Mary, we will be discussing many issues related to your years as principal in Sodus, New York. We would like to start out with some background information.
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Q: Mary, how many years were you in education as a teacher?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: As a classroom teacher?
A: Because I was also a reading specialist. I was a teacher for about twenty years. Also in supervisory administration for about ten. So, I was in education for about thirty years.
Q: So you had twenty years in education before you became an administrator?
Q: Could you describe your school in Sodus?
A: Yes. It was quite different from the schools in Virginia because there are no county-wide schools in New York state. I was in a rural school; a centralized school. That is the way rural schools are set up in New York state. In our county there were probably nine centralized schools. Ours was the largest. We had about twenty-five hundred students in K through 12. The school building where I began my principalship was a primary school, K through 3 and we had about six hundred students. Toward the end of my years as a principal in Sodus, New York, I became a principal for K through 6. At that time we had about a thousand students for K through 6.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: Well, I had a lot of interest in children of all ages and I finally decided that I could perhaps do more for students if I were in a supervisory position.
Q: What events led you to become a principal? To take part in that position? Were there any certain set of events that led you in that direction?
A: Yes, there were. I had some opportunities to work in our summer school. We had a big migrant population during the summer and fall harvest and through a series of workshops and education opportunities at the University of Rochester. I had an opportunity to become a principal for a summer lab school and it got into my blood. I really enjoyed that. So, the next thing that happened, the principal of the primary school took a leave of absence to continue his special studies, so I became the principal while he was gone. Then he decided to take an other position, so I started filling in his position.
Q: What was your school's philosophy?
A: Well, really to promote and vacilitate the outcome and growth and development of all children at their own pace and at their own potential.
Q: How was this philosophy developed?
A: We had a series of staff meetings and, you might be interested to know that, our particular elementary school, was neither teams of teachers, not for changing students, but for talking about the kids and doing a lot of work in philosophy and that sort of thing. So, we had seven teams of teachers and our teams would meet and we would have supervisory units made up of team leaders of each of those teams. And through talking with small groups we worked out the philosophy.
Q: How did you create a climate for learning?
A: Well, I guess that too had a lot to do with our teams set up because what I did was schedule special classes; we were fortunate to have art, music, gym, library, all kinds of things for the students; and each team of teachers and youngsters had the same time for their special classes. So that the teamers were able to meet together and help each other and develop materials and curriculums and talk about children that way.
Q: Were there any special leadership techniques you used in creating these committees, or this climate, and your philosophy?
A: Well, I think I tried to be very acceptable. My door was always open and I did a lot of informal kinds of observations - going into the classroom, that worked. Serious evaluation but just to get to know the teachers and the youngsters. I think the open-door philosophy did help a great deal.
Q: That technique was successful. Were there any that you found to be unsuccessful?
A: Yes. I tried to have total staff meetings. Particularly when I was working as a K-6 principal. And soon discovered the needs and the concerns of kindergarten were quite far removed from those of grade six teachers. So, it seemed to work better if small groups of teachers met. And then if there was something that affected the whole staff, like a busing situation, then we did have total meetings. But it seemed to work better for us to have small meetings.
Q: Were you able to pool their ideas?
A: Yes. And then our council we had made up of team leaders. The team leaders could bring back to their teachers, or their teams, any of the decisions that were made at the team leader council meeting.
Q: So there was some continunity?
A: There was continunity and communication and flow between staff members.
Q: What role did you play in public community relations?
A: Well, I think that is a very important thing to do, particularly in a small community, as ours was. I was asked to be in volunteer groups, in organization groups, and called upon fairly often to speak to groups about all kinds of things that were going on at school - or the reading program - or whatever.
Q: What process was used in your school division to select school board members?
A: That is very interesting too, because it is so different from VirginiA: School board members in New York state are elected by the community, by the people. And so is the school budget approved or not approved by the vote of the people in the community.
Q: Is that right?
A: Uh huh.
Q: Do you think that is a better method of doing it than the way that we do it?
A: I do. I do. I know there is a lot of controversy about it, but I feel, I just feel that is really important to have the voice of the people, so to speak.
Q: Well, it certainly makes for more public awareness.
A: It really does...... It really does.
Q: As an administrator what changes in parental involvement have you seen occur over the last ten years and do you think these changes have been positive or negative?
A: I have found, I found that parents seem to be more involved and seem to be very active. They like to be able to come into the school, as a matter of fact, in our particular situation, parents were encouraged to come in - we use them as volunteers, we trained them and used them as volunteers. We encouraged them to come in and visit. We encouraged them to come in and read to the youngsters. We encouraged them to come in and do whatever seemed appropriate at the time. We felt that it made for much better communications. And if parents are aware of what is going on in the school, and know of the dedication of the staff members, I think they are much more supportive than if they never approach the school at all.
