Interview with Bill Stone


I am speaking with Mr. Bill Stone in the Tazewell County Board Office on his experiences as a secondary school principal.

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Q: Mr. Stone would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, birthplace, elementary and secondary education, family characteristics?

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

A: Darrin I was born in Eastern Kentucky in the County of Martin in a little small village called Roark Field in 1935. My parents moved to West Virginia in McDowell County, West Virginia and I started elementary school at the Caretta Elementary School and went to Coalwood Junior High School and graduated from Big Creek High School in War in 1952. I came from a family of 12, 9 boys and 3 girls and I think that being from a big family you learn a lot of things that you do not learn from textbooks or if you are from a family that has 1 or 2 children. I think that has been beneficial to me in my career.

Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher and principal?

A: Well I entered. I was working for a United States Steel in the coal mines as a repairman helper in 1956 and the personnel director there was a friend of my brother and I was talking to him and he said you are going to go to college aren't you? And I said, "Yes sir!" Of course at that time I had no idea that I was going to go to college. I thought I told a little false lie, a little lie. So before I knew it he wanted me to be a mining engineer and so I went to West Virginia University for 2 years. Of course in high school I loafed a little bit I wasn't too much motivated. I went into the United States Navy and spent almost 4 years there and then I got this job and he kept asking me are you going to college and I said yes sir. So he allowed me one summer to work 8 hours and go to school for 3 hours so I had about 12 hour days basically. In order to upgrade some of my math background so I entered West Virginia University I went for 2 years and I was doing pretty well in the field of engineering but I had gotten married, had a child and I didn't have much fun so I decided that I would switch over to education in the fields of mathematics and science. So I received a degree in math, 7-12, chemistry and physics as two of my endorsements. I applied for a job in McDowell County and received that and I went to a school that had about 450 students grades 7, 8 and 9. That was in 1960 after I had graduated. I was lucky to get through in 4 years because I had been out of education since I had been in the service but evidently I made it so I got a job and this principal was probably looked upon as being a very strict disciplinarian, a very difficult person and one that you had to keep your p's and q's in order if you were gonna work there. So with a little hesitation I took this job and I had to move back to McDowell County, I was living in Virginia because at that time I didn't own a vehicle. I know that sounds strange to some people now who when they were teenagers they had corvettes and cars but at that time you know you had to make it on your own. You relied on your family for help. So after two years, after the second year the principal and I got on pretty well he tried to get me into administration field and I sort of hesitated for a while and basically I said ok. I thought about it and he at that time he was making he had been a principal for about 30 years he was making about $6000.00 a year. I said boy that's a lot of money. So I set out and ventured to take some courses and from a university close by home. Entered the university the next year and I was fortunate enough to get into internship program for secondary school principals through a partnership with West Virginia University and Concord College in Athens, West Virginia. The gentleman at Concord College more or less kept check on me and I had to do a lot of writing and so forth about the principalship and so I went on and he kind of made me a part time assistant principal at this middle school that was really a junior high school grades 7, 8 and 9. And I recall that at the end of the year he would give me a $100.00 pay for being that assistant principal. A couple one year we had a little promotion exercise there which was attended by most of the community and some kids wore caps and gowns. It wasn't it was just a promotion exercise you don't graduate from a junior high school. There is only one couple of graduations and that's in high school and college. You don't graduate from kindergarten like a lot of people say but you know that's beside the point. So I stayed there for 8 years and then I had an offer from State Farm Insurance Company and I went into the business as an adjuster and I was out for 1 year and this gentleman who I had some working with at this high school, a nearby high school, kept calling me and wanting me to be his assistant principal. Well I was reluctant to do that however, he kept telling me that you went to school to be an educator that's where you need to be not out checking on the car wrecks and things like that. So he called me one Saturday night and I said I'll be down Monday to talk to you. Well he had a good friend of mine, who was in that county, was an assistant superintendent. He'd always been nice to me when I had been working at the junior high school and they had a contract for me. Well I signed the contract reluctantly and of course I was making a lot less money than the job I had but I've never regretted it because you know I've gotten to meet so many teachers and students and I have some great friends from my years in education. And that's how that I really got into the principalship. I was assistant principal there for 3 years and then there was a principalship opening in and I lived in Virginia when I had this job in West Virginia and most of the time they wanted you to live in the community but they allowed me to be they hired me when I was living in Virginia. I had moved which was only about 26 miles away but the terrain was kind of rough. It's kind of a rough ride so this job opening this gentleman wanted me to apply and I applied and I really was not didn't care about leaving where I was at the present time. So later on in the school year about April they called me and wanted to give me that job so I accepted. And that's how I really got into being in education and how I got to be an assistant principal and how I got to be a principal. I guess that.

