Another ERO horror about to unfold: Part Three – This psychological terror is the stuff of nightmares

The ministry responded to a small but vocal group of right-wing power wielders who were manoeuvring to annihilate the principal of a local state school. Many in this trouble-making group had influential political links and the attitude of mind to work them mercilessly. The call had gone out amongst the community that it was game on and another principal was for the chop.

The new board chair simply refused to report to the principal or follow board directions.

The unmanageability of the board then, of course, became the excuse for a ministry investigation (these power-wielder groups know the ropes) and from there the inevitable call for a commissioner.

But not so inevitable after all.

As a result of the lobbying of the local member of parliament and direct lobbying of the minister’s office, this decision was overturned from Wellington.

A limited statutory manager, of just the worst kind was appointed, but then so many of them are, who basked in her popularity; bragging about how many people had wished her well in her allocated task of getting rid of the principal.

The local café became the command base for firing out incessant and outrageous communications to the ministry, board, and LSM; something of a base for the LSM too. As one could anticipate, confidentiality was entirely absent; the leaking to the community a matter of process.

The teachers were torn this way and that; no-one knew where anyone stood except the principal and deputy-principal who were seen as dead teachers walking. As result of the intimidation, self-preservation saw teachers starting to act out of character.

The atmosphere was nightmarish.

The teacher organisations were hapless; some of the NZEI staffers showed some humanity; but the executives, it seems, were too frightened for their own skins, lacking in moral courage, enjoying the Wellington games too much; in effect, more comfortable standing with the minister. I suggest you listen to the presidents of NZEI and NZPF in the way they respond to the Marlene Campbell affair – listen to the carefully chosen words adding up to hot air rising and cold conviction obdurate; or don’t, and listen to the thunderous silence. Members of the executives, I suspect, sign up to executive silence; but in the larger scheme of things, who cares? deep conscience trumps all, don’t break silence lightly, but don’t rule it out.

And here were the deputy-principal and principal wondering; wondering what on god’s earth had happened, what was it they did or didn’t do? Their reasoning would have brought them no-where near the truth as it is not a normal part of teaching life in New Zealand to reach the Kafkan understanding that they were in trouble simply because they were there and not somewhere else.

These power wielders were going to have their victims no matter what.

The pressure led to an ERO visit.

Even though the ERO team were tightly controlled by the LSM (who had previously been a reviewer), in the report produced, they only felt able to put forward four areas of recommendation as against ten areas of strength, and only one area of compliance listed, and that was to provide a safe working environment for all employees.

The ERO members appeared uncomfortable in seeing something very different from what they had been told to ‘see’; confiding to the principal they knew she had ample ability to lead but were working under political instruction from Wellington.

And to carry out that political instruction, the review office acted in a remarkably perverse manner. For instance, to avoid having to take into account the considerable amounts of very high quality data the school possessed, they put that aside their usual practice of pouring over it, and said, instead, they preferred to base their findings on what they called ‘observed information’ which, in effect, were momentary appearances in classrooms.

The principal was not allowed to speak directly to the board, the staff, or the community, or to contest any considered inaccuracies, or inform the report in anyway.

It was a nightmare of injustice for the principal and deputy-principal.

For the appraisal of the principal and deputy-principal, the LSM used an unqualified appraiser, who was a friend of hers.

The LSM would not allow the principal to speak directly with the board.

The teachers were ‘encouraged’ to report directly to the LSM, by-passing the principal.

The LSM ‘encouraged’ teachers to have separate meetings excluding the principal and deputy-principal.

The principal was abused in front of children by previous board chair’s wife.

The new board chair’s wife waved her finger, stood over, and shouted at the principal. All unchallenged by the LSM.

The LSM made personal remarks about the principal’s dress and body shape. It was as though the LSM was working from a psychological handbook on to how to break a person down.

The LSM rang the principal’s previous employers in a fruitless attempt to get dirt.

The LSM broke confidentiality and informed teachers the principal was going into mediation.

A teacher was ordered by the LSM to break into the principal’s locked filing cabinet even though the principal had told her she would have a key for her next day.

