Interview with Frank Whitacre


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Q: Describe the environment in which you were raised? Including your family and area you lived?

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

A: Well, I lived all my life in this area. I was born and raised not 1 mile or 2 miles from where we're sitting right now and I lived other then when we were away or when I was in the service. I lived in this area, I was never smart enough to get away. I think or I was or didn't have ambition not to get away. Maybe that's it! So I spent my life here. My family all lives here . Mother's still living she's past 100 years old now. My brother George lives near by and my sister, Mrs. Lizer lives near by and my brother Sam lives near by, in Clearbrook. But the family has always pretty much lived here. They been farmers and orchardist and raised cattle and my father's in politics and George is in politics. So we pretty much lived in this area. I don't know-- we just never got away.

Q: What factors or persons influenced you to pursue a career in education?

A: Laughter-- Well, I suppose my parents did it more then anybody else. My father was for education and uh he uh he went to school not college but it was pretty difficult to see get even a high school education because they lived, he was raised in this area and West VA. So what he did was pursue and get education, taught school for a few years. My mother was always for education so I suppose it was my parents that pretty much was a driving force to getting us to go to school. We all went to school. We had difficulty, you don't know but there were no high schools in this area when I was of high school age, so we would go, I graduated from Handley because there were no schools in this section of Frederick County. That's hard for you to believe. That there were no high schools here. So we commuted to Handley and uh three of us, my sister, George and I graduated from Handley. Then there was Gainesboro School and my younger sister and brother graduated from Gainesboro. You can't imagine we drove down this road and there weren't any hard surface roads either. The hard surface road stopped at Albin, you know where Charlie Omps' Garage is?

Q: Yes

A: That's where the hard surfaced road stopped. So we had dirt roads and we commuted in an old automobile so we could get an education. It wasn't easy, if you had a flat tire you didn't make it. So I don't know that's uh, I suppose when you come back to the original question, I suppose our parents pushed us out to go, otherwise we wouldn't have gone.

Q: What helped strike up an interest actually getting into working in education?

A: Well, I guess uh, I guess our parents influence was pretty much and suppose we had our elementary teachers and high school teachers that were in education and at that time I guess that it looked like one of the pretty good things to get into at that time. Uh you're talking about depression years and there weren't many jobs. So you uh, it looked like a pretty good thing to get in to. My father and mother both taught school sometime in their early lives and I guess that was an influence. Teachers I guess, Aunts, and Uncles were in education some of them, some of them not. They got me in to that.

Q: What college did you attend?

A: I went to Shepherd.

Q: How did you choose Shepherd College?

A: Well, I guess it was near by, and it was the cheapest thing you could get. The only thing I know it was near by and the cheapest thing I know you can get to, so I went to Shepherd. I did some work at George Washington, and Mary Washington.

Q: How long was the program at Shepherd College? Was it a 4 year program? What degree did you get?

A: It was a 4 year program.

Q: (Nodded yes).

A: I got an AB.

Q: Could you describe some of the education courses?

A: wouldn't have the least idea. (Laughter) You're talking about (Laughter.. Well, I'm sure, we had Methods of Teaching, Methods of Teaching Reading, we had some Administration courses, we had Test and Measurement courses. Of course literature and English ,Biology and Math. Generally, I don't know. Is that what your talking about?

Q: Yes.When you entered College, were you planning on becoming a teacher?

A: Yes, I guess I was.

Q: Were all teachers required to take the Administrative courses also?

A: Yes, if you were in education, yes you took Administration courses. That was part of the program but I don't remember what all they had. Yea, they had education courses you were required to take. Practice teaching. Tests and Measurements, High School Administration uh That's some of them.
Q: Could you describe your first job assignment? Things like the duties, the description of it. *(See Field Notes)*

A: My first teaching assignment.

Q: Was your first job a teaching job?

A: Yes. My first teaching job was my first job. We lived on a farm, I always, we always had work on the farm, being the farmer, had to milk all of the cows, you know that. Then my first teaching job was at Miller school. You don't know where that is.

Q: Yes I attended there.

A: ** Okay, Miller school was my first teaching job. (playing with Velcro on sneaker) in 1937 and that was some experience for me. I believe that was an 8th grade class but you had that class all day. It was an 8th grade class and I taught Math and Science and English and History and whatever else. You had the group all day. I'm sure that was an 8th grade class because it wasn't classed as elementary, it was classed in high school. The first year high school That's' what it was. I did that for about 3 years I guess. Then I went into the service.

Q: Could you describe the school for us?

