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John Spindler Interview june 19, 1984
1. What has been your educational training and experience?
Spindler: "Jean, my educational training was a bachelor's degree in English
education with a minor in Speech and Drama at Marietta College in Ohio.
And then uh my Masters in Administration at Lehigh University while I was
teaching in New Jersey and then down here at the University of Florida
a Specialist degree in Middle Childhood Education--Instructional Leadership.
Uh my experience began in secondary education because I was an English
major uh teaching high school in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. I did that for
two years then went to New Jersey where my summer employment was very
important in my life at that time and I got into a k-8 school where I was
teaching seventh and eighth grade Language Arts and Reading. While I did
that I took classes in Reading to get my certification in Reading at
Patterson State College in INew Jersey and then worked in ESEA Title I Early
Childhood there at that k-8 school so I had an opportunity to work with
early childhood and the intermediate grades there and then before that in
high school. When I came down to Florida in 1968 I was uh my goal was to
become a Principal after I received my Administrative certification. Uh
elementary certification, I'm sorry Administration and Supervision degree.
Uh I was a Language Arts Supervisor on the county staff and then they
opened three elementary schools and I was made Assistant Principal for
Curriculum under Ella Mae Schenck at Rawlings Elementary. I was there for
three years. At that time in 1972 uh Linas Burgess, Principal at Mebane
Middle School unexpectedly died, and Dr. Longstreth appointed me Principal
at Mebane uh during the course of the school year. I went up there, the
first white Principal of that school's history."
Jean: It was a middle school then?
Spindler: "It was just starting the transition into a middle school. They had
been in it since 1970 and uh I went up there in 1972. So they were in
transition. And uh I was there for two years and then when Lincoln was
identified as a new middle school here in town in 1974 I was appointed
Principal of that school in the Spring to start getting ready for opening
in the Fall. And I have been here ever since."
2. Why, in your opinion did the middle school develop in Alachua County?
Spindler: "Well, I think there was, unfortunately integration seemed to be a uh
need for the community, county, and middle school was an easy way to
facilitate the integration of schools and uh I think certainly the
leadership in the school district at that time recognized there was a
need for curriculum reform too but I don't think that was the primary
reason for the change. I think integration perhaps."
3. How did you get involved in the middle schools in Alachua County?
Spindler: "Uh while I was at the elementary school, I was at Rawlings, I
was involved in the EPDA-P2 grant, which was on differentiated staffing
and an awful lot of work on behavioral objectives and it gave me a great
opportunity to get some visibility in the county. I uh became a, because
I was working in the area, sort of an authority on team teaching and
differentiated staffing. Uh then when Burgess died I think it was uh,
I happened to be at the right place at the right time. They knew I was in
line for a Principalship and they knew my background in both elementary
and secondary and the combination together made it appropriate that I be
considered a good person for middle grades. Because of my background on
both ends of the continuum. So a combination of those two things--doing
a good job at Rawlings and my uh background in both elementary and secondary
pushed me right into the middle school grades. And then I took the
Emergent Middle School with Dr. Alexander, I was just taking that course
at that time, and I think Dr. Todd knew that and a few other influential
people around the county."
4. How did you get your job as a middle school Principal? And I think you
have pretty much covered that one.
Spindler: "I said that."
Jean: Right, you have just covered that question.
5. The next question too you have also covered--how long have you been a
middle school Principal and I think we have covered that too.
6. Tell me about the history of your school here at Lincoln, before, even before
it became a middle school.
Spindler: O.K. it was built in 1956, same year as G.H.S., and it was an all
black high school from 1956 up to January, February of 1970. That was the
time the total shut down of Lincoln High School was made. The students at
this school went to G.H.S., and uh in an effort to integrate, and it was
virtually closed down. The next year uh, the school board uh negotiated a
deal with Santa Fe Community College, at that time called Junior College, to uh
have a uh vocational shcool out here, associated with the Junior College.
It was called Lincoln Center for the Human and Mechanical Arts. So 1971 and
up until 1974, for a period of three years there, this was a vocational
school and they put in machine shops, they had everything from soup to nuts.
