when conditions around me improve performance improves. Not always, but I think the atmosphere is better.
Q: Do you see presently some really important, maybe conflicts or benefits that could become conflicts in salaries that are sort of popping up presently in the area?
A: What, like merit pay? I see merit pay being a pretty tough thing to administer equally over the whole staff. Hospitalization is becoming a tremendous problem. To give people what they need and what they are secure with and to give them dollars, too. Probably our biggest increase is in hospitalization.
Q: Maybe Clinton will help us out.
A: I hope so. OK, but I see that as a problem.
Q: OK. Most systems presently have a tenure system 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: When I entered the system there was of course a tenure system. I saw, at that time, teachers really not having a lot of say. And I wasn't in the school, but I had heard that the superintendent made a declaration and said this is going to be the salary schedule for next year, and people took it. That situation certainly has changed. Tenure system I believe came about because some people did get a bad deal. I believe that whenever the school board or the superintendent or whoever got tired of them or they didn't agree, that that was the way to get rid of someone. I think the tenure system has some flaws in it. One of them being that once you have a teacher you're going to have to do an awful lot of work to get him out of there even though there is some glaring problems. I think that's one of the weaknesses of the system. It takes you so long to build a case that you could get into some big troubles. I do think that the strengths are that it gives the teacher a sense of security, that I can do some things here that I feel have to be done.
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? Only three.
A: Wow, one area, I would certainly try to build the team concept from the board down from all administrators. Another thing I would do, I would stop Columbus from mandating so many things that it keeps eroding away at the educational administration of that school. I think that's a big...you know, so many things are mandated. And the third thing, I don't know how you'd ever change it, is change in the public schools. It's just so tough, you know we're living with so many things that happened in 1920. And I have a standard joke that if Maude Reed came back she could move right in...
Q: Nobody would even know she was gone.
A: She never missed a beat. Because that is how I view change being so tough. We do a lot of it, we're doing a lot of things. But there are still so many underlying things that are keeping us bogged down in the mire that it's just tough to be effective.
Q: People want to keep bringing up what happened 30 years ago, 40 years ago, and they expect things to keep running that way. Even though they want new things, they keep wanting the old things because they were comfortable.
A: Yes, I think we're going to be stuck with 180 days of school or 182 days of school for the rest of our lives, because that's just the way it is.
Q: Forever, the way it's been.
A: We may get five more days out of it, but I don't look for a lot of big changes in it. I just think change is very, very tough.
Q: Do you think that 185 days or an increased school year would be a benefit?
A: I could see it giving kids some more courses that we can't during the regular time. Yes. I think it would broaden, sure.
Q: I guess that sort of goes into the next question which is a follow-up question, if you could change some things in the curriculum or overall operations of American schools, what would they be? One might be a lengthened, slightly lengthened school year.
A: I would do a longer school year in order to give kids more exposure to things that they can't possibly squeeze into 180 days, seven hours a day. I see that as something that we do need. The curriculum I still don't think is fitting all of the kids or all of the people. There are a whole bunch of kids out there who are not tuned in to school who the present mode of school never did fit them. And we're finding the same thing today. There are some kids who do not function well in the kind of set-up that we give them. And I think that is unfortunate because to some people, when you do give that many changes, it looks like you're giving the kid the upper hand. I don't see that. I think that as much as you can you have got to diversify the curriculum in order to get as many kids as possible. And it's expensive, it just is a tough change.
Q: Would you say that we probably deal with the center group of kids best, and the ones we're leaving off are maybe the ones at the two ends of the spectrum?
A: Uh-huh. Yes. I especially think that the kid who has a problem has a harder time fitting in at the bottom end trying to break his way into the mainstream, where the upper kid, you know, even though we say he can take care of himself, he's getting, we're not really stretching those kinds of kids to the best. And I think that's where a longer school year, we could do music, we could do art, we could do drama, we could do those kind of things for those kids at the top. Sure.
Q: Would you please describe your relationship with the superintendent when you were a principal in terms of his/her demeanor toward you and your school building.