Q: In other words if they know they are involved they are going to be on your side they are not going to be the type to come in and...
A: We found them to be very supportive.
Q: When you say you trained them, exactly what did you have to do? I know that at our school when a parent comes in I don't think there is a lot of training involved. What kinds of training methods are involved?
A: Well, actually what we did; we had them, first of all, we involved them in storytelling and reading stories to youngsters and having children read to them. So, we explained, the school day for example, the schedule. We explained the rules that the children were suppose to obey. They were not to run up and down the hall and that kind of thing, you know. And we gave them access to the school library and the librarian showed them the kinds of books and kind of helped them select books if they were reading to the youngsters that would be appropriate. Actually it developed that we also, at that time, we were involved in a phonics system for young children, at the same time we were also involved in language experience approachment for children. So, we explained all these things to them and it really gave them a more secure feeling, I think, than if they just came in the classroom.
Q: Were they also used as clerical aides? Some of them?
A: Some of them were. Yes, if they felt that that was what they would like to do. And that was very helpful as you can imagine. Paper work is always tough on teachers.
Q: Did you ever have a parent that like to volunteer but you knew it wasn't working out?
A: Oh, we did at one time. Yes.
Q: How did you handle that situation without hurting their feelings?
A: That was a very ticklish situation because it was a parent who really wanted to be very supportive and actually had no business in the classroom. Well, I knew that she was a very good cook, so some of the teachers thought they would like to have some cooking experiences with their youngsters; so, that was how we solved that problem. She became the cooking expert. She would go around to different classrooms when the teachers thought it was nice for some of their youngsters. So, that worked out. But that was a very ticklish situation.
Q: You probably, I would guess, had most of your parents supporting you.
Q: But occasionally there are those parents who don't agree with what you want to do for the school or with a policy that has been developed. How did you handle those parents?
A: Well, I would have them come in and talk to them. Actually I had a pot of coffee on in the office all the time. I use to drink a lot of coffee. Because I felt, I discovered if they had a cup of coffee, they came in and they were all upset, and they had a cup of coffee, by the time they got half way through the coffee, they were a little more relaxed and were able to at least talk and listen. I did a lot of listening.
Q: So you are saying you sort of used an "open door policy" in dealing with parents also?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: Did you in your years as administrator, have a lot of parents who tried to interfere with decisions? The question before this was about the parents not agreeing. How about them trying to interfere while a decision was trying to be made?
A: Ah. Let me think. We did have, it really wasn't exactly building policy, but we did have a problem with bus scheduling. The decision was made by the school system, by the board of education, and the superintendent that the primary school youngsters would start at 8:00 o'clock in the morning and for years before that they had started at 9:00 and the high school was first. But for reasons, of athletics as a matter of fact for the high school kids, they wanted to do it the other way around, so the decision was made. And some of the parents were very concerned and very up in arms about the whole thing. And that again was a ticklish time. I had some help from the superintendent in dealing with that because it really hadn't been my decision. But, again, we talked to them. They finally agreed to go along with it. As a matter of fact, for the first few weeks of school we said that if you find that your youngster is too tired to come at 8:00 o'clock, well, regular at 9:00, you won't be able to use the bus. Incidentally, all our students K-12 were bused in this situation. So, after a few weeks the parents realized, I guess, that it really wasn't all that much of a problem or else they wanted to make sure the youngsters got on the bus. Anyway, that sort of resolved it self after a time. It did create a little furor.
Q: With the change over the years in parents being involved in the schools and some of the attitudes and law suits that have occurred, did you have to change the way you handled some discipline problems at the school?
A: No, I don't believe I did at the primary school. I think we had to make some changes at our middle school and intermediate school, grades 4, 5, and 6. And some of our older teachers had been use to being very strict and disciplinarians; by that I mean depriving children of lunch or things of that type, we just couldn't have that. I don't recall doing any really terrible difficult situations except for that kind of thing.
Q: What about corporal punishment?
A: Well, we did not allow that.
Q: Did not allow that?
Q: You also as an administrator?
A: Oh, no, I never did. I don't feel that was the way to go.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?
A: Very supportive. I guess that is the key thing and I think they hope the principal will be understanding and make sure that they listen to their side of things and those are the major things I can think of most important for our principal doing for our teachers.
Q: When speaking to fellow teaching position, what qualifications personal and professional were important to you?
