Interview with Nevette Muir, 17 July 2019
About This Recording
Nevette Muir was an educator and administrator in Wicomico county from 1972 until his retirement. He speaks of his various experiences related to the many schools he taught and administered at, focusing around how the school system was faring with the newly-desegregated schools in both Fruitland and Salisbury, MD.
Recording Date: August 9, 2023
Interviewer: Andrea Vincent Narrator: Nevette Wesley Muir Date: July 17, 2019 Keywords: Intro: N= Nevette A= Andrea A: Ok, so, my name is Andrea Vincent and I am interviewing Nevette Wesley Muir on July... N: Seventeenth. A: Seventeenth, 2017 [Correction: It was 2019.] at the University of Salisbury. The purpose of our discussion today is to talk about the desegregation of the Wicomico County public schools. So, I’m just very appreciative that you’re willing to spend this time here with us today. Can you tell me about where you were born and raised? N: I was born and raised in upper Fairmount, MD, Somerset county. Between 26 and 30 miles from here. Upper Fairmount is a small rural community—of course, all of Somerset is a small rural community. I went to school—I walked to school, and school was about a quarter of a mile from my home. It was a wood-frame, two-story building with two floors: First floor, second floor. On the first floor was first, second, and third grade with one teacher, and on the second floor was fourth fifth and sixth grade with another teacher. There were two teachers and that’s where I went to school. Elementary school, with a coal stove in the middle of the floor providing heat. A: What year was this, when you started school? N: Chuckles I started school in ‘56. There was no kindergarten in those days. A: No Kindergarten. And how many children were at the school? N: Uh, probably fifty. Between fifty and sixty. I’m talking 1-6. My class had eleven in it; that was a large class. It was different. A: What was your childhood like? What was family life like as a child? N: I had four brothers, there were five of us. My dad worked for state roads commission, my mom was a mother. And we did fine. Grew up in a small community, everybody knew everybody. You went to church; the church was the center of the social life of the community. You’d go to church on a Sunday morning and they’d say, “Where were you last night? I saw you coming down the road at nine o’ clock.” That type. A: Was you community racially diverse? N: Oh yeah, it was racially diverse. It was—we had lower hill where blacks lived, upper Fairmount and lower hill. The communities were segregated. But we knew each other. Everybody got along. A: How was it that you knew each other? N: Because we lived in the same community, went to the same store, played softball with each other; but you didn’t go to school with each other. A: Were you aware of that as a child, that the schools were segregated? N: Oh, of course. Sure. Absolutely. But I had good friends that were black; course, in those days, they were colored. We had a colored lady who would come help my mom clean chickens, and she’d sit at the table and eat dinner with us after she got through. Had a colored fellow that came, notice I’m going back to the vernacular already! chuckles A colored fellow would come and plow my dad’s garden every spring, plow up the ground and disk it. A: So, you went to a one-room-- N: No, I went to one-room for three grades, then another room for the next three grades. So, it wasn’t one-room. A: Then after that? After your elementary? N: After that, I went to Washington High School which was grades 7-12 in Princess Anne. A: And it continued to be segregated, I’m assuming. N: Yes. It was integrated... I graduated from high school in ‘68. That year: One, they were just beginning integration. It was just beginning to show itself. Certainly, in other parts of the country, and I don’t know about Prince George’s county, it was probably further than that, but in our area, it was just beginning. We had two students, two African American students that came to our school in ‘68. One only stayed a couple of months, the other stayed about-- I can’t remember. She did not stay the entire school year, but I remember seeing her. A: you didn’t have any direct contact? N: I didn’t have any with them, no. A: How did people in the school feel about black students coming to the school? Or the school community in general? N: Probably not positively. Because we had grown up—there was a black school and a white school. That’s the way it always had been, that’s all we ever knew. Ironically enough—not ironically-- interestingly enough, in Princess Anne, which is where Washington High School is, and Princess Anne seeds into Somerset county, we had a Maryland State College, It’s now University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Maryland State College was a black college. A: Which was closer to you than this college? N: Oh, within a mile and a half of the high school. A: So, when did you leave Somerset county and Fairmont? N: Got Married my freshman year of college, came to Salisbury and went to school and went to work simultaneously. A: Oh, so how old were you when you came to-- N: Salisbury? Eighteen? A: And did you commute or did you live here? N: First year I commuted. At the end of my freshman year, in the spring, my wife and I got married. Then we got an apartment here is Salisbury, then I finished the other three years of undergraduate work. A: And you also worked at the same time? N: Of course! What was the alternative? chuckles A: So, what job did you work? N: I worked for Sears-Roebuck in the mall. I was a part time salesperson and, in the summertime, I delivered bread for the Sweetheart bread company in Ocean City. To put things in perspective for you, course I continued to work—deliver bread in the summertime for the next eight or ten years. When I first started teaching in 1972, I made more money delivering bread in ocean city for three months than I did in school. A: So, tell me: Where did you first start working in the public schools? When did—you said you first started teaching in 1972, where...? N: I graduated in 1972 with an undergrad. My first assignment was Westside Intermediate in Hebron. A: In Hebner? N: Hebron. H-E-B-R-O-N. Hebron, Maryland. Hebron is about eight-to-ten miles west of Salisbury, still in Wicomico County. A: Uh-huh. And then you came—when is it you started to work in Wicom—Oh! Hebron is Wicomico county. N: Yes, my entire career was in Wicomico county. A: So, what were—what was your first teaching job like at Westside? N: It was good. Yeah. A: Were the schools—what made it good? N: Well, it was different, because—I couldn’t say it was totally different. I had student-taught. In those days, as an elementary student, you had two assignments in elementary schools for six-to-eight weeks each—I can’t remember—six-to-eight weeks each. You had two assignments, two different schools, and usually one a primary grade and then an intermediate grade. So, I was seeing, for the first time, integrated schools. A: For the first time as a teacher coming in the classroom? N: As a teacher, yes. When I went to Westside Intermediate... hmm, got to be careful Chuckles. I was a male teacher, and as they are nowadays, there aren’t a whole lot of them. So, the principal loaded me up. A: With? N: (Short Pause) Less-than-capable students. Chuckle A: So, as a beginning teacher... N: Most of which were black. A: So, what grade were you teaching? N: Sixth. A: So, in sixth grade, were you the homeroom—they were with you all day long? N: Well, no. In those days, they had departmentalization in elementary. I had a homeroom, then I taught departmentalized