The following is a guest post from Beverley Harris a teacher and professional development enthusiast living and working in Jamaica.
With Christmas 2017 only a few days away,there are many dreamers among us.”I am dreaming of a White Christmas” as Irvin Berlin once penned. Based on the current status of the salary negotiations with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) and the Government of Jamaica, it is uncertain as to the colour of Christmas for the island’s teachers. With tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) guidelines and the harsh realities of teachers’ spending
power, we will definitely have to call on divine intervention for a peaceful and amicable wage settlement.
While the struggle is on we must highlight a positive move on the part of JTA ,in recent weeks. It was their “Women’s Leadership Conference 2017” held on Tuesday ,November
21,2017 at the Knutsford Court Hotel,Kingston ,under the theme “ Women: Inspired and Empowered to Overcome and Lead”. A glimpse of the programme and informal talks with colleagues confirmed it was a “power packed conference” with several powerful Jamaican women.
Dr. Charmaine Gooden Monteith and her team must be commended for the successful staging of the conference,a brainchild of the eleventh Female President and Fifty-third
President of the JTA.
It is not clear if this kind of conference will be an annual event but one thing is clear : it was a group of ‘carefully selected ‘ women who were the main participants.-the two hundred teacher leaders. I am sure the evaluation exercise will help to determine how other female teachers who are not currently recognized leaders will be treated when next the session is held. Will it remain a closed, private conference or will it be opened to female teachers who would be willing to pay to attend? Something to hope for I guess!
As the New Year approaches, the JTA leadership must not allow interest to wane .The conference attendees who were motivated are anxiously awaiting the next steps in their
journey of becoming empowered.We hope this will not be a dream but we will see the ‘ripple effects ‘ sooner not later. Happy Holidays!
“Let the Law take its course”
Rupert Clarke was caught by the police, so we have a case against him. The police told us that they saw Rupert Clarke in his parked motor car in a compromising position with a 15 year old girl. In Jamaica it is illegal to have sexual intercourse with a minor that is a girl or boy under the age of 16 years old.
For some Rupert Clarke has acted immorally. Rupert Clarke, a pastor and a married man should not be caught in a compromising position with “a girl under the age of 15 years old. He should know better as a pastor especially. For others no man as old as him should be caught in a compromising position with a girl under 15 years old.
There are those who see indiscretion and temptation. Rupert Clarke fell to the temptation of flesh. A common human failing. Rupert Clarke found himself in a similar position to Adam, in the bible. It was Eve who made him eat the apple. Rupert Clarke is just a man who has fallen from grace and we should pray for him. Nothing new in Jamaica, bring him to court, charge him and all others like him move past the whole Rupert Clarke issue.
But Rupert Clarke is the beginning of the whole thing. How does a Pastor caught in his parked motor car in a compromising position with a girl under the age of 15 years connect to Hampton High School?
Something is happening at Hampton High School for Girls
Principal of Hampton School for Girls Heather Murray was present at the bail hearing for Rupert Clarke. Mrs. Murray blocked “cameras from talking photos of Rupert Clarke. Mrs. Murray says she went to the bail hearing to support her dear friend, who is the wife of Rupert Clarke. She also said she went to sign bail documents. She said she blocked the camera because it was illegal to be taking pictures of him. Mrs. Murray went to the bail hearing of Rupert Clarke to help her friend, his wife.
None of the public support which has come out for Mrs.Heather Murray in the wake of public criticisms over her presence and behavior at the courthouse has come from her dear friend that she tried to help. Instead surprisingly, Mr.Trevor Blake the chairman of the board for the Hampton School for girls in support of Heather Murray has asked us to forgive her for what he sees as a moment of indiscretion. Had Trevor Blake been the board chair of Munroe College and Mrs.Murray been Mr.Henry Principal of Munroe College and the Pastor Rupert Clarke caught with a boy of 15 would Trevor Blake call the actions of his principal an indiscretion?
Who is Mr.Trevor Blake and why is he the chairman of the board of Hampton School for Girls? What is the history of his involvement with the Hampton School? What is his track record? How has he affected the development of Hampton School for girls? If we consider the leadership of the school what has been the impact of the Murray Blake alliance on Hampton High School for Girls?
How could the board vote unanimously to accept Mrs.Murray’s apology and take no disciplinary action against her? Who makes up the board? All men? All women? Pastors? Business men? Young men? Young women? Past Students of Hampton or Past students of Munroe? Black men or white men? Rural women or society women? Individuals of a Moravian faith? Who are the members of the Hampton Board?
