Interview with Robert Redmond


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Q: Bob how many years were you in edcuation as a teacher?

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

A: Five.

Q: How many years as a Principal?

A: Eleven.

Q: O.K. What are you presently doing?

A: Well, I'm the Assoicate Professor of Education at Western Maryland College and the Director of the Lakewood Learning Center.

Q: What is the Lakewood Learning Center?

A:That's a tutorial Center and Educational Diagnostic Center as part of the Developmental School Foundation. We do tutoring, testing and we meet with parents about issues of educational concern and we are trying to start a prep school down in Bethesda- right ... a tutorial program in Bethesda.

Q: O.K., terrific. You say you were Prinicpal for five years. Were you a Principal in the same school for five years?

A: No, I was a Principal for eleven- didn't I say eleven?

Q: Eleven- I'm sorry- You taught five.

A: Yea, I taught for five. Yea, I was a Principal for more than eleven. I was a Principal for ten and three. Thirteen.

Q: O.K. In one school or numerous schools?

A: No. In two schools.

Q: What were the schools?

A: Newport Junior High School which became Newport Inter- mediate School and then the Westland Intermediate was- oh, 1 guess it always was Westland Intermediate.

Q: O.K. Ybu taught for five years. What made you decide to become a Principal?

A: Well, I taught for fivu years and became a guidance counselor. I began as an English teacher. And I taught for five years and I like the counseling so I got a Master's Degree in counseling and I became a counselor. And I was a counselor for five years- I guess and then I became an Assistant Principal- and the way I became and Assistant Principal- I hadn't really planned on it but I was a counselor at Parkland Junior High School and the Assistant Principal there was appointed to another school and so the Principal asked the Superintendent if he would appoint me as Assistant Principal. So I became Assistant Principal.

Q: O.K. so you actually had experience as a teacher, as a guidance counselor, as an Assistant Principal and as a Principal. O.K. so you really covered all of your bases. Basically what was your philosophy as far as education was concerned?

A: Well our philosophy was that we would teach to the curriculum, work with the kids and as far as possible let the kids share in the educational decisions that were made in the school. We had and Instructional Council and on it was invited the PTA president and SGA president so every decision wemade around the school had in- put from the parents andthe students. The philosophy of the school was you have tofollow the curriculum- that was part of our philosophy-we would implement the curriculum. The other part was toprovide the school with kids who felt they were accepted and to deal with them in those kind of ways and not a harsh restrictive way and so we tried to get the kids involved as much as possible. What kind of cross section of population of students did you have? At the one school, it was primarily blue collar worker, there was a significant black population and not a great deal of sophistication. In the other school was a wide spread- we had a- it was the Bethesda area- we bused in kids from the apartments over on East West Highway who were economically deprived and we had the rich kids from the Bethesda area so we had very few kids in the mid- partthey were either wealthy or poor- we had 110 kids on free lunch out of 800 kids- so it was an interesting population.

Q: With that kind of a population, what role did you play in the public as far as community relations were concerned? What was your job as Principal?

A: My job primarily as a Principal when I looked at themy interaction with the public was to convince the people that were affluent that the economically deprived kids were under control. There was alot of concern about ripping off pocketbooks and purses and all that stuff and so we spent alot of energy doing that and I think that the best thing w did was to meet with the parents of the economically deprived kids in the apartment complexes. We'd go and meet with them because they wouldn't come to.the school.

Q: When you say "we", who was "we"?

A: Me and the counselor or me and the Assistant Principal. Something like that.

Q: O.K. And did you feel that was effective?

A: Yea, It's interesting to bring those two populations together because the "have not's" want what the "have's have", and some of them feel they have a right to take it. So there's alot of work to that.

Q: What in a different vain, what do you think your teachers expected the Principal to be? What do the teachers in the program look to you to be as a Principal?

A: They look to me- the first thing they do, I believe, is look to you to support them which sounds easy. Sometimes very difficult- and they have to realize that I would support them as long as I thought their actions were professional and supportable. If they weren't, then they knew that I wouldn't support them. So I think they got the the hang of it. One of the things I did that I really think helped them is to (unaudible)- and there was sixty on the staff At one time and I would meet with them every other Friday during their IRA period, which was period three so there would be a group of six or eight of them free at one time in a seven period day. Prior to when we met, I would give them any article that I read that I thought was significant that may impact on our school and asked them to read that and we would come and discuss that article and things about the school in general so that their concerns could be heard in a small group of people who were free every day at the same time, so there was some kind of bind in there and I think it really did help them understand where I was coming from and it helped me to get a handle on where they were. And it helped all of us take a look at education issues that were in the press today. So, that was a great idea.