math, which means I taught reading, spelling, and math to my home room, and I taught math to three other classes. There were four sixth-grade classrooms. A: So, all your classes were integrated. But you had more than other teachers, by virtue of your being male, more black students? N: Correct. Yes. A: What was the thinking behind that on the part of the administrator? N: Uh, classroom management? A: Was that something you had a good command of? N: No, it was just inferring. Chuckle A: So, you said it was your first time in an integrated situation. So, what was that like? What did that feel like? N: It didn’t make—it wasn’t any different. I wasn’t doing anything different than I had done otherwise. There were a lot of kids in that class who were behavior challenged, I’ll put it that way, and they were academically challenged as well. A: Had they been integrated schools for their whole education? N: No, I’m sure they had not. Remember, when I started teaching in ‘72, they were integrating. A: They were just starting? N: They were just starting. I’m not saying that was the first year, but it had just started. I had friend that had taught, I would say two- or three-years previous to that. What they had done is taken black schools and put white teachers in black schools and vice-versa. A: Not the students? N: No, the students too, to a less... to a greater and lesser degree. Course, that necessitated busing and re-doing lines, boundary-lines for residential areas and all that. A lot of those hurdles had been crossed by the time I first started teaching. See, I started teaching at westside intermediate, well westside intermediate is a white school. It was grades one-through-six, elementary white school. Down in Quantico, which was about five-six miles away, was the black school, one-through-six. Now, when I started teaching in ‘72, it’s not Westside school, it’s Westside intermediate, grades three-through-six. Integrated. The primary school, grades k-2, was the black school, what had previously been the black school. So, that way the communities were integrated. A: Ok, so the neighborhood that Westside Intermediate was in, it was called Westside? N: No, it was Hebron. A: It was Hebron. Was that neighborhood white? N: For the most part. A: And the Quantico neighborhood was black? N: Well, it’s a combination of both, but it was a lot like my home community that I had described. It was integrated, but segregated. A: With the schools? N: Yeah. A: So, were kids getting bused from Quantico to Westside? N: Yes, and vice-versa. A: So, you’re a new teacher, you’re stepping into this environment, what was—how supportive was the community of this? N: The community was very supportive. Black and white. A: How did that manifest itself? How did you see the support? How did you know that was there? N: I knew it from the support of the parents, both in the PTA meetings and responding to me if I had concerns and contacted them. Black parents and white parents were both very supportive, because they both—they both, I’m talking about both races—knew that education was what was going to enable their children to succeed. Remember what time period we’re talking about. A: You mentioned that you had the most challenging students with the behavior problems and were academically behind. N: I didn’t say all, I said a lot. A: yeah. So, in a classroom—which I'm assuming is black and white—is it a 50/50 split? What kind of... N: You talking racially or academically? A: You tell me both. Racially and academically. N: Well, to a degree it was heterogeneously grouped based on homogeneous reading groups. I’ll explain what that means. Back in those days, you had homogeneous reading groups. Prior to my time, you had the blueberries, the canaries, and the parakeets—I'm being cute. You had a reading group that was above grade level, for lack of a better word, you had a reading group that was on-grade level, and you had another group that was below grade level or you had a reading group that was grade level, one that was below-grade level, and another one that’s even more below-grade level. A: So, now they were homogeneously grouped? N: Well, no. It was homogeneous reading groups... A: ...In a heterogeneous classroom. N: There you go. Exactly. A: And it was—was it racially-evenly balanced? Or you had a predominance of black students? N: No, I... You know, number-wise, I can’t real—I would say, it was not—you wouldn’t have walked into the room and said it’s mostly black or mostly white. I can’t remember. Now, whether it was evenly distributed, I don’t remember. A: So, how did you-- N: And the administrators, at that time, had to be very conscious of that sort of thing. So, I’m sure it wasn’t significantly unbalanced because they had to be very conscious of that. A: And having students who have behavioral issues and are behind academically is a challenge for any teacher, right? So, how did you attempt to address that? N: I didn’t do anything different than what I’d done. I mean... A: What did you typically do then? N: You got to put this into perspective. When I said they were behaviorally challenged, you have to put it within the time period. I’m not sure they would be, in today’s time... I’m not sure they would be described that way. Does that make sense? They were behaviorally challenged in terms of our standards and our expectations at that time. A: So, what was lacking: Focus, ability to--? N: No, what was lacking was—now I’m speaking very generally, not specific students—what was lacking was their lack of academic growth. A: Oh, okay. N: So, if you’re an eleven or twelve-year-old boy, and you’re a lost ball in tall-grass academically, you have to get attention somehow, you have to feed your self-esteem somehow—now, I’m analyzing this. A: Well, you’re working with sixth-graders too, which is a difficult transition, right? N: Yeah. So, to answer your original question, I didn’t do anything different in terms of my instruction or my classroom management style—well, I guess you modify it and you do do things differently; you do what you think would work and if it doesn’t work, you try something else. What I always found was—and I don’t want to get too philosophical—what I always found is: if you’re fair with kids and you’re consistent with kids, you’re good to go. That sounds very simplistic because it is very simplistic. A: Were there any efforts to prepare teachers to work in an integrated situation or to work with students who were further behind academically? N: Not that I experienced. There was no differentiation or preparation. Not at that point, as I came along later on. A: So, neither your graduate degree or the school system did any kind of-- N: No. None whatsoever. That all came later. A: Ok. And how long did you stay at—was it Westside? N: Probably four years. A: So, from 1972 to 1976? N: Approximately. A: Where did you go after? N: I went to Willards Elementary School. And I assumed the significant title and promotion of “teaching vice-principal". A: In four years! “Teaching vice-principal". Explain that. N: Chuckling Yes. Willards is all the way on the eastern end of the county. It is the last community in Wicomico County before you hit the Worchester line. And if you’re going to Ocean City—you're familiar with route 50 and Ocean City? There’s a blinking light at Willard’s power Ville(?) before you get to Berlin. That’s Willards. It was a small school with grades k-6. I taught—no, I said k-6, it’s k-3. Kindergarten through grade three, and I taught third grade, and I was the teaching vice-principal which meant I was the administrator in charge. The principal of the school was also the principal at Pittsville, which was