SUMMARY: The Naders have been leaders in the education in Pinal County for more than 50 years. There are no issues they haven’t considered and about which they have not come to careful conclusions. Student discipline, the changing face of American education, and the question of private v.s. public schools are just three of the difficult matters they address in this interview.
Date of Interview: May 30, 2005
Interviewer: Camilla Clayes
Transcriber: Merrilyn S. Ridgeway
Begin Tape 1, Side 1
Camilla: I am in the home of Alex and Rita Nader. Good morning!
Naders: Good morning.
Beginning Years and Education–Rita Nader
Camilla: Rita, let’s start with you. You were working in the Casa Grande public schools for quite some time. When did you start?
Rita: Well, I started in 1953. We moved here and I was going to be retired—I had a young child, a new baby—and I found that I needed to go back to teach. I was going to substitute. Someone was out on maternity leave. By October I had a contract signed to finish the year. I’ve been teaching ever since. And I retired in 1983.
Camilla: I’d like to go back to ask you some biographical information. You said you moved here in 1956?
Rita: No, I graduated from Southeast Missouri State College which is Southeast State University now. I finished in 1949 but they weren’t—it’s kind of confusing because in those days they only thought you were to graduate at certain times and I finished at the end of the summer. I started teaching, then, right away in Rockford, Illinois. I taught there for a year and a half. Then I had a friend that had come to Arizona to Miami to teach. They needed an art teacher and they kept calling me and calling me. So I accepted the offer and came in February of 1951. Actually, I’m not good on numbers…I never was. (Laughter)
I met Al the very first day that I came to Arizona because he had an office across the hall from my friend’s classroom. When I got into town, I stopped to see her and he walked out of the door as we walked out of her classroom door so I met him immediately.
Camilla: So you were born and raised in Missouri?
Rita: I was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and my family moved to West Virginia. My dad was with J.C. Penney Company. Then he was transferred back to Nyosha, Missouri. Then he retired and bought a store in Fredericktown, Missouri. We lived there and I went to Urseline Academy, a girls’ boarding school, south of Kansas City in Payola, Kansas.
Camilla: How old were you?
Rita: It was during World War II and a lot of the teachers had left. My folks wanted me to get a good education. I stayed there for four years—graduated there. It was one of those four year high school, two year junior college situations, so when I was in high school I took community college courses like they do here today.
Beginning Years and Education–Alex Nader
Camilla: And you, sir. Let’s get a bit of your biographical information. Are you from Arizona?
Alex: Yes, I was born in Miami, Arizona. I grew up there, went to elementary and high school, graduated, then went into World War II. I joined the Navy and became a hospital corpsman. After training as a corpsman I was attached to the 4th Marine Division, and I was shipped overseas to Pearl Harbor. We were going to go invade Saipan and so they put me on a Coast Guard LST 169. I spent over two and a half years on an LST in the Coast Guard. So I was in the Navy, the Marines, and wound up in the Coast Guard.
Camilla: Were you in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack?
Alex: No, no. I was sent to Pearl Harbor to get on the LST. I was attached to the Marines that were going to invade Saipan, but the corpsman that was on that ship became ill and they transferred him ashore. The captain of the ship saw me with the insignia on my arm and said “You’re a corpsman. We need a doctor on my ship. You just stay here.” So I asked the sergeant, “What am I supposed to do?” He said, “He outranks me!” So I wound up in the Coast Guard for two and a half years. We were in the Pacific for those years going back and forth on invasions.
After that I came back and attended what, at that time was known as Arizona State Teacher’s College in Flagstaff, then. We had 500 students. As I understand it today it is 15,000. I graduated in 1950 from NAU and my first job was in my hometown of Miami, Arizona. I taught junior high and coached there. Then we moved down here in 1953 and I taught in Eloy. I taught 6th grade. I had the overflow students. At that time cotton picking was a high priority here and they would come and go, and families would come and go. The principal of the school wrote me a little note, he said “Park this kid for two days and give him a free lunch.” That was just about how it happened. I had 85 students in my class in the 6th grade. Finally I got a regular 6th grade class after the first semester. He finally transferred me back to a regular 6th grade class and some of the students I taught in Eloy I hired to teach for me in Casa Grande. They were very good teachers. Then I came to Casa Grande…
Camilla: So you were in Eloy for two years?
