Today is June 22, 1999. We are at Hamilton Elementary School in Loudoun County, Virginia. We are interviewing Mr. William Pete Whitmore. Mr. Whitmore will be retiring from Loudoun County Public Schools at the end of June.
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Q: I'd like to start out by just having you give us a little bit of information about your background, where you came from, family, your own educational experiences and how you got into education.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I've lived in Loudoun County all my life and went to Loudoun County High School, which at that point in time was the only high school in Loudoun County. Loudoun County now has, what, five high schools and getting ready to open a sixth one next year. Finishing high school I went off to Lynchburg College and, like a lot of young people, really didn't know what I wanted to do. Got a degree in Business Administration in Economics. Then graduating from college in '64, still wasn't quite sure what direction I would be taking. Education, at that point in time, needed college graduates, not so much certified, not so much the fact that they had done their student teaching and all of that, but for college graduates. And, like many other young people who were still trying to decide what to do, I got into education, and taught at Sterling Elementary. Sterling Elementary was just open and it was the first real big school in Loudoun County. It was down near the Dulles International Airport. We had over 600 kids and in those days the principal kind of started a couple days before the teachers and I'm not quite sure how they got all of that done, but somehow they did. I taught at Sterling for two years and the principal there, Donald Jennings, kept saying, "Why don't you go up and apply for the principalship?" And I'd say, "I don't know too much about that." And he said, "Ah, you'll learn. You're a good teacher. You'll learn." So I was brazen enough and naive enough to walk in the superintendent's office and tell him I was interested. The superintendent looked at me and he said, "I think I'll put you out at Lucketts ." So the next thing I knew, in September of 1966 I was appointed principal at Lucketts Elementary and taught a half a day. Terry Hill taught the other half a day (the present director of secondary ed). And stayed there for a year and then went to Gilford Elementary, which was just opening, and Gilford needed a principal and, kind of, an assistant principal because we operated out of two schools. And I was at the old school, but did a lot of work at the new school as well. I stayed there for a year and then in '68 Bannecker Elementary, which had been an all black school, was to be integrated, and the superintendent called me and he said, "I'd like for you to think about this." And in those days they didn't give you a whole lot of time to think, and so I went to Bannecker in 1968 and it was a school that was just being integrated, had twelve teachers on the staff, one of whom was returning from the school, previously, and there were seven brand new, first-year teachers. I stayed at Bannecker for six years. It was a great experience. From Bannecker Elementary I went to Douglas Elementary, in Leesburg, from 1974 to 1980. Then I was appointed principal of their new school, Leesburg Elementary, but in that interim year I went to Meadowland, which was being opened and helped Dennis Young open Meadowland, stayed there until about April, returned to Leesburg and we tried to get the school ready and opened it in September of 1980. I stayed at Leesburg from 1980 to 1993, thirteen years. In 1993 I had spent twenty-nine years in public education and really felt that I needed to make a break and resigned and, not sure of what to do, but spent a year reading and taking a real estate class and doing a number of things, and there were a couple principalships open and I applied and was appointed principal of Hamilton Elementary. Came here in January of '95 and will finish up four and a half years at Hamilton the end of this month, June of '99.
Q: Tell me a little bit about that experience at Bannecker when it was being integrated for the first time.
A: This is going back to 1968. What was happening in Loudoun County and other parts of the state of Virginia, black children had their freedom of choice. They could go to their neighborhood school or they could travel extra miles to an area that was pretty much known as an all black school. Loudoun County was operating under a federal directive. It said you have to integrate, and no more the freedom of choice, but children will go to their neighborhood school. Bannecker, as I said, had been an all black school. The community of St. Louis, of which Bannecker is located, was pretty predominantly a black community. Children attending this school were coming from the many horse farms and farms in the area, so it was a major turning point for some of the areas and some of the schools. The experience...it was a great experience for me, obviously, looking back on it. At the time I think we all had a lot of concerns and some apprehension, but the kids, obviously, made it work. The parents, some of whom had some real problems, because in those days many of the families had gone to school in Middleburg, many of the white families, and now they were being directed to go to their neighborhood school which was Bannecker. So they had some apprehensions about it, but once the kids were able to get started, and perhaps having a young staff help to ease all of that. I had three men on the staff out of twelve. I think you also have to remember, in that era, there were a lot of people, men particularly, had a choice. You either went to war in Viet Nam or you could start your family or you could teach school, and a lot of men were deciding to give education a try. I don't know if that's all the reasons why we had as many men as we did, but it gave us a nice balance. Classes were relatively small. We had about 375 kids in that school and we were packed. But it was a good experience.
