“You can have great teachers, but if you don’t have a good principal, you won’t have a good school”- Eli Broad

Are you satisfied with the level of leadership at your child’s school? This is the perennial question often asked by parents and other stakeholders in the education system. There is usually a sense of arrogance associated with a significant number of our principals at all stages of the public education system. It can be argued that this undesirable trait among some principals is not unique to our shores and is perhaps widespread in leadership in general. Our culture of arrogance in leadership is often rooted in a lack of an accountability framework which has also dogged our political system over the decades. Disturbingly, many principals have found enablers in the same public education system which ought to hold both principals and teachers accountable. Regrettably, the playing field is not level in the public education system and as a result skylarking principals are allowed the luxury of remaining in their jobs despite of their weak and ineffective leadership, and to add insult to injury such principals are sometimes given extension of their tenure. It bares thought what is the purpose of the National Education Inspectorate (NEI)? The NEI was established as a result of the 2004 National Task Force Report on Educational Reform to ensure quality assurance as well as to effect changes complementary to the transformation of the public education system. Among the roles and responsibilities of the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) are to report on the quality of leadership and management of the learning environment in the school or learning institution, the quality of teaching, the quality of student response, the extent to which students have access to the curriculum and the quality of the provisions to support safety, health and well-being. I am sure you will agree that on least paper the mandate of the (NEI) sounds rather holistic and impressive; however, we know that theory and reality can be worlds apart. In some instances in spite of damning NEI reports surrounding the leadership of some school, nothing much is done to bring about change and progress. We have fostered an education system in which principals are allowed to transform and operate themselves as demigods in a comfort zone they have established for themselves. Ironically, many principals themselves serve as a hindrance to the quality of teaching that transpires at their school. Too many principals have lost their way and have made their schools chambers of mental torture instead of a place for teaching and learning. It is sad, that many competent teachers have been passed over for promotion due to the spiteful nature of weak principals. The respect that principals once held and demanded in both the education system and the wider society have been eroded over the years due to the divisive leadership which has come to characterize some of them. It is so distressing when the student population loses respect for a principal. Too many principals have become vindictive and controlling and in the process ruin their schools to the extent to which such institutions have become holding areas due to a lack of transformational leadership. Sadly, gone are the days when a principal was a person of impeccable character and integrity. Why does the education system continues to extend a principal’s tenure after he/she has reached the retirement age especially when it is clear that the individual has not contributed much to the overall development of the school. I am still waiting for a plausible answer to my question. It would appear that some principals have more influence and connections that they have become untouchables over the years. One is left to conclude that the interference of politics in the appointment of principals have done more to tarnish the education system than perhaps any other factor since political independence in 1962.

In many instances the best candidate for the position of principalship is not selected due to the long reach of politics. Invariably, our students, as well as, their communities and the country suffer in the short and medium term. We need to rid the public education system of such principals. However, it’s easier said than done especially since the layers of accountability are often comprised.

Ineffective School Boards

The Education Regulations of 1980 which outlines the framework under which all schools should operate makes it clear regarding the oversight of the Board of Management. However, is some instances manipulation and corrupt practices can and does undermine the intent of the Education Act regarding the appointment and operation of School Boards. In some instances there is no line of separation between the office of the pincipalship and that of the School Board. As a result many schools suffer, many teachers do not receive a fair hearing, and inevitably the students pay a high price for the ineffectiveness of School Boards. Unfortunately, there are many school board members who have no expertise in the area of management and or supervision and are clueless regarding why they are on the Board of Governors or what their roles and duties are as members. This is not only unacceptable it’s pathetic!

Transformation and Modernization

Jamaica’s public education system has been undergoing a process of transformation and modernization over the years. In fact, the process of change is going at a fast pace and many supporting agencies of the Education Ministry have been established, such as, the Jamaica Teaching Council, the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) and the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (J-TEC) However, while this move is commendable it is obvious that more can and ought to be done in order to increase students’ performance and ensure equity, accountability and transparency. There needs to be a resolve in eradicating toxic principalship at all levels of the education system.

We need to change how School Boards members are appointed. We need a broad-based participatory approach from all stakeholders on the subject of such appointments. We need to work towards creating and maintaining a culture of transparency and in so doing we need to have term limits regarding those who serve on School Boards. Additionally, we need to have sanctions in place for those School Board members who prostitute their position. I strongly believe that the position of School Board chair person should be rotated every two years. We need to ensure that all gaps are legally closed so as to minimize any likely corrupt practices and collusion which might occur between the leadership of schools and School Boards. In order to strengthen the framework for transparency and accountability we must audit all schools receiving government funding. Furthermore, all School Boards should also be audited at least annually. The time to speak about fostering and facilitating a culture of accountability is now, we must act now. No one will argue against the fact that the hardworking taxpayers of Jamaica deserve better. Our students deserve better. We also need to revisit how and why the extension of tenure of principals should occur. This process currently seems to be too secretive and subjective resulting in many weak and ineffective principals being given additional time. Frankly speaking if you were a weak, vindictive and poor leader during the time of being a principal, what will be gained by extending the time of such a principal?

Over the years, many of our teachers, students and other workers have been marginalized, unfairly penalized, unfairly separated from their jobs, hurt, had their reputation tarnished by wicked principals and ineffective School Boards.

Yes, there are excellent principals and we salute them. We are forever indebted to our outstanding educators and nation builders who have given service beyond self to Jamaica, land we love.

I leave with you the words of Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord”.           

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.



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