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Madeline Cartwright
Madeline Cartwright
For the Children:  Lessons from a Visionary Principal
ISBN: 0385423721
For the Children: Lessons from a Visionary Principal
Ms. Cartwright, a highly acclaimed principal of a Pennsylvania public school, discusses her book that recounts her trials and accomplishments in transforming that school. The dynamic and engaging black educator discussed her strategies and remedies in her efforts to combat teacher absences, to involve parents, and to clean up the school building and grounds. She also discussed her family and personal background. The book, For the Children: Lessons from a Visionary Principal; How We Can Save Our Public Schools, is published by Doubleday.
For the Children: Lessons from a Visionary Principal
Program Air Date: September 19, 1993

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Madeline Cartwright, why did you open your book with a reference to a young man by the name of Tyrone?
MADELINE CARTWRIGHT, AUTHOR, " FOR THE CHILDREN" Tyrone kind of spelled what we were trying to do with children who had problems. We wanted to say to them, "If you have problems, we know it and we're here for you. When you get to us, we're going to help you solve those problems."
LAMB: But he had something wrong with him when he came to school one day. What was it?
CARTWRIGHT: Tyrone lived with a mother who was grossly mentally retarded. She had the responsibility of three children, and they lived with her. She was cooking, and she was pouring grease from a frying pan into a glass jar. Tyrone was standing near the jar, the jar broke and this grease poured over his hand and burned his arm -- burned it to the quick, as my mother used to say. When I came to school, Tyrone was sitting there waiting for me to come, holding his arm, showing that he had had a problem. As soon as we came in, we looked at it and called the school committee coordinator, who is a liaison between the school and community, paid for by federal funds. I called her and said, "Come look at Tyrone's arm." Just like that she was there. She went and got his mother, and then she took Tyrone and his mother to the hospital. I know that Tyrone was able to get through the night because he knew in the morning something was going to happen to make it better.
LAMB: Now, where was this?
CARTWRIGHT: This was in North Philadelphia. My school was in the heart of North Philadelphia, in a poverty-stricken area, an area where there is much dope infestation, where there are more often more abandoned houses to a block than occupied houses. Tyrone lived just around the corner from the school with his mother in an apartment.
LAMB: What years were you at there? What was the name of the school?
CARTWRIGHT: I went to James G. Blaine School in 1979 as an elementary school principal, and when I walked into the school, I looked at it, those nice little happy children. But the place was dirty -- filthy dirty. The bathrooms had such a stench! Many of the children had an odor because many of our youngsters lived in vacant houses where there was no water. There was nobody washing clothes; there was nobody washing them. They were coming to school, maybe one, two, three to a classroom. One child who smells in a classroom can set the classroom off. You had youngsters who did not want to sit next to each other. You had teachers who were sitting the kids near the windows -- not to be mean -- so they could survive the situation. You take that and you bring in a youngster who's wearing perfume, a teacher who's wearing perfume, that's enough to make learning not go on in the classroom.
LAMB: What's the purpose of the book? Why did you write this?
CARTWRIGHT: The book is to say to people, here is a situation that we corrected. Not corrected the outside, but we made education happen amidst all of this by saying to the youngsters, "This school is as good as any school. Here in this building, you're as good as any child. You're going to look good in this building; you're going to feel good in this building. What's going to happen for you in this building is what's happening to children across the country in schools. School is no different from anybody else's school. Your life outside is a little different, but school is no different. You deserve more." You know, I apologized to the children regularly: "I'm sorry for the plight that you have. I'm sorry that you've had this happen to you or that happen to you, that you don't have clothes, you don't have a home. This is not how it should be; things should be better for you. We're going to improve everywhere where we can. If you let us know what's happening outside the school, we'll do as much as we can there, too. But in between 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, life for you is going to be good. You're going to be allowed to be a happy little rascal."
LAMB: How long were you the principal at this school?
CARTWRIGHT: I was there 11 years.
LAMB: And what are you doing now?
CARTWRIGHT: Well, now I retired July 1, after 34 years. The state has an incentive -- they had; it's gone now -- an incentive package that allowed us to come out with no penalty at 10 percent bonus. So instead of retiring with 34 years, I retired with 37.4 years.
LAMB: What are you doing in retirement?
CARTWRIGHT: Right now I'm promoting my book, and in promoting my book I'm also promoting education. I'm showing folks that what looks like an insurmountable job can be done if you just face the problem and solve it as you go along. Don't form a committee. You know, we had youngsters were not clean -- we bought a washing machine and a dryer. I learned when I was teaching school that you could not supply clothes. If you sent clothes, two or three days they're dirty. If you bought more clothes you just could not keep up with that. But I knew then that if I could wash these clothes, I could keep up. Immediately, no sooner than I hit that building, I talked with the parents about the need for a washer and a dryer. We talk about self-esteem, and self-esteem is very, very important to a child. But it's hard for a child to feel good about himself when he passes a mirror and he sees that his hair is not fixed; he sees that his face is not clean, his clothes are disheveled, his clothes are not fitting. Children are talking to him about how bad he looks, people are avoiding him. We talk about building self-esteem among all that. He'd have to have one monumental imagination to feel good about himself.
LAMB: What's one of your greatest success stories, one of your favorite people that you made a difference with?
CARTWRIGHT: The parents.
LAMB: I'm talking about a person. Give me a person.
CARTWRIGHT: One parent, OK. A parent, Shirl Siburn. She lived around the corner from the school. She came to school with her youngster and then back home to that corner. She sat in the back of the classroom -- didn't make a sound -- to watch her only real possession, one child. This was what she had; she kept her spotlessly clean. I said to her, "Mrs. Siburn, I'm happy that you come to school, but I'd like to see you do something besides sit in that back of that room." I started to give her little chores to do, and I found out that this woman was very, very intelligent. How I found that out, she knew all the business. She knew all about what was going on in the building without me telling her. She was standing there in front of my desk reading my mail upside down and backwards. I was going to bring information out because I didn't have any secrets in the school, but my business was getting out before it got out. I said, what is this? So then I began to just watch who's doing it, and I watched Shirl and I turned it over and I said, "What did it say?" She laughed and laughed and laughed and told me what it said. I said, "If you can read that fast, better use that."