And uh it uh was phased out in June, 1974 when the county decided they needed
another middle school and they decided to use this facility."
7. What was your training in the middle school philosophy when you became a
Spindler: "When I became a Principal? Well I had just finished taking the
Emergent Middle School with Dr. Alexander and I pretty much was well founded
in the basics of middle school philosophy, the emerging middle school
philosophy at that time. And uh then the Kettering Foundation gave me an awful
lot of experience in uh interdisciplinary teaming, the advisor-advisee,
uh and some of the other components that are associated with middle, with the
modern middle school movement now at this time. That would be the IGE
program sponsored by the Kettering, and that was very much a focal point
of 1972, 73, 74 inservice."
8. Uere you able to choose your faculty when you became a Principal?
Spindler: "Uh partly yeah. There were some people that were uh hired directly
by me and there were other folds that came here as a result of losing the sixth
grades from J.J. Finley or Lake Forest or other schools where they lost the
sixth grades so their teachers came here. They wanted to."
9. Since you were able to uh select a great number of your faculty, do you
think this helped or do you think it was a problem in the cases that you
weren't able to select your own faculty?
Spindler: "Oh, it was definitely an advantage because I was able to paint a
picture of what we wanted to happen here and it gave me an advantage to uh
let people know what we wanted and let them respond whether or not they
felt capable of being a part of it."
10. How much training in middle school or in middle school knowledge, did your
faculty have when you were, when you became Principal?
Spindler: "When we started there was a workshop in the summer, in fact it was
over at Howard Bishop, with my team leaders and uh guidance and media--the
basic leadership of the school. And then uh when we started school we
continued the inservice but it sort of proliferated. The team leaders were
involved very much in the inservice of the rest of the staff, as well as
myself. So there was a great deal of inservice."
11. What are your ideas or beliefs about the early adolescent child?
Spindler: "My special beliefs about the early adolescent? I believe they are
unique and uh need a special learning environment and a special touch
on the part of adults who are dealing with them and I don't mean just
teacher adults. I'm talking about adults, all human beings, parents alike,
uh who need to have knowledge about what children are going through, where
they are coming from. Slo I have studied them uh both from the standpoint
of textbook and research and also pragmatically from dealing with them
day in and day out and I think they are wonderful, growing and energetic
and resourceful young people. I love em!"
Jean: They are different, aren't they!
12. What do you consider the most vital parts of the middle school concept?
Spindler: "Interdisciplinary teams are the very foundation, where you begin.
And I would say without the interdisciplinary team structure you really don't
get too far. Apart from that I would say that uh the flexible scheduling
which allows teachers and teams to have a local autonomy in the way they
deal with kids, time and space utilization, the flexible schedule is the
second most important. Then past that into the affective domain, having
an advisor-advisee, or homebase guidance program, as you call it, uh is
a dimension of the curriculum not an add on but a definite part of the
curriculum. Uh I would say that the uh intramurals, uh would create the
proper environment for kids as far as psychomotor development is concerned
rather than interscholastics. And lastly I would say some flexibility
in terms of grouping should be a part of your organizational scheme.
Uh I don't think multi-age grouping is necessary but I would say it
is highly desirable."
13. How or to what extent do you feel that the central office has influenced
the middle schools in this county?
Spindler: "Significantly. I think the growth of the middle school, as far as
Lincoln is concerned, the county office was extremely important in the very
beginning. Uh Dr. Longstreth was very very supportive of what I did and
what I wanted to do. Uh school based management philosophy gave me extreme
amount of liberty in terms of uh curriculum goals, uh selection of staff,
utilization of personnel, there was an awful lot of flexibility there and
allowed for creativity. Uh at the same token it was also through central
staff also that we have experienced a withdrawal. Uh so the central
staff has been a very significant factor in uh the posture of this school."
Jean: One of the things that Harrt mentioned when I talked to him the other day is
that he felt that there had been not a continual commitment to keep
inservice ongoing. There has been like a lot of new people coming in, and he
used himself for a example, that he has had to mostly learn things by himself.
