Broomes' battles

former secretary tells of uneasy relations between alexandra principal and some of his staff

by Shawn Cumberbatch

Relations between embattled Alexandra School Principal Jeff Broomes and some senior members of his teaching staff were so volatile that one of them, now retired, contemplated beating him with “a piece of two-by-four”.

And the woman who divulged the threat today, Broomes’ former Secretary Betty Williams, said this was just a fraction of the turbulence, characterised by shouting matches in front of students and involving parents.

Additionally, Williams claims disregard for her role as secretary, his abusive behaviour and treatment of her drove her into retirement late last year.

She was testifying at the Commission of Enquiry into Alexandra today at the Wildey Gymnasium, during a dramatic period of evidence before Commissioner Frederick Waterman.

While she did not give the year, the witness said the teacher who threatened to “lick down” Broomes was then English Department head Margot Clarke.

“It was terrible with them. One day Mrs. Clarke went into the office and [when] she came out, she was angry. She said to me ‘I am going to get a piece of two by four and I am going to lick him down with it’. She was angry, angry, angry,” she recalled.

She said another teacher successfully persuaded Clarke from thoughts of hitting Broomes by warning her she would “end up in jail”.

Describing herself as “a no-nonsense person”, Williams said she faced the brunt of the principal’s anger and shouting on more than one occasion, including when she asked him about a letter she had not written, but an official from another school asked her about.

“Next morning he came in, I was cool, calm and collected. I said ‘Mr. Broomes I need to see you for a minute’. I said ‘When you are sending off correspondence please check for the errors and everything because it is a reflection on me’,” she noted.

“Before I could say anything more he burst out at me and carried on, carried on at a rate and every time I tried to say something he shout me down and I was so angry that I really had to tell him off that morning, and his response to me was ”Mrs. Williams I hope I never see you like this again. I was tired of his behaviour.”

Questioned by counsel Hal Gollop, who is representing the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union and its members at Alexandra, the former secretary said she first saw “a drift” in relations with Broomes six years ago when after initially being asked to edit his books when he produced them, the school head did not even allow her to write his letters. Gollop: “Would you say Mr. Broomes drove you into retirement?”

Williams: “Yes he did. I am 57 years old and I had planned to go to 60 and with his behavior I said for my piece of mind let me come home where I know I would be comfortable.”

Williams also said she was so frustrated and fed up that she did not speak to the school inspection team in 2010 when they asked for her opinion of Broomes.

“When I was questioned, because I was told I had to say something, … I said let me tell you something ‘I am not saying anything for or against Mr. Broomes. I am in the departure lounge and I will be going home shortly. I have nothing to say, whoever comes after me will have to deal with him. So that is why you didn’t see anything from me,” she testified, adding she feared being victimised by the principal.

“Many days I (would) go to school and I don’t know what is going to butt up on me, I don’t know what is going to transfer one day from the next and it started taking a toll on me.

“Sometimes if he had something to say to me a child might be there… It triggered something in me and I would shout back at him and then you hear ‘Come Mrs. Williams, come Mrs. Williams, come into the office’. I know to myself it wasn’t right but if you have some person doing this, don’t care whoever it is there, if you have something to say to me take me into your office and say it on a one-to-one basis.”

Williams insisted she was not at the enquiry to speak against Broomes and was merely there to “stand for principle, and what is right and the truth”.

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