a much larger school, and he was primarily at Pittsville. So, I got to teach third grade and do administrative support at Willards simultaneously... for a pat on the back. chuckles “Atta’ boy!” A: So, you had a full teaching load and this additional responsibility. Was the make-up of Westside similar to that of Willards? N: No. A: What was that school like? N: There were no black students at Willards at all. None. A: How did that happen if... N: None of them lived in that area. A: (Short Pause) Was it a-- N: There were some black students in Pittsville, but none of them lived in Willards. A: So, how did Pittsville and Willards escape the-- N: Pittsville and Willards didn’t “escape”, there were some minority students in the Pittsville area and they attended Pittsville. Willards was a primary school and fed into Pittsville, so they all ended up being integrated. A: But not at the start. N: Not at Willards. A: Not at K-- N: They just said—and I’m just guessing, now, because this was way above my pay-grade. The rationale was there wasn’t enough—Willards school wasn’t big enough. There was just a kindergarten, a first grade, a second grade, and a third grade; there were four classrooms. It wasn’t big enough to initiate the integration since it was already going to be achieved by the fourth grade. Now, this—I'm presupposing. A: Yeah, you’re inferring it. N: It was way above my pay-grade at that point. A: So, was there any real difference between—I did really ask you about—was there free and reduced lunch in those days and—you guys didn’t know the percentage of kids in poverty or you didn’t have those kinds of statistics back then? N: They were all about the same socio-economic level. A: And what would that have been? N: Working-class people. They were all farmers, tradesmen. A: In those schools? N: Yeah, in those schools, yeah. A: So, the parents are-- N: I’m not going to say that none of the parents were professionals, but the number would have been so insignificant, it would have been negligible. A: So, you were working with parents who had high school educations? Didn’t go on to college? N: Sure, or less. A: Or less? N: Oh, yeah. Don’t misunderstand me, though, and don’t misinterpret that. In many cases, very bright and learning people. They may not have had a high school education, but they had a farm with 400-500 acres and ran that farm profitably. I don’t say all, but I mean... A: I know what you mean. N: Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. A: No, no. My grandparents were very much that way as well. N: I mean, there’s formal education, and then there’s education. A: Yes. So, you stayed at Willards Elementary for how long? N: Oh my gosh, two-three years? A: Two-three years? N: Yeah, I'm just guessing. I didn’t write all this down. A: And then, did you go to another elementary school after that? N: Yes. I went to Northwestern, which is in Mardela springs. A: Northwest... another elementary school? N: Yes, as teaching vice-principal. But see, this is a much larger school. A: So, Willards is a small school, Westside is a small school... N: Small primary school. See, the philosophy back then in Wicomico County—and I say the county. When you’re talking philosophy, you’re talking the superintendent—the board’s philosophy. To move in administration, you started out in a small school and got gradually bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And within that context, remember the time, I always felt like I got caught in the wrong time period, being a male, because prior to that, every principal—no, not every—vast majority of principals in elementary schools were male. Not all, but a significant majority. See, when I came along, they were correcting that trend. A: and having more women as principals and moving men to the-- N: Women as principals and vice-principals. I kind of got in the back of the line. A: So, by virtue of being male—I mean, did you want to go into administration? N: Oh yes. A: you knew right away you were interested? N: Yep, yeah. A: It wasn’t that the school system-- N: But, see, when I go into Willards-- from Willards, which was just K, one, two—four classrooms primary school. Then, I went to Northwestern, which was a promotion. Northwestern had, let’s see, two six grades, two fifth grades, two fourth grades, can’t remember if it was two of each grade all the way down or not, I think it depended on the enrollment. It was not a big school, but significantly larger than where I’d come. A: And was that school integrated? I’m assuming it was. N: Oh, yes. They were all integrated at that point. A: And what grades were you teaching at Northwestern? N: I taught fifth. A: You taught fifth. So, you taught sixth, then third, then fifth, um, was it a similar-- N: The reason I taught fifth, traditionally, the teaching vice-principal taught sixth grade. But that particular year, there was only one sixth grade. And the lady that was teaching the sixth grade had taught there for years and she didn’t want to change and I said, “Fine, I’ll teach fifth.” A: Mhmm. And were you also given, at this school, the more challenging behavioral problems or was your teaching experience any different there? N: No, it wasn’t any different. But, no I didn’t get—that was just my first year, I remember. A: So, the faculty at the schools are integrated, correct? N: Yes. A: and, um, can you kind of describe the racial make-up of the staff and how well people from different races got along-- N: Fine, absolutely fine. I don’t remember any problems racially whatsoever. None. And that sounds picturesque but it’s true. Race wasn’t an issue. It really wasn’t. The black parents would come to school to support their kids. And remember the communities we’re talking about, we’re talking about farming communities, working-class communities. Basically, their approach was, “Mr. Muir, if you need any help, let me know.” A: So, placing complete faith in the teacher to do the right thing? N: Yeah. “And if he’s not doing what he’s supposed to, let me know and he will.” Now, could they support—and I’m talking black and white—could they support their children in the way you would have liked academically? Probably not, and to varying degrees: Some could or couldn’t to lesser degrees or greater degrees. But in terms of that kinds of support, you had it by and large. A: At that time, were there any initiatives to help lower-achieving students like after-school or mentoring—I mean, today, we have a bunch of different things. N: The only thing I can remember... Title One existed then which—Title One enabled you to have assistants in the classrooms. There were no Title One teachers, there were no reading teachers or math teachers, but you had assistants and depending on how... which academic level students you had in your classroom, you would have the assistant in your room for math or reading or whatever, depending upon the grouping and their needs. A: Ok. So, what inspired or led you to become and educator? N: (Short pause) I always enjoyed learning. That’s probably the kicker. As I grew up in Somerset county in a rural community where most all the people were watermen, and I went out on the water a couple times with fathers of friends of mine and I knew I wasn’t going to do that for a living. I knew I couldn’t. chuckle Physically, I couldn’t. So, I—and of course, my mom and dad were very supportive in terms of education and learning and reading. So, I guess that was the indicator for me. Remember, as a kid, there were certain things that you remember. Of course, there were no children’s books—well, I won’t say there were none. I remember nursery rhymes, mother-goose nursery rhymes. What I do remember is, as a