Q: Were there any real issues in the press? Were there any major issues such as the busing issue or de- segregation or new kinds of curriculum ideas passing through?

A: Yes. What there was is the Board of Education adopted a policy to increase the participation and achievement of Black and Hispanic students and that was in the press and that was one of the issues that we talked about in our IRA period. That took up alot of time, because there was a feeling among some teachers that the Board was going too far and bending over backwards and there was a feeling with teachers that this was long overdue and so we really did work through alot of that and that was kind of a sticky issue for a couple of weeks but I think we arrived at a ... so that at least every body felt that they were heard. Whether their ideas were accepted or not- at least they got heard.

Q: What was the Board asking you to do to include the Blacks and Hispanics?

A: You had to write school objectives that would predict the increase in test scores of Black and Hispanics and tell how you were going to raise the test scores of Black students in English. We're gonna raise those,test scores.Here's how we're we're going to do it- We're going to have help for those people that need it. We're going to do this and we're going to do that. So, we had to devise that and I used that group to help me do that so that all of us knew what we were saying and what we were trying to do. And did it work? Well, we did raise them some but not to the point we wanted to. Or hoped you'd be able to-Yea, It's a tough battle, as you know.

Q: What means- what did you use to evaluate teachers- what was your format? What were your forms?

A: We had MCPS forms that you would observe the teacher, conference with them and after four observations and conference by me or the Assistant Principal and by the Chairman of the Department, I would sit down with the teacher for a formal evaluation. Either-I or the Assistant Principal would do that.

Q: How often was that?

A: You evaluated a teacher formally the first and second year and then every third year after that.

Q: What about tenure? Were you able to grant tenure? After the second year.

A: After the second year of teaching they got tenure? Unhuh. (yes)

Q: O.K. How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: You have an MCEA Liason Committee- MCEA is the Montgomery County Educational Association. They have a committee that meets with the Principal once a month and they bring in any concerns that they have that they've heard. They also could be brought into the Instructional Council which met once a week. So there were a couple of avenues and quite frankly my door was also open- sometimes it was open a few too many times. If they had something they wanted to talk about, they were free to do that.

Q: Did you ever fire a teacher ore were you ever involved in a situation where a teacher was fired?

A: Yes. Several times ... mostly two things that really come to mind... they were fired because actually one counselor was charged with giving drugs to a group of ninth grade girls. He was fired. And one 6th grade teacher was charged with having homosexual relations with two sixth grade boys and after that he was fired. So there were two. One guy that I worked with was fired because of incompetence and that took four years. He would appeal it then we'd go to court- then there'd be a hearing and it just takes forever.

Q: It feels like incompetence is such a hard area to define. It feels so open ended.

A: Yes. It is but the best success I had was, if I felt a guy or woman was incompetent that I would begin to work with them to leave the profession- and I was successful four or five times with that. Sometimes you know, it just didn't work. They remained and they remained incompetent, at least in my eyes, and it was very difficult to prove it 'cause I would try to prove it and they'd go to MCEA and say harassment and that kind of stuff and on and on.

Q: Tell me a little about your work with Assistant Principals. How did you as the Principal, having been an Assistant Principal work with Assistant Principals and how did you use them?

A: Well they were on my Instructional Council. I used them to ... I shared with them the concerns that I had and asked for their in-put. I found them to be... after we got to working together for a little while they could trust that I could handle feedback that was not what they think I might have wanted to hear. So I tried to make them prepare for being a Principal. I thought that was important and I would say to each one of them "You do not want to to be a Junior High (Assistant) Prinicpal for the rest of your life and so I'll work with you to help you become a Principal" And that was good for me and good for them because anytime I had any decision I had to make, if I had the time, I would check with them. I'd say "Here's what I'm seeing, Here's what I think. What do you think? Does this make sense to you?" So that way they had a chance to see how I felt and to look at some decisions. So that was kind of fun.

Q: As a Principal what was your greatest concern? What is the one thing that concerned you the most?

A: Teacher competence. We were constantly working-with that.

Q: What do you think about merit pay for teachers? If incompetence was one of your greatest concerns, how do you feel about merit pay?

A: The concept is good. I don't know how it can be implimented in a fair and constructive way. I've thought about that. I've had some wild thoughts. One of them is thatI really like this- you give each kid a chit and each each parent a chit and at the end of the month the parents and kids each rank the six or seven teachers that kid has. The teacher with the most chits gets an award. That way the parents could in- put. The concern is while the teacher will be nice to the kid and the parent won't hold their feet to the fire- academically. I don't think that's true. It may happen once or twice but parents want teachers who will help their kids grow academically. I believe that. So I don't know how you're going to do merit pay.

