Dr. George H. Rutherford, II
Our spotlight for the month of May, 2010 is Dr. George H. Rutherford, II, Ph.D. Currently, he is the principal of Ideal Academy Public Charter School, located in Washington, DC. Prior to that, for 20 years, he was the principal and chief operating officer of the Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center, also located in Washington, DC. He was, and still is a widely loved and greatly respected individual both in his professional life, as well as in another area of his life that we will discuss shortly.
Destiny – Pride: Good morning, Dr. Rutherford. Destiny – Pride, Incorporated thanks you for accepting our invitation to be the spotlight feature for the Month of May. As with our previous interviews, first, please give us a brief background of your beginnings – where you were born, your family structure, education, and what in your upbringing has helped to shape you into the person you are today?
Dr. Rutherford: Good morning. Thank you for having me as the Spotlight for May on your website. I was born in Charlestown, West Virginia, back in 1939, to Margaret and George Rutherford. I was the only boy of four siblings. My grandmother had four girls; none of them had boys for 13 years, so I was “the man.” In coming up, I learned (1) to be most respectful to females; (2) to be honest; and most important, I was brought up in the church.
I finished high school is Charlestown, and I went away to college. I finished my first degree in Alabama – Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Now, before I got to Stillman College I had some “stop offs.” I went to Blueville State [West Virginia] one year. I was a basketball player, and everywhere, schools were giving me scholarships. Back in those days, you’d go and play at one school for a while and then you’d go play at another school. So, when I left Blueville State, I went to Shepherd College [West Virginia], and I played there for a year. I had problems at Shepherd College because I was the only African American on the team. It was a little rough, so one of the family friends who was living in Alabama got me a scholarship to play ball down at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa Alabama. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama – in 1963 – I met my wife. Her sister had graduated with me and she introduced me to Sandra. Sandra was living here in Washington. I came back to Washington and she and I started dating and the next thing you know, I was getting married. With Sandra, I had three lovely children – two girls [Gwendolyn and Griselda] and one boy [George, III]. Prior to that, I had an older daughter named Tracey. So I ended up with the same make-up that my parents had – three girls and one boy. It’s amazing to have your children. Last Saturday [April 10] I celebrated a surprise birthday party for my oldest daughter who turned 50 [laughter]. It was nice.
After I came back to DC, I went to Garnet Patterson [Middle School] as a teacher. I taught physical education at Garnet Patterson for 10 years. Then I went to Lincoln Jr. High in 1970.
Destiny – Pride: And all of those schools were located in the District.
Dr. Rutherford: In the District. I left Lincoln and went to the University of Pittsburgh in 1973 to work on my doctorate. I got a scholarship. Dr. Margaret Labat was my principal, and a great, great mentor for me. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the greatest educator that I’ve ever been in contact with. She got me the scholarship and I went to the University of Pittsburgh. In 1976 I got my doctorate. I came back to Garnet Patterson and was transferred to Kelly Miller as assistant principal. I was at Kelly Miller for two years, then I went to Sousa [Middle School] for two years.
Destiny – Pride: You were the principal at Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center for 20 years. How did that come about?
While at Garnet Patterson, and while being involved in different programs, my mind started wondering about what we could do to change not only the behavior of our students, but also to keep the academic achievement going up for African Americans. I left in 1978 and went to Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center. I’ve always said that God put me there because I prayed to be the principal of Fletcher-Johnson. I went to novena every Tuesday, and there asked the Lord to please let me be principal at Fletcher-Johnson, and He gave me Fletcher-Johnson.
Destiny – Pride: And what is “novena”?
Dr. Rutherford: I’m not Catholic, but it is a prayer. You go to the Catholic Church at a certain time every week. After so many weeks, what you pray for will come to you. And this did happen. Dr. Jenkins [Assistant Superintendent] appointed me to Fletcher. While there, I had 17 car windows broken; two or four tires cut; sugar in my gas tank; and a battery stolen. And this was not because students “disliked” me; it was because I was bringing a different kind of “change,” and even we, – as adults – don’t like change. We changed that behavior and before 1980, I could go to school, leave my car open. Wouldn’t anybody touch that car, and there were 1,500 kids at that school. The parents might talk and fuss at me, but you [students] had better not come and fuss with me. That’s the way they were; they engulfed me, and I was just so grateful for that.
Destiny – Pride: Fletcher-Johnson is located in what would be considered a “rough” neighborhood. How did that impact the students who attended the school?
In the 80’s, the crack cocaine hit us, and it was rough. I had kids dying; I had gang wars. I had Simple City, Eastgate and George Washington Carver, located off of East Capitol Street. All were feeding into Fletcher-Johnson.