So the secretary of the school, who worked because she wanted to work -- she wanted something to do; she didn't have to work -- she and I put up money and we sent Shirl to college. Shirl made all A's. She was an extraordinarily bright person. I said, "Shirl, I didn't make all A's in college. You can't sit on Clifford Street and do nothing. You have got to use this," and she said to me, "Well, . . ." I had to pry her off her seat, build confidence in her, and things were going good. What I did, each time the school district had opportunity flyers, I went through it to see if any of our parents fit those qualifications. If they did I helped them prepare themselves to go take the test, and many parents went on and took tests. While we were doing this, Shirl saw the test; she wanted to take it. She came to me and said she wanted to take the test for an NTA.
LAMB: What's NTA?
CARTWRIGHT: Non-teaching assistant, to work in the school. They start it off at maybe $9,000, $10,000, up to $25,000. Shirl was on welfare -- $351 a month for her and one child. I needed to make her stay in school, but she needs to earn more than $300 a month, when they have more than $300 a month. So we sent Shirl to take the test. Shirl scored number one on that test and went to work and just her whole life changed.
LAMB: Where is she now?
CARTWRIGHT: Working as an NTA, which is not the good part. She's working as an NTA, she's doing very well, she's well respected on her job, she feels good about herself, her daughter's doing very well. Her daughter's going to college. That, to me, is what we were about, about wakening talents that were there in people who didn't know they had it. You know, Shirl was on welfare, but her daughter won't be.
LAMB: When you arrived at Blaine School as the new principal, I think I remember you tangling with an NTA. Was that Mr. Davis?
CARTWRIGHT: No, no. I don't want to use the names we changed in the book. I think his name is in the book, though. Mr. Lowe was my NTA -- very, very, very efficient man. I walk into the schoolyard, and I watched Mr. Lowe say to the children, "Freeze," and children stopped, didn't move. He said, "Go to your lines." They walked to their lines, perfectly quiet. I watched the same man meet 500 youngsters in the auditorium in the morning by himself. The only person on duty in Philadelphia between 8 and 8:45, really, is one NTA. He could control, monitor, all of these children by himself. I said as good as that is, there's something the matter with it. Youngsters just don't sit in the auditorium perfectly still, not move a muscle, unless there's something wrong. I began to look at what was wrong. The officers were afraid, they really were afraid. As much as I like control, as much as I like order, I didn't want the youngsters to be afraid; I didn't want the youngsters to be tight. I wanted them to be children and feel free to laugh and know that they were safe in that building, that no one was going to do anything to them that was not good for them.
LAMB: Go back to the first day you arrived. First of all, how did you get the assignment to be the principal at Blaine School?
CARTWRIGHT: In Philadelphia, once you pass the principal's test, you are assigned as a substitute principal. The principal who was there went to another school, the school I was already substituting for. When she came to my school, they sent me to her school, and that's how I arrived at Blaine. The principal was an excellent principal -- very, very big on academics, big on order. The school was very orderly. When I walked up the first day -- well, I drove up . . .
LAMB: In your Cadillac.
CARTWRIGHT: Beautiful new Cadillac that I promised myself as a poor child. I was a poor child. I said to everybody, "When I grow up I'm going to have a Cadillac, a maid and I'm not going to be poor. I'm just not going to be poor." I said that over and over. People started laughing. My mother said to folks, "You know what, she says when she grows up she's not going to be poor. She's going to have a Cadillac." They kept saying it, and my father said to me -- my parents were divorced -- "You can have a Cadillac, you can be a teacher; you cannot be poor. If that's what you want, all you have to do is work toward it." My mother didn't like cars too much because Daddy had a car and she didn't think he should have one, but I knew I was going to have this car. And I had it.
LAMB: What day? What year?
CARTWRIGHT: Same year as school -- 1979 Cadillac. In 1979 I went to the school. I got the Cadillac in February; I came to the school in March. I made principal the February before. So here I come up in my new car. I was very happy about it, had all new clothes. I was not a picture of being poor. I did not mean to be a picture of being poor. I was finished with being poor, totally and unequivocally finished with the poor business. I came into the school, and my school-community coordinator -- that's the person that's the liaison between the school and the community, paid for by federal funds -- said to me, "We had a break-in. You have to inventory and call downtown the break-in." I said, "I just got here. Why do I have to do the break-in? I'll call and my name's going to be attached to a break-in." I was not the assigned principal; I was a substitute principal. I wanted to be the principal, because this school was exactly what I wanted. It was a school that was 10 years old, really 12 years old.
LAMB: Physically, 10 years old.
CARTWRIGHT: Physically, yes. Dirty. It had the makings -- you had to rebuild it, but you could fix it.
LAMB: How dirty was it?
CARTWRIGHT: Dirty beyond anything you could think of. We had mice all over, mice droppings all over. Nobody was trying to camouflage this. There were roaches all over. The teacher's lounge did not have a faucet. The teacher's lounge stove -- nobody had ever cleaned it, I don't believe. The lunchroom where the children ate was just filthy. The bathrooms were the one thing that you could not tolerate.
LAMB: By the way, why did you want this?
CARTWRIGHT: Because I wanted folks to know that you could come into a school anywhere and make it serve children. The excuses that we offered for not doing for children were unacceptable to me. I had been a union organizer, and I had gone from school to school to school in Philadelphia. I was not shocked at seeing Blaine because I had been in many, many schools. I had even been in Blaine, but I had been in Blaine 10 years before. I knew these conditions existed, but I knew they didn't have to exist. I wanted to come and show folks that this does not have to be. I wanted to show parents that they had to bear the blame for some of this in that they allowed it to happen. They had to put it forth and say, "I don't want to have my child go to school in this filth."
LAMB: How many kids at the school?
CARTWRIGHT: There were 659.
LAMB: How many of them had two parents?
LAMB: Out of 659?
CARTWRIGHT: Maybe 20, maybe 20.
LAMB: What was the average age of the mother and father?
CARTWRIGHT: The average age of the parents was 16. That we did. We computed that. The federal lunch form requires the age of the mother or whoever is taking care of the child in the household. All the ages of the household were there, and we computed that the average age of parents when they gave birth to the first child was 16.
LAMB: How many of the parents were on welfare?
CARTWRIGHT: Out of 650, I'd say 640.
LAMB: On average, how much money did they take in every month?
CARTWRIGHT: If a parent had one child, they got $351; two children $400; three children $500, like that, and that's how it went. Many of my parents had more children. You know, I hear people say they had the children to get money; you have to have the children to survive. Three hundred and fifty dollars a month does not pay anything. It doesn't pay even a room rent. You can't live with your mother. Strangest thing you've ever seen. If you're on welfare and get a check, you can't live with your mother because if you live with your mother you don't get the welfare. So these folks have to take this $300 and go out and peddle a room to live. Where can I find a room? Maybe get somebody to support them, you know, to add to it, supplement their income in some way. Sometimes they supplement their income by selling the food stamps because you could sell your food stamps and then you could beg food. Folks are not going to give you a telephone, they're not going to give you rent, but they'll give you food.
LAMB: What was the racial makeup of the school?
CARTWRIGHT: Racial makeup was all black. One white family, and that family was interracial. I had two white children and a white mother. I had one Spanish family and three children. Everybody else was black.
LAMB: How long did it take you to get to those johns?
CARTWRIGHT: Oh, no time -- a week. In the first week I walked around and I looked and I smelled. I said, "My God, what can that be?" I walked into the bathroom where the urinals had not been flushed, and that's where the real stench was coming from, the real hard-core stench that was blowing up and down the halls. I came in and I started flushing urinals, and I got all the urinals flushed and I got the windows up, and it still stank. I said, "Send the custodian to the boys room on the second floor." So he came, very nice gentleman. He had just come to Blaine a month before me and that was a godsend blessing because all of my complaints then were not complaining of him. It wasn't like criticism and he had to defend himself. He saw a nasty building; I saw a nasty building. I found one; he found one.

