Sandra Coburn 7-18-84 1 hour
1. What has been your educational training and experience?
S: "I got a Bachelor of Science degree in 1971 in Bluefield State College, West
Virginia and that was in elementary education. I got a Masters degree in
Administration from UF in 1977. My first two years of teaching were at Shell
Middle School. My next eleven years have been at Ft. Clarke."
J: Shell Middle School, who was the Principal at that time?
S: "There were two Principals. One was Elizabeth Green and the other was Oliver
Jones. When she retired he came on board." S3k2e l[aO7 jq7-
J: Now, Shell Middle School, what is Shell now?
S: "Shell is an elementary school."
J: An elementary school but at the time it was a middle school.
S: "Shell was a, Spring Hill had become a middle school. That was the only middle
school. Shell housed 5,6,7 and 8. I don't think they got much publicity, but
they were changing over to a middle school."
J: And then did the students from Shell then went to Spring Hill?
S: "No, Shell is in Hawthorne."
J: Oh, yes, that is right. So they went to Hawthorne when that changed over.
S: What happened they had an elementary school and I don't know if it had been a
junior high before that time or not, maybe it wasn't. But they had a Shell
Elementary and they were switching from a junior high, when I went there, to a
middle school concept. That was the first time I ever heard of it. Then when
they would leave there they would go to high school. Womewhere in there they
changed, I don't know the exact years, but they don't have a middle school
anymore. They don't even have a junior high. They go from elementary straight
into Hawthorne Junior-Senior High,"
J: I don't think I have ever heard Shell Middle School.
S: "But it was, it was definitely a middle school. Ann Bryan, was instrumental, she
was a media specialist there then and she was a very conscientious worker toward
that. She was the first person who ever talked to me about the middle school
concept or idea or things that were trying to happen in Alachua County. I had
just moved here and it was my first year of teaching."
2. Why, in your opinion, you were here during part of that, why do you think the
middle school developed in Alachua County?
S: "Well I think it was probably the reason that middle schools are starting all
over the U.S. right now. They found out there was something lacking in the
junior high and they wanted to make it better and so when they started looking for
ways to make it better that is what they did."
Phone rang--stopped tape for conversation
J: You were saying that you thought it was purely for educational reasons. That
they saw a lack and a need for something different.
S: "My only experience with junior high had been when I was a student. Then I went
on to college but I got a late start, I had children and was married for years
before I ever went to college. I really didn't know what was going on in the
junior highs or if they had changed, and that was in West Virginia. When I
moved to Florida I assumed it would be junior highs just as it had been in West
Virginia or anywhere else in the nation. Being a first year teacher and full of
enthusiasm and going to change the world and everything else it was new and
exciting for me to find out people were trying to change some things in the
I really didn't know why they wanted to change them. It had been fun when
I was going through. I enjoyed it. When I got to listening to the reasons and
the ways we could make it better and meeting some individual kids needs and
looking at those situations, it seemed like a very good idea so as far as why
Alachua County decided to go that way I'm sure it must have been because they
didn't like what was happening."
3. The next question is how did you get involved in the middle school? You covered
some of that. Tell me more.
S: "There is one thing. Being fresh out of college and coming into a rural setting,
as Hawthorne was, you know I was in a rural area too, in West Virginia but nothing
compared to what it was like in Hawthorne. Integration was something that was
very new to me, even though West Virginia had been integrated for years. My
children had gone to integrated schools, per se, but there was never a black in
their schools. When I came to Hawthorne and I think it was, it might still be,
but then, in those days it seemed to be a socially economically deprived area.
I found all these needs and recognized them and really didn't know what to do
about them. I was hungry for help in learning how to deal with those kinds of
problems. When somebody came along and said these are the things we want to do
to change things I grabbed because I wanted any kind of alternative we could use
to make things better."
4. How long have you been a middle school teacher?
S: "Well I would like to say every since I have been teaching, for thirteen years.
I can say that for sure. Knowing what I know about the middle school and whether
it would have the name middle school after it, I have been a middle school teacher
since my first day of teaching."
J: I think you said how long at each school but would you repeat that again?
S: "Two years at Shell and eleven years at Ft. Clarke."
J: So you have been at Ft. Clarke since it opened? #5
S: "Uh huh."
J: That was what year, do you remember?
S: "Yes, 1973. As a matter of fact I was team leader that first year."
6. What was your training in the middle school philosophy and concepts when you became
a middle school teacher at Ft. Clarke?