A: Well, I tried to collect teachers that would add to the team itself. For example, if we had a person on one of the teams who was very strong in reading but didn't really have any that was strong in math, I would try to select a person who, at that time, had that background. Actually, I looked for an enthusiastic person, particularly at the primary level, a very healthy person. Somebody who liked kids and obviously they had to be certified. That goes without saying.
Q: How did you evaluate the teacher?
A: Well, we had a system set up where there was a pre-conference of which the teacher brought her goals, she brought in her schedule, or his schedule, and we agreed on times when I would come in for a formal observation, as I guess I said before there was a lot of informal observations, as I was in and out of classrooms often times. But a few times a year we were required by superintendent to evaluate staff members and it was a pre-conference, the observation, and then a post-conference. And a written evaluation based on the teacher's goals, and what was observed in the classroom. And then another conference was with the teacher at which time both the principal and the teacher signed the evaluation. If there were a problem and the teacher did not agree with something on the evaluation, she had a right to make a statement to that effect on the written evaluation.
Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?
A: Well, I think, I think the biggest pressure came from state mandates. This probably sounds kind of strange, but there were a lot of state mandates and it seemed as though it was almost impossible to keep up with all of those. There was very little pressure from other administrators and very little pressure from parents. Once in awhile there would be a little pressure from the board in regard to, well, if they heard from a parent that a teacher was not doing this, or wasn't doing that, they would really want to find out about it. I really can't say there was a great deal of pressure other than that.
Q: How did you handle pressures you faced?
A: Well, state mandates, we would handle through administrative meetings and the building administrators and the superintendent would try to work together and see how best we would handle it. If we had a real problem, we could always call some of the state people to come in and talk to us or to explain to us. As far as other pressures were concerned, it was a matter, usually a matter of talking with the people involved, explaining the situation, and usually that took care of it.
Q: Were you able to get support from other principals?
A: Yes. It was a very supportive administrative group.
Q: We talked about, earlier, about parents not agreeing with policies and how you would handle that. How would you handle that as a teacher? Did not want to adhere to a policy, did you confront these teachers or did you sort of address the entire staff as a reminder that the policy needs to continue to be adhered to?
A: I think I did both. I think I, I think I finally accepted to talk with the individual teacher first of all and that usually cleared it up. If that didn't then, without mentioning names, although I know in a small situation everybody knows everything. Anyhow, we would talk about it at our team leader meeting about the situation. If we had to, we would go as a total staff meeting about it. But there were certain things that we tried to be flexible and take into account all the teachers need and so forth but there were certain thins that have to be done whether a teacher likes it or not. And sometimes it comes down to that.
Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do to better prepare yourself for a principalship?
A: Well, I think I would like to have had the opportunity to be an intern. I was able to have interns from one of our state colleges work with me like times we have had student teachers. And I think that it would have been helpful for me if I had been able to be an intern. I really think that's a great way to go anyway. I think teachers and administrators and those involved in the education should have an opportunity to serve as interns...paid interns of course.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?
A: Well, in New York state of course, there is a grievance policy. There is a certain standard that they, they belong to a union, of course. All teachers are unionized so there is a form of grievance policy set up in each school district and in our particular situation the first thing that happened the individual teacher would go to the team leader and unless it was the team leader that was involved in the grievance and if that were the case then the teacher would come to me. Usually accompanied by a member of the union. We would talk about it and then if it couldn't be resolved at the building principal level, it went to the superintendent. And if it couldn't be resolved at that level, it went to the board of education. It was just a series of steps that were very formal.
Q: Do you think the union is a good idea?
A: I think it is both good and not good. I think in some instances it has been very good and was certainly necessary at a time when members became members of the union. I think sometimes the union itself is trying to develop its own power and so perhaps goes too far. Though I think unions have a price. Although, I know you do not have a union here.
Q: The grievance procedure sounds similar to ours.
A: Is that right?
Q: Yes. Did you ever fire a teacher? Discuss the issues?
A: Yes, I did. Once. And it was a very difficult situation for everybody involved. In the first place, you have to have excellent documentation before you would fire somebody. There has to be a number of evaluations and conferences and you have to be able to feel you have tried in every way to help the individual teacher. And this was done in this particular case.
Q: Was this a tenure teacher?
A: Yes. And that makes it even more difficult.
Q: What are the most outstanding changes you would like to see in our educational system?
A: Oh, my.
Q: That's a loaded question.
A: It really is. I'm not sure exactly how to answer that. It would be wonderful if there were small classes, and more money available and I really feel, I guess I'm mostly for the interns business. I really feel that teachers who come out of universities and colleges to begin their profession need to be under the supervision of what I would say a master teacher or whatever. If anyone has a mater teacher. I feel they need to have an opportunity to spend a year or two in an intern sort of thing. And I think they should be paid a minimum wage. That really would be very profitable for beginning teachers and to the school situation.