The Minister of Education versus the Ministry of Education
How could Mr.Trevor Blake reject a directive by the Minister of Education to send Mrs.Murray on two weeks compassionate leave as a consequence for her actions. How could he insist against the decision by the Minister of Education that there will be no consequences for Mrs.Murray’s actions? Not even two weeks compassionate leave?
The news reported that Trevor Blake and Heather Murray met with the Minister of Education Ruel Reid. Just before meeting with the Administration of the Hampton School Mr.Reid told journalist at a press briefing:
“At the end of the day when matters impact the leadership and governance of an education institution I have to be held accountable and in that regard persons who preside over institutions have to be accountable to the minister. There have been a lot of public discussion on the matter and I feel that, as the (education) minister, I need to have a discussion and give some direction as to the way forward, ” he told journalists
By January 12 newspapers were reporting the outcomes of the meeting.
During her two-week leave of absence, in addition to completing a formal report to the School Board and the Munro and Dickerson Trust about her actions, Murray is also expected to avail herself of professional counselling services given what was described as her recent emotional stress, the ministry said,
“Minister Reid said given how Mrs Murray’s actions had been interpreted and how the recent controversy had affected her administrative responsibilities, it was imperative that the time off be taken for reflection and completion of her report to the board and the Trustees,” the ministry said, adding “The principal will finalise her report to the Board and the Management will review and take action as necessary.”
What else can the Ministry of Education do about the situation at Hampton? Here is the problem with our system of government. The separation between the Minister and the Ministry. The Minister is the head of a government agency. The ministry is the agency. The Permanent Secretary is responsible for the day to day running of the Ministry. The Minister has not allowed the Ministry of Education to address this matter. Even though there must be a code of conduct for teachers and principals or a disciplinary committee which makes a judgement in these cases, the Minister of Education Mr. Ruel Reid has acted as the sole arbiter in this matter. Under section 32.1.10 of the Education Act the Teachers Services Commission addresses disciplinary matters related to teachers. Could Mrs. Murray be brought before the Teachers Service Commission? Why hasn’t the Ministry of Education used any other channel other than a meeting with Mrs. Murray? Is there a reason why Mrs. Murray cannot be held accountable by the Minister of Education or the Ministry of Education?
Food, groceries and Sponsorship Programmes
Rupert Clarke had a sexual relationship with the sister of the 15 year old girl with whom he was caught in a compromising position. Investigations and news reports reveal that he used to take food and groceries to the sister whose family seem to be in “need” of financial support. There seems to be many cases of need in St.Elizabeth and also a culture of supporting “needy families. Hampton High School facilitates a sponsorship programme which helps girls who are in financial need to get an education to make a better life for themselves and their families. One such sponsor Mr. Leighton Mcknight wrote in support of the “Heather Murray he knew” in the Jamaica Observer.
I consider myself a part of the Hampton family largely through the school’s principal Heather Murray, who I really got to know initially through my assistance to one of her students (through her this number multiplied to five). I have worked closely with her over the past eight years as she constantly seeks to positively advance the cause of Hampton and education in Jamaica. I will, without fear of contradiction, testify that she is an awesome and exceptionally caring educator to whom our system owes a debt of gratitude. I can cite several examples to support this.
What are the requirements for being a sponsor for girls at Hampton? Are there sponsors for boys at Munroe? What does sponsorship entail? Does the sponsor have contact with the family of the student they are sponsoring? Who manages the sponsor programme? How long does the sponsorship last? Has the sponsor programme being evaluated by anyone external to Hampton School for Girls? Giving “grocery assistance” like Rupert Clarke was doing or maintaining sponsorship programmes at High schools like Hampton could become standard solutions as people try to live in deteriorating economic and social conditions in many areas across Jamaica.
The Minister of Education, Munroe and Dickson Trust and the Moravian Church
Plantation owners Robert Hugh Munro and Caleb Dickenson willed real estate for the creation of two schools to educate as many of the poor children in the parish of St.Elizabeth. Today the Munroe and Dickson Trust oversees the operation of those two schools. Munroe College for boys and Hampton High School for girls. Munroe College was founded in 1856 and Hampton school for girls two years after in 1858. Munroe College is Hampton’s “brother” school, both are boarding schools located in Malvern St.Elizabeth. Malvern is a village in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is also the site of Bethlehem Moravian College.
