Administrative, teacher shortage a grave concern for GB schools

Pictured from left are Director of Education Marcellus Taylor; to Bahamas Education Managerial Union (BEMU) Area Vice President for Grand Bahama Frazette Gibson and Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) Area Vice President for GB Quinton Laroda. (PHOTOS: TFN FILES)

The lack of a full complement of administrators and teachers at several government-operated schools on the island continues to be a challenge, particularly with the reopening of the institutions– Monday, January 4.

This daily learned that administrators at Jack Hayward Junior High, Sister Mary Patricia Russell Junior, Hugh Campbell Primary and Walter Parker Primary, are performing dual roles and are concerned that their employer, the Ministry of Education, "is dragging its proverbial feet in appointing persons to various positions that need to be filled."

The Freeport News reached out to Bahamas Education Managerial Union (BEMU) Area Vice President for Grand Bahama Frazette Gibson, who informed that there are administrative shortages at the schools.

“Currently all schools are not outfitted with administrators, namely Jack Hayward Junior High, Sister Mary Patricia Russell Junior, Hugh Campbell Primary, and Walter Parker Primary, in particular. Only have three administrators have been serving for this past school term.

“Presently, vice principals are holding down and managing those schools. It is unfair to them. Persons would have already had interviews since September 14, 2020 (with the Public Service Commission) and I am more baffled than anything else, as to why persons could not have been given their appointment letters to date,” Gibson stated.

She maintained that Nassau held its interviews and prior to school opening (in September 2020), persons received their letters.

“Our present administrators are overworked, but they are doing the best that they can. However, this is unacceptable and inexcusable,” said Gibson.

She added that BEMU has been beyond lenient with the employer, in terms of allowing the matter to run its full course.

“However, I see no reason why the Public Service Commission, from September 14, could not have completed appointments.”

Questioned whether or not the world-wide pandemic may have caused a delay, Gibson stated: “The interviews were held during COVID, so there is no excuse why the appointments could not have been given.”

She explained that the duty of administrators is to carry out the ministry’s mandate – ensuring that schools are equipped, that they are data and result-driven, to evaluate and assess teachers.

“We need our administrators and so, our schools have to be fully equipped with the personnel to facilitate the ministry’s mandate.

“The minister of education (Jeffrey Lloyd) once spoke of the Teaching Service Commission. I think it is a great idea. It will cater to only the needs of the Ministry of Education, so that situations like this could be handled in a timelier fashion.

“This should be the case, rather than having persons doing interviews year-after-year and waiting to receive word on whether or not they were successful, and more importantly, to ensure that our schools have the right number of personnel so they can operate smoothly,” said Gibson.

“I want to thank the members for their hard work before the pandemic and now, even more so during this pandemic. They have gone beyond the call of duty and they are to be commended.”

The shortage of administrators is not the only issue, there is also a shortfall of teachers, according to Gibson.

“We also have a shortage of teachers in some of our schools. So, therefore, the administrators are doing dual roles, in terms of going into the classrooms and teaching as well.  I think it is unfair to them, but they are doing it for the love of the children and the profession in which they serve,” said the BEMU Area Vice President.

Noting that with schools reopen (January 4), Gibson said persons have still yet to receive appointment letters.

“I think this is sad, unthinkable, unbelievable, and this has never happened in the history of education, certainly not in Grand Bahama.”

Bahamas Union of Teachers Area Vice President for GB Quinton Laroda admitted that there are “one or two” schools that are short staff.

“I know the (District) Superintendent of Education (Ivan Butler) has been trying his best to sort the situation out, but still there is the challenge, Jack Hayward Junior being the most dire one. They have a critical situation there with staff and also with administrative shortages as well.

“I spoke to the director (Marcellus Taylor, Director of Education) early in December, asking about the replacement of administrators who had promotion exercises and he assured me at the time, come January 2021, people who need to be placed would be placed

“So, I am hoping that it happens,” Laroda added. “But we will see how it goes.”

Laroda disclosed also that he had a scheduled meeting with Butler, toto inquire about the concerns.

The Freeport News, in a telephone interview with Director of Education Taylor on Sunday afternoon, was told that while a definitive deadline could not be given, the appointments are expected to be completed shortly.

“The process started in 2019, where applications were submitted to the Public Service Commission (PSC), going through the entire process and having people appropriately appointed.

“Before COVID-19 we were well on stream to have things in place in time for the 2020/2021 school year; but as the whole country would know, COVID-19 came and that altered, substantially, the way in which we had to go about this process,” said Taylor.

He explained further that normally, interviews are conducted in New Providence, or if the commission deems it appropriate, (members) would fly to a particular island.

“That whole flying, moving around component was frustrating. And so, we had to resort to virtual which was not the first choice because with a virtual interview, Internet drops and it is hard to follow what people are saying.

“And so, all of these things … public officers not going to work with the same frequency, because you have to social distance, and there are a few people out of office, which means the amount of work to search for files and information needed to support the interview process is a lot slower than it would normally be,” Taylor noted.

However, he assured that the ministry is working on it and the PSC is about to finalize the process.

“I can’t give you any deadlines as to when it would be done, but they are in the process of finalizing and they will provide names as soon as they can.

“We are confident that it will be done in a reasonable period of time, soon. But people have to remember that we are in this type of environment that doesn’t allow for a lot of predictability,” said Taylor.

He added that in this COVID-19 era, systems are frustrated and processes slow down.

“As regards to shortage of teachers, that’s another system. We have people who we are hoping to engage. Again, we have to go through the Ministry of Public Service and the PSC to have people appropriately appointed. For the same reason, there are delays with the promotions there are similar reasons as to why we are having delays with the appointment of these teachers.”

Taylor said that the Ministry of Education and the Government of The Bahamas are doing their part to adequately staff schools.

“In the interim, we are calling on our colleagues to do the best that they can, and where we need to provide any additional support, we’ll try,” Taylor said. “But this is where we are at and we hope to see a better way forward in a not too distant time.”

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