Interview with Thomas Diedeman, June 21, 1984

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Interview with Thomas Diedeman, June 21, 1984
Diedeman, Thomas ( Interviewee )
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History of Florida Education Oral History Collection ( local )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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Principal Questions

i. l-;Wat has been your e ducationaal training and experience? Elementary?
Secondary? Administration? Subject Area?

2. Why, in your opinion did the middle school develop in Alachua County?

3. how did you get involved in the middle schools in Alachua County?

4. How did you get your job as a middle school Principal?

5. iiow long have you been a middle school Principal? (dates)

6. Tell me about the history of your school. (before middle schoolalso)

7. What was your training in the middle school philosophy when you became a

3. Were you able to choose your faculty when you became Principal?

9. If yes, do you think this helped? If no, was this a problem?

"10. How much training in middle school, or middle school knowledge, did your faculty

have when you were Principal?

11. What are your ideas or beliefs about the early adolescent child?

12. What do you consider the most vital parts of the middle school concept?

13. Should the middle school curriculum differ from the high school or junior high
curriculums and if so why or if not why not?

14. How or to what extent do you feel the central office has influenced the middle
schools in this county?

15. What are the strengths of the middle school?

16. What are the weaknesses of the middle school?

17. Why do you believe your middle school developed the way it did, differently
from the other middle schools in this county?

18. Has your school's program changed over the years? How has it changed?
If yes, why has it changed? What influences brought about these changes?
19. What advice would you give to schools beginning middle school programs?

20. To what do you attribute the exemplary or non-exemplary nature of the middle
school you have been associated with?

21. How would you explain why the middle school movement in Alachua County took
the course it has taken?

22. Why have you remained a middle school Principal?

23. How do you think the middle schools in this county could be improved?


24. Do you have any documents, materials I might use to help me determine the
history of the middle schools in this county?

Can you think of any other areas I might not have covered that I need to know

in order to write the history of the middle school movement in this county?

Tom Diedeman Interview 6-21-84 50 minutes

1. What has been your educational training and experience?

Diedeman: "I went to uh first year of college at University of North Carolina before

I went into service. And then the rest of it has all been at the University of

Florida. The rest of my B.S. and Masters. I taught in junior and senior

high school here in High Springs and at Santa Fe, until I became elementary

Principal. I was elementary Principal at High Springs Elementary for 14

years and then uh when the middle school opportunity came along I uh

volunteered for that. And I have been at the middle school ever since, which

has been another fourteen years."

2. Why in your opinion did the middle school develop in Alachua County?

Diedeman: "Ur I don't really know why. I know probably one of the things that

got everybody thinking about it was the integration movement. Uh I don't

really know wkhxxxixkn wxpKhaklaxaexfxthkxtkmsxtkhatxgtx exactly

why in the county but I know why I got involved. I had been reading some

books about it and Dr. Alexander's initial book and there were a couple of

others that had talked about some of the kinds of things, I don't know,

it just sounded like what we ought to be doing for kids. Uh taking some

of the pressure off and getting them involved in their own education and

getting them involved in the process of learning. I guess. But in this

particular county Tiny Talbot was the Superintendent then and he and the

Board certainly did support the initial movement. Uh not only did they

send the ten of us to Dayton as I mentioned earlier but they provided enough

staff where our teachers could have adequate planning time for the teaming

kinds of things we tried to do and uh had we not had that much planning

time, see we had one hour before school and one and a half hours during

the studnet day for planning time and we had enough staff so we could

arrange the schedule so the basic team could spend that 1f/2 hours


together--doing planning. We did a lot of interdisciplinary teaming and

interdisciplinary kinds of units and those take a lot of time to plan."

Jean: Sure do.

Diedeman: "Until you get the hang of it. Of course we were brand new at it.

We had an opportunity to go up to Baltimore and look at some middle schools

up there, one of them was supposed to be ideal, both of them in Columbia,

Miaryland. Uh one of em was, what was supposed to be ideal and one middle

school in name but a lot of it had not changed."

Jean: You mentioned about Dayton, why Dayton, was there a special place at Dayton?

Diedeman: "Yes, there was a fellow Billy Reeves who had been, I think in Sarasota

County, who had somehow gotten involved in Kettering Foundation. They had

developed an elementary model for uh utilizing teaming aspect and some other

things that they wanted to do. And really what we did, we sent up for a

workshop, a three week clinical workshop, where we ate, slept and dreamed

it. And uh they had a program that they had, I think they started at, with

78 outcomes that you should try to achieve in developing the kind of

program we were talking about. But while we were up there, the ten of us,

plus the ones from some other states and I think there were seven or eight

states represented in that workshop. Uh really what we did adapted an

elementary model to the middle school age child. We wound up with 30, we

condensed those 78 outcomes into 35. And uh put em, they had a couple

of schools there that we worked in where we could actually do what we

said we needed to do and try it out on kids during that summer. There

were a couple of schools that had uh volunteered to let us uh have kids

dome, I don't know what incentive they gave to have kids come in the

summertime, but I guess it must have been somn."

