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Principal suspended - Education officer to oversee Hanover school

Hopewell High board probing alleged irregularities at seven-year-old school

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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THE new school term at Hanover's Hopewell High will begin tomorrow without the presence of Principal Joyce Irving.

The veteran educator has been suspended by the school's board of governors after it launched a probe into what a senior education official described as "major irregularities" at the seven-year-old school.

Officials said that Irving had been asked to step aside while the probe is conducted, but declined to do so, resulting in her being suspended by the board.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites confirmed to the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the action had been taken against the woman who has been principal of the institution since it opened its doors to students from within the parish and nearby communities in September 2006.

"I have been made aware of it," Thwaites said. "The board has acted within its competence, according to the regulations, and the regional office in Montego Bay which governs Hanover is assisting with the inquiries and I trust that they will be done quickly and the

matter resolved.

"In the meanwhile, an education officer has been assigned to supervise the school," Thwaites told the Sunday Observer.

According to the minister, the education officer will effectively act as principal of the co-educational school which, by education ministry count, has a student population of approximately 1,200.

The school, located on the outskirts of the bustling Eastern Hanover town of Hopewell, on the way further west to another growing town, Sandy Bay, has not had an official opening by the Ministry of Education since classes began there. However, an education ministry source said that efforts were being made to have the function "by this January

or February".

"Whatever needs to be done, the purpose of the school is student achievement, and even if there are administrative and governance difficulties, we would like to settle these quickly without prejudice to anybody and to get ahead with the task of running a good school," Thwaites said.

Regarding the finer details of the investigation, Thwaites said that he was not privy to all the details.

"I don't know much. I just know that there have been these allegations and it is appropriate for the school board to conduct the required investigation and to seek help from the regional office and other personnel who can assist," he said.

There are allegations of financial irregularities and misconduct at the school, but officials have said that the finger of blame had not been solely pointed in Irving's direction. However, they maintained that there were grounds for the probe, following complaints made to the school board over the years, and to the Ministry of Education about certain occurrences.

The Sunday Observer also received correspondence sent to the school board by a former teacher on the school's staff, in which he accused Irving of not delivering on an agreement, which will not be published by this newspaper at this time, as the claims cannot

be substantiated.

Efforts to contact Hervin Stennett, a pastor and retired policeman who heads the school's board of governors, were unsuccessful.

Irving taught home economics at Mannings High School for several years before serving as principal of Bethel Primary and Junior High School in Hopewell, the feeder school to Hopewell High.

Irving could also not be reached for a comment, but the educator of over 30 years told a prize-giving function at the school last September that she remained confident that the relatively new institution would shake off its tag of being ranked at the bottom of the six high schools in the parish, by the Ministry of Education, based upon Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results.

"I am burdened like one of the prophets of old. I am burdened about the care of our children and regardless of how many CSECs we are measured by. I am learning now that of the six high schools in Hanover, we are at the bottom, and there are some remarks that we are less likely to succeed. But we burn that lie," Irving said then.

"Success, for me, is to be able to move a child from zero to 10. We have had persons whom we have placed in rehab who have come out with over nine subjects, inclusive of Physics and maths," she added.

The school, whose motto is Pioneers for Excellence, has had its share of disciplinary challenges, with students being the main perpetrators, but Irving in an earlier interview with the Observer, said that since the establishment of the school's turnaround movement, called the Renegades, there had been an improvement in discipline among students.

The Renegades, she said, comprised a group of male teachers who would, like police personnel, conduct regular "spot checks" at various locations on the school compound.

Hopewell High was thrown into controversy on July 26, 2010 when a man who sought full-time employment as a teacher on the school's staff, following a period of internship, was shot dead by a gunman, whom police said had gone there to attack Irving.

Irving had to lock herself inside her office, and reinforce the door with furniture when the gunman came after her.

The deceased man, a young pastor, was shot while he attempted to telephone police about the incident.

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