The Troubled School

by Stredwick
The Troubled School
Austin Mitchell

             I was in Norma’s restaurant in Golden Spring, having lunch when I saw the man come in. I didn’t recognize him until he came over to my table. He was a tall, strapping man and looked to be about my age, which was near forty five. I was nearsighted, at least that’s what I call it when I can’t remember the medical term.
            “Boyd Watson, what’s going on? It’s a long time since I’ve seen you,” he greeted me.
            It was Carl Parnel. I was shocked. The last time I saw Carl was in 1980 just after the elections. Carl was twenty two then and I was just turning twenty.
          “Carl, what the hell are you doing in Jamaica?”
           “I’m just out here visiting the old school.”
          “Have a seat, Carl. Can I buy you a beer?”
            He told me that he’d like a soda so I ordered one for him. I was eating the national dish of ackee and saltfish along with rice and peas. I was washing it down with a cold beer. Carl’s soda came and he started drinking it.
          I was an accountant and auditor, having my own practice in Constant Spring.
        “Boyd, I’ve returned to teach at Keswick,” he announced.
       “What the hell, do you think you’ll make a difference?”
       “I’m sure I will, it’s been only two months since I’ve been there and they’ve made me the dean of discipline.”
        “What! I can’t believe it. I thought Keswick had a dean of discipline.”
        “They had one, but he just resigned and left for no apparent reasons.”
          He had finished drinking his soda. I offered him another one, but he refused. I had also finished eating my lunch.
            We shook hands and parted. I headed back to work and he I suppose headed back to Keswick about five miles away.
          Carl and I had been in the same class at Keswick High school. In those days there was no sixth form so we just left school after fifth form. Carl got a job selling insurance and I got one as an assistant teacher. A week later I visited Keswick to find out how Carl was doing.
          “That school is unmanageable. In about six years, they’ve changed three principals. All the boys want to do is smoke marijuana and the girls to have sex,” Delroy, an oldster, who sold food at the school gate told me.
         “Carl’s just wasting his time. Those children don’t want to learn. Look at how they go to school. The boys wear their shirts out of their pants. The uniforms the girls wear need a good ironing,”Lorna, a practical nurse from the area told me.
           I went in to see Carl. He looked under pressure and it showed in his face.
        “Boyd, I’ve never seen anything like this before. This is nothing compared to our times.”
        “Based on what the villagers tell me, things aren’t easy up here.”
         “We’ve had to call in the police a few times. It’s only when they’re around that the situation is under control.”
           I knew that the station was a half a mile away, but according to Carl it seemed like miles away, based on the response times sometimes.
          We talked some more before I left to attend to some clients. I was a volunteer at the school, getting some of my friends in the medical profession to give free health checks once every term. In fact, I  often brought a full team with me. It included a female gynecologist and two nurses. The school population was slightly short of a thousand students. My team also gave free medicals for back to school.
             I had also arranged with the old boys association for a back to school fair every August. At this fair, we gave out back to school supplies for needy students. Some old boys who were in the medical profession even came down and gave whatever help they could.
            But despite this, things continued to deteriorate. Carl called me  one day to say that he had been threatened by the local gang leader, Cubby. He told me that gangs were now operating at the school. Students had to pay money to these gang leaders for protection. They in turn paid it over to Cubby.
           Two months later I got elected to the
school board. We had a meeting with the
teachers. They complained of being threatened
by some male students and even some girls too.
          A decision was made to put in cameras on the school’s compound and metal detectors too.
         Derval Day and Cheryll Malcolm were expelled from the school, thus causing an uproar. Derval was expelled after he pointed his finger in Carl’s face and threatened to punch him.
        “That guy’s poison. He should have been expelled a long time ago,” Carl told me.
          Cheryll was a different case. She had been absent from school for three weeks. It was discovered that instead of coming to school, she had gone to Negril and Portland with men.
         There was another problem. A lot of students attending the school and even some with behavioral problem came from other schools. These students came from rich homes and could afford to board. There were some homes having three or four boarders. Some of these students were booted from some prestigious schools as most times they couldn’t make the grade so they sought refuge at Keswick.
            Some of the villagers who had boarders insisted that it was the school’s fault why some of their charges weren’t making the grade. Carl said that they had to stick by the rules and so they couldn’t continue entertaining students who couldn’t make it academically.
           A month later, saying that he couldn’t manage anymore, Martin Wint resigned and Carl was appointed acting principal.
            “It’s a touch and go situation, Boyd. I might just have to follow Martin.”
           “Martin was weak. I think you’re much stronger than him. Take a leaf out of Dick Bell’s book and you’ll be all right.”
             Dick Bell had been our headmaster at the primary school and he was a no nonsense sort of person.
            Carl had to insist on some strict disciplinary measures at the school. He brought in peer counselors to talk to several boys and girls who were identified as troublemakers.
             Sports was identified as a means of improving discipline at the school. The old boys association went on a drive to get in sports gears, including getting funding for coaches. In addition a system of merits and demerits was put in. Students were awarded prizes for gaining a certain amount of merits in any one term, but could be expelled if they exceeded a certain amount of demerits.
           An old boy, Dillon East, was brought in to manage the football team. We got support from the school’s alumni in the States. Also we got in old boys and girls to manage the other major sporting teams. Carl has said that the school was thinking of entering some of the major school sporting competitions again.
            The hold that gangs had over the school was broken when Cubby and three of his men were surprised at their hideout by the police. They were caught with several high powered weapons. At the moment they are in jail awaiting trial.
           But it’s still a challenge because a lot of the parents aren’t employed. The End.
            Epilogue: Carl was eventually appointed principal and I, Chairman of the Board.
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