Do you feel like that this has been of a need that you have seen, or not met?
Spindler: "There was a great deal of inservice between uh 1970 and say 1976. A
great deal of inservice for people in middle school. Uh then the change
of Superintendency, uh Dr. Sickles came in, I don't think the middle school
got the attention or the drive---the pendulum started to swing back the
other way and there was virtually no inservice. Now in the last year, or
two, there is administrative and staff development act now by legislature
and we are getting a lot of inservice but it is not about middle school it
is more about finance, it is more about uh management, uh behavior manage-
ment of students all these kinds of things, which are good, but it is not
purely middle school. Uh I think it is true that a lot of Principals who
were put into middle schools in the last seven or eight years were not
from middle grades. They were high school people and they were not given
any inservice, uh to give them any insight into what might be special or
what is necessary for the proper intermediate school program. I'm not
going to say middle school because I don't think it necessarily has to
be called that, but an intermediate education program."
14. Should the middle school curriculum differ from the high school or the
junior high curriculums and if so why or why not?
Spindler: "Oh, I think it definitely should be different. Uh I believe that
organizationally that teachers from different subject areas need to uh
share uh their knowledge of information about kids and their knowledge
and information about their own subject area with other teachers so a
wholistic approach toward education can be given to the kids. Also the
school within a school concept gives a child a feeling of being part of
a smaller unit rather than being a number in a very large plant. The
environment is kept small. It is a proper transition from elementary
to high school. Uh but as far as curriculum is concerned I don't think
that necessarily the subject area content needs to be changed that
much--we are still teaching World History, we are still teaching World
Geography, we are still teaching uh American History, uh I think probably
one of the big downfalls of the middle school is that people got the
idea we were throwing out content when we introduced the affective domain
and introduced exploratories and they got called frills. Thrills and
frills. Uh there is no reason why the middle grades teacher can't be a
subject area specialist and while she has her kids 45 or 50 minutes can't
teach a good hard language arts curriculum in grammar and composition and
still can't have advisor-advisee and do some of the things that are important
in terms of personal development. Why does one have to supersede the
other? It doesn't have to. I think it can work compatibly."
Jean: Do you think that uh that is a community reaction or uh why, I heard that
also from Harry and I have seen that uh at my own shcool but why do you
think that reaction has come? I don't understand it either.
Spindler: "Well, it came through the community. It came through uh even our
own education community, it came through there. Because often times teachers
who were used to junior senior high school were uh threatened by the
changes for instance in the interdisciplinary teams, they wanted to be
departmentalized. They didn't want to have to talk to other teachers of
other disciplines. They would rather be in the science department for
instance. Uh they didn't feel comfortable with guidance based activities.
So I think oftentimes because of that threat of change they oftentimes
said we are throwing out all the good things of junior-senior high school
which is academia--academia is being thrown out. And uh the exploratories--
we still had electives in junior-senior high schools and I don't see how
exploratories are today much different from those electives. It is the same
thing. It is just a flexible period that we take different subjects at
different grades. Uh the uh, some of the people in physical education said
of course you are throwing out the strength of physical education when you
do away with interscholastic athletics. Intermurals is a bunch of powder puff
stuff and you got that kind of backlash. And then I think the most
significant thing that middle school people had to suffer from was the
concurrent introduction of open space schools. Everybody associated middle
school with open space. We even experienced this in our own county because
Ft. Clarke got built at that time and they figured every middle school
had to be built open spaced, like they did in Broward County. And that
was a misnomer completely. I feel very comfortable with having a middle
school program in this old finger type building. Uh and I would feel
personally uncomfortable in an open space school. And most people since
that time have discovered that it is uncomfortable. So you have walls everywhere.
But it is hard sometimes making a conventional building out of an open space
building, you just, you start putting up walls and everything. Really
there is not as much space there in open space schools. When you start
putting walls up. Ft. Clarke is very crowded it seems to me even though
you have the walls up you get claustrophobia oftentimes. Even though, it
is nice cheery colors but uh I would much rather be in a school like
Glen Springs or Rawlings or Prairie View where you have some pod areas,
clustered areas, but yet separate classrooms.
