Alice Elizabeth ("A: ibby") Pharr interview. The interview was conducted in the home of Ms. Pharr. Ms. Pharr's home is located in a quiet, suburban, middle-class area of Fairfax County, Virginia.
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Q: will begin by giving us a brief description of her professional life.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I have been in Q: airfax County for twenty-eight years. Eleven of those years was as a classroom teacher, grades three through six and seventeen years as an elementary principal. (This was later corrected in our "after interview discussions" to "nine years as a classroom teacher and nineteen years as a principal".) I began my career at Weyanoke Elementary School. Ah, I came out of the sixth grade classroom right into Principalship with a school of seven hundred. Q: rom Weyanoke I went to A: ynnbrook Elementary School in which, at one point, we had a thousand students. I finished my carer as an elementary principal at Westlawn Elementary School where I was a principal for seven years.
Q: "A: ibby" and I decided to start with: 'What are your feelings about a principal's responsibility in identifying and developing future school principals and administrators? And, basically, what was your approach in this area of concern.
A: I feel, certainly, a Principals working with people in a leadership area, certainly, have the ability, on a day-by-day basis to identify teachers who may ah, develop into very good school administrators. I'm not sure we always have that opportunity, but I would like to see us have that. In my own case, I have two people I remember encouraging, ah, to go through the process of becoming elementary principals and they are now principals. And I think I made two very good choices. But, I do think we certainly have an opportunity, a rich opportunity, to develop people on our faculties for these positions and this should be a concern when this is not done by administrators.
Q: Since "A: ibby" has a very large amount of experience being a principal. We are moving right on to the next questions on: 'How did your typical workday go?' How did you spend your time as a principal? And we realize that there may be no "typical" workday, but she agreed to tackle it.
A: I think that is one of the reasons why being a principal can be so much fun. There is not a typical day and that is why it is fun. I would have a great deal of trouble working on an assembly line putting the same nut and bolt in every day. And this is why I like being a principal. It was different. I could make a list of plans, the things I intended to do each day, and perhaps I did not get to those things, because if a child needed help, I needed to be there. If a teacher needed help, I had to tackle that, too, and help that teacher. If an irate parent came in, that had to be addressed. So, there were many things of this nature. However, there was a line of duties you could plan on doing almost every day, and that was supervising teachers and working with youngsters.
Q: "A: ibby" has suggested that in describing the various school she has worked at, she would like to try Westlawn, which was the last school at which she worked as a principal. "A: ibby" would you describe Westlawn for us?
A: Westlawn was a very interesting school and at times very difficult school. The educational and economical level was very diverse, ah, we ah, it would go from very low economically and educationally to the Ph.D. and everything in the middle. Ah, we had low income and a little more middle income than the higher level. This made it very interesting. And I thought it was a very good situation for children. This is the way of the real world. Ah, we all work with all kinds of people. I thought Westlawn was a very good place for children to be because of this diversity.
Q: "A: ibby" in your school at Westlawn did you have a racial or cultural mix of students? And if you did what was their cultural and racial background and what kind of students were these?
A: Yes, we did. We had quite a few Vietnamese, quite a few Spanish and some Blacks. Though not too many Blacks. I would say we had 30 to 35 percent, ah, culture, people from other cultures that also added to the interest of the school. This of course had to be addressed through English as a Second A: anguage, and various other programs which we really had to learn very quickly; bring in a lot of people to help us work with these various groups successfully.
Q: In working with the groups, did you have an opportunity to work with the parents of the children as well as with the children?
A: We worked mostly with the children, though were trying to develop various programs to bring parents into the school. But, there were two things that hindered us from doing that. We were not as successful as we wanted to be. One, parents did not feel comfortable coming into the school because they did not understand the language. That was one big stumbling block. The other stumbling block was their culture they believed they were to sent their children to school and and for us to do our job and that was that. That was due to their own culture. They were sending children to school but not necessarily being involved in the educational process.