Alex: Yes, two years. I came to Casa Grande. This is strange. The only job they had provided for me was to be study hall teacher. At that time we had study halls five periods a day at the high school on Florence Boulevard. And then, after a couple of years as study hall teacher I taught bookkeeping for three or four years. Then I became assistant principle or a couple of years, principal for nine years, and I wound up as superintendent for twelve years. It was quite an experience. I did coach for the first seven years, all sports. I was assistant coach in football, basketball, baseball, track, even junior varsity baseball and drove the bus and did everything you’re supposed to do as a coach. (Laughter) The pay wasn’t too good, but it was a lot of fun with the kids.
Alex Nader’s Views of Student Discipline
Camilla: Well, you’ve had a varied career in education. And your perspective is probably more unusual than many because of your career. When I was looking through some of the things you commented on at your retirement, you had some reflections on American education in general and predicted some trends into the future. Quoting you, you said, “Students today lack the discipline they once had but the pendulum is swinging back the other way and things will change by the ‘90s.” Here we are fifteen years past the ‘90s and you also stated something like “the lack of student discipline stemmed from the soft ‘60s when people and money and things happened easily.”
Alex: That’s true.
Camilla: I’m wondering, where do you think the whole concept of student discipline is now. We’re in a completely different era almost.
Alex: If you take a look at the dropout rates, for instance, how high they are. Students, first of all, have no discipline at home in most cases. That creates the situation that we’re in. The parents need to get involved more and the laws are not on the side of education anymore. It seems like the teachers and the educational system have to walk a fine line because the discipline is totally different from when I was in school or my wife was in school. Even when I first taught. It changed as the years go by.
I think, as I made the statement about the soft ‘60s, if you recall after World War II everyone was employed. The dollar was worth a dollar. They all had new tv sets and automobiles and everyone worked—the mother worked and nobody stayed home—so consequently the kids weren’t regulated to do anything. So the school system had to take care of it. Then, all of a sudden, the laws changed against the schools when they said, at that time, the school acted as the parent while the child was in school during school hours. The laws changed. The student, until they became 18 years old, had free run after they changed the law. He had rights. You see, the parents had the rights. So when the law changed, the school districts had to change their philosophies on what to do with them.
Today’s world, and I haven’t been back to visit very many schools, the discipline situation is drastic. The students who will be successful WILL BE SUCCESSFUL. If they start out right, and I don’t know whether I every made the quote when someone interviewed me, I made the statement that the first four grades are the most important grades. That provides the primary learning process of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
If they gain those first four grades, those first skills, the rest will come easy, I think. That’s my belief.
Rita Nader’s Observations on the Changing Educational Environment
Camilla: Rita, do you have anything you’d like to comment on about student discipline in general when you were teaching in the beginning and how you see it evolving when you retired and as it is now?
Rita: Well, I haven’t substituted for a long time. I only did the ten years that was required of me after I retired. But we had eight grandchildren from age 21, sophomore at USC, down to a grandson that’s going to be 2 next Saturday, and he goes to daycare. We have grandchildren all the way through the spectrum. I feel that we’re fortunate because our children and their families are very close knit. Their parents are very responsible and expect a lot of the children and are involved in their education. As Al pointed out, it is very important for parents to be involved.
When I first started teaching, I think that some people—I probably would have been considered on the liberal or easier side because there was a very strong structure when I first taught in 1949. When I came to Arizona from Illinois, it was quite different. The expectations of the Board and the administration and the way the schools were run was quite different. There was pretty much a dictatorial kind of discipline when I first arrived here.
Camilla: From the School Board?
Rita: Well, especially from the administration. We didn’t have too much to do with the Board. But I was here for I don’t know how many superintendents and principals over a period of time. I always felt it improved, improved, improved. But when I quit teaching I felt that I had control but it was based on mutual respect in my classroom. And I thought that they knew what I expected and I had no disciplinary problems in my classroom. But I didn’t like what I saw in the halls and the lack of respect students had for teachers when I quit. That was one of the reasons why I took early retirement. I actually took a 15% penalty for going out early because I thought it was not as much fun as it was. I hoped that the public schools, from what I read, they’re trying extremely hard, but it takes everyone. I do agree that the judicial system has hampered the control that schools have. So when parents have lost control and the schools have lost control, its very difficult for teachers today. I think that we are seeing a lack of very qualified young people going into teaching. I think they are taking other fields today because of how they perceive what is going on in schools.
