• 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…

Part 1

After the high of the BLM march, the low of the hooliganism on John Smith’s Bay, the murder of a young man and a brutal attack on a young woman, I find myself reflecting on our Bermuda, our Black children—especially my young Black sons—and I can’t help but remain troubled by the RG’s June 5th headline: ‘Totally Flawed Process’ regarding the appointment of the Commissioner of Education.

The fact that the process is even being questioned at all—let alone in this way—should be troubling to us all. This is Education we are talking about, not Marine and Ports. Interestingly though, since this article, many are quietly testifying to similar experiences in which their applications met a similar fate.

So, what exactly is going on in this case? I will keep it simple.

The Education Act 1996 is the legislation established to guide the operation of the Department of Education. Distinct and separate from the civil service, it establishes a Board that would be 1) independent of ‘politics’ or political interference (ie, by way of the PS and by extension the Minister), 2) inclusive of the key stakeholders, and 3) able to ensure a fair ie, objective, impartial and just process in its handling of matters pertaining to Education including the appointment of the COE.

Valerie Robinson-James, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education

The Public Service Commission (PSC) however contends that the Board need not follow the legislation and insists that the process used by the Permanent Secretary (ie, the Government’s Recruitment Code used to hire all civil servants) was okay because it is “fair” and grounded in “best practice”.

Given this case involves the appointment of one of the most important jobs in our country, I decided to do a little research of my own. I have listened to the Appeal’s Hearing on YouTube, read much of the lawyers’ submissions and talked to many “in the know”. Hopefully, my findings shed some light on why lawyer Mark Diel alleges the process was totally flawed.

For starters, the PS, Valerie Robinson-James, and her subordinate, the HR Manager (Germaine Trott) both managed and participated in the entire process.  Both had close personal and professional relations with Mrs Kalmar Richards during the seven (7) months (or more) leading up to the process.

This PS also managed the 2014 process where she informed Dr Freddie Evans that he was “not qualified” to interview for the post, and the 2016 process which resulted in Dr Evans and Dr Tucker not being “qualified” and Dr Evans eventually being appointed to the post (ie, after acting for several months)  and shortly thereafter being terminated—albeit wrongly—by this PS.

So, here is what happened:

  1. The PS, after wrongly terminating Dr. Evans in August/September 2017, left the COE position vacant for several months before appointing Mrs Richards to act in December 2017. Note: Appointing Dr Tucker (who had applied in 2016) to act would have given her not only a growth opportunity (like other applicants: Drs Simmons, Mathews and Evans) but also would have resulted in minimal—if any at all—disruption to schools.
  1. The PS received the applications, eliminated all overseas applicants and all unqualified Bermudian applicants except Mrs Richards who did not possess the minimum academic requirements (a master’s degree in Education). Note: Dr Tucker, a Bermudian, was fully qualified.
  1. The PS established an Interview Panel consisting of 1) herself, 2) her HR Manager; 3) her civil servant  colleague (another PS), 4) someone (in place of Bermuda College’s Dr. Greene) who is not a board member and has not been involved with the Public Education system for over 25 years, and 5) the Acting Chair of the Board who is a lawyer and who admits the Board was not involved in this recruitment process in any way. Note: The Act requires that 3 out of 5 on such a committee be Board members.
  1. The PS’s Interview Panel did not include representation from the key-stakeholder groups (namely teachers, school leaders, DoE staff, parents, or any of their respective unions) despite their obvious inclusion on the Board. Note: This Interview Panel would be responsible for providing the “material information” to ensure the [uninvolved] Board was “fully informed” when making their recommendation to the PSC.
  1. The PS required first-time applicant, Mrs Richards, to partake in one activity (an interview with her Panel per above). When, the only other shortlisted candidate, Dr Tucker, participated in five (5) activities including three (3) external assessments of her competence for the 2016 process. Note: The PS’s Interview Panel results show that Mrs Richards significantly “out-performed” Dr Tucker but neglect to note the obvious “lowering of the bar” for Mrs Richards.
  1. Unlike 2016, the PS did not afford candidates Richards and Tucker the opportunity to make a presentation to the Board proper via a ‘meet and greet’. Note: Board members present during the 2016 ‘meet and greet’ claim Dr Tucker’s presentation was beyond exemplary and received a resounding applause.
  1. The PS used an arbitrary “ability tool” to justify recommending [unqualified] Mrs Richards to the post. Note: Dr Tucker was fully qualified and by all accounts possesses, at the very least, similar “ability”.
  1. The Board, upon hearing Mrs. Richards was being recommended (i.e., during their 14 August meeting), frustratingly questioned “the process”. The PS reassured the Board that the “official process” was followed. Note: This process was drastically different from the 2016 “official process” which resulted in the hiring of a foreigner.
  1. The PS told the meeting that she was under pressure to fill the post before the start of school. Note: The Board chose to ignore simple expectations laid out in the Act (in particular, the make-up of the Interview Panel and the shortlisting process) and allowed the PS’s recommendation to stand.
  1. The PS (not the Board chair) wrote to the PSC where she included—for the first time in the process—examples of Mrs. Richards’ “ability” to justify recommending her. Note: The PSC made no attempt to further query or investigate this recommendation, or the process and rubber stamped it.

So, what’s going on?

Lawyer Mark Diel insists Dr Tucker was not given a “fair crack” at the job. I, for one, am trying to understand how a case as straightforward as this ends up in the Supreme Court. Like her or not, the least Dr Tucker could expect is that her application would be granted the impartiality due any applicant.

So why is this PS not being held accountable for her blatant disregard for impartiality? Shouldn’t this be guaranteed to all who apply for any post in the civil service? Or, is this behavior the norm—so pervasive no one notices? Is it condoned by the higher ups?

Are we so accepting of this kind of conduct that we all turn a blind eye and wait for a judge to tell us the obvious? And, if the court rules otherwise, do we then take the PS’s behavior to be the acceptable standard moving forward?

While I am not a ‘public fan’ of Dr Tucker—I don’t know her like that—I am wholeheartedly a fan of fairness. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Nonetheless, what I have learned from those who have worked with and/or under her is 1) she “knows her stuff”, 2) she is unapologetically committed to her duty to ensure students get the education they deserve, 3) she leads without fear or favor and endorses empowered accountability for all under her charge, 4) she is boldly honest and forthright in her view of what’s going on in education, and 5) she is astute in what is needed to create a public education system that ensures Bermuda’s long-term success. And, given what I know about Mrs Richards—my son attended CedarBridge Academy—I am not convinced that her experience; not to mention her disposition toward Black boys (that’s another article for another time) would surpass that of a qualified Bermudian.

So, what’s going on?

  • To be continued…