child, my mom—when I say as a child, I might’ve been three, four, five, in that vicinity—She would take the world book encyclopedia, and I’d go through and she—the pictures, not the articles, the pictures and tell me about the pictures. If it was a person, or if it was a thing, or if it was an animal. And I remember that distinctly to this day. A: So, obviously you liked that. N: Oh, I enjoyed that. I always enjoyed learning. I don’t say that superfluously. I remember telling everybody, when I was in college, that if I could’ve found somebody to pay me to stay here and continue going, that would’ve been a wonderful Chuckles. Not teaching, college. Taking classes. I always enjoyed it. A: Um, so, you were very quickly on a track to becoming an administrator. N: Well, not so—go ahead. A: Not so quickly? N: Not as quickly as I would’ve liked, but at the time... A: So, you had started out teaching but really wanted to become an administrator. N: Yeah. A: Let’s see. Northwestern. Did you go on to another school after Northwestern? Another elementary school? Was it bigger? N: No, well, yes it was bigger. I went to Glen Avenue and Prince street as vice principal. I’m not teaching anymore, I’m vice principal split between two schools. A: Prince street... tell me about Prince Street. I remember reading about Prince Street. N: It’s a—Prince Street is an elementary school here in town, and Glen avenue is... two elementary schools here in town. See, at that time, many people making decisions, education in our county and community, they didn’t really feel that vice principals were needed in the elementary schools to begin with. A: They didn’t feel they were needed? N: No. A: Why is that? N: Because, most people’s perception of elementary school is it’s not really a big deal. You know, perceptions, you know. You got a principal; you don’t need a vice principal. A: So, what was your role, then, as vice principal? N: Discipline and help with administration. Just general administrative duties. But remember, I said I was at two different schools, so I would alternate: One day, I’d be at Glen Avenue—and Glen Avenue was about 350-400 students, Prince Street—pardon me—Prince Street was about the same—Next day, I’d be at Prince Street. I’d just alternate back and forth. Which is not a good situation but it was what it was. Then the year after that, I went from... (softly) Glen Avenue, Prince Street... I went from Glen Avenue... I left Prince Street and was teamed with Glen Avenue and Beaver Run. A: Another school? N: Another school in town. A: And these schools have all similar profiles in terms of... N: Oh, yeah. And then the year after that... yeah, I only did that two-consecutive years. Then, I went to Fruitland. Two schools with the same principal. See how I’m moving up? Got the same principal. Fruitland Primary and Fruitland Intermediate. So, Bob was principal, I was vice principal; he’d be at the intermediate school today, I’d be at the primary and we’d flip and then we’d spend an hour-and-a-half to two hours every day after school getting together and comparing notes because the following day, he’d be at that school and I’d be at the next one. So, I would have to finish up what he was in the middle of administratively or discipline-wise or whatever, see what I mean? And vice-versa. A: What would have been a typical discipline referral that you would have received? N: Oh, fighting? Sure. A: What were the big things that kids fought over? N: Big things? There weren’t and big things. Remember, we’re talking about fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Somebody said something about somebody’s mother or, you know, that type of thing. There weren’t any big things. A: Did it ever take on a racial caste? N: I don’t remember. I’m sure—I don’t want to sound—I'm sure there were but I don’t remember. Nothing comes to my mind, so that gives you an indication. Race... now, in Fruitland... see, it depends on which part of the county you’re in and which school. In Fruitland, it was different. All of the black kids came from a less-than... lower socio-economic level. There were white families that were of similar level, but there were also a significant number of a very exclusive neighborhood. I’m not going to name names. A: A very exclusive neighborhood around Fruitland? So, there was-- N: Yes. A much higher socio-economic level: Doctor’s children, business-owner's children. I mean, much higher. A: And that wasn’t true in the other schools? N: Not so much. More so when I came to town. The schools in town, that was more true. A: But in Fruitland, there was more, uh... N: More diverse in terms of socio-economics, yeah. A: And then there were greater conflicts at that school? N: No, it wasn’t... conflicts, because you see, what happens, it was still homogeneously grouped, so those kids worked with these kids and vice-versa. A: Homogeneously grouped by...? N: Reading-level. I was never in a classroom that was 100% homogeneously-grouped. A: Mhmm, just the reading level. N: That came after—I'm not sure it ever came. After my professional career. A: So, were kids aware of the differences in groups? N: Of course, they were. A: And how did they respond to that? N: You didn’t-- you know, you had your black groups, you had your white groups, you had your upper-socio-economic and they stayed, you know, they socialize in that same group because they had soccer leagues or whatever and... A: So, are you saying they associated with the kids in their racial group or their socio-economic group? N: Both. Socio-economic group primarily. A: Primarily with their socio-economic group. Was that diverse or not necessarily? N: It was not diverse. A: It was not diverse. So, are you saying that socio-economics seemed to separate kids more than race or that race and socio-economics-- N: -- Paralleled each other. A: Huh. Okay. N: Now, having said that, it was not exclusive. Like I said, you had your white lower socioeconomics class, working people, you know, they were fighting the same battles that the black in that socio-economic class were doing. A: And were those—so-- N: They were not... I’m going to say they were like “this”, but there wasn’t any racial divide in terms of getting along. They tolerated, accepted. A: Yeah, so, let me see if I’ve got this. So, you’re in a classroom that has racial diversity, you have your reading groups separated by ability level-- N: Yeah, your accelerated reading group’s all-white. A: Ok. Your low reading group is mostly black? N: Mostly black. Won’t say exclusively, but by-and-large. A: By-and-large black. And the groups in the middle-- N: On-grade level is mixed. Mostly white... depending... you’d see fifty-fifty. You won’t see any grade level with no blacks and whites. You might see fifty-fifty; more likely, more white than black. But, that general makeup. A: So, as an administrator, did you follow reading data like we follow reading data now? Were you able to—did you see kids moving? N: When I came along, the only data we had was the “Iowa Test of Basic Skills”. A: Mhmm. Well, let me ask you this, did you see kids moving out of that lower reading group? Or once you’re in a lower reading group, that’s your-- N: I saw some move up, but not significant. A: Ok, let me check our time.... Ok. So, you moved to this school and then... so you were really changing schools, like, every two or three years? N: That’s how you move. And that was also the philosophy too. You move, you get to see more things, greater diversity situations and whatever. Now, I left Fruitland—you ready for this? I’m now a principal. A: Uh huh. Now a principal-- N: -- at Chipman, which is a first-grade center. I got 500 first-graders coming