The theme of this conference – Raising the bar in educational leadership and management - pre-supposes that we are not satisfied with the level of leadership and management in our educational system and consequently acknowledge the need to improve it.
While we continue to focus on quality teachers in order to ensure higher student achievement, there is no doubt in my mind that leadership and good management matter just as much in obtaining better results.
When we decided to organize this conference, we set as our primary objective to introduce the concept of quality, standards, accountability and competencies to those who lead and manage educational institutions in St. Martin. I am convinced that unless we raise the standard of professionalism of our school managers and school boards and increase their leadership quality and capacity, we would not succeed with the reforms and changes we intend to introduce in our education system in the short and long terms.
So, where is the bar at present, and how high do we want to raise it? What do we mean by leadership, particularly in education, and how can we improve it? These are some of the questions this Conference will have to address.
I must stress, as I have repeatedly done in the past, that as educators and policy-makers, we must remain focused on the fact that the student is the center of all our actions, of all our planning and of whatever reforms we propose to introduce in our education system. This is what makes leadership crucial: leadership in the classroom; leadership in the school, and need I add, leadership at home, also.
In my State of Education address at the beginning of this school year, I said the state of our education is not as healthy as it should be. I also said we must establish standards and best practices for teachers and schools by identifying our most effective teachers and school managers and learn from their expertise.
In my own quick-scan of our education system, I came to the conclusion that we operate a very complex system, which tends to stream our children at too early an age, and which offers a potpourri of letters that is confusing and difficult to understand, especially at the secondary level: HAVO, VWO, SBO, and all the remaining "Os" and the "TKL," "PKL" and all the other "L's".
One of our goals, therefore, is to simplify the system so that our children will receive a well-rounded, quality education, sit one school leaving examination at the end of primary school that would allow them to be admitted into secondary school, and have basically one model of secondary education which will offer a curriculum that is relevant and flexible enough for the students to pursue higher education anywhere in the world, or to enter the job market with a set of useful skills. Some of these reforms will be presented to you at this Conference today.
Let me return to the issue of leadership, which is at the heart of this Conference. What is leadership? What are the attributes of a good and effective leader? What impact does leadership have on student learning? All these are pertinent questions to ask, and I am sure our presenters will address them with more expertise than I have.
However, let me briefly offer you some definitions which I hope would stimulate the discussions that will later follow.
According to Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, "The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision." He may have derived this from the biblical saying: "where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18).
Leadership is not about position, but vision. It is not about authority but sincerity in building bridges and handling volatile situations with dexterity.
John C. Maxwell, another pastor, put it like this: "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." In other words, a leader knows where he or she is going, and leads by example.
I like that Chinese proverb that says: "it is not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck that leads the flock to fly and follow." We would say, do as I do, not as I say.
You are a leader, according to John Quincy Adams, "if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more." Or as David Gergen, that CNN commentator says, "A leader's role is to raise people's aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there."
A leader does not only inspire – Napoleon Bonaparte calls him/her "a dealer in hope" – a leader also empowers. A leader does not frighten people, he enlightens them. A leader does not seek comfort, but shows fortitude of character. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "the ultimate measure of a man (or woman) is not where he/she stands in moments of comfort, but where he/she stands at times of challenge and controversy."
We are living in very challenging times when leaders are needed the most who will place a premium on student achievement, who will develop and motivate a talented staff and who build a solid organizational structure that will stand the test of time.
I am sure those leaders can be found among you. In my humble view, there is a strong connection between teaching and leadership; and between learning and leadership. They are mutually dependent, so that the stronger one is, the greater the other becomes.
To raise the bar in educational leadership and management is not one person's job. It is not the minister's task alone. It is not the school principals' or teachers' duty, either. It is a collective effort that must involve all of us.
Steve Covey, author of the best-selling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said, "Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success. Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall."
I would like to add that the ladder of success in education cannot be placed to lean against the right wall by one person alone.
Finally, I wish to thank all the members of the organizing committee of this conference, particularly the chairperson, Mrs. Patricia Lourens, and my Executive Assistant, Morenika Arrindell. My thanks also to all the members of my cabinet as well as the staff of my ministry.
And without any doubt, I want to express my indebtedness to all our guests here today. Dr. Marc Jerome, Vice-President of Monroe College and our keynote speaker, thank you very much for being such a willing partner of St. Martin.
Ms. Rubina Boasman, who went through some serious travel challenges to get here, thank you. Thanks also to Mr. Charles Connor, Chief Education Officer of our neighbor, Anguilla. That's what good neighbors are there for.
And to our special guests from Curacao, my colleague Minister Lionel Jansen and his delegation, who at short notice, thought it important to be present with us here today, masha, masha danki. We know we will give cooperation a new and more significant meaning that will benefit our people.
Last but not least, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Mrs. Josianne Fleming, an educator par excellence, whose engagement in education continues to inspire me. A special thank you to Mrs. Jane Buncamper, a teacher of all teachers, a role model whose knowledge and insights continues to guide us. And thank you to our youth speaker, Akeem Adams. There will be no teachers, no school managers, no school boards, and no minister of education, if we did not have students, those we call the leaders of tomorrow.
I wish you all a very productive Conference, and may we leave here today re-invigorated and ready to raise the bar in educational leadership and management.
May I before ending, take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays.
I thank you.