Q: Would you describe Mr. Stone, your personal philosophy of education and how it evolved and how it evolved over the years?

A: Well when I began you know I was real excited about being able to teach. Of course I've taught 7 periods of science my first year. There were no planning periods and I had anywhere from 30 to 35 students in each class. Now that is mind boggling to some of the numbers now that teachers can teach and you know and so forth. But basically I was and I taught in a room which was not conducive to teaching science because there was no lab. So most of it was lecture you know and question and answer and lecture. But I always thought that education should be enjoyable. Always thought that a little laughter is not necessarily disruption. I always thought that you needed to treat youngsters with importance that I don't know that I've ever seen a youngster that I would say that they're not worth a damn because I think that's degrading and I have always attempted to be an ally to the students when I was a teacher, assistant principal or principal because youngsters growing up have a lot of problems that we are not aware of and a lot of home situations were not aware of and sometimes a little discretion of the principal or assistant principal and you know will give the kids some type of motivation and I think that my philosophy has always been the school is for students. And my philosophy always has been that people that don't like kids should not be near a school much less be teachers and of course I've been associated with some of those people. And at one time it was easy to remove a teacher without any repercussions you know if you didn't like the teacher they weren't doing a good job it was simple to remove them. But nowadays with all the, I guess you might say the teacher's associations, I'm not saying that's bad I'm just saying that we protect the sorry people. We do not do things for the good teachers we protect the sorry people at times and everybody in the community knows who they are, every student knows who they are, every teacher in the building knows who they are yet sometimes our hands are tied because of the litigation processes you know. But I think that education should be open to everyone. I that education should be enjoyable and I think that if you don't like kids you certainly shouldn't accept a role in the field of education.

Q: Thank you. What experiences and events in your personal life influenced your ?????? and philosophy

A: Well I worked I was assistant principal or part-time assistant under this gentleman in the middle school that really gave me my basis for my philosophy that I had developed. And he always made an effort rather to assist me if I made an error he would tell me. And then the second principal that I worked for was sort of a legend I guess you might say and he was very articulate, very straight forward, matter-of-fact sometimes he could be too straight forward but taking not only the good things that they shared with me but eliminate some of the things that I've thought that you shouldn't do but that they had done of course you know I always supported whatever the principal said and I think that you need to do that but you might need to make yourself heard. But I always supported them but it not only learn what to do but what not to do which is important and that's one of the most important things you can do today.

Q: Right, thank you. There are those who argue that more than not the central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views of this issue?

A: Well I don't know who's doing the arguing but central office people really shouldn't set policies. Policies are set by the school board. That's the school board's sole job you might say is to set policy. I think that some people in the central office need to be support people for those in the school system. Rather than the central office within that rim and also everyone out in the schools. I don't think that the I think that there is a misconception about central office, of course now I was out there and I have to admit this I always took the credit for it.

Q: Thank you Mr. Stone. If you were advising a person who was considering an administrative job what would that advice be?

