Alexandra in perspective
In November 2010, the Ministry of Education dispatched an inspection team to investigate simmering problems at the Alexandra School, which had triggered industrial action by teachers in 2006. The team, led by Professor Winston King, also included representatives
of the Ministry of Education, the school’s board of management, the Barbados Secondary?Teachers’ Union, the Barbados Association of Principals of Public Secondary?Schools and the Parent- Teacher Association. It commenced work on November 4 and formally handed over its report in April 2011. Today, the SUNDAY SUN reproduces an edited version of critical sections
of the 91-page document, which followed a series of detailed interviews with principal Jeff Broomes, deputy principal Beverley Neblett-Lashley, other members of staff and students. They also met with members of the board of management, led by attorney at law Keith Simmons.
The relationship between the principal and the board of management is strained. The principal wrote a letter reporting two members of the board to the ministry. He requested that they be removed from the board.
The chairman was summoned to defend the allegations in the letter. Another incident cited was a letter sent by the principal to the board of management stating that its members were not to be on the school’s premises without the principal’s permission. Another area of concern was the principal’s attempt to change the minutes of the board’s meetings.
A major concern was that communication was the main problem since it was believed that the principal lacked people skills and at times could have a distortion of information. The board expressed that the principal seemingly did not understand that he was a public officer and as a result his administrative responsibilities must reflect this.
The teachers too need to understand their responsibilities as public officers. The board finds it very difficult to function and pointed out that the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development is not without blame for how the situation has been prolonged without meaningful solutions.
It was noted that the principal had some good ideas but the methodology for implementation and evaluation, coupled with the lack of communication, made them not as effective as they could be.
It was also believed that there was a serious power struggle at the school and in this less than comfortable situation, there would soon be an effect on teaching and the generally good work at the school.
There are seemingly some members of staff who may be contributing to the breakdown in relationship between the principal and staff of the school.
What is of particular concern to the board is that in this untenable situation at the school, the principal reported that he has no stress. One recommendation from the board is that the public service needs to be called upon to be involved in the rift.
Interview with the principal
Are the teachers in the school doing an effective job?
BROOMES: Yes, in the main, most teachers are committed.
Do you think that preparation of the administrators ensures effective administration?
BROOMES: . . . it does in the main. All teachers are trained and experienced.
Do you think the administrative staff is doing a good job?
BROOMES: Yes. [He did not elaborate.]
Is the clerical staff doing an effective job?
BROOMES: Yes, they were doing an excellent job. [But I need] to be aware
of the movement of staff at the board of management [level]. This matter was taken to the board and it was agreed that a time book was to be set up to monitor staff. However, the board flip-flopped after a while.
Is the ancillary staff doing an effective job?
BROOMES: The ancillary staff is doing a good job.
What are the best features of the school staff?
BROOMES: [A] group of people who are very sacrificial. There is an award for a teacher who goes over and beyond the call of duty. Teaching staff is very cohesive. Staff is not averse to seeking training upgrading. The staff does not take time away from school, and are punctual.
How do you feel about the effectiveness of communication in the school?
BROOMES: There are structures in place, but [I am] uncertain about its effectiveness. [I am] not sure what was the problem.
What role does the deputy principal play in the school?
BROOMES: The deputy principal was put in charge of discipline while [I] retained the area of curriculum. However, she refused. [I] asked for a meeting with her every Thursday. She came to four and then she stopped.
Interview with the deputy principal
Are the functions of the management team clearly defined?
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: These functions are outlined in the Education Act but not within the school. [I feel] like a messenger, not given any room for initiative. [I had]
a discussion with the principal in which he took the position that the vice-president in any organization is the least significant person. [I] was not issued an invitation to the Estimates activity 2010.
The board of management was asked not to have the deputy at meetings because she and the principal did not get along. The board apparently asked no questions.
Are there systems which enable you to function effectively as a member of the school’s management?
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: . . . (T)here should be meetings for staff to air their views [for example, on the] Teacher of the Year Award. The Mission Statement was not discussed and had little buy-in from staff – only [the] principal’s input. There should have been a more thorough implementation plan for the Strategic Plan.
Do you have any formal responsibility for discipline?
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: Yes. The principal had asked [me] to be responsible for discipline in the school. However, this should be a shared responsibility. The principal was too friendly with students.
Do you regard yourself as a model for other teachers?
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: [I have] influence in the school; therefore [I] suffer silently – keeping things running.
As a member of the school’s management team, do you have the opportunity to use your initiative?
Mention two strengths of the management/administration of the school.
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: Some traditional systems are followed without a thought. Long-serving teachers know what to do. There is a committed set of teachers. The manager has good ideas, and tries to incorporate those from others. The principal is a persuasive talker.
Mention two weaknesses of the management/administration of the school.
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: Communication is a major problem. Inconsistency in punishment which is dependent on who is the staff or student involved. The deputy does not see ads before they appear in the Press. Deputy does not see reports on temporary staff.
In what ways can teaching be made more effective?
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: Classrooms should be brightened up. Reduce the number of projects each student has resulting in one interdisciplinary project. Working on deficiencies such as referencing, plagiarism [and] technology.
In what ways can the administration be made more effective?
NEBLETT-LASHLEY: People need an opportunity to talk about what is going on in the school, without fear of reprisal.
INTERVIEW WITH STUDENT LEADERS (Head boy, head girl, president, vice-president and secretary of the Student Council).
Is the administration of this school efficient?
STUDENTS: Yes – 1.5. Limited – 3.5
Is the curriculum at this school adequate for the needs of the students?
STUDENTS: All students answered in the affirmative. They felt that teachers are excellent, but they have gone down in the students’ view ‘because they went on strike.’ When probed about their knowledge of what led to the industrial action, the students intimated that they did not have all of the background. However, they were still adamant that the action represented a lack of commitment to them.
The students also reported that the staff is divided between those for and those against the principal. Some teachers were even accused of discussing the principal with students.
Generally speaking, however, they felt that they have a close relationship with their teachers.
Is the teaching adequate?
STUDENTS: The unanimous response was that the situation is limited – at least in some classes. They reported that music should have eight periods per week but only got four periods. This, they felt, was inadequate and may put students in this area at a disadvantage at external examinations. One student also felt that having only one history teacher curtailed the development of the subject area. Science, it was reported, is exemplary, especially in biology and chemistry.
The students seemed uncertain about what is expected in [Real?Life Options]. One of them expressed the view that it is “a period to socialize and run ‘bout”. Most of them seemed not too enthusiastic about [Information?Technology], preferring not to be exposed to it in its present form.
Are disciplinary measures at this school clearly defined?
STUDENTS: There was a unanimous “yes” on this aspect. The discipline, they agreed, is clearly defined in the ethos of the school. “There is a rule book but it is not visible.” However, the students lamented the fact that “a couple of teachers can’t control classes”
What are two things that you like about your school?
STUDENTS: We like the atmosphere among students [and] the student/teacher interaction.
Is there anything that you dislike about your school?
STUDENTS: They reported that there was nothing they disliked.