Q: Let me interject something here. What you say I think is so true. Why is it do you think, that most new teachers who go to a school get sometimes what is called the worst classes. They get all the responsibilities thrown upon them. I just don't understand that.
A: Well, I don't understand it either. But I know what you are saying. Because that was my first experience in the classroom.
Q: Mine, too.
A: And I really can't account for that at all. I really think that is, it hurts the youngsters. That is what we have schools for. That's why we are in the profession, to help our students and that certainly doesn't help the new teacher and doesn't help the spirit of the building either.
Q: I have just often wondered why that occurs a lot of times, maybe not all the times, but it seems to quite a bit.
A: Well, it is very important if it does. Because one wants to make every effort not to overload a new teacher. I would think that that....
Q: Now they are coming up with the BTAP program and some others to help. What suggestions would you offer to universities to better prepare teachers?
A: I wish the universities would help teachers understand the necessity for learned center classrooms rather than teacher centered classrooms. It seems to me that is one of the most important things. I do think that many universities and colleges have come a long way in developing courses in humanistic kinds of curriculums. I think it is really important for a teacher to be strong in her subject areA: I also think that human qualities are most important. So, I guess they need to really take a look at their curriculum and try to enhance it in those manners.
Q: How do you feel about the enforcement of a state ruling on the requirement that there be four years of educational classes to prepare a teacher and then a fifth year to be used as an intern program or student teaching situation?
A: Well, that is a very good ideA: I hope that that really is forth-coming.
Q: Would any incident involving the civil rights issue have an affect on your role as principal?
A: No, not in New York state. We did not have that problem at all. You might be interested to know that about a quarter of our pupils were black or of another race. It happened because we were in the heart of the apple country and we had migrant workers, many of the migrant workers dropped out of the migrants and became permanent residences and that is why our black population was quite nigh. We had the largest migrant enrollment in New York state in any school because we were there. I think that now there are not as many migrants coming to the areA:
Q: What about any busing issues did you have any problems?
A: You mean the black/white issue? No, no.
Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?
A: Well, I really feel that a principal needs to have some experience in a classroom before he becomes a principal. I think that makes one much more understanding and gives one an opportunity to really see what teaching is all about.
Q: Did you have any assistant principals?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: How did you utilize your assistant principal?
A: Well, my assistant principal, as a matter of fact I had two; one when I was at the K-3 building, and then I had two when I was the K-6 principal. The assistant principal before 6 had a lot of the leg work. A lot of the paper work. He was very good in writing and he wrote a great deal of our grant requests. He was very good at that. The assistant principal at the primary level was responsible mainly for home school relations and he was very good working with the parents. Both of them, of course, they did lots of other things too, but those were the two things they did.
Q: Well, what about in the classrooms, was one more of an instructional leader maybe than the other?
A: Yes. That is true. They did not do evaluations of teachers. But they did help with demonstrating types of things. In K-3 we sometimes had teachers who would like to have some command teacher reading groups. I did that but it got to the point where I was not able to do as much as I wanted to do, so we used the assistant principal for something like that. The assistant principal 4, 5, 6 was very good in math, so if we had some teacher who needed some help in math instruction, or needed a new way of presenting something, he would be able to do that. And they didn't go back and forth between teachers K-6 so it wasn't a problem for one building or the other building.
Q: As a principal what was your biggest concern?
A: Well, I guess my biggest concern was that each youngster be allowed to learn as much as he was able and in a happy environment. I was very concerned about caring for kids and wanted to make certain that each youngster was allowed to grow and learn as much as he could in a happy kind of experience.
Q: What was your biggest headache?
A: Bus scheduling. It was awful.
Q: What do you think of career ladders for teachers?
A: I think they have their place. I think it is a good ideA:
Q: What about merit pay?
A: Well, I have mixed feelings about merit pay. It sounds wonderful on paper but I have never seen a merit evaluation that I thought was really very workable. But we did have a system, and it was the best system I have ever been involved in. I have been involved in a lot of merit kinds of things and I know there is a lot of push from communities and from board members and from parents and even from staff members to some extent for merit pay. What we did, after much soul searching; we had what we called professional growth stipends which are really not the same as true merit pay but a teacher could apply for merit pay and we had a committee made up of teachers and administrators who sat on that teacher's board, so to speak, and evaluated whatever the teacher did. The teacher chose one number and the faculty association one number and the principal chose one. So there was optimum participation there and then the teacher chose to speak for an amount of money - it might be a thousand dollars, it might be fifteen hundred, it might be five hundred. And through observations in front of all these people, and meetings with the teacher, and then at the end whatever amount of time it was, it's usually the school year, a decision had to be made whether the teacher merited it or not. What we found was, if the teacher did not merit it, and that was true, then it was a very difficult situation for that staff member.
