Interview with Andrew H. Williams


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Q: Tell me about your professional background.

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

A: I've been in the business of education as an instructor since September 1949. Prior to that 1 had training at North Carolina Central University at Durham, N.C.,with a major in Health and Physical Education and received a masters degree in Health and Physical Education. 1 received another masters in Administra tion. After receiving the last masters in Education, I beqan work at P. W. Moore High School in Elizabeth City in September 1949. I was employed as a football coach and later served as the assistant principal. My coaching career expands for twelve years and from that point on I entered administration in 1960.

Q: Why did you decide to be a principal?

A: First of all I must say that I enjoyed teaching tremendously. However, one should consider financial matters of one's profession, and this is one reason I went into administration; having a family to support and all financial matters were an encourage ment.

Q: What was your school's philosophy?

A: When you say schools philosophy 1 have to give you an overall picture because I served as an assistant principal at the high school level. 1 served on the elementary school level as a principal. 1 returned to the high school level as an associate principal and 1 retired as a principal of an elementary school. So my philosophy really stands for all grade levels, including teaching evening courses at Elizabeth City State University. My basic philosophy is to develop students to their fullest; hopeful that their contribution will make a desirable adult. An adult that will be a worthwhile citizen to his city, state, county, etc.

Q: How did you creat a climate for learning?

A: Beyond what background 1 was trained for, plus the experience that 1 had as a classroom teacher, 1 found the utilization of the talents of other professionals was more or less a way of life for me to improve my education and advancement.

Q: What leadership techniques did you use as a principal?

A: Well the first is to be a good listener and observer. Being an observer you learn to utilize the faculty members in those in- stances where you have a variety of people on your staff, and you may have as many different personalities, of course, but you learn to utilize these talents of the individualities. Hopefully you will come up with a plus factor in the overall program.

Q: What role did you play in public and community relations?

A: As a public communications person, I appeared in community programs. 1 served as a speaker for various activities in the community. 1 was also a member of the human relations council of the community in which 1 live. 1 utilized the churches, private clubs, and any other means of communication that 1 could relate to school activities to the community, plus the fact that you never forget your janitorial personnel in dealing with the community. It will prove to be your most vital communicator.

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

A: In my judgement, 1 think teachers expect fairness to begin with. They expect to be told when they are partially on the negative side of the program. They expect to be praised for their well being and contribution to the school. And most of all they appreciate the fact that they have someone to communicate with, without fear of retaliation, whether it be positive or negative matters.

Q: How did you go about evaluating teachers?

A: Through their contribution to their students, loyalty to the school, their general conduct as far as staff members are con- cerned, and their willingness to improve. As you know we have different types of teachers and we try to adjust to each type if possible. We have the so called lazy teacher. That's the teacher who's only looking for the check, more or less, and who's possibly on the eve of retirement. We have the so called lonely teacher, who's Mr. & Mrs. Right all the time, and you have the Veteran teacher. That's the teacher that tends to give emphasis to the well being of the school, who's always willing to share his or her experience with the younger people, or others on the staff for the betterment of the school staff.

Q: What technuques did you use to make all of these teachers feel important?

A: Such variables and techniques will depend upon the person that you are involved with. I'm not for sure that 1 can give you a specific technique for an overall group, but certainly I used the communication factor, one-on-one, group participation, and other techniques that this interview would possibly go too far if I begin to enumerate them.

Q: What is your philosophy of education?

A: My philosophy of education is the fact that we're in a society that you take a child from his or her parents at age five or maybe six; keep that child in a system for twelve years and return this individual to society as a desirable citizen.

Q: What is your philosophy of teaching?

A: Be prepared to recognize your students as individuals, and demand respect. Of course that is promoted by showing and giving respect yourself. And involve yourself in the community affairs in the area of which you practice your profession.

Q: What is your personal leadership philosophy?

A: Again fairness. Be fair and be specific. Expect the best out of everyone that they can possibly deliver. Give praise when praise is due. Criticize those that tend to vary from their philosophy of the principals office and be willing to sacrifice your position when it is warranted.

Q: What does it take to be an effective principal?

A: Toughness. Again we can't get away from fairness. Know how to deal with individuals, and find out from your own self such things as: Do you carry yourself in the position that people will like you? Do people like to be around you? Do people tell you what their desires and problems are? And several others I could mention, but due to the length of the interview 1 will cut short on some of the activities I would like to mention here.

Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?

A: Parental pressures sometimes. Pressure of keeping morale very high, and the ability to judge decisions. There's also pressure when dealing with various groups within the community, that's negative and positive groups as most administrations v#ill have groups that tend to be hegative and groups that are positive as far as the school activities. But you learn to adjust to groups.

Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?

A: It's very hard to discuss this matter because the greatest thing that will prepare you for a successful career as a principal is experience, and you can only pick that up along the way. 1 wish 1 could tell you that you can get it out of a book, but that is impossible. In my judgement, you must have experience.

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: 1 handled teacher grievances both individually and collectively. Sometimes I would make a speech as I labeled one of my speeches "I'm the boss." And there are times when you must desert the office, hopefully not to embarrass anyone but to let it be known that grievances are well in the right place; as grievances are such a factor. If the grievances are such a nature that it's going to be a negative factor on the school then the principal must react to this and be positive to this.

Q: Did you ever fir a teacher?

A: I never fired a teacher. 1 have transferred two teachers during my career, and this is because of conflict within the faculty group, and had it been a matter of a lack of ability or a lack of work then this would be done without hesitation.

Q: Would you like to elaborate some more concerning the transfer of the teacher?

A: Yes, as 1 said after trying unsuccessfully to work the problem out, 1 thought it was necessary to transfer both teachers to another segment of our school system. 1 would not like to go into details.

Q: How do you feel that we can improve education?

A: With the improvement in education in general over the years, especially with our parents becoming more educated, this seems to rub off on the children and there's a greater cooperation with the teacher, parent, principal, school board, and all others. This will improve our education system in my judgement.

Q: How do feel we can improve the teachers?

A: Improve scholastic training from grades Kindergarten through college. Hopefully, those who are interested in the teaching profession will start early to develop the skills and talents that will necessitate their teaching.

Q: What major issues did you handle as a principal --such as the civil rights issue and busing?

A: As an elementary school principal, 1 hired the first non-black teacher in the system. 1 was fortunate to have a person who was well adjusted to all matters concerning race, etc. And later 1 was involved in consolidation of senior high schools; a consolidation which merged three high schools, two predominantly white high schools, and one predominantly black high school. Working in this program we found certain details that we think was a successful merger. First of all, we organized the juniors of the three high schools into one unit, prior to the opening of the high school. We left all colors, all trophies, all nicknames, etc. to each of the former high schools. We made it clear to the community that all indivi duals of school ages, especially those sixteen or less, if they were interested in education, they were welcome at the high school. If they were there for any other purpose, then they would have to go elsewhere. And we were able to get the students to go along with this philosophy. Hopefully, we have proved to be a success.

Q: What procedures should be used for a person before he/she is selected to become a principal?

A: Certainly classroom experience and the ability to listen and work problems. I suppose I'm a little prejudice in this statement I'm going to make. I think the percentage of prin cipals were 75% being former coaches. Now that is debatable, but there is a very high percentage of principals who were former athletic directors. I believe this is because of the organizational factors that one must get in the next stage of his or her career. How do you handle assistant principals? A: I handle assistant principals to the degree of what the needs of the school was. There was no such pattern. 1 served as an assistant principal on two occasions during my career. So 1 had some experience. 1 was lucky, for several years, to have assistant principals. Their careers were geared to being principals, and we were able to promote these people in the system. 1 utilized them to their fullest, just as if they were principals.

Q: As a principal. what was your biggest concern?

A: -- The welfare of the children. And when 1 say the welfare of the children, 1 mean their scholastic ability being developed, their moral abilities and their overall performance as a student.

Q: What do you think of career ladders for teachers?

A: That's an open debate at this time. However, I am not sure the evaluation stops there. At this point, it is fair. I don't know whether the fairness can be measured at this early stage. Having been a person who had to evaluate people, 1 found it most difficult. When you have a person's career judged as to the evaluators decision, 1 think until we have a greater insight on ways and means of promoting people, 1 am against it because of the statement 1 made earlier. I don't think evaluations can be made on a fair basis at this time.

Q: As a principal, was was your biggest headache?

A: Busing at the elementary level. This was not because of the conduct, but it was because of my overall concern for the safety of the children. Children that had to travel fourteen or fifteen miles, get up early in the morning, and arrive home late in the evening. This seems to have been the greatest problem I had.