Q: You mentioned at Bannecker that you had quite a young staff. You had seven first-year teachers. Can you tell us a little bit about how you prepared those teachers for that situation and worked with them as they were learning the trade?
A: One of the things that, again, going back to those days, the principal was really on duty a week before school and a week after school, which was probably a good thing because it enabled me to go off to the University of Virginia and get my masters program completed. The hiring of the staff was done by the assistant superintendent prior to school opening, so I didn't really interview these people and didn't know who I was really getting until the first day of school and they showed up. We had a real mixed group of people. We had a husband and wife team and they had come from Philadelphia, the inner city, and they were very dynamic in their teaching. Youth, at that time, was probably a real advantage. The kids related well to them and back in the late '60's I think most of the teachers...most of the students had not really been with a young teacher, so the youth brought energy, enthusiasm, and certainly some mistakes along the way that they soon learned. I think because we were all new, it was almost like opening a new school and the one teacher who stayed was a lady by the name of Rosa Carter. Rosa was about sixty-five years old, had taught several generations there in that community, had taught in the one-room school house, and she was the kind of lady that learned every day. Her thirty-five years of experience were just that. Thirty-five different years of experience and she had grown in each of those years, and I think Rosa was a stabilizing influence for many and I was relatively new, making mistakes like my young staff, but I think we related well to the kids and that, in turn, helped the learning process materialize. We came in with some different programs. We did some team teaching. We did some grouping patterns that seemed to work well in the upper grades. And essentially that first year was a year in which we wanted the parents and the kids to have some confidence in us and in the new school that we pretty much had started. I say new school...I mean the school was an old building, but it certainly, from secretary to so many of the people in the school, it was like opening a new school.
Q: Did you have much parent involvement?
A: No, at that stage of the game we had some new people who had moved into the community that took an interest in working with the PTA. There was a private school out there called Foxcroft and we had worked closely with some of the teachers at Foxcroft and we had some of the students come over and do some after-school enrichment activities with them. And we, in turn, would have different meetings and different programs at Foxcroft, so it was kind of a joint venture and I think it helped to broaden the community a little bit. When we had our PTAs, when we had our evening meetings, parents came out, but in those days, parent participation and parent help in the classroom was just on the beginning cycle of that, and most of them worked. Most of them were on the farms. Many did not have transportation. We were a relatively needy school. Looking at the Title I...it was Title I then guidelines, we qualified with about sixty percent, so we were...there were a lot of needs.
Q: I want to switch gears a little bit here and just ask you if you'll go back and give us your philosophy on education and then we'll talk a little bit about leadership.
A: I grew up in Loudoun County, the son of a farm machinery implement dealer and I learned very early on that the customer was generally right, and you worked hard to please the customer. And that had been instilled in me for many of my working years and when I started into the school work I felt that whatever community that I was in, that I was serving those people, those children and I've always looked at education as being, kind of a small business, and not that we're trying to make a profit, not that we're meeting payroll, but we are trying to satisfy the customer base, the parent base, the child-centered base and that's been pretty much how I've operated. That I think you have to have your community respecting what you do, understanding what you do, and I think you have to reach out and get them, first of all, to have some trust in you. And I think they do that by determining how much you really care about what you're doing. I don't have too many people coming in here questioning the technical aspect of teaching, but I do have people questioning how much that teacher cares, how much that teacher instills in children with their learning, and I think that part's important.
Q: How would you describe your management style and has that evolved over the years...have you pretty much done the same thing? Would you describe yourself as directive or participatory, assertive, supportive?