Q: How often did that happen, Mary?
A: Well, let me see. We were involved in that while I was there. About five years. I would say there were three staff members, three elementary staff members that did not secure their increment. It was really touchy.
Q: That is interesting.
A: The other.....there were many staff members that did. Let me see. But I think when you have merit pay the temptation is for everybody to get merit pay for where you are. And then it is very difficult I think. I think it sounds great.
Q: So you think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages and it becomes a thing of you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.
A: I would like to see the master teacher concept which may be not all that much better than I think the notion of it is and a team leader, our team leaders received extra pay. And it seems to me that the team leader concept is the master teacher concept in a way, that that's a better way to go than the merit pay. I really have a difficult time with that.
Q: And actually that is leaning more towards a career ladder where the teacher gets increment for what they choose to do.
A: And that is why I feel a career ladder has some merit.
Q: But that is interesting about the merit pay because the teacher is actually the one who decides and initiates the process. That is very interesting. What do you think of the standards of quality that is established by the state school board?
A: Well, I am not familiar with what you have done here in Virginia, so I guess maybe I can't speak on that exactly. We had something similar in New York and I think that again the notion is good. I am not sure it is workable as they might think it is. It is difficult.
Q: What are the characteristics associated with affective schools? If you to tax them, what would they be?
A: I think there has to be nigh expectations. I think there has to be clearly articulated schools. And I think they have to be expressed in a point of action. I think an effective school has to have a sense of order and direction. An effective school has to have strong leadership and accountability. And they have to have a commit to instructional excellence. That is on the bottom line of course. And in addition, I think that they have to have effective public relations. I think it is so important to let the community know the good things that are going on in classrooms today.
Q: We do that with the children. We have to let them know when they are doing a good job and I think that the community needs to see all their good ideas. What do you think of testing procedures? Sats, etc.,
A: Well, I guess there has to be some kind of testing. There has to be accountability and that is one way of securing accountability. I am more familiar with testing at elementary level and of course that does not include SATs but I think that sometimes we tend to put much too much emphasis on a score, a testing score. I think the use that we make of that test is the important part. For example, I am sure you give testing every grade school classroom as we did and what we would as teachers to do, was take a look at the test, take a look at where the youngsters were having problems, if they were, and then try to boost our curriculum to include something that would certainly bring that unsatisfactory performance up. I think today, that more than ever, there is so much emphasis on test results, and I think that people need to know that, at least at elementary level, that if a student didn't get two or three questions right than the next student, that might push the grade score up six marks or even more. It is very difficult, and I think we have to be very careful that we don't teacher the particular test. I think we have to teach testing techniques. I think a kid needs to know how to take a test. I think that whole testing situation, I realize that we need to have tests, I think that we use to make up the tests and our interpretation of them is very important and we really need to watch what is doing that.
Q: Of course, the SRAs on the elementary level are suppose to prepare them for the SATs or whatever at a higher level if they want to go on to college and there is a lot of emphasis placed on that now in the universities, I think, on the SATs, but I agree with you, I think you have to kind of look at the overall student too and that is one measure.
A: That is one measure.
Q: But there are other measures to look at also. We talked earlier about you having to fire a member of your teaching staff. Was that the toughest decision you had to make as a principal or was it something else?
A: That certainly was very thought. Let me think a minute. I guess that was probably the toughest. That was the toughest thing I ever had to do.
Q: Were you a manager of a building or did you consider yourself more of an instructional leader?
A: I considered myself more of an instructional leader.
Q: Even with your assistant principal?
Q: You still felt yourself as a leader?
Q: How involved were you in planning changes in personnel and programming to meet the ongoing needs of this school? As things would change, you know from K-3 to K-6 for example, were a lot of planning changes, were you directly involved or did they come from superintendent or....
A: No. No, I was directly involved with all those changes.
Q: Did it take a lot of time?
A: Yes. It took a lot of planning. A lot of time and a lot of talking with individual staff members.
Q: What was the key to the success as principal? What would be your key to success?
A: You need to know this. I am not sure that I can answer that. I think the thing most helpful was that I had been a classroom teacher and I understood the problems. I was also a parent so that I could emphasize with parents to some degree. I think I was a good listener. I think that was important. As I mentioned before acceptability to staff and to parents is very important. Visibility. Visibility in the school as well as visibility in the community I think is very important.
Q: What is it about your personality that allows you to be so successful? Ability to listen?
