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Stone cold

Principal Jeff Broomes conferring with his counsel Cecil McCarthy, QC.

An unwelcoming, cold environment – filled with tension.

That’s what a teacher of the Alexandra School reported encountering on the first day of her employment at the St. Peter School in November 2006.

Vernell Woods, an English teacher, was testifying at the Commission of Enquiry into Alexandra today at the Wildey Gymnasium, Garfield Sobers Sports Complex.

The teacher said the coldness started with her then head of department, Margo Clarke, and continued into the staff room and other aspects of Alexandra operations.

In fact, she said the reception was so bad that it was only after two terms at the school that she noticed a change in attitudes, especially by junior staff.

“She (Clarke) was rather abrupt with me, there was no friendliness or anything extended,” she recalled.

“I am an experienced teacher yes so I thought at least I would have been given a scheme of work at least that I could start with. She could have probably taken me through to where the children were at because it was not the beginning of the term, so I don’t know what they would have done, where they were at so I could learn where I should begin.”

“There was no attempt to talk to me or welcome me in the department,” Woods added, saying she was forced to turn to Principal Jeff Broomes for assistance. But she said the discomfort was not peculiar to the English Department as other staff seemed to suggest she was not welcomed.

“I am not talking only about the English Department, I am talking about the staff room. I use to sit at a cubicle by myself. The first day I went there they said ‘Well we don’t eat lunch at our cubicles. There are three tables here provided and you can have your lunch here at these tables,” she said.

“Well, I did not know there were groups set up for the staff room, so I sat at the table that I thought was closest to me and when I got there there was absolute silence, it was so frigid (that) midway through my meal I took it up and I went back to my cubicle and I sat and I ate there, and that’s where I used to eat for a long time.

“But when I say nobody spoke to me I mean like there were no pleasantries, nobody welcomed me with open arms.”

Woods said the atmosphere she found was generally not relaxed, and was a surprise to her.

“It is not a relaxed atmosphere, you can always tell when something is brewing because there are instances when you will see pockets of conversation, you will see individuals meeting together and then others would be excluded and you get the impression that there is something and you are on edge because you are not sure what’s happening,” she recounted.

“It is only afterwards that the young people gravitated towards me, especially those in the English Department, and we would collaborate with each other on subject issues, topic issues, … but I kept to myself basically.”

Woods also said the Alexandra old girls mentality also became a factor when she was criticised by staff members, including the deputy principal after she planned the school’s graduation and did not stick to Alexandra colours exclusively.

“The decorations that I used were not blue and white exclusively. I used some green and some red and other colours and I was at a staff meeting which was chaired by the deputy principal, I was told that I should have used the school colours and it’s traditional to use the school colours…,” she said.

“There was blue and white too, but the children had expressly told me they were sick and tired of seeing blue and white and they wanted to see a celebration and to let the decorations reflect the celebration. I did try to enlist the assistance of some members of staff and nobody helped me, apart from the young junior teachers, I got assistance from them.” (SC)

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