Anger at Cumberland High School

Parents, teachers, students plan protest after board snubs acting principal's bid for top job

BY TANESHA MUNDLE
Observer staff reporter
mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 13, 2019

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A recommendation by the Cumberland High board to bypass Acting Principal Darien Henry and appoint another person to head the school has enraged parents and students, who are planning a street protest for this Thursday.

“We want the Government to know that parents and students of this institution appreciate this man and we need him in our school. By doing this we want Government to understand that we're not doing it because of politics, we are doing it because of the love and appreciation for this man — so hopefully our voice will speak very loudly for him,” Parent-Teachers Association President Rebecca Reid told the Jamaica Observer last Wednesday.

According to Reid, the parents, including some who are threatening to pull their children from the school if Henry is not appointed principal, are contending that he has made tremendous strides in improving the school's academic performance and image over the past two years and, if allowed to continue, can turn the school around.

“It's not about the years you have spent, it's about what you do with the time and what Mr Henry has done in his short time. Can you imagine what he will do if he has more time?” she said, noting that he has improved the students' performance, general behaviour, and has instilled respect in the students.

Henry was reassigned from his post as lecturer at Excelsior by the education ministry in 2017 to act as principal for one term, after the last principal vacated the post following a fracas with a female student. Henry's contract has, however, been extended twice, as a decision has not been made on the official appointment of a principal.

However, last year Henry threw his hat in the ring for the top job and was shortlisted. But, despite scoring higher than his competitor, he was totally snubbed by the board which recommended only one person for the post — although it is required to recommend the top three candidates.

Chairman of the school board, Samuel Chambers, when asked why Henry was not recommended and if the board had a problem with his leadership, said, “I am unable to comment on the issue from where I sit, but the school has been showing signs of improvement.”

Henry's contract will expire at the end of August and in September there will be a new principal, if the board's recommendation is upheld by the Ministry of Education.

According to Reid, the parents, students, and staff — including teachers, administrative and ancillary — are in full support of Henry being appointed principal because of the significant changes he has made at the school.

She said prior to Henry's intervention, the school was being portrayed regularly in the media for negativity. Additionally, she said some of the students had severe behavioural problems, which amounted to regular fights on the compound.

Today, fights have reduced significantly and the students' behaviour and their performance have also improved greatly, because of the love and attention that Henry gives to the students.

“Even today, on Teachers' Day, a young lady came with a big mug to say 'Happy Teachers Day to the only don of Cumberland' — that was what was written on it,” Reid said.

“Kids have a love for him; and I am not saying him nuh ruff dem up, but you can know the difference when you ruff dem up with love. He is a stern person and a father figure to most of the kids that don't have a father. He speaks to them with a level of respect,” Reid said.

She said she has spoken to a number of students who have dubbed him the best principal they have encountered so far. The ancillary staff are speaking about the marked changes that they have seen in the students' deportment and behaviour, and are impressed with how they are treated by Henry.

Reid described Henry as a hands-on administrator, who is at the school gate early in the mornings, greeting students and ensuring that they are properly groomed.

“He is not just sitting in AC — he runs checks during the lunch break, making sure there is no fighting. That's why we don't have so much fight any more because he spends time doing different things, he takes on many roles — that is why the children call him 'one don', because he puts things in order,” she said.

Reid also told the Observer that Henry has monthly meetings with students from each grade, during which he asks their opinion on ways to improve the curriculum and teaching outcomes as well as the challenges they are having.

“He's really a good principal. For the two years that I have been around him he has involved every stakeholder, and he tries to help persons to be comfortable in whatever area that they're uncomfortable with,” Reid added.

Another parent, Mashika Smith, who is also the PTA vice-president, agreed.

“I have lived in the community for about seven years, and I've known the school; it was full of violence, gang-related,” Smith said, adding that Henry is making visible changes, which is one of the most commendable things about him.

“He's very caring, because he will get up from behind his desk and go out there and put things in place. I have seen him work more than other people who were just stuck at the school,” Smith said.

Smith, who has vowed to pull her child in first form from the school if Henry is not made principal, said a lot of other parents with whom she has spoken feel the same way.

One teacher, who spoke to the Observer on condition of anonymity, has threatened to leave if Henry is not appointed principal.

“I think him being replaced is quite an injustice, and if he goes, I go. Quite frankly, I am not willing to give another person a chance because I believe he (Henry) is doing his absolute best,” the teacher said.

According to the teacher, Henry is the type of principal that Cumberland needs at this time and, based on his vision for the school, he will definitely bring about a well-needed transformation.

“The Cumberland that I heard about is not the Cumberland I am experiencing right now, and it is because of Mr Henry being there. It is not the best, but definitely he has made some major changes where discipline is concerned...I just think he needs more support from the entire staff,” the teacher added.

“This is the first school I have been where a monthly staff meeting is held. We're always in the know with what is happening, what is about to happen, and we have received e-mails on decision-making,” the teacher told the Observer.

In the meantime, Henry, who is very disappointed about the board's decision, is questioning why he was not recommended.

“I applied for the job, and yes, I was the one who became the top person in the interview process. I was appraised and my appraisal came out exceeding expectations, 3.8 out of 4,” he said.

“I've been in a vacant post for nearly two years. I was appraised and I am performing; there is no question about my performance. What is the basis for not recommending me?” he asked.

When asked about the school's performance under his leadership, Henry indicated that Cumberland is being positioned to become a T-VET Centre of Excellence.

He said he has introduced an assessment and evaluation policy that guides the school in terms of how it tests and measures students' progress.

“Last year, we saw a significant jump in terms of student performance. There's a 100 per cent pass rate for agricultural science in the last academic year, 100 per cent pass rate for information technology, 89 per cent for theatre arts, 87 per cent for visual arts, and 70 per cent for English — and these are coming from an average of 30 per cent,” Henry disclosed.


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