Q: But you feel that the parents and the students need to have more of an active role in determining merit pay rather than the Administrators?

A: Yea.

Q: Since you work in the Montgomery County area where the pressure has got to be about as high as it is in any area in the country, what do you think of the testing procedure, of the amount of emphasis placed on the SAT'S, PSAT's, things of that sort? What do you think about that as far as our kids are concerned?

A: (Hesitation) I think the SAT's and the PSAT's and all of these things are ... where we are now educationally that's probably the best we have to offer. I just think we have to get past that. Take a look at the SAT's and if it's their purpose to predict success in college. I guess it's one of the things I'd want to know is how successful are the SAT's now at predicting success and if they're still a good predictor we may want to keep them. I certainly do think we test our kids more than we need to and the sorry thing about it is after we test them we don't use the test information very well. We use it to evaluate the program but we really don't. You usually get the test back and you look at them and see if your kids went up or down or stayed the same and if they went up a grade or down a grade you may take a look at some of the "why's" for it. But once you got over that initial look you didn't pursue it. I didn't pursue it. We didn't have the time or the talent to pursue it. If you spent all that time in finally testing students, we ought to make a better use of it, I think. And I really don't know how now but I always felt that, God, we spent alot of time on it and then what the hell do we do with it? We take them- we give them in October, we get the test back in March, we put them in the PTA bulletin in April and that's it- unless they're really bad and then (voice unaudible).

Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a Principalin all thirteen years of being a Principal? Can you think of the most difficult decision you ever had to make- possibly an unpopular one?

A: Yeah. I sure can- we had a kid brought to our school that had shot an eight year old girl to death when he was ten. He killed her. He had been put into a psychiatric hospital and then put into Mark Twain and he was now a 9th grader and he was ready to go back to mainstream and they brought him to my school and said although he's not in this school we want you to accept this student. And I said, "You do. Do I have a guarentee that be's not a present danger to himself or others?" And they said, "Yes. The psychiatrist has responded to that, that's why we're putting him back here. We wouldn't bring him to school if we didn't think it was a safe situation". So I said "Let me think about it", because they did give me first right of refusal. And I thought about it and I talked to one of my Assistant Principals and he kind of thought we shouldn't let him here, we should let someone else carry the burden. But I felt a responsibility to the other professionals that came to me and I thought at the time that our school had an environment that was safe and healthy and probably as good as any with a sense we could turn to. The decision I had to make was whether I told the teachers that this kid had been charged with murder. See that was a tough decision. I ... in my... I decided that the teachers didn't need to know and if the kid was going to have a go with it at all, he needed to come in there without that kind of a bias toward him. So I decided not to tell the teachers. Well, what happened was he had a very successful year with us and he went on to leave our school and prepare for high school. That summer he shot a man to death in the back of a car and it hit all the newspapers and my teachers found out about it and were furious because they knew that I withheld information from them. And so when we came back in the fall a number of them were very confrontive about this and I said, "I made the decision and thought what I did was the best thing for the kid. I'm sorry that you feel that way". They were really pissed off and I guess I can't blame them. You know like you say, it's not a good idea at the time and he got through the school fine. But that was a tough decision.

Q: You were protecting the kid.

A: Yea.

Q: You were taking the stand to protect the student over letting the teachers know. It's a tough one. I'd like to move into a different area Dr. Redmond and that has to do with qualifications of teachers who want to become administrators and how do you think we can improve the education for teachers?

A: To become administrators?

Q: First of all, just to become teachers. How do you think we can improve the education that teachers take in order to become teachers?

A: Well, that's a good question. Let me start by saying most teachers who I believe to be incompetent are not incompetent because they lack sufficient information about their subject matter. They're incompetent because they lack the skills to deal in an effective way with other human beings, in that kind of a role. And so my thinking is we need to spend more time on teacher education developing interpersonal skills on the part of a teacher. The teacher doesn't get fired because he doesn't know his subject matter. He gets fired because he can't handle kids which he is expected to do. So, I believe that there's an area there that we really need to work on and rather suspect that could be done through classes in college that would really give you a chance to look at yourself and the way you interact with other people so they get a better handle on themselves and decide if they want to get into teaching or not. I don't think colleges do a good job in that ... with that unit. Another thing I think we need to do is to help the teacher develop group skills: how to control the group, how to recognize what roles are being played by the group, task and maintenance roles. Those kind of roles have to be... I think would help the teacher to see that kids can work in groups just like they can work by themselves and if they get into... if they get the courage to group kids in a class of thirty so that the kids can work together cooperatively they're going to find out it's alot less hassle. So we've got to help them get these skills. How to group kids so that they can set up within their class cooperative groups where kids can learn.

