This is an interview on March 2, 1993 with Matthew Rausch, former principal and superintendent of Mercer High School.
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Q: Matt as I ask you these questions I'd like you to mentally put them into perspective as your life as a principal. OK, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, where you were born, where you went to school. Those kind of things.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and all of my elementary education was in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Junior high school I went to Langley High in Pittsburgh and when my family moved to Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1937 I attended Albion High School, which is in the northwestern part of the state. I graduated there in 1940. I took the so called academic curriculum at that time, played a lot of athletics, probably more athletics than academics and then after that I went to work. I worked as a truck driver, worked in a steel mill on the open hearth, worked as a grinder, grind propeller blades at the beginning of World War II, and then enlisted in the Marine Corp. and served a four year term. Twenty-five months which was overseas. Came back, went to school at Slippery Rock on the GI bill. Completed the curriculum there is three years. My graduate work had been done almost exclusively at Penn State, my masters degree plus 40 hours, part of which was my administrative certificate for high school principal and supervisory principal. Then later got my superintendent letter of eligibility by attending classes at Westminster and Youngstown.
Q: How many years did you teach Matt?
A: I taught nine years in the classroom in Kane, Pennsylvania my first teaching job. And moved to the Poconos and served three years there as a high school principal. Then came to Mercer and for the rest of that time until the last thirteen years I was high school principal in Mercer.
Q: Will you talk a little bit about your circumstances surrounding the entering of the principalship, for example how did it come about that you decided to be a principal.
A: Well at Kane, Pennsylvania, my immediate superior was a principal called Paul Miller and Paul Miller was a leader in education in that area of Pennsylvania and perhaps in the state. He was well known for his work on evaluation committees, he worked on many curriculum committees and he wrote many papers for the secondary school principal bulletin and a lot of us that taught under him in Kane, Pennsylvania were fostered pretty much into leadership roles of one kind of another. It just followed naturally that many of us went on to become administrators or went into college work of some kind. And when I look back I think probably in the field of education he had the greatest impact on me personally.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and am incident in which your approach failed.
A: That's a difficult question because I think there are as many different approaches as there are administrators. I've always felt that in order to be an effective high school principal I think particularly that you need to be involved very much with your staff out in the building, constantly meeting with them. I used to spend as little time at my desk as I had to. I like to be seen. I like to know that my presence in the building is there. Not necessary as an overseer but as a person who assists them as they needed it and to give them a feeling that they had support if they needed it. My approach was more informal. I don't know that I was called Mr. Rausch as much as I was often called Matt and I don't think they used that in any sense in the fact that it was not with respect. I used to try to bring things back, I used to work on Middle State Association of course it was a great source for new techniques and new methods. On occasion I would come back with an idea I thought would be great for our school and in some instances they did work but on a few instances they did not. And probably the reason was that every school is unique and if you bring something back and try to force it in your own district and it just doesn't work, teachers are not use to it, they won't accept it, you don't present it correctly, the whole mechanics of it just doesn't work. So on occasion and I know I've had some things that I thought were great but they were not in the long run. I'll have to say that on some occasion I would have to bring them back later and for some reason or other maybe my approach was different, maybe the staff was ready for it, or the school was ready for it. It would slide in very easily and seem to be accepted.
A: I think the high school principal, I think any administrator, first of all should be an educational leader and I think we are all trained to do that. I think that's part of the work that we would enjoy most. However, I think the time dictates that that doesn't always happen. I think the problems we have in school nowadays, and to a greater degree probably when I was working, almost dominate the time of the administrator regardless of whether he is a high school principal or superintendent or what he is. You do get pulled away from the educational part of the program to handle the mechanics of discipline, organization that is involved with being an administrator. The regulations and those things that come from the state and federal government, now monopolize more and more administrators time I think than they use to. Consequently that's time lost from the instructional program. I think it becomes more difficult year by year to stay as an educator, you become more of a business manager as time goes on.
Q: Kind of a follow-up to that question Matt, one of the things that we have discussed often in classes is the importance of keeping the ship afloat. Which is a managerial function and regardless of our interest in being instructional leaders, which I think most good administrators foresee being instructional leaders is the most important thing to do, on the other hand keeping the ship floating takes a priority over almost everything else.
