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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
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."
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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."
That is all the questions I will bother you with today.