Robert Landry

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Dr. Robert Landry describes migrating to North Carolina from San Juan, Puerto Rico at the age of 12. He highlights the issues he faced coming to an area with a predominantly black and white population. As a native Spanish-speaker, he describes his struggles learning English in middle and high school. Dr. Landry describes his movement through the education system in North Carolina, teaching Spanish at Appalachian State University, then teaching high school, and on to becoming the first Latino superintendent. He describes the political issues and the school environments he had to navigate. He then goes on to describe his role as a student-advocate where he currently is focusing on in-state tuition for undocumented students.



Felicia Arriaga: Okay. My name is Felicia Arriaga and I am doing an interview with Dr. Robert Landry and we are currently at a Starbucks in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And today is April 15th and it is 1:46 PM. So, thank you first of all for sitting--taking--some time to do this with me.
Robert Landry: Thank you.
FA: First, I’d just like to ask you--you’ve seen a little bit of the questions--but I’d like to ask you first where were you born and what brought you to North Carolina?
RL: I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and in 1965 at the age of twelve; my father was the senior engineer for Sunbeam Corporation which headquarters were in Chicago. There were seven siblings in my family and my father said he was not moving back to Chicago with seven children. So we ended up in a place called Ahoskie, North Carolina and that was in 1965.
FA: Okay, great. Great. And so, how old were you whenever you went to Ahoskie?
RL: Twelve years old.
FA: You were twelve years old?
RL: Just twelve years old and going to the seventh grade.
FA: Oh, okay. So you went through the education system here in North Carolina?
RL: I came, you know I came as a seventh grader—prior to that I had attended Catholic School in Puerto Rico and I also had attended the Wesleyan--Wesleyan--probably in 5th and 6th grade because my dad, without me knowing it now, but now knowing it of course, I think he was thinking we were going to be moving to the United States.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: And he wanted me and my sister Carol to know English—Carolina. So he just put us in The Wesleyena, which actually did English and Spanish.
FA: Oh, okay. So you got to learn both.
RL: The Catholic School was all Spanish.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: So can you remember some of the similarities and some of the differences between your time at the Catholic School in Puerto Rico and you said, Wesleyan?
RL: Wesleyan. Yeah, you know we were more--. How do you say [Pause] strong, controlled environment in the Catholic School. Of course we all wore uniforms and we had a lot of theology taking place in the Catholic School. And actually, that’s where I learned--. I remember it was in 4th grade looking at a map of the United States and the priest--one of the brothers actually--was sharing with us where the Latinos lived in the United States.
FA: Interesting.
RL: Like a geography class if I remember. And then when I went to the Wesleyan, it was a little theology, not as much as the Catholic School and it was loose. Although we had to wear uniforms; I still remember khakis pants and white shirts and black shoes, black socks. And--. But it was—it was much more loose. I don’t think--. In my opinion, reflecting now, I don’t think that the expectation and the teaching was as strong as I had at the Catholic School.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: And then when I came to the United States--. I came to North Carolina in 1965—the summer—and they had just integrated schools and that was a mess for me; because I didn’t fit [Pause] in either the white side or the African American side. It was a warzone—the high school was a war zone here. And so I found out that the education was—I felt—much less than I had, certainly at the Catholic School. But the probably was it was a different language for me; I came with limited English.
FA: Right.
RL: And so, because of that I was behind the curve and never really was happy because I wanted to go back home.
FA: And so how did you get through some of that? With the language barriers and I think at the same time--.
RL: I found athletics as a something to help me quickly and I know I went out for football, not knowing how to play football. And
FA: Futbol Americano.
RL: No, first day of practice they told me I had to tackle the guy and I saw what the kids were doing—he boys. So I tackled him; I took him by his neck and took him down and the coaches got in my face and said, ‘We don’t do that.’ After a couple of times they told me—you know because they were trying to talk to me and I was trying to talk to them—they said, “No more, no more, no more.’ And so I quit football.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: And then I--right away--I picked up cross country. And so, I was a--. And that began in 9th grade for me and I was offered a scholarship to East Carolina as a 10th grader.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: In cross country because the teams that we had competed against at Ahoskie High School and I was—I was the freshman; there were five of us on the team: two seniors, two juniors, and myself—a freshman. We were beating East Carolina, Virginia Wesleyan and Chowan College.
FA: Oh, okay as a high school team?
RL: As a high school team so East Carolina said, ‘we want you; we’ll give you a scholarship.’ Then I played baseball. And I played for Catfish Hunter’s brother—Pete.
FA: Okay.
RL: Catfish Hunter was--played--for the athletic. And he also pitched for the Yankees.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: And his brother was my baseball coach.
FA: Very cool, very cool.
RL: And so I--. You know, I was fortunate but athletics helped me. I didn’t make many friends; I actually got into more fights than anything else, Felicia because I didn’t fit—the black kids were telling me ‘go home,’ the white kids were telling me ‘go home.’ Who wanted to be around a spic?
FA: So, there were--. Were there other--a lot-- of other Hispanics?
RL: No. There was nobody else. In fact, my first day in seventh grade—I clearly remember this easily—we had to speak--introduce--ourselves which I didn’t want to do anyway, but we had to talk and for some reason we had to talk about voting for president, for some reason. And of course, the problem I knew right away was going to be I was hearing people saying voting and I didn’t know what they were talking about because I knew the word ‘boting’ because the b and the v pronunciation. And so when I said the word boting for president [Pause]—I know the woman’s name, she was a teacher—she started laughing in front of me and all the kids started laughing and I just ‘no.’ I was not happy, I wanted to go back home. Of course, I learned the English words--the English words on the bathroom walls quickly.
FA: [Laughter]
RL: Which got me in trouble. And so, you know, I was ready to go home all the time.
FA: And so, then did you end up going to ECU?
RL: No. There was no Catholic Church when we got here to North Carolina--to Ahoskie. We were the first Latinos in Ahoskie—that was a wild, wild, world. They couldn’t--nobody--could speak with us for a while there. And I did have a friend that was an 82nd Airborne Division and every once in a while we would go down to Fort Bragg and pick Tato up. And then he’d stay the weekend with us and then we’d take him back down to Fayetteville. But no, it was--it was--a different world.