A: I think that happens and I think particularly in some instances where the discipline in the school is second and an administrator leaves and a new one comes in, as that was my own instance. I know I came to Mercer and there was a period where there was no one here other than the supervising principal who had many other duties besides. And the organization, the morale and the general tone of the school slips. Then it becomes very difficult to get that back and I think the principal in those instances spends most of his time just getting the school back on line as we were talking about it.
Q: Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. It's probably an understatement. Would you discuss your recollection of the compensation system of your school system during the early years of principal and given your review on the development in that area.
A: Well I think when I came to Mercer, the descent job I had in the Poconos was a twelve month Junior-Senior Principalship, first Junior-Senior Principal job I had. My salary was $6,500 for twelve months and I did everything but drive the school buses. I came to Mercer and I got a raise, in fact I wouldn't have come unless I got enough to cover my moving expenses, so I got a raise to $7,200 for twelve months. Back then that was pretty good money for this area and for the times and we made do. Salary is never, I shouldn't say not been an issue with me, but it's something I always thought if I did my job it would come. And within reason I have been very satisfied with the Mercer School District because if I wasn't I would have left. Anybody that's worth their salt can move and get a job. But I always thought my board was good with me, they were fair with me, they let me operate and run the school whatever I was doing was in the policy that was established. And that in itself was a great deal of compensation and in comparison to a school district where you may make more money but your told how to run the schools. And that's important.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent, supervising principal in terms of his general demeanor towards you and your school.
A: Well I was fortunate enough Seth Gustin was the supervising principal in Mercer when I was hired. And I knew from the beginning when we talked in an interview that we talked very much alike and that we were on the same wave length as far as what objectives should be in running a school district. One of the understandings we had was that the high school was mine when I came here, within reason and Seth Gustin really honored that concept with me. He told me if it goes down you go down with it. I mean we all do that but he was and so I had every chance in the world to make the school, within the policy of the board of education, in my interest, good or bad and I was always grateful.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them better prepare candidates for administrative positions.
A: Well, I think it's important the people who teach with the administrators have a real sound idea of what being an administrator means. And I don't mean this in a derogatory sense. I think a person who has been an administrator himself can lend a great deal of experience and knowledge to a classroom for a person who is learning to try and be an administrator. I know my own case, the classes I remember best are the things I took from my instruction and incorporated into my own philosophy and techniques in working with a high school principal, came from people who had a very practical approach to administration. Theory is great and we need it because it gives us goals to work for. But a principal is confronted daily with a multitude of problems, many of which he may create for himself. Regardless of that, he has to have some practical yardstick that he can work with and I think he can only get that from talking to other people who are getting similar circumstances. So I think if they keep in touch with modern problems of secondary education or elementary, it doesn't make any difference, to a degree they are the same. They can help their people a lot.
Q: Principals operate in a constantly tense environment, what kind of things Matt did you do to maintain your sanity?
A: Well, first of all my wife is a great person. When I went home I tried not to take school home with me which is almost impossible. Particularly at the secondary school level, you know that there are so many activities going on constantly there are always problems coming up and the phone never ceases to stop ringing. But she kept her perspective about the thing and I know many times many persons and many ladies would have thrown up their hands and given up but being a teacher herself I think she understood to a degree what I was going through and always was very supportive I think that's the first thing. Second thing I think you need to have some interests outside the school that have absolutely nothing to do with teaching. And maybe in some instances not to much involved with people. Because you see them all day long and you need to get away from them and I played golf. I didn't play much until I retired but golf is an outlet for me. I could get out on the golf course away from people and I could relax three or four hours perhaps. Clear my mind of all the problems that you have. But I think everybody needs something like that, whether it be another area of work, church or you want to work in the public or whatever, there is a completely different kind of environment you work in during the day, refresh yourself.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did given the reasons and mental process you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down.
