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Editorial | Calabar needs a leader

Published:Thursday | April 4, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Calvin Rowe was quite possibly a worthwhile teacher of English literature. It is about his leadership that we have profound doubts.

In that, we are not alone. Which is why he must seriously consider his future as the acting principal of Calabar High School with more than a nudge from the Reverend Karl Johnson, chairman of the school’s board of governors.

This conclusion is not only because of Monday’s incident during assembly/devotions in the school’s chapel when students, in the presence of Mr Rowe and other teachers, chanted a homophobic slur against their arch-rivals, Kingston College (KC). “Yo, KC ah --- school,” they intoned. A video clip of the event went viral. The incident was part of a pattern of behaviour of which Mr Rowe, if he isn’t a conscious enabler, doesn’t seem to possess the skills to reverse.

Either way, his tenure is compromised.

This misadventure, which followed KC’s victory last weekend, in Jamaica’s Boys’ Athletics Championship to break Calabar’s seven-year hold on the title, has elicited navel-gazing at Calabar.

They apologised to KC. The board of governors met with the education ministry. They promised further investigations, yet no one should really have been surprised. It was always likely to happen.

Established by the Baptists, Calabar is now, academically, a middling high school.

It ranks 39th among the island’s top 50 high schools, rated on the basis of students passing five subjects in a single sitting in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams. Nearly 83 per cent of KC’s students met the five-subject criteria. That school is 27th on the league table.

In most Jamaican high schools, sport is notoriously serious business. Calabar is great at it, especially track and field and football, to which a single-minded commitment may be compromising discipline, although that is not the whole story of Monday’s events.

Last December, Sanjaye Shaw, a physics teacher, who has been hailed for lifting performance in the subject at Calabar, complained of being assaulted by members of the school’s track team, including two of its top stars.

They wanted to retrieve beds belonging to the athletics programme, which Mr Shaw had borrowed for a physics camp.

A video clip of the incident showed noisy boys aggressively gesticulating, which Mr Shaw said was the case before his mobile phone, with which he was filming the incident, was knocked from his hand.

Tail wagging the dog?

The reported chant on the campus in the aftermath of that event was that “track man”, the school’s athletics stars, run Calabar.

With the seeming skills of a contortionist, Mr Rowe avoided disciplining the key antagonists, despite Mr Shaw’s persistence. Ostensibly, the evidence was insufficient. Others saw a commitment to the sport, especially when Champs was around the corner.

When Mr Rowe eventually did something, it was to deliver a ‘stern reprimand’ to the boys for disobeying a teacher’s instructions.

Eventually, either because of a need to appease an insistent Mr Shaw, or out of belated appreciation of the inconsequence of his punishment, the two boys were suspended. They, however, were allowed to train at the school and represent Calabar at a pre-Champs meet.

What happened at Calabar on Monday, in the chapel, at devotions/assembly, is not disconnected from the crisis of indiscipline and social dysfunction in a community in which we celebrate the infliction of hurt and the promotion of intolerance.

But neither can it be divorced from the earlier incident and the apparent ascendancy of athletics at Calabar. Worse, though, it is the statement that it makes about Mr Rowe’s control of the school and the respect he commands when boys would, in his presence, loudly chant homophobic remarks for at least 20 seconds.

That’s a problem an investigation by governors won’t fix.