A: I think so. And the fact that I like people very much. I think those two things were helpful.
Q: What advise would you give to a person who is considering administrative positions?
A: Well, I think it is great and I think we should have many more women administrators. I was the first woman administrator in our whole county. And I really feel that women have a great role to play and I am very supportive of women. First of all, you need to be, as you girls are doing, you need to be well-trained and you need certified so that when the possibility comes you are ready to take it.
Q: Well, I asked you before about what events led to you becoming a principal and it is interesting now, that you were the first women. What do you think they were looking for, Mary? Why was it you?
A: Well, I think I was an creditable person in that particular community, in that particular school. I had had success as a classroom teacher. And I had done a lot of work on the district level with long range planning committees, which was composed of team leaders and board members and the superintendent. I was recognized as an excellent teacher. So, I think that helped, too.
Q: Did you have anyone, that because you were a woman, that had negative reaction to the public to the parent because you were a woman?
A: No, I don't think so. I want to tell you something funny. At the first county's principal's meeting that I went to after I had been selected. I knew most of the men there because I had been at meetings where they had been involved, but the chairman of the principal's, says well fellows here we are, loosen your ties, put your feet up on the table. Mary will get us some coffee...... Won't you Mary? And Mary said no.
Q: Gosh Mary, way to go.
A: That was so funny.
Q: Was there anyone who, did you express, your desire to become a principal and was there anyone who picked up on that, who sort of helped you out and was supportive? Because you can be an excellent teacher, however, I think you need to have additional qualities also to be an excellent administrator.
A: That is true. And I think a lot of it happened to my work as chairman of the Christian Counsel District where I think people recognized I might have qualities that would be helpful as an administrator. Also, I had a very supportive superintendent. And he spent quite a lot of time talking to me about the possibility of it. Encouraged me to go to the University of Rochester and get my credentials. And was right there behind me and recommended me nightly, so I think that I would have to say that he was very helpful.
Q: What advise would you give to someone who was considering a position in this station, administrative position?
A: Well, I guess just make sure that the particular position is the one that you want. There are positions available and I guess I wouldn't take the very first one that came along. But, I would want to be inter viewed for any of these positions. Every time that you are interviewed you learn something new. So, if you have a chance to be interviewed go for it.
Q: Do you think that to do a successful job in something you would really have to have the desire?
A: That's right. Yes.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you be a principal?
A: Yes, I would. I really enjoyed it.
Q: What changes would you make in the organizational setup of administrative responsibilities?
A: Well, I think maybe, I would hope there could be more assistance with paper work. Paper work, paper shuffling, I have very little empathy for it. It is a necessary evil. And I don't know how you would deal with that, really. That does take a lot of time and it doesn't seem to pro duce a great deal of anything.
Q: You mentioned that you went to the University of Rochester. What degrees do you have?
A: I do not have a Masters. I have 44 hours beyond and I have New York State Certification in Principalship and Supervision.
Q: Did you feel the central office policy prevented you from accomplishing goals you felt couldn't have otherwise been obtained?
A: No. I can't really say that I do. The only problem that did arise occasionally was scheduling of buses and hours of instruction for primary school did as opposed to the high school. It seemed sometimes like the high schools would sort of determine what would happen at the lower level because of the situations. That was the big problem, if you would call it a problem. And I did.
Q: What consumed the majority of your time?
A: I think that being in the classroom which is where s was because I put a priority on that because I liked being where the kids were. To talk with the youngsters, and I liked to be very informal basically with the staff members. So I put a lot of time in classrooms and talking with the staff, going into the teacher's lounge, and eating with them and just talking about what might be concerning school problems, or philosophies or things or expectations but it was all on an informal basis.
Q: So you were not in a role as a person going to the principal's office?
A: I knew practically every single kid's name in that school.
Q: How were you involved in staff development?
A: We did a lot of in-service work. In workshops that I ran but mostly I worked with teacher's committees and we would develop all day workshops or semester long workshops wherever we felt the need. The teachers could come with their concerns and needs and together we would try to do something about it, and establish those kinds of things.
Q: Do you think a teacher with a Master's Degree has an advantage or is more effective over those who do not?
A: That is very difficult to say, because some of my very best teachers had Master's degrees and some of say poorest teachers had Master's degrees. So, I think it depends on the teacher and the situation. So, I can't say.
Q: Do you think that school divisions adequately compensate those who obtain a Master's degree?
A: I guess that depends on what school system you are in. Our salary schedule did. I am sure that some do not. But ours did. And in New York state salary schedules are all over the map. There are all kinds of salary schedules. Our particular school did encourage staff members to get their degrees.