A: Sure! you can too! Except it was bigger when I was there. There 7 rooms when I was there. There were no 7 rooms when you were there. There were 7 rooms in the building at that time was a 4 room structure, brick, nice building. No offices, just 4 rooms girl's bathroom one end, the boy's the other end. But at that time there were 3 temporary buildings, you get trailers now. These were temporary buildings that were moved from out on the Handley grounds. Before Handley was opened. These buildings were moved out there. They were pretty ramshackled. They were finally abandoned if not too soon. They were pretty much run down. We had 7 teachers there at that time.

Q: How many students did you have?

A: Oh I suppose it was in the 30's always. I would say always in 30's. Can you hear that--30's!

Q: What were the students like then?

A: Like they are today? (Laughter)

Q: And how is that?

A: (laughter) How is that? I think the students, that is students were bused there. All of the students were bussed in on pretty ramshackled buses and I think the students were-- you got a wide variety of students in there. You got them from better class and the poor class and you got some kids who wanted to learn and uh kids who didn't want to be in school. And this was 8th grade group, that was the beginning of that's junior high school now. You know what junior high school people are, they don't want to be in school, they don't to conform. But I suppose as a whole it was-- they were good students. I see some of them downtown, they are business people, all of them have families. Pretty good, I don't know if we have any in a penitentiary or not, I guess they did. (Laughter).

Q: Who was in charge of the school? Was a teacher assigned Principal duty?

A: I was assigned Principal duties.

Q: So while you were the teacher you were also the Principal?

A: I was the teaching Principal. It didn't mean a thing except you were a teacher. That's all. You didn't have any administrative duties that I know of. I was the teaching Principal full time.

Q: Would you tell us about your job experiences after leaving Miller School?

A: Well then I went into the Service. The Navy for three and one half years. I was stationed in the Caribbean, Curacao, down thee. I was down there for a long time. Then I went to Charleston, SC. I was separated from the service for the job in S.C. So I was in the service. After I came back, I didn't go back to school business for three years. I worked on the farm. An then I couldn't make much money at that , so I went back to teaching. Then I went to Gore as Principal.

Q: Could you describe your duties as Principal when you were at Gore?

A: Yes. I did everything. I was also a teaching principal there. I guess I taught a class or so. I had an office on the corner of the stage and of course you have duties you have today. You took care of the buses, janitors, heard the teacher complaints, Put up with parents that's not, I shouldn't say that, you dealt with the parents and some of them you put up with. Tried to resolve the kid problems, bus problems, I guess they were the same problems you have today.

Q: Which leadership techniques do you think were most successful?

A: Well what do you mean on that? As a school in general, students? Sometimes you got to be firm other times you plea if that's what you mean?

Q: More in relation to dealing with teachers' complaints.

A: Mostly you put them off till tomorrow is one of the best ways I know and hope it will resolve itself overnight. No that's not right. We tried to solve it, the problems with teachers by compromising, sometimes you had to say no. But I think as a whole, compromise, work out your problems, tried to get them back straightened on a even keel if you could.

Q: Which leadership techniques that you tried you would label not successful?

A: I don't know any techniques. I don't have any comment on that I don't think.

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

A: You were Principal of the school and there were activities in the community, that were, at that time the school was pretty much the center of the community. All things took place at the school, I think then with the school and church together. If there were things going on at the school, you were expected to know about it and plan to have the building open, building closed and you uh talk with community people, you probably had to solve any of them, mostly you didn't have to solve them. I guess.

Q: Were you a member of organizations?

A: Yea, Frederick County Teachers Association, state association, member of Fire companies, I've always been a member of the fire company. (Typist can't understand

Q: Was there a PTA or a PTO?

A: Uh, we had one of those things. Want me to go on anymore?

Q: What was your relationship like with the PTO?

A: We had one of those things. (Laughter) (silence)

Q: After leaving Gore can you tell us the dates when you left Gore and where you went?

A: Uh, let's see, I left Gore, I went to Kline, I opened Kline as Principal in 60 or 61. That was a new building and they were still working on it when we, when school opened. I opened that building. That was a different environment, We had to get all new teachers, all new school, all new bus routes, all new bus drivers, all new custodians, all new everything and it was a task to get all that together and get it to work. And uh, I enjoyed it. I think we had a pretty good cooperation with the teachers, administration, Mr. Aylor and uh Mr. Hutton had an office in our school at that time. Supervision people always in and out. I stayed there until I came to Gainesboro. 1968? Don't hold me to those dates. I stayed there till I retired. It always helped in getting the school organized.

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

A: (Laughter) Uh, No. You don't want me to comment on that?