Q: What do you think of the new Maryland National State Teachers exam?

A: Well, I haven't taken it. I've heard comments about it but I reillly... I'd like to take it myself before I could comment on it. The idea is something to think about. What aspect of your professional training do you think best prepared you to be a Prinicpal? I modeled my behavior from Principals that I thought were effective and I believe that that, although it wasn't professional training, it was the insight that I got from Principals whom I worked under and I worked under two or three that were really excellent and I saw the way they handled situations and I said to myself, "Yeah, that's the way to do that". The course work that I took to be a Principal was pretty much irrelevant. It really ... The one course that I teach now that I think helps Principals is a course in groups skills: how to listen, how to find out the task roles and the maintenance roles, how to help people, how to get involved in groups. Those kinds of things are helpful. Would you enter education at the Principal level if you had it to do again? Oh yeah. It was a good experience. I enjoyed it.

Q: O.K. Is there anything you would change in the organizational set up of administrators in the public school system?

A: Well, I don't know that I'd change it. I certainly would take a good hard at them now in most public school systems there's an Assessment Center before you go to be Principal. That Assessment Center looks at group skills, looks at in task skills and I think that's a pretty effective way to evaluate a candidate. Certainly not the only way but I think that that's a good move. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to go through the Assessment Center, but I like that idea. I like that whole concept. How did you get to be a Principal? Well, like I said oh no ... I got to be a Principal without going through the Assessment Team and I got to be a Principal ... because yeah... I didn't go through any Assessment Center. I got... there was an opening in two schools in... and I got one and the other person got the other one. The area Superintendent simply recommnended me to the Board of Education and I was appointed.

Q: So it wasn't a matter of you having to apply and meet in front of a Board and a number of procedures. They found you.

A: Yeah. That was back in the 1970's so it's changed.

Q: I don't think they do it that way anymore.

A: No they do not. they go through Assessment Centers and I've interviewed for other positions now where you're inter- viewed by the people in the community and thachers and students and supporting service people and all that. Totally different now.

Q: What was your key to success as a Prinicpal? What do you think is the thing that made you most effective as a Principal?

A: I think my interaction with both the teachers and the students- well all three. The teachers, the students and the parents. They knew that I was the person who cared and listened. They could trust that I would be honest with them and firm and I really did think that I wanted to have a school that kids liked to come to but kids liked to learn, and I spent time doing that. I worked hard at it.

Q: Do you have a personal leadership philosophy?

A: Un huh (yes).

Q: What would that be?

A: My leadership philosophy is that the best decisions are made by the people that have the information around the information that decision. And so when I as a Principal have to make a decision I try to bring people around me who I think know more about that than I do. And we talk about it and then I get the information from them and ask their opinion and then I make my decision. But I don't think that I need to know everything. But there are people on my staff or people that I have access to that can help me make a decision.

Q: With regard to that how do you think that you can create a climate for learning in the school setting?

A: We made that important by highlighting. I asked the teachers to put up the work of the kids that was good. We talked alot about being prepared for high school. We tried to make it ... When I say we I mean myself and Assistant Principals and Department Chair People. We agreed that the two things a school needs is care for students and attention to the task of education and we said we want our kids to know we like them but also we want our kids to come here and say that the business of this school is to learn.

Q: And you feel that you did that?

A: Yes, we really did.

Q: What would you say consumed the majority of your time as a Principal?

A: I guess working with teachers. Yeah, working with teachers.

Q: O.K. What have I not asked that I should have asked? What about being a Principal do you feel is important or what kind of statement would you like to make about it?

A: I think we've covered most everything. Let me just wrap it up. Are we wrapping this up?

Q: We're wrapping.

A: O.K. good. That was pretty quick. First of all, I think you've got to like the job and if you don't like the job, you're not going to do very well on the job. You set the tone and you set the tone by being open and accepting and expecting others to be open and accepting and expecitng them to do well and and expect the kids to do well. And I think they picked up on that. They knew that's what I expected and I do believe that we tend to live up to what we think other people expect of us. And so I decided early on that I would expect that the kids and faculty would do well in performance and for the most part they did.

Q: Thank you very much.

A: You're welcome. That wasn't bad at all.

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