Harriet Arzu Scarborough, Ph.D.
11 Caladium St.
Belmopan, Cayo District
August 24, 2012
I continue to be appalled at the way decisions are made in Belize’s public high schools. Continually the leaders who make decisions about the education of Belize’s children seem to work counter to what is good for those children, even though they might purport to believe that they want the best possible education for them. I speak here of what is currently taking place at Toledo Community College (TCC).
At the moment, Dr. Francis Harold Arzu is finishing up his second stint as acting principal of TCC. I confess to a certain amount of bias when it comes to Dr. Arzu; after all, he is my cousin who’s more like a brother. Dr. Francis Arzu, the son of my father’s younger brother, grew up with us in the Arzu household in Barranco. He graduated from Claver College in Punta Gorda, went on to earn an associate degree at St. John’s College Junior College, and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from a university in Mexico.
During the time between degrees he taught at Claver College, and later at Toledo Community College. After earning his doctor of veterinary medicine credentials, he returned to PG. PG and the surrounding areas did not have enough work for two veterinarians, and not wanting to leave the area, Dr. Arzu resumed his work as a teacher at TCC. He rose through the ranks, and eventually became an assistant principal.
PG was not immune to the societal upheavals beginning in the 1990s that led to disaffected youth. It was in this setting that Dr. Arzu was appointed as acting principal in 2004 when the principal went on study leave. Francis has long been devoted to TCC, having been one of the original staff members when TCC was established 30 years ago.
Upon assuming the leadership of TCC, he assessed the situation and determined that if he wanted the best for TCC, he could not just hold the helm and proceed as if everything was okay. He realized that TCC needed more than a band-aid; TCC needed a strategic plan.
Involving the stakeholders, he called on his cousin, Harold Gregory Arzu, to facilitate strategic planning sessions for TCC. Those two days of strategic planning were very well attended, and to date, TCC stands among very few Belize high schools with strategic plans. The strategic planning afforded Toledo Community College the opportunity to develop goals for not just the next year, but goals to achieve a long-term laser vision on improving student achievement.
The PG community can attest to the fact that the change in the school was palpable. Students were more disciplined and focused, and best of all, student achievement improved. Dr. Arzu called on his resources to assist in the uplifting of TCC. He brought in educational experts to provide professional development for the TCC teachers. He wanted the best for the children of Toledo.
In 2008 the principal on leave returned to assume his position, and Francis Arzu resumed his post as assistant principal. 2008 was also an election year, which led to a change in government. As has become customary in Belize, a change in government can mean a change in the “principalship” of government high schools. This change is often done as patronage to supporters, and at times whoever is placed in the helm may not necessarily be the best person to shepherd the improvement of student achievement.
So in PG in 2008, the “principalship” was advertised and Dr. Arzu applied for the position. He had a very successful interview, but in the end a couple of board members took issue with the fact that he had no pedagogical training, and, therefore could not possibly be an effective principal.
Furthermore, the board decided that if he wanted to retain his post as assistant principal, he would have to pursue a diploma in education at the University of Belize, taking some of the courses with one of the board members. Francis complied, and he now had enough pedagogical training to be a high school principal.
In September 2011, three years into the tenure of the principal who was selected, Dr. Arzu was approached by the TCC board once again and asked to serve as acting principal. The principal who had had the right amount of pedagogical knowledge to lead the school had resigned under mysterious circumstances.
Once again, Francis answered the call and became acting principal. However, when the position was advertised earlier this year, he received the message loud and clear from the TCC board that he should not bother applying because he was not the person they wanted to lead the school.
Instead they have hired someone with pedagogical training, I believe, but no high school experience. He apparently has the right political credentials, or the right friends. I can only assume that this decision was made based on providing Toledo students the best education possible.
Of course, I am biased. Francis is my cousin, and I think he is the best principal for TCC. He not only bleeds TCC, he is an outstanding educator and a peerless leader. He epitomizes what current educational lingo calls “servant leadership.” He is not about flash; he is about substance, and foremost, he wants the best possible education for the children of Toledo.
Of all the leaders that TCC has had, no one can approach what Dr. Arzu has done in using his influence and relationships to improve TCC. As a child, he developed a relationship with a wonderful couple from Tucson, Arizona – Spencer and Gloria Giffords. They, along with their two girls, Melissa and Gabby, opened their home to Francis and had him spend a year with them in Tucson. The Giffords family has maintained their relationship with Francis over the years, and has visited him and TCC from time to time.
Spencer and Gloria Giffords established and funded a scholarship for TCC graduates to attend St. John’s Junior College, and in the course of eleven years provided over a quarter of a million dollars worth of scholarships. Additionally, their daughter, Gabby Giffords (the congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in 2010), shipped computers to TCC, and then she and a friend traveled to PG to set up a computer lab for TCC.
Additionally, the Giffords collected books in Tucson, shipped them to PG, and then came to organize a library for TCC.
Since 2007, my husband Tom and I have provided professional development for BAPSS and many high schools in Belize. This year BAPSS was interested in exploring strategic planning. I asked Dr. Arzu if he was attending the two-day workshop on August 6th and 7th and if he might be able to share his strategic planning experience with the other BAPSS principals.
He told me that he was not attending because when he had asked the board if he could attend, he was told that his attendance would not be necessary because he would not be principal by then.
At this moment, Dr. Francis Arzu is in the process of handing over to the new principal of TCC and has accepted the fact that he will now return to his post as assistant principal.
So why am I writing this letter? Foremost, I wanted to catalog the experience, commitment, and dedication that Francis has given Toledo Community College.
Secondly, I wanted to document the ludicrous decisions that leaders here in Belize and elsewhere make when their motivation is less than honorable, and when their motivation is not the fostering of high quality instruction in a school so that every child receives the high quality education he/she deserves.
Harriet Arzu Scarborough, Ph.D.
Furendei Educational Consultants, LLC