Interview with John Spindler, June 19, 1984

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Interview with John Spindler, June 19, 1984
Spindler, John ( Interviewee )
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History of Florida Education Oral History Collection ( local )


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

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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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."

Jean: Caring...

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

all using.

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

I think."

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

School programs?

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

off either."

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

middle school."

23. Why do you think, how do you think the middle schools in this county could

be imporved?

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

haven't had.

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

system now."

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)