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Interview with Harry Conner, June 11, 1984

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Interview with Harry Conner, June 11, 1984
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Conner, Harry ( Interviewee )
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History of Florida Education Oral History Collection ( local )

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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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This interview is part of the 'Florida Education' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Principal Questions

1. What has been your educational training and experience? Elementary?
Secondary? Administration? Subject Area?

2. Why, in your opinion, did the middle schools 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. How long were you /or have you been a middle school Principal? Dates please.

6. What was your training in the middle school philosophy when you became a Principal?

7. Were you able to choose your faculty at your school?

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

9. How much training in middle school, or middle school knowledge, did your
faculty have when you were Principal?

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

11. How would you describe a typical middle school student?

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

13. Should the midd le 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. What advice would you give to schools beginning middle school programs?

19. Why did you terminate your middle school principalship or if still a
principal why have you remained a middle school principal?

20. What do you think are/were your strengths as a middle school principal?

21. What do you think were your weaknesses?

22. What are/were the strengths of your middle school?

23. What are/were the weaknesses of your middle school?

24. How would you describe an exemplary middle school plant facility?

25. To what do you attribute the exemplary or non-exemplary nature of the middle
school you are/were associated with?
26. How do you think the middle schools in this county could be improved?









Harry Conner Interview 6-11-84
2:15-3:00 approximately 45 minutes

This is Jean McCall interviewing Harry Conner June 11, 1984.

"Mr. Conner, I am going to be asking you some questions qbout the middle
school and your experiences with the middle school in Alachua County."

1. What has been your educational training and experience?

Conner: "I, I have a uh masters degree in music education, masters degree in

Administration and Supervision, Specialist degree in uh Curriculum and

Instruction. I have uh ten years experience as band and choral director,

uh sixteen years experience as Principal either at elementary school,

middle school or high school, Principal and Assistant Principal at

elementary, middle school or high school."

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

Conner: "Uh, my feeling is that, uh, my opinion is that it developed ,uh,

out of a need for, uh, to recognize the, uh, uniqueness of the middle school

age child, uh, and to ,uh, try to group those that age into some kind

of, uh grouping that would allow us to cover the whole span of that, uh,

the middle years experience for a child when puberty is just beginning

and then it gets, uh, covers a period up through ,uh, puberty is pretty

uh, well along by then before they get out and get into the high school.

Uh, that was the purpose for it being developed, the junior high did not

seem to meet those needs of organization."

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

Conner: "Well, Alachua County, I was uh Assistant Principal over at

Eastside for uh several years and uh I was appointed in 1975 uh as

Assistant Principal of Howard Bishop Middle School uh and that was the

first experience I had with the middle school in Alachua County."







(2)

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

Conner: "Uh I was Assistant Principal here at Bishop for uh three years and uh when Dr.
Marcy left and I applied for the position and received it at that time."

5. How long were you or have you been a middle school Principal?

Conner: "Since 1978."

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

a Principal at Howard Bishop?

Conner: "I uh had had other than uh some classes that I took with Dr. Alexander

that did not really deal with the middle school but rather it was just

classes in uh curriculum and instruction, uh other than those classes

that was the only training that I had for middle school, but uh that

was a good introduction, Dr. Alexander's classes at the University, a

good introduction to middle school and middle school philosophy."

7. Were you able to choose your middle school faculty when you became

Principal at Howard Bishop?

Conner: "No, the faculty was intact and over, uh, over the years I have

added teachers to it but and I feel some of the teachers I have

added are more intune with the philosophy of the middle school uh

but, no, I was unable to select my teachers."

8. Do you think that it was a problem that you were unable to choose

your faculty?

Conner: "Uh yes, I uh definitely think that, we would have had, the

middle school uh philosophy would have been implemented a little

better, I think, much faster certainly if we had been able to

select teachers that were more in tune with that philosophy. Uh and we

have some teachers that uh it really won't make a great deal of

difference, uh they have taught successfully uh with the junior high







(3)
style of uh teaching, and uh that kind of concept, and it has been

successful for them down through the years and they don't see any

real reason to change and so uh it is very difficult for them to

change. Uh but I think we would have been much further along if I

had been able to select teachers who were more in tune with that

philosophy."