The LSM tried to run the school all on her own; what a farce! the ineptitude staggering. Do they ever think of the children in all this?

Unpleasant anonymous e-mails implicating the principal’s family were circulated to the trustees, teachers, and the community. Surely, the ultimate in school bullying. When the principal called in an investigator – the board and LSM refused to allow him to complete the investigation.  Of course, the investigator was on the point of naming the person involved.

In gaudy red paper published for community distribution, there was information about the principal’s employment and leave details; also that her husband who occasionally helped at the school had been trespassed, somehow expressed in a manner that he was a danger to children.

The LSM appointed an acting principal before mediation had been settled.

The lions were loose on their victims. The minister, the local member of parliament, the ministry head and local office, the review local and head office, sat back and enjoyed the spectacle so efficiently promoted.

In effect, the vocations of the principal and deputy-principal were being made to die like dogs (for those who have not read Part One and Two this reference from Kafka’s The Trial), and the shame to live after them both within and without. Their vocations in New Zealand now hung like a thread. Over what? Due to what? What was the terrible thing they had done that would plunge their lives into this kind of hell? A group in the community wanted victims for an entertainment, an exercise in wilful power. They made the school unmanageable and then used political contacts to use the education bureaucracies as instruments of political power to lay the lives of two fine New Zealanders in ruins.

This is Sunny John’s New Zealand.

The commissioner process is a show trial. Any charge against a principal can be trumped up, with no right to challenge; freedom of speech denied.  The story of the commissioner process is often one begun with a trifling to non-existent cause (in the case of Marlene Campbell, it was because of her flamboyant opposition to national standards); is of a tool for threatening (a routine practice by the education review office); is of commissioners and mangers being appointed to the position well short of a satisfactory level of mental health or impartiality (a fair number of appointments though are made because they are); is of there really being no limits to the power of these people and no distinction between the functions of commissioner or statutory manager; is of a misuse of power to manipulate the media; is of providing incentive to extend matters to financial advantage; and, is of the entirely wrong way to go about the matter anyway. The question should not start with how to make the commissioner process work, but how to help schools needing a range of help. At the moment, the process is mainly one of establishing a system for propagating fear amongst schools for unaccountable control.

The health of the principal and deputy-principal was compromised and relationships put under duress. The principal became unwell both physically and mentally. The LSM saw this and piled it on. She made sure she was heard bragging by phone that she was on the verge of getting rid of another one.

Following mediation, the principal finally resigned. The deputy-principal who had stayed so wonderfully loyal to the principal was also forced to leave.

A celebration was held at the café.

This is education in New Zealand today.

From there, fortunately, the principal was able to draw on her resilience and hire a very good lawyer. The education authorities concerned don’t expect fightback and, as occurred here, are often careless and flagrant in their behaviour. They were carved up by the lawyer.

The principal received a very large pay-out.

Five months after the principal left the school, 15 of the teachers were to sign a letter of complaint to the board and ministry. Two years later only two teachers remained, now only one.

The principal left for Australia to do wonderfully, see below, and you will also read how things turned out for the deputy-principal.

In Kafkan manner, look at how chance was to make these education professionals victims, only chance. Think about that, there was nothing the victims could have done; no change in behaviour, no hiding – it was chance. Such a characteristic is totalitarian. Yes, the prime minister might be Mr Nice Guy in appearance and do his utmost to cast a sunny hue, but there are sinister developments everywhere below the surface of New Zealand life. But I am not going to pit myself against Mr Nice Guy everywhere, his grip is too atavistic, guttural and pervasive to do that, but I am going to pit myself against him in the part I’m associated with, education.

Sue McIntosh says:

October 19, 2015 at 9:40 pm

I was the DP – this is a full and accurate account so far. I look forward to part 3 – even though it hurts to read it, it is finally giving some closure on a tough time in my career. Fortunately, I got out reasonably intact and was AP at a great Auckland school, where I was allowed to rebuild my shattered confidence. Sadly, I have recently left NZ primary education for good.

