Jacobs says challenges in public education have her full attention

PHILIPSBURG–Education Minister Silveria Jacobs said last night that the challenges in public education have her full “attention, concern and priority.”

In a press release issued on Monday evening, she also outlined some of the action being taken to address some of the concerns in education. One of the actions includes the installation of a committee consisting of Education Ministry representatives, teachers, school managers and the Windward Islands Teachers Union (WITU) to come up with recommendations within 30 days on the improvement of the Department of Public Education (DPE).

Jacobs said she always had stood for education for students and for teachers, management and staff, and it was “unfortunate” that teachers had not met with her on this specific action prior to launching their silent protest and subsequent meetings that included Members of Parliament (MPs).

According to the release, while representatives of the Minister have been in constant contact with concerned teachers and remain accessible to their concerns whether submitted in writing or in person, the media report on the teachers’ concerns following a meeting at University of St. Martin (USM) on Saturday, suggests that nothing is being done at the Ministry level.

“Those who know better know, however, it would be erroneous for something of this vast magnitude to be seen as a ploy for political gain by those who had ample opportunity to do something during the last Government and did not,” she was quoted in the release.

“Upon my request, I met on Monday evening with representatives of the teachers and have committed to meet with all public school teachers on Thursday afternoon to officially hear the concerns that have surfaced during their last few meetings as well as to receive their petition and survey results.”

Jacobs said she was open for dialogue with all stakeholders concerned aimed at solutions to resolve this issue in the best interest of all concerned.

She said she had instructed the Secretary-General of the Ministry to provide more guidance and support to the Division Head in all matters of concern.

She said too that the Financial Controller was tasked with allocating a specific budget for each public school in an effort to empower school managers to better manage their schools in a more structural, efficient and effective manner.

“Unfortunately, despite reports to the contrary, these measures appear not to have yielded the desired effect. As such, the Minister is still actively seeking ways to empower school managers to be the agents of change within their schools on an educational level as well and to motivate teachers to work along with them to bring about the best possible learning environment for the students,” it was stated in the press release.

“Several plans in this respect will be discussed per school, as the Minister feels each school has its very own dynamic upon which it can build. The Ministry has also designated a coach to work with those designated by the school team as needing extra assistance in improving teaching and learning.”

The human-resource challenges also will be addressed through the reestablishment of an active working relationship with Department of Personnel Affairs of the Ministry of General Affairs, to ensure that all teachers are placed in their correct functions and scales, and receive their national decrees, it was stated in the release. “Furthermore, this measure should ensure proper recruitment and placement policy moving forward.”

According to the release, the Education of the Move (EOM) Committee has been working actively on ways to improve the community’s awareness of how everyone can contribute to making education better in St. Maarten, including public school teachers. The EOM campaign is scheduled to be launched in April.

The Minister is also in the process of establishing a Teachers’ Committee as a result of the planned activities of the EOM campaign, to keep in close contact with the teachers on a quarterly basis.

Jacobs said several education conferences had been held with teachers, managers and school boards during her first tenure as Minister in 2012-2013, to identify challenges and solutions.

Several initiatives were brought forward out of these meetings and executed within the Ministry, including empowering school managers to make emergency purchases while awaiting big orders, the Education Care Center, Special Needs Education Assessment as well as investigation into the functioning of Public Education, which resulted in the temporary suspension of the Division Head.

In accordance with the civil servants regulation LMA and the Human Resource performance policy, after the functioning of the Head of Public Education was evaluated negatively on two consecutive occasions and taking into account the report and recommendation of the investigation committee, the Council of Ministers made a decision to relieve the Division Head of Public Education of the function and place her in the function of policy advisor within the Department of Education (her previous function).

This national decree was then forwarded to the Governor for signing.

“For reasons unknown to my person, the national decree was never signed and the file and supporting documents appear to have disappeared into thin air,” Jacobs said.

“Upon my return to the Ministry … in 2015 as Minister, I was immediately confronted with the same challenges with regard to the functioning of the Division Public Education and the management of the public schools. Several steps were immediately taken to address the most urgent and important needs which included meetings with teachers and school managers etc.”

Jacobs said public school teachers had been heard on all challenges they faced and the Minister had updated them on initiatives that were in place as well as those being planned that would bring much-needed relief.

“Teachers did express extreme dissatisfaction with the management of public schools, which is well noted. However, the Minister reiterated that the last actions taken in that direction had been stagnated and was not aware of where such documents were. A national decree aimed at reorganising the ministry and putting in place a new management structure for Division Public Education was rejected by the competent authority,” she said

Source: The Daily Herald Jacobs says challenges in public education have her full attention