August 2010 Volume 7

Kingston College without a Headmaster Again

Everton Barrett
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Kingston College is starting out the 2010-2011 school year much like it did last year – without a Headmaster.  In a peculiar turn of events, the school is again rendered rudderless as it desperately tries to regain lost ground in the education arena.  The school now has the distinction of having five headmasters in six years, a feat no other high school in the island has had the misfortune of accomplishing. Needless to say we should not expect a public pronouncement from the board of governors as these decisions and subsequent actions are always shrouded in secrecy.  One can say this is how Jamaicans do business or we can speculate that once again the secret back room deal has backfired and it would be in everybody’s best interest to quietly let these matters dissipate. Any place else, the public would be clamoring for full disclosure and would demand to know that the proper channels were followed, but in our culture of secrecy no one has to tell us anything.

So here we go again, another search, another hurried decision and the KC family pays the price. Throughout the past 10 years we have seen a decade of dubious leadership whose main criteria for selection was an allegiance to the Anglican Church. After five tries and corresponding disastrous results, we hope the board will change direction, at least change criteria. We are all mindful of the fact the school is an Anglican domain and Christian teaching is vital to balancing our moral compass as we travel through these turbulent times. But we must also seriously weigh our responsibility as stewards especially as educators to select educators and leaders who will mold young lads present and future into successful citizens. We can only urge the board to refrain from being myopic in their selection and strive to see the big picture.

Since the board leaves us precious little to go on when we assess the results of the last five selections, we feel compelled to offer suggestions to improve the selection process. After this many failures, it is apparent the selection process is flawed and our candidates are not properly vetted.  The recruiting process should be opened up to the entire Diaspora, a qualified candidate in New York should be given just as much consideration as the one in Toronto or Kingston. The candidate we anoint as our next leader should have a celebrated history as an educator who has implemented innovative academic programs.  A masters degree in theology is nice, but what have you done to revamp an ancient curriculum and develop remedial programs to educate 30 to 40 percent of the boys who are headed for serial unemployment?  It’s time to raise the bar, the new headmaster or headmistress should have a PhD or an EdD behind his or her name. They should have a verifiable history of managing some kind of educational institution and we should be offering more than a one year contract. Turning this school around is going to take more than one year; give that person a fighting chance.

Where have all the Good men gone.
Those of us who have seen dedication, innovation, and sophistication in our high school years often hark back to the Douglas Forrest days, but those days are gone. Men simply don’t possess that level of dedication, coupled with the leadership and the vow of poverty. In all honesty it may be too much to ask any family man who has invested so much in his training to adopt such selfless dedication for so little in financial compensation. The reality is our society has become more currency driven.  A man or woman with dependents must demand a salary commensurate with his/her skills and qualifications, so to expect a superbly qualified person to accept our Principal’s position on a moderate salary is a stretch. Somewhere out there is the man or woman who is qualified, wants to make a difference and is seeking an opportunity like KC has to offer.  It is imperative that we find him or her this time around. We must widen the recruitment process and we must find a way to entice and retain good talent. The candidate must be properly vetted. Is it too much to request a background check? People in lesser positions of authority are thoroughly investigated; the least we can do to protect the institution is ensure we have someone with impeccable morals.

How much is he/she worth?
This is the billion dollar question, is the government paying enough for this position? My sources say high school principals are paid between 1.5 to 3 million dollars per year, depending on qualification and experience.  In Jamaica, the problem has always been flimsy compensation for our public sector workers. If you’re CEO of a bank or investment company then salary is not a problem, but a headmaster with a family and no housing or transportation allowance is limping by and it becomes a real challenge when his children have to go to the University and there is no scholarship.  Usually this is where the shortfall must be met and the hustling begins. There are those who believe that if you’re going into education then you must be prepared to earn a little less.  But shouldn’t the extraordinary talent be given just a little more as an incentive?  Hardliners say “out of what?” but we all know the saying “you get what you pay for.”  If we are to get the best, we may have to pay a little more. The age old question then becomes should Old Boys be instrumental in supplementing the Principal’s salary? Once this happens, that person is no longer the sole purview of the ministry of education so what kind of autonomy do we wield over his/her head?  

We need a miracle.
Every Old Boy who participates in this charitable exercise feels passionately for KC and its future, and as such, there is a sinking feeling and deep disappointment when incidents such as these occur.  We search desperately to see how we can play a role in the survival and up-liftment of the school. However, there is a disconnect when our voices are ignored.  Despite being the loudest in the choir of stakeholders who moan every day, we see our alma mater losing ground in the fight to regain its prominence. We feel insulted when our wishes are ignored.  Inconsolable, we throw money at the problem hoping to spend our way back to success.  Yet we make small, painful gains only to have them neutralized by poor decision- making and non-consultative benedictions. We say a prayer or two and wonder why hasn’t the father heeded our call.  Our school, our people need a change in direction – we need a miracle.

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