A: I think that I would say that you need to be compassionate, you need to have a good home life, you need to understand that you are gonna be away from home in this day and age because of the duties that an administrator has are never ending now because of the different activities. The athletics is mind boggling and then you have all the Virginia High School League activities like forensics, debate and so forth. We have all the different proms, graduation. I mean there are so many things that you are going to have to have an understanding mate because it might cause you some problems. But I think that if that person is interested in helping some kids helping students and has a sincere interest in students what they might achieve or what they might be able to do when they get out of school. And be a good listener, you must be a good listener. Then maybe they might want to try to go into administration. I think that you have to have a good understanding of you know the subject matter areas but most of all you got to be a people person. If you can't get along with people I'd say stay where you are.

Q: Thank you. There are those who argue that a principal should be an instructional leader and those that suggest, realistically speaking that this person must be above all a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?

A: Well it is true you must be a good manager. You have to manage your time. I agree that they must be an instructional leader. I don't think that you can delegate a lot of things to the assistant principal. I think that you have to work together. I think that both the principal and the assistant principal should be involved in the discipline. I spent 15 years as a high school principal and I would say that along with the instructional leadership I probably took care of anywhere from 80 to 90 % of the discipline also because I want the youngsters to know the head man makes a lot of decisions. I know that in a lot of schools the principal is tied up with a lot of things but you need to know the students. You need to get out in the halls. You need to speak to the students. You need to learn their names. You need to be at different places at different times. And I think that the principal's role doesn't have a singular role. I think the principal has to do what's necessary to make the school function properly.

Q: Thank you. What is your view, what, excuse me, in your view should be the role of the assistant principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel.

A: Well I think the assistant principal, and I'm not one to write books or say things but sometimes anybody can write anything down that doesn't mean necessarily that it takes place. I believe that as the assistant principal you should have a good working relationship with whomever that might be or if there is more than one with two or three or what have you. I think that they should be involved in not only discipline but they ought to be involved with instruction. They ought to be involved in plant management. They ought to be involved in community information. I think the assistant principal should be a part of the principal. Should be the arm of the principal or the leg or what have you. And I think that if you don't have a good working relationship with the assistant principal then neither one of you are going to be happy.

Q: Thank you. As you view it what characteristics are associated with the most successful schools and features characterize less successful schools?

A: I think that the most successful characteristic, I mean characteristics of a successful schools, excuse me, is that students have to be first. You've got to know the students. The teachers have to know the students. The teachers have to be fair. You must have a good curriculum. You must have a good schedule and that schedule has to be meet time wise. The youngsters have to realize that when the bell rings they need to be where they are supposed to be. Teachers are should actually assist in those students being where they are supposed to be. And the principal, assistant principal or vice principal and their principal ought to be there seeing that they are where they are supposed to be and the teachers should be in their room and students should be ready to go. But I think that you got to have a school where you have discipline and I think that the discipline has not be it has to be positive it can't be negative. And I think the students must have pride in that school. And I think that that community must have pride in that school. And I think that's the characteristics of an really effective school.

Q: Thank you. Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there are three areas of administration, of administration that could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of education or administration what would they be?

A: Well, a principal only has so much time. I think that the time allotment to do a lot of things like observing personnel, and like going through all the instructional processes. I think that like I was saying before I think the duties of the principal and the vice-principal or assistant principal should almost be commensurate. The principal has the last say of course or the principal is in charge of the school but the assistant principal has to be made like they are also in charge of that school and the decisions that they make should be commensurate to what the principal should make. I think that to make a school efficient you must have personnel and they must feel that they belong. I think that any administrator that has any success must recognize that the bus driver, the custodian, the cooks, the secretary, teachers and everyone in that school is treated as if they were important. I feel that a lot of schools are less efficient and less effective because that we have administrators that think more of themselves than they do of the kids and you've got to let that you've got to take that stuffing out of that shirt every now and then you've got to be down to earth to the kids and kids like people that are friendly. You must treat people with worth and I think that if you do that I'll think that you'll be successful.

Q: Thank you. Would you describe some of the pressures you've faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them? Describe your biggest headaches or concerns on the job. Describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make.

