JAMES ALBRECHT...............GREAT LEADER AND ADMINISTRATOR ALWAYS ADVOCATING FOR STUDENTS AND FACULTY
The youngest principal in Iowa for a time. Then 15 years as principal of Northern University High School from 1965 to 1980, when he was tapped to mold other administrators in UNI's Department of Educational Administration and Counseling.
“Dr. Albrecht was my first instructor in the graduate classes in school administration and was the finest teacher in these areas I have ever been around,” wrote Jeff Corker, Superintendent of the Western Dubuque Community School District, at Albrecht's death at age 83 in 2012. “His frankness and candor were without a doubt responsible for his success."
Albrecht was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on January 10, 1929 and graduated from West High School there in 1947. He began as a teacher of English and Speech, earning his Bachelor's degree from UNI (then Iowa State Teachers College) in 1951, and taking his first position teaching those subjects in Rolfe, Iowa. In 1952, he moved to Dike, Iowa, to teach English and Speech, but soon he was asked to serve as Dike's high school principal—despite being, at the time, Iowa's youngest person in that role. He earned a Master of Arts degree in secondary school administration from UNI in 1956, offering as his Master's thesis “The Development of a Reading Program in an Iowa High School."
Robert J. Barnes, who was a teacher at Dike from 1958 to 1960 has “fond memories of Jim's smile, his sharp wit, mastery of any topic, and boundless energy."
In 1965, Dr. Ross Nielsen, head of the UNI Department of Teaching and acting principal of Northern University High School, recruited Albrecht to take over the duties of NU High School principal. Albrecht had earned his educational specialist degree (Ed. S.) from UNI in 1962. In 1968, Indiana University awarded him the Ph.D. in secondary education.
Mary Walter Reeve taught under Albrecht at Price Lab in the 1960s and remembers him “vividly as an outstanding communicator and administrator.” As NU High principal Albrecht encouraged experiment and innovation. In the late 1960s, he supported the new Upward Bound program, to boost disadvantaged young students toward academic achievement.
Albrecht soon became a leader in the National Association of Secondary School Principals and served as a key-note speaker at NASSP conventions. He was a consultant to more than two hundred schools throughout the United States, as well as for the U.S. Department of Defense regarding high schools on military bases overseas.
All the while at NU High, his students were noting “his genuine interest in and concern” for their growth (Carla Tarr); “his willingness to help” (Karen Brasel); and “his kind, but firm control of every situation, no matter how difficult” (Keeka Chung). Mildred Bundy, Albrecht's secretary, remembers him above all “as being an understanding and considerate person to work for and with."
In 1980, UNI's College of Education pulled Albrecht from NU High to teach full-time on “the hill” in the Department of Educational Administration and Counseling, to prepare the next generation of administrators. From his first days on the UNI faculty in the 1960s, Albrecht had been a strong advocate of students taking charge of their own learning. In 1968, for instance, he proposed to UNI's Student Senate that it establish a student Educational Policies Committee to give students a direct link to the UNI administration on issues that concerned them. In 1988, The Bulletin of the National Association of Secondary School Principals printed Albrecht's article on “Educational Leadership: A focus on Teacher-Student Interaction."
Among his other publications were articles on “Curriculum Diversity in Rural Iowa: Excellence and Equity Issues”; “What Price Excellence? A Nation at Risk and the Iowa Experience”; and “Of Power, Vultures, and Laboratory Schools.” In 1988 and 1989, Albrecht was invited to serve first as a participant and then as a consultant for the PBS television series “Critical Issues in American Educatiion."
In “What I Look for in a Teacher,” a popular address he would give to UNI education majors and to professional educators as well, Albrecht would insist that: “A really good teacher knows his or her subject and has a great love for it.” Directness with people and enthusiasm for continuity of course concepts are also basic to good teachers, he said. “The teacher should not fall over his own sense of importance and dignity,” he cautioned as well.
Charles Moore remembers Albrecht in the summer of 1987 when he and Albrecht were attending a conference of administrators. “What I learned about Jim was his optimism and eloquence regarding being a progressive leader,” Moore recalls. “He taught all that knew him that optimism and commitment to personal ideals were essential elements of leading a fulfilling life. I'm thankful that I was able to be in his presence."
For his many contributions to education, Albrecht received the Service Award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals in 1977, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988; the Administrators Award from the Iowa High School Athletic Association in 1982; the “Friend of the Association Award” from the Educational Administrators of Iowa in 1985; the UNI College of Education's “Outstanding Teacher Award” in 1988; and the Distinguished Service Award in 1990 from the School Administrators of Iowa and Iowa Council of Professors of Educational Administration.
Albrecht retired from UNI in 1990. Those who knew him well speak repeatedly of the fact that he “epitomized fun and adventure” throughout his life. He was an avid golfer and in retirement could be found on the golf course with his friends any time the temperature was above 40 degrees. His children, great-grandchildren, and great-great children recall the annual summer family reunion week at Lake Okoboji, Iowa—which included nightly marathon games of hearts, dancing the Hava Nagila, and riding the Arnold's Park roller coaster.
Often one small incident will provide a mirror of a person's character. Gene Fischer, a neighbor boy of Albrecht's, tells this story of his youth. At age 12, Gene and his brother, Tim, and Albrecht's son, “got into a scrape.” Gene's 8-year-old brother, Jon, had tried to dissuade the three older boys from the act. “Before the magistrate,” Gene reports, “Jim Albrecht argued that Jon shouldn't be held accountable even though his own family's share of the damage then increased. It was a good lesson for me in seeking the truth even at personal cost to oneself. Education by example is the best kind, and Jim was a great educator.