S: "There was a course offered. I don't know whether it was Dr. Alexander or Paul
George, The Emergent Middle School, and there was a seminar held, I think it must
have been the summer of 1972 or 1973. I don't remember which it was. It was held
at Howard Bishop and I was a part of that. That I feel like was the first formal
training in the middle school concept. Before that, as I say, Ann Bryan and
Elizabeth Green, had been working picking up information from Spring Hill and from
Crys Compton and trying to turn Shell into a middle school. We actually did have
the name Shell Middle School."
Ji I didn't realize that.
S: "We were working really hard at that--at team teaching and inter-disciplinary
units and doing things like that. Anytime they ever talked about middle schools
in those first few years they always talked about the only middle school in the
county as being Spring Hill. I remember we got our feelings hurt a lot because
we were working hard at being a middle school. And there were middle school
things going on there. It was not a junior high school."
7. Why did you decide to teach in a middle school?
S: "Well, I didn't decide to go to Shell. That just kind of happened. I had gotten
entrenched into the ideas and was probably one of the biggest proponents of middle
school theory at the very beginning. Then I heard that they were going to build
this middle school, I mean the middle school. It was going to follow Alexander's
book, one step right after another. I didn't have continuing contract and at that
stage, Longstreth was Superintendent, and that was when we had the fruit basket
turn over. We had three choices of what school you wanted to go to. You could
put down your first, second and third choice and your name was sent to those
Principals and then they would choose which teachers they wanted.
I jumped out and chose Ft. Clarke as my first choice. Knowing that if I
didn't get chosen there I might not have a job. I wanted it so desperately. I
wanted to be a part of that new building. I must have been pretty enthusiastic
about it because when I had my interview with Bill Cake, we didn't have a school
then but he was interviewing at the old post office. When I went there I was sure
that was what I wanted and then that summer, it must have been the summer of 1973,
he called me in that summer and told me he had chosen me for team leader with only
two years experience. I was scared to death, I mean absolutely petrified. Our
teams then, when we went to Ft. Clarke that first year, I had as many people on
my team as there was at Spring Hill."
J: You were grouped in that year, grade level teams?
S: "No, we were divided into four teams--1,2,3,and 4. Each team had a team leader and
Assistant Principal The Assistant Principal taught time. Then there was one
team leader. There were huge teams. I guess we haQd close to 250. We had over
1,000 students that first year, maybe 1,050 but I don't remember the exact
numbers too well but it was somewhere around there. So there were our 250 students
on my team. And lots of teachers, probably 15, 16, 17 teachers."
8. What are your beliefs or ideas about the adolescent child?
S: "Laughter---They are my favorite group. I guess they are my favorite group because
I feel like they have the most needs. They need more attention, they are going
through so many changes--physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, sexually.
They need so much direction. When you are a teacher and you see this great need
you are going to kind of be drawn to this area that needs you the most. To me
it is that group, the middle schooler."
9. What do you consider the most vital part of the middle school concept? What is
the central core?
S: "The central core--the teachers and the students. The students are special. We
don't have to evaluate them to find that out, they are special. The vital core
at that point becomes the specialness of the teacher. It takes a special kind
of person to be a middle school teacher. I firmly believe that. I think that some
people are really born to teach. They need training of course but they probably
could be good teachers without formal training. Those teachers are, I think, the
ones that make good middle school teachers. At the same time everybody can't be
that way so you need special training. I don't think there should be a middle
school teacher, in this county or anywhere else who doesn't have special training
concerning the adolescent and that they should have to pass every test imaginable,
making sure that they are validated, that they can recognize all the needs of the
middle school child."
10. How or to what extent do you think the Central Office has influenced the middle
school in this county?
S: "Central Office meaning the county staff, school board?"
S: "The school board is included in that?"
J: If you feel like that has been an influential part, yes.
S: "Yes, I do think that the county staff, including the school board has been
influential in the middle schools. Even at the very beginning when there was a
big push. It was something new. A lot of attention was given to it, a lot of
publicity and a lot of money, and a lot of special people. We had a supervisor
for middle schools. We needed it and we need it now. I think we need it now. I
think the county staff gave these extra people and gave us extra time and energy
and money. Anytime you try sometfng new you have to have the public, you have to
have like a public relations campaign or a publicity campaign and I think they
started that, I really do. I think there were a lot of parental complaints and I
think they stopped. I think they withdrew their support. I'm not quite sure
why unless it would be because of clamor from teachers, as well as parents, and
the community. Sometimes I think what it would have been like if they had just
held on and kept on giving us that support and kept on educating the public,
admitting, saying, yes, some of these things won't work in every single school
and kept on training teachers and kept on training administrators. I don't think
we would be having the problems in discipline and curriculum kinds of problems
that we have right now; if that had continued, that support."