A: Well, there's pressure in any job but being the head of a school there's a great deal of pressure put upon the principal and the assistant principal and all of the teachers. Some of the biggest headaches that I had was trying to get people, excuse me, get teachers to be concerned about kids from all categories of life, all educational levels, and try to treat them all the same. Now it's a farce to say that teachers treat everybody the same. A good teacher tries to treat everyone the same. And I think sometimes you know explaining to people that everybody has worth. I think that I think of a tough decision to make or to try to get across to some teachers is not a decision but maybe a work process or something is to get people to understand that you must deal with everyone that you must deal with all races, all sizes you must deal with all educational levels in that school and its difficult for some teachers to do. Some teachers can not teach except the gifted. They can not teach those students who are low level students. But some of the toughest decisions I have had to make is to evaluate teachers and let them go after trying to you know get them to change their methods and change the way they taught and change the way they treated kids. But hey, if when you are in charge sometimes you have to make people unhappy and I never did cater to pretty people and that means people that wants to get have favors. Especially those, you know that, think that they can walk into a school and tell everybody what to do because they are what you might call themselves, themselves would call themselves the upper echelons of society. I don't cater to those people. Never have never will. That's been my, I think it's been my key to success as a principal because most of the kids that I have provided corporal punishment always tell me well at least you treated us fair. And that is if you can hear that then I can't think of anything else better as a principal.

Q: You are exactly right. Thank you Mr. Stone you have answered both questions. You have also answered the question could you tell us the key to your success as a principal. Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things do you to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?

A: Well, there's a question of whether or not I've been sane. However, tense conditions, no one likes tense conditions, and to be in a tense situation but you know I've always allowed people to state what they think and I've always said something positive about what they think even though it might be a little negative I can say something positive to it and let them know that we're doing something for the common good of that individual or at the individual's child or for the benefit of the school. And you know I've never, I've never had too many problems with people threaten me and I've always tried to be kind and I've always tried to understand that because one of the reasons I can understand that is because I have children. And I know that a parent when they come into that office if their child is in a problem or been accused of something unjust and there's been times things have been unjust. But I know that as a parent they're going to be upset because I got upset or I was upset when my youngsters were in trouble or accused of things. So you got to understand that part of the problem you're not going to solve it. And I think that that takes the tenseness off. I've had people come into the office threaten to whip me and walk out not in a threatening manner. They were satisfied with the outcome because they don't know the whole problem. They just hear it from the youngster but for the most part when I suspend a youngster I talk to that youngster I never would suspend a youngster unless I sat him or her down and talked to them. Cause the principal's can call and say something and the kids will come in and many, many times and say, yes mom or yes dad I did do that. So you know it's preventive discipline or preventive maintenance in discipline and that will release a lot of that tension in the process of being a principal.

Q: Thank you. Please discuss the way in which you learned to lead. That is what procedures or experiences you were involved in that contributed to your effectiveness and the contribution that a professional graduate education made to your ????

A: Well I believe that basically you learn to lead in a if you're if you grow up in a large family. I was involved in the military with having a leadership role over people that were higher grade than I and when I began my pursuit of a masters degree in education I took a lot of professional graduate courses in leadership and we had some time to do some projects where we would be evaluated by the professors. And like I said I did sort of an intern type program. I took 12 hours there and worked with a professor from a nearby college as an adjunct person for WVU. I think that you have to watch people and watch how they operate other leadership roles or how they act out their leadership roles. And like I say sometimes it's not only the good things that you copy but the bad things that you try to omit from what you do.

Q: Thank you. It has been said good leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by staging televersions of their successes no matter how small or incidental. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal and to what extent did it improve your morale and organizational effectiveness? Please discuss the way in which you were chosen for your first administrative role as well as any such school assignments.

