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Broomes looms large

Barry Alleyne

Broomes looms large

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Jeff Broomes – Controversial Person of the Year
On December 5 last year, principal Jeff Broomes stood in the school hall before hundreds of parents on speech day and chastised one of the most senior teachers at The Alexandra School.
Not one to hold his tongue in any circumstance, Broomes felt very comfortable telling parents that head of the science division, Amaida Greaves, had not taught a chemistry class for almost an entire term.
No one thought Broomes’ tongue-lashing would have such a long-lasting effect. Without a doubt, he is THE NATION’s Controversial Person Of The Year for 2012.
His name was on the lips of every Barbadian at some stage this calendar year, as those comments about Greaves restarted a war of words with the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and led to strike action by more than 30 teachers on the first day of the second term in January.
Since then, The Alexandra School has been this year’s most contentious issue in Barbados.
And Broomes’ name was in the news again last week, when a decision was made to transfer him to be principal at Parkinson Memorial Secondary School, with almost 20 teachers to be reassigned to other secondary schools.
The past 12 months saw strike action, scores of parents converging at the Ministry of Education for an urgent meeting with the Chief Education Officer and a commission of inquiry seeking to determine what led to the problems at Alexandra.
The head of that inquiry, retired judge Frederick Waterman, eventually recommended that Broomes be separated from the school, for a number of other teachers to be transferred and for changes to be made as soon as possible to the Education Act so as to prevent a similar occurrence at any school in Barbados.
From the time BSTU president Mary-Anne Redman declared the union wanted Broomes separated from the school because of his management style, the embattled principal had been at the forefront of the island’s most intriguing news event.
The well known cricket administrator and educator took over at Alexandra in 2002 and his tenure at the St Peter school saw a marked increase in academic success.
But there was also a significant rise in the number of clashes between Broomes and the school’s board of management, as well as between Broomes and the BSTU, and even with Redman in her position as union boss.
Broomes is not known as a man to back down from a fight. Any of his peers in the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) can tell you he’s a tough customer, not to mention a tough nut to crack.
Keith Simmons, a fellow BCA member, and chairman of the Alexandra board, saw that personality up close and personal.
As revealed later during the three-month Alexandra Commission of Inquiry, his and Broomes’ personal relationship, once a pillar of their friendship, had been damaged irrevocably because of what Simmons called “Broomes’ dictatorial attitude during board meetings and the way he treated other members of staff”.
Broomes has a great relationship with the children at The Alexandra School; some students even refer to him as “Uncle Jeff”.
He admitted to Commissioner Waterman that he loved pitching marbles as a child, and had absolutely no problem engaging second form students in this activity.
Waterman warned Broomes that such behaviour could eventually lead to the children losing respect for him and his position.
“Well, I don’t see it that way. I have no problem with it and I will continue to do it,” he told the commissioner during his almost week-long testimony at the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex.
Broomes’ relationship with senior members of staff was an extremely difficult one.
Evidence during the inquiry revealed that his problems started simply by his being appointed principal ahead of deputy head Beverly Neblett-Lashley back in 2002.
Members of staff were hoping Lashley got the job, but instead Broomes was brought in from a different school.
It was also learnt during the inquiry that several of the senior female teachers were former students of Alexandra and felt Broomes would change a culture that had existed at the school for more than four decades.
The principal remains a respected cricket administrator, having managed the senior Barbados team and junior team for more than a decade.
Known to his friends as “Racky”, Broomes is a country boy who to this day still provides free lessons to students where he grew up, as well as free extra lessons to Alexandra students preparing for Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) tests.
But his personality and strong management techniques were simply too much for the senior staff to bear. Even before his speech day comments last December, Broomes had opened a can of worms when he docked a day’s pay from teachers who had stayed away from school to attend Teacher’s Professional Day activities, but allegedly had not.
The principal has never been one to mince words, and also drew the ire of Commissioner Waterman when he stated that he paid little attention to any correspondence sent to him by the BSTU, or its president Redman, since he had little time for them.
Broomes was even accused of nepotism during his tenure. He readily admitted that he hired his daughters during school holidays, because he trusted no one to deal with the private information in his office, which he kept under lock and key.
The principal was also accused of shouting at staff in front of students, of even chasing a parent away and asking board chairman Simmons to reveal if he (Simmons) was coming to the property.
Through it all, according to evidence at the inquiry, Broomes had vowed he would not leave Alexandra before retiring, or dying in office.
Even after Waterman’s recommendations were made public a little over a month ago, Broomes was standing firm.
“I’m still here. I have work to do,” he told the DAILY NATION the same week the report from the inquiry was laid in the House of Assembly.
The students’ backing of Broomes has been steadfast, with a number of them even forming a support group at the school to show whose side they were on.
In the wake of the recommendations made by Waterman, Broomes’ legal team had been quiet and in a waiting mode.
Now that a decision has been made to send him to Parkinson, the country awaits their next move.