Jean: Now you were up there for how long?


Diedeman: "Three weeks and that was strictly the participants--no family,

nothing. That is why I say---we taught, thought and planned middle school

from the time we woke up until way late. And uh it was just one of those

really neat, we spent the first six, we spent the first nine days developing

teams and doing the planning then we spent the rest of the time actually

putting the plans into operation with the kids. And there was a whole string

of uh procedures, the Kettering people, one of the best things we got out

of that Kettering involvement was their planning model, the teams."

Jean: Do you feel like that whole experience was a really good useful thing?

Diedeman: "It was very very--the only thing I regret is that I was the only one

from this school that was able to go. 'Cause what they did, they taught us what

we had to come back and try to get our teachers to do. Which was very helpful

I thought later, I wasn't to- sure about it at the time. But as it turned out

it was really very helpful in that there are real peaks and valleys in this

business and it was easier for me to see the valleys coming and make them not

quite so deep."

3. I think we have sort of covered this one, how did you get involved in the

middle school in Alachua County? Do you have anything else you would like

to say about that?

Diedeman: "No, like I say the reading I had done uh just really kind of got me excited

about, I could see a lot of opportunities to do some really neat things with

kids and uh teach them in a way they would enjoy, find it fun and enjoy,

yet really challenge them too."

4. And I think we have covered how did you get your job as a middle school

Principal? You came from elementary. Is there anything else you would like

to add about that?

Diedeman: "No, I like I say I just volunteered to get involved cause I liked what

I had been reading."

5. And I think we have covered how long have you been a middle school Principal?


I think we have that one covered.

6. And the next question was tell me about the history of your school. I think

we have covered a little bit of that but why particularly this location

or why did this come about, a little bit more about that?

Diedeman: "Well there were several uh locations considered but this one turned

out to be the most reasonable, really there were more acres available here

and uh I'm sure the price was better than some of the other locations. And

it was in a highly congested area at that time."

Jean: Now you have the uh open space concept and I know Ft. Clarke was built with

that concept in mind also, was that your choice or was that just a fad at the

time or how did that come about?

Diedeman: "Uh everything that we had read, it seemed like the open concept

would really facilitate the kind of program we were going to try to do, uh

the teaming thing. I think it was a little bit on the experimental basis too

because of course Mebane is the finger type construction with the self-contained.

I think"it might have been sorta on the county's part anyway to see which was

going to facilitate the middle school best. Uh we were ready to give it a try."

Jean: Have you been satisfied with the open concept?

Diedeman: "I love it. (emphatic and real fee ling) I really do. I, you know it

is funny the first year, it takes some getting used to, not only by kids

but by teachers. Kids adapted a lot quicker than the rest of them. But

I really believe if the second year had been like the first we all would have been

looking for something else to do. It was a rough year. The full scale

integration, we were trying something really new and different in a rural

setting. A lot of the folks in town weren't really familiar with it and

they just didn't know too much about it. Uh we didn't know a whole lot

more to tell them. There hadn't been a lot done in middle school at that

time, as far as work and operating."


Jean: No real results to point to....

Diedeman: "In fact the only one we had heard .about, I think there were a couple

of them up in Michigan somewhere, I don't even remember the name of them now.

There really just weren't that many in the country so we were sort of like

pioneers and uh but that second year was sort of like someone waved a

magic wand over everything. Everything just seemed to fall into place and

it has just been getting better and better. And uh we had our, the

Kettering people put on a clinical workshop here toward the end of the -

second year. Like we had done one summer. That was a real good experience

for all our teachers plus the kids. To see the type of things, and watch

people work through the process. It was really good for our faculty and we

have about half of the original bunch here still."

7. What, I think we have covered this one, what was your training in the middle

school philosophy when you became a Principal? I think we have been over that

one pretty well.

Diedeman: "Yeah"

8. And the next question is one that I have found important for the other

people, were you able to choose your faculty when you became Principal?