FA: And so then, for your college experience, how did--?
RL: Well, I moved from Ahoskie to Elkin--E-L-K-I-N--Elkin, North Carolina and I found the education was a whole lot harder.
FA: Okay.
RL: I mean it was--. Went to Elkin—it’s not a big town but it was pretty strong and I was fortunate the people in my class--there was seven in my graduating class--they were all college bound. I mean not going to college was not an expectancy. And I can tell you I had no intentions of going to college. I played sports again and I was pretty good at it but I really didn’t want to go. And it was also the Vietnam era and so I knew my number was going to be called. And eventually it was called. You know, I remember—in fact, I’m going to give you a copy—of the--what I did write. [Hands me a beige pamphlet entitled Please, Let me Teach] And that’s for you, if you want to use it anyway you want to—Please Let me Teach. This is a--. After 36--30 something years--as a principal and also as a--. I was a college professor before I was a college student actually.
FA: I didn’t know that.
RL: Yeah, so I’ve done from University—I’ve taught at three universities. But the person I dedicate it to [Pause and turns to the inside cover of the booklet] she’s the person that--. She’s in her nineties. She was an extremely hardcore, strong, math teacher—she’s the only person that kept me in school.
FA: Great.
RL: And so last night--she retired in 1986--and nobody ever--the school board--nobody ever said goodbye to her or anything. It happened in the summer time. And ironically her daughter and my wife met each other in my wife’s previous marriage--.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: At church. And so they were great--they’re best friends. And so when she started talking about Robert Landry, you know, my--. The daughter of this teacher said, ‘I don’t know Robert Landry, we know Bobbi.’ We said Bobbi—Bobbi Landry. And then they put one plus one and they find out that’s me. And so last night when I wrote this--. When I was evaluating teachers, I always kept this person in mind—she was my template. And so I wrote this, got it copyrighted with the Library of Congress, it’s published. So that’s yours and of course, June Atkinson, our state superintendent signed there and on the back you will see the--. I’m sorry [flips through booklet].
FA: It’s okay.
RL: It does talk about Latino in there—born in Puerto Rico. The young man that drew this--sketched this out--is an interior design students at NC State University; one of my students.
FA: Great.
RL: So really, I broke it down. So last night I presented to the Elkin City Board and we brought her up and it gave her closure. And of course, the whole family cried and her--she’s got a son--who’s a minister at The University of Georgia and her daughter. So yeah, it was needed and I was fortunate to be part of that family. So that’s yours, I don’t know--.
FA: No, that’s great. Thank you, that’ll be great for this.
RL: So, I ended up going to--. I had a ride to--. When I graduated from Elkin, I really didn’t care about going to college, I really didn’t want to go to college, I really just wanted to go back home. And I used to go home to Puerto Rico—my grandmother was living down there and if she wouldn’t be down there she’d come back to North Carolina and stay with us and then she’d go back—so I wanted to go back home. And so, see I never--I never got to say goodbye to my friends.
FA: Yeah.
RL: I don’t know if I’ve ever told you. I was twelve years old in Puerto Rico. I was at Boys Scout Camp—[11:28]. And I came out of the water after finishing the mile swim and my father’s standing there and I say, ‘What are you doing here?’ We’re talking in Spanish. He says, ‘we’re leaving.’ And I said, ‘no, you’re picking me up tomorrow.’ We lived about two hours from the camp up in the mountains. And I said, ‘no, you told me tomorrow—Sunday.’ He said, ‘we’re leaving now!’ And so I had to get my stuff and go. And when I got back to the house, there was no furniture in the house.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: And so I said, ‘what’s going on dad?’ We were talking and he said, ‘we’re going to move.’ And so I thought somewhere just maybe Santurce or someplace, [12:04] something like that. Whoop, next Sunday morning, that next day--Sunday morning-- we all--. My siblings were all much younger--I was the oldest of seven kids--and my grandparents, we were all going in a car to the airport.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: And of course, I’m trying to figure out what’s going on and next thing I know, we’re on our way to New York. And next thing I know, we’re on our way to the Carolinas. And so I use to go home in the summertime to try to see my friends; but you know, once you’ve been gone a few years, you don’t know who they are, they don’t know who you are. So I kind of like lost childhood there—teenage. And so, you know, I have never gone to my high school reunion.
FA: Oh, yeah.
RL: I’m never going, I don’t know those people. My wife has to go every ten years but I don’t have a class to go to. So there’s a lost part of me. And so my senior year I was actually offered a ride to Carolina.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: In Spanish.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: And so, the foreign language department sent me materials--I was actually interviewed--and I think they were trying to prime me to become like an Alejandro Casona scholar because I liked La Dama del Alba and all that literature. And I think that’s what they were thinking but when I went down to Chapel Hill, I found that Chapel Hill was too big for me.
FA: Yeah.
RL: Not only too big but I didn’t feel like I had the language down yet and I didn’t want to be a fool so I didn’t go. So I went to a community college for two years and in the process I was able to play collegiate tennis at the junior level. And then I went to Appalachian State and it was when I got to Appalachian it was that they were needing somebody to teach in the foreign language department. And so they needed someone to teach conversational Spanish to seniors.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: So I went to interview and I was hired, before I even began my university.
FA: Oh, wow. That’s great.
RL: So I did that and then [14:01], maybe I need to be a teacher. So I did my student teaching at Catawba High School. Then I got my first job--when I graduated-- I went down to Plymouth, North Carolina.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: Way down East. No--nothing down there and then after one year down there, I was called by the superintendent of Davie County--no the principal of Davie High School--if I could come to teach at Davie for one year. I said ‘sure,’ cause I was working on my master’s then. It was 36 years later that I finally left.
FA: That’s great. So you went from being a high school teacher; what were you teaching at Davie High School?
RL: Spanish.
FA: Okay.