Destiny – Pride: Let our visitors know about George Washington Carver and Simple City.
Dr. Rutherford: Carver was a “project.” It was on East Capitol Street, and they had their “turf.” Eastgate was right across from the school. They had their turf.
Destiny – Pride: And all of them were public housing.
Dr. Rutherford: All of them were public housing. And then Simple City; they also had their turf. It was really Benning Stoddard, but they called it “Simple City.” Simple City and Eastgate were fighting each other. Not at the school. They got along good there. But there were drive-by shootings. On one night, somebody from Eastgate would get killed. The next night somebody from Simple City would get killed. It got to the point that my students were getting caught up in these killings.
In 1990, Councilman Crawford – and I have to bow to him – made arrangements for us to take 31 students to London, and you should have seen all of the folks that gave to us – Woodies [Woodward and Lothrop] gave them jackets and pants as uniforms; the Kennedy Center gave us something; Nike gave us something. When we left New York’s Douglas Airport, our students had $300 in their pockets that was given to them. The school was able to give them $150 and somebody else gave them $150. They had $300. Councilman Crawford had it set up so that they didn’t have to buy any food when they went to London. This was a great, great opportunity for our students and myself. Those students that went to London had a behavior change. I would say 85% to 90% of those students finished high school, and at least 50% of that went on to college. And they are doing well now, because they have called me and have put me on FaceBook with them.
Destiny – Pride: You were a proponent of a technique called Transcendental Meditation, also known as “TM”, and I understand you had incorporated it into your curriculum at Fletcher-Johnson. How did you learn about Transcendental Meditation and what positive results have you have gotten from it?
Killings were still taking place in our area. One morning my students were in class where a teacher was talking with them about death and dying, but didn’t know how to bring closure to it. All hell broke loose, and I ended up with the students in my office. I sat down to talk with them. They told me “Doc, we know you love us, but we still have to come to school.” One child told me that her mother was killed – she had been found dead on Baltimore/Washington Parkway. They told me horrible stories. Then this one little girl stepped up. She was one of the best math students I had. She said, “Doc, they kicked my door down, came in the house, shot my uncle, and then went upstairs and shot my aunt. And Doc, I gotta sleep in that bed.” I found out that the aunt was one of my former students. I knew then that there was something we had to do. I had tried every government program you can name. I had a lot of federal programs at the school. Nothing worked.
Then one day some people came in to see me about “TM” [Transcendental Meditation]. I didn’t know at the time what that was, so I sent them downstairs to talk with my teachers. Later, another group of people came in to talk to me about Transcendental Meditation. Again, I sent them down to my teachers, but as I stated before, God is so good to me. He’s good to all of us. He sent John Hagelin [TM teacher] to my school. John Hagelin had a lady named Candice Martin with him. I’m standing over there talking to Candice who was talking about TM, and I asked her, “What is this crazy stuff?” She replied, “Why don’t you come on and get trained? I told her okay, but I was joking. She then told me to come up to some yellow house on Cedar Avenue. At first I was scared, but after getting trained [in the “technique” of TM] everything fell right in place. I got my wife trained for two reasons. Number one, she had high-blood pressure problems; number two, her doctorate was in Christian Education, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting into something that had anything to do with religion. What I found out was that TM was nothing but a way to reduce the stress in your body.
From there, I came back to the school. There were some teachers who came up to me and ask, “Doc, what’s wrong?” and I was trying to figure out what they were talking about, what’s wrong with me. They said, “you’re not so hyper.” I was a hyper person, always jumping around. I told them what I was doing [Transcendental Meditation], and they said “well, Doc, we want that, too! So we made arrangements, through John Hagelin, to get all of my teachers, custodial staff, cafeteria workers, program assistants, trained – if they wanted to be trained.
We set up what we called “quiet time.” That was ten minutes to nine until nine ten. Everything was shut down; it was completely quiet in the building. We hadn’t trained the students yet, but the fighting stopped. And in the afternoon, from 3: 10 to 3: 30, we had quiet time again. I did not have to go out on Benning Road to stop any fights.
Destiny – Pride: You stated on a video I reviewed where you were speaking at a Transcendental Meditation seminar at Harvard, that you had gotten some initial push-back from some of the teachers because you had taken 5 minutes off of each class to give you 20 minutes each at the beginning and the end of each day for TM. At that time, they were not visionaries to see what you were trying to achieve. Talk to us about that.