A: I think I'm the supportive kind of principal. I've looked at teaching and teachers as being professional and I've always felt that if someone treats me professionally, then they're expecting me to do the job as well as I can, and that's what I expect in the teacher, knowing full well that some teachers need supervision, some need somebody to really enforce policy. That's not my best avenue. I like for teachers to be creative. I like for them to feel there's a sense of freedom of how they approach the teaching profession. And I think for some of the best teachers that I have ever seen, they like that style. I once read, and I guess maybe this is how I look at the principalship, sometimes let's take the grunt work away from the teachers and let them teach. So, in this day of paper chase, in this day of accountability, in this day of testing and all, I try to limit as much as I can of the paper chase for teachers and let them do what, I think, many of them do well - is to teach and plan for that day. I do expect teachers to plan well for the day. I don't expect them to come in here and wing-it. I want them to know. I may not ask them to write every little detail down. I think that's not very productive but I can generally tell by talking with a teacher and, I think, interacting. I spend a lot of time traveling the hallways and seeing what's going on and seeing an opportune time to go in a classroom and be supportive.
Q: Along the same line, what would you identify as the necessary traits or characteristics, behaviors of an effective school principal? You talked a little about that, can you elaborate?
A: I think the school principal is certainly in an enviable position of looking at how people are going to function within that one building, and when you look at all the people that the principal has to be responsive to, from the custodial staff, the cafeteria staff, plus all the staff that you have in the classroom, you're pulled in many different directions, and I think you've got to present yourself in such a way that anybody on that staff has some freedom to come to you. The teacher, the person who tells me they don't have any problems, I think, is kind of misleading me. I think we all do and I think if we can keep our doors open and let that person come and share those concerns. We're not going to solve that problem, necessarily, but sometimes just doing a little brainstorming. Some of the best thoughts that I've seen teachers come up with, that I've come up with, have not been thoughts that I've thought of by myself, but because a teacher or a group of teachers would sit around and we would start thinking and " Boom " there's a great idea. Teaching, principaling is a duty that you can't do it in isolation. To me it has to be done in a group fashion where you've got ideas and thoughts that are being exchanged, good and bad, but at least the opportunity to exchange those thoughts. Kim, I don't know if I answered that question or not. I kind of got a little off track there.
Q: Yes, you did. Do you see yourself as primarily an instructional leader in schools, which is something that has been advocated over the past years, or more the manager, or a combination of those?
A: I think teaching is something that has rhythm to it and I think many of us, as administrators, when we leave the classroom to do the administrative work, lose that rhythm, and lose a little bit of the touch, and I think when I look...it's been a long time since I dealt with the day to day management of a classroom, so I think I start looking at - how can I best become an instructional leader and when I think how I can work that. One, I do think I can recognize good quality teaching. I spend a great deal of time interviewing people to get a sense of who they are and do they, kind of, fit this description that I think is needed for the classroom teaching. When I look at first grade and second grade and the primary grades, and I have a teacher that's taught there for three or four or five years or more, I think I have somebody that's starting to know a lot about that age - probably far better than I. And so I learn from the teacher and when I can go and watch two or three second grade teachers, I think I have good ideas from them. I know...I think I should be held accountable for the bottom line and what I would expect to occur in that classroom from the beginning to the end, but I'm also holding that teacher accountable for doing it, probably better than I. So when we talk about the instructional leader I think, for me, who's been away from the classroom for many years, I start looking at it a little differently, and I'm putting, perhaps, a little more responsibility on the teacher. And that's why I said a little while ago, I want that teacher to spend her time planning. I want that teacher to spend her time looking at the instructional day. And I've got to take some of the busyness in this profession away from them so that they're not bogged down by needless paperwork. I'm not a stickler for lesson plans, although I look at lesson plan books. I think it has to be done and if you say to them, no, you're not going to look at them, then I don't think it gets done, personally. But, by the same token, I'm not going....I know that when teachers are here they don't have all the details. I've seen it when they prepare for the substitute there's details galore because the sub needs that. So I appreciate that and I accept that.
