So what’s going on?

After a wonderful weekend of Emancipation celebrations, I’m still trying to come to grips with the fact that our education system is being led by someone who does not have the qualifications for the job. How are we supposed to trust that she knows what she is doing? How can we be expected, even asked, to accept an unqualified person to lead our education system especially at this time; and why would we?

You might think I’m overreacting, but one only need look to our neighbours to the west to see what could happen when an unqualified person is appointed to lead an already dysfunctional system.

Allow me to draw some comparisons to the situation involving No. 45. I will not use his name because it’s not about him, however the situation involving him makes the reason for my worry crystal clear.

Despite being unqualified for the job, he was put in the position. Four years later and over 150,000 lives lost, the great USA is writing a chapter in its history books that no one dreamed possible. Some would say America is experiencing the “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it” syndrome.

But how did they get there?

While his behavior is appalling, he is not showing them anything new. He has always been the person he is today. They knew what they were getting and while he may have been rejected by some, too many good and well-intentioned people chose to ignore, or suppress the obvious warning signs, believing it could cause no real harm. And then of course there were those who were just like him.

Situations like this come about when we “good people” let our guard down; when we lower our standards, when we let our personal feelings distort our professional judgement or get in the way of what we know is right, when we focus on ourselves and not the greater good.

Dr Freddie Evans

In situations like this, qualified and honourable people are dismissed or wrongly fired, or they resign in an effort to protect their integrity. And many not-so-good and honorable are hired or appointed under the “friends and family” policy. While many fight against it, others stand by waiting for someone—anyone—to fix it. But it continues for what seems like eternity to those who care or who are suffering. This feeds his ego and validates his belief that he has the power to do whatever he wants.  Remember, he believes he is “qualified” for the job and is oblivious to what he does not know.

Sadly, it has taken a pandemic to force otherwise reasonable thinking people to see the obvious; to accept what they already knew—he was not qualified to do the job when he signed up for it.

You should see some similarities that are cause for worry, but let’s explore.

Despite not being qualified, Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, is in the position. But when will we know if what she is doing is helping improve the system? How long will we have to wait to see if she “knows her stuff”. One day is too long for me. Knowing what I know and hearing what I’m hearing from educators, I am not confident she can do this job in the way that is needed.

I am not alone in this sentiment.

The teachers/BUT expressed a vote of no confidence in “the leadership” some time ago. This expressed concern however, was dismissed, ignored or “not received” …by the Minister? It was likely by someone who was neither qualified nor in a position to effectively judge the competence of this or any commissioner. You know the saying; you don’t know what you don’t know. And, as we saw from the totally flawed process, the people who might have an idea—the front-line educators—don’t have a voice.

So, who then is responsible for determining this Commissioner’s effectiveness or competence? Who can we trust to effectively measure her performance and hold her accountable? Certainly not the same Board that endorsed the flawed process that put her in the position. And, after fighting Dr. Tucker and winning, I doubt they will ever humble themselves and admit to her incompetence—even if it was profoundly evident. The same goes for the PSC.

So, who?

As we know, incompetence doesn’t just ‘go away’. It continues and eventually becomes the standard. We simply drink the kool-aide and ignore the ineptitude, or we pretend to support it while trying to ‘get out’. This is how “the dysfunctional system” perpetuates. No one is held accountable and no one ever does the honorable thing (i.e., admits the obvious wrongdoing and takes steps to address or correct it). Because of this, we must prepare ourselves for the potential outcome 5 – 10 years from now. I guess it will be someone else’s problem to fix by then.

I wonder, almost two years since her appointment, do the teachers/BUT have confidence in “the leadership” now—knowing exactly how she got the position and knowing she lacks the qualifications to do the job? Or were they, like many of us, patiently prayerful that Dr. Tucker’s clear-cut case would resolve that matter of competence and/or confidence (or the lack thereof) without any further action on their part?

