18 PSVE staffers absent on the first day of school | THE DAILY HERALD

~ Duncan: Disciplinary actions for those ‘disturbing’ operations ~

EBENEZER–Eighteen workers of the Preparatory Secondary Vocational Education (PSVE) section of St. Maarten Academy were absent when the school reopened its doors for the new academic year on Monday, in what is believed to be a form of silent protest against the school’s principal.

The high absenteeism comes amidst rising tension between staffers and Principal Lavern Nelson. The 18 no-shows included 14 persons who called in sick and are said to be associated with the movement to have Nelson removed from her position, while four were out due to other reasons, including a surgery. PSVE has a total of 50 staffers: 39 teachers and 11 other staffers.  

Nelson said teachers who showed up for work covered for those who were absent. However, the orientation sessions of the day’s programme were postponed, as the coordinator “was part of the sick list.”

Parents and students were sent home early and asked to return today for a “Plan B” orientation in the event that the coordinator “continues to be sick,” Nelson said. Parents and guardians unable to attend today’s orientation can go to the school’s orientation evening at the school at 6:30pm August 23.

“School continues tomorrow [today, Tuesday – Ed.] for all students as we educate our students to be contributing members of the St. Maarten community and by extension, the Caribbean region and the global market,” Nelson noted.

Some PSVE teachers told this newspaper yesterday that they were fed up with the working environment that Nelson has created and it is affecting them psychologically.

Foundation for Academic and Vocational Education (FAVE) Chairperson Roland Duncan, who was at the school’s opening ceremony, told The Daily Herald that teachers who fail to provide a doctor’s note for their absence will not be paid. The board will also consider disciplinary actions against teachers who continue to stay away from school with no valid reason.

“I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are indeed ill. Please show up with a medical certificate. Once we get that, then we can evaluate it and see what will happen. The doctor will indicate how bad it [their sickness – Ed.] is and how long they will be out for. If it becomes evident that they are just disturbing the operations of the school then they are breaching their labour contracts and we will act accordingly,” Duncan said.

Over the past months, teachers have been registering concerns about the principal’s functioning. Duncan said the complaints from teachers are unsubstantiated and frivolous. Teachers wrote about four letters about varying issues, he noted. Nelson was asked to respond to each letter and each complaint and this was done.

Duncan has also met with the teachers’ representative – the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) – twice and addressed the letters from the teachers. He said during the last meeting that when he refuted and rebutted some of the teachers’ contentions they changed their position and said, “We did not mean that … .”

“My impression is that all of their points have been dealt with or responded to and answered,” Duncan said.

The complaint from teachers that they want Nelson reassigned, but not fired “does not make much sense” because Nelson’s last function is that of school coach, who works directly with teachers as a coach. “I cannot take them (teachers) seriously,” said Duncan, who believes the teachers are registering complaints because they are either ambitious or do not want to conform to rules. He said their complaints are personal against the principal.

Drop in enrolment

One of the complaints from teachers is the drastic drop in enrolment at the school and the potential effects this can have on the subsidy received and ultimately on the employment of teachers. The school receives subsidy based on the number of students who are enrolled and the subsidy primarily covers the teachers’ salaries.

PSVE’s school population has plummeted from 600 a few years ago to about 300 today. This means that the school is currently overstaffed, Duncan said.

A total of 190 new students were enrolled at the school for the 2008-2009 academic year, 206 (8 per cent increase) in the 2009-2010 academic year; 161 (15 per cent decrease) in the 2010-2011 academic year; 129 (32 per cent decrease) in the 2011-2012 academic year; 95 (50 per cent decrease) in the 2012-2013 academic year; 131 (31 per cent decrease) in the 2013-2014 academic year; 144 (24.2 per cent decrease) in the 2014-2015 academic year; 147 (22.6 per cent decrease) in the 2015-2016 academic year and 62 (57.8 per cent decrease) in the 2016-2017 academic year.

The lower enrolment figures can be due to several factors, including the addition of several other high schools in St. Maarten such as Charlotte Brookson Academy (CBA) for the Performance Arts; Methodist Agogic Centre – Comprehensive Secondary Education (MAC-CSE); and National Institute for Professional Advancement (NIPA).

Another factor is the fact that the school has introduced admissions criteria and students who do not meet these criteria are not admitted to the school. “If we relax admissions criteria then we will have much more students, but the quality is not what we will be looking at,” Duncan said.

Nelson said that when she became principal she introduced a new rule that students have to achieve at least 5.5 on the central or external exams to pass.

“If you do not meet the 5.5 criterion on central or external exams you have failed and once that criterion came into effect, we can no longer open the floodgates, because students will come in big numbers and will flow back out of the school or end up in fourth form and fail. We have seen that this year with 79 per cent of students did not meet the 5.5 rule and if that rule was not in effect they would have passed,” Nelson said. She said this is why attendance and being on time are crucial.

Duncan said the board is trying to address the drop in enrolment by rebranding the school. In December 2017, the school requested permission from government to introduce the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSL) programme, which has been running as a pilot programme at the school. CCSL is part of the rebranding process.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/79533-18-psve-staffers-absent-on-the-first-day-of-school