9. How much training in middle school or middle school knowledge did

your faculty have, or were they able to get while you were or since

you have been Principal?

Conner: "We have done a few things but not really a great deal--much of it

has uh been uh through teacher certification, uh re-certification and

those that have gone back to take courses in middle school education."

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

Conner: "I believe that there are a lot of things about the early adolescent

child that are unique uh to that age uh and I think it is something

that the child has never experienced when he gets into that uh period

of time and something uh that will be a passing kind of thing, many of

those things will be a passing thing, but in the process he has

learned a great deal about himself and uh a great deal about what his

makeup will be and what he plans to be in the future and uh therefore I

think it is a time of a great deal of decisions being made by the

child even though the child is not aware that he is making decisions.

It is also a period of time in the child's life uh, where he is, uh so called

leaving the nest or the comfort of the home and he is expanding his

circle of acquaintances or friends and uh to me he is going, looking

toward a new reference group. The family has been the reference group

in the past and now his reference group is uh, some groups of people other

than the family, which is part of the normal natural growing up process,








(4)

but uh it is disturbing to the child sometimes and disturbing to

the parent because he comes across as being rebellious, and uh neglect

of the family and uh disowning the family in a sense, and it is really

not that at all, he is trying to find a new way of life for himself,

that's difficult and I think that is one of the things that make him

unique. I think it is important that those kids be grouped together

and it is important that people be trained to be able to deal with

that age."

11. How would you describe a typical middle school student?L"

Conner: "uh maybe all mouth, arms- and legs. (Laughter Conner and Interviewer)

Uh, I think in part of what I said earlier but uh, uh he is having some

unique experiences at this time that uh he has never had before. Uh and

after he passes through this he won't have again. Uh the growing the

physical changes that are taking place so rapidly and the emotional

change that uh he still wants to be a child but his body is propelling

him into being an adult and it is all very strange and difficult and

unusual for him, it affects some more than others but uh that is pretty

much the way I feel about kids at that age."

12. What do you consider the most vital or integral parts of the middle school

concept?

Conner: "Well uh I think first is a faculty that understands what is

happening to children of this age. Then to make sure that we let children

know that these things are happening to them at this age, what is really

happening, the whole world is not coming apart, it is just that they

are changing. And uh they need to understand that and it is something

that we all go through the rest of our life-- is changes that take place.







(5)

It is very pronounced at this age. I think it is vital though that

uh that, uh faculty not only understands children at that age but are

committed to seeing children grow in a uh number of ways, socially
don't
uh but also academically, uh IAthink it is a time that you can just

push things aside and just take care of these social things, I think

a child still has to grow academically. And uh we have to kind of nuture

them on through this period of time but there also has to be a great deal of

academic growth as well as social and emotional growth."

13. Should the middle school curriculum differ from the high school curriculum

or the junior high curriculum and if you think yes, why or if you think

no, why not?

Conner: "Yea, uh I think it should differ. It can't be the'same thing as the

high school curriculum, because, uh the accountability for the high school

student I think is much greater than it is for the middle school. I

think it is a period of time in a child's life when he is trying things,

testing things, finding out things and we all ought to have the

opportunity to make a few mistakes during that period of time we are

trying and testing. I think it is essential that the teachers help

a child to learn by the mistakes he has made and we try to minimize

the mistakes so it is not damaging to the child. But if you are going

to learn some things you have to try them out and if you try them out

you are going to make some mistakes. Uh, the high school doesn't

allow that much for mistakes. You don't do uh work enough to get

the credit, you don't get the credit. Whereas in the middle school

we have more flexibility and we can allow, make allowances for a child

that looks like he is going to make progress but he is not making it

uh at the rate that we expect him to make it at, or that we would like

him to make it at, that still goves us the opportunity to work with







(6)

him and hopefully some of those gains that he didn't make will be

made up later on down the road. So it gives us the opportunity to kind

of let the child stretch a little in one direction and not stretch so

much in the other direction until we kind of put him together, until he

can get into the high school and uh the junior high school uh got so

involved in uh being another, just what it was, a junior high school

until it kind of lost the concept of the child uh uh having the

opportunity to experiment and the opportunity to make some mistakes

without really being harmed by the mistakes. Uh you know we started,

when we had the ninth grade we even started giving credits. At one

time they talked about that in the ninth grade and uh those kinds of

things are really not uh helpful for children in the middle school."

