Douglass Staff Hears Drummond’s Words of Wisdom
68 staff members of the new Frederick Douglass Elementary met on Wednesday, July 25th, and Thursday, July 26th, for a staff retreat at the school (15 classified employees volunteered to be there without pay).
The staffers held ice-breaker activities to get the retreat going on July 25th.
Among these activities was giving a fellow staffer three words to describe yourself, a little-known fact about yourself and naming three people from any era in time with whom you’d like to have dinner.
It turns out that one staff member also is a yoga instructor. Two found out they live seven houses apart. One cycled cross-country. Another lived in six countries (counting the good ol’ US of A).
Dinner guests included Mozart, Albert Einstein, Paul McCartney, Jesus, George Clooney, Jesse Owens, long-dead relatives and Mother Theresa. Principal Tim Martino said he’d like to dine with his children as they’ll be 50 years from now to see how their life turned out.
Sadly, Elvis was not in the building.
Another blast from the past, Fred Drummond, was.
Drummond, who will turn 90 in September, spoke for a little more than half an hour about Loudoun’s educational past and his personal journey as an educator. (Drummond was the first principal of the 1958 version of Frederick Douglass Elementary. The new school occupies the same site.)
“I know some of you are saying ‘Why am I here, listening to some old man talking about something that happened a long time ago?’ ” Drummond said in introducing himself. “Well, I don’t have the answer for you, but I’m working on it.”
Drummond first came to Loudoun in 1953. His wife, Peggy, is a native of Purcellville and had returned home to take care of her ailing mother. Drummond left his teaching job in Paducah, Ky., at a loss of $400 in annual pay (he was making only $3,200), to become the principal of Banneker Elementary.
Drummond’s orientation for his new post from then-Superintendent Oscar L. Emerick could hardly be described as comprehensive.
“He welcomed me to the county, gave me a bunch of keys and told me ‘Go to Middleburg and anyone there will tell you how to get to the Banneker School.’ ”
Sure enough, Drummond found the school after asking directions in front of a grocery store. What he found when he reached the school shocked Drummond.
The grass was a foot tall and nobody had touched the interior of the building since the end of school (this was now mid-August). Drummond learned the grass would not be mowed until the week before school began. He was on his own when it came to cleaning the building. (Fortunately, he had more help than he could use in cleaning the building. Community members would come to a fountain outside the school because their home had no running water. Word soon spread that the new principal and his wife were inside cleaning.)
The surprises didn’t end there.
While going over his staff roster, Drummond discovered he was a teacher short.
He informed Emerick of the situation.
“I said ‘I’m a teacher short.’ He said ‘I don’t think so.’ ”
Emerick and Drummond re-checked the list. (Drummond said Emerick wasn’t in a good mood because the cost of the call from Banneker to Leesburg was 40 cents.) “We got to seventh grade and I said ‘This is where we don’t have a teacher.’ He said ‘I don’t agree.’
“I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said ‘It may be a shock to you, but you are the seventh grade teacher.’ I said ‘No, I’m the principal.’ ‘You are also the seventh grade teacher…’
“In the early days of Loudoun there was no such thing as a non-teaching elementary principal.”
Drummond said the situation worked out to everyone’s benefit.
“They were ready to learn and I was ready to teach.”
Banneker held students between grades one and seven at that time. Drummond said fitting this population into a small school was not easy.
“Back in those days, it appears they made the classrooms out of some kind of elastic material. The principal had to cram as many kids as he could in every classroom. The funny thing about it, a teacher with a class of less than 30 felt she was being slighted or that the principal didn’t like her.”
The classrooms weren’t the only things that had to stretch. Drummond was given an allocation of 10 cents per student per year for school supplies. (Sweeping compound, paper towels, soap and toilet paper had to be purchased with these funds.) “You were told at the beginning of each school year that a good school manager would not run short of supplies. Therefore, if you ran short, you knew better than to go back to the superintendent.”
Drummond’s custodian and bus driver, Mr. Brown, also served as his chief confidant.
“He always would let me know how he felt about everything.”
One stormy day Mr. Brown came to Drummond and said the snow was getting really deep. Three times, Drummond called Emerick about the worsening conditions. Emerick’s reply was always the same: “I’m the superintendent of schools. I will make that decision.”
The third time Brown came to the office, he handed Drummond the keys to the bus and told the principal that he could drive students home.
Informed of this, Emerick still refused to release the students.
The snowstorm became so intense that school was cancelled for two weeks. Many students were unable to reach home for a week and had to stop at any place they could on the route home.
“The people became so mad the superintendent almost lost his job. But, from then on, whenever it got cloudy, school would be dismissed.”
Drummond left Banneker, reluctantly, in 1958 to open the new Frederick Douglass Elementary. While Douglass was a superior facility, Drummond said the school system still labored under the inequities caused by segregation.
“The white principals would meet on the first Tuesday of each month. The black principals would meet on the first Wednesday of each month. There were only four of us and I could never understand what the superintendent could tell the white principals on Tuesday that he had to wait until Wednesday to tell us.”
Standing in a school that is undergoing its final installation of equipment, Drummond said new schools were not well-equipped when he opened the 1958 version of Douglass.
“Back in my day, a new school came with very little equipment. I had to buy teaching equipment, a piano, stage curtains, an adding machine…” Drummond said working with his PTA and an anonymous wealthy donor in Leesburg; he was able to outfit the school.
Drummond had these parting words for the new staff that will carry on the Frederick Douglass legacy.
“I spent 10 wonderful years at Douglass before the schools were integrated. You have a beautiful, well-equipped school…As the School Board passed the baton to me in 1958, I am now passing the baton back to you…I am also wishing for all of you, a very successful and exciting school year.”
Peggy Drummond was on hand for her husband’s address to the faculty. As always, they worked as a team. She said she would cough if her husband wasn’t speaking loud enough and cross her fingers if he was talking too long. (Peggy Drummond said she did both, though nobody really noticed.)