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Who is liable?

Yesterday, when he addressed persons attending a panel discussion put on by human resource management practitioners, controversial school principal Matthew Farley expressed concerns about the involvement of non-educators in the management of academic institutions.

Farley, veteran educator and head of the Graydon Sealy Secondary School, formerly the Garrison Secondary School, made reference to the issues raised during the Commission of Enquiry into events at the Alexandra School, where a major part of the problem appeared to be differences between the principal and the board – but particularly between the principal and the chairman of the board.

We readily accept that where ever men and women of different thoughts gather there is bound to be some differences of opinion; and in a sense that could mean differences will come to the fore whenever two individuals come together.

But we have to wonder whether the problem is non-educators operating in an educational institution, or the selection of the wrong people without clear guidelines on where boundaries are set. For sure, the long established practice of selecting board members, and not just for schools, based on what a political party, politician or friendship may owe an individual cannot be the best formula for guaranteeing optimum results.

However, persons who operate businesses, or moguls who head large corporations, will often tell you when they select or recommend persons to sit on their boards they choose persons, who though they understand and appreciate their “philosophy” will not be afraid to challenge them across the table. It is in the context of robust, but respectful, discussion that ideas grow flesh and decisions that lead to profit are developed.

A part of the problem in our schools probably rests more on a lack of clarity on whether a principal is accountable to a chairman; or whether a principal, satisfied he is answerable to the ministry for what occurs in his school, will make the final decision on the basis that “The buck stops with me”.

Quite frankly, while all roads may lead to the principal in the day-to-day management of a school, given human nature, we do not believe that everything that goes into the broad policy direction of such an institution should come from the head, his management team.

In fact, the conduct of some principals ought to be a warning to all right thinking people that not being obligated to consider the input of others, particularly non-staff and non-educators, would only lead to the creation of dictatorships, run by a number of Stalinesque types. Considering human frailties, which can often be inflamed by oversized egos or an undersized portion of self confidence, all our schools would be better served by the presence of “outsiders” offering meaningful input. But the right outsiders; not those who believe their selection is to do a minister’s, prime minister’s or political party’s bidding at the expense of all others.

Particularly in the case of chairmen, we believe the selection process should be such that it guarantees only the best fit. Persons who have a history of antagonism, who can’t be convinced to bend under any circumstances, who are rabidly political in their disposition, and who are clearly not known to be people oriented ought not to be selected to chair school boards – no matter whose friend they are or what the party owes them.

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