J: Do you understand, I don't mean do you understand, do you know very much about the
differences and when they happened about school based management and centralized
S: "We changed that. It was given to us, taken away and it was given to us partially,
fully, taken away partially and then taken completely away. That has had an effect
on us, it has definitely had an effect."
J: That is one of the things I have heard mentioned so many times in talking to other
people. I didn't realize this so much, at the time, as a teacher.
S: "I think I realized that, well. You see, when I was telling you about Ft. Clarke
when it opened. Ft. Clarke was brand new, there was not even a building. They
were looking to go middle school. They had Spring Hill and it was open space but
it was small. There was not a lot of research to base things on. There was a lot
of theories and ideas, wonderful theories and ideas, but all theories and ideas
don't work in every single school. But they decided all of them were going to
work in Ft. Clarke. It was going to be the most open spaced school in Alachua
J: Now was this Bill's decision?
S: "I don't know. I don't think it was entirely Bill's decision. I think he probably
had some say so, I know he did as far as choosing furniture and as far as the
architectural design, I know that Crys Compton was in on that and I think Bill
probably was too. I would suppose that the only thing they had to go on was
schools that may have been built that way that they could look at but I don't think
there was a school anywhere that followed the book of theory and I would say that
was Alexander's book, The Emergent Middle School. That was exactly what it was
doing, emerging. I don't think there was a place that you could look at and say,
we are going to model our school after this one. There may have been a building,
there may have been some furniture, there may have been some ideas going on in
other places but all of those together in one place-- I don't know that there was
a place that was established that had been proven over a period of years that
it was successful. I believe they wanted to build this one school and try every
single thing. I'm going to tell you every single thing that was in that book, or
every single theory, concept or idea about middle school was tried. Some of them
didn't work, I can be more specific and tell you some of the horror stories or
whatever but some of the things did not work."
J: Can you give me some examples of some of the things;I would like to know specifically..
S: "Alright. Well, when you, I'm sure that you already know this. It doesn't matter
whether it was Ft. Clarke or anywhere else. If you are going to change over from
one kind of school to another you have to train the faculty. You have to have
some in depth kind of training. This school was not being changed over, it was a
brand new school. These people weren't born the day before. You didn't give them
a pill and say, now you are a middle school teacher. These were experienced
teachers, some were elementary, some were junior high school, some were high
school, some were beginning teachers but none of them were completely trained. You
know we didn't have anybody come to us from Spring Hill. We didn't have any
experienced teacher that had taught at another middle school come in. Do you
know what I'm saying? There was no one who had taught at a middle school.."
J: You didn't even have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes even.
S: "On my specific team, I had one teacher with continuing contract and you got
continuing contract after three years experience. So when I say we were young,
I mean babes, which was good because I'm sure Bill Cake chose those people so
they could be molded because you are new. I'm sure that was the best way to do
it. There were some teachers that were older, as far as years of teaching. We
were a mishmash of teachers but we did not all have the same training.
When we started we had to look at writing up out own philosophy and we knew
that these were things we wanted to include. I mean it was brand new for all of
us. The idea of putting 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, ungraded, multi-graded, you
knew you were going to do that. You were going to have four teams of ungraded
students. There were a lot of people who had been teaching, everybody had been
teaching single grades. We were leery of that, my goodness how can this work?
I mean to put a little tiny 6th grader with a great big 8th grader! Even though
it does work in some cases, it doesn't work in all cases. You can't do that all
the time, with all kids. We had 1,050. If y u have 250 and you want to put them
into smaller teams then you pick and choose those kids. You decide which ones
can and which ones can't. We didn't do that; we just took every single child out
of 1,050 and put them on 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teams. Now in hindsight you
know it won't work to fit 1,050 kids. To me that is obvious.
None of us had ever taught in that open space and there was not training
for that. We had never worked together so there weren't those kinds of realtionships
that were formed that happen along the way after a few years experience. Those
kinds of experiences weren't there. The one team that was the most successful,
that could work together and do more things together, were people that had
worked together in an elementary school. That goes to show that if you have
some experiences in working together it is going to help."
J: Did you do away with the multi-age grade program after a year?
S: "Oh, we didn't wait a year." (Sandra laughter)
J: It went that soon, huh?
