Interview with Robert E. Schreiner


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Q: Would you please tell me a little about your educational background?

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

A: I started at the University of Nebraska in 1946 right after I got out of high school. Classrooms were full of veterans, so I had the opportunity to get the G.I. Bill. I enlisted and spent three years in the 82nd airborne division where I spent my time as an instructor at parachute training school. Then I came back to the University of Nebraska to play football, had a double major (business administration and education), and then I was recalled back to activity duty. My wife and I had fallen in love with the slate of Colorado, so I finished my degree at the University of Colorado. However, I did not have a double major and I had to make a decision on which way to go. Thru the influence of my high school principal I entered education and graduated in 1955. I started my teaching career as an English teacher and a head football and track coach. I was known as the Barbarian, because you see there where very few football coaches teaching Shakespeare in high school. Even more unusual was that my other major was physical education. I had the opportunity to go back to the University of Colorado in l958 as an assistant football coach. So I continued my secondary major in English and got my Masters degree in school administration. I went back to teaching for a one year and had the opportunity to go to Pueblo as an assistant principal. I was assistant for one year and then I was made a Jr. High principal the following year. I have had numerous fellowships to Kansas State University and Stanford. I have about 60 hrs. above my masters degree. Sorry to say I finished all my work towards my doctorate, but never finish my dissertation. So I am classified as an A.B.D. (All But Dissertation). I would advise everyone to go that extra step and get it.

Q: How many years were you in education as a teacher and as a principal ?

A: I was a teacher for only five years and I was a principal for twenty- three years. Then I taught at the University of Colorado as a student supervisor for two years, for a total of thirty years.

Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?

A: In the fifties the principal had a lot of influence on the educational program of the school and a lot of contact with students. Also, almost every high school principal I knew was a coach. There were very few women and it just seem the natural way to go. Also, again my high school principal, who incidentally was a female, acted as my adviser and I would go back home and talk with her. She had a great deal of influence on my life.

Q: Do you feel like we have the same kind of contact with children now as we did in the fifties?

A: No, I don't think so. I think there are too many things going on right now. Administrators have become political animals, and I know that is open to debate. However, they seem to be running around putting out fires. This group wants a football coach hired or fired, or this group wants a basketball coach fired, or they want a new band director. Your constantly meeting groups to do those things or in committee meetings. Everything seems to run by committees now, which is fine to have people participate, but there has to be some leadership. When I first started I would spend about 80% of my time visiting classrooms, and getting to know every youngster by name. I tried to know something about them personally, and that was very rewarding to me. As you saw today, it's all coming back to me. My dentist is a former student, one of the fellows I work with in real estate is one of my former students, and the list goes on. That is the rewards of teaching--being close to youngsters. I think it is a primary importance! If you're there to make money, forget it. The money will come. The students are more important then committees, parent power groups or whatever. You just have to establish your priorities that the youngsters come first.

Q: Do you feel schools are too large today to get know all students?

A: No! If you get to two thousand, maybe. But they can get to know you. If your seen in their classroom and show interest in what there doing, they'll remember. You may not know Sam Smith, but Sam Smith will remember you being in his classroom. He will remind you of that in ten years. That is a good feeling.

Q: What were some educational issues during the time when you were a principal (ex. local, state, national, or social)?