RL: And my kids--. What’s interesting is I use to have my kids compete in the language competition and I only taught three tenses—present, preterite, and future. You don’t need seven tenses [Laughter]. What are you going to do with seventeen conjugations? Who cares?
FA: Not much.
RL: You’re right. And so, then I use to take the kids flying--not flying. We use to take trips to--take them down to Puerto Rico.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: And show them, you know, my home. And after that, actually I was starting to work on my master’s in Spanish and the Spanish professor and I got into it. And I said, ‘you know what, I don’t need this. I don’t need it.’ He was Cuban, I’m Puertorriqueno. He didn’t like me and I mean, to give you an example, he took off points on my name--on my exam paper--because he said I didn’t spell my own name right!
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: He didn’t only do it to me, he did it to another guy who was also Latino. So I finally said, ‘enough of this mess.’ I’d moved over to the administration side and I didn’t think anything about--at that point, you know I wasn’t thinking about that.
FA: Right.
RL: I was just in administration. And so I was teaching at Davie High and coaching and the principal came up and said, ‘I have an opening for an assistant principal position, you better believe it.’ And so I became a--. The high school was an 1800 student population high school so I became assistant principal at 34. And then [Pause] by the time I was 38, I was the principal of that school. I had gone to a school as principal--38 yeah--. I left there--at Davie High School--and went to North Davie which was a junior high and turned that school around quickly and that school became nationally top 50 in the United States. It was-it was a tough school. I didn’t put up with any messes and then I went back to Davie High as the principal and while I was at Davie High as the principal, Davie High was ranked #3 in the state on SAT’s.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: Yep. The average SAT score for our children--our kids--was 1200. At that time sixteen [1600] was the best.
FA: Yeah.
RL: And so, then after that I was sent to another junior high--that was a low-income--and I didn’t want to go there to be honest with you. My daughter was there as a student and my wife, at the time, was there so she was going to have to move. And I didn’t want here to have to move but the superintendent said, ‘I need that school turned around.’ So, they put me there and it was pretty rough. I had to deal with black and white issues. Of course, that was easy for me; I said, ‘I’m not going to put up with either one of ‘em.’ The KK--the junior KKK--.
FA: Oh wow.
RL: Oh, yeah. FUBU--For Us, By Us. I mean I had to go down to one town where the confederate flag was flying—there was a fight on the bus and I mean it was pretty wicked, black-white.
FA: Yeah.
RL: And I took a sawed off shotgun, loaded and cocked in the left chamber pointing to my stomach—I walked right up to the young man and said, ‘it ain’t for me.’ [The young man pointed the shotgun at Dr. Landry.] And so, I had--. I arrested parents on campus. I had a kid--I’ll never forget this kid--I mean he was bad to the core but I was a little bit badder than he was and so when they came in--and they came in from Cabarrus County-Concord, it was a juvi center--they came in and they chained him. They chained his arms and they chained his legs and I said, ‘let’s go down the hall to your locker and get your stuff out;’ he was furious. Of course, the kids are changing classes and they see this kid--this big kid and so the word got out, ‘don’t mess with this guy; he’s going to kill you.’ And so, I was able to turn that school around to the point where it was--. When I got that school it was 47% proficient, when I left that school it was 90.3% proficient. FA: Oh, wow.
RL: It was 3%--3 points less--than the other school which actually had a high social status of students. So we had changed. Then they sent me to an elementary school.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: I didn’t want that. In fact, I hid from the superintendent—for two days they tried to find me and I didn’t want that job. I hid--I don’t know anything about elementary children.
FA: Oh yeah, me neither.
RL: They scare me. They scare you because they wrap around your legs and want to hold you and snotty noses and all that stuff. So that school had had in ten years, six different principals.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: And it was not doing [19:19]. And they finally caught me and--. But they didn’t touch my salary--they never touched my salary at the high school level when I went to the other schools to make them [19:28]. And so, I went to that school and I made changes right away. And right after I was in classrooms six days--six times--a day I was in each classroom. I had 24 classrooms and after the first year we had caught up with the elementary school where the kids whose parents all lived in was called Bermuda Run and Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. We caught up with those kids--their kids. So now, that community was upset; ‘why was that school #2, compared to the school I was at?’ Well, the reason was because--my former graduates were the parents of the other kids there were all saying--‘well it’s Dr. Landry. We know Dr. Landry don’t play second fiddle to nobody.’ I had--. The Hispanic/Latino students were sent to me at the junior high school, after I left the high school,--the low performing junior high--and I’ll tell you Felicia, we were told that we could not cross bus lines in the county. Alright, I can’t go from here to there. But they brought me all the Latino students—they didn’t want them at the other school, they wanted them at this school.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: Because all low-performing, they didn’t want them anywhere. So I created a program; it was called Adelante and I was then speaking at the state level. I was speaking actually down at UNC-Charlotte, at a hotel conference--some conference down there for languages--shut the entire place down. By lunchtime I was the only person speaking; they opened up all the rooms and I was actually kneeling by the projector and couldn’t move the PowerPoint. I couldn’t move, it was locked and it was that much. And I said, ‘if the fire people come in, they’ll lock this place down--the building.’ But what I do, I took--. It was an immersion program because I knew that you’ve got to shut two languages down. They were doing it put a couple of kids here and put a teacher assistant; that’s not going to do it. So I put them all together in different age and grade and whatever schedule you needed to give me that, then we’ll do it. And now what we do is we teach Spanish in the morning--no, excuse me, English in the morning--one lesson; Spanish in the afternoon, same lesson. And it was--. So the first thing we did--. The first nine weeks was language arts, the second nine weeks was mathematics, the third nine weeks was science, and the fourth nine weeks something. We didn’t study, as a content, math throughout the year or language, it just came in with everything we were doing. And so the state of North Carolina started looking to see. So now they all want to know and they were coming to see what we were doing because our kids were going like this [points upward]. Those--. That program is still running—the kids are graduating from the high school on time.
FA: That’s great, that’s great.