I said, "This has to be cleaned." He said, "No, no, we clean the bathrooms, Ms. Cartwright." I said, "Sorry, this bathroom had not been cleaned." He said, "Well, maybe the children used the urinals when we left and didn't flush them, but we mopped." I said, "I flushed, and I still smell it. Go get me some water. Get me a bucket of water, plenty of water, and add some detergent and let me clean this bathroom with you." He brought me a bucket of water. While he was going to get the bucket of water, I took off my stockings and my shoes and I put them up on the shelf. When he came in, I stood there barefooted. I said, "I'm here to work." I took the brush and I started to scrub the floor around the toilet bowl, and scrubbed it. When I finished, I picked up the bucket and threw it and said, "Get some more water." So he got some more water, and then he went and got another bucket, and he just kept interchanging because I was throwing the water. I got that bathroom spotless clean. This man stood there with his mouth open. I think he wanted to help, but I think he wasn't quite sure what I wanted him to do. He just stood there. So when I finished the bathroom, I said, "Do you smell anything?" He says, "No." I said, "Well, that's how I expect my bathrooms to be. I am not going to scrub another bathroom, but I want them to be this way always." He said, "Yes, ma'am." My bathrooms stayed like that.
LAMB: The whole time?
CARTWRIGHT: The whole time.
LAMB: Eleven years?
CARTWRIGHT: Eleven years. Occasionally, we picked up odor, but after that whenever we had a three-day weekend, the parents and I went through and flushed all the urinals because that's where the real stench came from. When that urine stayed in that room Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, by Tuesday you can't move. I mean, it just takes you. So we got the kids to help, and we said all the urinals have to be flushed. Some of the urinals were broken. I wanted to have flowing water in the bathroom, a hose. For some reason, that's against the law. There is some ordinance or rule that says you can't have a hose hooked to the faucet. They wouldn't give me a screw-on, so I bought me one that you screw on with rubber and made my own. The custodian said he wasn't allowed, and I said, "You're not allowed, but I'm allowed." I put that on and I had water and I could flush the urinals that were stopped up. We got a bucket of water and flushed it. Run the hose in, took it off when I got finished and put it back in the closet. Nobody knew that we had the screw-on. But that solved our problems.
LAMB: What's starting to happen?
CARTWRIGHT: What's starting to happen now is that teachers are seeing that if I wanted something done, I wanted it done and I wanted it done then and I was willing to make it happen. The kids are going home and telling their parents, she's doing this, she's doing that, she's doing the other. Every day the kids are going home and telling the parents something I did. I did some crazy things, as far as they were concerned.
LAMB: What other crazy things?
CARTWRIGHT: Well, I washed the kids. I cut hair. I had a barber shop -- my own -- and I cut hair. If a youngster's hair needed to be groomed and there was too much of it for me to groom, I just gave the little boy a haircut. The children talked about that. They talked about how I swept. The school yard was debris heavy and glass -- glass to no end. We had a basketball court down at the end of the schoolyard, and the boys played basketball, drank wine and beer and soda.
LAMB: How old were they?
CARTWRIGHT: Oh, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25.
LAMB: They weren't the young kids?
CARTWRIGHT: No, no. They left the bottles there. My children threw the bottles up on the roof. The lunchroom roof and the auditorium roof were low. My kids got up on the roof and threw them back down, so every Monday morning when I came in the yard was full of glass. So I looked out of the window, and I said, "I can't believe this is a schoolyard." That was my first day. I said, "I can't believe this is a schoolyard." So I called the custodian and they said, "We swept yesterday." I said, "I don't believe you." He says, "We did." I said, "Well, let's go sweep today and let me see tomorrow. Bring the broom; I can help." They brought the broom. We swept. The children saw me sweeping. They swept, too. Everybody helped. Then the yard is pretty well debris free.