Diedeman: "Yeah. When we were at Douglas we had a sort of a workshop on how to

write interdisciplinary units and I had tried to tell the folks I was working

with then in that setting as much as I knew about what we were going to

try to do, the types of things we were going to try to do, the kind of

facility we would have, I mean we had a model of the plant that had been

built and the plans and we just went over that and tried to let them see

what was coming. And uh those that were interested in giving it a shot had

that opportunity. And those that didn't..... Everybody I interviewed for

a position, I tried to tell them, you know what we were going to try to do

and it was something fairly new and all I was asking was for them to give


it 100 percent and stick the whole year. Really give it a fair shot, not just

two or three weeks and if they didn't like it say the heck with it and want c

transferred somewhere. 'Cause I knew it was going to take longer than that

to really get the feel of it."

9. Do you think that it was very helpful that you were able to help select or select

most of your faculty?

Diedeman: "Yes, I do. It was--it is too bad everybody doesn't have that

opportunity. In fact this is about the first time that I can recall since I

have been in the business that uh a school was designed and built to house

a particular kind of program rather than the other way around. You usually

have the building, they move you into it and then you try to develop a

program that fits with the facility. This worked the way I thought it

should work. All the time."

10. How much training in middle school or middle school preparation did your

faculty have, I know you have talked about yourself going to Dayton, but how

much preparation did your faculty have?

Diedeman: "They had what I could give them in one week of pre-planning. Which

is about all we did, that and dodge people bringing in furniture, furniture

for the different units, and electricians and carpenters. It was an

interesting first year."

Jean: I can imagine it was.

11. What are your beliefs about the adolescent aged child?

Diedeman: "In relation to what?"

Jean: Just what are your ideas about this age as different from elementary

and high school or.........

Diedeman: "I think it is the most interesting, the most exciting, uh age of the

whole bunch. They are going through more changes physically, emotionally,

academically than at any other time in their whole life. And to see these

kids really grab hold and uh we have a awfully good faculty that is willing


to go past what is required, uh to really help. Kids at this age have

a awful lot of problems. And uh problems getting along with each other,

with their folds at home and they just have a tough time. No two days

are ever the same. But I just really, I just enjoy this age kid. They

are young enough that you can still do a little molding."

Jean: Hope to make an impact.

Diedeman: "And hope to make the right kind of impact. And give them the

information and the techniques for making choices that are really going

to affect them for a long time."

12. Uh the middle school concept, the middle school idea encompassea a

great many things, what do you think has been at Spring Hill the most

vital part of the middle school idea?

Diedeman: "I don't know that there is one more important than the other. It is

sorta, the whole approach I think that came in the aspect--advisory/advisee type

programs. Uh--trying to get kids involved in their own planning, planning

their own programs, learning how to study, how to improve their opinion of

themselves, how to help them get along with other people that are different

from them."

13. Do you think that the middle school curriculum should differ from the high

school or junior high school curriculum and if so, if you think it should

why or how?

Diedeman: "I think it ought to differ from the high school program. I think a

good junior high school probably does a lot of the same kind of things, a

lot of middle schools-the only think they changed was the name on the door.

Uh then they went from quote "Junior High to Middle School." Uh I think

it is a way of dealing with kids this age that really makes a difference

not so much what you call it. I think the things that are good for kids

this age probably were emphasized under the quote "middle school movement."

But, as far as, yes it ought to be different from the high school. I


think that was one of the things I saw in the beginning was the chance to

change some things that were not really good for young kids. An awful lot

of pressure put on kids in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades to do the same

kinds of things but at a lower level, I mean you know not quite the skill

level of the high school but at a just, a lot like a little high school--

academically, athletically, activity wise. Kids need to be kids for

awhile. They grow up fast enough enyway."

14. How do you think that the central office has influenced the middle schools

in this county or your school in particular?

Diedeman: "Lately or initially?"

Jean: Initially up through lately. All the way through.

Diedeman: "Initially I think we had a lot of support in trying to get the

movement off the ground. The State by some of the things they have

mandated to counties I think, we are sorta going in the opposite direction.

Although this year our county has done an awful lot at the middle school,

I know the PRIME bill, uh will probably have a lot more impact than it has

had up to this point. But our county has certainly gone to the bat for

the middle school even though the legislature didn't fund it to the

extent that they had hoped it would. See that age group still receives

the lowest funding of any other age group in the whole system--K-College.

First, second or third grades have a little, it's 1.2 something, the high

school 9-12 is 1.1 something, kids in the middle are 1.0, unless they are

in, you know, an exceptional child program or compensatory program."

Jean: Your regular student just doesn't.......

Diedeman: "Your regular basic 1.0. It is just not funded enough to do the

kinds of things we need to do to get a handle on the range of problems."


15. What do you think have been the strengths of Spring Hill as a middle

school of the middle school idea?