14. How or to what extent do you feel that the central office has influenced

the middle schools in this county?

Conner: "I think initially, and I wasn't involved in the middle schools at

the time, but initially there was a strong push and a I think great deal

of inservice that went into the middle schools uh implementing the middle

schools. A commitment by the county, a commitment of resources for the

training, inservice training and a resources to implement the program,

giving teachers the opportunity to plan and those kinds of things. Uh

I think that that commitment has kind of gone. Uh I think I'm a good

example of, you know we have a few principals that really had a great

deal of training in the middle school. Uh I have received, there has been

nothing from the county that has done anything for me, or any new

Principals that have come into the middle schools. You either came in

with it or you don't get it. You learned it on your own. And there has

really been no inservice training, very little inservice commitment

to faculty, to administrators, uh even for the community to let them







(7)
know about the middle school and what we really need. And we have

employed a lot of new people since that time and uh I think, I think that

has been a real problem---that there has been nothing from the district

that really has....."

Do you see a date when there kind of ceased to be a commitment or has it been a

slow and gradual thing?

Conner: "I think uh after it got to, after it stopped being the thing that

I think that we let it go and picked up on something else that was the

thing. And uh it is a worthwhile program. Uh it is a worthwhile concept.

It needs to be it needs to be strengthened but it uh, I think too

when we started, the elementary school got the push four or five years

ago, they got the attention. The high school now has gotten the attention

and uh I think there is only a limited amount of resources and it has

all been drained off to meet those uh perceived needs in those two areas

and the middle school has been left without and uh we have been squeezed too

as a result of this because they have drawn some of the resources from

us. Uh there is no way a classroom teacher in the middle schools should have

to teach six classes of kids, 180 kids is just too many children to try

to provide the kind of guidance that you really need and the training and

the development that a child really needs at the middle school age.

And that is a group that's uh we are trying to keep in bounds and they

are pushing in all, in every direction trying to come out of those bounds,

which is the normal, the natural thing. And we should be, uh our program

should allow that flexibility so that kids can stretch and find things.

But we wind up with our just trying to keep a lid on them and that is really too

bad because if we gave teachers few enoughclients so they could really
deal with those clients, deal with those kids I think we could see a uh







(8)
much better, a uh much better adjusted child and a child that enjoys

life a little bit more. We could get away from the punishment kind of

attitude we have gotten into and that is kind of bad, I don't like it

at all."

That brings me into the next two questions really and the next question is....

15. What do you think are the strengths of the middle school? I think you

have already mentioned some of those things but I would like to have

them said again I guess.

Conner: "O.K. uh well I think the opportunity for teachers to work with

children that are of, that have similar problems uh is grouped them

together, taking the ninth grade off, where they have reached, they are

leaving that early adolescent period in the ninth grade they are pretty

well either they have adjusted or at least the hormone problem and growth

problem is not as pronounced and they have gotten used to it maybe, they

have gotten adjusted to growing a lot and they have kind of accepted

themselves at that. Uh but I think grouping them together so you pick

up the sixth grade group, that early adolescent group and uh keep them

in that group, and I think it gives you the opportunity to provide some

training for those teachers at that level. You have got to have a

better commitment, by the district, to do some additional inservice for

that. I'm not sure I answered that question."

I think you had talked about that in your other question too .and we get to

some of this because the next question is........

16. What do you think are some of the weaknesses of the middle school, of

the concept of middle school?

Conner: "Well, uh I think the major weakness that I have seen and maybe

the concept does deal with this but I have seen very little that has

been directed toward making sure that the teacher only sees so many kids.







(9)

There should be a strong push I think toward giving teachers the

opportunity to work with these kids, it is a very difficult time for

kids, and they need that support and that guidance in that direction.