S: "Oh, yes there were a lot of things that went soon, activity period. We had an
activity period every day. That was one of the theories, that having students
involved, having students doing some things they chose to do and wanted to do...
It is a great idea there is nothing wrong with that idea. Looking back on it,
maybe if we had said, let's try that second semester or our second year, the
planning involved just for an activity period, was phenomenal. The logistics of
getting them all, we didn't just let the students on one team go to activity periods
offered from that one team, we cross teamed. Any kid in the school could take
any course they wanted to take.
When I say we tried everything we tried it. It is no wonder we failed in a
lot of those things. The ungradedness was changed either before the second
semester or before Christmas. It was changed as soon as we could get it worked
out. We changed our schedule, I would say, at least three or four times that first
year. These were hand written schedules. We did them by teams, the Assistant
Principal, team leader and members of the team would sit and we would change the
schedules. I mean wrote them out. We made mistakes, sometimes kids wouldn't get
social studies or science or whatever and we wouldn't find that out until the kid
would come to us the next day or whenever we instituted the new change, there was
no way of checking before. I didn't make it to social studies but I had reading
twice. These were human errors."
11. What are some of the strengths of the middle school?
S: "There is a lot of pressure that is put on students at this age and I think one of the
strengths is the fact that the school, ideally, helps take some of that pressure
off, whether it is physical, mental, social, emotional--whatever. They are
involved with all aspects of the child. I think school helps remove some of that
pressure and helps teach alternatives to those children so they can make choices to
help relieve pressure or help make a decision that is going to make their life
more pleasant. I think that is the strongest aspect of the middle school, that it
does help relieve that pressure. Instead of adding more, you know being a propo-
nent of middle school I think junior high adds more with its competition and being
a mini-high school and putting them under those kinds of situations. They aren't
ready for that, they still want to crawl on the floor every now and the, they have
just come from elementary."
12. What do you think are the weaknesses of the middle school?
S: "Well, I would have to go to the staffing."
J: Preparation included?
S: "Sometimes I remember those first few years. It has gotten better at Ft. Clarke
but there again I don't think anybody had thought all those things through in the
beginning years. When you put 13, 14, whatever teachers on a team and you had 6th,
7th and 8th grade there is bound to be an element of that population that needs
higher math or higher science and sometimes there may not have been, say, a
secondary teacher trained on that team. So you would have an elementary math
teacher and they would not have had the proper training to teach higher math. Not
only did you teach math but science, reading, social studies, language arts and an
activity period or A/A group or whatever. It was physically humanly impossible to
do all the planning that was needed. I think academically students have suffered
not because of ill trained teachers but because of the staffing."
J: Not the right child with the right teacher at the right time?
S: "Well, no, I'm talking about a certified elementary teacher but that doesn't mean
they are certified to teach algebra."
J, They don't have the advanced knowledge?
S: "Right. Some people could pull it off. But a lot of times you, even if they could
have pulled it off they didn't have the time because they were involved in
teaching so many other subjects. I think another disadvantage, was that what
you asked me?"
J: Yes, or weakness.
S: "Sometimes especially in those first years, it doesn't happen now. I'm glad to
say it doesn't happen now, but in those first years we were so caught up in the
many different concepts and theories: that I think we lost a lot of kids. We
were trying to do these things for the kid but I don't know that we assessed
the kid and decided, child, do you really need an activity period? I think we
offered the multi-grade gradedness and these other things because they were
theories and new ideas and every child didn't need those things. I think there
are some schools, even in this county that need those things, that other schools
donJ't needi;c .-know that might be..hard to understand. (end of tape #1, side #1)
J: I think that anyone who knows this county would understand that just as you were
comparing Shell and the very rural differences, some of the schools in this
county, in different parts of this county are very different.
J: "Another thing that was with us those first few years, you don't notice when it
is happening to you, it is just like life, there were so many visitors and we
were on show. (laughter) I mean constantly. I remember one day, classes would be
very large, I mean like 40 some kids in a class and there were 6th, 7th and 8th
graders. I would stay there until 10:00 at night. I had to to get these learning
It would have been better for me to have taught from the front of the class
but I felt that I had to have them in learning centers because that was one of
the things on the check list that you had to do when you were in a middle school.
I was going to do them all and we all were. One day I was trying so hard.. I
was teaching Reading and you know social studies is my field but I was teaching
Reading to 40 some kids. Being in an open space and before we built walls, over
the years, so there were no hallways and anybody that came to visit your school
had to walk through your classroom because there was nowhere else for them to walk.
