The Daily Herald writes that Board members of Saba Education Foundation (SEF) Board and Saba Parents Association (SPA) met on Monday and agreed to move forward after several contentious weeks following the Board’s April decision not to renew the contracts of Saba Comprehensive School Director Hemmie van Xanten and three teachers. Nolly Oleana of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and Commissioner of Education Chris Johnson also attended the closed-door meeting at the SCS campus in St. Johns.
Raquel Granger SEF Board President said: “I am glad we finally sat down to have this conversation. As a school board…we made decisions that were very difficult. Decisions like that are never easy to make. We have to take into account all the different factors of the school. Sometimes these concern teachers who have been there for a year, sometimes two years, but we are also looking towards tomorrow and the future of the school.”
Granger cited privacy laws as the primary obstacle to communicating with the parents and the public why certain personnel decisions were made. The board did take responsibility for some of the lack of communication during the controversy and went as far as to apologize to parents. “We apologized and acknowledged that perhaps this meeting could have happened earlier,” said Granger. “Things just took on a tenor that we had not experienced before. I think communication was obviously lacking. Communication is paramount. It doesn’t matter how well a job you do, or how bad a job you do, if you don’t communicate, then it doesn’t have as much value. I think we’ve learned that.
“This is not the first time that contracts have not been renewed, but the outcry was much different this year. We hoped that in the years to come, the turnover rate won’t be that high. Sometimes this is something we experience as a small island. We certainly believe that continuity is very good, but while it would be nice if we could keep everyone, you ultimately have to think what is in the best interest of students’ education.”
During the meeting, parents tried to submit their list of concerns to the board. Some of these will be addressed, such as parental input on the board, availability of school uniforms, qualifications of new personnel, the new hierarchy within the education system, and continued improvement of student achievement. According to a parent, board members have agreed to add two parental advisors to the board. The determination of who those parents will be will be made soon after the start of the new school year. “We didn’t get all of our questions answered because of time. The meeting would have dragged on and on,” said Wingrove Baker. “Still, I would agree it was a good meeting. There were still some parents, who were not able to attend the meeting, and we won’t make a decision on which the new parent representatives will be until everyone has had a chance to discuss things.”
The board also confirmed that all but one of the current vacancies has been filled. The remaining position has been offered and awaiting acceptance from the candidate. Granger said the board is considering having an open house around the start of the new school year, where parents can meet current and new staff members. Granger commended the work of all current and former staff and acknowledged their contributions to SCS. As the board, parents and staff plan to move forward, she is hoping the recent lessons learned will only make Saba’s schools better in the long run. “I went to school here. I left high school when I was 17 and went on to the United States and did undergraduate, graduate and doctorate level work,” she said. “Everything I learned here enabled to get me where I went. I think all of our students should have that very same option. I look forward to parents wanting to be a part of that process. All parents who were there last night, I have to respect them. If every child had a parent like that here, we would be where we want to be. They are going to hold us to account, which they should. They are truly concerned about their children and we are as well. Two of the board members have children in the schools. We do this with the best of intention and we work extremely hard. Some of the things we do are not really for everyone to see, but we do it with the best interests of the school at heart.”