Thursday , December 7 2023

School director Hemmie van Xanten speaks out

Saba Comprehensive School (SCS) Principal Hemmie van Xanten speaks out, convinced as he is that “all means of internal communication have been exhausted” in mediating the standoff with the school board. This writes The Daily Herald.
Tensions flared at SCS in March, resulting in students initiating public protests and calling on the board of Saba Educational Foundation (SEF) to meet with them and explain their actions. SEF took the controversial decision not to renew the contracts of the principal, four teachers and some administrative staff without explaining why. SEF also refused to meet with protesting students, parents and staff and declined to issue any statements why. The decision affects over a quarter of all teaching staff. In solidarity with those being sacked, two more teachers have tendered their resignations. Several additional teachers are actively seeking alternative employment off-island. The Labour Department refuses to get involved saying it does not have the authority to protect employees’ rights since SEF is a foundation.

Van Xanten claims 13 SCS employees had individually approached the Labour Department since 2012, with complaints against the SEF board with no response other than that the complaints were forwarded to the Ministry of Education. The principal claims all mediation via the ministry and ministerial inspectors have failed. Letters from parents and the Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development SLO have also been ignored. “The ministry does not want to intervene, yet SEF proceeded to select a new principal without publicly announcing any vacancy in local media.” Van Xanten said such actions were unlikely without the support of the ministry’s Caribbean Netherlands representative Reynolds “Nolly” Oleana.
Van Xanten stressed that SEF’s decision could not have any objective basis. “This is not based on any performance or factual evaluation and is simply an emotional outcome of personal vendettas.” He said job descriptions were in place and performance evaluation protocols were set up, but none of these bi-annual formal observations have been followed by the board and this is why both SEF and Oleana refused public statements about their decisions.
Both Van Xanten and Oleana were members of the Education Task Force together with Commissioner Chris Johnson in 2012, which envisioned greater local stakeholder involvement in the school’s identity. The three-member SEF board was appointed by this task force and Van Xanten was subsequently appointed as principal. Van Xanten feels SCS management has delivered on the objectives of local accountability pointing to the unprecedented student demonstrations against the ousting of valued teachers.

In 2013, the SEF board issued public allegations of corruption against the principal in securing uniforms. Parents’ representative on the SEF board, Julio Every, resigned first forcing the other two board members Tabetha Hassell-Peterson and Raquel Granger to resign after the allegations could not be proven to inquiring parents. Oleana brought Granger and Peterson back on the SEF board. A mediator was installed to develop documents outlining the SEF board’s proper responsibilities. Such statutes existed before the incident, but had been “dumped by the board” Van Xanten said. Instead the board started eliminating consultations with management.
The untenable situation reached a climax when the board discarded the biannual personnel reviews and verbally informed the principal of which teachers had to go. Asking why, he was told that “maybe we want to go in a different direction.” Van Xanten said that in addition to having been accused of corruption, he has been shouted at and bullied by board members. “I have witnesses of when board members put me in my place,” he said. “We have witnessed teachers being physically and verbally attacked outside the graduation ceremony hall by board members accusing them in public about wrongly distributing trophies to teachers. We have witnessed board members talking publicly in restaurants about teachers’ salaries. All this created a situation of mistrust that endangers the continuation of the students’ education.”
Teachers were refused a general meeting with SEF; instead, SEF imposed mandatory individual meetings with teachers. None of the grievances voiced in such meeting received a response. Next SEF requested the installation of a factory time-punch clock for monitoring teachers, Van Xanten stated. Then SEF decided to send students to a career fair in St. Maarten during school hours without informing the principal. During this incident he succumbed to mounting psychological pressure and had to receive medical treatment taking time off.
Van Xanten holds Oleana responsible for the mounting pressures of the SEF board. He said these “irresponsible actions” have consequences and a number of parents who can afford to do so have already made preparations for their children to continue their education abroad. A number of parents of primary school children have written to ask if there will be a school with teachers to receive their graduating children, he claimed.