RL: And then after the elementary school, they fired the superintendent and they said, ‘alright, you’re going to the superintendent seat.’ No training in the superintendent office or anything; they said, ‘we don’t care.’ Of course, it was a war. It was a war.
FA: What do you mean?
RL: Well, there were three superintendents that lost their jobs because they were trying to get a new high school. The current high school that we have in the county was built in 1956.
FA: Okay.
RL: Has 13 buildings--13 separate buildings--and 29 trailers. [Pause]
FA: Oh, wow. That’s--. That’s a lot of trailers.
RL: 80 acres of property—that’s big. And what happened was it wasn’t going to work. So three had tried prior and I was the fourth one. Well the board said, ‘we want this high school’ and I started working away on that. Well Bill Gates sent to me--Mr. Bill Gates sent to me-- three architects at no expense in Davie County and we changed the direction of the building and all that. I mean it was ugly--ugly. I had to fight the tea party and so finally, I had to go to Raleigh--I had to go to Raleigh--to the local government commission and I had a guest--a former student of mine who’s a page at the legislative building who came in with me in a pretty packed room--and I came out of there and lost on a 5-3 vote. Because if we--. Although we could have the high school—we had the money to do it, and there’s only two rules--two requirements--do they need it? Yes. Can they pay for it? Yes. But their staff said to the commission, ‘you better pay attention to politics in Davie County.’
FA: Right.
RL: And they didn’t, they kept saying, ‘why?’ And they said, ‘you better pay attention.’ And so, when the case was made--the presentation was made--to LGC, they were impressed. We need it. The person who represented the tea party got up and said, ‘if you vote for that high school today, we will sue the state of North Carolina.’ And I had just met with Jim Hunt--Governor Hunt--down here in Raleigh and Governor Hunt had told me, ‘Robert, you guys have got to be careful.’ He said, ‘because I know you’re a pusher.’ And he said, ‘if you push and the state gets sued, it won’t be Davie County, it’s going to be the state of North Carolina and in Wall Street it’s going to be disastrous for us.’ I lost in a 5-3 vote. So I lost to Republicans and the commissioner was a Democratic commissioner. How about politics?
FA: Right.
RL: So I did that for three and a half years and then they wanted me and my wife said, ‘they’re going to buy you out. You have 38 years--36, 37, 38’ and I had 500 days put away I hadn’t used in vacation.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: So they had to pay me for days. So my wife said, ‘get out of here, leave it. Enough.’ And there was a battle for it because it gets [24:39]. You got people coming and calling and it can be nasty. This political dirt and then my wife she said to me, I was mowing grass--it was November, she said to me--November 2010. My wife said to me, ‘Robert, I want to go to Chapel Hill.’ I said, ‘okay, go.’ And she said, ‘no, I want you to go with me. There’s going to be a meeting at some nursing home.’ Here they’re all wealthy. I can’t tell you, some kind of Farm--Farm--Road in Chapel Hill. And she said, ‘Robert, it’s going to talk about Hispanics.’ I said, ‘okay.’ I came in there; it didn’t take me about a second to get in there and say, ‘they’re all old but they’re all excited.’ So I started listening and I’d been out of touch; I’d become Americanized and forgotten the other part. And it didn’t take but a minute [25:30] I was in a battle. Next thing you know--. You know Diane Lanevi?
FA: I don’t think I do.
RL: With the Tomorrow Fund?
FA: Oh, yes, yes.
RL: Well Diane and I and it’s been like that. Then Gabriela with the Hispanic Commission got me on--got me to go with them--and now for the Mexican Counsel. And so, it just like this. And then I was appointed--. Actually I was appointed 2009 by Governor Purdue to represent North Carolina as a commissioner at the National Education Commission of the States, it’s called NECS. And mine was to get information, like to the population we never hear anything about which is Latinos.
FA: Yes.
RL: The Governor wanted me to do that so I did. It’s interesting—superintendents did want any mention of it and I was sending an email list--creating and sending--‘take me off the list, I don’t want it.’ Now Don Martin at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, he wanted all the information. Mo Green at Greensboro wanted all the information. The others were pretty much saying, ‘we don’t want it.’ And [Pause, looks around for phone] I hear a noise. And so you have that going on at the same time that Howard Lee--. You know Howard?
FA: Yes.
RL: Well Howard came, he left now the state board and Howard came to Winston-Salem. He called me and I said, ‘yes, sir.’ He said, ‘we gonna meet.’ And so we met in Village Tavern in Winston and Howard said, ‘I want somebody that’s got guts.’ And I said, ‘what do you want Howard?’ He said, ‘I want somebody that’s going to fight for kids. I don’t care if they’re black, white, pink, yellow, brown.’ I’ll never forget him saying that while he was giving himself a shot because he was diabetic. And he said, and I want somebody who doesn’t mind taking on county commissioners, school board, and the politicians because you don’t hold back. And I said, ‘you know me?’ And so he created the Institute. So we come down here--. I drive down here to Burroughs Wellcome, and so--that’s where his office--he created an Institute. And so I’m a founding--one of five--founding board members. And so--. I--I--. The state has labeled me finally; they call me a student-advocate. I was making a presentation [Pause] early March at the [27:43] building in Winston and somebody from the Civil Rights Office at DPI came up to me and said, ‘you’re a student-advocate.’ And I said, ‘thank you.’ And so I do a lot of putting things together, people together, you know I created--I didn’t create--I started the first Hispanic Prison Ministry in North Carolina.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: I was going to prison every Wednesday night while I was a college professor while at the same time I was a school principal at the same time. [28:13] And did that for several years. So now I’m not on the periphery--not on the periphery--I’m deep into it now. I’m deep into it. You know, I could tell you, I don’t want to tell you all. I don’t know how much you want to hear but I’m in the process of--. You know Keny Murillo?
FA: Yes, yes.