A: Well I believe that any time that someone does a teacher does something worth noting that it should be noted by the principal. And the principal should try to booster you know their morale by always saying positive things. You can talk to a teacher, you can bring a teacher in and talk to a teacher and you can say some things that are not proper or you can say some things that are not in order I guess. But before you end your conversation you can say something that is positive to them even though you are bringing them in and trying to get them to change the way in which they are teaching or what they are doing or the way in which they are treating kids or the way that they don't know how to do the discipline. But you can always add something positive to that and not make it a strict just a punishment type thing to the teacher. A negative type approach. And I think that they will say well at least he said so and so about me. I was chosen for my first administrative role and I had taught and I would do a little extra work and I was always in the hall and was trying to get the kids to behave and we had rather good discipline back then. And I guess one of the principals out I was more or less put in that role. I didn't grasp it but I was more or less put in that role by some of the other teachers even though I was a young teacher and that's basically how I got my first administrative assignment. And I guess I hope that the ability that I showed there got the other one that I really didn't want at the beginning as assistant principal. And I think that maybe because I had been assistant principal at a pretty good high school pretty large high school that I got the job that when I first began in the County of Tazewell.

Q: Thank you. Some findings recommend that principals adjust their leadership styles to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about that idea and to what extent did you practice this individualized leadership?

A: Well basically I think that you can have school wide leadership and use styles for that and I also think that you must also involve individuals and that you need to talk to them and I think that your leadership there has to be an off shoot from what you do school wide. I think that I always liked to talk to people one on one whether or not I meet them in a class or I eat lunch with them or what have you. And I really think that basically that you have to mix with teachers during the school day. You have to be where they are. You have to listen to their ideas. Now you are not always going to be liked but a person that doesn't want to be liked has a problem. Now sometimes we have to do things that are unpleasant, like you were talking a few minutes ago about being tense, but that any person that doesn't want to be liked needs to look in a mirror because that's what life is all about. You can't be sad all the time you must be a little happy but I think that you've got to work one on one with your personnel in order to get them to be a good leader themselves.

Q: Thank you. Some principals hold the view that teachers and other staff members are in general well-motivated and reliable self starters. Other principals feel that they need to closely monitor the activities of their employees to assure that they are performing to standard. What are some of the approaches that you customarily used during your career as principal?

A: Well, I think that there are some teachers basically after you get to know how they teach and what they do I think that there are some teachers that you could probably not have to go into their room even though you have to because they are motivated and they are good teachers, they are structured, they do have proper plans, they do have get involved with the students, they do produce good students, the students come back and talk to them whereas there are others that you have to give a little more notice to and you have to, I guess you might say help them more but I really believe that a good supervisor, a good leader will look at everybody as an individual even though the whole school has to have proper leadership. But you have to do more for some than others and that's just the way people are. None of us have the same amount of intelligence. Some of us are good at some things and others are good at something else but you must supervise according to the needs of the person on your staff.

Q: Thank you sir. One model of leadership describes people either as assertive, supportive or contemplative. Would you please characterize yourself and give your reasons for this assignment?

A: Well, I think that I've been all three at times and there are sometimes that you have to be assertive, supportive or contemplative. However, I think that I tried to be a supportive leader and I really believe that I always would support the person until proven wrong. Of course you've got to support your personnel and then if they are incorrect you've got to discuss that with them at a different time but I would put my model of leadership as being a supportive type of principal to the students, to the community and to the teachers.

Q: Thank you. Since you now have had time to reflect on your career I wonder if you would share with us what you considered to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.

A: Well, basically I know the curriculum probably not as well as some people but I do know the curriculum. I've been involved in a lot of teaching. I think that my strength as an administrator as I reflect back is the ability to communicate with students of all levels. Those who would might think, that are not quite up to par with their actions or with their deportment in school. I've had the ability to get along I think with most students and I have administered corporal punishment in the past to students and I've had them to come back and tell me that you know that it might have done them some good. But corporal punishment did give students some options rather than to be suspended. I just hated to suspend a student and because they are going to missing something and some students liked that and wanted to be suspended and be out of school. But I've always tried to talk to a youngster that didn't seem to have any motivation, didn't want to be motivated, and tried to say what can I help you, how can I help you? And I never would and I would test people that would say and talk about kids and say that they were not worth a damn. That bothers me because we are not in the field to do that we are in the field of education to help people not put them down.