Waste management will be upgraded
Els Mommers exhibited in French Art Textile Expo


  1. If this is all true, and i give Hemmie the benefit of doubt, than this would call for some action. Especially by the people of Saba, I am here now 2 years, and have met a lot of great Saban`s Saba is a great island with good people, but i feel that there are still some urgent matters, for example education. It`s about your children`s future, with this `mess` you can not send your children into the world, they would be eaten alive (as a figure of speech). So make yourself proud and ask questions, stand up for the future of your children. They deserve it like once you deserved it too, and maybe did not receive it. In this time and age (21th century) you have to be on the ball, otherwise the system will take care of it and you loose.
    Good luck parents wish you all the best.


  2. This is what we get when we let the Dutch give more authority to the island. Finally we see the effects of the brain drain.

  3. Perhaps the Dutch should take over as it sounds like complete corruption and self importance from the SEF board, with not a single thought towards the children at the school. Perhaps those being unfairly dismissed should take SEF and OCW to court. Trust me, the Dutch will step in then and take over everything. Perhaps they are just sitting back and waiting for the time to strike and pull all power away the island, as those individuals in those positions and those who have sat back and refused to step in, clearly do not deserve the responsibilities given to them to represent and protect the people of Saba.

  4. And these woman (board members) work for the government doesn’t that say it all. How many people have quit their jobs working with these 3 yet Sabans too afraid to speaks up. Enough is enough.

  5. This story is only one side. While the SEF may not have given their side, perhaps the benefit of doubt should also be given to them. Perhaps they have their reasons.
    Strange that in June 2013, if I remember correctly, there were 4 teachers that left SCS. Some left because their contracts were not renewed, while some left because they chose to do so. Now in 2014, 4 teachers found out they were not being rehired. I did not see education come to a halt at SCS in August 2013 after 4 teachers left. My child’s education did not suffer.
    However, with the dismissal of the Principal this year, this has all of sudden become the issue. “Students’ education will suffer.” He did not say this last school year when the same number of teachers left. It has become an issue after his dismissal, not the dismissal of the teachers. Let’s not fool ourselves.
    The majority of staff is remaining at the school. Therefore, I feel confident that my child’s education will not suffer.
    Those teachers who tendered their resignations, I would assume, had their reasons for doing so. Saba is a small island, and I heard those teachers have their reasons for doing this, other than what the Principal would lead you to believe.
    Some people will put a spin on a story just to meet their ends, not because there is necessarily a whole lot of truth to it.
    “We have witnessed teachers being physically and verbally attacked outside the graduation ceremony hall by board members..” Physically attacked? Really? I think we need to remember there is a difference between physically and verbally. Not that I condone a verbal attack, but I think when making allegations we should state facts.
    ” …a number of parents who can afford to do so have already made preparations for their children to continue their education abroad.” Based on this statement, I would assume the already small student population at SCS will be even smaller next school year. I think it will be interesting in August to see how many students have actually left.
    Using the power of observation, the Principal was on the Task Force which appointed the SEF board. He then became Principal of SCS (seems quite convenient if you ask me). Perhaps, the issue is here, if he helped to select the board, did he believe then that he could do as he wanted as Principal? Why should he answer to the employers who he helped to put into place?
    These are my observations. I am not taking up for any one side, nor am I asking anyone to agree with me. However, I believe not everything that the Principal is stating is what it truly is. And I do believe, in August school will resume as usual, and my child will continue with his/her education.

  6. Just to clarify:

    Last year only 1 teacher (CARE) did not have their contract renewed under the guise of “flexibility”; the other 2 teachers left on their own accord: a Dutch and an Art teacher. Personally, I think there is a HUGE difference between 1 teacher not having their contract renewed and 4 (5 if you include the Director)…..that’s a 500% increase!