Diedeman: "I think probably the strength of our school is that we really

have a total team feeling. Everybody is part of the overall team and

then there are smaller teams within the big team. But really the team-

work and the willingness of the part of everybody to give that little

extra makes a difference. Uh when 3:30 comes there are still a lot of

teachers that will be here until 4:30, and some of them 5:00 and some

of them later than that. But it is just really a real interest in kids

and helping kids and planning the kind of program and giving them the

kind of help they need to succeed."

16. What do you think are the weaknesses of the middle school program in

general if not specifically at your school or just in general? Do you

see weaknesses in the middle school idea and if so what are they?

Diedeman: "There are some schools that don't put enough emphasis on the

affective area. I don't think there are many, certainly not in this

county, that uh don't put adequate emphasis on academics. All of us

do, that is why we are here. But a lot of times we get so tied up in

that we don't realize there is an emotional side and a feeling side to

a kid's life. We get a situation where, and I'm probably being conservative,

where they are living with a step-father or step-mother. Uh that in

itself generates a lot of uncertainty and a lot of difficulties for some

of us."

17. ihy do you think that Spring Hill developed the way it did differently from

some of the other middle schools in this county?

Diedeman: "Well I hope it was because the purpose was clear to what we were.

trying to do and we could find enough people who wanted to do it but....."


Jean: A strong commitment to the middle school idea.

Diedeman" "A real strong corinmitment."

18. Has your school's program changed over the years? From the beginning

to now and can you describe some of those changes, why it happened, and

how you think it has been brought about, what has influenced those


Diedeman: "We have changed more in the past couple of years, facility wise.

We have gotten some things here this past year, they have finished the

construction. We have gotten some things now that we had needed for a

long time.... We have never had an area, an adequate area, for physical

education. All we ever had was outside. We never even had showers and

lockers until the latter part of this year. Uh and music facility. All

of our exploratory programs were in temporary buildings. And those, you

know you can generate and do some interesting things but it is just not

like having the real facility that you need for those kinds of programs.

Academically uh we have always emphasized the basic areas---Math, Science,

Social Studies, Language Arts and Reading. Uh it tickles me, people talk

about getting back to Basics--as far as I know we never left it. We are

just doing 'em in a little different way but still that was what we were

interested in. Uh our exploratory programs have, you know, varied from

year to year depending on what, a lot of times on who we could get for

which areas. And again I have been real fortunate there in not having a

whole lot of turnover. We have developed mostly, well my Ag and Industrial

Arts man, he has been here the whole fourteen years and has helped develop

the middle school curriculum for those areas. So it was very familiar

with him and he was in on it from the beginning."

Jean: Who is your Ag person?

Diedeman: "Mullen, Jim Mullen. Uh certainly computers have changed an awful


lot of things both in curriculum and in interest. Kids just love em,

and not just to play games on but to really get into using the computer.

(unclear, statement)"

Jean: Did you start off in the beginning, did you uh, I know that uh John

Spindler talked about the IGE program. Did you........

Diedeman: "No, that was the Kettering agreement. See it is sorta confused

because there are two different ones. One comes out of Dayton and is

affiliated with the Kettering Foundation and the other comes out of

Wisconsin, both of them call themselves IGE but it is two different


Jean: But that whole IGE thing was what you in fact started right here?

Diedeman: "That is what we cut our teeth on."

Jean: Well now is that what you still have that basically? That same thing?

Diedeman: "The philosophy we have. But again because of the, you know it

seems like every year something has been added to the curriculum and this

coming year is the first time the day has been lengthened to handle any

of it. So when we get things added and added and added and you don't

increase your time any, you have to cut from somewhere. And uh so I uh

think from that standpoint we have probably been hurting a little bit.

But I think we'll be able to get back, as a matter of fact, we are working

on a schedule now that will be very similar as far as the amount of

planning time during student day as to what we started off with."

Jean: Oh, it is going back.

Diedeman: "So I hope that this is a step back in the right direction which

allows our teams to have enough planning time to do some of the inter-

disciplinary kinds of things we have gotten away......If you don't have time

you can't do that kind of activity. It takes an awful lot of time to plan."


Jean: Together

Diedeman: "To plan together. And if you don't have it you just can't do it."

20. What would you say are the exemplary or non-exemplary aspects of Spring

Hill? We may have covered some of those. Is there anything else you feel

like you would like to add to that question?

Diedeman" I think everything we have got is exemplary."

Jean: I think that is wonderful.

Diedeman: It is going to be getting more that way, I hope more that way.