Q: In developing new programs for students who need English, there must have been a procedure that you could follow or some outline. How did you go about getting the specialized type of instruction to your student?
A: Depending upon the percentage of students that each school had that did not speak English, ah, that was how it was based upon. If you had a large percentage of students that did not speak English, then we received an ESA: teacher who worked with those students and often times the students picked up the English A: anguage so quickly that we were mainstreaming the children back into regular classrooms. The ESA: teacher continued to work with them for awhile a short period of time and with the classroom teacher until they could be successfully mainstreamed into the regular classroom situation. A lot of others states have copied our program. Because we had a special program; we had a special ESA: Department that worked with the classroom teacher, hired the ESA: Teacher and with the schools. With these youngsters.
Q: "A: ibby" Did you have some kind of training, say, from a higher administrative level or different divisions of the school system that helped you directly as a principal that help you in dealing with students from other cultures?
A: Often, the principals meetings monthly, and we had specialists from the ESA: Department at our principals meetings working with us and at any point I could call for help. They would come to my school and work with me and the faculty. And often we did do this because it was important for not only the principal to be aware of the various cultures, but it is very important for teachers to be instructed, because the children - there's where the action was with that classroom teacher. We would ask various people to come to our faculty meetings and work with classroom teachers. Whatever our needs were. We had to identify what our needs were, then we would ask for the help. The first group of students that we received from Vietnam, I was at A: ynnbrook Elementary School at the time, and it is interesting to note that these students came from wealthy homes. Their parents had seen the handwriting on the wall; had placed their money in Swiss bank accounts and, so, they were very well off. But, as time went on, by the time I reached Westlawn, most of them were boat people and had been through some rather hair-raising experiences. In one case, I had a student who saw his mother fall off the boat and drown. So there was a big difference between the first group of people who came from Vietnam and what is coming now.
Q: Well, certainly, ah, it sounds you are trying to serve the community, as Q: airfax County Schools have done extremely well for some time. Q: rom your own point of view, what would you say your school's philosophy was? "A: ibby"...
A: Well, I guess it is the same old adage that we educators spin-out all the time, but, I really felt that in every school that I was in, and I felt this very strongly, that my teachers and I felt that we had a duty to provide the best we could for individual differences in students. Secondly, we felt that in doing this not only provide for their academics, that's important, reading and writing, writing is important, the second thing we thought was important, was to have a happy environment for learning.
Q: If sounds good and it leads directly into the next question. How did you create this climate for learning. Ah, how would a principal ah, be involved in the learning situation?
A: Well, first of all it is important that principals practice what they preach. Number one, we say to teachers, "You must provide for individual differences for the children in your classroom.' By the same process, we as principals must provide for the individuals differences of our teachers. Every teacher is not on the same level and, yet, we always treat them on the same level by having the same Q: aculty meeting for twenty-five teachers, regardless, whether ten teachers really do not need to come hear what is going on. So, I think we need to plan, and I do plan in-services, though some in-services everybody had to come to because it was general information that everybody needed, but I realize that every school that was in the teachers were on as many different levels of ability of proficiency as were students. So, we tried to have various kinds of faculty meetings, workshops and in-services and let the teachers select some of the things that they needed help in. We identified these before we set up the workshops. I guess, what I'm trying to say is, we need to provide for the individual differences and abilities of teachers, as well. If we do that, then they are going to do a better job in that classroom. And not matter what kind of philosophy a school has, when a teacher goes into that classroom and closes the door, there is your action and there is the curriculum.
Q: Right there is the frontline.
A: That's the bottom line.
Q: That's the bottom line. "A: ibby" do you, ah, think your teachers knew what to expect from you? Or, maybe, a different way of putting if would be, what do you think teachers expect Principals to be?
A: I hope I came up to measure for them. That is a hard question to answer. I can only say that I hope that I did. I think teachers wanted an instructional leader. They wanted a manager of that building. And, at the same token, there is a fine line there, they sometimes needed someone they could go to, close the door and spout-off. Or in a way there is a fine line of trying to be a friend to that teacher too. I don't mean a personal friend of that nature that you go shopping with or that kind of thing. I tried to run an "open-door" policy. When a teacher needed to talk, I was there to hear. I sure hope I did that, anyway, that is what I believe in.