In what the media is referring to as a “sex scandal rocking the Moravian Church,” Paul Gardner and Jermain Gibson resigned as President and Vice president of the Moravian Church of Jamaica. They have been subsequently charged with carnal abuse and indecent assault following a report made against them and investigations by detectives from the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse into the report. The police say the incidents date as far back as 2002. They are to appear in the Manchester Parish Court on February 1 2017
On Friday December 30, 2016, Paul Gardner separated himself from the Moravian Church Pastor, Rupert Clarke. In a statement published in the Jamaican Gleaner, Gardner said
“I have read the allegations, and it is a very sad day, but all I can say is to let the law take its course,” The Reverend Dr Paul Gardner, president of the Moravian Church in Jamaica,
“If charged and he is found guilty, the church has no option but dismissal from the church … there is no two ways about this.
“We take this very seriously, and if these charges are found to be true, we have no other recourse
“We never, ever condone such behaviour.
“We have a code of ethics to which all our ministers subscribe, and we also have our own discipline and grievance procedure.”
According to Gardner, the senior pastor with 30 years’ experience and all of the leadership of the local body are exposed to regular and intense training sessions to deal with, among other issues, maintaining boundaries, healthy relationships, and guarding one’s integrity.
“So when something like this happens, it is a slap in the face,”
3 Pastors charged with sexual offences against young girls is not a sex scandal. A principal for an all-girls boarding school showing up at the bail hearing of one of the pastors charged with a sexual offence cannot be overlooked as a moment of indiscretion. The Ministry of Education’s response is insufficient. The response by the board of Hampton led by Trevor Blake is unacceptable.
For Trevor Blake to say that Mrs. Murray’s appearance and action at the bail hearing for Rupert Clarke was an indiscretion is to cover up the truth about the relationship between men women and children in St. Elizabeth. For Heather Murray to refuse to step down from the leadership of Hampton Girls school and apologize to us saying she didn’t think her desire to help her friend would be so misunderstood is for her to reinforce and protect the idea that we need to protect our men at all cost regardless of their actions. (Mrs.Murray could also be acting under duress) How many times have we seen this before? Heather Murray and Trevor Blake are pointing to where the chickens have come home to roost.
What do we do now with centuries of religion, tradition, patriarchy and misogyny? Who is protecting children from this increased vulnerability?
This week we are doing registrations for learners for a CXC Mathematics, English and Reading Programme at the Institute for Social Leadership. CXC or the Caribbean Examination Council is the certifying body for Regional examinations. It is the most basic requirement for acquiring a a job and gaining admission into colleges or Universities locally.
Many students graduate from High School without any CXCs and often struggle to get some after or end up having much more limited options for employment because of this lack.
At Di Institute we thought that if we were able to provide them with an opportunity to do CXC subjects, at a minimum Maths and English we would be helping them to open opportunities for employment and further studies.
As we began registration I became more puzzled by the situation and began to question our decision to offer Maths and English or even my view that CXC provided a solution.
We have been talking to youth 14-22yrs and this is what we have been understanding;
Are we trapping youths like these in a cycle of poverty with CXC preparation and qualification for these jobs?
So as early as 16yrs old youth are prepared to go and find a job.
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What have we learned from 5 months of working with children at the ISL? There are many considerations for working with children from “inner-city” communities in Jamaica and not all “intervention models” are suitable for children. It is important to document what are the successful ways that we can work with groups of children over a long period of time and establish these as model for discussing and critiquing.
We started in April one week after the first open day. We didn’t advertise. One child came and called some others and there we were a room full of children from the lane next to us. We allowed them space to play and we began to develop a after school programme that could engage them when they came. Within the first 4 weeks we noticed there would be some social dynamics we would have to deal with; there relationship to each other, how they related to us as newcomers to their community, manners discipline and respect. This was the first time we were doing this. We took a break to reflect on some of the challenges we were having and attempted to reorganize.
What we tried to do differently
What we learned after this
We have a really big problem with children reading. Last week i observed a few children 6-13 yrs.
This is what we found.
This is a problem we have written many things about and the Government has gotten lots of money to do studies to understand what the problem is an how to address it. Digicel and USAID has supported Enrichment centres across different schools in the island. The Ministry of Education has made improving literacy a priority. Still we have a growing problem.
In another exercise with the children, we did jigsaw puzzles. i noticed that older children 12+ struggled to fit together a 63 piece jigsaw puzzle meant for 6 yr olds.
We have identified some of the following as pieces of the literacy problem in Jamaican children
So where do we start addressing literacy in Jamaica? Or how can we create a programme which we can share to quickly intervene in cases where children need help?