Vinna Freeman was recently appointed director of health, physical education, athletics, safety and drug education in the D.C. public schools. A District native, Freeman is one of the few women in the country to hold such a position in a major urban area. An Armstrong High School graduate, Freeman holds a bachelor's degree from Wilberforce (Ohio) University and master's degrees from Columbia in health and physical education).
Freeman was a physical education instructor at Howard from 1954 to 1960 before starting her 21-year tenure as a teacher at Dunbar and Eastern, a counselor and assistant principal and the supervising director for girls in the public schools, a position she held 11 years before being promoted to her current position. In a question-and-answer session with staff writer Donald Huff, Freeman discussed problems facing the schools and her objectives.
Q: How much of a difference is there between your past position and this current job? Will you continue to work in the same mold as your predecessor, Frank Bolden, or attempt to make major changes or improvements?
A: It's a complete total role change. The responsibilities and demands are much more. There is more of a demand on your managerial skills because you have to deal with the entire school system's budget, staff personnel, the different levels of teachers -- elementary, junior and senior high, the central office and, of course, the community. There is a great deal of responsibility on me, much more than I had just being in charge of the girls programs.
The one part of the job I don't like is that I rarely get to work directly with the students. Being on the go as much as I am, working with adults, you lose contact with the kids. I do miss that very much. As the director, I have to deal with the organization of all of the programs, keep in close touch with the community and chief administration and continue to try to convince people that we have a very viable marketable program in physical education. That is a major problem in itself.
Frank and I worked closely together the entire time and agreed on most of the ideas involving both the physical education and athletic programs. Yes, I will try to keep his programs going and attempt to make general improvements as my resources and budget allotments allow me. Of course, you always want to improve any programs.
Q: What are your main concerns right now? What problems do you plan to attack first?
A: The budget. Each year, it seems our budget is less, our staff personnel is cut and we don't have enough equipment. If this continues, we won't be able to give the service to the youngsters and the public. Right now, I'm wearing two hats, working to convince the Board of Education that our program is well worth the extra thousands of dollars necessary to keep our teachers and coaches on board, while at the same time working to keep the program we have working smoothly and efficiently.
Because of the budget problems, my former position has not been filled. So, in essence, I'm still directly in charge of the girls athletic program. But, due to other demands, I have been forced to turn over some of these duties of running the girls program over to the boys AD, Otto Jordan, who already had a heavy workload.
It's very tough to run a quality program when you have so little funds. We almost lost our driver education program, but fortunately Geico stepped in and underwrote the cost of that. Our athletic program is working at a minimum cost because there is just no money to get from anywhere, and it will get worse. We have to juggle here and there to keep some programs working. We are surviving but something will have to give soon.
Q: Where does your money come from and approximately how much do you need to run a first-class program?
A: Our money comes mainly from three sources: Impact Aid, which gives us nearly $100,000, about $50,000 from our regular budget and another $35,000 from a special budget set up for transportation and officiating. The total package is . . . not nearly enough. For another $100,000 we could cut many of our problems out, purchase additional equipment, supplies, etc.
Q: If more money were appropriated to your program, in what area would it be distributed?
A: More equipment, especially for the junior high and elementary schools. We have about 200 schools that service close to 100,000 students. I would expand our physical education instruction, especially in the elementary schools, see to it that each school is amply supplied with health and first aid books in addition to their basic equipment and supplies.
Q: Are you disatisfied with the criteria for selecting coaches? If so, what changes would you like to see made?
A: I would love to see each person who desires to coach earn a coaching certificate. I believe coaches should have certain abilities and criteria before he works with youngsters. I'm not saying he should be a physical education teacher, but he should be qualified in certain areas. Our reduction in force, approximately 100 physical education teachers and coaches over the past few years, has forced many schools to hand over coaching jobs to people who just can't handle them. Some schools can't tell from one year to the next who will coach what sport because of the continung shift of teachers by the system. A couple of sports, soccer and golf, for instance, have been curtailed because . . . we don't have money to pay anyone.
Q: Is there too much emphasis placed on certain sports in both the physical education classes and athletic programs in the schools?
A: Why should kids play the same sports all the time? There are other sports we can teach and coach besides football and basketball. With these reductions, we will have no choice soon.
Q: Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Will the program ever see its way clear?
A: Not unless there is a big change. Another sizable cut is coming in personnel next year -- I don't know how many -- and we may also lose some funds -- I don't know how much. Thus our problems will continue to exist . . . We're no longer the stepchild people once thought we were. We don't teach gym, as people are so fond of saying. We are important in the growth and development of youngsters and those factors should be taken into consideration when the funds are handed out. It's a lot of work just surviving but we will make it.