BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment email@example.com
TARRANT High School Principal Garfield Higgins is resolute that he will not be forced from his position despite attempts by the school board to oust him, as well as discontent among some teachers who are adamant that they will not work with him.
A decision by the board to terminate Higgins' service is now before the Supreme Court after the principal sought an injunction to stay his dismissal from the Kingston school.
According to Higgins, who has held the job for just under two years, the discontent is because of his drive to eliminate the level of tardiness, chronic lateness and non-performance among some teachers.
However, the teachers have accused him of being vindictive and disrespectful.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Education was called in to intervene after teachers stayed away from classrooms for the morning session to attend a meeting to decide how they would deal with further issues concerning the principal.
According to Higgins, the friction started after he found it necessary to implement measures to address and chronicle, among other things, the lateness of teachers. The records, he added, were there to show that lateness has been a chronic problem with one teacher being late 89 times, another 69 and yet another 61 times last year.
"[A total of] 286 hours were lost in one year of teaching and learning time," the principal said, adding that he has been a stickler for teachers coming to work on time, attentiveness to lesson planning and getting to class on time."
He added: "If they were working at the bank and they were late this many times in one year they would be out of a job, and so I tell them they must go to class on time and give a full day's work for a full day's pay."
Higgins said among the other issues with which teachers were disgruntled was his decision to put an end to them selling merchandise to students and the privatisation of the canteen and the bookshop which was being operated by teachers. "Since then, there has been some friction," he told the Jamaica Observer.
Higgins said the teachers have also objected to him making unscheduled visits to their classrooms, claiming their space was being invaded.
According to Higgins, the school has seen an improvement in both academics and discipline since his tenure, with 100 per cent passes in Spanish, Home and Family, Religious Education, and 52 per cent in English, up from the 16.3 per cent it was in 2008.
But the teachers say the principal's management style has caused him to lose the respect of both teachers and students alike.
The teachers, who spoke with the Observer on condition of anonymity, said the problem started from very early in Higgins' tenure.
Regarding the claim of a chronic problem with lateness, the teachers said this was only the case with about four of the 63 teachers on staff.
"He has singled out these teachers and wants it to appear that his measures have been the source of the problem but it is his disrespectful and vindictive behaviour," one teacher alleged.
Commenting on the bookshop issue, teachers said proceeds from it were given to the school and the students' welfare when it was being operated by their peers.
The teachers alleged that at the heart of the problem is a teacher who the principal has since put in charge of the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) and the summer school programme. The entire English Department, they said, was ousted from the English room so the teacher could use the sppace.
The Ministry of Education, the teachers said, has ordered that the room to be returned to the teachers and for another person to take over the co-ordination of the CAP.
"You can't single-handedly appoint one person and you take a staffroom and have that one person occupy that space," one teacher said. The teacher added that those displaced were 'kotching' all over the place.
The teachers said it was not true that the academic improvements came about because of the principal's intervention as shortly before his appointment the school recorded the best grades in its history.
"We challenge him to tell us how he has contributed to academics of the school. We are challenging him to a one-to-one interview and we can flesh this out in the media," said one teacher.
"We are saying we will not work with Mr Higgins, won't work with him and we won't be satisfied until he leaves. In the best interest of the school he needs to go," said another.