They are kind of docile and willing to go along with things in the

elementary school. When they get in middle school they are trying to

find, they are lost and are trying to find their way and all these

things are happening to them. Like I say, they want to be children

but their body is propelling them to be adults and they don't know

how to be adults and that is a real teaching job for us. They don't,

there are a lot of things they have never experienced and it is an

opportunity for us to really teach them but when you are dealing

with 170,180 kids a day you can't, you can't really deal with the

emotional kinds of things that a child is going through and that is

where the crux is, the emotions.they are experiencing. If somebody

just kind of helps them and lets them know hey, other kids, this is

a normal thing happening to you. But they are high one minute and in

the pits the next minute. (Laughter) Their changes are so great.

I think uh the strength of the program might be part of the weakness--

is that you have got all this kind of behavior reinforcing that kind

of behavior also. You have kids that are hyped up and they are hyping

other kids up, as a result of it. We get into a syndrome of putting

more and more kids into it and not enough adults being with it and it

creates a very difficult situation. I don't think we can do the kind

of job that needs to be done, so we ride herd and we put a lid on it

"and kind of hold it down and it gets more punitive than I really would

like to see.







(10)

Like I say, I think one of the strengths is the grouping of those kids

together but the weakness is also the grouping them when those numbers get so

large, it is kind of like you get a group of low level kids in a class

and if they don't have anyone they can see as something of a model or

something of that sort in the class,they wind up everybody behaving like that,

at a low level. Whereas if you put some lower level kids in with some

brighter kids they challenge them to move on ahead at a faster pace.

But I think the behavior in the middle school kind of feeds on behavior

and if you put too many kids in the situation so an adult has trouble

handling them."

The RAISE bill has dealt with that particularly for high schools, that is what

you mean like with the numbers?

Conner: "That is right and we haven't gotten that with the middle school, and

it is crucial, a crucial thing. I think most educators look at it as,

most legislators look at it and say well if we really get them a good

beginning, and really make sure we get them ready for college and that

stuff in the middle just doesn't count. And that's there is so much

happening to them at that age that we can't continue to neglect them."

17. As we already talked about that the middle schoolsin Alachua County

are very different why do you believe the middle school at Howard Bishop,

the middle school you have been associated with, developed the way it

did, differently from some of the other middle schools in this county?

Conner: "Well, I think there are two or three reasons. One and I think a

very important reason, there was no opportunity to select faculty when

the middle school was first implemented. There were some people who

really would have been happier to have gone to high school, uh rather

than stay with the middle school. Uh there were some people who

never really saw the need to change and they haven't changed. So I
think that is one reason. I think the second reason was that---I'm







(11)

not sure the training program was really effective with those people

at all. The second reason was that uh somehow this community Bishop

resides in saw the middle school program as a permissive kind of

thing, where you really don't do much studying, you just find out how

you feel about things and you kind of do your own thing kind of

attitude and uh the community uh did not feel their children could

waste their time in doing that kind 6f thing. Uh many of these

parents in this community, they are upward mobile, they aspire to a

higher level, to have more than what their parents had, which is a

noble aim, but they also expect that they know how they got where

they are and they know what it is going to take for their children

to do better also. So they push their kids in that way. And I think

they uh saw the middle school as kind fo three years of wasting my

child'd time and they wanted more academic thrust to the program.

I think the third thing too was that we tied, about the same time that

we got involved in middle school, we also got involved in integration and

that kind of thing, a little after that, when we were having uh a lot

of trouble with trying to fit two different cultures into one fabric

and uh I think that dealt a very severe blow to the middle school

program at Bishop. And I think it did at a couple of other schools.

Uh I guess probably the thing that made it go the best at Lincoln

and Spring Hill was the fact that the faculties had really good training;

they selected the people that they wanted for the program and there was

an initial commitment to it. Once you have that kind of commitment

going on then you hire people to come to the program and they fully understand

that that is what you are going to have. And people that aren't

interested in that really con't apply, or they don't stay very long. So

I think that is why this program is different--internal and external
pressures. And then I don't think there was ever really the commitment







(12)

at the county to follow up on that. The middle school once they gave

the.yinitial thrust and got it rolling if you didn't keep it rolling,

that was your problem."