    Also, there is a + 234% increase between 3 teachers leaving in 2013 compared to 7 teachers leaving, plus a principal, in 2014! These numbers do not take into account those individuals who are so dissatisfied with the unprofessional behavior of the current board, that they are also tendering their resignation at the end of the 2015 school year!

    How would islanders feel if their employer was discussing their individual salaries in public? How would people feel if their boss was complaining about them to others in a crowded restaurant, stating that they only worked part time, despite the fact that the individuals in question had given up vacation, holidays and worked a considerable amount of unpaid overtime to work one on one with their students. What about the fact that the ‘board’ are trying to implement a time clock for salaried workers as a means of monitoring when they punch in and leave for the day. The irony however is that a time clock works BOTH WAYS; if salaried workers are forced to punch in and out, then by LABOUR LAW, they MUST be paid for EVERY HOUR they work overtime.

    Isn’t it sad that an employer clearly has such a low opinion of their employees in their trust, despite the fact that they are trained professionals, entrusted with the care and education of the children on Saba. Why would an employer treat their employees in such a fashion? Why would they discard their workers without so much as an explanation as to why? Would anyone else accept these conditions and terms in their place of employment?

    If the argument in the article is believed to be only one sided, then why doesn’t the board simply adhere to the basic employment principal of transparency? Don’t we all expect to be told WHY we are losing our job? Perhaps it’s simply because the ‘board’ CAN’T give any LEGITAMATE, definitive rational; despite being approached by numerous people, journalists and concerned parties. A parent was told to “mind her own f**king business” by one board member when she made inquiries. Hardly the mark of a true professional in my humble opinion!

    I would like to make it clear that the disagreement between SCS and SEF is not about any one individual. The current staff ONLY stated that they are concerned about the pillars of education: CONTINUITY and a SAFE ENVIRONMENT for students. How would you feel if you and your child were verbally attacked and threatened because certain individuals on the island accused your son or daughter of being the driving force behind the student demonstration? Why would the board simply not go back to the table and rethink the decisions made, and evaluate if they were truly in the best interest of the students. Isn’t that the job they are supposed to adhere to and uphold?

    Personally, I’m glad that your child’s education was not affected last year, and I hope it is not disrupted in the 2014/15 school year. However, if they are in the MBO program, over 60% of their course load WILL be taught by new faculty. To put that into perspective, how would you feel if 60% of your current employment was restructured? Would it be such an easy transition? How would anyone react to a 40% turnover of staff in one year?

    Just something to consider!

  7. This whole situation is way out of control! To my knowledge, with any other jobs, usually management usually gives warning letters or some sort of notice in advance so the person (who’s job is on the line) could fix what so ever they are doing wrong. Also last year if I’m not mistaking, our beloved school received received a 100% passing rate!! Which is probably the first time in SCS history!! Weren’t these the same teachers that are being fired now the same ones that made the possible? !!!

    Every time the board replaces teachers it’s always ends up a headache and messes up your child’s education! Firstly they could never find teachers and if they do it’s months after the school has started! Secondly all these ladies went to school and know not every teacher teaches the same!

    We always hearing the children are our future, well if they are speaking out that they are comfortable with these teachers so why are they being fired?! The board OWES them an explanation!!


    P.s. What will future teacher’s think that want to come here to teach? That after a year or two they going to get rid of too?

    Food for thought!

  8. René Caderius van Veen

    Although it becomes a little more clear by the complaints what the essential mistakes may have been, I would recommend that an independant commission will investigate the situation. This is especially recommended because of the fact that many comments in the media are creating more confusion and more convictions due to lack of information and lack of knowledge about the procedures, about facts and stories, about legal aspects etc.

    On the basis of everything written so far, I also feel a tendency to judge, especially so because I know this working fieldand the legal and management aspects. But without more information nobody is able to create any transparancy in this matter. The fact as such that rumours are negative for the future, makes why I recommend the local authority or the Inspectors to do a research. Maybe that mistakes have been made. But learning from mistakes is far from negative and this is especially true for educational institutions.