Q: Along these lines of things that, ah, make, ah, principal: Invariably, we have situations where the principal will think one thing or promote one thing and a teacher or a group of teachers might not agree with that and some, quotes, unquotes, "grievance" about it. Ah, when this happened, and I am assuming it did happen, in your school, how did you go about handling it? Not necessarily the formal grievance procedure all the way through the administrative structure, but, in your building where you were the top administrator? How did you go about handling it, "A: ibby?"
A: Well, of course you wish it didn't happen, but it will, it will happen where you have a group of people because you are not going to agree every time with everything. That's normal. At times when this happened I found I had not done. Sometimes a principal assumes that the teacher well, all you have to say is do this and it will be done. You do have to be careful to communicate - number one, so perhaps it won't happen, but it is going to happen anyway. Often times, you know, I am going to say to the teacher, well, let me hear what you have to say? Perhaps you have a better way this can be done, and I haven't thought about.
Q: Ah huh (Okay)
A: That is the easy way and a lot of times it was better than my way and could be implemented easily. Other times it was a Q: airfax County regulation and had to be carried out. In those situations, if I could not bend it. I would simply say, 'Here is the regulation that we must live by. And here are the reasons I think Q: airfax would let us do it. Often times I found that I could, ah, prevent some of these grievances ah, we were encouraged in each school, to have a faculty advisor, ah, Advisory Committee hade-up of representatives from the cafeteria, your custodial, teachers every level and we would meet monthly. At least once a month. If we needed to meet more, we did. And as time went on, we id not have to meet monthly. And we had a representative from each level; and we would meet; we had a chairperson. I chose not to be the chairperson. I thought it better that I not be the chairperson. I was a member of the committee. And teachers did not have to identify that Ms. Jones, was upset, because she had Playground Duty twice, or whatever the grievance was. They did not identify themselves, but brought it forth to the group and we discussed it and, ah, the group would offer their advice. Ah, I made the group, ah, -- It was known that I had the final decision to make on it. But, that, that...
Q: It definitely was an Advisory Group.
A: It was definitely advisory. However, I found it certainly did save me allot of grief. Because, although, I thought I was on top of everything - and every Principal does - you can't be one hundred percent. Because you don't know what people are thinking out there; how they will react to situations.
Q: And, you know, so often they really do have great ideas, I should have, ah, --- I wondered, ah, why didn't I think of that! You know? (Short laugh) Exactly!
A: But, often this Advisory Group, I found, really did, and the teacher found that they at least had a way of venting their grievances. Ah, if they had a concern about something, you now, there is a piece of playground equipment out there that really is not safe, you know, and I really don't want the responsibility of the child playing on it. O.K., that's great. I need to know that.
A: And it went deeper than that. There were more serious situations than that, but, ah, why do we have to have four teachers on duty at certain spots, and this was good to find out how they were thinking. Because sometimes I assumed they already knew and they didn't know at all WHY. That saved me alot of grief. So, that having an open-door policy and the Advisory Committee saved me alot of grief, too. And it made them feel good too.
Q: It sounds like, ah, that you were trying to involve the whole staff of your school?
A: The whole staff - Custodians, everyone.
Q: In this educational process.
A: Alot of times they would have grievances against each other. It wasn't always, 'Why did Ms. Pharr make us do so-and-so? Or, why did Ms. Pharr do this?' Sometimes, it was 'Why don't the Cafeteria people do so-and-so? Why don't the Custodial staff do so-and-so? Why do the Pre school teachers only teach until one o'clock? And then the students go home. Why do the A: D teachers get an extra P.E. period?' Or things of that nature. Allot of it was just the general workings of the school. Which so many of us assume teachers know.
Q: "A: ibby" ah, in your, work as a building principal, have there been times when difficulties with teachers, teacher incompetence, ah, parental pressure or all of the above, led to the necessity of firing a teacher?