Dr. Rutherford: There was 50 minutes allotted for each class period, but I found out that teachers were only getting 30 minutes of instructional time. I felt that if I took five minutes off of each class period, got the students trained in Transcendental Meditation to get them in the state of quietness before the class period started, then instead of 30 minutes of instructional time, they received 40 minutes of instructional time. They got more time, therefore, we didn’t lose, but rather we gained time. Also, we found that our attendance went up – we had great attendance – our behavior problems went down, and our academic achievement went up.
I retired in ’98. Fletcher Johnson had four principals from ’98 to 2003. They had stopped doing TM, and they ended up closing Fletcher-Johnson. If they had continued with the TM, that would never have happened. I later went to Baltimore, where I was able to get the teachers trained in TM.
Destiny – Pride: Twenty years is a long time to be at one place of employment. What encouraged you to stay so long, and what was your relationship like with the students there?
What really encouraged me to stay so long at Fletcher were the parents, the community and those students, because I felt like I was a father to every student who came through the door of Fletcher Johnson. I also felt like I had kinship with every parent. I could go into any parent’s home. I was never ashamed to go into public housing and to sit down with the parents. It didn’t matter to me. I was there for them. And I think the parents understood that because Fletcher-Johnson was opened until 11: 00 at night, six days a week. I think I might have missed only two or three Saturdays because I never went away. My family would get upset with me because I could not get away from Fletcher-Johnson. I regret some of that because I didn’t get to see my children grow up because I was always at the school raising other folks’ children.
Destiny – Pride: What was going on at the school until 11: 00 at night?
Dr. Rutherford: We had recreation; we had tutoring; we had counseling, just to keep the students off the street. The prime time for drug dealers was around 3: 00 p.m., when the kids get out of school. They would give them drugs to sell. If we have the students with us, there’s nothing they can do. So what we tried to do was to keep the kids with us, doing something. We had quite a few programs. On Saturdays, we had the dance program, and along with the parents, a word processing program.
Destiny – Pride: Is Transcendental Meditation a part of the Ideal Academy curriculum? If not, why not? If so, are the results similar to the results you realized at Fletcher-Johnson?
Dr. Rutherford: Yes, it is a part of our curriculum. As a matter of fact, it is the first school in the country to do Transcendental Meditation. We are funded through the David Lynch Foundation. David Lynch is a movie producer. He pays for all of my students from grades five to twelve, to be trained in Transcendental Meditation. I was the first principal in the world to put Transcendental Meditation in public schools back in 1993 [at Fletcher-Johnson]. At that time, Transcendental Meditation was not a household name. I just have to tell you how close-knitted that school was. I had 100+ people on staff. They did not blab this out in the street, because if they had, if they had, I probably would have been fired. It was not until 1997-98 that I told the then superintendent – I can’t think of her name – that if she was coming to the school, to make sure she got there before ten minutes to nine, because my doors are locked, and my telephones are cut off, and to make sure she comes before ten after three, because again, we’re in quiet time. Now, everywhere across the country they’re using “quiet time,” which started at Fletcher-Johnson, and there are a lot of schools now that are doing TM, but we are the only school that goes from grades five through twelve, fully funded. This is the only charter school that had Transcendental Meditation in its proposal, and believe it or not, the Board of Education signed off on it. This was back in 1999, and that’s the reason Mama Paulette brought me here – to get it started.
As for the results, we are waiting now for some results to come back from our DC-CAS [Comprehensive Assessment System] test. We have sent those scores out from last year and this year to measure exactly how well our students are doing. I do have some data that will show that students are doing much better than what they were doing prior to implementing Transcendental Meditation. Plus we have parents who are telling us about the effects of Transcendental Meditation on their kids. The good thing about it is that parents are signing their children up to get Transcendental Meditation.
Destiny – Pride: Explain to our visitors what DC-CAS is.
Dr. Rutherford: DC-CAS is an achievement test that is given to third through eighth and tenth grade students to measure how well they are performing – were they proficient, advance, basic or below basic.
Destiny – Pride: You mentioned “Mama Paulette.” Who is she?
Dr. Rutherford: Mama Paulette is the founder. She is the founder of Ideal Academy Public Charter School.
Destiny – Pride: Now please help us to understand exactly what Transcendental Meditation is. Run me through the process. If I go through this “quiet time,” what occurs?
Dr. Rutherford: What happens is you get a mantra . . .
Destiny – Pride: A mantra? What is that?