A: The first superintendent who really had an influence on me was Claris Jones. And he helped me along. He taught me how to say, "How important is it? Is this really something that I have to stew about for two weeks? Or should I put it in its proper perspective and get on with it?" So I had a good experience with the principals that I have worked under and also the superintendents that I worked under. I think there were a lot of things to learn there and I was a willing learner. I think that has a lot to do with it.
Q: You'll like this next question. Would you discuss your general relationship, pro or con, with the board of education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general.
A: Tough one, tough one. I do believe that the best operation is the operation that we have. I do believe that the people are represented through five people. And then you work with those five people and get the feel of the community. If the people have the feel of the community, that's fine, and if the people are willing to be guided and led together, then I think you have a pretty good relationship. I think that part of the problem comes when the board, some members of the board, do not understand what they are doing on the board. And I think that becomes very evident when they are doing things out on their own instead of taking the direction of the administration. I think it works best when the board sits down, establishes the policy, backs out of the way, and lets the superintendent and the administrative team put their style in and then get the job done. It's a very tough job trying to get that board of education cohesive to do it. I think that part of the problem is that people have been scared out by the things that are going on with school boards so that we are not getting all of the people running or all of the people represented. And it's just become so cumbersome to get some things done.
Q: Sometimes some of them seem to have some special interest group backing that forces them to have a totally different agenda than what they should have when they come to the board. Have you seen that happen in the past?
A: Oh, yes. Sure I've seen that. I've seen them not understand the complexity of $11,000,000, of 250 people, 300 people, 2500 kids, and trying to keep that whole operation going. I don't think they like to be bound in by the laws that are being made. So there's a lot of things that they have to understand and if they are going to stick around, the first four years are a learning experience, and the next four years, some of them turn into pretty good board members. I think it's tough, it's tough. But I do believe that the system that is in place can work and is workable. It takes time.
Q: OK, let's see. Could you describe your work day as a principal, if you can remember back then? How did you spend your time and what was the normal number of hours per week you put in?
A: OK. As the assistant principal of course I had to do cafeteria, busses, and I think everybody might start out in that place, so, if I could look at a seven hour day I'd probably spend two hours in that kind of a situation. I probably spent another hour disciplining, if you want to call it that. It was in a K-4 building, so there wasn't a lot of that, disciplining; it was stopping a few fires. The rest of the time I was fortunate enough to spend in the classroom. And I think that that of course is the most focus on my job. The number of hours that I can work in the classroom. That really has become, I understand, less and less, to get the time into the observations and what it takes to be the educational leader. I see more and more, as I talk with principals, more and more time spent on teacher grievances, student grievances, parent grievances, sports, athletics, putting out fires. And I think the most important item on the agenda, which is evaluation, and improvement of instruction, has probably flip-flopped to be the last. And it just has to be the normal progression. I think you really, really have to work on, I'm going to be in a room today from 10-11, no matter what happens. And you start out with that premise, and if it works, fine, and if it doesn't today then you have to go on from there. But at least you set yourself a goal. "I will do five observations this week."
Q: We're going to skip the rest of the questions on that page and go to the last page. I don't want to keep you too long and I do want to get to some of the other things that are towards the end of the interview. What is your view on the "mentoring" program for new administrators, in which an experienced administrator is paired with a neophyte. What experience have you had with such an approach and was there a mentor in your life? I think you already named one in particular that you recall.
A: Yes. As far as administrators go, like the first time that I really had someone who took me under their wing was in Hubbard. And she really helped me out. I believe mentoring is the way for that new administrator to get his bearings, to see what someone else has been doing successfully, someone I can go to and say, you know, this just isn't working. I think I'm in the wrong place. And let them give you some encouragement. I think that's what Mary Snyder did for me, and that's about the only experience that I've had with that approach. I do believe in mentoring programs for all new people. Because once I start in a job and once I start doing some bad habits, those habits are really hard to break. So if somebody can grab a hold of me and say, "Hey, I think you're on the wrong track here." And I think if you're open-minded enough that that mentoring program works well. Yes, works well.
Q: Do you see our teacher on special assignment program as a mentoring program here? Do you like the way that that's been going? Are you pleased with the results of it?