A: Yes I have. And its, I, ah, I'm sure it is every principal's nightmare. That they wish they did not have to go through this. But, it does become necessary. As a principal, you must face-up to this. Ah, you have to think about those children in the classroom. And, of course, when you are working with teachers, the purpose is, -- when you start working with teachers, with her lesson plans or whatever the problem might be. The purpose is not to fire the teacher; the purpose is to try to help that teacher as much as possible. To create a learning environment for those children and to strengthen whatever weaknesses she may have. So, you go through all of this, and, when you realize that you have done everything that you can possibly do, then you call people from your Area Resources; and, they come in and they do the same thing. However, if this does not work, and most of the time if does work, thank Goodness, it does work. But, when it does not work, then the day of reckoning has come. You must do something. And it takes alot of documentation. Because teachers can take you to court; they can take you through the Grievance Procedure. So, you must be sure that you have documentation all the way. As to: number one - what you've done; what the problems were, etc., But, yet I have and it is interesting to note, and I just thought about that, I hadn't thought about that until you asked the question I was in three elementary schools and in each of the schools I had to fire a teacher.
Q: Really? So, you have gone through this three different times?
A: Each of them. But, only in one was I pulled through the Grievance Procedure. Which it went all the, ah, it, the next step was to the School Board, but it didn't go that far. And, of course, the teacher does have a representative. She can have representative who is a lawyer. She can have a representative from the Q: airfax Education Association (Q: EA) or both. And this teacher did have a representative from the Q: EA. But, luckily, I had done my homework, and the representative from Q: EA suggested that she drop it. I had won. I won three steps. And it was going to the fourth step.
Q: In that particular case, "A: ibby," do you feel free ethically and professionally, to elaborate a little as to what led you specifically to fire that teacher.
A: Well, as I say, you look at what is going on in the classroom. And in this case, I had to look at what was not going on in that classroom.
Q: What are some of the things --
A: In conferences; well, just plain teaching children. Number one, when the children needs are not being met, the first thing that is going to happen is discipline problems. That is the first little red flag.
A: And, ah, in all three of, ah, in two of these cases, the teachers had completely lost discipline on the class, because nothing was happening. You know? Ah, in one case, ah, and I'm in all rooms quite allot. In one case it was one ditto after another. No teaching! It was just ditto, ditto, ditto, papers. Ah, but the discipline is a red flag. In the third flag. In the third case, it was an emotional problem with the girl.
Q: Before we go to that emotional concern, you mentioned that you were in the classrooms a lot. Did you get out of your offices and go around the school and into the classrooms fairly frequently?
A: Everyday. If I had not been in classrooms everyday, I did not feel that I had done my job. Ah, as an Instructional A: eader. And a Principal has to be an Instructional A: eader and a Manager. Ah, I didn't get in every classroom, let me verify that, I didn't get in every classroom everyday, I got in classrooms everyday. So, by end of the week, I had been in all the classrooms.
Q: So, each of your teachers saw you each week; watching, observing, supervising their teaching.
A: That's right.
Q: You see that as a very important approach in...
A: It's number one.
Q: Number one!
A: It's number one. As far as I am concerned. That does two things for you. Number one, you kind of know what is going on; you can identify if the teacher does need help; then you can identify with that teacher later what you see as the needs are and what she sees as the needs are. And number two the children know who you are.
Q: Uh huh.
A: You know, I certainly, want a visitor to come into my building and the children not know who I was. That would embarrass me terribly.
Q: Uh huh.
A: Plus, I knew the children. It gave me an opportunity to know the...
Q: The children are number one on your list.
A: They are number one on my list, right. You know, I try to, you know, I took bus duty in the afternoon. I know I'm deviating a little bit...ah, from the question.
Q: That's okay.
A: I always took bus duty in the afternoon, so I could see how the children were coming out of my building. And I could tell by the way they were coming out, whether or not they had a good day.
Q: What's interesting.
