Q: Do you believe schools need to focus on a back-to-basics program?
A: There's been a lot of public attention in recent years to the basics as though school systems had gotten away from them, and perhaps some school systems have, but I think the basics have to include more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. The most basic consideration to me is finding ways to help pupils of the schools, whatever their age, to learn how to think in ways that will serve them well throughout their lifetime. And that's the most basic kind of consideration the schools have responsibility for.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about the minimum-competency testing that began last year in Virginia. What are your views on the relevance of the tests and their validity?
A: I'm not at all familiar with the tests as they exist in Virginia. We've had a similar testing program which has been under way now for three years in Florida. Our test scores have gone up pretty much across the state and they've gone up here in our own locality.
I have been somewhat criticized because I have not been able to establish direct cause-and-effect relationships for why the scores have gone up. I'm not sure anybody can really do that.
I do know that because of the test programs it seems pretty obvious that students and teachers and everybody else associated with the schools, including parents, have taken schooling more seriously. That's very positive and good.
On the other hand, I see some real dangers in such testing programs if the people associated with the schools, and by that I mean everybody -- pupils, teachers, parents, administrators, everyone including legislators -- do not understand that it is possible to have test scores go up without assuring that the quality of education goes up simultaneously.
So, while I believe that minimum competency test programs can be beneficial, if used wisely and if their limitations are understood, there are some dangers inherent in them -- that people could be misled. I would want to be certain that people are not misled, that the tests do only what they can be purported to do in relatively narrow limits.
Q: As you probably know, Fairfax teachers voted no confidence in former superintendent S. John Davis last year and then embarked on a work-to-rule action which is in its fifth month. It's generally believed -- even by administrators in Fairfax -- that teacher morale is at a very low point. What kind of action do you plan to take to improve teacher morale in Fairfax?
A: I can't give you specific descriptions now. I have first of all to learn more than I know now about the details of that situation. Of course, I know a good bit about it from having been told about it, but I think I need also to have more firsthand understanding and to be able to sort of take a look at it from being on the ground, as it were.
So while I can't use specific descriptions at the moment, I would hope that we could establish ways to help the teachers and the community and everybody involved understand the clear needs of the school system; to be able to provide whatever programs or efforts related to salaries, or whatever needs may exist, in order to improve that.
Salaries by themselves are not the only problem, of course. The problem, I suspect is more broadly based than that and some it is based on real needs, some of it on perceived needs, and I think we have to kind of find ways to satisfy all of those concerned.
There is no perfect solution; we'll never do that perfectly, neither on behalf of the teachers nor on behalf of the community or on behalf of anyone else. But we'll work to establish the best resolutions we can.
Q: From what you've been told about the Fairfax County school system, what do you think will pose the most immediate problem for you as superintendent this winter?
A: I think there are some very crucial decisions to be made in terms of budget because the budget is the fiscal plan by which you operate the schools and usually the basis on which other kinds of decisions are often made. And it has to reflect decisions that relate to many of the things about which we've been talking here. That's obviously a very crucial one.
The ongoing need, concern about facilities and the utilization of facilities, which in some area of the county, as I understand it, are underutilized, while other areas perhaps need additional facilities . . . trying to balance that need will be a difficult concern. Then (there's) one about which you've just talked, the concerns of teachers.
I think those three concerns are pretty immediate, pretty obviously need a hard look by everybody concerned. I think the board has been very much concerned about these matters as has (William J.) Burkholder as acting superintendent and everyone else . . .
Q: Will you bring administrators with you when you take office, and do you have any major personnel changes in mind after you arrive?
A: The answer to both questions is no. I don't think it is sound management to just come in and immediately suggest changes and staff arrangements.
I would want to study the organization arrangement of the school system to see if it can be improved over time, but that would be over time, and while there are many people here in Orange County that I would be delighted to pack up and put in my pocket and bring with me. I do not foresee that as I come.
Q: What do you see as the most pressing problem the public schools in the U.S. will be facing during the next few years?
A: I think that the pressing problem is wrapped up in public confidence, and public confidence as it's manifested in a variety of ways, not only public confidence in terms of the morale of the people and how they feel about the schools, but how they support the schools in terms of resources of time and money and other important resources.
I think in Fairfax County that confidence is still relatively high, andd we need to enhance that and continue to nurture and engender ways that the people can express confidence, which is deserved in the school system, and that the school system work to deserve that confidence . . .
I'm hopeful that we can, for example, improve the volunteer program in Fairfax County, which to the extent I know about it at this point. I think is an excellent one. We have an outstanding nationally recognized volunteer program here in the Orlando area, and I know that that's important. I'm simply saying that based on experience. I know that that kind of involvement by many people is important to a school system and it helps to raise public confidence on the part of parents and other community members and on the part of students as well.
Q: What was your main problem during the six years as superintendent of the Orange County schools, and what do you see as your biggest success when you look back over the years in Orange County?
A: That's difficult to answer because I'm not sure you can with any surety put your finger on one single issue and say this was the biggest problem or this was the greatest accomplishment in terms of satisfaction.
The orange County School system has problems like any large school system in the United States. We've had some concerns here based on clarification of the roles of the board and the superintendent when I first came here, which I am confident have been worked out over time. We have a very strong fine working relationship now, and that's significant accomplishment in itself.
We've worked through the process of school desegregation, the last phase of which was only taken when I first came 6 1/2 years ago.
We've developed strong programs in exceptional education in response to clear need and public policies that have been enacted both nationally and in the State of Florida, and to some degree based on public policies set by local school boards . . .
I think that one of the most satisfying accomplishments that we've seen here in the last 6 1/2 years has been the establishment of a strong team relationship in the management cadre of the school system based on the strong programs of staff development or executive developement, which has enhanced and improved the skills of an already competent staff . . .
We've also worked through the establishment of a public employers relations act, that is, a collective bargining act here in Florida, and we've begun that work, and we've been bargaining now for several years, and I think we've worked through some times that were rather antagonistic, where some acrimony arose. We've begun now, I believe, in a review phase, where we can begin this work more cooperatively, with employe organizations, than we did at first. I think that's based on efforts on both sides of the bargaining table. That's the way it has to be, of course.
So there have been a lot of challenges, a number of accomplishments on the part of hard work by many, many people. I would never claim that I accomplished any of these things myself; that would be erroneous to make that claim, but I've been a part of it, and it's been very satisfying, and very fulfilling.