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Overwhelmed teachers seeking solace

Jeff Broomes listens to testimony.

The holder of that post since 1998, Cyrilene Willoughby said she had been dealing with upset and tearful colleagues with increasing regularity of late. And she and them said the case of the distress was Principal Jeff Broomes.

Giving evidence at the Commission of Enquiry into Alexandra today, the teacher said the difficulties had worsened since strike action by more than two dozen teachers at the school in January this year.

“I would have colleagues who would come and they would be extremely frustrated and sometimes some would be frustrated to tears that they had gone into the principal with matters related to their subject area, and they had been met with fierce outbursts where they felt they had not been allowed to put their point across … but instead they were told ‘I am the principal’,” she testified.

“I recall once instance, for example, where one teacher, she was so upset she felt as if her programme was being written off the timetable and she sat in front of me and she was in tears and … she was asked to leave the office because Mr. Broomes was not willing to discuss the matter with her present.”

“It is not a one-off situation and I have seen colleagues come in where they are just so frustrated that they sit and they say ‘He is not listening, he is not listening, he is just not listening to me, all he is saying is I am the principal’,” she added.

Willoughby said she believed the situation had reached the point where her colleagues, both senior and junior, “are just overwhelmed”.

“I have had to actively assist some staff members where they are so upset, so stressed that they cannot cope…, but it is in trying to get them to find a degree of comfort where they can cope with the nature of the situation as it stands,” she told the commission.

She also spoke of one teacher having a panic attack on the way the school, which required medical attention, and suggested the principal could have triggered it.

“Given the state in which she was when I came upon her and what she was saying and what came out as her source of distress, yes,” the counsellor said.

However, while being questioned by one of the Broomes’ lawyers, Cecil McCarthy, QC, she agreed she was not a medical practitioner and therefore could not confidently blame the principal for the panic attack. (SC)

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