RL: Keny--. I’ve got to meet the Principal Fellows at NC State University at 4 o’clock; that’s been moved to 4:30-4:45. That’s why--. But you’ve got class which is fine. And they want--. Because I made a presentation at the superintendent’s conference and they heard about it. So they want to know more about this which is great because if we get our young principals--our young assistant principals--before they become principals and they get ingrained why they need to look at all kids with an equal eye; that only gives the Latino an equal chance then. And so I got that and then at 6 o’clock I got the DREAMers coming in.
FA: Okay.
RL: So I’m going to put both groups and then I’ll drive two hours to go back home.
FA: Okay.
RL: But, I’m also--. You know Graig Meyer?
FA: Yes.
RL: You know we sit on the HIP.
FA: Yeah.
RL: And one of the things that I have been doing since December--. In December, Craig Horn--do you know him?
FA: I don’t think so.
RL: Craig Horn is the education chair on the--for the--for the House--.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: in North Carolina. Well Craig represents North Carolina as a commissioner also—there’s six of us. Okay. So while we were in Denver, I decided--aprovecheta.
FA: Si.
RL: So I saw Craig and I said, ‘Craig look across the street to Landry’s restaurant there.’ We’re at the Marriot. I said, ‘let’s go over there and get you a glass of wine.’ So over a glass of wine I started asking about him and his youth growing up and then I shared a little bit of mine in Puerto Rico and all that. He says, ‘Robert what are you doing now?’ Because he’s retired like I am except now he’s a politician—and I told him what I was doing. So he became really involved and was saying, ‘I want to know more about this.’ So he said, ‘I need to know more Robert.’ He said, we need to talk.’ So we’ve been talking back and forth. So now Graig is a representative also--from Chapel Hill--so I’ve got Graig now. So a two-front now; we’re pushing like this [motions with hands]. So Craig is in China right now but he asked me to submit to him a list of people I wanted at that table.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: Bi-partisan [30:49], both sides, both chambers and I have--. I know Donny Lambeth--Donny came from Forsyth County/Winston-Salem and he was the board chair for twelve years but he also knows (was) the CEO for Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. He also was on the board at Forsyth Tech where they did the in-state tuition for undocumented students. And so I called Donny and Donny said, ‘you know I’ll help you out,’ so I got him. I got Graig. I didn’t go back to what’s--his name from Greensboro [Pause], Brandon--. I didn’t go back to him because I could never get him to talk. If you’re not going to talk to me, I ain’t gonna get ya. So anyway, I’ve got this coalition—Rick Glazier’s on there, and there’s. I sit on this--. I sit on the BB&T Bank Multicultural Board. So I asked Luis Lobo (BB&T Executive Vice President: Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Multicultural Banking Manager), I said Luis, “can I get BB&T to support me?’ He talked to his boss--apparently he was Kelly King (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer)--and the word is BB&T will back you Robert. So I’ve got BB&T on my back side so when I go to talk now, I say, ‘by the way, BB&T at the table with me.’ So I’ve got Luis Lobo with me and I’m trying to get the banking institutions coming with me.
FA: Right.
RL: So we’ve got that and then I’ve got another older gentlemen--named Bob Kennel. Bob was Governor Hunt’s [Pause] campaign manager when they were both at NC State in the 50s.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: And then he was his campaign manager when he got elected as governor. I now Bob is Mr. NC State Alum. He is the big man; quite wealthy. And I know him because his sister and I served on the state charter school council for North Carolina and she’s a judge--an American gymnastic judge. And so while we were--. March 1st actually we were in Greensboro Coliseum--they were having international gymnastics taking place--and so Bob was there of course and Bob and I started talking. And Bob said, ‘what do you need me to do?’ So Bob has a--. At NC State University there’s a Pack group, both Republican and Democrat and they all [rubs fingers together to insinuate money].
FA: Yeah.
RL: And so what’s going to happen, Felicia--. He’s told me that he’s going to be with the Pack group and he said, ‘it’s time we talked seriously.’ Also he talks daily with the chancellor of NC State University. So the communication has begun. Craig Horn and I, we’ve begun. We may not get anything--nothing’s going to happen in the short session--I know that. However, I’m going for one boomerang effect. Because see, I know the governor and the governor and I are going to be together alone this summer in Asheville, NC.
FA: What are you doing in Asheville? I’m from near Asheville. I don’t know if you knew that; I’m from Hendersonville.
RL: No, I didn’t know that. I love that area.
FA: It’s very pretty.
RL: That’s where my daughter--my step daughter--went to UNC-Asheville, she loves it.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: And so, we’re just gonna--. Because see in 1984--no in 1986, I hired his sister-in-law to be a teacher for me and so you never know what’s coming down the road. And Pat McCrory is a teacher trained at Catawba College.
FA: I don’t think I knew that, that’s interesting.
RL: So, my--. When Pat and I get together--. Pat and I were actually communicating with each other prior to him becoming governor and see in my case, if you wanted to check my emails, you can check my emails because by law you can. Same thing with Pat, so we don’t talk anymore. And so, what Pat and I want to--. I want Pat to have the guidance to sign the paper that says, ‘undocumented get in-state tuition,’ like Obama did and I think Pat knows what I’m doing. See I was with Arne Duncan last May and Arne said to me, ‘Robert, you guys keep up the work you’re doing in North Carolina.’ He said, ‘Obama and I, we’ve got a hell of a fight in Chicago. We’ve got the same stuff going on.’ But Arne said, ‘keep going, you just keep on fighting.’ So, you know, I--I’m speaking to the high school students in Forsyth County--. I speak about this--I call it, who are you? Based on the song by The Who, but the problem is you know, when you look at me and I look at you; I didn’t know you were from Hendersonville and you don’t know me. And people say--they look at me and they say--huh? I go all this and I’ve done all this stuff and bang I go into salsa music and they all look at me kind of funny. And I start dancing some of this salsa stuff and they look at me a little funny and I keep going. And I say, ‘where do you think I’m from?’ And I show them palm trees and they say, ‘Florida!’ Nope and then I show another picture and they say, ‘oh, you’re from Hawaii.’ And I say, ‘nope!’ And I keep going, then finally somebody says, ‘he’s Puertorriqueño.’ My friend Luis Lobo--do you know Luis Lobo?