A: Well, I always thought when my younger daughter graduated from high school if I could do it financially and I was ready mentally I would retire and I did. I had my 35 years of experience which gave me full retirement and I think what happened to me personally maybe it doesn't with others, and I found that for the first time it was hard for me to get up and go to work. It used to be and most of the years that I worked in public education, I almost couldn't wait to get over to the building to get started because it was different and persons are all wrapped up in these kinds of things and I've always liked my work. And it wasn't that I didn't like it the last year, it was that it wasn't as much fun as it use to be. And so I was ready and fortunately I was able to financially to do it and I was ready for it. I think that's the big decision you just have to be able to make up your mind and walk away from it.
Q: About extra time Matt, I know talking with administrators often there seems to be a real large realm in terms of time people putting in Saturdays and Sundays and all kinds of extra time. How did you manage time? Did you put in excessive hours on it now that you look back on it?
A: You mean when I was working? Well, you know what it's like here? When I came to Mercer High School we had a tremendous basketball program. In fact our athletic program was exceptional at that time in fact we won, we were in the state championship game, five of the six years, in my first years as high school principal and we won the state championship twice and that is not very conducive to running an educational program and it spilled over into the weekends, because we played on Saturdays and we were travelling. The same occurred pretty much throughout, I was the only administrator in the building at that time and we had close to a thousand students, if I remember, and so every activity that we had I always felt a personal obligation to get to one of them once in awhile. So we had a play on Saturday, I came, if we had a music concert on Saturday, I came. Not so much to supervise, simply to let the students and the teachers who were working at that particular program know that I was interested and I'm sure they appreciated that also. So your weekends are really not your own, in fact none of your time is your own because they feel free to call you at anytime and that's the reason it should be.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on pro's and con's of administrative service and any advise you wish to pass along to today's principals.
A: Well I think first of all they better be sure that absolutely that they want to do it. Because its a lonely field. You find when you become a principal, and I'm sure you have experienced this, that you don't have the freedom to move in the community or with the people you knew before, particularly if you move up within the system. If you come in from the outside its different. I think you make new friends and you start from scratch. A lot of the people you use to be able to associate with as friends because you taught with them. Or suddenly you can't do that because you move in a different level and stratosphere. Consequently you find yourself becoming more and more isolated. That's the way it happened to me personally and maybe someone else it might be different. But you have to broaden your field of friends by more people that have the same interests you do and generally you fall back on, if you are a high school principal you make friends with other principals in the county or in your different work groups and you move either into the community, the churches and those kinds of things. But I think its important to realize that that's going to happen to you and you have to make plans and learn to accept that. Not that familiarity necessarily breeds contempt, but your almost inadvertently forced into a kind of isolation by the very nature of the position itself. And I think as you go on into the superintendency it becomes even more so. Because you have less contact with teachers, less contact with pupils and you become encapsulated in a very small world of your own in the community.
Q: Looking back Matt would you do it all over again, are you pleased......
A: I never in all my life ever thought I wanted to do anything other than teach to begin with. Because I had some excellent teachers. One of the most inspirational persons that I've ever known was my high school coach who almost single handedly had worked with me to get me interested in the field of teaching and got me into Slippery Rock at an odd time when I came out of the service and followed my career and was always a source of advise if I needed it. I never knew anything else that I wanted to do. I wouldn't change a thing, not a thing.
Q: In spite of the efforts to be comprehensive here is there anything that I've left out or any other comments you'd like to share, that you think might be beneficial to future principals in the understanding of the job or maybe the sense of the importance of the job.
A: I don't think there is any question that leadership of the schools is the core of what we want our educational we have to have somebody to lead and I think the principal, superintendent, elementary principal, curriculum guide, regardless of what status of the administration. It's vitally important that we have more and better people. My major concern is the amount of time, encroachment of time, by outside agencies, under the public school system what its doing. We seem to be absorbing more and more of what were parental responsibilities, community responsibilities into the school grades. Consequently those fundamental things that we taught for so long and so well are being cheated constantly because we just don't have enough hours in the day to teach them. And I think that's going to get worse before it gets better. I think that's the secret why the private schools right now, probably to a degree, are starting to show better results perhaps as far as an academic part of our program because they don't tolerate outside interferences like the public schools are forced to do. I think that's a real challenge for administrators to manage the time that he has and to budget it properly, so that they collect the things that make a good educational system what it should be.
Q: Thank you very much Matt, I appreciate your time and your interest. It was a very fascinating conversation.
A: Good luck to you and to your education.
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