15. Uh we may have covered this in a round about way but not this exactly, what
are the strengths of the middle school as you see it?
Spindler: "Uh a particular strength is addressing the personal needs of kids
at this age. Whereas in the high school I don't think their priority is
on personal growth--it is academic growth. And uh to me one of the most
important things in terms of keeping kids from dropping out when they are
sixteen, keeping their motivation up, keeping their interest in school,
which is a very low priority at this age. School is a very low priority.
But trying to make school interesting and relevant and humane and I don't mean
I'm humanist but humane in a sense that uh it's, you're talking about personal
growth as well as academic gorwth."
Spindler: "Caring, feeling, yeah. Is that you are addressing uh that part of
a human being that is very important at this age."
16. What would you see as the weaknesses, if you see weaknesses in the middle
school program, what would you see as the weak areas?
Spindler: "Weakness, I would see right now as trying to make uh all uh the
schools operate in the same way---lack of flexibility. To me a middle school
must be very flexible. And right now I don't see much flexibility at
all and I say that is a weakness in our system right now, we are becoming
standardized, uniform. I understand why we need to be unified but...."
Jean: Why? Tell me why. I'm not sure I understand that.
Spindler: "It is a lot easier to tell the public what Alachua County public
schools are doing when,because before under school based management no one
could answer that question. They would say which school are you talking
Jean: Oh, O.K.
Spindler: "Now they can articulate exactly what the Language Arts curriculum,
or exactly what ninth graders are getting or exactly---accountability
everywhere. They can say well in our county we do this. Eight years ago
you couldn't say our county is doing this. You could say well Buchholz
is doing this'
Jean: Eight years ago you probably couldn't even say which book they were
Spindler: "Exactly. And uh so now it is a systems approach. But the State is
getting to a systems approach. Maybe one of these days everybody in the
state of Florida will be using the same book in say World History. That
is on the horizon."
17. Why do you believe that Lincoln developed the way it did differently
from the other middle schools in the county or that why do you think there
were differences among the county middle schools?
Spindler: "Well I have to say that I was responsible for that. Uh anybody
could have come in to Lincoln here, appointed as Principal here and done
what they wanted to do. Uh Dr. Longstreth had trust in my judgement. I
didn't sit down with him and tell him everything I wanted to do, it might
have scared him to death. But I personally don't think so. He would be
very supportive. The most important thing he wanted out of this school
when it opened was for it to be safe, and for people to have confidence
because it was in a black section of town and there was all kinds of
trepidation about sanitation, uh, cleanliness, safeness, let alone
curriculum, but he wanted this school to be acceptable, be creditable.
And it uh became that although many people still see this as an all
black school. You can talk to people who think that. Uh so I would
have to say in all honesty it became a dream of mine and then I got the
staff in here convinced it was going to be a dream of theirs and uh it
became that. So staff implemented it but they were basically my ideas,
stolen from other people, famous people, like Dr. Slexander." (Laughter)
18. Why do you think your school's program has changed over the years? How has it
changed and why?
Spindler: "It has changed uh due to our own evaluation, our own self-study.
We have seen things that we needed to address that we weren't addressing, we
have gorwn. Uh probably the biggest outside force has been state legislative
uh mandates or guidelines and uh the desire to have uniform programs
throughout this district. That is what has caused most of it. But there
have been some subtle changes that we ourselves have imposed upon ourselves."
Jean: About as many internal as external?
Spindler: "No, mostly external."
Jean: I know one of the things that I have seen myself at Bishop and that Harry
also mentioned is changes that uh the community that Bishop serves, is
possibly maybe different than the community that Lincoln serves, and there
have been pushes, pulls and demands by vocal members, parent groups, that
have brought about some distinct changes, I know at different times at
Bishop. Have you felt that here or has that been......?
Spindler: "Uh not so much, no."
Jean: I don't know whether that is because you had a continual uh Principalship
here. We had changes. That may have been.....