A: Plus, I could say 'John, I really liked the way you answered your history questions today in class. You really did a good job. Susy, I really liked the way, I was really impressed with the way you did so-and-so.
Q: You were trying to get to know them by name.
A: Right. By name, oh, yes.
Q: That's six hundred.
A: You can do it. It can be done. And it is important. And this will in the end save you a lot of headaches and parents will know you have a good, efficient school. Because if you have twenty, ah, I always told the teachers, 'If you have twenty-four children in your classroom, you have twenty-four newspapers going home every night. Be sure it is a good report.'
Q: Very good. Very good. Would you tell us about firing one of the teachers because of an emotional concern. Could you tell us a little more about that?
A: Well, this happen to be a Resource Person who was not on my Q: aculty full-time. She would come in twice a week to work with a small group of children. In fact, it was an A: D Resource. A: earning Disabilities Resource Teacher. Ah, she had been at various other schools and was assigned to my school. Very early on I realized there was a problem. I was not quite sure of what it was.
Q: Uh huh
A: Ah, I did talk to some of the other Principals that had her about some background there. But began to realize that teachers were telling me that, 'Children were not going to her.' They would play sick or hideout in the bathroom. So I realized, ah, well, I best get in there and find out what was going on. So, I did observe, oh, I'd say several weeks. And we would talk about one of the things she was not planning individual programs for the children as she was supposed to. So, I worked with her on that; sat down with her tried to help her plan programs; tried to help her access the needs of the individual children who were sent to the program. Realized this was not working was not being fulfilled. So, I did call in someone else to come in and work with her. She did the same thing. It is very hard to deal with an emotional problem. Of course, what I did is that I did not deal with an emotional problem. What I did, is that I dealt with the fact that learning was not taking place in the room. And that she was incompetent. Because you have to be very careful. I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Ah, so I chose to go that route. As it turned out, she was put on leave. And consequently fired, ah, by personnel. But the emotional aspect was very difficult and I probably did not deal with that. I think personnel, probably, could have required her, and I think she did, after they did take her away from my school and put her on leave with pay and personnel then took it over then. As I recall, I think they did ask she receive help. I think they can demand that some type of therapy be done. Consequently, she was fired.
Q: As the chief executive at the building level, what kind of feelings did you have about this particular instance? You knew that you had to do something. Ah, that she had to be fired. Removed from contact with the children. Q: rom your personal standpoint, 'What kind of feelings did you have?
A: Well, it was the most difficult (there was a show of emotion) thing I ever did in my life. Of course, any firing is. But, this was more difficult than the others. Mainly, because she was alone. I knew that she lived alone. I think her parents were dead. And I felt, 'How will she survive?' You know? I really felt sorry for her. I took her around to observe other teachers, hoping this would help. I think I did more for this teacher than any other, because I felt so sorry for her. But I had to keep thinking. I had to talk to myself and say,' 'A: ook, your number one priority is those children. And I had to keep that in mind. That is the only thing that kept me going. Because I really felt so sorry for this young girl. She was a young girl. Very young. And really, just had no place to go. That is difficult to do. Very difficult!
A: I spent many sleepless nights agonizing over this. I was so concerned. Of course, I was concerned about the children, but, I was also, concerned about her as an individual. And what would happen. That was the most difficult situation, I think, that I had in my entire Principalship.
Q: Wow! "A: ibby," I know we have been talking, mainly, about your work at Westlaw, but when you first started your Principalship and your career as a building administrator, you started at Weyanoke, was it --
Q: Weyanoke. That was about the time that there was a large amount of civil disturbance in the country. Could you give us some comments and thoughts relative to how you handled some of these Civil Rights issues as a Principal in your school?
