Saturday, February 03, 2007

Personal Journey 26: Trying to Bring Order Out of Chaos

I am sorry not to have blogged earlier, but this week has been quite pressurizing and time has just vanished. I am also conscious of the sensitivity of the unfortunate episode that I am about to relate.

Tonight the Anglican Church in Hong Kong is going to elect a new Archbishop. Each of the three Bishops is eligible. I don't think any of us have any idea what the outcome is going to be. I will tell you all about it next week.

Have a good weekend.

Personal Journey 26: Trying to Bring Order Out of Chaos

The Diocesan Preparatory School, known as DPS, had been a popular, successful primary School with strong links with the Diocesan Boys' School, known as DBS, a highly successful secondary Church School. DBS was also heavily involved in the running of DPS itself and the ties between the two went back many years. Many in the Church had attended both schools and there was a strong sense of loyalty and closeness between all three. Then, in the 1990s, a serious row broke out between the Church and the then headteacher of DPS. DBS sided with the headteacher. The headteacher herself was popular with staff and parents. The outcome of this row was that the headteacher resigned.

This was bad enough, but then a new headteacher was appointed, one who was not able to gain the support of the parents or the staff. They remained loyal to the former headteacher. The press got involved and a campaign was begun to get rid of the new headteacher. Next many of the teachers threatened a mass resignation. A threat they went on to carry out. Those who resigned all had to be replaced. This meant that a stable, experienced teaching body went to being the exact reverse overnight. The parents normally very quiet and uninvolved were in uproar with meetings happening all over the place.

The Press had a field day. A once proud and successful School was brought to its knees. Then to make matters even worse, DBS announced that it was going to build a new Primary School and end the relationship with DPS. What is more, the headteacher who had resigned from DPS with whom the Church had had a bitter dispute, was made the consultant for building and setting up the new School.

It was at this point that I arrived as the Vicar of Christ Church and Chairman of the Council of DPS.

There is more much more to this story and I have deliberately gone easy of the precise details of the story. Suffice it to say that it is a story of intrigue, betrayal, deception, lies, conspiracy, and more. I intend, however, to say no more for now, and I have no wish to attribute blame. Nevertheless, I was plunged into it from the start and from the moment I arrived people were lobbying to get me on their side and the press were constantly ringing for statements.

To make matters worse, if that was possible, serious allegations had been made concerning staff at the Church Kindergarten by a member of the Church and the School governing body. The Kindergarten itself had strong links with Diocesan Schools. It was a total mess. There was no choice, but to get involved.

My first goal was to get us out of the Press and to try to reassure the parents that whatever had gone on in the past, we would do our best to put things right. I was fortunate in that I was able to establish good relationships with one or two of the parents who had been leading the protests. I knew it was essential to have their trust. Furthermore, I insisted that all enquiries from the Press were referred to me and that no-one else was allowed to talk to them. This was in an attempt to stop people giving conflicting briefings.

It became very clear that there was a conspiracy to discredit and remove the new headteacher. Despite everything, people still wanted their boys to go to the School while the relationship with DBS remained in place. This meant the battle for places at the School was fierce and whoever could influence admission had a lot - and I mean a lot - of power. I have to be very careful here, but I don’t think it is any secret that anyone with influence was open to bribes or favours. The new headteacher whatever people may have thought about him was straight and honest. Hence in my opinion, part the reason for the almost hysterical desire to get rid of him.

People repeatedly said he was no good at his job. While I didn’t think he was the best choice as headteacher of DPS, the fact was that he had been appointed and had served his probation. My opinion was that it was impossible for anyone to know how good or bad he was because he hadn’t been given a chance and that Christian charity and fairness, let alone the Law, demanded that he was. Consequently, I recommended that due process be followed. We would give him time and support and then conduct a proper independent appraisal and evaluation. This suggestion won the day

I also wanted to build bridges between people who had felt let down and rejected by the Church. I had some limited success, but a tremendous amount of damage had been done and the relationship with DBS could never be the same again. I am sad that people who were in positions of influence on both sides of the divide did not do more. I am also afraid that the wounds went very deep indeed and people were badly scarred.

It doesn’t matter how much you seek reconciliation or try to be a peacemaker, if that’s not what people want, there is not whole lot you can do about it.

I have summarised things all too much, but I want to give the feel of what the atmosphere was like when I came and how all consuming it was. My overwhelming emotion was one of deep sadness that something that had been beautiful and had meant so much to so many people had been utterly destroyed and degraded bringing shame on the Church and both Schools.

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