I said to the children, "You have to have a ticket to get in this morning." They said, "Ticket? What do you mean, ticket?" I said, "You have to pick up a piece of trash, and that will be your ticket in. For trash cans, open only two doors." We usually use more than two doors. I put trash cans at each door, and you could not come into the building unless you had a piece of trash. Now, we had already swept for an hour, and kids had picked up trash for an hour, so there was not that much trash left. Quickly the kids picked up trash, but the latecomers, there was no trash for them. The kids said to them, "You can't come in unless you have a piece of trash." They said, "Where am I going to get the trash from? Give me a little piece of yours." They were tearing up the trash and passing it to each other so they could get in. The yard was spotless clean, and they had helped.
LAMB: Parents?
CARTWRIGHT: I said to parents, "You have to be involved in the school. The involvement of parents is what makes the difference in school. You have to come in; you have to help us. I can't do it by myself. The kids can't do it by themselves. The teachers can't do it by themselves. We have to all help." Parents would say, "Like what do you mean, help?" They would come in and bring the little small kids at school. I'd say, "Well, what are you going to do when you get back home? Why don't you stay here for an hour." I had donuts and coffee and I talked. I always talked. So they started coming, and pretty soon one would bring another and one would bring another. Pretty soon we had a good little collection of parents. They would come and stand in front of the lines and they'd want to talk, too. See, I know the principal, too.

I'm standing there, and the kids are standing there. I'd say to the parents, "Get your line together." The parents would say, "My line?" I'd say, "Listen, it's more your line than it is mine. I don't have any kids in the line. It's your line; get it together." The parents got their lines together and then when time came to pass, one teacher was not there. So I said to the parent, "Why don't you take that class in for Miss Freeman?" Miss Freeman was late; that was her thing. Everybody has their thing; Miss Freeman was late. It might be two, three minutes, but she was late. I said, "Take Miss Freeman's line in." So the parent took Miss Freeman's line in. Pretty soon Miss Freeman pulled into the parking lot, looked up and saw me and lines going, and she backed right out to move around the corner and parked her car and snuck in the front door. She got upstairs, and here this parent had her class in the room sitting down. She was happy as she could be, thanked the parent, "Oh, God, you really helped me today, I really appreciate this." Then she encouraged more parents to come so if she were late again she could do the same thing. Then she started telling other teachers, "This parent walked my line in; she doesn't even know what time I came in this morning." Then other teachers started encouraging their parents to come in case they were late, and their line wasn't left out there with me.

Pretty soon you had parents the teachers had recruited to come into the school. Then more parents came, and kids started to tell their parents, "You come on in." I said to teachers, "We have parents who are involved. You have to make sure that this child suffers nothing because his parent came. This has to be a plus for him. Don't take this opportunity to tell this parent everything this child does wrong. The child has to know that because his parent came to school he is better off, not worse off."
LAMB: Teachers and arrival at school on time?
CARTWRIGHT: Oh, just coming -- not on time, just coming.
LAMB: What did you do?
CARTWRIGHT: Attendance for teachers in Philadelphia was not good, and that's because we had three personal days. Anybody in your family, could die -- anybody. I mean, you could say your brother died. Nobody ever checked to see if this was really your brother. One guy told me his mother died three times. Five days every time your mother dies. Nobody ever checked to see that his mother died three times. Every time he changed schools, his mother died again. I was a teacher for 17 years; I heard these stories.

When there is a substitute in the building, two or three substitutes, the climate in the school is eroded. Children tend to act up. They think that a substitute is not a teacher, and it is because we don't tell them. We say, "We have a sub today." I remember once I went to a school -- I was a new teacher -- I walked into the classroom, and the children said to me, "Are you a sub?" I said, "A sub? A sub is a sandwich where I came from." The children said, "No, like are you a substitute teacher?" I said, "No, I'm a real teacher. I have a degree, and I'm a teacher." They said, "Oh, you're new." I said, "Honey, I'm 33 years old. I am not new." They said, "Oh-h," and sat down and were good the rest of the day as soon as they found out I wasn't a sub. These were notes I kept. This is what sets off children. This is what sets off schools. I had read in the library one day and read a dissertation of a principal in Glassboro, N.J. His dissertation said that where a principal answered the phone, attendance of teachers was increased by 15 percent. I said, "Fifteen percent for answering the phone?" I knew I was going to answer the phone when I got to be principal. So here I am, principal. When the telephone rings -- I'm there like three days -- I say, "Good morning, Blaine School, Madeline Cartwright." They hang up.
LAMB: What time is this in the morning?
CARTWRIGHT: Oh, maybe five or 10 minutes to 8. What he's supposed to do is call between 8 and 8:30. The secretary comes on at 8. If you call before 8, you get the cleaning lady. Cleaning lady just writes down your absence. It doesn't say why you're absent, just says, "Mr. Jones is absent." Now Mr. Jones has a free day to do anything he wants to do. If nobody in the school district sees him, he is safe. If somebody sees him, he takes personal leave. You have 10 sick days, but your insurance gives you unlimited sick days for a year. You have three personal days, so you save them. You get paid for them when you retire, you see. But you'd be happy to use those if somebody sees you. I knew that. I was a teacher. I saw people do it. I knew it.