Dr. Rutherford: That’s a word that you focus on. You sit still and you close your eyes – if you can think a thought, you can meditate. I’m not trained to teach Transcendental Medication; I have two people who come in and teach it. What goes on is that your mind begins to settle down. Your brain begins to settle down, and you go into a deep, deep rest. If you have stress on you, it removes the stress – the stress just rolls off of you and you come out of it as a better person. You’re able to focus better. I’ve had trainers come in to teach the students to help them to understand why they’re meditating. There’s no need to just shut your eyes to meditate if you don’t understand why – if you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Destiny – Pride: I ask because I’ve been jogging for 32 years. I’m now feeling the results of the trauma it’s done to my body, but one of the things that any jogger will tell you is about the jogger’s “high,” where the mind begins to just totally become erased, and you go deep inside of yourself. What I’m hearing from you is that there is a similar type of experience you get in Transcendental Meditation. When I’m jogging, I’m just “out there,” and my mind just goes. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been jogging for so long. I just want our visitors to be able to appreciate what you’re saying because when some people hear “Transcendental Meditation” they think of it as a religion; some people call it a cult – they call it everything. I think you have done a good analysis of what it is so that people are at ease. I’m glad that you did that.
Dr. Rutherford: I’m going to give you a couple of CDs to take with you, so you’ll be able to see some of the things we’re doing.
Destiny – Pride: I see these are interviews that have been done on every major channel – NBC, ABC, CBS . . .
Dr. Rutherford: I went to Fairfield, where it all started, and I saw for the first time in my life really happy children. Now I don’t care if they’re white; it doesn’t matter to me. Our African American kids can be happy, too. And they’re not going to give their kids something that’s going to harm them. I told them that I wanted the same thing for my children here in Washington, DC. I think that we are on the road to getting there.
Destiny – Pride: What about the lasting effects of TM? Have you spoken with or had contact with any of the students from Fletcher-Johnson who participated in the TM program and if so, what did they say about the effects of it, if any, on their lives today?
Dr. Rutherford: Yes, I have been in contact with some who are still meditating. The problem is that they have not had the opportunity to “check-in.” One thing about TM is that it’s a lifelong program, and now you can go anywhere in the United States where they will have a TM Center and you can go in to be checked. I have to get mine checked.
Destiny – Pride: What does getting “checked” entail?
Dr. Rutherford: Making sure that I am doing it correctly, that’s all. They will sit down with you to make sure that you’re doing it correctly, so you can get the full benefits. In fact, I’m going to meet with some students in the next month – I’m putting it on my FaceBook – for them to come and meet with me, those who have been trained in Transcendental Meditation, to get them checked again, to make sure. But all of the students that have done Transcendental Meditation praise it.
I’ll give you a good example. Last year we had my first graduating class. We had 11 in it. Eighty-three percent of them are in college. This year we have between 16 and 18. Fifteen of them have already gotten letters of acceptance into college, and I’m attributing a lot of that to our quiet time.
Destiny – Pride: What I hear from you regarding being “checked” is that everybody needs to know where his or her “alter” is, and how to get there. How do you clear the mind? Individuals tell me that sometimes when they try to pray their minds are running every which way, and they have no control in being able to focus on what they’re praying for. What I hear from you is that you have found a way through the program – and you can correct me if I’m wrong – to get people centered as to where that alter is for them so that they are able to clear their minds and remove some of the external stress so they can focus in on the things that are important.
Dr. Rutherford: And that is absolutely correct. I was listening to a minister from Chicago who was expressing how he felt when he was able to go deeper and deeper and deeper into thought and how it helped him in working with people. I have two or three ministers on my staff who have been trained in Transcendental Meditation.
Destiny – Pride: Who are some of the individuals who have had the greatest impact upon you?
Dr. Rutherford: First of all, my mother and father; the upbringing that I had; and all the love I had around me. I can remember going to church, sitting in the front row. My sister passed me a piece of candy and it dropped on the floor. My daddy just turned his head and looked at it. I knew I was going to get a beating when I went home, because you’re not suppose to sit in church and eat. But he taught me how to be a man. You’re a man, and you understand that. You truly understand that. So, my mother and my father impacted me. Then there was a guy named Adam Craven – my high school football and basketball coach. I was with him when he died. He stuck with George Rutherford. He taught me everything, as far as academics and playing ball. Those folks are the ones. And I always have to give credit to the guy who took me down to Alabama, because if he hadn’t taken me down to Alabama, I wouldn’t be here today. But over all of those folks is God Almighty, who was their instrument to get me.
Destiny – Pride: And I know one individual, she’s a legend in this town. You mentioned her name before . . .