Q: You mentioned the time that you devote to selecting good teachers. Share with us your experiences over the years with regard to your input in teacher selection, whether or not that has changed. At some point central office had great control over that when you first started, and then talk a little bit about teacher preparation programs and how you view the changes.
A: Yeah, I think that's been a real positive side of education and I think it's put the principal...holding the principal a little more accountable for the people on his or her staff. As I mentioned before, in the early days, much of the hiring was done at the central office level. At this stage it seems that the central office does the screening and then the principal is the one who really has to do the interviewing and making that critical decision of who to have on your staff. If time is on your side, then you really do have an opportunity to go and look at some extremely good candidates for the job. I think Loudoun County is, indeed, fortunate that we are attracting good, quality people. I can say from experience that that hasn't always been the case, so as Loudoun County has grown...as it's gone from a very rural area to a kind of a suburban area with people holding educators more accountable and weighing quality education, we have now been able...now we're able to attract better candidates for the classroom. So my sense in hiring...I know one year at Leesburg, I had four openings and I had interviewed about thirty people. I was fortunate to have an assistant principal then and so the process was, I would start the interview, let that candidate go to the assistant principal, and then the assistant principal and I would share our notes. Generally, what I found was that wherever the first interview was held, the person was a little tense, a little nervous, and by the time they went to the second person, they were feeling a little more comfortable, and that's where I'd like it to be. My interviews...I would spend anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour or more with each interview. Number one, I think that you have to get the person to feel a little bit confident in themselves, and that's hard. A person wants a job, and they know you're the person that's going to make that decision, and I feel for them. Yet, at the same time, I really do want the best person that I think is out there. I don't know that...and a lot of that is, pardon the phrase, gut reaction - how you're sensing. I think, if it's a brand new person, I think you've got to realize that experience will probably be their best teacher. I think you then start looking for, who is this person? What kind of qualities does that person have? Is this a great teacher who doesn't really care about the community, about what's going on, or is this somebody who senses a real need of caring and loving? I think the technical aspect of teaching will come. But again, I think the County does a marvelous job of screening and weeding out good and maybe ineffective...the good teacher, plus eliminating the ineffective teacher before it gets to our point of looking at folders. The training of teachers, it seems to me, obviously is a great deal better than when I first started in this career. These young people are coming out. The field is competitive, at least it seems to be around here and since I've been at Hamilton I really haven't had that many openings. What few openings I've had, generally the people who've worked with me at Leesburg or other places in the County have transferred in, so I haven't in the past four years really done a lot of interviewing for any new people.
Q: A few minutes ago you mentioned working with, what you might call, marginal teachers. How do you do that? What process do you utilize and if it gets to the point that the marginal teacher is not improving, what steps do you take to work towards dismissal? If you've ever had that experience.
A: (Laughter) Yes, I have. Maybe we ought to turn the tape recorder off (laughter) for this part. You know, I was just looking...I don't know, maybe you got the same questionnaire from the Virginia Elementary Principals Association, but they asked, do you favor abolishing the tenure? Kim, I have to tell you, I do. I really do. I favor abolishing it. I have found that your best teachers, the quality teachers out there, they don't have to hide behind anything and that tenure law means absolutely nothing to them, because they know they're good. The kids know they're good. The community knows they're good, and you, the principal, obviously know they're good. I think there are some that, I think, unfortunately we do have some that hide behind the tenure law and know that there's very little a principal can do, or if the principal can do something, it's going to take some time. And, you know, for the teacher who doesn't do some of the mechanical things, that's an easy thing