Spindler: "I think Harry ran....."
Jean: I have seen a great deal of demands and.......
Spindler: "I think some of the community in the Bishop zone, and it has been
fairly stable, just like ours has been. I think that they reacted against
some other administration and then you brought some other administration
and they reasted against that and then Harry had to reast against that and
uh I think most of it was his administrative leadership because basically
the fact that he has been fairly steady but um I'm thinking, I think three
Principals, Below and Marcy and then---were there any before that?"
Jean: I would have to think back too. I'm not really sure.
Spindler: "See, Below was there originally when the transition went through
Jean: Well I have been there since 1967 and there have been even more than that.
You know. There has been a fairly high number of Principalships at that
school even some of that before the middle school but there has been a
good bit of change.
19. What advice would you give to schools today that are beginning middle
Spindler: Make sure that they are in a proper state of readiness before you
stick your neck out. Uh I think that is a mistake that a lot of school
districts make at a level where they simply make a decree we are going to
have another school. Think of the people in the schools that have to carry
this out. Feel out the people in the trenches and find out if there is a
state of readiness. And if there is not then provide the staff development
for the change process. And if you find out they are in a state of
readiness then proceed with your staff development uh without necessarily
worrying about the change process but strictly then talking philosophy---what is,
you know the knowledge base of what is middle school and what it should be. So
I think being able to diagnose the present condition of the administration
and staff of people in the trenches is important."
20. To what do you attribute the exemplary or non-exemplary nature of the
middle school here at Lincoln?
Spindler: "Uh, what do I attribute the exemplary nature?"
Jean: The things that are exemplary or the non-exemplary things.
Spindler: "Alright the exemplary things are the sense of collegiality among the
faculty and the way they attack the process of being a middle school. Uh that
is most exemplary. I would say the attitude of the administration that I have been
associated with, they have always been very much pro what we are doing.
They are loyal to the philosophy and loyal to the goals of the school.
Down to the 99th percentile. Now uh the non-exemplary. Well we flat
have not been able to do interdisciplinary thematic teaching units. 1,le
tried it and it didn't work. So we are not exemplary, if in fact the uh
philosophy and efficacy of middle schools is still saying teach thematic
units and do a lot of interdisciplinary thematic teaching, uh I would
tend to disagree with that as being so important. Uh I think being
organized is the main thing. We were not able to keep up the high level
of subject area responsibility in teaching content and context that we
should be able to do, deliver the curriculum, through thematic units. It
got watered down. And we didn't have the planning time to make it come
Jean: I think that is awfully hard to do with the demands that we have for the
Metropolitan and other things. It is hard to do all that.
Spindler: "That is the thing that we are not exemplary at all in now, I would
21. How would you explain why the middle school movement in Alachua County has
taken the course it has taken?
Spindler: "Um I don't believe there is a true understanding or necessarily a
commitment on the part of some of the leadership towards what the goals
of the middle school are. Basically it doesn't mean that people don't
want to, people haven't taken the time to be involved, there are too
many other things, putting out brush fires here and there. Uh zoning
and all kinds of odd things that get in the way. It is the old thing, the
pendulum swinging back and forth."
Jean: Never stops in the middle too long does it?
Spindler: "No, sure doesn't and I would say, you know, maybe in the 90's it
will be revisited again and uh in the sense like it was in the 70's.
Although there probably would be some adjustments on that but I uh just think
some people haven't taken the time to evaluate why certain schools are
doing middle school things. The key thing I think in terms of the school
board and maybe the higher echelons of management is that provide a
school that keeps your parents happy. If your school is successful in terms
of parent support and student support then why change. And there are some
schools that when they tried to move into middle school got a lot of
parents unhappy and a lot of teachers unhappy and because of that you
couldn't say you had a very successful school. And if your measure of
success is on parents and things like that and you are getting good
feedback then stick with what you are doing. And that may not be
necessarily middle school. It may be half way, three quarters but they
want the public to be happy with their school---SACs are important."