However, I think that students are smarter. We hear that we are smarter than our parents, our parents were smarter than our grandparents, and they were smarter than their parents. I think the young generation is smarter than we are. All I have to do is have my four year old granddaughter here and want to work on the computer yesterday. The kids are really perceptive. They have a different outlook, a curiosity. The only thing that worries is the drug culture, which has a lot to do with hurting the public school system. The lack of discipline that has caused that drug culture to kind of take over. It isn’t Casa Grande. It’s universal.
Camilla: America in general.
Rita: I think its even worse than that. Canadians, Mexicans, everybody. Its just a sad thing that we have so many of our young people involved. While I think that tv is good and the computer is good, I think there are a lot of areas that are damaging to our students. I think they get material that they shouldn’t have on both tv, computers—ordinary tv. I don’t use the Internet much myself. I use the computer but I don’t explore the Internet as I think that students do. You hear all kinds of things, that you can get anything on it. Good, bad, and indifferent on the computer. I think that is changing our culture and I’m not sure it is for the best.
Rita Nader’s Contribution to the CG Junior High Curriculum
Camilla: Rita, when you retired I read something also in the paper that you had stated that you introduced a variety of new programs for the out-of-the-ordinary student when you were at the junior high school. Like special ed and the gifted programs and the art department at the junior high. Were you mostly focused at the junior high?
Rita: I spent all of my teaching career at the junior high. In Illinois I was at Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School and it was 7, 8 and 9. You would have a home room and I had language arts. So I would have that for three years so they had an anchor to the school until they went out.
When I came here, we had what I thought was a great system and they may be close to that again, we had two teachers that would have two sections of students. One was the language arts teacher and one was a science/math teacher. And then we would switch classes. So we taught those two groups for the year interchanging. It gave the kids a sense of belonging. They belonged in that little unit. Then they went for their electives to different teachers but they stayed in that block. I thought that was good.
In 1961 I got my master’s in special education and this was when they began having special education. Mine was one of the first masters’ at ASU and it was in all seven areas of special education. I did practice teaching in Monte Vista School (Phoenix) and I it was for gifted children. I had a blind boy who used Braille dictionaries and books—the whole end of the room was full of them.
They wanted a special ed department here, so I wrote the project for Casa Grande to start special education. I taught special ed. Well, by the time I got ready for it the federal programs were coming in and I when the program I wrote went through they decided, I don’t know who determined it—the Board or the superintendent, well, there was more money in Title I. So they brought Title I in. I was chosen from the junior high and I helped formulate the program for Title I in Casa Grande Elementary District. I was the first Title I teacher. Then they got money for special ed. So then I was getting a pink check and a green check, one from the state and one from the federal. They split my salary, a half a day each. After an audit, I couldn’t do that. I had to choose one or the other. I found that I could see more success faster with Title I reading, and I thought everyone needed to be able to read and the scores were so LOW. I decided to stay with the reading.
Camilla: Is this generically the lowest scores at the junior high for the whole student body or was this for a specific group that was already identified for special ed?
Rita: No, these were just the stanines. We took the lower stanines in special ed and the ones that were below grade level went into Title I. It was remedial, but I always ran my program as a developmental program. I believed, and still do, that the language arts—reading, speaking, listening, all of those things—are the developmental components of learning are interrelated and can’t be separated one from the other. I tried in Title I reading, to write and listen.
Early on, they didn’t have any art. I told the superintendent they should have art. So there was a time when I taught art. His idea was that I would teach every student in the junior high one period a week. I used the library with the shiny, beautiful oak tables that had drawers in them. I wasn’t to let anything get into the drawers so I turned the drawers upside down. I wasn’t to mark or destroy the tables so I covered them with heavy butcher paper and taped it down. And I had to have a one period project for every student in the school because—by the time, their retention span of working on something the next week--for me to have enough storage space for all those students, I had to have small projects. (Laughter)
Camilla: That was a real challenge.
Rita: Yes. Then I got my master’s. I believed, and do believe, that you teach the child, not the subject matter. So I got my master’s in special education instead of the subject matter area because it was focused on improving the person. Then, they got somebody else for art. All the programs that I started continued and they brought somebody else in.
The only sad thing was, that when I retired, they disbanded everything I had in the reading program and eliminated reading from the junior high and thought that everybody should be a reading teacher. That’s a great idea but it doesn’t work. If they need skill building that you get in a reading program, and I had people come back from college sometimes to ask me to help with their college work because they said they got more from my class than any other class they had. I was always proud of the number of students that came in to me with below grade-level reading who qualified for my program but ended up graduating from college and telling me the program had helped them.