As I say our physical education program for the first time this year

and we have a gymnasium and enough equipment to do a real sure enough

honest to goodness gymnastics program. The kids ate it up because they

have never had an opportunity to do anything like this. And again getting

back to the physical part of the thing kids this age are all left feet

and thumbs anyway and they really need that kind of (unclear) to

develop some poise and balance and coordination and all those other things that

go on. Band, the music program, we have a beautiful facility over there

now. This year we have had more kids interested and in music than we have

ever had, probably more that in the last five years put together. But it

has been great. Adn academically our kids do well on the standardized

testing. Uh we didn't have any building stanine lower than a six, now

that is building stanine. Eighth grade, seventh, uh eighth grade reading

and math building stanines were seven's. Must have done something right."

Jean: Somewhere, huh?

Di edeman: "Right."

21. How would you explain why the middle school movement in Alachua County has

taken the course it has over the years?

Diedeman: "Uh I think there is just really, after I don't know, I don't think

everybody that works with kids in this age range has been really committed

to the middle school movement. And I think a lot of the parents, especially in


the larger schools in Gainesville, just really were not ready for it."

Jean: You mentioned that, this is one thing I have talked about with Harry

and John Spindler, you mentioned about the community here, did you have

a great deal of problems with the community in instituting the middle

school idea or......?

Diedeman: The first couple of yeac, but the more we got them involved, and

the more they saw what was going on and the more opportunities they gave

us to explain it to them and we provided, we made our own opportunities

by having open houses, open house type programs, volunteers coming to do

various kinds of things and all you hear is, "I don't see how they learn

anything. All that bunch of kids in there and so much noise." And yet

you go in there during class and there wasn't any noise. During testing week

you won't find a quieter school anywhere than this one. You can hear a

pin drop in this whole school. But that is because kids have learned to

be considerate of each other and I think that is one of the things that

is important for them to learn."

Jean: Surely is. They need that responsibility.

22. Why have you remained a middle school Principal?

Diedeman: "Because I enjoy it."

Jean: You like doing what you are doing?

Diedeman: "Yep."

23. How do you think that the middle schools in Alachua County could be


Diedeman: "If we can stay with the kind of st affing we are looking toward

next year--that is a big step in the right direction. But really adequate

staffing and adequate funding for various programs that kids this age

really need. I think this would be the biggest thing they can do. And I


say they have certainly taken this county, the Superintendent and the

Board have taken a giant step this year towards the program for next

year--84-85. In that direction. I think now it is up to us in the

schools to show them what a good job they did."

24. Do you have any materials that you can think of, Paul wanted me to ask about

this, that somebody else might not have, that I might not have access to in

any other way. I won't need these things now but I'm trying to get this

on tape too. Do you have any of the things, from like the Dayton Project?

Diedeman: "Most of the stuff that I had I have already, I gave Paul a copy of

when he, back hwen he first came to the University."

Jean: O.K. I'll check with him.

Diedeman: "The information we developed from it. Now I know he has a copy

of the basis for our A/A program. We developed the second year we were here.

It was based around the warm fuzzy story, if you are familiar with that.

And uh the general goals, course since then we have done a lot of activities.

In fact Paul wrote a FERDC Bulletin several years back on, and used then,

it had a lot of the activities in it.

Jean: I have some other things too from here, and I was on the Spring Hill Five

Year Review several years ago so I have some of my things too but he wanted

me to be sure and ask for anything.

Diedeman: "Well, we have pretty well shared with everybody who has been here,

anything we had that would help them."

Jean: Can you think of any other areas that I might not have covered or that

might be important for me to have on the record of the history of the

middle school or things that were important here at Spring Hill or any-

thing you can think of that would need to be in my information?

Diedeman: "No, I uh have pretty well touched on most everything, the big thing

is really a commitment to what a good middle school really ought to

try to be. And sometimes you have to, have to have a pretty thick hide--


wear your iron helmet. But it is just like anything else when you go

to change something, uh change is difficult for a lot of people. And I

think that is probably, getting back to one of the other questions, that

is one of the things that make the middle school teacher different. Uh

they are not bound by tradition or what has been done before. You need

the type of person that can accept a challenge and really believe that

they can handle it. Uh, just, that, about the little warm fuzzy, that

is sorta our motto I guess. "If anybody can do it, we can." And I

think you really have to believe that to work with this age kid. There

are so, there are so many little things and if you don't look for them if you

don't, if you aren't sensitive to their problems and their needs you

just overlook them. I don't think that happens in our school. I think that

is probably one thing that makes ours different, our teachers are really

conscious of, talk about student centered, they really are."

Thanks from me