A: I think the biggest issue was the social revolution of the middle to late 6O's and early 70's, which changed everything radically. I learned lessons from students! I remember a young man, I brought him in, because he had long hair and in those days you had to have your hair cut a certain way. Also, boys could have no facial hair and girls skirts had to be a certain length. I sent a girl home one time, because she had curlers in her hair. Anyway, this young man sat down and I was about to send him home because his hair was too long, and he said, "What is it about my hair Mr. Schreiner that upsets you7~ Well right then and there I had to take a long look at what I had learn in the past, and I had better change or get out of the scene. So I became a part of the social revolution. However, I retained enough of the old ways to make sure that every student got what I thought was the basic fundamentals. In Boulder, we had walk outs, bombings, change in dress, attendance policies were thrown out, students were excused after they had been suspended, and there was no dress code for students or teachers. They wanted to make classes more relevant so we had sports literature, frontier literature, and things like that which were fine if they were taken as an elective, but they were filling the course requirement. By doing so, we didn't find out that students had problems until they had to take one of the few required courses that were left like U.S. History. In U.S. History we find out that students had slide by taking these courses couldn't read! We found one young man that came up all the way through to his junior year and had severe dyslexia. So having worked with Head Start when it started in 1965, with preschool all the way up to high school children, I am a firm believer that we have to work with youngsters in the first three or four grades. If we don't identify problems at the lower grades, by the time they get up to high school many times your to late. They will have dropped out or many times are so for behind they can't catch up. I notice people that were in the social revolution are people in there forties, and they are now trying to get back to the basics they fought so hard against when they were in their late teens, early twenties.

Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?

A: There are two camps I found when we started a Participative Organizational Development program to involve teachers in decision making and curriculum construction, etc. My staff was divided equally down to the number. One group really enjoyed it, and they assume co-leadership and ownership. The other group said, "That is your job and we want you to be the leader." So there was that conflict that arose that was not expected. Whether that is true today, I don't know. I have been retired four years. I think it is a good thing.

Q: Which group did you prefer?

A: I prefer the group that helps make decisions, because they share ownership. When you share ownership in something you seem to work a little hard at something, and you take a little more pride in what your doing because you're truly part of it.

Q: What process did you use in the recruitment or selection of a teacher?

A: Initially there were no committees, actually no process. We would go to the personnel office and go through the resumes and narrow that to a dozen. Of the dozen you would invite about eight to interview. You would look at their personality, whether they were trying to con you, curriculum questions, their class work, how they would teach a class in the Civil War right off the top of their head, or how do they interest students in different topics. From all of that, you would have to try to place them in your certain situation with the type of youngsters you had and the staff you had. It was a monumental task, but very important! You had to make the decision. Then you had to turn into the personnel department a list of finalists and then they would screen them. They would narrow it to two or three and then you would select from the two or three.

Q: How did you evaluate teachers?

A: The main thing everybody would ask, "Why do you sit at the front of the room?" I wanted to see what the youngsters were doing. This made teachers very nervous, but normally an administrator will sneak into the back of the room and sit in the back chair and watch the teacher. You can watch the teacher all day, but you don't know what the youngsters are doing in front of you. So I would sit in the front and the youngsters were so accustom to me sitting there it wouldn't bother them. I would observe them and what they were doing, whether they were writing or getting down the important parts of the lecture. Also, I would see if the teacher would lecture all the time, whether they showed films all the time, or whether there was a mixture of things. I would stay in classrooms sometimes for full periods depending on whether I had a good feeling about the classroom. I would never leave earlier than twenty minutes on any occasion. When I was first evaluated, my first principal would listen over the intercom, because the control box was in his office. In my first three years of teaching I never had an administrator in my classroom. My second administrator would come into my classroom and stay for five minutes and leave. I personally wanted to see what was going on in the classrooms.

Q: Did you ever have to discipline or dismiss a teacher? What was the process you used?

A: Yes, I did on several occasions. One was very difficult, because it was a first year teacher. I spent a lot of time with her. We began our conversations about the middle of October. I told first year teachers that I would give them about the first four weeks of school to get accustomed and acquainted with their class before I would come in. I never came in for the first visit unless I was invited by teacher. So she invited me about the first of October and we began the process of improvement a step at a time. She did not seem to change. There was a genuine fear of students at that time.

Q: What was her weakness?