Camilla: Well, those things are not going to be forgotten. It’s disappointing, I’m sure, but contributions like that build. I’m grateful that you shared that.
Second Session--Alex Nader’s Innovation at Casa Grande Union High School
Camilla: Alex, let’s turn to you again. You projected that by the ‘90s there would be a varied selection of shorter courses. So students could choose from a broader range of offerings. That came to pass!
Alex: Basically, trying to avoid the drop-out situation, where children want to leave school, in 1972 when I became superintendent, I worked with the guidance departments and teachers in different disciplines. Even when the student is suspended, we have to do something with them. So we started what we call the second session at Casa Grande Union High School. Casa Grande Union High School B is what we called it. It was the only union high school in Arizona at the time that had two registers.
Camilla: In what year was this?
Alex: 1972 we started it. The first year we had an average daily membership of sixty. What we did, well, we were bussing students home after school and then an athletic bus after practice. A lot of students lived on farms at that time. So when we’d run the busses at 3:30, they’d come back “deadhead.” At that time the state was paying for transportation per mile. So we made money by having students ride back on the busses.
We had empty classrooms at night, so we decided to start second session which was a night school. We offered the four major courses for graduation, English, math, social studies, and science. They had one elective, for example, if they wanted they could take auto mechanics at night. So we asked each department to provide the teachers, if each would volunteer to teach at $10 an hour. They already had a contract for the day school.
Rita: That was $10 that was WORTH $10. (Laughter)
Alex: Yes! So we didn’t issue another contract, we paid them by time sheet. The classrooms were available and the only people around were the night crew cleaning up the classrooms. When we’d bring back students from out of the area on the busses, or from in-town where they could walk to school, we had about a 60 ADM (Average Daily Membership) the first year we started that.
If the student got suspended—at that time we suspended for one semester because we had very strict discipline rules at that time—instead of just suspension we’d give them a choice. You could either go for one semester to second session school and, in good standing, go back to regular day school. Secondly, you could take your subject by correspondence for graduation by going through Phoenix Union High Correspondence School. Or, thirdly, you could go home and stay out for a semester. Well, in hardship cases for students who had to work on the farm, for example, they’d work in the daytime and they’d qualify for the night school.
Actually, in a sense, the state paid us twice because we never lost a student. The county superintendent wrote me a letter and said “It is unbelievable that you have 96.7% attendance from the state!” And we were being paid by 96% of Average Daily Membership.
Camilla: Is that how you got the school district out of financial…or one way you got the district out of financial difficulty. It’s very creative.
Alex: It was. We made more money than it cost us. That night school only cost me $22,000 per year because I never lost a student. So when you get 96% attendance and get paid by the state for that. At that time, we made a lot of money that was deposited in the county school superintendent’s office. I would only use the interest off that money, we were drawing 10% interest on that money, so I’d buy busses and typewriters and whatever we needed for the district off the interest.
The Board never would ask me how much money we had. The Board was made up basically of farmers and they were concerned about machinery--busses and those sorts of things. They never asked me about the educational system or the money. Finally one day the president of our Board came to me and said “Al, how much money do we have here?” “Well,” I said, “let me take you over to the County Treasurer’s Office and let them tell you.” So we go over to the Treasurer’s office and the Treasurer, at that time Mr. Turnbull, he said “Let me show you what you have here. You’ve made so much money that you could almost finance all the school districts in Pinal county. You’re drawing 10% interest on all this money you’re making, it’s unbelievable.”
Camilla: And that was through the whole idea of this night school?
Alex: Second session school. Yes! It generated that much. When you get almost $1,500 per student and only have to pay out—well, divide $22,000 by 60. I made that much money off of those kids ‘cause I didn’t lose anybody. I got paid for them in the day school. If they got suspended, I put ‘em in second session.
I went to Carolyn Warner, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and I said “Look, is there a way I can have a school within my school? Why do we have to have another second high school, another piece of land. Why can’t I have a second high school on my own campus?” “I don’t know why,” she said. So she went to the Education Division of the Legislature and they were able to get us that second register. We would transfer back and forth from one to another. When the student would complete that second section, we’d transfer them back to the regular session for graduation. And they were able to get the credits because they were taught by certified teachers from my own school. I just thought, why lose all that money?