FA: I don’t think so.
RL: He’s big time with BB&T; he’s big time. Luis calls me--he’s from Nicaragua originally so he came when he was two years old--Luis calls me a chameleon. He says, ‘you know what?’ And I told him, I said, ‘you’re calling me an iguana?’ And he said, ‘no, a chameleon.’ He said, ‘you change man—you’re brown on the inside but your white on the outside.’ I said, ‘yeah, my DREAMers are coconuts. They’re brown on the outside but their white on the inside.’ And so I’ve done that, I’ve worked with the SBI. I translated in the courts system for thirty years--Spanish and English--I was the only one that was doing it.
FA: Right.
RL: I’ve been on the sting operations, I’ve done all kinds of stuff but I’m having the best time of my life now trying to help the students. I know--. Howard and I traveled across the state. Nido Qubein (President) at High Point has told us point blank, ‘if you can find us kids--Hispanic/Latinos--I’ll make it happen here at High Point for you.’ Richard Carter--Dr. Carter-- who spent seventeen years with Nelson Mandela; down at Johnson C. Smith University has told me point-blank, ‘you get me Latinos that can, I’ll make it happen—no tuition.’
FA: Great, great.
RL: We have others. I know there are community colleges accepting Latinos but Keny and I were talking--we don’t want to push that because I think some [37:06]. But I understand. I have just finished meeting with Wake Forest University and they had told me that they have to get X% of minorities in their MBA program. And they have just told me that--and Keny knows this--I’ve got a meeting with anybody interested, I’m going to invite them to come to Wake Forest and meet with Natasha (Gore) and I. And Natasha’s told me they’ll take 30% Latinos and if they can’t do it, Wake will give them the masters.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: So, I’m having the time of my life doing this now. I don’t have to fight the [37:47], the principal and the superintendent. Now I’m fighting for you, for people like you, for others who need the same opportunities. I just--I just--so that’s what I do.
FA: That’s great. That’s great.
RL: I can do it. The good lord blessed me with the fact that I’m White on this side but my mother on the other side—I can do it.
FA: Great. And so you talked a little bit about the in-state tuition in particular but where else do you see that North Carolina, education-wise, needs to be going? Particularly for Latino students?
RL: I’ll just bluntly say it; the best education for all is the best for all or the best for some is the best for all. I’ve always said--. You know when I’ve made presentations to teachers, to superintendents, to principals, to educators and I throw information up there, they look at me kind of funny. And I said, ‘do you enroll them in the rigorous classes? No you don’t. Do you give them the chance? No you don’t’ because after middle school--if even that high--then you let them. You’re actually doing a disservice.’ Tomorrow I’m speaking at Reagan--not Reagan--Kennedy High School in Winston and the PowerPoint is actually going to be--. I’m going to present the presentation I present to the adults and I want to see that information; that how are you doing as a group? If you think you’re doing great as a group, forget it. I tell them--the message I give to young men and young ladies--‘you don’t need any babies right now, you’ll have time for babies. Now you need time to get your education.’ Because my grandmother--I’ll never forget--I hated school, I was bored in school but my grandmother made sure I had books. I learned how to read in 7th grade—Dick, Jane, Sally, Tim, Spot, and Run. Do you know what that is?
FA: No.
RL: It’s beginning reading. See Dick run, see Spot jump.
FA: Oh, okay. Yeah.
RL: Sight words. That’s what my grandmother made me do--that--as a 7th grader. My grandmother kept saying, ‘if you want move up in life get your education--you’re doctorate.’ They can’t take it away from you and so with that doctorate Felicia, the world is open. The fact that I’m a commissioner; when I go to BB&T they open the door for me, they say, ‘hey Doc. come on in.’ Without that education, I wouldn’t be there. And so, that doctorate allows me to be a bridge for other people and so--. I want everybody--. In fact if I had my ways--and I came close to having my ways but it did not happen though--there would be one pathway, it’d be the highest, rigoroust way you could go. The best for some is the best for all. It may take us time. I fly airplanes and I always don’t fly as well as my brothers can--one was a military pilot, okay--but I still fly. I don’t learn things as well as perhaps as other people do. Sometimes--and I don’t know if you do this--but sometimes I’m thinking in Spanish while we’re talking in English and I’m trying to figure out how this thing goes. Sometimes when I write, I write reverse and my wife will say, ‘did you mean it this way?’ And I say, ‘oh, yeah.’ It’s kind of--. But it’s the reality of life that the verb and the noun, not the noun and the verb. And so, I think if you give them the best--not the hardest--but the most fundamental, the strongest curriculum you can offer and put everybody through it, you can get a whole lot more.
FA: Right, right.
RL: Instead of letting everybody go to a smorgasbord buffet. You ever eat buffet food?
FA: Not really.
RL: I don’t. You pay what $8-$10 dollars and get all you eat. Do you need all that?
FA: No.
RL: Bingo; the same with education.
FA: Right, the quality isn’t usually the best.
RL: I’m not in favor of Common Core. I think--. I’m more in favor of letting states and communities put their education together. As a representative to the national for North Carolina; I saw Alaska and Texas and Maryland get into a fight. It was ugly and Maryland’s commissioners were saying, ‘you need to be part of Common Core in the United States.’ And Alaska said, ‘guess where we live? We live in Alaska, we’ve got big fish, y’all got small fish in Maryland. We’re getting all these bears, got any bears down I Maryland?’ And all this stuff, ‘our kids need what they need; it’s not going to deny them from getting more.’ Oklahoma State. My daughter has pulled my two grandchildren out of school because it’s so bad. Now she’s--she’s got a masters--she went to Carolina and got out in three years. She went to UNC-G counseling, she should have gotten a Ph.D. but she married a guy from Oklahoma—that’s where they live, out in nowhere. And they boys in school, they were getting nothing. Well one was getting spanked every day.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: Yeah, because he’s bored and so long story short, Holly said, ‘enough, I can teach these kids.’ And she is. So she takes ‘em to NASA, she takes them on trips where they learn. My sister homeschooled her two children all the way through high school. One went to law school at--where’d Ian go--Virginia, UVA law school and then he went off--he’s an Oxford Scholar--he went to England and now he’s a federal attorney. And Megan, Megan’s a teacher; she’s out in Maine now. But my sister, when they lived in Abu Dhabi, they flew to Denver so they could go skiing and they kept that off their taxes. And I said, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.’ And she said, ‘it’s a home school, I can take it off, stop.’ So yeah, we don’t need--. Michelle Rhee had it right in DC when she was the chancellor of schools. She put all high school kids including the Hispanic/Latinos, in AP courses. Because she knew not all of them were going to make that score but you know what, you get a higher ed teacher. We live off--I live off--the J-Curve. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the J-Curve?
