Published On: Tue, Nov 13th, 2018

Academy school board gets most of the blame for dispute with teachers

St. Maarten Academy PSVE SchoolPHILIPSBURG – The situation at the St. Maarten Academy PSVE (Preparatory Secondary Vocational Education) remains volatile now that the board led by former Justice Minister Roland Duncan has refused to remove principal Lavern Nelson from her position. Minister Wycliffe Smith (Education) has stepped in and produced a report that takes the school board to task.

The tension between principal, teachers and other staff is sky high. While Smith’s report does not shy away from identifying the place of teachers and staff in the hierarchy of the school organization, he puts most of the blame on the school board and its principal.

The conflict at the school surfaced already at the beginning of the school year. Teachers expressed their dissatisfaction about Nelson’s communication skills and about warning letters they had received for turning up late for class. The dismissal of internship coordinator Zeynep Sabahoglu (see related story) is just one example of everything that is wrong at the school.

In his detailed report about the situation at the school, Minister Smith formulated eight recommendations. Five of them are directed at the school board and the principal, two at the teachers and one at the teachers union.

Minister Smith notes that the school board should change its communication strategy towards the teachers, the staff and the Windward Islands Teachers Union (Witu). A second recommendation is that the board “should demonstrate the necessary respect” to teachers, staff and union. Smith furthermore encourages the board to hire a change manager for a period of six to twelve months and to attract new board members.

Principal Nelson mentioned in a presentation to the teachers five stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. Smith notes in his report that principal Nelson plays a “pivotal role” in holding her team together during each of these stages. “The principal is however not able to lead the storming group out of the storming phase because this group sees the principal as the cause of the storm,” the minister’s report states. In other words, as long as teachers consider principal Nelson as the cause of all problems, Nelson will not be able to get everybody on the same page again; hence the minister’s recommendation to hire a change manager.

Teachers also have their responsibilities, Smith points out: they should “demonstrate respect for the school board and the principal” and they should “abide by the policies and rules laid down by the board and the principal.”

Lastly, Minister Smith has a message for Claire Elshot’s teachers union: “The union should continue to protect the rights of the teachers. At the same time it should remind teachers of their duty towards the board, the management and the students.”

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Related stories and report:
FAVE mediation report
FAVE has to pay big for wrongful dismissal guidance counselor
The responsibility of school boards” by Hilbert Haar