to recognize. For the teacher who lacks enthusiasm and excitement, how do you prove that? You can't go in and say, "Well, this teacher lacks enthusiasm", and say that the teacher doesn't need to have a contract, because that's going to be rather nebulous and that's going (inaudible). The teacher never turns her lesson plans in, then you've got something that's pretty concrete, but nothing's usually that easy. The teacher that can't discipline a group of children that's relatively easy. But for the person who's simply tired, lacks enthusiasm, lacks motivation, is not putting forth much effort, that's a real challenge. I think we've all probably found a few of those people and, you know, there are ways that you try. You try to get someone else working with that teacher and maybe help stimulate them. I think sometimes for a teacher a change of schools could help, yet I don't know that anybody wants to accept a teacher who's had a major problem in one school and is coming to the next school to either have the same problem all over again, or, in fact, if it was a motivating change for the teacher, and the teacher became greatly inspired to be a productive teacher. I think the question, without saying, is probably the biggest challenge...one of the biggest challenges that the elementary or middle or high school principal has. I always thought that children were the most motivating influence that you could have. If you've got twenty-some kids coming into the classroom, that in itself was enough to keep the adrenalin flowing, hopefully gaining some enthusiasm and spark in what you're doing. Taking a look at teaching, that involves some thinking. The teacher who wants to come in and go from page 40 to page 45 or just turn pages probably is not going to get the best out of the kids. But the teacher who's incorporating a lot of different modalities in learning and bringing some excitement, you can see it in the kids' eyes. I would hope that every teacher would want to see that in their children. I didn't answer that question. I don't know that I have an answer for that question. We hear the superintendent tell us every year, and I've heard it from different superintendents...it's one of the most important aspects of our job. The superintendents make that look relatively...they speak as if that's relatively easy, and I think that any of us who are in the profession, know that it's not relatively easy and I can support a lot of the reasons for abolishing the tenure law. I really do. It will not cause that superior teacher, that better-than-average teacher to leave. It will enhance that person's career.
Q: Would you talk a little bit more about leadership and how you work with teachers, or any subordinates within your school, do you feel as though you alter your leadership style to meet the needs of different teachers? You did mention earlier that there are teachers that need more directive approaches. Do you, yourself, alter your styles and how do you do that?
A: I think that I alter it to the degree that if there's something that I can do or I can change about myself to make that teacher more effective, I'll do it. I've got one teacher that, she seems to be great with kids. She struggles getting any administrative report or deadline in on time, or even to do it. We talk about it. I even sometimes joke about it, but in a serious kind of way that...and I try to say to this teacher, "Look, I work hard. I work real hard to take a lot of the grunt work out of what you have to do, but this is something that I have to have from you." I like what I see, what she does in the classroom. She puts all of her energies in the classroom. She's confident enough to say, "Hmm, I don't care", and so that presents a real challenge to me, and yet I have others who work...who are just as effective in the classroom, but also make it a point to get whatever needs to be done in on time. So, you know, I think we all have to kind of recognize the talents of our teachers, recognize the weaknesses of our teachers, their strengths, and somehow help them with it. I don't think my style is dictatorial in the sense of, "Well, you're ineffective because you can't get a certain report in." I'm looking for what you do in the classroom. You know, if you're ineffective in the classroom and you?re ineffective in getting something to us, then, you know, I don't have a great deal of sympathy for you. So, I think that's where I do have to be somewhat flexible and I would say that with many staff members.
Q: You mentioned a few times that you will do all that you can to relieve the teacher from some of the grunt work. In this day and age, based on my experiences, administrators spend a good deal of time dealing with paperwork and some of the bureaucracy of education. Can you comment on how this has changed over the years and if you have any insight into what we may be able to do to alleviate some of that?