Reply

  1. Kelvin says:

October 19, 2015 at 9:57 pm

As you know Sue, they ain’t read nothing yet, just small stuff. The principal described you as brave and terrific. My love and best wishes to you. Thank-you for reminding us it is all about real people.

Reply

  1. Kerry Boland says:

October 22, 2015 at 12:40 am

As the company director in Australia who was fortunate enough to employ the principal referred to in this story and more recently the deputy, I can only say that this principal has brought a tremendous amount of vision, heart, leadership, high performance standards and is a true exponent for all our stakeholders, especially the children. I am shocked that this malevolent behaviour is allowed to perpetuate and that good people with incredible passion, insight and intellect fall victim to the vindictiveness of ill-informed power transcendent bullies

All I can say is that this principal’s ethical leadership and courage has saved one of our companies from imminent closure and she affords the vision and strategic direction to lead our other company into a new innovative era of integrated education and health services.

Wake up NZ your loss is our gain!

Reply

  1. Kelvin says:

October 22, 2015 at 7:37 am

Thank-you Kerry: For the final part of my postings I was forming in my mind the message you have expressed, so wonderfully, in such moving terms. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank-you for appreciating her in a way we couldn’t.

Reply

  1. Sue McIntosh says:

October 22, 2015 at 8:55 pm

DP here again – I cannot express enough my thanks for this thread, the comments and your replies Kelvin. It has restored my confidence after 5 years in a fog of self-doubt. I can finally move on …

 

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6 Responses to Another ERO horror about to unfold: Part Three – This psychological terror is the stuff of nightmares

  1. Brent Godfery says:

    Name the LSM. Others then forewarned.

  2. Robert Clarke says:

    He mihi nui ki te Tumuaki me te Tumuaki Tuarua nei…an acknowledgement to my two former colleagues, enjoy your next challenge over there. I’m glad your story has been told a little on this blog. Thank you Kelvin!

  3. Kerry Boland says:

    Kia Ora my friends. How does one respond in order to do this story justice? Through your incredible narrative craft Kelvin you gave this gut wrenching story a voice. I know these people, have heard it from their own mouths and yet in print I find this story unfathomable. In this ether, I am going to respond from a human space.
    Where do we have the right to treat a fellow human being (whoever they are, whatever the issue) with anything other than dignity and respect? When have we not stood up to the injustice of the bully or equally as bad stood by in apathy or cowered in fear. When are we going to stop passively watching the sparrow die?
    This story is not just about the annihilation of the principal and the deputy, its about a group of teachers and a community who were ‘asked’ to be disloyal. Good people gone bad. In reality it’s an exposition of the governing organisation who failed in their duty to protect them. It’s about the abuse and the misuse of power.
    Kelvin please tell me your writing about the ku klux clan? because then I can make sense of it.
    Where do we draw the line in the sand, stand up and say this is not ok? Are we no better than a pride of lions bringing down its prey. The difference between a human and an animal is that we claim we are capable of empathy……
    We leaders have all experienced the loneliness of the role and have bled from the wounds inflicted when we tried to push back the rising tide. The tide is apathetic to what sits below its primordial force, the sand – the children.
    Let us all be transformational through interrogating our dark history with an open and honest heart. We need to make sense of this terror, not succumb to the siren call and require honour to the prophets of our profession. Protect those within it and most of all safeguard basic human rights.
    Today in Australia around the ‘campfire’ we discussed the pending crisis of our future leadership. The diminishing number of the y-generation who are willing to consider principalship. And why would anybody sign up for a position of martyrdom? Perhaps the role should come with a warning label “potentially unsafe profession – enter at own risk”
    This principal and the deputy are both courageous, heart lead dealers in hope. They have risen from this shame, their journey is still unfolding, but their legacy will be profound …

  4. Bronwyn James says:

    I have personally worked at three schools since 2001 where the same story has been played out.

  5. Kelvin says:

    Bronwyn: that statement is about as powerful as one could make. This is systematic bullying.

  6. Sue McIntosh says:

    systematic bullying at it’s worst and should be stopped. It grieves me that it continues.

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