Minister has many apologies to go
Last week, I read that the Minister of Education planned to drop the intention to move East End students to Whitney Institute Middle School. I was encouraged that the minister finally listened to the voices of the Parent Teacher Student Associations.
On Friday morning, I tuned in to the House of Assembly hoping to hear the minister confirm that he would halt the plan. It would be a difficult pill for the minister to swallow, but it would show that he felt the pressure and listened to his stakeholders.
Unfortunately, the minister did not announce that the plan would be halted. Instead, he chose to give an apology when he rose to his feet. The apology was for the handling of the transition meetings. The apology was surrounded by a listing of all the consultations and meetings that were held.
This made the apology appear hollow. Was the minister apologising or simply saying his stakeholders did not listen to all the information that they had been provided?
What he should have been apologising for is his lack of listening to stakeholders. The movement that has started with the PTSAs gathering on April 27 is not going away. The minister should not think that the hollow apology and time will make this mess disappear.
He needs to apologise to the teachers that have been left frustrated by a process that has made many think long and hard about leaving the profession.
The minister needs to apologise for not properly engaging with the West End Warriors that want to save a school with real historical significance.
The minister needs to apologise to the stakeholders that watched the video where he showed that their opinions were not valued and would not be addressed.
The minister needs to apologise to the parents of special needs students because they have not been made a priority.
Education needs to be about teaching and learning. Teachers need to be supported and feel supported because they have the most important job. We cannot name a job that was not influenced by a teacher.
The parents, teachers and students need to know they can trust leadership. There are too many issues in this education reform that have broken that trust, and the minister wasted an opportunity by giving that hollow apology in the House of Assembly.
This is not the time for arrogance from leadership because you feel you know better. You put forward a plan to ship all the students out of the East End and move them to Whitney, even though parish primary schools were supposed to be the community hub according to your plan.
Can the minister explain the impact on the East End community by shipping out all students? Why present that plan when Whitney had severe reservations and the building is not prepared for the change in age groups.
Parents, teachers and students are demanding better, and they deserve better. If the minister is unwilling to change direction and start to really listen, then he needs to resign. Consultation does not mean you will agree with everything that the stakeholders suggest, but if you are not willing to listen you will never have buy-in.
• Ben Smith, the One Bermuda Alliance’s Senate Leader, is the Shadow Minister of Education and the approved candidate for Southampton West Central (Constituency 31)
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