A: I think that the first area that I see a lot of the administrative dynamics taking place comes in special ed, and we seem to have volume upon volume of guidelines, deadlines, paper trails, paperwork that has to be done, and I think for the principal who's doing that solo, doing it alone, there's a lot of little, but major, dates, time frames that have to be met. And I just see more and more of that being placed on the principal's desk. We're now getting to see that with the testing, and whatever the future is, I've always been an optimistic kind of person and I think that the initial stages of anything are the hardest, whether it's going through self-study, which we now know they can do, but fifteen years ago we spent a tremendous amount of time developing our self-studies and going through the self-study process. That fell by the way side. Testing seems to be something that's coming along, but school divisions that are saying they're going to hold the teachers and principals accountable for test scores, I'm not sure I can agree with all of that. I think we all want to have good test scores and we want to see improvement, but I see more time that's going to be devoted by the principal to preparing teachers. I just saw something that came today...practice test for SOL and all good companies are going to respond. Silver Burdett has just come out with their math text book, and it says, "Correlated to the Virginia SOL." Boy, that's kind of like the accelerated reader. What a name. It sells itself, and that's what we're going to have to be deciding what's a marketing gimmick or what is something that really and truly helps kids. I see so much information out there that the teacher, the principal, are just going to be inundated. It's kind of like opening the internet and saying, "Where do I go?" There's so much there. How do you pick the very best from the very worst and it all might look the same initially? I do feel, and I guess if there's any joy in retiring, it's knowing that some of this mountainous paperwork will not be a part of my life. And yet I feel for the people who are still in the profession and have to deal with it, because that hasn't solved a lot of the problems that, I think, elementary principals need. I think, the last, coming back from Leesburg, it seems like I've spent more time in my office than ever before and it's not that I'm an office person. I don't like that, but there's only so much time in the day and I find that as I've gotten older, trying to do it between seven and midnight in the evening, is harder and harder for me to do. I've mentioned just special ed and testing. As the system seems to grow, and not that Loudoun County has a lot of administrative people in the central office, but they have their own agenda, and their own agenda is to make an agenda for themselves that comes out to you, so that's one more level of information. Staff development - we never had a position until about five years ago. Now it's a big thing. And it's a big thing in terms of staff being out of school, staff going for in-service. All of that puts more pressure back on the administrator. (End of Side 1 of Tape 1)
Q: We are continuing with our interview of Pete Whitmore in Loudoun County schools, who is getting ready to retire. This is Tape 1, Side 2. You were talking about...you mentioned as you were talking about the paperwork and bureaucracy of school administrators, staff development and things that were coming out of central office caused some additional responsibilities. What do you perceive to be the best methods for developing teacher skills and handling staff development within schools or school divisions?
A: It seems to me, and as we learned years ago in the studying of curriculum development and part of your curriculum development is analyzing what the needs are of the group of kids that you have. You certainly can't take a remedial group and think you're going to be doing advanced mathematics with them. Likewise, in a school setting, I think you look at your school. We have children in this school that need a lot of enrichment activities and a few on the remedial area. A previous school that I was in there were a lot of remedial needs versus some who needed enrichment, but not on the scale that we have now in this school. I guess what I'm saying is that, if I'm looking at staff development, what kind of staff do I have and what are their needs? And I think they need to participate in that decision. They should give me some guidance as well. We're looking at, right now, how to look at some of the mathematics. That is an area that we fell down in in fifth grade math on the SOL and we thought we had worked to resolve some of those problems. We thought we had a group of kids that would do well. Boom, we didn't make the magical seventy percent and I don't know why. I look at third grade and I see seventeen kids with advanced scores in math. I see only six kids who didn't pass it. We had a passage rate in third grade of about eighty-seven percent, sixty-five percent in the fifth grade and it made no sense to me and so we're trying to figure that one out. I wish that if SOLs are so mightily important that they become some type of a diagnostic tool, instead of this broad, strange animal that's out there that we get scared scores on and I don't...yes, I can look at scared scores in the five areas of math, but it doesn't tell me how kids responded to the question. I guess what I'm saying, going back to staff development, I like the way Loudoun County has made some offerings for teachers, if they want to take classes, if they want to improve computer skills, if they want to take Virginia Tech, UVA course, a lot of that's available for them. I would say at the local school, I would work with grade levels. I would work with the teachers to see what (inaudible) area or two that we need to work on, and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I don't know, SOL seems to be the driving force right now and if you have an area that you're not performing to what the state thinks we should be performing, then I guess it's kind of hard not to justify some direction there.
Q: I'm going to switch gears a little bit and just have you tell me some of the pressures that you, as an administrator, face on a daily basis and has that changed over the years, from the time when you were half-day principal and half-day teacher?