I said, "I'll have to answer this phone so I could ascertain early on why you're out." Line's dead. Five minutes passed again, telephone rings, I said, "Good morning, Blaine School, Madeline Cartwright." Dead. Then it dawns on me these folks don't want to talk to me at all, and they're not going to talk to me. I said, well, now they have to talk to me or come to school, one or the other. The next time the telephone rang, I said, "Don't hang up. This is Madeline Cartwright. I'm going to answer this phone all day, so you just as well come on or talk." Nobody said anything, so I hung up. The word went through the school: "She's answering the phone." So I had a staff meeting, and I told them the whole story. They laughed and laughed and laughed. They know that I'm answering the phone. Then they go downtown. They call up and they say that Madeline Cartwright is intimidating teachers -- this is the report downtown -- and not allowing them to take off their sick days. Teachers are coming to work sick because they're scared.
LAMB: Downtown meaning . . .?
CARTWRIGHT: Central administration. We had local superintendents, seven of them. Mine was District 4. The District 4 superintendent called me and said, "Madeline, teachers have a right to be sick. They have sick leave. You have to let them be sick." I said, "I'm not saying they can't be sick. I'm saying that if they are sick, all they have to say is, `Madeline, I'm sick and I'm not coming.'" She says, "Now, I understand that's not how it goes." I said, "Yes, it does. I ask the person if they're sick, and if they say they're sick, I say, `You're sick of what?' so I can have some idea about how long they are going to be out." She says, "That's not the way I get it. I'm going to ask you to answer the telephone by `Good morning, this is Blaine School' and nothing more. The school has to be answered in a professional fashion."

Now, here these folks have gotten together and they're going to undo what I know is going to work, proven by this man's dissertation. Plus, I had perfect attendance the whole time until she called me. The telephone rings and I say, "Good morning, Blaine School, Madeline Cartwright." The teacher says why she's out. I say, "How long are you going to be out?" and I write it down. That lasts a couple of days. Then the word is spreading, "Listen, we've clipped her tail. Her feathers have been clipped; don't worry about her." Some teachers will tell you what's going on. Teachers are coming in and telling me. I said, "My feathers have not been clipped at all. I still answer the phone, and people are still coming to work."

So the next time I'm sitting there and it's raining and it's Monday morning, I said, "They are going to try me. Rainy Monday, not coming." Telephone rings, and I say, "Good morning, it's raining, it's Monday morning, and I'm here." My superintendent said to me, "I'm here, Madeline." I said, "Oh, I knew that was you." She said, "I bet you did." But she didn't call back anymore, and I continued to say, "Good morning, this is the Blaine School. This is Madeline Cartwright. What is your problem? Can I help you in some way?" I said to teachers, "If you had a hard night and you wake up at 6 o'clock or 7 o'clock or whatever time you get up, and you're too tired to come to school, just call me and say, `Madeline, I'm tired. I need another hour.' Take that hour and come at 9 or come at 10. I'd much rather see the regularly appointed teacher at 10 o'clock than see a substitute at 10:30."
LAMB: Why do you think you're made the way you are? You got up early and went in early and did what you did and all these other things. The people that you are working with were trying to beat the system.
CARTWRIGHT: I think they were allowed to beat the system, and I think that when people are allowed to half-step, they will half-step.
LAMB: Why were they allowed to beat the system?
CARTWRIGHT: Well, principals came in at 9, principals came in at 9:20. There was nobody saying you had to be there. There was no check.
LAMB: Why was there no one there? Where was the genesis of all this?
CARTWRIGHT: It's almost like educating the children was incidental. It was like we're doing all that we can and all that we can is not enough, so keep on doing the best you can. There was no real accountability for educating children.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
CARTWRIGHT: Right in front of my school. That was taken just last November right in front of the school. Whenever I drive into the neighborhood, it was like the Pied Piper. The kids would come out and they'd come and see me. We kissed and hugged and hugged and kissed all the time.
LAMB: Now, you say in your book that when you started at that school, you would touch the kids, kiss the kids.
CARTWRIGHT: Oh yes, yes, yes.
LAMB: But that doesn't track with what we're hearing today as allowable, does it?
CARTWRIGHT: Yes, but a lot of things were allowed. I touched children because many children were not being touched. They got up in the morning by themselves. They trampled through the house by themselves. They came to school and they sat down and nobody was saying, "I love you." So I touched, I hugged, and I hugged and I kissed them and they kissed me and we said "I love you" regularly. That was very common in our building. If you walked through Blaine you would hear "I love you," I guess, 500 or 600 times a day. We said it to the children, and they said it to us. Always.