Q: Oh, Yes we do

A: Well, I think the teachers expect the principal to be on their side on everything, to be there and answer all the questions, to know all the answers and uh that's enough.

Q: What did you expect of your teachers?

A: Well I expected them to do a good day's work. Be at school on time. Work with the kids. Be some sort of, know a little about their subject. Be some sort of a disciplinarian, be able to be a leader to the children certainly get them interested in learning. I think there is a lot of difference in teachers there. Some teachers certainly do a better job of interesting their children and getting them interested in the work. Some teachers do a much better job at that. You expect the teacher do it.

Q: How did you evaluate the teachers?

A: Well, maybe you didn't do a whole lot of evaluation. then. When I was at Kline you tried to get in the classroom some but you didn't have much help. We had an office, we had help in the office, that's about all. You just tried to get in the classroom for observation, uh you tried to look at teachers' lesson plans, once in a while you didn't get to it very often and I think general observation to see how they were doing, how the children perform in the classroom, in the halls, in the lunchroom,. I judged teachers that way. You couldn't do all that you wanted to get done. Also at that time at Kline we were getting more supervisory personnel and you had conferences with the supervisors. When they did observation, see what they decided the situations were. They did more of that than the principal.

Q: What kinds of things did you look for when you did actual in-class observations?

A: To see what the lesson plan was, to see the interest the children were showing and see what kind of discipline was in the room, what kind of room, were there decorations in the room. on the room, what did it look like, was it lived in or like a messy room.. General housekeeping along with children's interest.

Q: What techniques did you use to motivate your teachers?

A: Well, Uh, raise hell with them once in a while. I had to do a little of that. Better shut that thing off if I'm going to swear, Pam. I think you can use anything, talk with the teachers, see if, what will make their program better. What we need to do to the office to make it better. Just generally talking to them.

Q: What do you feel it takes to be an effective principal?

A: Well, (chuckle) I guess a strong back. Needs a few cuss words once in a while. Well I guess a principal needs to be understanding of teachers. Sometimes you got to say no. Uh, tried to keep the teachers happy and some sort of motivation.

Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?

A: Pressures? Well I think, you got pressures from parents who think the program's not going right, you got pressure from the superintendent, from the supervisors. I guess those would be the pressures the people, maybe the job is not being done. They want you to do better reports. Well maybe from the main office.

Q: Can you remember any specific things that made you feel lot of pressure coming from the Central Office?

A: Been a long time.

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: Put them off till tomorrow. Mostly, tried to sit down and reason with the teacher as to see what their problem was and see if there was something we can do together, to work it out to solve their problems. I think mostly through personal contact, one on one. Try to resolve the problem. Sometimes nothing works.

Q: Could you discuss some of the issues that caused grievances for teachers?

A: Well, I would say uh, well there's always a question of materials. Teachers say they don't have the materials they need and they don't like the kids you assign them and uh they don't like the hours the bus arrives or the hour the bus leaves. So I would think she would have to work those things out and if they are unhappy with the children you've assigned them, then I guess you would have to explain well this is, this child needs you as her or his teacher and you'd be good for him so you have to convince them that's the reason the child's been assigned to that room rather than Mrs. A's room down the hall who doesn't have a personality with that child also you tried fit them in.

Q: Did you have a lot of discipline problems?

A: Sure, you had discipline problems. Well I hate to tell you a long time ago we solved couple of them with a whack from a strap. You solved a few of them that way. I'm not sure that was the way to do it but that's, you did it-- that's the way it had to be done at times. It took care of your problems sometimes, the strap. When I started in the business we used it. As I mellowed as I got older, I didn't use it as much. I used reasoning, tried to say what's the cause of this I don't have the answer to your discipline problem.

Q: Did you ever have to dismiss a teacher?

A: During the year or at the end?

Q: Either

A: Yes. Yes I have.

Q: What would be some reasons for dismissal?

A: I think inefficiency. People just don't fill the job. I can't, we moved people out at the end of the year. Then we say you don't fit for some reason. We tell them before the end of the year. Yes, we turned teachers down because they didn't do the job. Mostly, I don't recall anybody that I was responsible for moving during the school year. I can't think of any. They got the word around that they would not be reappointed. Supervisor, personnel, superintendent had done it.
Q: What problems did you encounter with bussing or racial tension?