And what about the leaders of the schools? Those best positioned to determine or evaluate her effectiveness. Do they have confidence in her ability? Will they speak up and if so, will they be heard? And I won’t mention the kool-aid drinking beneficiaries and unfortunate victims at the Department of Education, do they have confidence?

While the outcome of Dr Tucker’s case makes it difficult to speak up, all must take responsibility for their respective ‘voice’ or lack thereof. No one—especially those within the Department—gets a pass.

After decades of this education pandemic, these are serious questions that require serious consideration. Think about it, who or what is responsible for where we are now? For how we got here? Let us not forget what’s going on. Mrs Richards is “a beneficiary” of a system that has long been broken—she didn’t break it and the PS simply took advantage of it. The problem is no one has been able to effectively address it.

So what’s going on?

When all is said and done, I feel for our frontline educators—the teachers and principals [not to mention the children]. Not because they have a tough job. They signed up for that. But because they must do that job in a space void of credible leadership. Let’s be honest, COE Richards was ‘given the job on a silver platter’ and there are many teachers, principals and department staff far more qualified than her. With Dr. Tucker’s case and its outcome as a backdrop, how can we expect high standards, integrity and accountability in our classrooms and schools when it’s obviously non-existent at the top?

Dr Gina Tucker

I totally agree with Dr Tucker when she says the system deserves a qualified commissioner. In fact, Bermuda deserves one.  But as the saying goes, you get the leader you deserve so you deserve what you get. Or better put by Galatians 6:7 “…for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”.

I can’t help but wonder what historians will say about education 10, 15 years from now? I’d like to think history will place favor on Dr Tucker; that it will say as the late John Lewis would say, she ‘saw something that was not right and she did something’.

And what will history say about us—the Department of Education, our frontline (the principals and the educators) and the people of Bermuda? The judges’ ruling cannot be our scapegoat.  From this day forward, we the Bermuda public must take responsibility for the system that enabled the PS to do what she did; the system that has produced this education pandemic with its dreadful outcome.

But I know at least one more person who will not have to bear that burden. Her name is Dr Gina Tucker. Like some others we know, all she wanted was to serve her community in the capacity for which she was trained; to use her skill to help turn the tide on its dysfunctional education system.

She did her part. She fought to the end and I thank her for bringing the ugly into the light for all of us to see. I am sure the financial burden is great, though her conscience must be clear, and what price does one put on that? As I did for Dr. Weldon, I look forward to supporting Dr Tucker in the same way (sign a petition, make a pledge, etc.).

As I close out this series, I want to express my disappointment at the missed opportunity to hear from Dr. Tucker. I will admit, I am very curious as to why this PS went to such lengths to prevent Dr. Tucker from getting the job she rightly deserved. What is it that Dr Tucker said that made the PS and her infamous Interview Panel award her such low scores? I bet it was that scary thing called “the truth”—exposing the state of the system?

Considering everything, the fatally flawed process orchestrated by the PS prevented us—the key education stakeholders and the community at large—from having a real voice; from having input into who would serve us in this capacity. I suspect many feel like I do—cheated by this PSs actions.

So what now?

A bunch of us who care about the education of our children want to hear from Dr. Tucker—not the elected politicians or the kool-aide drinking ones. We want to hear the truth about the state of education in Bermuda and we want to hear it from someone who is qualified.

  • June Love (pen name) is a community activist and mother of two Black boys. She cares deeply about public education and the role it plays in Bermuda’s future. A product of the public-school system, Ms Love is an advocate for public school education but feels the current system leaves much to be desired. Having served on the PTA Executive for several years, she is an active parent who is extremely involved in her sons’ education. Involvement in this space has enlightened her about why the current system “misses the mark”. Education is key to Blacks having a life that matters. If Black lives truly matter in this island, then “matters of public-school education” should matter to us all. With vested interest, Ms Love will explore what’s really going on in public education in Bermuda.

—End of Series—