If a youngster was not smiling, I would say to him, "Why are you not smiling? What's the matter?" I'd tickle him or do something to make him smile. I'd say to them, "If there is something wrong, you tell me. There are few problems that you could conjure up that I can't make better, and I certainly can make it good between 8 and 4." They'd begin to tell us, and we'd begin to help them. You know, I looked at this Michael Jackson's business, and I said, "Listen, if I got money, thousands of children could say, 'She hugged me, she kissed me, I slept in her bed.'" I brought the kids home. When I had 33 kids, I brought home all my kids. My husband taught school; I brought home all of his. We brought them home four at a time. They had dinner with us. They played in the yard or whatever needed to be done, they did it. They had fun. They saw another side of life. They saw that I was real, that I was a person just like they were. I made them know that I came from whence they came. I lived in the projects. I had dirty clothes, but I was able to come here and buy this and live in this house.
LAMB: Did you ever get that maid?
CARTWRIGHT: Oh, yes. Had that, too. Had it all.
LAMB: Cadillac, maid, nice house. How did you do all that?
CARTWRIGHT: I married another teacher, too, and he didn't want me to work. So, since he didn't want me to work, I mean, I had a full salary. I could pay a full salary, you know what I mean. So I could pay a maid salary and still have some left over. I did that.
LAMB: Do you still do it?
CARTWRIGHT: No, no. We don't have a maid anymore. I only have one salary now. See, the maid's salary went when Earl left, so we don't have that salary anymore. So we don't have a maid. I have a person who comes in and helps me with the cleaning. My daughter is 22; she helps with the cleaning, too. We do a lot for each other. I don't clean. I mean, I still don't clean.
LAMB: Who is Jared?
CARTWRIGHT: Jared is my grandson. You have not lived -- you have grandkids? -- until you have a grand. I sent my daughter to college, my husband and I. My husband and I are very friendly.
LAMB: Not married anymore?
CARTWRIGHT: Yes, we're still married. He didn't leave me. He didn't leave; I left him. I should put it right. Anyway, we sent my daughter to college. First year at college she came home pregnant. I said to my husband, "Listen, she's well, she's healthy. The rascal is well and healthy and beautiful. They didn't charge us any more money. For the same money, everybody else got 15 credits. We got 15 credits and a rascal. We got a bonus. Let's pick it up and go on with it." I looked at that and said there is some reason for this. I sent my daughter back to school and Jared came to school with me every day. I put him in a car seat, brought it in, set it right on my desk, said to the teachers, "We have another responsibility. I need help." Laura had blessed me because the union had fought and gotten prep time for teachers. Every teacher had 45 minutes off and a lunch period. So the teachers took their 45 minutes off and came and got Jared. They passed him around from teacher to teacher. He is a very personable child. He's used to looking at different faces. We just had a grand time with him.
LAMB: How old is he?
CARTWRIGHT: Now he is 4 years old. He does very well. He's a happy little boy, very cheerful child. Keeps me inspired.
LAMB: To go back to the origin of this book, whose idea was this book?
CARTWRIGHT: The idea of a book came from a writer in Philadelphia, Vernon Loeb. He came out to Blaine. The superintendent had decentralized such that she had people from the central office coming out looking at schools. One of her administrators from downtown came to Blaine and said, "My, this is a wonderful place." Called Vernon Loeb. Vernon Loeb came, looked at it and said, "Now, this is really a nice story." He wrote it and put it in a newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. And then Knight-Ridder bought it, and it ran the country.

Vernon said to me, "Madeline, there is a story here to be told and somebody is going to tell it. You should tell it yourself." I said, "Well, you come and help me tell it." He said, "I don't have the time, but you can do it. Just go and do it." I started right then collecting my stories and writing them and putting them aside, collecting stories and putting them aside. Then I began to write the educational part of it, the educational program at that school. When I finished writing the educational program, I gave it to a girlfriend and asked her if she would read the stories and sift them into the education.

Then another newspaper writer came to Philadelphia looking for a story on childhood in America. I said to him, "I'm writing, too. I'm writing my story. However, if you're going to write about the children, good. If you're going to write about me, I don't want to talk." He says, "No, I'm going to write about the children." We talked all day long, all day. He had a good time, and we like to share. I like to share success with the children. The children like to share their stories. They were very pleased with having folks come in. I told them that our plight was not anything to be ashamed of. They had nothing to do with where they live and how they live. They had to do the best they could. As long as they held up their share, don't worry about anybody else's.

Richard came and wrote this story, and he went back and wrote a book. One chapter in that book was about the Blaine School and me. New York Times bought that one chapter and put me on the front of the New York Times. It changed my entire life in that many, many people started to come into the school. Many people called the school. I knew that I better get this book finished, and I really started working on it hard then. I took a sabbatical leave and worked on it full time. My daughter took off from college at my request. I asked if she'd quit and work with me. She came home and worked with me, and she and Jared and I -- my Jared was just 2 then -- made this book happen. I say Jared, because whenever I got bogged down, he was there to kind of brighten me up. We'd go for a walk to the playground -- something to kind of unwind and come back and write more. We got it done. Then we got Michael D'Orso, who is also a newspaper writer out of Virginia. He came in and helped us to shape it.
LAMB: How did you get a publisher?
CARTWRIGHT: I was sitting on the bed -- that's where I work, on the bed. Everybody said, "You're going to ruin your bed," but as I sat on the bed my grandson would crawl on the bed, run around and put his arms around my neck. No mattress was worth that. I had to have that. I'm sitting here working with my book. Jared is running around the floor, because I locked him in the room with me. The telephone rang, and a lady says to me, "Would you hold? A vice president from Doubleday wants to speak to you." I said, this is a joke. I've been home from school one month. I said, this is a joke. Sure enough, there was Martha Levin, a vice president of Doubleday saying to me she heard I was writing a book and would like me to give them a chance of publishing my book. I still think this is a joke, but I figure I'll go along with the program.

So I went along and after a while said maybe this is not a joke. She says, "I'm going to send you some books that we have done, and you can look at them. Let us see your draft as soon as possible." I said, "All right." By now I'm convinced. I started screaming, really screaming, because that is how I am. I started screaming. The baby started crying. My daughter came running. By this time the kid looks up and he sees that I'm laughing, and in the middle of his tears he stopped and started laughing, too. She said, "What is going on?" I said, "Doubleday wants to publish a book!" It was real, and that's how we got published.
LAMB: Then what happened? What was the process of finishing the book and having a writer come in? Was there anything difficult from that moment forward?
CARTWRIGHT: Yes. The most difficult from that moment forward was the writing with the writer. I said to the writer, "We need to sit down side by side and write this book," because sometimes just changing a word can change my meaning. I wanted to make a book that did not put down our parents because they weren't to be put down. They had worked hard.