from all over Salisbury. A: Only first grade? That’s very unusual. Right? To only have first grade? N: Let me briefly explain the history of that. Charles H. Chipman school was a black elementary school. In that end of town, even today, black people live. Whole area. A: What’s that area of town called? N: Westside of Salisbury. It’s all black people who live in that area. So... when they did integration—and this was part of educational thinking at that time, you know, this was cuttingedge educational thinking: You put all of the first graders in one building, you get all the earlylearners and put all of your early-learning resources together in one place, and your professionals, you know. And that’s-- we all know how a child starts off is, to a large degree, an indicator of how successful they are academically. So, it killed two birds with one stone. It brought all of these white students into the black community for one year, for first grade. Then, they went back to their own schools. A: Which were desegregated, which were integrated.; but not to the degree as this first-grade school probably was? N: Well, what the first-grade center was, it brought all the black students to first grade who lived in that area and it—three, one, two, three, four other schools fed all their first-grade students to that area, which would’ve been black or white depending on wherever. A: So, the premise of desegregating was that it improves the quality of education for black students. Do you believe that that’s what happened, uh, by having black students come to--? N: I don’t know that—see, I can’t speak to that because I don’t know the level—I don’t know what the teaching—what the level of education they were receiving in all-black schools. I have an idea, just my opinion, knowing the black teachers that I got to know that taught in exclusively-black schools. They didn’t get any better or worse because the black teachers that taught in those schools that I got to know—I can only speak to the ones—they were very dedicated and sincere in what they were doing! Now, did they get, by virtue of integration, did they get a more eclectic education? Yeah, sure they did! Absolutely! But did they get a better education? I don’t know, not at that point. A: So, what exactly do you mean “more eclectic”? They got a “more eclectic” education. N: Well, you’re getting... they’re having teachers with a different background than they would have had at an all-black school, I’ll put it that way. And all the advantages that that brings. Different backgrounds. A: Do you think it—the integration of schools improved race-relations... in Salisbury? From your perspective. N: From what I saw... maybe, to a degree. But, not significantly. A: Because you had said previously that relationships were pretty good. N: I mean, we got along ok. But you got along—you lived in your community. And that’s still the case! It’s still-- I mean, it’s changed to a degree. A: Do you see, like, friendships amongst kids across racial lines—true friendships? N: Much more now. Right, much more so now. That has changed, and integration has brought that about. A: How about professionally? Everyone gets along on staff—you know, I’m used to going out with teachers after work. Is that the sort of thing you guys did as a group? Socialize? N: Sure! We had picnics at the end of the year, yeah. Now, we didn’t have that much social—I can only speak for myself, because you had such a divergent age range too. I mean, you had new teachers, thirty-some year teachers, twenty-some—so, you know, you don’t have the social mix so much. I mean, we got along fine, A: So, were there any special challenges you faced working in the schools because they were becoming integrated? Either as an administrator or a teacher? N: (Short pause) I can’t think of—I’m sure there were. As an administrator, the thing I can remember most is trying to balance it. A: When you created classrooms? N: Yeah. That was... and... depending on the school I was in and depending on the population you were serving and communities you were serving, you had lesser or greater problems. The lower socio-economic blacks generally had much more severe behavior and discipline problems. And it wasn’t just race that came into play as much as disintegration of the family unit coupled with it. And, of course, you know the national statistics for African-American and how many single-family households there are. If you’re a single mother with three-four children, and you’re working the midnight-seven shift at Purdue's, what kind of academic background is that child bringing to school? You can have all the tutoring... There’s nothing—I won’t say there’s nothing, there’s certainly—anything will help. But there’s not much you can do at the school that’s going to make up for that gaping hole... A: In background experiences? N: In background—not just background, but support. I mean, I found out as an administrator and by virtue of visiting with these parents and talking with parents, I know how many kids came home and fixed their own dinner. Now, you have to translate that into what “fixing dinner” is. Mom would come home from Purdue’s and bring some chips she got out of the vending machine, because there’s nothing open when she got off at that time, and I’m describing you a very real experience. I had sixth grade girls who would come to school in the morning, get off the bus, and go into the bathroom immediately. I had homeroom teachers complaining to me or expressing concern to me that they came in five minutes late every morning. Well, you know what they were doing? They were going in the bathroom and doing hygiene, because they had no bathroom or they had no running water at home or the water was cut off. Now, you start your day that way... and if you’re an eleven-year old, and eight-year old, or a twelve-year old, how important is reading homework? How important is social studies homework? A: (Pause) Um... N: And you’ve got—what makes that ten-times worse is, you’ve got nobody home there that cares. I shouldn’t say nobody that cares. Nobody that’s asking. “Got any homework tonight? How’d you do in school today? How’d you make out on that math test? Do you need any help with this?” Or the biggest, best example I gave—when I first started teaching, we did home visits all the time. I’m teaching reading to you, trying to impress upon you how important reading is. You go home, there’s not a single book, no magazines, no newspapers, there’s nothing in the home at all to read. Now, how successful am I going to be in impressing upon you how important it is to learn how to read? It’s a tall mountain to climb! A: So... what’s the answer for kids like that in school? N: In school? You do the best you can. You do the best you can. But I don’t think there’s any amount of money you can throw that’s going to fill that gap and make up that deficit. I don’t mean to be fatalistic or... it’s a huge mountain to overcome! It has been overcome and I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but statistics and test scores... you can administer the test, and that child hasn’t made significant growth at the end of the period, well, duh! Does that mean the curriculum is horrendous and/or deficient? Does that mean the instruction is not what it should have been? Did that mean the child did not get the correct emphasis of skill? Or is there something else out there that we can’t reach? Or, if can reach it, it’s too late? (Short pause) And we could go into all the other... I had a sixth-grade boy at Fruitland. This would’ve been in the eighties? The late eighties? The teacher had referred him to the office for a discipline problem. I was going off