Aiming for change
by Latoya Burnham
Princess Margaret Secondary School has had its fair share of stigma in the education system in Barbados.
But new Acting Principal Wayne Willock is aiming to change that and believes the process has already begun.
The office in which he leaned over a huge, darkly stained desk is an impressive one – not because of its size, but because of the wall of success at his back. There is a bookcase, some eight or ten feet tall that is literally crammed with medals, trophies and awards.
This is not the Princess Margaret many see. This is the Princess Margaret the man most know as Poonka, the entertainer and advocate of the cultural arts, wants all Barbados to be aware of.
He is an impressive man, a teacher for more than 30 years, fluent in Spanish and French, and passionate about these children he now leads.
Willock described himself as a disciplinarian, who nevertheless was not too aloof to meet his students and staff half-way.
“I think since I have been controlling the ship, even before that I have been able to get a better tone in the school by dealing with matters, as I would say I am a disciplinarian. I have my daughters and sons [the students] who will come and say hi daddy or come and shout me a lunch time and ask if they can eat lunch with me, but they know I am very strict on uniform and discipline and academic performance and so on. So it has to be a rounded approach and you have to be seen as normal and not so aloof that you can’t be approached either by students or teachers. I have an open door policy. You need to be seen in more than one light.”
The school recently hosted the Students Incentive Awards where students with 80 per cent or more in three subjects and up and those with perfect and near-perfect attendance were recognised for their successes. Willock said incentives like that helped both students and teachers because there was a direct link between attendance and performance as well as involvement in things like cultural activity.
When children performed well in other areas like stiltwalking, music or even road tennis which the school has as an inter-house sport, the acting principal said transferred into the classroom in self-esteem and motivation.
One of the things he wanted was for this self-esteem and motivation boost to then translate outside the school gates, onto the streets, where students would behave like models and ambassadors for the school, something he firmly believes will happen in time across the board.
For Willock this is a dream. Administration has always been one of his goals in education in the secondary school system. His is a history that started at Community High School, Barbarees Hill in 1977, under the leadership of D’Arcy Scott; and saw him moving to the Alleyne School in 1979 until he was transferred to Princess Margaret in 2011 as deputy principal.
His elevation to acting principal, he said, was one of the highlights of his career thus far.
“It is interesting that you don’t only have children to deal with – we have 1,000 children, about 60 teachers, about nine ancillary and some watchmen and of course the admin staff and everything passes through the principal. It is not an easy task. You have to be brave, you have to be focussed and time management is important. I think one of the good things is that I have a very good team of persons who rally around to make sure that certain events and activities are looked after as they ought to be.
“Even though I am the main decision-making person, I believe in allowing teachers to be totally involved and to make inputs in a meaningful way and to allow them to use their talents to the benefit of the students. They shouldn’t be stifled in any way unless it goes against policy. I believe that approach augurs well for participation and motivation of staff because I believe looking at staff is just as important as students,” he said, gesticulating.
In recent weeks his school has appeared in the media again, he acknowledge and not necessarily in a good light with one of the longstanding teachers vocally opposing the transfer to the Alexandra School with the shake-up of staff there. Willock said though that in the school, while the ripple might have been felt, things were progressing as normal.
“There has been a lot of stuff in the press and it has really been in relation to one school. I don’t hear my staff or students talking about it and the teachers are mainly BUT. I am the only BSTU person here, so even from a union point of view, I don’t have those sort of issues to deal with, fortunately with teachers out to meetings.
“So I would say I have been fortunate in that it hasn’t affected us. We’ve welcomed Mr. Marshall from Alexandra and life goes on. We have to put the children first and my priority has been to get the autotronics area covered.”
Willock said as far as that vacancy was concerned, he now had permission to source the teacher for that subject, a process he expected to be in an advanced stage by next Tuesday.
“That is being rectified in that I have permission to source and bring on board an autotronics teacher who will fill that void and take over for the most part that autotronics timetable, and the gentleman who is here, who has come in, Mr. Marshall, he has fitted in quite well from Alexandra and we will work out a course of events where we will spread the work among everybody. We are not complaining at all. Things happen, transfers took place and we will try to deal with that in the best way possible.”
What Willock wants to see though is Princess Margaret transformed into an institution of the future, where it does not only have to focus on academics or culture, but develop a strong base in the vocational areas as well.
He believes this has already been started with the schools offering of several courses as Caribbean Vocational Qualifications or CVQs.
“I like to concentrate on roundedness, if that is a word. I don’t believe we should go towards that great academic performance alone because the students from Common Entrance who come here are not automatically Alexandra or Combermere students. So the expectations cannot be the same but the exams are the same. So while we are pushing them towards being able to achieve the important CXCs you find the other things they do are just as important.
“That is why we are going to concentrate on CVQ where that vocational application, things like carpentry, masonry, cosmetology, autotronics, plumbing, woodwork, metalwork, these are the areas that we get involved in because they are hands-on. Students can leave being able to contribute within the society and that to me is one of the most important things. They must be relevant to 2013 and what is out there for them to do,” he stressed.
So whenever the position for full principal is advertised, Willock intends to be there offering himself to head this school to press this dream and this area in which he believes Princess Margaret Secondary could become a force to be reckoned with in the secondary level.