A: Yes. In fact, my very first year as a Principal of Weyanoke Elementary School, was the first year of integration in Q: airfax County. Ah, we had on staff there, one Black teacher. And, as I recall, we only had five Black students. How this was in a population of seven hundred students and around twenty-six teachers. So, it was really a minority number. I shall never forget the first day of school. A: et me preface by saying that I had one excellent Black teacher, and we are still friends today, because of our experiences together. I thought, 'Here I am, an inexperienced Principal. I had never been an Assistant Principal. I came out of a sixth grade classroom right into this building with nothing to back me up, so far as experience. And as far as calling another Principal, as working with the Civil, ah, the integration. No one had had experience in that area, I couldn't call anyone either.
Q: Uh huh
A: This teacher and I sat down before the first day of school and we decided that we were going to be honest with each other. That was the only way we could survive this. Because we knew we would have problems. Because this community had never had a Black teacher.
Q: Uh huh
A: There students, the White students, had never gone to school with Black students. So, we knew there had to be some problems coming down the road. Sure enough, first day of school, at the end of the day, I had two parents in my office at the end of the day.
Q: Uh huh!
A: I knew exactly why they were there. But I was determined that I would make them tell me exactly why they were there.
A: Ah, they did not want to do this. They simply said, 'I want my child moved from Mrs. so-and-so's room.' My answer to that was, 'This is only the first day of school. Why would you want your child out of that room when you don't even know what's going to happen.
Q: Uh huh
A: They, I said, 'I must have a good educational reason to move a child. Q: inally after much talk, they hung their heads and said, 'She's Black.' I said, 'This is not an educational reason.' I will not move your child.'
Q: That's direct enough. How did they react?
A: They said they would take it to the Superintendent. ___ gave them his telephone number. Ah, and told them, I certainly would think about that. And it would certainly work out and that I would keep an eye on everything as I would every child in that school and I tried to be, you know, though my answer seems cut and dried, I did try, in my southerly way, to convince them, you know, that the teacher would not have been hired, if she were not good. Not knowing that was true at all, but anyway, I was lucky. I did have a good teacher. I did tell the teacher. At the end of the day the teacher came down and said, 'Were there any here?' I said, 'Yes, two.' And I told what my reactions were. They did--one did call the Superintendent. The child was never moved. The next year, parents were asking for that teacher.
A: So, yeah, I had a good teacher. It always helps.
A: But, I really felt that it was very important. That if I moved one child, there were more out in the wings, waiting to see what I would do. What the teacher would do and how the teacher and I would handle that situation. I thought it was very important that these children must be given a chance to learn in that classroom and it worked out. It worked out beautifully. And one set of parents did come at the end of the year, and said, 'We want to thank you and we apologize.' And I said, 'Don't apologize to me, talk to the teacher.' And we did have some situations where the parents didn't want their child sitting beside this -one- or -that. And so forth.
Q: That sort of leads us into this next question. As a Principal, I know you have had lots of headaches. If it is possible, 'What was your biggest headache as a Principal?' Maybe, something that reoccurred, year after-year. Kept coming up. What type of activity or situation seemed to give you a headache?
A: The one main thing and it did not necessarily reoccur every year, and so forth, but, I think the one thing that really, I would really, ah, most of the time I did not bring my problems home.
Q: Uh huh
A: I could leave them there, even if it was an irate parent, a child who had gotten into trouble, I could kind of leave that there, but the thing that bothered me most was the fact, when teachers were not getting along, not particularly, with me, but perhaps a little tete-a-tete within the faculty. Because I always felt that it was so important that we needed to show the community that we were standing together for the good of the children. And, I don't know, personnel problems among themselves always bother me a great deal. I just felt that if it ever got into the community, a house divided cannot stand, so to speak, that would just year our school apart.
A: And that always worried me. And nothing dreadful ever happen, or, but sometimes I would have to say to some teachers, 'Bring in into my office and have it out in here. But leave it in here. I don't ask that you be best friends, and go to cocktail parties together, but I do ask that you be professional while you are here. And if that means going the opposite direction from each other and not say something ugly to each other, then do it! But we must present a solid front here.' That always bothered me. Then, of course, it always bothered me when a child who was being abused. And that in later years came to the forefront. That more children were being abused. But those things I would bring home with me.