on him and talking to him about—you know, I started to use his first name, “John, you’re a bright boy. You have so many opportunities and this teacher is really trying to help you. You get an education and you can do this and this and this...” and he pulls out a wad of cash, like this. Said, “Mr. Muir, what do I need an education for? Look what I made last night!” And I’m talking a wad: Twenties, tens, fives—just a wad in his pocket. A: How’d that make you feel? N: Dumbfounded. Then I got into my administrator mode: Do I need to report this? Because he told me exactly what corner he was working on! A: So, I am inferring that he was selling drugs? N: Yeah! Because he was eleven, they can’t do anything to him! And the dealers know that. (pause) And... that was an isolated incident with that child, but don’t think he’s the only one. A: Yeah. Do you have any memories of kids... kids whose education, you could see, really made a difference in their lives? Even white poor kids and black poor kids? N: Of course! Yeah! You’re looking at one! chuckles A: Yeah? I’m looking at one? N: I came from a family of five boys, my dad drove a dump truck for the State Roads Commission. And I’m not denigrating what he did for a living, but... yeah. And my mother instilled in me the love of learning.... A: Mhmm. And you think that’s what’s missing in some of these cases? The love of learning? N: I know that’s what’s missing. Yeah. And support. I’m not saying you have to be a doctor or a lawyer or a school-teacher to be successful, I'm not saying that at all! But when you grow up in a home where you’re bambie-d about... A: Mhmm. So, what becomes the route for kids like this? N: I’ve gone into the schools, since I’ve been retired, and I’ve got two grandsons: One is a sophomore in college, one is in the tenth-grade in high school. I followed all the way through American education week and all the awards assemblies and all that, and I see what’s happening. The schools aren’t the same as when I was teaching and when I was an administrator. A: No? How are they?... Can you repeat that? I kind of lost track a little bit. You said you had a grandson? N: I have a grandson that’s a junior right here, that’s coming... A: A junior and another one who’s... N: In the tenth grade in high school. A: So, the schools aren’t the same-- N: And I have followed them in their public education in Wicomico county, and I have seen the schools change. A: Change how? Can you describe that change? N: Not positively, I don’t think. A: Ok, and what are the changes? How would you characterize this? So, negative changes. What is being lost or has been lost? N: When I taught sixth grade and we changed classes, remember I said it was departmentalized? I walked my students down the hall in a straight line to the next classroom, then picked up the next class and walked them down in a straight line to the next classroom. Nowadays in middle school, where sixth-grade is now, the bell rings and it’s time to change classes, it’s total chaos. I’m not exaggerating much, I’ve been there. I’ve been in the hallway when the classes changed, and this was during American Education week! You would think the very best you have is on display. I think our schools, in general, have lost structure. And discipline. I don’t say that as an old fogie, I say that as an educator. I know that children learn best when there is structure and there is discipline. And our structure has fallen by the wayside, and our discipline has fallen by the wayside. A: Why do you think that’s happened? N: Because establishing, creating, and maintaining discipline and structure is hard work. It’s hard work because you have to be consistent. When you establish a dress code—and I know I’m rambling now—when you establish a dress code, the dress code only has meaning if you enforce it. A: How about content-wise. Do you feel that the content of what they’re learning is...? N: Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the content, the curriculum is fine, if they would let teachers teach. A: Yes, I know what you’re saying. N: See, I retired when test scores became the almighty. And those things that I was just describing to you, I’m talking about those things that are evident in the home or not evident in the home, the individual things that kids are dealing with, those things; they’re not going to show up on the test score. There’s no number there that indicates that. (pause) So, what do we do? So, If I’m a classroom teacher and I know that my children need additional help in this, or I need to take time to talk about hygiene, but that’s not measured on the test. If the administrator came in, they’d want to know how that was related to the curriculum that I was assigned. I’m giving you off-the-wall examples, but it’s not off-the-wall. A: Right. So, your kids and your grandkids went to and are going to schools in Wicomico county. I’m assuming they continued to be racially integrated... N: That’s why I feel confident in saying what I did about its change. I mean, my grandson who’s going to be a junior here in college, some of his best friends in high school, one was from westAfrica, another was an Ethiopian, it’s so diverse. I mean, they are good friends! Out of school, in school. A: Which you really didn’t see before that? N: No, you didn’t see that before. A: But now, that’s changed. N: Now, having said that, one of their father’s was a doctor, another... I think the west-African's father was a business owner, so you’re still talking... the socio-economic classes dictate, I think, to a degree, who you’re friends with and who you socialize with. But I mean, I don’t mean that as a guideline, because my grandson, when they’re sitting in class and they became friends, he had no idea who the father was and could care less. It didn’t dictate them becoming friends, I don’t mean that, but they were exposed to similar things and... does that make sense? A: Yeah. So, are schools here... are schools... let me figure out how I wasn’t to say this. Are there schools that are separated by socio-economic groups? Are there schools that mostly for poor children? Are there-- N: No, no. A: So, there’s diversity? Under racial, socio-economic-- (talking over each other) N: Yes. There is administrative diversity. But that diversity breaks down in the classroom because kids break it down. A: They gravitate to people who are like them. N: Exactly. A: Whether it be racially or socio-economically. N: Racial doesn’t necessarily play a role in it. We gravitate towards people like us. We go into a room and we start talking to people and there’s eight teachers in the room, where are we going to gravitate? Wouldn’t make any difference to me what color you were, but I would feel comfortable talking to you about education. Not that I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to somebody else. A: Do you think people would have felt that way when you first started teaching? N: No. Less-likely to, I’ll put it that way. A: So, what lessons do you think we can learn from the desegregation of schools or the integration of schools in Wicomico County? What lessons have you learned as an administrator? What lessons are there as a teacher? What lessons are to be had for us in general? It’s a big question, I know. N: Hmm. I think we need to get a handle on our schools, I really do. I think our public schools are wandering off and we need some focus. We need some-- A: So, what’s driving that wandering off? You mentioned test scores. N: The testing. A: Why do you think that exists? Why this huge emphasis on testing? N: I know why, I was there when it happened! Accountability. A: There wasn’t that accountability before? N: We went