FA: Yeah.
RL: And teachers for the most part live off the Bell Curve—I hate the Bell Curve. When I was teaching University--. When I was teaching at Winston-Salem State--I started the graduate program in Elementary Ed--and they said, the dean told me this and he’s from Mexico.
FA: I didn’t know that.
RL: He’s from Mexico. He’s a great guy and he said to me, ‘Robert, no haces tan duro.’ Y yo dije, ‘¿porque no?’ Y él me dijo, ‘no lo pueden hacer, tu sabes que no lo pueden hacer.’ Y dije, ‘lo pueden hacer.’ I threw the J-curve in there and at first there was some fighting and all that and you know what, I never gave a test, I never gave an exam but my students were scoring 94% proficient on the practice too. His were not and he was giving pop tests and quizzes and all. He told me one day, he said, ‘I quit. I’m working too hard and you’re working easier.’ And I said, ‘I’m teaching nine hours and you’re full-time the Dean.’
FA: That’s great. That’s great. I’m trying to think--. I just wanted to know a little bit more about your doctorate.
RL: I got my doctorate at Virginia Tech.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: I did that on purpose. Virginia Tech had the second highest degree of Ph.D.’s on campus behind Stanford.
FA: Oh, okay. That was a smart choice.
RL: And I was tired of the North Carolina mentality. You know, I had my--I had my-- undergraduate degree in Spanish, I got my masters, then I got my specialist degree in Leadership--in Admin and Leadership. And I came down to something called the Principal’s Executive Program—it was a 6-week program run by the Flagler School of Business and The School of Business at Fuqua.
FA: Yeah, at Fuqua at Duke.
RL: So it was both of those; Duke and Carolina. And we lived down here in Chapel Hill at the Odum Institute by Carmichael Auditorium for six weeks. A week here and go home--a week--. And I mean we had a pile of work. It was pretty hard and it was all business oriented, not education which I loved—it was boot camp. And there were people in my cohort that were getting kicked out.
FA: Oh, wow.
RL: In fact the first night we met, there were people sent home the first night.
FA: Why?
RL: Not prepared.
FA: So it was business--business.
RL: Oh you had homework and you had to. And I mean it was not uncommon that they were going to cut you out. And we had--. Are you familiar with Adler?
FA: Yes.
RL: Okay. And so we had to talk to Adler one day on the phone in Chicago. And the guy--was my friend--and I made Adler mad and Robert Faye at UNC-Chapel Hill--. Robert got ticked at us but it was alright. But the business side was much needed. Those of us that graduated, we all moved up fast in our administrative role and all the way up to the position: one was state commissioner and state board chair--Bill Harrison (Chair of the State Board of Education), and so we all moved up. So the forum was great. I have actually talked to BB&T--. I have learned BB&T is going to do a Principal’s Program and so they have already begun talking to me--in fact, they talked to me last week in Winston about what I went through and what they’re looking for. And so I gathered information and--. They were actually going to lessen it and I said, ‘why is BB&T going to lessen?’ And when I got through with the person I was talking to said, ‘you are absolutely right, I’m glad I’m talking to you. We’re paying for this, it’s gonna cost you nothing and we’re going to make it so easy that you’re not going to have to anything.’ She said, ‘I am so glad that you are just beating me up here.’ So I’m hoping to get a job there or at Wake Forest too.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: I don’t know. I might not get a job, if I get a job then I won’t be able to do what I’m doing also.
FA: Right, right.
RL: But so, when I looked across North Carolina, I saw the mentality and I said, ‘I don’t want my doctorate here.’ I was actually looking at Duke but Duke was already changing--but things had changed--and they were running with the same mentality. And so, I decided to look outside and I was hearing about Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech actually was doing classes [48:24] in Martinsville which is only an hour and a half away from me. But the year I enrolled, that program ended and now they were back on campus. So I had a three hour drive one way. So as a high school principal, I would leave at 3 o’clock--actually 2:59--before the 3 o’clock bell rang. I’d beat my high school kids out of there and take off, then I’d get home at 1 o’clock in the morning and I was back at the high school at 6 AM.
FA: Oh wow.
RL: Four years.
FA: I could not do that.
RL: Yes you can. Yes you can. Four years. But I haven’t gone to that program I was telling you at Chapel Hill for 6-weeks.[49:04] people in there said, Robert. I’ll never forget Jack McCall--Jack McCall-- [49:09] but he wrote, he gave me and he said, ‘if you don’t get your doctorate, I’m going to beat your butt.’ And I learned when I was in my doctorate, it was nothing compared to what I went through here. It really wasn’t—the hard thing was driving three hours, staying up and driving home three hours. That was the hard part but I did mine in Education Administration. They almost kicked me out--to be honest with you Felicia--I refused one night--one afternoon--to answer a question. They have on a board all these things, playing a game with three professors; one, two and three. And I refused to answer the question.
FA: Do you remember the question?
