ESF school's staff want chairman out

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 12:00am

Kennedy School teachers have demanded that their council chairman resign after a meeting with parents over the controversial decision not to renew the principal's contract.

A letter, signed 'all staff at Kennedy School', was sent to Sunil Nanda, the Pokfulam school's council chairman, and Parent Teacher Association chairman Nury Vittachi, and forwarded to the English School Foundation (ESF).

The letter reads: 'Staff at Kennedy School would like to reiterate their position ... and ask for the resignation of the chairman of the school council.'

ESF chairman Jal Shroff, who received a copy of the letter, said it was the decision of the entire school council and Kennedy School over whether Mr Nanda should resign. 'At present he has the backing of the ESF executive. I am sure he will act in the interests of the school.'

Mr Nanda reacted angrily yesterday, saying he would not resign. 'This is an unsigned letter that reflects poorly on the writers. The allegations are baseless and farcical, and are sadly an embarrassment to the school.'

Mr Vittachi said: 'The allegations are absurd. There were around 10 non-parents there who weren't invited, 90 per cent of them being teachers.'

He also denied the teachers were gagged at the meeting. In the letter, teachers also demanded to know why a former parent spoke at a meeting to discuss principal Vanessa Bingham's departure.

The teachers are criticising the way a December 12 meeting was conducted, suggesting it was set up to win support for the controversial decision, made on the school council's recommendation not to renew Ms Bingham's contract, which expires next August. The ESF accepted the recommendation.

Catherine McGrath, whose son attended Kennedy but has since moved to another school, aired her grievances at the meeting and left without answering questions about her claims. 'If either of yourselves were unaware that she was no longer a parent then your knowledge of the school is questionable,' said the teachers in the letter, adding that if they were aware, then their motives were 'suspect'.

The teachers also claim that neither Mr Nanda nor Mr Vittachi gave satisfactory explanations over 38 alleged complaints about the principal. Staff have also leaked an e-mail from Mr Nanda to Ms Bingham dated May 15 which described her as 'such a good principal'.

Mr Nanda responded: 'I am not ashamed of that e-mail. It demonstrates my personal objectivity.'

He added: 'The process as laid down in the ESF ordinance has been strictly adhered to and our decision is final. We have been circumspect and considered all aspects, particularly parental concerns and the findings of the review carried out by the ESF's education officers [in October].'

Parent Laurel Dillon, who was at the meeting, said many parents supported the council's action.

But Jackie Simpson, the school's nurse and a parent, did not believe those who spoke against the principal represented the majority. 'The number of complaints is not large enough to warrant not renewing her contract,' she said.

Negotiations between the ESF and Ms Bingham over her early departure are continuing. Ms Bingham was unavailable for comment.