Well, I was right at the pit wall, that is right up near the front you know.
From my right there was a teacher from the back of the building bringing her
class to the media center which was right there behind me. so she was bringing
her kids to the media center and she had a large class. She probably had 35 or
40 too. They were rowdy, they were loud, and they were going to have to walk
in front of my class too. From the other side there was a, I have yet to know
why this ahppened. There was a group of kindergarten students coming to tour
this bui ding. I guess it was a sideshow. (Laughter) We often thought we were.
Anyway they were coming from my left and they met in front of my classroom while
I'm trying to teach Beading. I remember I walked into my team office, which was
very nicely furbished and I sat down and cried. I did not know what to do. There
was no place I could take my students. I couldn't be heard. You couldn't expect
them to concentrate. I mean little kindergarten kids waving, people coming at all
sides, their friends walking by and waving, and I just thought this is the end of
it. (Laughter) I mean all this work I have done--I can't even put up my learning
I decided to quit. I guess maybe I could have been fired for insubordination
or whatever, just for walking out. I walked up to Bill, I got somebody to watch
my class, I did do that. Tom .:.rcy, my Assistant Principal, I said to him, watch
these people. I went up to Bill's office and I was crying and I said, I'm going
home. I quit, I can't take another day, this is it. I had my purse with me and
I said, I',, leaving now. !.:..n is enough, I can't take this. He said you can't
do that. I said Bill, I'm leaving and there is nothing you can do about it. You
reach a point, this is all, I can't take anymore.
He took me by the arm and led me out the front door and put me in his car and
we drove off into the sunset. (Laughter --both) With me sniffling and snuffling.
We drove to Spring Hill and we pulled up and I said, I don't want to go in. I
don't care about middle school, I'm through with it. I don't ever want to see
another middle school. We sent in and it was running very smoothly and it was
very quiet, I mean it was not quiet at Ft. Clarke. One time it was quiet and I
called Bill to come look. It was not quiet at Ft. Clarke. At Spring Hill it was
running very smoothly. We went into the cafeteria and Bill introduced me to
Tom Diedeman and said, this is one of my teachers who is having a rough day. He
didn't tell him I was not ever going to teach school again. Then we got in
the car and came home. We walked all over the school, we talked to teachers,
we talked about how they were successful in doing things and we got in the car
and I looked at him and I said if you think that is going to change my mind
you're crazy. He said to me, you have as many people on your team as they have
in their school, just about. And he said they have been at this a long time.
It is a lot of pressure so we are going to have to be patient. It is true. We
are all in this boat together. I didn't really want to go back. I'm not going
to say I did. But I did think there was hope and I hadn't until that time. I
did not think there was going to be any hope for that working.
We did get through that first year and I still have students that call me.
I mean they are married, they have children. I see them at Florida football
games. They'll come rushing up and put their arms around my neck and I don't
know who they are and they'll tell me do you remember what we went through that
first year at Ft. Clarke? I used to be so embarrassed and I was so defensive
and I wanted to say to everybody, but we tried. I don't say that anymore because
we did do something that first year. That first year those kids learned how to
J: They learned how to be adaptable if you were having that many schedule changes.
S: "They learned to be adaptable. That is what they tell me when they call me. They
tell me also that they learned how to choose friends and how to assess what they
needed. I never thought they would ever ever use those words. There were
relationships formed. I guess anytime you go through a crisis together and we
did, we went through it together. There were close relationships formed. That
is middle school. I don't think they learned much social studies curriculum, I
J: Sometimes I wonder if they learn much of that anyway. Sometimes I think if I
just closed all of that and didn't even attempt that and did something else
completely they would come out as well.
S: "I think if we had thought that way that year and just worked on some of those other
things but we tried to do, that was why it was so frustrating for the adults, we
tried to do it all. Now our parents had a big influence too on the changes..
We had kids who wanted to go to college, I mean heaven forbid, these kids were
going to go on to go to college and they were not interested in some of the
courses we were offering that year. I mean how to plan a party. Those are
skills that you need to learn but not before you learn how to write the invitation.
They were very correct in asking those things.