Alex Nader’s Philosophy of Providing for the Individual Student
Alex: To me, the important thing is each individual student. That was my philosophy. If you cannot provide for the student who’s there, regardless of where he is—color, race, creed, abilities—you have to provide. And they’ll be successful if you can provide that. Some of the other programs, and I’ll give you these but you can read about them ‘cause they’re quite well documented. We had to define each student, which is basically what you do. Then you provide an educational system for them. I think that’s what makes us successful. I’m not sure, I understand the high school now has a second high school that provides different…and I think they have a night school but I’m not sure what they call it.
Rita: An alternative school. It’s pretty much what you had in the ‘70s.
Camilla: On various campuses.
Alex: Oh, yes. That’s when we had the bond issue for the 1977 Vocational Technical Building. I built that for $1.7 million with the equipment. I purchased the land for the new high school for $32,000. That’s another story. The State Director of Land Management at that time, 1977, I hired his daughter as an English teacher.
Camilla: So that was state land?
Alex: Yes, Ma’am. He was in charge of that. We found out about that 60 acres out there and I went to see him. A very nice man. We were able to negotiate a deal. I said “How about this piece right here?” “Well, yes, it’s grazing land,” he said. I said, “We’d be glad to purchase it for a normal price.” So he worked it out and I got a letter from him that that was the cost. We bought it! That’s when they decided to build the second high school.
To me, you have to develop programs to suit individual students. I know it’s a tough job for them now. My average daily membership when I retired in 1983. The new superintendent was supposed to start in January, but he wasn’t able to and they wanted me to stay through the transition so, actually, I retired in March of 1984. At that time, I had right (west) across the street from Cropper Chevrolet, I had 60 acres to build an aeronautical school. Yes, for $10 a year. That 60 acres was state land. I was able to get a lease for $10 a year on it. The man who took my place, Dr. Patswall, failed to renew the lease. I guess he didn’t think it was important so we lost it. It finally went up for sale and those people bought it for a housing project. Had I not retired, we’d have had an aeronautical school there because the runway was right there.
Camilla: Within the school district?
Camilla: My, my, that was a major loss for the community.
Alex: Well, those things happen. There are always avenues that you have to explore. I always felt that the superintendent’s job was the development of the district for the benefit of the students and for the people, the taxpayer. That was always my philosophy. And I always tried to figure out a way to reduce the tax rate. How can I make a better educational system for the kids? How can we improve on everything we have? When I left, we were debt free! Our tax rate was $1.50 per hundred. And my average daily membership was 1,706. We had a program for the school there and their ADM today is 2,300. In 22 years it’s improved 200 students ADM.
You can get every one we developed here (indicates a folder) for our students.
The Public vs Private School Question
Camilla: I also wanted to ask you both what your personal ideas or reflections are comparing public to private schools.
Alex: Well, Rita went to private school. Ask her.
Rita: I’m a product of private schools and I feel like I got an education in my four years of high school that’s equivalent to what most people get in college. When I went to college it was extremely easy. My chemistry books that I used in high school were the same text, same workbooks, everything that I had had in high school. I feel that every individual student was treated so that the curriculum was aimed at the needs of that student. The discipline is different because it comes from a more moralistic base. The value system is slightly different than what you have in the public school.
When I taught, I always felt that I brought with me how I learned in the private school. So that was the way I approached my students. When I first came to Casa Grande, the superintendent asked me how did the academic approach to students match with the Illinois system that I’d come from, an affluent side of Rockford where I had students from affluent families. Everybody was pretty much college bound.
I came here and it was very rural. The kids would bring their cotton sacks with them rolled up so that when they got off the bus they went right to the cotton field. Some students. But they were a very diverse group--the kids from the town, the farmer’s children, the cotton pickers. And the cotton pickers lived in substandard conditions. I was aghast. When I’d march them to lunch, I used to find students who wouldn’t have any lunch. I used to pay for lunches because they were very strict on who could eat and who couldn’t. I thought every student should eat! You can’t study if you’re hungry. And if you didn’t have any lunch, maybe you didn’t have any breakfast either. So I always tried to make sure kids were fed.
Camilla: At what point do you recall these subsidized lunches came into being? From what I recall, it’s always been there, but my memory may not go back that far.
Rita: Well, they were very strict on who got the subsidized lunch. We had nothing to do with it. Today, they wouldn’t do this. I don’t know what color they were, but say you had a lunch card that you’d paid for in the office. They were sent to the teacher to distribute to go to lunches.
End of Tape 1.