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I'm interviewing James Delaney, principal of Teaneck High School. Mr. Delaney came to the system and knows the 60s as an insider.(I) Mr. Delaney, what recollections have you of the 60s?
(N) I came to work at the high school in Teaneck in September of 1962. I was a native of New Jersey having grown up in Bergen County and specifically in Rutherford and after I finished my professional training at Bucknell University, I was attracted to Teaneck as a community that appeared to be dynamic, up and coming and a leader at that time and so I applied for a teaching position at the high school in the area of biology. When I came to Teaneck High School, I met many wonderful staff members, very dedicated professional people, an excellent school, very challenging environment in which to teach. At that time, Helen Hill was the principal of the high school and I have very fond recollections of her that we might discuss a little bit later on. I worked as a teacher here in the school for eight years, found the students to be very challenging, parents very interested in the school, and in what was going on. It was during my time as a teacher that the Board of Education made its monumentous decision to voluntarily integrate the schools through busing. When that decision was made, minority student population at the high school was very small but had been increasing in the elementary schools.
There followed a very exciting period of time in town. I happened to be president of the Teachers' Association during a portion of that time and so did have access to meetings and to the people who were making the decisions and leading the school system.
A portion of the 60s was a very tense period of time, not only in Teaneck but in many parts of the country. The lofty goals of equality did not come easy in some regards. It took a while for people to get to know one another, to understand one another and to really appreciate the kind of cultural clash that was going on. I suspect that my observations and my memory serves me correctly that teenagers had probably some of the most difficult periods of time adjusting to one another and there were some years at Teaneck High School when things were tense and uptight. Fortunately with a community like Teaneck, there are always people who are available to help, resources that can be tapped and through the work of the Recreation Department and task forces that were established and worked very hard, the schools were successfully integrated and stand now as a model and I think in our country for the kinds of things that people can do together.
At that period of time, Teaneck was a very academically oriented school as it is now. We were sending a large number of students on to college and there was an emphasis on preparing students for that. We did have a comprehensive nature in that we had vocational courses in the area of home economics, woodshop, business which we still have and which are open to all students. The high school at that time was a comprehensive high school as it is today awarding only one diploma, one high school diploma. We found in the late 60s a clash of activities. Not only did we have very active student involvement in protesting an overseas war, we also had very active involvement in the Woodstock generation and we saw the separation of programs, we developed an alternative school, during that period of time, which opened on an off-campus location with approximately 120 students. It was designed as a smaller learning environment where students could get to know their teachers on a more intimate level and where they could have a direct say in fashioning their education. Since that time, the number of programs have blossomed in the Teaneck school system which provide many alternatives for the learner and we might want to discuss those a little bit later on also.
In retrospect, I was very fortunate as a new teacher coming to Teaneck for a number of reasons. I was interviewed and hired by Dr. Scribner during his first initial period of time in town and I found him to be a very dynamic personality, inspirational and forward looking. When I came to the Teaneck High School, Helen Hill was the principal of the school. Miss Hill was the principal of the school from 1957, I believe, until 1967 or maybe 54 until 67. She spent 32 years of her professional career working in the secondary schools of Teaneck. We all remember her. She is now retired as of this date, March 22, 1985, living in Arizona. We all remember her with a great fondness. A wonderful giving person, very sensitive to people, very caring about everyone, made every person she cane in contact with feel like they were the most important person in the world and that was very important for classroom teachers as well as secretaries, custodians, and students. Under her leadership, the high school was a very exciting place to work and I think probably a very exciting place to get an education. Good sports teams, lots of clubs, lots of activities for young people. They kept them busy all the time. Miss Hill followed Mr. Steele as principal of Teaneck High School and Mr. Steele is a name I expect will last forever in the history of Teaneck education. He was the principal of this school for a very long period of time during its infancy and its growth to maturity. Miss Hill was a very open leader. As a teacher, I felt that I could make many, many suggestions. We implemented a number of experimental programs including some in teen teaching. She was very open to suggestions that professional people had about education and took so much pride in the building and so much pride in the things that the students were able to accomplish that it was for professional people truly an inspiration to work with her.
There are many changes that I have noted in the twenty three years that I have been associated with Teaneck. Certainly the integration of the schools has brought a magnificent change to the high school, the other schools in the system and to the community. At the present time, in our school of 1,700, there are twenty four native languages spoken in the student body. We have students who attend this school from allover the world. The first day of the second semester in February, I met four new students, one from Ethiopia, two from Guinea and one from Russia all in the space of five minutes. The horizons that have been broadened and the opportunities for education that exist far surpassed those that I remember when I first came here in 1962. I think equally important is what the community had proven to itself and what it can prove to its neighbors about how people can be integrated, ideas can be integrated in a very meaningful way to provide a very helpful education.
The minority student population grew through the 60s and early 70s and as I said, all was not Utopia. The social experiment that was going on had its days when things didn't go too well but there always seemed to be a reservoir of good will and interest in making things work, in not getting discouraged and I think that in the long run, that helped a great deal. We presently find that the minority population in the schools, the largest minority population is the black population, we have in addition to that, a Hispanic population, an oriental population, Chinese, Japanese and Korean, a number of Indian students from the Asian continent, a number of. students from some of the West Indian Islands so that there continues to be a sense of openness and interest in people, in learning about them and in helping them be educated.
One of the interesting things I found in my observation is that the melting pot theory in terms of America just doesn't exist in that we have never felt that the purpose of the school or the purpose of the institution is to kind of make everybody behave the same way. There is a great sense of cultural history here, and great pride in culture and inheritance and I think that those are the kinds of things that we try to emphasize to the greatest degree possible. You will find as you walk through the school today that this legacy of freedom and independence means that education flourishes. Probably I wouldn't find another school in the country where you would find book rooms with so many different titles and so many different books and so much material for people and that's always been the case. When I was a teacher here, I never felt that we wouldn't provide the things that the kids needed to learn.
In terms of the kind of problem or problems that we had to solve or we had to deal with through the mid, late 60s and early 70s, I think as I said before there was a conglomeration of issues that had to be dealt with in the schools. Not only were the schools being integrated which caused a certain tenseness and a certain need for people to get to know each other but across our whole country, there was a cultural clash of youth verses aged, and also the protests involving the Viet Nam War and certainly all of those things were manifested in the schools in Teaneck and in Bergen County and created some very difficult times for people who were working either as teachers or as administrators in the schools.
After working as a biology teacher for almost eight years, I became an assistant principal here at the high school and worked as an assistant principal for seven years and then became the principal. If someone asked me what would be the greatest changes that I've seen in the schools since coming here in 1962, certainly the makeup of the staff and the student body in terms of its diversity and its richness, that would be a major change. We are still sending approximately 83% of our graduates on to further education and so the kind of standards and the kind of emphasis on hard work is there and it is being successfully met by students.
If I can remember back to the late 60s, there may have been one day we had our share of protests, student protests, since there is a university in town there was many days when there were protesters up here from Fairleigh Dickinson marching on the lawn and we had our share of youngsters who would join them. We had our teach-ins on the Viet Nam War. Our demonstrations. And yet education was still able to continue.
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