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October 7, 2011
Union Island Secondary Deputy Head sent on leave

An attempt by the Deputy Principal of the Union Island Secondary School (UISS) to have Physics and Principles of Accounts included on that school’s curriculum set in train a series of events, which had the school in a state of unrest, and may have led to him being sent on leave.{{more}}

For the past two weeks or so, Deputy Principal of the UISS, Anthony Stewart, had been circulating a “No child left behind people’s petition”, seeking the support of “concerned citizens”.

By the morning of Wednesday, October 5, Stewart said he had collected 230 signatures. He told SEARCHLIGHT that later that day, he intended to ask the Minister of Education to sign the petition, as he was on the mainland for a meeting of principals of secondary schools.

However, Stewart may have to put his campaign on hold, as shortly after the principals’ meeting, he was instructed to proceed on vacation leave until the end of the year.

SEARCHLIGHT received a copy of Stewart’s petition, which said: “We want our children to have the opportunity to become scientists, engineers, doctors and accountants.” The petition also called for the school day at the UISS to be allowed to remain from 8:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT last week, Stewart explained that Principal of the school Godwin James was on vacation leave until the end of the term.

He said although he was not asked to manage the school by the Ministry of Education, as Deputy Principal, he did what the he normally does, and went ahead preparing the timetable and planning professional development week.

He said he included Physics and Principles of Accounts on the timetable as he felt these were subjects that students at the UISS needed to be given the opportunity to write.

“Our top students are going to A’level college and they can’t do what they want to do, because the business students need accounts and the science students need Physics,” Stewart explained.

He said that in order to accommodate the two extra subjects, he added an additional hour of instructional time to each day’s schedule, by starting classes at 8:00 a.m., shortening the breaks and ending school at 3:15 p.m. He said this also allowed for each class in the school to have an hour of Mathematics every day.

The Deputy Principal said Accounts had been taught at the school before, but was stopped as there was no teacher. He said there is now someone on staff with A’level Accounts who is willing to teach the subject. In relation to Physics, Stewart said one staff member is an engineer, “who has been asking to teach physics for the longest while.”

However, a teacher at the school, Abdon Whyte, told SEARCHLIGHT that while the staff supports the introduction of Accounts and Physics on the curriculum, they had their doubts as to whether this was the right time, as they were short staffed. They, however, agreed to give it a try.

“We agreed to a number of things during professional development week. When we came to school at the start of the term, everything had changed,” Whyte, who is also president of the Parent Teacher Association, said.

He said while the teachers had agreed to do extra work, they did not agree to the lengthening of the school day.

“He was cutting down on the break, starting school earlier, finishing school actually later. He did not ask us if we agreed to that and he did not advise the Ministry,” Whyte said.

Whyte said the first week of the term went fairly well, but at the beginning of the second week, the timetable was changed again.

“Some teachers had timetables where they were teaching three straight days without a rest,” Whyte said.

“We were begging him for a staff meeting. He was avoiding a meeting with the staff.”

According to Whyte, Stewart said the teachers could not have a meeting as the students could not be left unsupervised.

Finally, on Monday, September 19, the teachers asked the students not to come back to school after lunch.

“So we said, if there are no students, there is nobody to supervise,” Whyte explained, adding that this allowed them to have their staff meeting.

He said at the meeting, they tried to arrive at a solution to their problems.

“We said, look Mr. Stewart, this thing just ain’t working… we were still looking at ways to make this thing work.”

“We suggested 50 minute periods, which would allow for the school to retain the 6 periods a day, including Physics and Accounts, without extending the length of the school day….” Whyte said, adding that Stewart refused to budge.

Stewart admitted to SEARCHLIGHT that the teachers had a problem with some of his changes, as his timetable had resulted in some teachers teaching classes they did not want to teach. He said he asked the teachers to put in writing what their grouses were, but no one responded.

“We have a mischievous teacher on staff; created their own chaos, called up the Ministry to say the school is in chaos. Last week Monday (September 19), the teacher sent home students, telling them not to come back in the afternoon,” Stewart said.

On Tuesday, September 20, a delegation from the Ministry of Education, comprising Deputy Chief Education Officer Beverly Neptune, Senior Education Officer/Secondary Schools Carlton Hall and Senior Education Officer Elizabeth Walker visited the school and met with Stewart and members of the staff.

Stewart said during that visit, he was accused of not following the school’s development plan.

“I told them everything in the development plan is on the timetable. We are doing everything that they say we must do, and in addition to that, we are doing Physics and Accounts. We have done it by adding an extra hour of instructional time.”

Following that visit, Chief Education Officer (CEO) Lou-anne Gilchrist instructed Stewart to withdraw Principles of Accounts and Physics from the curriculum and to revert to the previous commencement, lunch and closing times of the school day by Monday, September 26.

Stewart, however, was unwilling to remove the two additional subjects.

“I am a champion of the Education Revolution. This school is a product of the Education Revolution. We are number four in terms of performance based on this year’s results, and we should not be left behind in any point at all. I do not see that the government could be arguing against this. I think they are the ones who should be put in the spotlight, not me.”

Whyte said Stewart was unwilling to prepare a new timetable, so the teachers made their own timetable, which was completed by Tuesday, September 27.

“Who do we follow? Do we follow him, or the Ministry of Education? By Tuesday, the five hour timetable was finished, the teachers decided to start implementing the new timetable the next day, Wednesday. The teachers showed him, but he did not approve it,” Whyte said.

That is when chaos seems to have broken out at the school, with Stewart trying to enforce his timetable, and the teachers, theirs.

“I called in the police this morning, because Abdon Whyte had a bell, ringing it at contrary times, contrary to the timetable,” Stewart told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, September 28.

“We have the official bell in the principal’s office that I ring when it is time to ring the bell, and he is ringing the bell contrary to that. I called the police to try to get the bell from him. They did not get the bell from him.”

Whyte, however, told SEARCHLIGHT that although he is being blamed, the bell was rung by different teachers at different times.

“When his bell rang at 8:00, the teachers’ bell rang at 8:15, his bell rang at 9:00, the teachers bell rang at 9:25…,” Whyte explained.

“He was ringing the start and finish of his timetable, and we were doing the same for ours,” he added.

“He came to the staff room to look for the bell, but could not find the bell. So he called in Black Squad,” Whyte said.

“I don’t know if I am wrong, but I think the role of the Ministry is to set the policy, but not interfere with the day-to-day running of the school,” Stewart said.

Whyte said for the balance of last week, things settled down somewhat, as the teachers continued to work by their timetable, but did not ring their bell.

He, however, said that the situation had reached the stage where the teachers were considering writing to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union, informing them that if the matter was not resolved by the week ending September 30, they would consider industrial action, as they felt the Ministry was taking too long to resolve the situation.

He made it clear they did not necessarily want the removal of Stewart, but wanted order to be brought back to the institution.

Stewart received his letter instructing him to take vacation leave from October 5 to December 31, 2011, shortly after attending the meeting of Principals of Secondary schools, in Kingstown, on October 5.

Stewart, however, in a letter dated October 5, requested of the Chief Education Officer that he be granted all his vacation leave (109 days) as well as study leave to take him to the end of August 12, 2012.

He informed the CEO that he had completed the coursework towards his PhD in Education Administration at the Northern Caribbean University, and needed the time to collect data and write his dissertation.