RL: No, I don’t but I do remember that the person here said to me, ‘if you were my son, I would tell you that you need to come out of this program.’ I looked at him and said, ‘the good thing is I’m not your son. Am I?’ Well I looked across, over here at my chair and he hadn’t said a word and he was mad. And so, after that I was finished and they asked me to go outside. And they called me in and said, ‘we’re going to put you on probation.’ Okay. Okay. Doesn’t mean I’m out. So I’m on probation. So the guy over here, giving me the hardest--hard--time, Dr. Erkman--he actually worked for New York Times, for others in New York--some big paper. That’s where I learned the expression; the straw man but in the way he was using it. That’s what he was doing and I learned--. I was going to be the straw man for anything I did here. And that’s why I said, ‘no, every answer I give is going to be wrong. I’m not playing your game.’ So afterwards he says to me, ‘Robert, let’s go to the bar and have a few drinks.’ And of course I couldn’t because I had class for this guy over here--my chair. And so yeah I was going through a divorce and I took my paper up there, July the third and I had to stack it to be ready to turn in. I took it to Dr. Parks and he had it sitting on his desk and I’ll never forget—he raised his leg up and he kicked them into the trash can.
FA: [Laughter]
RL: And he said to me, ’you come back when you’re ready.’ I said, ‘what do you mean I’m ready.’ He said, ‘your brain’s not in gear right now.’ I was going through a divorce--I was. I came back in the fall--late fall, December actually--and I met with my committee, they grilled me pretty hard, it was a three hour defense.
FA: Oh, that’s a really long defense. We have like ten minute defense for ours.
RL: I had a three hour defense and the last question I will never forget. When I teach education psych on the graduate level, I always throw it in there. After everybody done what they did, Dave Parks looks at me and Dave Parks--. I chose Doctor Parks--. He is known at the university level and certainly at Virginia Tech as the one person you don’t want on your committee.
FA: Oh, okay.
RL: He has a high failure rate. He turns around Felicia and he gets the other people to go against you. Oh, he’s powerful. He’s way up there. Theoretical--oh my god. He’s up there. And I chose him at purpose and people told me, ‘you’re crazy. Look at his failure rate.’ He also told my ex-wife, ‘90% of the people that begin in this program will end up divorced.’ And we were going down highway 81--down 77--we said, ‘it would happen to us.’ Three years later it happened—I lost my family. So, Dr. Parks asked this simple question: ‘Robert’--and by then I’m beat--‘will you please discuss Maslow’s Theory?’ And I went brain dead. I was brain dead; I didn’t have an answer for him. And he looked at me--. I’ll never forget he goes [knocks on the table], ‘Robert, Maslow’s Theory.’ [Pause] I’d written all about it, it was all in my dissertation, it was all qualitative. I told you, 65 interviews, four different times and the parents had to be interview and the teachers and all that.
FA: That’s awesome.
RL: It’s a great piece of writing. I really need to get it published but I just haven’t done that yet--publication. And I’ll never forget, Dr. Parks looked at me and said, ‘Robert, you need to leave the room.’ I got up and I said, ‘I am finished.’ I walked out and walked down the halls and ran into the secretary. She said, ‘what are you doing out here?’ I said, ‘I was told to be out here.’ And she said, ‘well, that’s not good.’ Paulette was her name. The door opened up, Dr. Warner calls me in, I come in and then Dr. Parks takes over as the chair. He says, ‘well you know we’ve done this’ and on and on. He’s talking like this, ‘you know, Dr. Landry.’ And I heard him say Dr. Landry. And he said Dr. Landry and I’m looking--. I heard them but I wasn’t going to say anything and he kept talking and he said, ‘Dr. Landry, congratulations are in order.’ Then I was ready to party. I got in my car and I drove three hours. I was dead--I was dead before I left--brain dead, saturated. And, you know, I wanted to go a little bit further but my superintendent would not let me go. He was always fearful of me and so I never pursued it.
FA: Okay.
RL: I was going for post--. So life was good. I was probably my biggest enemy. My friend Luis tells me--Luis from BB&T--he says, ‘no, you’re Latino.’ I said, ‘how do you figure that?’ He said, ‘you got that fight in you all the time.’ He said, ‘our woman got the fight in them, the men have the fight in them. We’re always fighting.’ And--. The Latinos’ sphere’s a different sphere. And that comes natural to me apparently in my heritage. You know I’ve got a book on my shelf of the history of Puerto Rico after the 1898 war. And my great grandfather was actually a British Ambassador, that’s how we ended up in the New World. He was an Indian bangle lancer--a general.
FA: Interesting.
RL: He was in the parliamentary house of England--the Hancer Family--so they were down in Cuba. His first assignment after the military was in Cuba--as an ambassador--and my grandma met--she was a young lady at the time--she met a sergeant named Sergeant Warden from the Warden School of Business in California. He rode with Teddy Roosevelt except my grandma would tell me, at the time there were no hills. Hills? There were no hills, they were all flat. And so anyway, she and Mr. Warden apparently they were together and got married. Well, her father found out and had it annulled on the spot—sent her to Canada with her mother so she could finish up her education. Then they moved from there they went to Santo Domingo, from Santo Domingo they moved to Puerto Rico and then in Puerto Rico was where the Spaniards were after my great grandfather—they were going to hang him. And the Americans had come in to pick him up by ship--by the old San Juan Fort--and he got out of there. But he-- Coming down the mountain, there’s a garrison of Spaniards coming up and they’re looking for him. And he’s talking Spanish to them about some woman who married some man up the road, some house up by [57:02]. So they’re all taking off running and he gets [57:07] to get out of there. So then on my other side--my father’s side--see my father was French Canadian. But his mother was from Basque--between Spain. She came to the New World because she was going to become a nun. Before she took her vows, she wanted to see the world a little bit. Met this French Canadian Indian and next thing they know, they got married. But my father’s side was actually involved in the field of aviation. And actually if you go to the Smithsonian, you will see my family name on the plaque there with the Wright Brothers. It’s just; we’re involved in a whole lot of mess.
FA: So, do you still go to Puerto Rico often?
RL: I--. Last time I was down there was in 2007. People ask me why don’t I make an estate and I keep telling them no. You can’t afford ‘em. I think there’s a 13 billion dollar debt--I read on Bloomberg. The reason is because so many Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States so they’re aren’t paying a state tax--excuse me, no tax down there-- so there’s no taxation coming in.
FA: Right.