Q: What are the characteristics associated with effective schools?

A: First of all, the buildings. Buidlings, good teachers, good support staff; this includes janitorial staff, cafeteria workers, all other support staff members that engage in the development of the school. There is no substitute for good teachers. I reemphasize that fact because that's where it ends, in the classroom.

Q: What do you think of the standards of quality established by the state school board?

A: I'm not too sure I can give an accurate asnwer in regards to that because I don't think politics and education can use the same vote in my judgment. The state board of edcuation is a political wing of our society and there are very few educators who have the final say in many matters.

Q: What do you think of the testing procedures-- of the SAT and NTE?

A: I think it is fair if all children are given the same opportunity to prepare for such tests. I have known some schools where supervisors taught many items on the SAT and others within the same system did not get this preparation. I'm a little worried about that. There are so many things that one child will understand and another will not. I won't go into the brown banana and the yellow banana story, but some kids thaink a brown banana is ripe because that kid many have had nothing but bananas that were brown during his younger days. So when asked the question "what is the color of a banana?" some kids may say it's yellow and some may say it's brown for obvious reasons.

Q: What is the toughtest decision you had to make as a principal?

A: The toughrest decision was to transfer the two people I mentioned earlier. I felt that I might have fialed somewhere along the line and having a coaching backgroudn, we always like to win. As I look back over my career, not being successful in dealing with these two people on a positive basis.

Q: Were you a manager of a building or an instructional leader?

A: Both at various times. In our school system you had to be a combination of the two. When I had an assistant principal, I had more time to spend on the instructional program. Nevertheless. I should think the principal in a small school is a combination of the two.

Q: What was your key to success as a principal?

A: Having been blessed with good staff members and a board of education that tends to be interested in the entire school program. That means down the ladder from the board of education throught the school administration throught the individual schools. The teacher is the standout in the whole show, so far as I'm concerned.

Q: What was your code of ethics?

A: I go back to the original fairness, because 1 can't get away from that. I found that having a code of ethics that included fairness to all individuals. 1 found that no matter how tough your decision may be as long as the people involved felt that it was a fair decision, you enjoyed success.

Q: What are your feelings about the responsibility of a principal for identifying and developing future school administrators?

A: I think being involved in various clinics, various meetings at the state level, especially at the collegiate level, and by reflecting experiences to agencies that tend to develop people for future administrative posts. Your contribution can be made by giving your experiences. Hopefully these will coordinate with others to develop personnel in thinking toward the job.

Q: Describe your typical work day --how did you spend your time?

A: You'r on duty 24 hours a day. As a principal, you are responsible for that school. That may sound strange but you should be available to all the needs of the school. There is no specific period that you can say" I will do this or I will do that." Beyond the normal checking in, checking out period for students and teachers. But as each day arrives you may have a different situation. So you must be prepared to be a 24-hour person.

Q: How would you say you spent the most time? Was there on particulare area?

A: Instruction development would consume the greater length of your time. Of course that includes observation and planning programs for the betterment of the curriculum. Curriculum planning is the thing that you can look on earlier, in mid year, and in the latter part of the year. But 1 should think that instructional development programs consume most of the time.

Q: How do you account for your success as an administrator?

A: I wish 1 could. Hopefully, the years that 1 worked as an administrator, we could only judge our success by the products that were turned out. As 1 look back on 22 years as a princi pal, 1 see kids that were under my supervision. They have developed into adults that are making outstanding contributions.

Q: What caused you to choose retirement when you did?

A: After one spends 20 years as a principal and 14 years as a teacher, 1 think there should be room for new ideas and new people. I don't condone staying too long. When your retire ment time arrives, 1 think you ought to be prepared to say "Good day" and leave.

Q: Is there anything that I have not asked you that you would like to elaborate on?

A: -- No, 1 don't think you have missed anything that would be conducive to this interview. However, I would like to pass on to whoever should be listening to this interview, is to tell them to prepare themeselves for the worst and hope for the better. The road to education is long and hard. It's not the profession that you will get rich off of, financially speaking, but you will be richly rewarded to see the develop- ment of people.

Q: Thank you very much.

A: -- Hopefully, and 1 hope the success of the program is second to none.

Q: Thank you.

A: I wish you the most successful career of all.

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