Q: What would you say that your weaknesses are?

A: My weakness? I probably have a great number of weaknesses but I feel that I don't know how the teachers would really say my weaknesses were but I probably tried to do too much as a principal I never stopped and I probably did not delegate enough. That would be one of my biggest weaknesses but I always thought that if I was going to be responsible for something I wanted to do it.

Q: Thank you. Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice that you would wish to pass along to today's principals?

A: Well there are so many pros of the administrative service you know you get to work with a lot of fine young people. You get to see them grow. You get to see them go on to college and be successful. I think that today's principals may be because of the lack of time they do not associate enough during the day with the students. I probably, I probably in the 15 years might have eaten 15 days out of the cafeteria. I always ate in the cafeteria because they are going to eat the food because if they are going to eat the food they were going to see me eat the food also. If you get time to just walk around just say something to the students you know and ask them how they are doing and all that and they like the interaction especially with the principal and the assistant principal to be around and just say something to them without in a confrontational type of state which is most of the time the way we talk to kids they come into the office it's confrontational. And I think that really I think that principals need to interact with the students if they want to know what is going on in the school they had better do that and I've always been able to if something happens you know I would know about it in about 25 to 30 minutes because some student would come and tell me because they wanted to see that the school would be run safely and what have you. You can not get them to interact with you if you don't interact with them and students are a lot smarter than you give them credit for and a lot of youngsters are a lot more mature today than they were back years ago and I think that most people want the right thing to be done at all times around the school. It's a job to try to do the right thing and not show partiality to students but I think that we need to be more kind to be more understanding of those who have any that's probably in the two lower quartiles. Lift them up and try to say something to someone that needs some guidance that they don't get at home I think that's what we are lacking in most of all. We usually, like I say, I hope principals don't cater to the ones whose parents are professional people. I think that they need to cater, they have pretty good guidance for the most part at home, but we need to help those that don't have two parents at home, we need to help those that are not as well off or wealthy as others you know what I am saying.

Q: Thank you sir. Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questions there is probably something that I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have?

A: Well, I don't know of anything else that you should ask me but I want to culminate this by saying that I spent 15 years as a head principal and I never had the first delegation at the school board, I never had the first student in front of the school board. I thought that was my responsibility to take care of those problems. And I got one call from the superintendent and he was supposed to come and see me and that's been about 20 years ago and he hasn't spoken to me about the problem yet so I think it worked out alright but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think that I've been rather successful. Maybe more successful in my mind than in other peoples minds but I've had a real good feeling about education. I really enjoyed it. I'm gonna retire soon. But I have been at several class reunions. I have had one dedicated to me. I have had one where I was at a class of 4 classes and I was the only one that they invited and I had one where the students give me a plaque about being fair and helpful and I got another one where I was the singular person invited and a lot of times I did most of the discipline so it's not you know what your say but how you say it and you must say things positive to students and parents and community people. Yet you must follow a certain set of rules that make everything work and there's got to be a certain amount of organization that I guess that you have to follow but the main thing is if you like kids you might be successful. If you don't like kids you will be a failure. Nothing is achieved. Nothing can be achieved without effort except failure. I think that one of the things that really helped me in my educational endeavors was that I had both of my daughters that I graduated from high school and both my sons-in laws graduate from the same high school so I had the privilege of graduating both my daughters and both my sons-in-laws from the same high school. I did not my son I moved to another school before he graduated but if you have your children you know you become a little more sensitive to the needs of youngsters and I think that helps you understand the everyday problems of the youngsters. But education is not just about making a living as someone said it's about making a life. Both of my daughters are teachers and both my sons-in-laws have jobs that I am very proud of their accomplishments. Thank you Mr. Martin.

Q: Thank you Mr. Stone.

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