A: Her weakness was conveying the topic to the students in a way that the students understood and were interested. When these things are not there, you are going to have problems. It all involved around that I didn't think that she knew her subject matter enough, which in turn caused other problems. We had, before Christmas, at least nine or ten conferences in my office alone, which we reduced everything to writing. Just prior to Christmas, I told her unless these things were accomplished, then I would doubt if I would rehire her. Again, I had it signed so there would be no disagreements and told her if she would like to bring a fellow teacher with her for future evaluations and union representatives, she was more than welcome. She declined to do so! We continued this process through the middle of March, and in the middle of March I told her I would not renew her contract, for these reasons, and they were all well documented. At that time she brought in the Boulder Valley Education Association. It was very difficult, not for me, but for her. No one likes to be dismissed from a job. It was very emotional. She tried teaching for another school district and the same thing happened. So, she got out of teaching. Most teachers will resign when you begin the process.

Q: How do you feel about tenure?

A: I don't think it makes much difference whether you have tenure or non tenure. If you have a bad teacher, documentation, and you have really gone in and tried to help that individual, I don't think tenure makes any difference. As for as I am concern when you hire a teacher they are on tenure and deserve the same process as a tenure teacher. Tenure is an excuse for people to say, "I can't do that. They are on tenure, so why bother"

Q: Do you feel it is important for the security of the teacher?

A: No! I think if a teacher is a good teacher they know it and that is there security. I do think there should be a strong teacher evaluation process which is a principal requirement. I don't think since the middle 70's principals spend enough time in the classrooms. From listening to teachers that are still teaching, some won't see a principal for three years, because it is not there turn! I think that is a lot of hog wash! I think a principal should be in every classroom and if a teacher is going to be evaluated, maybe you'll spend more time or more visits in that particular classroom.

Q: Do you feel the reason administrators cannot get in to the classroom is because of committee responsibilities?

A: Among other things, principals get buried in there own self indulgent paper work that can be done at other times. You can do that paper work after school is out, or in the morning before school begins. It is the old time management problem. You have to manage your time well and it can be done.

Q: How do you feel about personal compensation?

A: It is difficult to say! You get what you pay for! If you're a top notch principal and you are getting 35,000 dollars a year, and a neighboring school district wants to give you 45,000 dollars a year, you're going to move. I think you have to be competitive, but you also have to be realistic. I cannot see paying a superintendent 95,000 dollars a year just because he is a political figure and he can manipulate the public. I think the superintendent should be in the schools too. I think the superintendent should be instructional leader, you can hire a business manager to handle all those other minute details. I really think the superintendent should take part and be visible.

Q: How do you feel about extra pay for extra duty?

A: Starting as I did, way back then, all things were just expected of you other than coaching or band instructor or whatever. It was part of the job when you came in and I can't see why it can't stay the same. I think it is just part of being with the students.

Q: What were you happiest to be leaving at retirement and what were you most reluctant to leave?

A: Well the reluctance was leaving the kids. I was really attached to the youngsters. I think the happiest part of leaving involved two things. First was time with my family. When I was a high school principal the students at school were my family. I was there for plays, sports, intramurals, etc. I would get there at 6:45 in the morning and not get home until 11:00 at night. School was my home! I had three sons go through the school system and my high school. That was the toughest part (the time I missed with my family). I think the thing that aggravated me more than anything was the so called little power groups that wanted this coach fired, or this band director fired, or this person fired, because they didn't think junior was going to be an All American. That would irritate me to know end! An example of this was when we had a coach that was successful when he combined Louisville and Lafayette, and in his second season he went 0-18. Here came a group that said they represented two hundred people and they wanted him fired right now. If I didn't fire him, they were going to see that I got fired. Well, I didn't fold and this coach missed winning the state championship the following year by one point. So patience, not losing my temper, not telling them to go to hell, not firing a coach because somebody demanded it, allowed a lot of youngsters to benefit, the coach to benefit, and the school was stronger because of it. But I got tired fighting those type of things. Now that I am retired, I'll have an open house and a person will come up and say, "Hi Mr. Schreiner! I am one of your kids!" That makes you feel great!

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