That second year I believe was the first time that we gave Metropolitan
tests. I don't believe we gave them the first year, we may have but I don't
remember it. The second year we gave the Metropolitan test, and that was the
Otis-Lennon and that is only to the eighth graders. Then you can determine from
that what their ability level is. School-wide. Well, we were meeting the, we
were not working up to par. I don't know what their ability level was, it was
probably very high. But we were not meeting those abilities. You can look at
the theory and say that you need to have undradedness but if it is ungradedness,
ungradedness maybe could have worked if we had had the proper training. I still
believe in ungradedness, for some people. If we had had the proper training and put
in those kids that needed it the most then I think it would have worked. But when
you are not meeting those academic needs you have to stop. You can't go on.
You have to stop and say what can we do to meet the academic needs?
I'm not saying that academic needs have to come first necessarily. It all
has to be in there together. We have to meet it all. We had that second semester.
We put a team of sixth and seventh and a team of seventh and eighth, within that
one, within each of the teams. That worked well because we could put more of the
elementary oriented teachers with sixth and seventh and more of the secondary
oriented teachers with seventh and eighth. They needed a base, they needed a
place to get started too. That change in itself helped a lot. Then we started
putting people together who were functioning well, or people who had the same
philosophies. We started putting them together, that worked well. We had to
work awhile to find out who was going to work well together. Over the years we
have built more walls, we have gone to gradedness, we have been under mandates
from the county, you know, whatever they have said, if we would teach a full
class of social studies or science or whether it would be social studies and science
J: Some of these things have been mandates that they have gotten from the state.
S: "Yes, we have all had to follow the mandates. Whenever we started in 1973 there
was no adopted textbook. You could use any book you wanted. You could order a
class set or four different eighth grade history books, and we did. We wanted
to be able to hit every child and maybe this book would work with that one, you
know. There have been things that have caused us to change like I'm sure the
other people, these things have caused them to change too. So what we are right
now we are because of evolution. We have evolved."
J: Some of them have been internally instituted and some of them have been external.
Is that correct?
S: "Yes, whether with the community or with the county. I don't think the county
stayed committed. I don't think they stayed committed to give us the support we
needed. I think that Bill Cake, I don't know who all he had to, I don't want to
say, please, but it might be the only word I can come up with. I don't know who
he was responsible to, the Superintendents changed, the board changed, the county
staff itself changed, there were different people brought in to fill those positions.
They got rid of the middle school supervisor, not too long after we were middle
schools and we needed some direction then, we needed it more then than we did at
the very beginning probably. They took all that away.. There were different
dictates from the parents. I know why we are why we are."
13. Why do you believe your middle school developed differently from the other middle
schools in this county? We have talked about this. Is there anything else
you would like to say about this?
S: "Yes, I think sometime there should be a, maybe there already has been, some kind
of a comparative study between Lincoln and Ft. Clarke and how it developed.
And how similar they really are. I think sometimes Lincoln has received a lot
of publicity, over the years, of things they have done. Ft. Clarke has done some
of the same things. But they could talk about it and we didn't or couldn't.
There for awhile I really believe that if you talked about being a middle
school it was almost like saying you were doing something illegal or bad.
People did not want their kids to be at a middle school. Maybe it was because of
Ft. Clarke's first year. There was a bad name. It was bad publicity, it was bad
there the first few years. I would always like to know just the fact of the
different facility, you know, I think that really could make things a little
easier to instigate some of the things that you are going to require if you are
going to try to do a lot of middle school ideas at one time."
J: Do you think the open facility has been a problem in doing some of the middle school
S: "It has been a hinderance but it has been a positive thing too. It really has been.
J: Would you choose, if you were being able to choose, say Ft. Clarke, to rebuild,
would you build it open?
S: "I would build it closed as opposed to open with more walls. I would build it
with more walls but not as closed as say Westwood or Lincoln. I think you should
be able to have self-contained classes but I also think there should be the
flexibility to open up with the teacher next door, or on sides of you and open
up large areas. I think you should always have that option of that wall between
you because you don't need to be open all the time. When you don't have a wall
you are open all the time whether you want to be or not. Buchholz and the high
schools have those partitions you can pull between them. I don't think they ever
get opened. I think there should be the flexibility to open instead of with no
flexibility to close."
J: Given those options you would take the flexibility to open?
S: "Given the option I would take the open flexibility."
J: Would you?
S: "Oh yes, I would take open. Yes, I would take open. That is my experience you see.
When you have been doing that for eleven years you get ingrained in something and
you don't want to change. I don't care who you are. Even though there are some
bad things about it I still believe I can handle that better than I could being, you
know I feed off of people. Being in a classroom by myself all the time, if I had
an option I would rather be beside somebody than be in a room by myself."
16, Why do you think the middle schools in this county have developed differently the
way they have?
S: "Because of staffing."
