SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — There is a gathering storm over the appointment of a new board of management for St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS).
Members of the STETHS fraternity are incensed that there was no consultation with them prior to the appointment of a new chairman and three others who will effectively represent the Government on the new school board.
The recommendations were initially made by Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth North Eastern Delroy Slowley. The four recommended individuals were subsequently nominated by the National Council on Education (NCE) and then approved by Minister of Education Fayval Williams.
The appointments take effect on April 1.
A strongly worded letter written by STETHS Principal Keith Wellington to NCE executive director Merris Murray, which oversees public educational institutions, alleges that the nominations made by that organisation without “customary consultation” are an insult to the STETHS fraternity and the wider Santa Cruz.
The letter noted that STETHS, established in 1961 following intense lobbying by the Santa Cruz Citizens' Association of the day, is celebrating its 60th year.
High among the grouses highlighted by Wellington in his letter — which did not name Slowley — is that three of the four NCE nominees, including the incoming chairman, are past students of Munro College, with no previous affiliation to STETHS.
Checks by the Jamaica Observer suggest that the other person is a STETHS past student.
Wellington, a Munro old boy who has been an educator at STETHS for 25 years, including the last 14 as principal, said in his letter that the NCE's nomination of the four board members without consultation “can only be viewed as a disservice — slap in the face — to the STETHS family”.
The NCE is a statutory body which, among other duties, nominates a specified number of school board members through a governance committee led by Doran Dixon, a former president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association.
When contacted by telephone on Wednesday, Slowley, also a Munro old boy — whose constituency includes Santa Cruz as its main town — insisted that there was no intent to disrespect STETHS when he made his recommendations.
“We have selected persons who we consider to be competent ... these persons were recommended on the basis of networking and persons who I consider competent, able, and available to serve,” he said.
Slowley appeared to suggest that schools attended by the four people were not factored in when he made his recommendations. “This was not something pre-planned,” he said.
When contacted, Dixon assertively supported Slowley's position, insisting that “proper process was followed” in line with the Education Act of 1980 which covers the governance of schools including the appointment and conduct of school boards.
Dixon noted that section 71 of the Education Act, which deals with school boards for publicly-owned secondary schools, has no requirement for “consultation with anyone”.
The Education Act also has no requirement for any elected politician, other than the education minister, to have a say in the appointment of school boards.
However, Dixon said there was “a long-standing practice” for recommendations to school boards by a Member of Parliament to be accepted after what he called “due diligence”.
The role of politicians other than the minister in the appointment of school boards has long been a contentious issue. Back in 2015, then Education Minister Ronald Thwaites of the then ruling People's National Party (PNP) claimed he had put an end to the practice of MPs effectively appointing chairpersons of school boards.
Thwaites said at the time that he had set up a new consultation-based system to ensure fairness in the selection process.
“When I came to the ministry the Member of Parliament's nomination was pretty much absolute in terms of the appointment of a chairman of each school board. Yes, the MP is the people's representative and does have a right to say something, but not to appoint. I've had to turn back letters from colleagues saying I'm appointing so and so as the chairman of this school in my constituency. With the greatest of respect — no!” Thwaites said at an Observer Monday Exchange at the time.
However, in defending the system used in the NCE's selection of the new chairman and three members of the STETHS board, Dixon said that “The MP (Slowley), as far as we know, has recommended in good faith these people...”
He argued that “the fact that (three of the four) went to Munro is not a [worthwhile] concern”.
Wellington's letter — copied to various stakeholders including the Ministry of Education, Slowley, and STETHS alumni groups at home and abroad — made it very clear that he thought the decision by the NCE to largely ignore those close to STETHS, while opting to appoint three Munro alumni as its representatives was extremely offensive.
“While to the uninitiated this might seem a trivial matter, those who have constantly offered their full support to their alma mater have already raised concern ... This concern is precipitated by the fact that the successes of the school have been built on the contribution of our alumni whose pride drive them in making the sacrifices required,” Wellington said.
“To suggest by way of these appointments that the governance of the institution is better off without their input is not in keeping with the enviable culture of ownership that we have built over the last six decades,” he added.
Without calling names, Wellington observed that “two of the four appointees live and work outside of the parish, another is a sitting member of the municipal corporation with a full-time position as a classroom teacher, who has also been appointed to multiple boards by the NCE, while the fourth is unknown to the STETHS community”.
The Observer can confirm that the councillor referred to by Wellington is Christopher Williams of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) who represents the Santa Cruz Division in St Elizabeth North Eastern. Williams is the lone JLP councillor in the constituency.
Wellington, a highly respected school leader and head of the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), described as “inconceivable” what he said were reports coming to him that no NCE member of school boards in the constituency had been returned to their respective boards of management.
He reiterated that absence of “consultation” that would normally take place at the local level before the final recommendations are made to the education minister had led to a failure to appoint the “best possible” school boards.
Editor's note: Garfield Myers is a STETHS old boy.