A: I think some of the pressures that I see coming to the principalship, we have a much more sophisticated parent group out there who will not accept anything but the very best. And as we have talked about the different qualities of teachers that you can have at grade levels, some of the first people to recognize any variation in the teaching are those parents. Therefore, if you have a highly creative, effective teacher and down the hallway, at the same grade level is a teacher who is fundamentally sound, but may not have the spark or the enthusiasm, and I'm not talking about a teacher who's hiding behind the tenure law...I'm talking about somebody that's just not as dynamic as the other, then I think the principal is and can be under a lot of pressure, from parents, to put their little darling in that highly enthusiastic teacher's room. And if you don't, then you're on the list. I think that's an enormous amount of pressure. Class placements. I spend the whole summer dealing with, the whole summer. And this is after teachers who have made arrangements here's Class A and Class B. Then I come along and put a teachers name on Class A and Class B and, boom, I've got to do some work then to see if I think I've got learning styles and teaching styles compatible. And I think any principal will know, that they know sometimes if I put a kid in a certain teacher's room, I'm only creating an adult nightmare. The kid may do well, but we know that when we have the parent and the teacher, the chemistry will not mix. Why put them through that? I think that's an enormous amount of pressure, at least it is for me. I think there is going to be a lot of pressure about testing. Parents seem to walk in the office and tell me, "We know your test scores. We've looked at them." And, if you're in a school where you get good test scores, like we do here at Hamilton, it's fine, but I've been in too many schools where test scores were not the things that we could go out here and hang our laundry on. It just...it wouldn't work and I feel for those schools. I've been there. I spent my entire career there and I have seen teachers, excellent teachers, quality teachers work so hard to get kids, who's ability might be in the thirty percentile range, getting them to achieve at the fortieth and the fiftieth percentile range. And we've got some over-achievers, but do the teachers, kids get credit for that? No. The kids who's out here and scored eightieth percentile, but the kid's abilities already on the eightieth percentile, that's where he stayed. That's what we would expect. I think those are pressures that the principal has. A demanding public. I hope that schools will work well together and not be competitive. I think right here in Loudoun County, right in Fairfax...any county that you're in, there's a streak of competitiveness, and I guess maybe that follows the philosophy that some competition is good, but I would hope that my neighboring schools, that we would look at this as a joint thing, not, "Well, we passed all the SOLs and that school didn't, therefore, we're better." And I think anybody who's looked at the SOLs, you only know that you're good for one year, cause next year is a different group of kids and they may do exceptionally well, they may do extremely poor, who knows, but you're only as good as the group of kids that you're testing any given year.
Q: Don't you think that the whole SOL initiative and this idea of standards based assessment, accountability, linking test scores with accreditation, only encourages that idea of competitiveness from school to school?
Q: How do we, as administrators, avoid falling into that trap when so much lies on those test scores?
A: I don't know. I really don't know. I think it's going to take some very creative, confident administrators and school people to say, "Congratulations to 'X' school. We would like to be there." I think we live in a very competitive society and I think, as much as I love sports, a lot of things seem to be geared around that. There's only one team that wins this or a team that wins that and if school divisions are now getting to the point where they're saying to the manager, meaning the principal, "If you don't pass these tests, out you go." What are we supposed to do? You could say to the parent, "If your kid doesn't pass the SOL, don't send him here." We don't have that luxury. We take whatever we're given and we do the best that we possibly can with what we're given. But you're right, I think there's going to be more competitiveness, but again, I think that principals are really, as I said before, we do well with testing. Are we teaching any better than the next school? I don't think so. Did Dominion Trail do any more teaching, when they passed everything? I don't think so. Again, if that child's ability is at the twentieth, the thirtieth percentile, and you've gotten that child to do better than that, then you've done a good job. I still have enough confidence in the people of Virginia and the school people that the SOLs will get it to a point where it can help us with children's growth, but not to the point that we're creating another system out there of, did you pass - did you not pass? We try...let's go back to the role of retention. We try to say to the families, for years now, your kid didn't fail anything. Your kid just needs more time. Your kid can't grow two inches in one year. You don't have any control over that. Well, why should we think that a hundred and eighty days is going to be the magical answer for some children. They may need two hundred. They may need two hundred and forty days. They may need a couple years of that, just because their learning style is a little different. What it takes them to do, it takes a little bit longer, but they have their talents. Everybody's going to have their talent. And we've done, I think, a reasonably good job of convincing parents of this stigma, although we're trying to get away from retention, yet I think, as we look in the elementary level, K - 2, I think some kids need four years there. And that's a few. That's not many kids, but I think there are a few that would benefit. If we look at taking that test in the third grade, we know that if we don't have some of those kids moved right along, chronologically, and they get to the third grade, and then they're confronted with this enormous test, they're not ready for it.