Sometimes you could say you went into a house and the house was filthy dirty and folks would say, "The mother is not doing her part; that's why the house is filthy dirty." That sort of thing. I said that was not what it was. Here are folks living in homes with no doors. Here are folks who are really trying to make do. Some of them were on drugs. There were children living in a situation where there was nobody cleaning -- one situation where the toilet was stopped up, and nobody unstopped the toilet. The children didn't know. They continued to use it. That's the kind of thing. But I didn't want that to come out as here were sorry parents; here were kids who used the filthy toilets. What else do you use? You're a kid. I wanted to make sure that this book said what I wanted it to say. It didn't change anything from what happened. From time to time I had to say to the writer, "What happened was dramatic enough. Don't embellish it. Just tell it like it was." He would say to me, "I'm a writer, and you're an educator." I'd say, "We're writing this book," but we got through it. He understood where I was coming from. I understood his responsibility and what he had to do.
LAMB: It's 256 pages. Did you want it to be any longer?
CARTWRIGHT: Oh, yes. I had a whole lot more, a whole lot more. They edited the book down, which was all right, because I realized they were the professionals at this. They took out a lot that I would have put back in. Some of the stuff they took out, I did put back in. They allowed me to do that. We agreed that this is what we want.
LAMB: What's missing that you'd like to have in it if you had more pages?
CARTWRIGHT: I talked about the problems of teachers in the inner city because if you don't have happy teachers, that's a problem. I talked about teachers that we had who were having problems. I had one teacher -- she and her husband lived with his mother, and his mother was quite happy to have the two of them and the grandchildren. This was how they were going to live forever. She went and got her a job. She was a teacher, and she left and brought her children. They went to court and took her kids from her, back to the home where they were used to being, where they had always called home and made her support them. She said there was no such thing as supporting them; the mother had always supported the home. They were punishing her for breaking up what was their happy home.

That was a sad teacher, and I wanted people to know that as you principal a school, it's just not the children, it's not the community, it's the whole picture. It's central administration and the problems that are there, and there are problems there. It's teachers and the problems that they bring to the classroom. You have to be sympathetic to that. I had another teacher who married a fellow that she dated from 15. They got married when she was 19 or 20. At 25 she came home and he says, "I don't want to be married anymore." She couldn't handle that. She came into school, and she told me what happened. She said that she had gained weight; she was going to reduce. She told me all of the things that were going to happen. I said, "Is there a woman?" She says, "There must be." Later I learned that it was a man. I said, "Honey, there is no amount of weight and no amount of grooming that is going to bring your husband back home. You have to look at that, and you have to go about living." She was a first grade teacher, and every now and then she would just break down and cry because her whole life was devastated. I brought her out of the classroom with the reading teacher, who was a certified elementary teacher, and put her in the classroom and brought this teacher and let her be the reading teacher until she could get her cries regulated so she could stand in front of the kids all day long. Those are the kinds of things you have to do. Those are the kinds of things that are not there.
LAMB: Where were you born?
CARTWRIGHT: In Coatesville, Pennsylvania., 37 miles west of Philadelphia. When I was 3 we moved. I was born on a farm, right in the farm house. My mother was home by herself. By then she was well practiced. I was the 13th child. There was no problem with her being home by herself. It was old hat having babies.
LAMB: The 13th of 13?
CARTWRIGHT: Thirteenth of 13.
LAMB: And she gave birth to you by herself?
CARTWRIGHT: By herself at home. No one else was there.
LAMB: I have a tendency to want to ask you, do you remember that?
CARTWRIGHT: My sister came home from school, and they took me to the hospital and then I came back home. I lived on a farm, and that was just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful experience. I'm sorry that my children didn't have that experience.
LAMB: Are your siblings alive, all 12 of them?
CARTWRIGHT: No, nine. Twelve grew up. One died the same year I was born. I was born in `37, October; my oldest sister died in November 1937. Everybody else grew up.
LAMB: Are your parents alive?
CARTWRIGHT: No, no. Mother died in 1965. I was teaching in 1959, so she saw me become the teacher. She saw me realize my dream -- not the Cadillac but the other part. Daddy lived to be 89. He died in `84, and he saw the whole thing and he was very happy about it. He came to my school. He watched while I performed for the children on the stage. I like to perform. He watched me tell the children stories that he told me. He was just happy about all of it. My brothers and sisters are proud, I'm sure, but we're not really friendly, many of us. I was the last, my brother and I. There were two of us. There were all of them; skip five and a half years, then came Sylvester. Skip another year and a half and here come I. So we were different from the others, and we didn't have the hardships they had. At 6, they sold the farm, and even on the farm we were different.

Daddy said that Sylvester and I were his insurance policy, and he was going to raise us such that we'd be devoted to him and look after him in his old age. And he was devoted -- he really was. Sylvester and I had store-bought clothes that fit us. We had shoes that were bought for our feet, and nobody else did. I mean, nobody else did. We had food always; we were never hungry. I was never hungry. We always had food, and the others didn't. Once Mother brought home a fur coat. Everybody's praying, "Hope this coat doesn't fit me. Hope it doesn't fit me. Hope it doesn't fit me." Mother starts trying that coat on, and finally she found who it fit and that's who had to wear this fur coat to school. You walk into school with a fur coat on, and the kids laughed and laughed. We were always, forever, coming to school with the kids laughing. Mother mostly brought home women's clothes, and the boys wore the blouses. Mother said, "If it brings cleanliness, put it on." When the boys showed up in blouses, the kids laughed and laughed.

