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Our children are not sacrificial lambs

August 30, 2013

Dear Sir,

This most recent maelstrom of controversy surrounding the hiring of the newest Commissioner of Education on the eve of the opening of the 2013-14 school year is very disturbing to say the least. Last evening on the local news, we were treated to an appalling display of ineffective leadership by the Permanent Secretary of Education, Warren Jones. Mr Jones dismissed the concerns and disquiet in the community as being simply those of disgruntled and unsuccessful applicants for the job. How disrespectful and condescending of him ... not the characteristics of an effective leader, by the way!

One would have to assume, even if one bought into his explanation, that these applicants were fellow professionals who perceived themselves to be seasoned, qualified and ready to fulfil the responsibilities required in this position, and yet their Permanent Secretary clearly sees them very differently as underlings who just need to stop whining and “get over it”. Is this the type of “teamwork” that the students, teachers, principals and parents can rely upon to move our system forward. How does someone, who clearly appears to have no understanding of what effective leadership looks and sounds like, determine whether such leadership is present in others? If we continue to have such a dearth of effective leadership in the Ministry, how can effective leadership be cultivated, nurtured and identified in our school system?

Where has the succession plan been all this time anyway? You may recall that the first Commissioner of Education was Dr Henry Johnson, who was instrumental in crafting most of the changes in the Amended Education Act 2008, which included this new title/role for the Department of Education, that of Commissioner of Education. His successor, Wendy McDonell, a Bermudian, has just retired and in all this time (five years), it is evident from this latest development, that no person(s) has been trained to take on the post. Who should be held responsible for that? It would seem that this buck stops at Mr Jones' door as well.

It is important also to remind folks that based on the Amended Education Act 2008, the Board of Education is responsible for the hiring and supervision of the Commissioner of Education. So they, in the person of the chairperson or his designate should be responding to public concerns and allaying fears if they can. If this is what happened in the person and presentation by Mr Jones last evening, then our public school system is in deep trouble. How can any organisation move forward with such a clear level of disrespect and mistrust within its leadership?

Public Education in Bermuda deserves so much better; and unless and until the citizens of this country demand better we will continue to get what we get. Our children, and ultimately our way of life, are the sacrificial lambs at the altar of individualistic, self-serving, authoritarian, punitive and uncaring attitudes and behaviours displayed by too many who have been entrusted with their well-being. Shame! Shame! Let's just pray that the new commissioner isn't of a similar ilk. This is not about politics, and political parties, (Politicians cannot by law hire civil servants) this is about doing what is right by and for our children. All children!

If there was indeed no one in Bermuda “right” for the position of Commissioner at this time and the successful candidate is according to Mr Jones, “the right person for the job”. Then the public needs to know what makes him the “right” person. What has he done? What does he bring with him aside from the controversy he left in his wake and maybe whom he knows in Bermuda? And also what “job” specifically is he required to do?

What can we, the public, expect him to do during his three year contract that no other Bermudian educator is capable of doing? What should we be looking for in terms of change in public education for the better? What is the Board of Education looking for? Maybe if we knew these two things, his appointment might be less of a concern and there would be less controversy as we begin the upcoming school year. Such controversy certainly does not make for a healthy learning environment and a positive start to the school year.

RETIRED BUT NOT ASLEEP

Photo by Glenn Tucker Bermuda Department of Education Permanent Secretary Warren Jones speaks during an education Press conference last week where he defended the choice of newly appointed Education Commissioner Edmond Heatley.

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Published September 03, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 02, 2013 at 8:02 pm)

Our children are not sacrificial lambs

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