S: "Principals, oh and teachers. If you have a group of teachers..."
J: Do you mean only teachers?
S: "I mean both. Staffing. Complete school staffing. When you have a group of
strong teachers in a school that are entrenched, I don't know that there is an
administrator trained that can move in and change that setup. Obviously if you
want the school changed, you move the teachers. They have never done that. If
you were committed to an idea and you wanted all middle schools to go the same
way, that is when you put all these teachers in the pot, every single teacher
in the county and you start doing some analysis of personalities and some, you
know, certification and what they can do and how they can work with people and you
start making up teams and you forget that they are from Howard Bishop, or West-
wood or Lincoln or Ft. Clarke. And you put them together and then you put
Principals that are trained with those people. I know that is idealistic."
J: It could be done.
S: "If you are committed to an idea. They'll never do that."
J. They have moved Principals and a lot of other people.
S: They have moved Principals to different schools. For instance Westwood. Westwood
is probably more middle school right now that it has ever been and it is not, I
son't think it incorporates many of the middle school ideas. It might, I don't
really know that much about it. I don't think it does."
J: I think Bishop right now too is probably about as much middle school as Ft. Clarke.
S: "Oh, yeah."
J: We haven't been looked at in that way, just like youall have not.
S: "I don't feel like you all have experienced the failure because you went at it
gradually, you didn't jump in with both feet."
J: Yes, we did, Sandra. We did all those things at first you have talked about. We
backed off of a lot of them too.
S: "You know we have backed off completely from very few things. We still do them,
they are just modified. I'm really glad the A/A activities are going to be, well
I guess mandated is the best word to use. I'm glad we'll have that one period
17. What do you think has been the most positive, the best aspect of Ft. Clarke?
S: "Its teachers. And working together. That has changed."
J: I'm ending with 1983 by the way. (Laughter) I won't get into this last year's
upheaval because it just seems too complicated. You know I don't know about
these, say Middleton, I don't know if he has had training or middle school back-
ground or philosophical knowledge. Did he have a lot?
S: "I think he has some. He probably has as much as some of the other middle school
Principals in the county. I think the only two middle school trained people we had
were Spindler and Cake."
J: And Diedeman.
S: "And Diedeman. I'm sorry. I forgot about Tom."
J: I know Harry has said that everything he has learned, he has learned on his own,
S: "I think it is not only Principals but I think they are going to have to start
training some of the AFC's as well, and APA's. (Assistant Principal for Curriculum
and Assistant Principal for Administration) But I don't know whether they are
doing it or not."
J: I think they themselves are asking for this.
S: I think the teachers need the training. If we are committed to it. I would love
to know if we a e committed to it or not. I think maybe that is school by school.
I know years ago we had a philosophy--a middle school philosophy--written in our
school that we as a faculty sat down and wrote. ihat is it that we believe in,
what is it that we want, what are the prime things we'll be doing? That has
changed over the years because the faculties have changed and the administrations
have changed. That should be re-done. Anytime you have a major turnover in
faculty you need to, or you need to get it out every year and rehash it and say,
look this is what we are about."
J: Or at least every three years.
S: "I think it should be done every year. That you should bring it up and read it any-
way for the new teachers that are there."
18. Why have you remained a middle school teacher? After you got through your first
trial year there you stayed because you enjoyed and felt needed?
S: "I got tired and felt like I was experiencing burnout. I wanted to go to elementary.
I thought about,. I got a degree in administration and thought I wanted to get out
there. I'm not ready yet. I don't want to teach any other age level. It took me
awhile to make that decision. When I had to assess what was wrong with me and
decided it was a little bit of burnout. But I don't want to teach any other
level. I get satisfaction from this. I mean this is where I get my strokes."
19. How do you think the middle school in this county could best be improved?
S: "Well, I think what we were talking about a few minutes ago about some staff
development. That is the first thing that has to be done. Before that you have
to decide what you need. Somebody in the county staff has to say, hey are the
middle schools doing O.K.? Are they moving along like we want them to move? Is
Westwood not as much a middle school as we want it to be? Or is it O.K.? Do
we want to be that way? If it is then say that, admit it. Say, we would like to
really change Ft. Clarke a little bit or we would like to change Howard Bishop
or Lincoln. They have done that subtly, they have done that through the backdoor.
When Lincoln was doing, they took away their ungradedness, they took away certain
things at different schools that were working, or they thought it was working.