through a period in the... you don’t remember Lyndon Johnson and the great society? A: Of course, I do. N: Great society. That’s when federal money started flowing to public education. And, not me, those leaders in public education basically took on the idea “If you give me enough money, I can do whatever you want.” A: To change the world. N: “Identify the problem, give me the money. Integration? No problem. Give me enough money to accomplish it. Children aren’t learning? City kids aren’t learning to the appropriate level? Give me enough money.” And it didn’t work. Then comes along the ‘80s, the George Bush era-- A: So, what didn’t work? So, schools are getting more money to try to improve the quality of education... N: Tons of money! Even in department of education. Created a whole department. Tons of money, and the problems weren’t dissipating. We were not addressing the problems; we were not solving the problems, because a vast majority of the problems were societal problems. But we said we could do it, and we accepted the money! So, then we had to accept the comeuppance which occurred roughly in the ‘80s; you remember George Bush, he didn’t come up with it alone. Then States began having accountability testing. I don’t know—Texas was one of the first, which is where George Bush got his intimate knowledge of public education. And everybody wants—and you can understand, to a degree, the lawmakers, congressional... they wanted accountability. You know, “We’re giving you all this money, how can we hold you accountable?” Well, there are mostly business professional people in congress, so, “there’s only one way to hold them accountable. Show me what the kid’s doing here when he starts school, let me know what he’s doing there, and that’s how we’ll hold you accountable. If you only brought him from here to here, how come you brought.... You’re Principal of school A, you brought your kids from here to here. I’m principal of school B and I brought my kids to here. How come Nevette did a much better job than you did and what’s he doing?” Does it have anything to do with the kids that are walking through the door? Or is it 100% curriculum, teaching, staff-development, blah blah and you know you can run right off the list. Yes, those things are all important, but there are other factors. A: Yeah. So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying the role of the schools is kind of idealized in terms of what they can handle. N: Well, we did it. We were responsible for it. A: Yeah. Federal money was put it, but when education didn’t improve... N: We were naïve to believe that we could solve societal problems. Now, we can help, yes, public education, there’s an important and necessary component, but it’s not the end-all-do-all. It’s not going to solve single-family... single-parent families. It’s not going to solve that. It’s not going to solve the problem of poverty. So... A: Okay. So, we’re coming to an end. Are there any other questions you would have liked me to ask or anything else that you would like to share? N: I don’t want to make it too simplistic... (Pause) to keep it in perspective. You know, we all read about Abe Lincoln learning to read by the fireplace, teaching himself to read. Well, he didn’t teach himself: his stepmother was very instrumental in encouraging his love of reading and helping him. We have kids, not just me, that went to one-room schools with one teacher teaching three grades simultaneously. Three curriculums, three grades, all different abilities, one teacher. Now, how did those children achieve a degree of success? How did that happen? What is the... constant there? Between that period sixty-some years ago, or if you want to go back-- Abe Lincoln—200-some years ago. What’s the one determining factor? Is it staff development? Is it testing? Is it materials? Is it smart boards? What is the determining factor? It’s the kid and the teacher. A: The relationship between the kid and the teacher. N: Yeah. And what the kid’s bringing in the door. Experiences that child has had and what kind of support that child has. You know, if you take a child from a low socio-economic background and he has loving parents and supportive parents, he’s going to be fine. He has as much chance as any other child, and has advantages over some of the more privileged children. A: What are those advantages? Why do you say he has advantages? N: Because I think there are advantages in the experiences you have in not being privileged. I wasn’t privileged, so I had the advantages of working, and what I learned through those experiences, what relationships I built. Now, they had some advantages over me, no question. But if you come from a situation where you’re loved and you care and you’re supported, even a mediocre teacher can’t stop you. Although, a good teacher will take you a long way. A: What about a committed teacher? N: It’d make all the difference in the world. But if you’re the most committed teacher in the world, it makes a significant difference if that child is coming from a supportive, loving home. I didn’t say, intellectually, growth—you know, socio-economic level and all that, that’s not relevant. If they’re coming from a home in which they’re supported and they’re loved and somebody cares about them, then you’ve got something to work with there. You can make some significant enroots (?). But when a teacher calls you... a friend of my daughter told her, who teaches school, told her that she called—of course, now teachers have phones right in their room. They can call the parent right from their room; we had to wait until after school or at night when I got home to make the call. She said, “He will not take his test.” The teacher told my—and the mother’s response was “Well, if he doesn’t feel like taking it now, he can take it later.” Well, where are you going to measure that on the—where does that show up on the data? A: Well, we’re coming to the end of our time... N: In more ways than one, right? We come to the end... A: Well, I really thank you for spending time with me and letting me hear your story. I’m going to let this run for a little bit because we’re supposed to pick up, um, a test of the sounds of the room. N: We never did get to where I ended up. A: Yeah! Where did you end up? N: Well, I left the first grade center and went to North Salisbury as principal. That was a magnet school. I didn’t even tell you about the magnet program. A: Yeah! We have a few minutes. Tell me about it. What was the motivation for having a magnet school? N: They wanted an academic environment for highly-able learners. A: For highly-able learners. Okay. N: They had very specific criteria in terms of test scores and grades and teacher recommendation. Those were the three criteria: Test scores, teacher recommendation, and grades. So, you got the test scores which talk about capability, and the grades with application of ability, and the teacher recommendation in terms of your attitude towards learning and so forth. At North Salisbury, we had what we called the “home school”, which was bringing in all the kids from the neighborhood, just like any other school, and then added on to that was the magnet program. A: And you were in charge of the magnet program? The homeschool-- N: All of it. Homeschool, the whole shabang. A: So, you had two programs in one building? N: A lot of buildings. Portables. Now, we’re not talking mansions here, but a lot of buildings. A: How many years were you there? N: I was there five years. A: And it was the last place? N: To put it in perspective for you, there was about 400-some kids in the homeschool, k... no there wasn’t pre-k then... k-6, initially, then it was k-5 during