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Arbitrator rules Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy principal must take leadership training

The principal of Bermuda’s only special school must be given leadership training, according to an arbitrator who found she poorly managed a high-flying and dedicated teacher.

Dena Butterfield-Lister, head of Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy, was deemed to have dealt badly with Claudia DeSilva, leading to a “poor working environment” at the Devonshire school.

Arbitrator Marc Telemaque said in his ruling that at least one of the school’s pupils was affected by the “incredibly tense” relationship between the two women. He said the African proverb “when elephants fight, it is the grass who suffers” summed up the situation of a little boy whose needs were handled so poorly that one of his parents complained to the Ministry of Education.

Mr Telemaque said Mrs DeSilva did her part by advocating for a change in academic surroundings for the child but it was unclear if anything was done. He said there were “denials of responsibility from all concerned” and a “lack of accountability at all levels”.

The arbitrator also took the Ministry to task in his ruling, criticising a “potentially dangerous” conflict in its hiring procedures and chastising it for failing to ensure all teachers were trained in the new Cambridge curriculum.

The arbitration, which took place earlier this year, was held after two grievances were filed by special needs teacher Mrs DeSilva against Dr Lister.

The press was banned from attending the proceedings but

The Royal Gazette has obtained a copy of Mr Telemaque’s ruling, released on September 22.

He upheld Mrs DeSilva’s first grievance, filed on March 4, 2010, in which she complained about being given a letter of insubordination by the principal for failing to submit data.

Mr Telemaque said “too much confusion” surrounded the issue and he did not find Mrs DeSilva to have been insubordinate. He ordered the Ministry to “set the standard” for data collection at the school.

In the second and more extensive grievance filed on August 9, 2010, Mrs DeSilva alleged that Dr Lister:

n thwarted her attempts to be appointed deputy principal because she saw her as a threat;

n denied her access to the school out of hours, while giving access to others;

n denied her school supplies, while allowing them to others;

n denied her request to attend training on the Cambridge curriculum;

n unfairly prevented her from working on the after-school programme;

n deliberately excluded her from working at the school’s Christmas and summer camps; and

n failed to post a job advert for the deputy principal’s post;

The teacher, who joined Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy in 2009, also made “serious allegations” about the Ministry, claiming senior personnel took sides with Dr Lister and gave her no support.

Mr Telemaque found that Dr Lister did not wage a campaign against Mrs DeSilva securing the deputy principal’s post.

The principal told him in evidence she wanted someone else to get the job and the arbitrator said too much account was taken of her views by the Ministry.

“The evidence indicates a potentially dangerous conflict in the hiring process,” he said. “The potential became real in this case because Dr Lister’s fight for who she wanted came to be interpreted as a fight against a particular applicant, Mrs DeSilva.”

He said it was clear the hiring of teachers needed to be better managed by the Ministry and the “role of principals in the process be reviewed to ensure fairness and transparency”.

Mr Telemaque did not uphold the complaints about school access, school supplies and Cambridge curriculum training. He said other teachers at Dame Marjorie also missed out on the training and rebuked the Ministry for leaving it to principals to decide who attended.

Mrs DeSilva, he said, appeared on the evidence to be “a high-flyer, committed, qualified and perhaps the best teacher on the school’s staff”.

Mr Telemaque found no satisfactory reason for her exclusion from the after-school programme and said it was “more likely than not that Dr Lister did not want Mrs DeSilva to work” the Christmas camp.

He upheld the complaint about the summer camp and said it was “likely” the deputy principal’s job advert was not posted as it should have been.

“The atmosphere at Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy, as conveyed by the witnesses, does not sound like a ‘tight ship’,” he concluded, adding: “I don’t think Dr Lister knew how to manage Mrs DeSilva”.

He said he did not think he had the power to order the removal of the principal from the school, which has about 25 pupils with multiple physical and cognitive challenges, and was not minded to do so in any case.

Instead, he ordered her to undergo a “course of man management, specifically to enhance skills of effective communication, leadership techniques in the school setting and management of staff/personnel”.

Dr Lister and Mrs DeSilva declined to comment yesterday. The Ministry of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

Useful website: http://schools.moed.bm.

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Published September 29, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated September 29, 2011 at 10:07 am)

Arbitrator rules Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy principal must take leadership training

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