Q: That sort of gave the biggest headaches.
A: My biggest headaches, because I often, you know, I felt a child was being abused, ah, perhaps it was a gut feeling. I could not prove it, but I felt something was bad wrong at home. I didn't always know what it was I just knew something was wrong.
Q: "A: ibby," ah, what were some of these kinds of abuses your children, that you suspected some of your children were going through.
A: Well, of course, the emotional abuse, all but impossible to prove in many cases, until it has gotten so bad that something happens to the child, that I'll know something, which it is then too late, many times, but, physical abuse, you can see it. And of course, we have had ah, a very well spelled out plan in Fairfax County with Protective Service, what you did, even if you suspected. This was the last five.
Q: Uh huh
A: If you even suspected that a child was being physically or sexually abused, ah, we had a Hotline we would call, and, in most cases, within the day ah, someone from Protective Service would be in contact with me and I would drop everything if I had a meeting, a faculty meeting observation, whatever, I would drop everything to take care of this.
Q: Uh huh
A: And, often times during the day, did they not only talk to me, but, they also got to that home within the day. Ah, this was good and yet it was bad. In some cases, the parents and Protective Services did not have to say, a neighbor could have called in. They don't have to tell.
Q: Uh huh
A: But, often times they figured out that I had called. And would come quite angry with me.
Q: These are the parents.
A: The parents. And I remember one, case, they really threatened me.
A: And, ah, the child came back to school the next day really a mess. Well, this was all Protective Service related and they moved in on them very quickly. And, one of things that it is important for a person to know, is to know what resources to call and how to do it. Of course, that is well known now. Even though you had the procedure of what to do and so-forth, it's still hurt to know that that child was being abused.
A: You know, because, the purpose was not to take the child out of the home, but to work with the parent. In many cases, we found in the physical abuse, this was not true in the sexual abuse, but, physical abuse, it went back to fact that the parents were having a hard time financially. So, Protective Services could, allot of the time, help those parents. And once they solved that financial problem, then, you know, the parents were a little more a t ease with each other and with their children. That didn't worry me half as much as the sexual abuse, because, usually, there was some emotional things going on there.
A: And that took a little longer to deal with.
Q: When this was identified by you or by your teachers, ah, were there guidelines as to who should know this; who should be involved; for example, were teachers of those students involved, ah, did you share with them what was going on? And, how did you work as an educational team in helping that child?
A: Well, O.K., let me go back to this fact, ah, ah, as I said, we worked very closely with Protective Services. In fact, Protective Services would come out and do workshops with your Q: aculty on asking.
Q: Good deal!
A: And, I think in the last few years, with all the sexual abuse coming forth, it was requirement that every school, ah, have workshops with Protective Service with their Q: aculty members. This was to help Q: aculty members identify some of these students because they would sometimes be the first. Because if this student had been for example, one of my teachers came to me and said, "A: ittle Janee, (I'll give a fictitious name) has, is really a very bright little girl; has been doing so well, A's and B's on everything. She has hit the bottom. She is doing nothing. And looks so sad and unhappy and unkept. Well, wouldn't you, well...
Q: There is one of those flags.
A: She had identified; we talked to our school psychologist about it; ah, we talked to our school Social Worker. After going through that process, the Social Worker talked to the parents to see what was going on. She didn't get anywhere with the parents. Some we turned it over to Protective Service then. They did an investigation. Sure enough, something was going on in there. So the teachers were taught different signals to watch for. Watch for this and this. In my case, I asked the teachers to come to me and let me call Protective Service. That way the parent could fuss at me and I could honestly say, "The teacher did not call." Because the teacher had to live with that child the rest of the year. And I felt it was more important that the burden be upon my shoulders than upon the teacher's. All I wanted the teacher to do was to identify.
Q: So you would deliberately take the flak.
A: That's right; that's right.