18. What advice would you give to schools beginning middle school programs right

now?

Conner: "I think obviously the most successful programs, the ones that

succeed and last the longest will be those that are able to select

faculties that are committed to the program. I don't know that that
is always possible. If it is not then you have got to invest heavily

in an inservice program. But I think it is essential to select

administrators who are committed to that program. Uh, that philosophy.

You have to start with administrators who are committed to it. Uh

and uh then you have to provide some really quality inservice training

in order to train people to (unclear) if you can't hire faculty

that's already in that frame of mind. So I would say, first off, hire

the people, if you can do it, hire the people that are committed to the

program; if you can't you need a good inservice program. And you need

to also provide for those people who just can't manage that, if you do

an inservice program, you need to provide somewhere else for them to go.

Because there are some people who just can't do that, so why make you

miserable and them miserable too---let's find another place for them."

19. Why have you remained a middle school Principal?

Conner: "Uh, this age just really delights me. So interesting, I think you

make a big impact on kids at this age. Probably more so that at any other

age. Uh they are still children and yet uh they want to be adults and

uh they are just a very enjoyable age to be around. And there are a

lot of people who don't like them at this age and uh I haven't found that

to be the case. I thoroughly like children at this age and I guess
that is really the reason why I have stayed at middle school. I get







(13)

the feeling sometimes that I am likely to be moved to a high school and I
kind of dread that because high school kids have already decided, you

know but the middle school kids, teachers....."

More opportunity to really do something.

Conner: "Teachers that are really good teachers walk two feet off the

ground with these kids. Any adult that really shows them some attention,

they really respond to that. It is just a marvelous age. And if you don't
like the way the kid is today, he is going to change tomorrow anyway.

(laughter Conner and interviewer) You will see a different side to him.

It is an age too, Jean, where you can be, in all good conscience, you can

be forgiving of a kid. When he makes a mistake, you know, he really

doesn't mean that, and you can really be forgiving of most kids, almost

all kids, you can really be forgiving---say well we are going to get

this thing right, it will be better tomorrow and that kind of thing."

( interviewer an aside on confrontation with kid and the next day all is

O.K. from the kid's perspective.)
Conner: "Yeah, they forgive too."

20. What do you think have been your strengths as a middle school Principal?

Conner: "Well uh I think the major one is that I like kids at this age. Uh and

uh I want to help them. I want to help them to grow through this period of

time--academically, socially. And also I think one of my strengths is that

I work well with teachers at this age--we are kind of relaxed a little bit

I think, we are not so serious with each other that there is never a smile or

a laugh. I think my ability to work with people and get along to try to
put relationships back together that sometimes come apart between teachers

and kids, between teachers and teachers and those kinds of things. But I

really think the strength that I have is simply because I like it and I do have,







(14)

think I do have some ability to work with children at this age. I don't

get upset over problems that children have mainly because I guess my hair

is gray.(laughter) Because I have lived long enough and I know things are

going to change and nothing is very permanent for children at this age."

21. If you had to delineate weaknesses what would you say that your weaknesses

as a middle school Principal might be? (Not really weaknesses but not strengths)

Conner: "No, I see it as a weakness. I would like to know, and have not had the

training, but I would like to know a great deal more about the middle school

philosophy and middle school program. I would like to see where it has been

working successfully in some other areas. The middle school concept and middle

school program has always been kind of nebulous. The junior high schools are

pretty well defined, elementary schools are, the high schools are pretty

well defined, but the middle school, I think, is still floundering for a

definition and I would like, maybe that is justme, I don't know enough about

it yet but I would like to know more about the program and I would like to see

some schools operating successfully and I would like to know how they have

implemented this kind of philosophy of the middle school."

22. and 23. These two questions were mistakenly skipped.
22. What are the strengths of your middle school?
23. What are the weaknesses of your middle school?

24. How would you describe an exemplary middle school plant facilility? What would

you change if you could change the plant facility?

Conner: "I think the opportunity to be a little more, considerably more flexible.