Dr. Rutherford: Dr. Labat. She is, without a doubt, a legend. She taught me – she kicked my behind – but that woman had so much love for not only her teachers, but the children at Garnet Patterson. They told her she wouldn’t make it at Garnet Patterson. That woman came in there and she turned that school around. We had a program called “Open Communication,” and that is probably the reason I know how to go into the community. I had a principal, and he and I didn’t get along at all, and he thought he was hurting me by sending me to a particular meeting. But he didn’t know that I’d love it. Send me in with the parents! They’re going to be on my side [laughter], because I can deal with people. And that’s important.
Destiny – Pride: Early on, you talked about the greatest people who had great impact on your life. I found something to be quite unique about your answer. Generally on TV, when you see football players or basketball players, it’s “hi, ‘mom,’” “hi, ‘mom,’” “hi, ‘mom.’” Very rarely is it “hi, ‘mom,’ hi, ‘dad.’” I noticed that you said your daddy . . . and like in my case, my mother took me to church; my dad stayed home. But he taught me how to be a man. I noticed you said when you looked across the pew, you saw your “dad” and your mom. That’s unique. Tell us about that.
Dr. Rutherford: My mom was Episcopalian; she wouldn’t go to the Methodist church. My dad was something. He worked hard, and he drank hard. My dad, he loved alcohol until his later years, when he cut it out completely. And he wasn’t afraid. My dad would talk to anyone. I remember one time this insurance man came into the house, and he said “Hi, Margaret” to my mother. My daddy jumped up.
Destiny – Pride: Needless to say, the man was white.
Dr. Rutherford: He was white [laughter]. My daddy jumped up, and he told him, “This is Mrs. Rutherford. I used to couldn’t say this, but now I can. The only good white man is a dead one. Now you get the hell out of my house.” [laughter] Dad was rough, I tell you.
Destiny – Pride: He was rough.
Dr. Rutherford: He did not bite his tongue. But there was a time when he had to. During his later years he used to tell me, “Son, I did not have to bite my tongue.” I remember going into the courthouse an a guy telling him who he’d better vote for. I was about four years old, just walking with my daddy. Daddy didn’t pay him any mind.
When I became a man, my daddy was a man, he would go somewhere, but they did not say anything to my daddy. One police officer told my daddy about me and some white girl. My daddy told him, “Well you tell her to leave him alone, then.” [laughter] That’s the way it was; my daddy took those stands. And that’s what I loved that I got from him. Right, wrong, win, lose, you take a stand; and I have heard you say that many times.
Destiny – Pride: How did you get your daddy to go to church? [laughter]
Dr. Rutherford: You know what? It’s amazing. When we were kids, we would be in church all the time. And then there was a period – when he was on a binge – when he wouldn’t go anywhere.
Destiny – Pride: When he was on a binge, he would be drinking?
Dr. Rutherford: Yes. And in his later years, he would be in church all the time praying; he would always be in church.
Destiny – Pride: But it’s good to know. Even though my daddy wasn’t in church, I am so proud that my daddy (1) provided; (2) taught me how to be a man. Now I normally don’t intercede in interviews, but I am because of my special relationship with you. The Lord also blessed me to have some spiritual fathers in the church. Deacon Williams, who died recently, at 90 something years old – he was the best man at my wedding; and Deacon Ollis Mozon. He gave me the opportunity to see how a spiritual father was to be. My daddy taught me how to be a man. They taught me how to be a spiritual man. So they stepped in the gap. This is really the first time I have ever interjected myself into an interview.
Dr. Rutherford: That’s alright; I like talking to you.
Destiny – Pride: What do you envision yourself doing in your next phase of life?
Dr. Rutherford: In the next phase of my life, I will continue to work with young people. I don’t care where I am, I will go across the country and continue to promote the Transcendental Meditation program. I do that now; I travel all over now to talk about Transcendental Meditation.
Destiny – Pride: Are there any final thoughts you would like to leave our visitors?
Dr. Rutherford: Well, I truly want to say this. I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to talk about my journey. I’ve been around since 1939. That means this year I’ll be 71. But I still feel good. The Lord has blessed me. I have a few health problems that any person would get. But I really, really love working with children, and I will continue to work with children. My kids use to always ask, “Daddy, when are you going to retire?” I say, I don’t know about retiring. I want to be with my kids.
Destiny – Pride: Dr. Rutherford, Destiny – Pride thanks you for your time and for sharing with our visitors the interesting details regarding your life’s journey. You have introduced some to, and have probably piqued an interest in others about Transcendental Meditation and its positive benefits. Best wishes to you as you continue to enhance and enlighten the lives of those students under your care at Ideal Academy Charter School and wherever else your life takes you.