Q: A lot of experiences. Ah, if someone were to ask you, what aspects of the Principalship or yourself, or others you have ah, a chance to observe; what are the keys; what are the important things that have made you a successful Principal? And obviously you are a very successful principal? What sort of things do you think personally, socially, educationally, anything, that you like. Why do you think you are a good Principal?
A: Well, I thank you and I hope I was. I feel good about being a Principal. So perhaps I was a fairly good Principal. I'm going to say 'Number One' -- and I think this is true not just of the Principalship and teaching, but it certainly does help a sense of humor.
Q: A sense of humor.
A: I think everyday you should have something to laugh about. And certainly, in every classroom there should be something to laugh about everyday. Now, this is from my point-of-view.
A: Number two. The other thing that is so very important is --communication skills.
A: Ah, I've often told teacher, "If you will keep parents informed as to what is going on in the classroom you will rarely ever have a problem with a parent. If you have had a problem with a child, if you can get to that parent before the child does, that afternoon then you rarely have any problems or if there are problems at any point let that parent know. Don't wait until the Report Card comes. And the parent says, "I didn't know." Ah, the communication required of the teacher and the communication required of myself is so very important.
Q: Fast Communication.
A: F ast Communication. Q: ast, honest, sincere communication. One of the things that helped me out a lot, especially, when I would go to a new school -- I've taken over three schools in which Principals were loved.
Q: Uh huh.
Q: A hard act to follow.
A: That is a hard act to follow, But one of the things I did, and I would not know the teachers, I would not know the parents and I would not know the students. But for the first month of school, certainly one of the things, I would certainly get into the classrooms and so forth. One of the things that helped me, was to call a parent and tell them something good about their child. And, of course, the first thing I get is, "What's wrong?" But, they soon learn.
A: You know that she is really happy that so much progress is being made. And then the teachers picked up on that and started doing that too. Because many times -- a lot of times I found that the only time little Joey Jones -- the only calls his mother or father ever got was when he had done something wrong.
Q: Uh huh.
A: Well, I had to find something good. At some point, hoping that this would turn little Joey Jones. So, I don't know. Just in summary -- a sense of humor; good communication skills; and, just liking people.
Q: A: iking People
A: And wanting to see growth in children. I think children are the greatest resource, oil may be important, and it is, but kids are the greatest natural resource we got.
Q: I agree! Ah, we have been at this now for almost two hours, is there something that we haven't touched on that you would like to add to our tape and our interview? It can be in any area that you want to give us the benefit of your experience.
A: Thank you. I would. I do have once concern and have had for some time. This is with our Assistant Principal. Ah, it is suggested that an Assistant Principal is in training to become a Principal at some point. And this is the way it should be. However, I am concerned that more direction and more guidelines should be set forth as to what the duties of these Assistant Principals should be., And what their training should entail as what training a Principal should give an Assistant. And I don't believe in a lot of cases this is being done. A principal from building "A" may say to their Assistant, "You're in charge of writing all the reports; you're in charge of all the buses; you're in charge of the cafeteria; I will do the observations. But you do all this other work. Where as another Principal may divide the job in half and teach that Assistant Principal how to observe; and, also, take care of bus situations and so forth. But I'm really concerned that not enough guidelines are given to Principals as to what they should do with their Assistants. Many Assistants are coming out ill trained as far a I am concerned. That is not to say that many are coming out well trained, too. But there ought to be some set guidelines and requirements, I guess, is the word I'm looking for in the education of these Assistant Principals.
Q: It sounds like you have some very specific thoughts about training which might be rooted in your style of leadership. Would you like to give us some information or thoughts about your particular style of leading a school?
A: Well, first of all, I'm probably a Type 'A' person. Ah, you almost have to a type 'A' person to be a school principal. However, I lean more toward involving people in the decision-making process as often as I possibly can. This is not to say that there are times when this simply cannot be done. A Principal, many times, when there are rules and regulations to follow, from the School Board; these must be implemented and carried out. And that must be done.
Q: Ms. Pharr, we certainly appreciate all your efforts and this will become part of the Database at Northern Virginia Graduate Center of Virginia Tech. Thank you.
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