Uh I would like to have the opportunity to have large groups to be able to
to assemble, to have an assembly area. To be able to open up six rooms and have

one large assembly area. I would like to have that kind of flexibility. Uh

I would like to see a school where you had it arranged so that around a center area

where you might have the media, cafeteria and those kinds of things radiating

out from that, maybe administrators, guidance and those kinds of things at the







(15)

center of things and radiating out from that classrooms, whether it be

wings or just pods. Yes, I guess the main thing I would like is the

opportunity to open up some spaces when we wanted to, I don't want to keep

it open all the time, but when we want to, to open it up and do some things

as a group, rather than rely on going to the cafeteria. We just don't have

enough flexibility. I know we have a lot of teachers that would like to

do that, but they don't have that opportunity."

25. To what do you attribute the exemplary nature of the middle school at Howard Bishop?
(or non-exemplary)
Conner: "Well, I think we do a lot of things that are exemplary and I have to

attribute what we do well to the faculty. We have a high quality faculty--

very fine teachers and I have to attribute it to them. They care about

children. They are concerned about children and want the best for children."

26. How do you think the middle schools in Alachua County could be improved, or at

least the middle school you are associated with, or maybe the whole idea of

middle school?

Conner: "Well, I think---I have been thinking about that the last two or three

days with some literature I have been reading about middle schools. I

really think we do not have in this district a solid organization that

promotes middle school here in Alachua County, not the state. I know we have

a state wide organization and a national organization, but I really don't feel

like we have something that speaks for the middle school student too effectively.

And that is our own fault. We haven't done anything as faculties, we haven't

done much as administrators to try to promote. But we need to do some

things, as faculties and as administrators, for the middle school in order

to bring about improvements that really need to be made. So I think that
would be one of the best things that could happen to middle schools in this







(16)

district. If we brought about an organization that could really speak

for middle school, and I would like to see people at the University,

Paul George and Dr. Alexander, I know he is not directly with the University

now, but several of these people who are really committed to that to get

in, and let's bring about a good solid program. It doesn't have to be the

kind of program that got people upset a few years ago but we need a good solid

program and with a focus that is a district wide focus. I don't think it

has to swing in one direction or another direction, it could be more Westwood

style or Lincoln style and I just use those two because they do have a

different..... but I do think there could be some pulling together and let's

find a middle ground and deal with---well, we have to deal with academic part

of the program. Children have to learn because that is the way the community

and the state sees the program, as a place to teach children academics. But

on the other hand we need to deal with some of the social aspects and we need

a program, and an inservice commitment by the district, to do something about,

to make a better program for the middle schools. And uh I think we are not

going to get that until we come together.and hammer out what a middle school

should be in this district and we start speaking at board meetings, speaking

to the public and start letting people know these are the kinds of things

we have got to have in order to have a successful program. The high schools

have no trouble in doing that. The elementary schools have no trouble. But

we still have a problem."

I:We have never come together as a group?

Conner: "Right, Right. Some of it is we have some people in middle school who are

really waiting to get a-high school position. And uh those people have very

little or no commitment to the middle schools. I don't mind having a good

teacher who wants to be a high school teacher, or an elementary teacher, but

I really prefer having someone who really wants to be here and doing this







(17)

kind of thing. But I really don't think we have ever identified, part of it because

of different philosophies, we haven't sought the middle ground, and we haven't

sought the things we agree on. We haven't majored on those, we have majored

on the things we disagree on and that is really too bad. We need to unite

and come together and really push this thing. Of course part of it is

there are only six middle schools, as applied to 13 or 14 elementary schools."

I:But six middle schools added together.........

Conner: "Yes, it would be quite a force if we agreed these are the kinds of things

we will push for. We do need to deal with that and we need to get our

teachers involved, not just administrators but teachers involved too. And we

need to get some help from outside too. We need some people speaking for us
to tell other people these are the things we really need to offer in this

program."

I:Does the PRIME bill deal with some of this?

Conner: "I think it deals with some of it. I think it kind of jerked us in

another direction somewhat but we'll have to wait and see how that turns out."

(laughter)

That is all the questions I will bother you with today.