(at those schools) If there are certain things that they want, then say it, not only
to the Principals in the Principals' meetings, but say it openly to teachers in a
letter or in these open meetings that we have. Say O.K. you are doing what we
think you should be doing, you are right on task or..."
J: I wonder sometimes whether some of those people are very knowledgeable about
middle schools, whether they know what is the best thing to be doing.
S: "Somehow or other it seems to me like it is kind of haphazard.. If it happens
alright and if it doesn't well we'll patch it up a little bit. We'll put a
band-aid over it or we'll do this. That kind of operating, that is what we did
the first year at Ft. Clarke. It doesn't work. Somewhere it gets out of hand.
It has to have a lot of attention, along the way. It needs a lot of attention. It
needs direction. I think maybe if we had a middle school supervisor it might help-
to look into that."
20. I don't know, this you might not know right now too. Paul is really concerned
right now about me being able to get documents and materials. Are there any
things that you have that would show some of the changes or do you have any
things, or even at school, that I could know that I could get later, that you
would have that would show, like some of the things you did the first year? Do
you have any schedules or things like that from the very first? Do you still
have any of those things?
S: "I have just cleaned out, before I packed up this year and threw a lot away from
this year. But I tell you somebody who does, is Dot Whittle. She kept a diary
and put everything in it day to day kinds of things. It is almost like a horror
story. She would be an ideal person, she also saves all kinds of things."
Ja- I'll call her.
S: "She'll be at Mebane this year. Bill Cake doesn't have anything like that?"
J: I don't know. I asked him about some things but I didn't ask him about things from
that first year. He might have dumped some of that stuff when he moved again. He
might have saved some of it.
S: "No, I don't think I have any copies of the schedules or anything like that. I
kept a journal for awhile. It was purely personal and it was full of agony. And
also the good things that were happening to me. We did some great things that
year. If I had more time I could tell you about those kinds of things too. No,
I don't really have anything from that first year. We have slides, I have some
slides from maybe the second year, before the walt started going up--you know of
the kids and huge groups and learning centers and things like that. I have got
slides from all of that."
J: Good. I'm glad to know that. I don't know if I can use pictures or not but it
would be interesting to see them.
21. Are there any other things that you can think of that I may have left out or that
I may have asked about or anything else you can think of that would be historically
important for ever after? (Sandra laughed)
S: "Historically important? Well, I think it would be good to take a look at Ft.
Clarke from the very beginning to what it is now, year by year. To see how, you
there were great changes that occurred the first year. We put up a wall the second
day of school. We didn't even have a wall separating two teams, separating 500
kids. So we put up a wall, that first day, it took us until about 11:00 that
night. But we got a wall up, just between those two teams. So some changes
happened very quickly. Some happened over a period of ten years. I think it
would be interesting to see just the evolvement of one school from total to what
it is now. In all aspects of it. I don't know if that would be any more
historically important than the fact that we have changed. We have changed."
J: We haven't decided exactly how we are going to end up handling all this.
S: "What I am thinking about, when you look at a school, when it first started, you
are bound to have a list of all the things that make up a middle school and you
look to see did you have all of those things the first year? You don't necessarily
have to say did it work? But did you have it? Then you look at the second year
and say, did you have these things? But what, and then along the way, you know
even Paul George I think, has changed from what he was in 1971 or 1973 to what he is
in 1984. I can remember when he never thought it was a good idea to speak to
large groups of kids and I think that changed over the years. I remember even
reading some articles he has written that you can reach a lot of kids that way.
It is the most efficient use of time. But you don't ever throw away all. It is
just another phase of teaching, another strategy."
J: Paul has certainly been influenced by some of the recent research. Sitting in
rows, teacher talk--there have been a lot of changes that have come about.
S: "Right, but there for awhile that was not the way to do it and if you did it that
way you were not a good middle school teacher. So there has been change. As that
r"as occurring, that was also occurring at our school."
J: I think probably the middle school, it seems to me though I don't have that much
firsthand knowledge or elementary or secondary now, but it seems to me that middle
school is more influenced or really pays attention and shifts or changes or tries
to adapt more to research. Maybe it is because we have such a volatile group that
we are dealing with in the adolescent age. I think that we really pay attention to,
if they come out and say this is best, we are probably quicker to try or to look
S: "Yes, it goes back to middle school teachers-being a special breed of people. I
really believe they are.
J: That covers all I wanted to ask today. I may need you later. If you don't have
any other words of wisdom to impart today that covers it all.
S: (Laughter) "No, I don't have any words of wisdom."
J: Thanks, etc.
(end of tape)