Q: What procedures did you need to follow when filling a teacher vacancy?
A: Well, actually what we would do, would contact the universities in the area and then procedure I followed, I would interview the potential staff members and then I would have my team of teachers, for example, a third grade teacher, I would have a team leader from the group of teachers interview two or three people. We were also asked, the candidates that we felt were really worthy to come and spend a day in the classroom and with that particular team and then we would talk to the classroom teachers about it.
Q: Did you recruit your own teachers or did they need to go through central office, the Superintendent or personnel?
A: They, not all of them did, no. The people who went to see the superintendent or the assistant were those persons who we were really considering and then they were interviewed by the superintendent. He took our recommendations into consideration and almost always the person we recommended were the persons taken.
Q: So their interview would start with you and go up?
A: It didn't come down.
Q: How involved were you in acquiring substitute teachers in your school?
A: It was my responsibility.
Q: Was there a list that was kept updated?
A: Yes. There was a list and teachers who were to be absent were suppose to call in before 7:00 o'clock in the morning and then I would start on the list. Actually, I would ask my teachers if there was a particular substitute that they would prefer and we always tried to get that one if possible.
Q: How did you help your teachers to maintain their right to academic freedom?
A: Oh, that is a good question. I am not exactly sure. I think that they were able to have academic freedom and they knew that they were. They were just a few things that they did not do but they knew they had academic freedom. I really don't know how to answer that.
Q: Did you encourage flexibility?
A: Oh yes. New innovations. Yes, we encouraged that. We would get a pat on the back or a little card with "Great: on it or a star or something along that line. We would give a little publicity about things that were happening along that line.
Q: If you could use one or two word descriptions, how would you prioritize your activities for most successful leadership?
A: Well, let's see. I think again recognition of the staff, acceptability, enthusiasm.
Q: Do you have a model that you pattern yourself after?
A: Yes. I did.
Q: What was that?
A: That was, this may sound strange; there was a man. A man who was principal of a school when I was a kid. I use to think that I would like to be a principal because I thought he was just great and I tried to remember the kinds of things he did that I thought were nice.
Q: So you knew when you were A: ...
A: A youngster, yes.
Q: Would you discuss the five most pleasant principalship activities?
A: Well, I think that being able to meet with the kids, see the youngsters. I use to stand in the foyer in the morning, when the buses came in and speak to each youngster as they came in. I guess that was probably one of the highlights of my day. And I did mention visiting classrooms. I think that I also enjoyed public relations part of the job, I enjoyed speaking to the community of that school and encouraging participation not only from parents and members of our community, but staff members from other area schools.
Q: In addition to your busing schedules and paper shuffling, what was some other unpleasant principalship activities?
A: Well, I guess one thing was attending administrative meetings that went on for an hour, an hour and a half and go nowhere. That was one thing that I didn't enjoy very much. The other thing was to talk to the teachers about the noise in the cafeteriA: I guess every school thinks they have a problem with the noise level in the cafeteria and we tried to make solutions. Finally, we went to a county-wide teachers meeting and the teachers were having coffee and doughnuts. You never heard such noise. After that I said to the teachers, "Well, you know we will try to control it, but I'm not sure that we ever can."
Q: What was your happiest reason for leaving and your sorriest?
A: Well, the reason that I left was that we moved to VirginiA: My husband took a position here and I really had not intended to stop my part in education so I was very unhappy to leave the students. I think they are the things that I miss the most. I guess that is it.
Q: The master schedule determines which teachers have what responsibilities. Did you find it most effective to maintain total control in devising the master schedule or did you find it most effective to have some staff input in devising the master schedule?
A: I did it with team leaders, so there was staff input within certain priorities. They had some control. For example, I think I mentioned earlier that for each team we tried to free them up twice a week so that each of the team members would be free at the same time. During those times youngsters would be going to physical ed., or art, or music, or library and the team leader, I would give them a block of time, and then the team leader with her teachers would determine which group were going to go to which place. Do you see what I am saying?
Q: I think so.
A: They would have blocks of time for their special classes, and within that block of time, the teacher would determine, or Monday, for example that teacher A would have music, teacher B kids would go to physical education. That sort of thing.
Q: So there is a lot of staff in doing this?
Q: That was very productive....
A: It did.
Q: It probably made them feel like they had some control.
A: They did have. And yet gave me the total picture so that I knew who would be where. We had lots of input.
Q: We talked about your assistant principal earlier. Could you describe for us using characteristic traits again, what would be a few words to describe a most effective assistant principal? Would it be creativity, for example?
