Tough call either way

Heads, you lose; tails, you lose!

The saying needs no explaining; but if the Alexandra situation of the past few months had been given even a second thought, it would have been obvious that the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development was bound to end up in the current impasse.

From day one Alexandra has been a complicated mess, made all the more difficult by the failure to act by persons who were empowered to do so. But as we are all so fond of repeating, better late than never, and the fact that the ministry moved to change the status quo at the Speightstown school ahead of the new term can’t be faulted.

Perhaps heads wiser than ours, particularly some of the veterans in education and education management, would be able to point to more efficient or effective routes, but in the end decisions had to be made. There really was no way that students could have been returned to that environment for another term, while those responsible for the delivery of education services retain any moral claim to that title.

What we find amazing is that anyone with any sense of understanding of management — proper and effective management, that is — could have believed that the recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry would have resolved such a complex matter where the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and the teachers it represents had drawn a line in the sand, which clearly they had no intention of shifting.

We also do not understand how anyone with an understanding of the complexities of the Alexandra situation could have expected that “separating Jeff Broomes”, firing Roger Broomes, reprimanding Amaida Greaves and shifting the deputy principal at some convenient date in the future would create the quality teaching/learning environment sought.

Even if the history of the Alexandra impasse could be rewritten to place all the blame on the shoulders of the principal, as some would want, the fact is that the situation had evolved to include almost the entire staff in one way or the other and nothing less than sweeping change would have sufficed.

As we have said before, we do not wish to give the impression that Broomes has clean hands in this matter or that we are holding some brief for him, because an effective manager would never have allowed the affair to degenerate into what it had become. But we remain firmly of the view that transplanting any manager into the environment that existed would have been a recipe for failure.

Yes, based on what we have seen, it does appear that the ministry has not effectively matched departing teachers with their replacements in a number of instances, but in the right working environment and with a clear demonstration of its own willingness to listen to and act on the advice of the school’s management, a turn-around does not have to be any distance off.

Alexandra does not have to be a failed institution! We do not believe it is even close. But it is also not close to being an optimum learning environment — certainly, not what those who dedicated their lives to building Alexandra for more than a century would have sought to create.

We would not be so presumptuous as to tell the BSTU what to do to demonstrate its disappointment with the ministry’s action, but we would advise its leaders to read carefully public sentiment. We dare to say that any attempt at industrial action by this union would be met by little to zero public support. We do not believe it has rebuilt the huge amount of public sentiment capital in expended in the last episode of strikes.

One final note. By virtue of its mass transfer route, in a sense the Alexandra affair has now been widened to touch just about every secondary school on the island. We would admonish all principals not to receive teachers transferred from Alexandra the way a warden welcomes new prisoners to his institution. Teachers must be received as part of an administrative process and not a punitive exercise.

The best introduction, we suggest, would be one that does not include “I don’t want you to bring any of your Alexandra foolishness here!”, or however else stated, as we know some of our heads seem naturally inclined to do.

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