A: No racial tensions as far as I know. I was the first school to take a black child. Kline took the first black and to my knowledge we never had any problem. We took the first black children that ever went to a Frederick County School. When they closed the colored school. You don't remember, you don't go that far back. Closed the colored school where the County has teacher's library at one time, the Media center. Okay that was the colored school and so when they decided to close the colored school, I don't know if they closed them all that year but anyway Kline was one of the first schools. We probably took them before they closed that school out there. Okay, well, I've forgotten what the question was now but we took the colored. The colored was never a problem. They came in and they, teachers accepted them and we told them before hand, this child is coming and you're going to take him. Teachers never objected, and I also told the children, this is happening, you kids got to get along, the kids got along fine. Did you say discipline? No.

Q: Racial Tensions?

A: No, they integrated, no problems as far as I know.

Q: As a Principal what was your biggest concern?

A: Well to see if the building was heated every morning. I think that was it, see if the building was open, see if the buses are running fine, see if the teachers are there. We always had them check in, so when a teacher came in, we could look at the board, we could look up there to see if the teachers were in. To know whether there was somebody in that room that morning. If not you would go down, if a teacher didn't show, you would have a room full of kids, you know, Concern about keeping the lunch people happy and that type of thing. Now I forgot the question.

Q: Biggest concern.

A: I was concerned about the progress the children made. If they could measure up, if they could go up to the next grade that year and uh you wanted them to get along.

Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal?

A: Well, I don't know what the toughest decision was. But you had to make decisions on uh, on room assignments, students' assignments, so the student would fit with the group, you had make assignments on extra duties for teachers, bus duties and lunch duties and that type of thing. You had to make those decisions. You had to make decisions to get your cafeteria personnel in there, hire personnel, hire custodians keep those going. I guess that's generally what I did.

Q: But there's no one big problem throughout your career?

A: I can't think of any.

Q: Are there any more duties other than the ones you have mentioned which were not directly related to your principalship?

A: Well, outside school community responsibilities? I didn't live in the city. No I don't think I did.

Q: As far as within the school, other than the decisions you had to make helping with the cafeteria, Making sure the different groups of people were happy to do their job, were there extra duties that you don't fee a Principal perhaps should have performed?

A: I can't think of any right now. (Pause) Well, I don't know.

Q: Did you ever have to take a class yourself?

A: Uh, I have yes, but usually for a short period, if a teacher doesn't show-- that what you mean?

Q: Yes.

A: We always had a pretty good substitute list at Kline and Gore and at Gainesboro. Gore there was a substitute, a woman who would come, who lived across the street, so if someone didn't show, Thelma came. At Winchester, of course we always had somebody near by. Yes, I have taken a classroom from time to time not for all day. I can't remember taking one for all day. But until the substitute gets in.

Q: What duties did you have as Principal that were directly involved with instructional things?

A: Instructional, well we tried I guess through faculty meetings and uh books selection. we had committees for book selections. I don't know. Is that instructional? And uh we always tried to get the number of books we could get. Get the books in the rooms. There was one time you know when kids bought their books. Long time ago, all the students bought their own books. Of course they carried their own books. Later you came up to book rentals, which I think was a very good thing. It got then so everybody had a book. When you had to buy books, you had students that it was very hard for them to get books, they didn't have any money. You did the best you could, to get them.

Q: What was your code of ethics as a Principal?

A: I didn't have a code of ethics.

Q: What do you feel took up a majority of your time as Principal?

A: I guess uh discipline took about as much as any time. We were handling discipline problems a lot of the time. Uh, administrative duties. Of course one time you didn't have any office help so you did clerical things, earlier kept all of the books and that took some time or the teachers problems and the discipline I guess would be your big time consumer, your biggest problems in school. Of course you always have these bus problems too. Discipline on the bus. There isn't any more discipline problem on the buses, is there? That took time.

Q: What kinds of discipline problems from the classroom did you handle?

A: My guess is whatever the teacher decided that she couldn't handle, she sent to the principal. I guess there were some major things, kid who calls a teacher you know what, or he doesn't do his work, or he doesn't obey, he goes and writes dirty words in the bathroom. The teacher finds out. Maybe they don't do that any more. But that's the type of thing I think the Principal got. Just unruly children in the room. Who didn't want to participate in the classroom duties, didn't want to do his work, he wanted to disturb the people around them, or fighting I forgot that, that a pretty good one, too and the principal usually got those type of things. And he solved them the best way he could. Earlier sometimes we solved them with a strap. I shouldn't mention that, it will get you all shook up.
Q: What would you like to have spent more time on as a Principal?

A: I think you like to spend more time on administration, on getting more time in the classroom, spending more time with the teacher and their program. I rather do that than solve a discipline problem. I think you like to be more on instructional program, know what's going on. To see what's being taught but you didn't get it, when I got the time, you didn't get much time to see instruction, you just didn't have it, you had other things, you had the bus, you had the janitor, discipline problems plus community, people came in and they wanted to do thus and so or they weren't satisfied. You didn't get much time for instruction.

