New chairman launches reign of terror at CDNIS

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Days after new Chairman Godwin Hwa was installed, Canadian International School fires 10 teachers—9 go—as the school moves to purge teachers as they remake school. Some say not for the better.


Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS) sacked 10 teachers and one administrative staffer yesterday—in many cases by handing a teacher an envelope while they were teaching primary school children, shocking the recipients. Tearful teachers were kept under watch by security as they were told to pack and go, forever. They were escorted from the school by security guards off campus.

Word quickly spread and parents responded to the call and arrived at the school to support beleaguered teachers, not for the first time this academic year. Shock, anger, disgust and dismay were on display.

School children witnessed their teachers being escorted out by security guards. One parent onsite claimed, ‘they don’t deserve to keep  the name Canadian on the school’. Many had harsh words for the previous Chairman, Richard Wong (Tunisian Honorary Consul), and the newly elected Chair, Godwin Hwa, former Sing Pao Media Executive Director.

Teachers refused to speak to press and word emerged of offers of hush money on top of normal severance pay. Many seemed to be in a state of shock.

Purge

The mass layoff was part of a continuing pattern by the school administration to eliminate opposition.

Experienced teachers were not immune. Loyal teachers, including those who have worked for the school for 17 years, were on the firing line. Parents complained of  distressed children who witnessed the firings. Of the eleven served papers, one dismissal was retracted due to pregnancy. The Head of IT was fired just a week ago.

Many parents claimed the mass layoff was part of a continuing pattern by the school administration to eliminate opposition. All the staff had a record of speaking out at school meetings that had taken place since the school was embroiled in controversy by a conflict over governance that drove an exodus of top leadership of Members, Governors, Heads of School, operational staff and more. Firings have been rife and those who have spoken out bore the brunt of firings yesterday.

After students left on the last day of school, parents later received an email from the school announcing the recent ‘staff arrangement’. The message was unsigned, an unusual practice as most e-mails from CDNIS to parents specify the sender. Livid parents rushed to the Aberdeen campus, to find no one in the administration to answer their questions.

Herbert Chow, a parent and an ex-Governor, urged the Education Bureau to take action.

“[The] Board has done detrimental things to the school, and the teachers are [responsible people] in that they refused to go on strike. I hope the Secretary of Education can look into it and intervene.”

Governance farrago
CDNIS is managed by the Board of Governors. Governors are appointed by an exclusive group called Members, which comprises founders of the school and ex-Governors. The two-tier structure is meant to hold the Governors accountable. However, since Members can serve unlimited number of years, the Members have come to control the Board, regularly exercising veto power over Board appointments.

Earlier in November 2014, 5 Governors and 2 Members resigned en masse in protest constant interference in the school’s running by Members and demanded a new governance structure with a transparent reform process. The furore at that time led to the resignation of the Chairman Kennedy Liu.

Questions about the hiring of the new Head of School aggravated the situation as the multi-party group set up to find the new head was bypassed.  Dr Gregg Maloberti has not previously served as a Head of School (acting only, never confirmed),  but was a career admissions specialist recruited out of an American school.  “Maloberti has no experience in running a school as a Head of School, and no experience in running an IB [curriculum]. Teachers have already [challenged] why this guy was hired to lead the school,” says Mr Chow.

In spring 2015, 870 parents petitioned calling for Head of School, Dr Maloberti, to resign.

Students want suspended Lower School Principal Dylan Hughes and Vice Principal Kathy Nutting back. Photo taken in March 2015.

The future

Canadian or IB teaching qualifications are not required for newly-recruited teachers,  according to advertising. Parents have raised concerns about the school’s ability to maintain IB and Canadian certification in the future.

Parents have been taking to Facebook to declare their dismay at having to take their children out of the school and announce their new placements in schools like Hong Kong International School (HKIS). This may be part of the Members’ and Dr Maloberti’s plan. An earlier front page Globe and Mail (Canada’s oldest and biggest national newspaper) report by China correspondent Nathan Vanderklippe quoted then Chairman Richard Wong as saying of outspoken parents, “If those people’s leaving will help, I don’t mind,” Mr. Wong said.

Online, CDNIS has posted recruitment ads looking for “Full Time Supply Teachers” on May 28 2015. A local teaching certification and two years’ experience will suffice. Canadian or IB teaching qualifications are not required. Parents have raised concerns, onsite and online, about the school’s ability to provide a quality Canadian education and maintain IB and Canadian certification in the future. Fees run from HK$120,000 to HK$163,000 a year, not including extra charges for school trips, buses and the like.

As for governance review, some promises were made earlier this year and new Governors were appointed, with the approval of the Members. However, in this instance, rumours abounded that many Governors were not apprised of the firings. HT learned from a Governor that the execution of the firing was handled at the school administration level. Most others did not respond or cut off calls at the mention of media.

Disappointed, some parents have already pulled their children out of CDNIS. Other teachers and operational staff have resigned. What lies ahead of the 24-year-old school remains uncertain.

Disclosure: HT Editor-in-Chief Andrew Work is the President of The Canadian Club in Hong Kong. The Club holds one of the two ex-officio seats suspended from the Board. He resigned along with the aforementioned Governors and Members.