A: Those are both good words and actually the assistant principal in primary schools took my position when I did leave. I am very supportive of that. But she was a very understanding kind of person. Understanding as far as youngsters and teachers and parents were concerned. She also was a very creative person. She knew primary subjects very, very well. She was an enthusiastic person. I tend to rate high persons who are enthusiastic.
Q: What are characteristics of a superintendent that you found effective for allowing you the most leeway in operating or running a school?
A: Well, I worked under several superintendents and I think the ones that I found great to work with were the ones who gave me a lot of leeway but expected me to be very accountable for the results. And I think that is really a good way to manage the school system is to hold the person accountable.
Q: What in your own experiences do you find most beneficial in helping you maintain the same attitude towards this principal?
A: I think you need a good sense of humor to be a principal. I think that rates pretty high and I was certainly dedicated to the school system and spent many hours in school. Most of which I enjoyed very much. But I have had many things outside of school. I play bridge. At that time I was a piano player. I can't say that I am much of one now, I really don't practice very much any more. I like to read and I like to be involved in community affairs.
Q: Did the law pertaining to special education affect as a structural leader in the schools? And around that time a lot of laws, state laws, federal laws, a lot of laws dealing with special education. How did that affect your role?
A: It did affect it. Because we had to provide special classes within our own school building. We also had to provide classes in reading disabilities in our particular school. So it met rearranging rooms, rearranging staff assignments, hiring additional staff, we had to do a lot of screening and have a full time psychologist, up to that time we had a part-time person. So in those ways, we had to make sure that total staff understood what this was all about too. So we had their support.
Q: In some communities there are a large number of tax payers who do not have children in the public schools and therefore are not so obligated to pay taxes to support the system. How would you convince these people that their support is needed?
A: Well, again, that is a public relations thing, isn't it. We had a number of open houses. We had grandparents day, we had senior citizens day. We tried to, and we had our children go out, we had senior citizen meetings once or twice a month and at nearby churches and our children would go down and perform occasionally, they would sing songs and do little plays. We tried to get people in the community into the schools and we tried to get our school out into the community.
Q: I am sure that was a good way to convince them.
A: Well, it helped.
Q: I think I might know the answer to this question. But I am going to ask anyway. During your term as an administrator, did you find yourself becoming involved in education clubs and organizations as a result of your desire or as a result of the administration wanting you to be involved?
A: Yes. I was involved, or I still am involved in Delta Kappa Gama International which is an educational association for women. I became very involved, not only in the local level, but state and international as well. I was very active in the association for childhood education, also elementary principals association, and found a great deal of satisfaction in those things.
Q: And you chose to do that on your own?
Q: You didn't feel like you needed to do it as a result of pressure from the administration?
A: I am sure they were happy that I was. In fact, they were very supportive because in some of these roles I played leadership roles in some situations and we have to be away from school and they were very supportive of that and allowed me to go to conferences.
Q: What organizations are you active in at this time?
A: Educational organizations are you speaking of or just any kind?
Q: Any kind.
A: I am still on the international board of Delta Kappa GamA: Locally, I am President of the Women's Civic League. I have just finished a term as President of the Winchester Medical Center Auxiliary and I am on that board. I am on the board of Freemont Nursery School. As a matter of fact, I have been doing some interesting things there. We discovered that our teachers needed to be certified, needed to get the C.A: so I have been working with them, observing them, helping them in that way. And I belong to Ki-Wives, wives of Kiwansis and a number of other local organizations.
Q: I think you already answered this too, what caused you to chose retirement when you did and I think you said earlier it was only because of your husband.
A: That's right. That's right.
Q: Then you decided at that time, even with moving you did not want to try to continue on.
A: Well, I had planned when I moved here, I thought I would get into education here in VirginiA: In fact, I visited Senseny Road School several times, but about that time my mother-in-law came to live with us and was very ill and she is no longer with us, and now I am so involved in local activities and volunteer activities, I guess at this point I have no desires to go back into education. Although I still miss the kids.
Q: This is our last question, Mary. What have I not asked that I should have?
A: Oh goodness, I am not sure whether you have asked me about my own philosophies of education. You asked about the building, I don't think you asked about my own. I would like to share it with you, because I feel it is very important. I feel that students learn at different rates and have different stands of abilities, learn in different ways, I feel that they need to learn how to live and also learn how to learn and I feel that is a responsibility that we have and I think yes, that skills are important, and I think that we need to provide and practice those skills. I think education is an exciting adventure for children and for parents and for teachers and staff and principals and I think I am very optimistic about education and I think that we have a great future ahead of us.
Q: Mary, thank you for your time and assistance in allowing us to conduct this interview. It has certainly been a rewarding experience for us, and we appreciate your time.
A: You are welcome. I have enjoyed talking with you.
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