Q: How do you feel that education can be improved?

A: (Laughter) I've been out of it for a long time uh, we always thought that it could be more interesting for the children. You use to think if you could bring in more audio visual and all that, I see That's changed. I guess now you're talking about computers and I feel that's a big step forward in education. I guess all that you can do is improving education.

Q: Let's base it on when you were Principal rather then now.

A: Well, I think the time I was principal, one of the things that I think you had was instructional material was scarce, difficult to get enough instructional material, uh at that time sometimes you took teachers who were not certificated because you didn't have others. Not saying that they were bad, or not a good teacher. That's not true. Some of them did a very good job. Sometimes you had to take teachers that were not certificated, they didn't have anybody else. You had to take them. I don't know if that's still a problem or not but of course now they don't hire anybody unless they are certificated I guess. Keep children motivated. I guess getting them to school. Keeping the parents happy.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on how teacher education can be improved based on your experience?

A: Yea, I think that one thing that teacher education of our time is that looking at teachers now was that didn't have enough work in your subject. The teacher who was going to teach Virginia History, never had a course in VA History and I think some, at that time when I came in I think there was too much method courses and not enough courses on the field you were teaching or going in. If you were going into Biology, you need to get enough courses so you know how to teach Biology. At that time, I thought that was a problem. Could have had more courses, rather than a methods course--have course in subject.

Q: Would you discuss some of the most unpleasant principalship activities you had to be involved in?

A: Oh, uh I think that uh, parents, upset Parents I guess, one of the most uh, most time consuming things, a child been disciplined.

Q: Can you tell us about any specific other than the day to day things you thought were pleasant? Any specific incidents that you recall were pleasant feelings?

A: Well you have uh oh activities in the school. Oh I think you like to uh see programs and I really think rooms do a little program or skits or something is always interesting and I always enjoyed it. They say come down, we're going to thus and so. Well, I think it's enjoyable. I always enjoyed the art that the teachers would display, either in the corridors or in the rooms and handwriting, I always enjoyed seeing the nice handwriting and the art, and the little skits uh the classroom teachers did or the school did. That's what I enjoyed.

Q: What did you find to be most beneficial in helping you maintain a "Sane" attitude when you were a principal?

A: Come home and take a drink every night helped. (Laughter)

Q: Any on the job things.

A: (Laughter) You can't do that on the job! Sorry about that! (Laughter) Well I think sometimes you uh the principal ought to, I thought some times you have to get away. You know, you have to get out, you have to get to yourself sometimes at school. Sometimes I'd disappear and wouldn't anybody know where I was. But sometimes you had to do things like that. After uh I had someplace I could get away from the noise for a little while and sometimes you had to do that and you had to unwind at lunchtime and at night. I guess we got off the topic, didn't we?

Q: No. Was your office separate from the other office personnel? Could you close the door and not see other people?

A: Well the only place I ever had that was at Kline. At Kline there was a separate principal's office. At Gore there was, the principal had a desk on the stage. At Gainesboro, the principal and the secretary were in the same room and so that uh, if you had a Problem usually the secretary was there. Of course at Gore you didn't have a secretary uh but that, at Kline a separate room. You could close the door and talk to parents, and teachers and students. But at the other Place much, pretty much if it got a little rough, the secretary would, at Gainesboro, she didn't think she ought to be there, she'd leave the room. That's about what we did there.

Q: Was your retirement because of administrative burnout, age or going into another profession?

A: I got old. (Laughter)

Q: Did you have to leave because of the age or you chose to?

A: I chose to leave. I left at 62, eleven years ago.

Q: What have I not asked you that you would like to talk about?

A: Well, let me see what haven't you asked me about. You did a pretty good cover job, I believe. You haven't asked me how I like retirement! I love that! I've gotten real used to it. Uh in the school uh I don't know if I have anything to add to it. I've been, I've been, I've enjoyed not working in the school system. I work some while I'm home. I putter around, I've done some construction since I've gotten out of the school. Built this house, couple of other houses that I've sold and uh, I work with Ed some, he's building the Lizer building downtown. I get out and help them, to keep active. And uh we uh spend our Winters in Florida. We try to spend 3 months in Florida every year and while I'm there I don't do anything. It's uh, there's a recreation hall where we are and usually there are some things going on at the rec hall every night. They have a heated swimming pool. (Plane going across couldn't hear) But it usually stays right nice. So that's what we do.

Q: Thank you very much.

A: You're welcome.

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