22. Why have you remained a middle school Principal?
Spindler: "That's a good question. Because I haven't been told to go
somewhere else. Uh...."
Jean: Would you react negatively, do you think, if you were?
Spindler: "No, I'm a team player. I believe that I work for the school board and
I'd go where they want. I like intermediate school education and so my
preference lies there. I don't think I would be happy as a high school
Principal because I like dealing with kids and teachers and I uh have
a feeling large high school Principals become a business manager, with
booster clubs and all those things. Elementary would seem to be a uh
nice uh place to work also since I was an administrator in elementary.
I think that would be nice too. I would prefer elementary, second to
23. Why do you think, how do you think the middle schools in this county could
Spindler: "How do I think the middle schools could be improved? Un. I think
we have to have a rejuvenation of interest in why, in what we are about.
What is our mission, what is the mission of the school in the middle?
And we have to rediscover that and maybe not rediscover but redefine it.
And then because of these definitions decide on the proper courses of
action. I don't think that has been looked at recently."
Jean: Do you think that the PRIME bill is going to be a method or a means for
county staff commitment to come back and look, will it do for the middle
schools what in a way the RAISE bill has done for the high schools?
Will it focus attention and focus mor time and effort towards the
middle school do you think?
Spindler: "I think so, Jean. Yeah! I think that is the intent."
Jean: And don't you see that as helping us?
Spindler: "Yes. definitely."
Jean: I mean they may get the cart before the horse but at least they are
looking at the horse and cart. That at least is something that we
Spindler: "At least we are getting attention. Yeah. We may get some things
we don't want but you always take that risk when you stick your neck out,
you may get it chopped off. The turtle who doesn't stick his neck out doesn't
get very far."
Jean: The next question is really one that I don't even have to have on here.
Paul wanted me to be sure and ask everybody if there were any documents or
materials that you might have that I might not have access to in any other
way that might help me in tracking down the history of the middle school.
And this is just so that I know it is on here and I don't forget about it.
Do you know of anything? I don't need it today but do you know of
anything that I could know that I would have access to that you might have?
Spindler: "Yes. Some of the things that the county put out years ago---70's
and middle 70's. You might have What is the Middle School?......"
Jean: I might some of it, I haven't even tracked down what all I had but what
I was afraid of was with all the moves made this past year, like with Bill
Cake, or in and out with Principalships like at Bishop, that a lot of
things from some of these other people might have been dumped. So I
particularly wanted to ask those of you that have been middle school all
the time if you thought.......You don't have to look now. (John moved
to go through his books)
Spincler: "O.K. There are a couple of items."
Jean: I can get back to you on that. Can you think of any other subjects or
areas or topics that I might not have covered that I might need to know
about or be aware of to write a comprehensive good history of the middle
school movement in Alachua County?
Spindler: "I think you have covered it. The only thing I can think of you might
look into exactly what was the experience of the people, there were secondary
people as well as middle school people who were sent to Dayton for that
inservice back in the Kettering Foundation and they went to Columbia, a
city in Maryland and uh those IGE materials were really the tools of the
trade for uh staff development at that time."
Jean: Can you give me some names of people who would be involved in that, that
I might need to talk to?
Spindler: "Crystal Compton, she would be a key person then. Dan Boyd went up
there. Uh and uh as a high school person he went up there. It was
important for high school to understand what the middle school was doing.
Um Art Spencer, Mebane. I'm thinking of people who are not in the school
Jean: I need to get in touch with him too.
Spindler: "He would love to talk to you about .Kettering. He just talks
endlessly about that. Those are basically the ones. Joe Wood might be
able to give you a little insight about his experiences at Westwood.
Lonnie Bryan, course he is not around now. Trials and tribulations.
Jean: I have Art Spencer and Joe Wood on my list. I haven't contacted
Art Spencer but I have been in touch with both Crystal and Joe Wood and
I didn't know about Dan Boyd so I didn't........
Spindler: "Dan only from the standpoint that he went to Dayton and he had
some definite perceptions as a secondary administrator."
(Thanks from me to John for the interview)