Q: We've talked a lot about working with parents and teachers and some of the trends in education, such as the standards based testing. Before we close today, talk to me a little bit about how you see your main clientele, that is the children, how they've changed over the years and the issues that you're dealing with, with regard to students.
A: You know, I guess leaving Hamilton Elementary, a small school, a school in which you have parents who value education highly, who send their children to school to learn and are ready for school, I see many of these kids coming here wanting to learn, wanting to do well, wanting to be successful. The computer is obviously playing a major role in their life and I think they're going to see that more and more as they get older. I'm amazed at what I see kids doing. I'm amazed at how the kids do on the tests that we give them. I've tried to take many of the same tests myself, and I'm just amazed how intelligent some of them are. I think they still have lots of needs. I think children are still coming to us, wanting, wanting love, affection, somebody to listen to them. I think parents are living in a very busy world and are trying to find that time, the quality time to spend with their children, but I think it's a different world. When I look outside and see soccer teams and softball teams, I see more of that today than ever before. So a child's life is pretty busy. They go to school. They go home. They get ready to come to Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, softball, baseball, football, soccer, all the sports. I guess the thing that I see, that somewhat as an advantage, today we see more kids with attention deficit problem, a term that we hadn't heard of fifteen years ago. And I sometimes wonder, in this fast pace world of ours, if some of that is not the direct cause of, what we now term, attention deficit. I know some of that is chemically, probably, induced, but at the same time I think some kids are just going around in a circle all the time, in high gear. That's been their life and they don't know how to slow down.
Q: What about with regard to behavior and behavioral management? Have you seen changes over the years in education? Are you dealing with behaviors, or disciplinary situations that you didn't have to deal with (inaudible)?
A: When I was at a previous school, I dealt with a really rich, multi-cultural setting, and yes, there were behaviors that were extreme and what I was finding, in some of those cases, were kids controlling, and they didn't want to control, situations, but they were, and it made no difference whether it was around children or adults. They wanted to control it, and went to extremes to control that situation. This community is far different than the previous community, and there's virtually no discipline problems. Those that we have are, what I would consider, relatively minor, but yet my experience from a previous school taught me that there are a lot of needs out there that are being untapped and unmet, and some of those behaviors did need...and it was kind of frightening. And I'm not talking about a large number, but you only, generally, need a few that makes everything very unsettling to everyone around them, and a principal could devote and spend considerable amount of time dealing with those behaviors. So, I've been there. And I think that still exists. So, I'm trying to go into, what I would consider, more of a normal setting for the administrator, than what I'm dealing with in my present situation. This is kind of ideal, in terms of behaviors. Maybe it's the ideal place to retire from (laughter) with a very positive and a very rich feeling about it. I have a great deal of empathy and appreciation for those administrators in the inner city, that are dealing with numerous problems that, I think for those of us out in places like Loudoun County, we couldn't ever fathom the problems that they have to deal with, and the needs that they deal with. That's moving out in some places...in Fairfax and Montgomery and Prince George's. So, are the kids different? I think it's always interesting to me to see a five year old start in school and they all look pretty much the same and things start changing and taking place as they go through life's hurdles, and the environment is extremely important in the raising of children, and they're a product of that environment, and sometimes schools can't control that environment. We have to live in it and work in it, but we're not creating all the aspects of that environment that kids are coming from.
Q: Before we wrap up today, is there anything that you would like to add regarding the role of the elementary principal in schools today?
A: I think the elementary principal, in my eyes, still has (or any administrator, middle school, high school) one of the most important jobs around. I think of the dynamics of trying to work with four or five or six hundred kids, a staff and all the parents, and all the people that you interact with...the human relation skills of the principal have to be phenomenal to make some degree of success. My appreciation will always be there for that person who's dealing and trying to run a school setting.
Q: Thank you.
A: Enjoyed it.
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