A: The only fault I have with it is the lack of permanency, the lack of carrying over. The principal is spending the first couple months showing which way to go and how to find the bathroom. I like the program, but I would like an assistant principal (elementary and middle schools) better. Yes. And then, if we could work in someone who was going into administration as a third party, I think that's the way to do it. Yes I believe in the system we already have, we used to call them cadet principals. Yes, that's good.
Q: OK. Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under such stressful conditions?
A: (Laughs) I think that's when I would go to the classroom and I had an old, well not an old one, but I did my masters' at Westminster, and Clara Cochran always said, "When you get tense, then you just go in that room, and you let those kids push all your buttons. And they will soothe you down in no time." And I really, I think that gives me a sense also of "what am I doing here? Why am I here?" Yes, I recommend, what you don't want to do the most is spend time in the classroom, but I think the kids will help you out. The kids will...put yourself in the middle of an enjoyable experience. I would go into a music room. Wow, and I would see those kids doing, and the music teacher doing great things with them, and I said, this is what it's all about. This is why I'm here. And it would take some of the tenseness away, that's like the more I try to run away from it, it's not going to work. Because, yes, if you're not ready for stress, (laughs) you better, you're in the wrong place.
Q: That's right. Yes, I think I've found that out, too. Since you've now had some time to reflect on your career since you'll be retiring this year, would you please be able to share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.
A: I believe my biggest strength is in listening to people. That they can come to me and share their views. I may not always agree, but, yes, that's my best strength. The first time around I saw that as a weakness and tried to be, I tried to play too much hardball and it just didn't work out. My weakness is probably part of my strength. By doing that, then you have to consider all of the possibilities and decision-making really becomes harder. But I would like to say, I'm a listener, I get the job done in a non-threatening kind of way for me and the other person. So I like to turn it into a win-win situation. The weakest part of that is sometimes it gets into so many peoples' hands, and I find this with the board, that it gets into the board's hands then the board can't decide. And especially if you have a board that is a very five-personality board, they are pulling and pushing and shoving and doing those kinds of things and it's tough for you to get in there. So I have to scream pretty loud. I'm learning how to say my piece to them and other people too. Yes.
Q: I'm going to change the tape for the last couple questions. OK, would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did, giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: OK, to be honest, my first thing that I had to consider was that I was coming to work for almost nothing so part of it is a financial one. Secondly, I've had the experience; I've had the challenge. I'm glad that I've had it but frankly I'm getting less and less patient to put up with the process that has to go on. I think for, in this particular school district, I think the school district is in pretty good shape, that I can pass it on with a reasonable assurance that it is in good shape. And that helped me, too. I think, and I keep saying, they need a younger guy to lead them into the nineties, and I really feel that, I really feel that there's a lot of new ideas out there, a lot of new blood out there, and I always had made up my mind, from talking to other superintendents, that when I was getting to the point where I was getting tired of it, then please put me out. And I think, and I'm glad, I'm glad that I'm going out with a lot of good experiences and a good feeling, a successful feeling about myself. I don't want to stay too long.
Q: Plus it's a real positive time right now, I think. You know, we're financially in a pretty decent situation. We've had some real good successful levy campaigns and things are in an upbeat atmosphere and it might be the best time to...
A: Um-hm. Best time to do it. Right.
Q: Sometimes I wish I could do it now too.
Q: OK, have I left anything out that you can think of that might be important or that I should have asked you?
A: No, I think you've really covered it all. If I was going to say to principals, is keep a positive attitude. Know what your goal is, which of course I believe is I'm here for kids, I'm here to advance the education of the kids. And I think sometime we lose that. But if you can keep your eye on that goal as to why am I doing what I'm doing, I'm doing it so that that kid will have a better experience. That's why we're all here, you know, we put them on a nice clean bus so that the bus driver can get them to us. I think all of us have that role to make this the most positive experience that a kid can have during his day. It's not always easy, but that would be my, you know, I keep my eye on that, then I think I'm on the right track.
Q: OK, thank you Mr. Morell.
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