Worst story, best story, whichever you want to look at it. Shoes. Mother came home one day with a burlap bag of shoes. Daddy comes out, calls everybody and dumps them out. The boys look at these shoes, and they know there is no problem with them. These shoes were high heels. So they knew they did not have to wear these shoes. The girls were going to school with these high heel shoes, and everybody was going to be laughing. The boys were already laughing, but they were laughing at the girls. My father was very resourceful. He was a bright man, could do anything. He could take high heel shoes and make them suitable for children. He put the high heel shoes up on the tree stump we used for cutting the wood, and he chopped off the heels. Johnny, Bob, George, Ethel, Ruth and everybody got high heel shoes. Everybody got new shoes. Well, on the bus the next morning to go to school, can you imagine, we get off the bus -- one room school -- and you've got to speed up on leaving the bus. I wasn't there because I was a little kid, but I can just see them speed up so nobody can see these shoes. But once you get to school, you have to walk. When they started walking in those shoes, and the kids started looking -- and I'm sure wherever they are today, they are telling their grandkids about these little Berger children in those high heel shoes. The teacher came in, and everybody's crying. They are just laughing at our kids, eight of us in one room. She looks around and she sees the shoes and she has never seen anything like that, either, and she was beginning to laugh. She went outside and died, too. Just laughed and laughed. Most of us look back at those days and laugh about it. But there are some few of them who do not laugh about it.
LAMB: Some of your brothers and sisters?
CARTWRIGHT: They do not laugh about it, and they say to me, "You've gone on and you're prosperous because you had such a good start." It may well be, because I certainly had good self-esteem.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
CARTWRIGHT: Westchester State Teachers College in Westchester, Pa.
LAMB: Did your brothers and sisters go to college?
CARTWRIGHT: They went to college; yes, they did.
LAMB: All of them?
CARTWRIGHT: Not all of them. I have one who is teaching school, I have one who is a minister, who has finished college, I have a brother who finished the University of Pittsburgh, I have another brother who has a master's degree in nursing, I have one who went to college a couple of years who's a meat inspector. They all have good jobs. One is a beautician; one is a merchant seaman. They all have good jobs. They all feel good about themselves now, but many of them have not reckoned with the past. You know, we didn't have hot water and there were my parents, divorced. Daddy was not up to taking care of us. I think he kind of thought it happened before, but there were older ones to help, but it was just Sylvester and me and Daddy, see. There was nobody between us to help. I kind of think that he expected we would go on being dressed up cute little kids and he didn't have to come to the table and comb my hair and fix things. So Sylvester and I didn't have the best of everything either. We learned to do for each other. My father was resourceful. Like he would say, you could make a meal out of anything. You almost can if you know how to do that. Sylvester and I did not do that, see. Once we complained that Daddy went away and came back three days later. We said, "There's no food in the house. Why didn't you come home?" He said, "What do you mean, there's no food; there's plenty of food." He goes in and puts forth a perfectly good dinner. I mean, we were 9, 10, 11 years old. But he looked after us good. We loved him.
LAMB: How has your life changed since this book came out?
CARTWRIGHT: Since this book has come out, I have gone to celebrity status. Folks kind of treat me like I was a martyr, like I've done something special. I feel like I really haven't done so much special. People say, "Look, you lived in the project, and now you're a teacher." I lived in the project, but there was running water, hot and cold. You know, we complained. We were kids. We slept on the floor with straw; we had to put straw on the floor. These are the stories my sisters and brothers tell. The say it with hard cheeks, "We slept on straw. We didn't have beds." They had a blanket over the straw. They slept on top of the blanket, and they changed the straw every two or three days. I had kids when I came to North Philadelphia who slept on the filthiest mattresses. You cannot start to imagine the kinds of mattresses these children slept on. There was no such thing as clean straw.
LAMB: Celebrity status. What are you going to do with that?
CARTWRIGHT: I'm going to take that, I hope, and be able to consult with school districts, to be able to say to principals, "Don't talk about the ills of the district. Talk about your school and how you can make it better." I can show them what we did to make it better. I know that when you involve parents and teachers and principals and children in your community on one team -- all on one side of the team, going in one direction -- then education can improve.
LAMB: Is there any one person in your life that inspired you?
CARTWRIGHT: Yes, one teacher. A lot of other people, too. But I think my biggest inspiration was a fifth grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. Wilson. She's dead. I was sitting in her classroom one day, had a hole in the bottom of my shoe and my flap backwards and feeling kind of sorry for myself. From time to time the teacher would say, "Your clothes are not clean. You can wash your clothes." Or, "Look at your hair. You can fix your hair." I was sitting in the class feeling sorry for myself, how the teacher told us about all we could do. Mrs. Wilson said, "Whatever you have, take it and make the best of it. Don't look around at what someone else has and count what you don't have. Take what you have and use it." She told the story: "I cried because I had no shoes until I met the man that had no feet. Look at all of your assets and take them and make it work for you." I remember that lesson today, just like it was yesterday. I went over it again and again and again, and as I began to feel discouraged, I thought about how I have so much more than so many other people have.
LAMB: Earlier I asked you about favorite people whose lives you've touched, and you named a parent. Is there one student?
CARTWRIGHT: Yes, yes. Darryl Dade. A boy. Darryl Dade was a busy little boy -- bad. The principal put him in my room, as he did many children, because I could get along with children. They just loved me, and they would do what I asked them. They put Darryl in my room. And Darryl simply and unequivocally fell in love with me. I mean, he loved me.
LAMB: How old was he?
CARTWRIGHT: Maybe 13,14. He did everything right from that day on, from when I met him. I taught night school. When I drove my car up, he was standing there. He went with me to night school, so he did very well in school. He had all his lessons twice. I taught night school; he took that lesson and he did the regular lesson. This was an excellent day for me when Darryl graduated from our eighth grade to go on to high school. I began to worry about him, too -- really I began to worry about him. I said to my husband, "This boy, I am his friend. He doesn't associate with children. He associates with me all the time." I began to worry about him. He graduated from eighth grade, and at the eighth grade graduation, his mother came to me with tears in her eyes, and she said, "Mrs. Cartwright, since my son went into your room, he's a totally different child. He is just a pleasure to have."
LAMB: Where is he now?
CARTWRIGHT: I don't know. He didn't come back, and I was glad he didn't come back.
LAMB: How old is he now?
CARTWRIGHT: That was when I was, maybe, 25, and I'm 55. Thirty years; he's 40, 45.
LAMB: On that note, let's call it quits and show the audience this book, which is called “For the Children: Lessons From a Visionary Principal”, and our author is Madeline Cartwright. Thank you very much for joining us.
CARTWRIGHT: Thank you so much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.