that time. The magnet program had—it started in second grade. Second grade through sixth, so I had about... close to 600 there. So, it was a little over a thousand or a little less than a thousand kids all together. A: Did the two programs interact at all or were they completely separate? N: We got the Blue Ribbon award, the National Blue Ribbon award. First one on the Eastern Shore. A: For the whole entire-- N: Because of integration. In my opinion. A: The integration of the two programs-- N: --Working together. Now, there were people who did not like the magnet program, because that is pure homogeneous grouping. A: The magnet is homogeneous or heterogeneous? Everybody’s the same. Everybody’s the same because of their scores. Yeah. N: Homogeneous grouping. A: Was that racially diverse? N: Of course, whoever met the criteria. A: It wasn’t a majority-white school? N: It was vastly majority-white. I said it met the criteria, but it was vastly majority-white. Test scores, grades, teacher recommendation. But it was something else. Really good for those kids, academically. A: The magnet school. Were you the person to integrate the two programs? Were you at the magnet school at its inception? N: No. I left Chipman, first grade center. All I knew was first grade after two years. Thought I finally got my feet on the ground and knew what I was doing. A: So, you were only at Chipman for two years... N: Then I went to North Salisbury. A: Then you were there for five years. Did you retire from that school? N: No, I went from there to Delmar, which was... Delmar Elementary, which was the school that straddles two states: Delaware and Maryland. The elementary school program brings elementary kids from Delaware and Maryland. It’s the only arrangement anywhere in the United States, where two states allow kids to go to one school or the other, and the middle and high schools are on the Delaware side. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Delmar, but the state line runs right through the middle of the town. So, we were the elementary school, pre-k-6, with elementary students, and the middle and high school on the Delaware side and the kids matriculated both states. A special agreement between the two states are their board of ed., our board of ed., whatever. I retired there. The enrollment there was less than 1000. A: Mhmm. Let’s go back to the magnet school. It became a Blue-Ribbon school because, and you believe it was because the two programs were integrated. How did that-- N: Integrated in terms of working together. Teachers working together. Because it would have been very easy for the magnet staff, the magnet students to be over here, the homeschool kids over here, and we did the best we could to bring everything together. We were one school, one family. Faculty meetings were together, staff meetings—staff development was together, classroom visitations back and forth, magnet teachers working with homeschool teachers. A: So, what was different? The curriculum? N: Absolutely. The curriculum. Like I said, the magnet program was homogeneously grouped. These kids were off the charts, academically, in my opinion. I never will forget the day I went into a third-grade math class and they were doing—are you familiar with the stock market game? A: No. N: Well, it’s a national thing. A national competition. A: Oh! Oh, I do know. Yeah. N: And these are third-graders. You hear? These are third-graders that have bought their stocks on the New York stock exchange, and they hadnt gotten to computers in the classroom at that point, I’m talking newspapers. Do you hear what I’m saying? They’ve got the Sunday paper with the section with the stocks out and they’re all checking the growth of their stocks and comparing them and doing all the mathamatical... A: So, the magnet school is doing this, but the regular classroom... N: The regular county had curriculum. A: The teachers are sharing ideas and working together. So, do you believe that it benefitted...? N: Absolutely! And we were working with Salisbury University—well, Salisbury State College at that time. College kids coming and working with both, professors coming to do an in-service there. See, it was a two—because the college, they were looking at the magnet program. They wanted to see what advantages there were in that, what they could learn from that and what their kids could learn from that. So, we had a lot of give and take on their part. And they were, in terms of staff development and that sort of thing, a good service. it was really fun. A: It sounds like one of the highlights of your career, working at the magnet school. N: yeah, that was really good. A: Was there--- N: Doesn’t it blow your mind? Third-grade kids sitting in a small group deciding whether they’re going to sell their McDonalds stock and buy something else and whether it’s time—It's just, it’s incredible! I think. I mean, that’s what learning is all about. A: Is that something, though, that you think that, like, a kid from a more disadvantaged background could also be interested in and do? N: Of course! Some of those students came from disadvantaged backgrounds. I’m not saying disadvantaged in... but, I mean, some of those kids came from working-class families. They benefitted because... I gotta be careful now. Within the groupings in a regular ed. Classroom, those kids in that magnet program would have been one in that classroom. One. Now, you’re a dedicated, caring teacher and you want the best for all of your kids, and you’ve got 29 of them. What can you do to challenge that one? Because you know, by the second day of school, what that one can do already. What can you do for that one? And where do you have a tendancy to put your concern and your efforts? It’s not that one. That’s not because youre a bad person or a bad teacher, but what would you normally do or have a tendency to do? You’d have that one helping others. But what about that one? If you did the very best you could, it would be margianal at best compared to what that one did in the classroom with 28 others. Just as bright and just as eager as he or she was. That what will often happen because the magnet program, the time of adjustment during those first four or five weeks of school was tough, because those kids had come from regular-ed. Programs where teacher gave the assignment, they were done in three minutes and then did independent reading, you know? Now they’re in here, in some cases, barely holding on. You know? “I can do this, but I’ve got—it's all I can do to stick with this--” now, I’m not saying this but intellectually, they’re barely holding on! And what a challenge for that. How great to give them that opportunity! A: It sounds like what you're saying is some of those benefits ended up helping those kids in the regular-- N: Of course! Absolutely! You know, in education, when I came along in public schools, we homogeneous-d kids for reading. We put below-grade level readers together. Why? So, we could better teach them! But then as time went by, it was a very dirty word to homogeneously group advanced students. Why? Aren’t their needs just as great. (Whisper) But we don’t worry about that because their test scores are off the charts and they’re not going to make any difference for us. See what I mean? They’re already highly proficient. So, whether we take this highly-able learner from here to here isn’t important because he’s highly proficient. Our test scores have maxed out! So, we won’t worry about them, we’ll come back down here. That’s not fair either. What are we losing? (Long pause) Okay, what do I sign? Chuckling A: Oh, thank you. Let me see if I can stop this thing. (Audio ends after some fumbling)