Bernard stares vacantly out of the open window in his fourth floor office. It is 3 pm, and from up here, everything is quiet. From this perch, Bernard has an excellent view of his small kingdom. He has been the principal of Gakondo High School for fifteen years now, and he has transformed the place. When he came here, the school was neglected and abandoned. The few buildings that existed were dilapidated; the mean score was even worse than the buildings. The school had hit its lowest moment the year just before he joined, getting a mean score of 2.4 with the first student scoring a D+. For the first time in the history of the school, no student got a C grade.
Before coming to Gakondo High School, Bernard had been the deputy principal at Matogo High School. He had taught at the Matogo High for over a decade before becoming the Deputy Principal. In a career that has lasted thirty years, Bernard has only worked in two schools: Matogo High and Gakondo High. He deputized the Matogo High School’s legendry principal Duncan Owino for five years, and he studied the man’s ambition, vision and work ethic from close quarters. He saw Owino build Matogo from an average school to a national giant. When an opportunity to head Gakondo High presented itself, Bernard knew he was up to the task.
Upon becoming the Principal of Gakondo High, Bernard realised that the biggest problem with the school was lack of motivation. The students, teachers and even parents were convinced that once a student was admitted at Gakondo High, it was a confirmation that they were academic failures. Bernard knew that his job would involve only two things: first, boosting morale around the school and second, improving infrastructure.
He started by imposing a strict routine on teachers. Nobody would be allowed to skip classes henceforth. He conducted a fundraiser and invited all parents, former students and local politicians. He knew the fundraiser would not attract bigshots, but he was confident that they would raise enough money to purchase text books, pay teachers to conduct extra tuition on the students and purchase presents for the most improved students. The plan worked. Within a year, the mean score of the school rose from 2.4 to 4.1. The first student scored a B-, and that caused a lot of excitement in the school and the community. The morale around the school received a massive boost.
But Bernard knew that motivation alone would not take the school to the highest levels. The school needed facilities. But he also knew that parents and the community around the school would not afford the construction that needed to be done, and a small school like Gakondo High would not attract high ranking politicians and business people to fundraisers. It could not rely on alumni either, because most of them were struggling to survive, doing manual jobs around Gakondo.
But Bernard realised that the school was only utilizing five acres out of the thirty acres of land that it owned. He decided to earmark another five acres for school expansion and then use twenty acres to do commercial farming. He decided to focus on dairy farming, poultry farming and fish farming. The project has been a huge success. Fifteen years later, Gakondo High now makes millions of shillings annually from the farm. The farm is run by a team of professionals led by a Farm Director. The Farm Director reports to the school principal.
With the approval of the Board of Management, Bernard has over the years used profits from the farm to improve infrastructure. He has focused on storied buildings to maximize on the ten acres which he earmarked for the school. The school now has modern facilities, including spacious classes, modern dormitories, a huge library, well equipped laboratories and an imposing administration block. Last year’s class had a mean score of 9.7, which established the school as one of the top schools in the country.
Gakondo High does not charge school fees; it relies on its commercial enterprises to fund its activities. It has not changed its community outlook either; it is still classified as a sub-county school, and only admits students from Marowi sub-county. At Bernard’s insistence, Gakondo High automatically admits the top ten students from each of the three public day schools in the Gakondo locality. The rest of the students are the top students in the other public day schools in Marowi Sub-County. This selection process has raised the performance of public day schools in Marowi Sub-County, as pupils compete for the limited slots in the school.
But it has not been a smooth sail for Bernard. Cartels have been trying to hijack the school for a number of years now. For instance, a cartel of wealthy parents tried to rig the admission process a few years ago. Having failed to corrupt him, the cartel tried to corrupt the system by bribing headmasters of day primary schools so as to have their students enrolled for KCPE in public day schools while studying in private schools. Parents complained to Bernard, and he hired investigators to do background checks on all prospective students to ensure that only needy students from Marowi Sub-County got admission. He uncovered the fraud and reported to TSC, the Education Ministry and EACC. The head teachers who had been involved were interdicted by TSC, and two of them are in jail. Since then primary school administrators have not tried to cheat the system. Gakondo High still does background checks on all its prospective students though.
When the Education Ministry launched the computerized school placement system, Bernard successfully petitioned the Minister to have the school exempted from the system. He argued that the school is a community school that admits needy students on merit, and that if the ministry insisted on the automatic placement, bright but needy students from the locality would be locked out. The Minister agreed, and Gakondo High School was formally given an exemption through a gazette notice.
In spite of his impressive work, cartels are a constant source of headache for the fifty-five-year old principal. He knows that some politicians and connected local businessmen want to oust him out of the school. There are two reasons for this. The first is his insistence that the school will only admit bright but needy students from public day schools. Wealthy businessmen and politicians who snubbed the school when Bernard was doing fundraisers to raise money to invest in the farm now want their children to be admitted to the school. But their children do not meet the criteria, and Bernard has proven to be incorruptible.
The second reason they want Bernard out is because they want a share of the school’s millions. Like his mentor Owino, Bernard is an incorruptible public servant, and he ensures that every coin that the school makes is used to develop the school. He doesn’t reward himself or grant himself any extra “bonuses”. He survives entirely on the salary that he receives from TSC. And because he approves all the contracts that the farm director negotiates, there has been no way for local politicians and brokers to “eat”. That is why they want to push him out and get one of their own at the helm.
Bernard also knows that local politicians are afraid that he will plunge into politics upon his retirement. Given his popularity, he would get almost any seat he vies for, and that does not sit well with incumbent and prospective political leaders.
They have tried to get him transferred by TSC has refused. They have tried to taint him with corruption scandals, but none would stick. All the transactions that he has approved have been above board. The one advantage Bernard has had is that he has the full support of the Board of Management and the PTA.
With only five years left before he retires, Bernard knows that he needs to outwit the wolves and ensure that a competent man of integrity and courage replaces him at the helm. He cannot allow the wolves to take control of the school and bring it down. He already knows who his ideal replacement is: his deputy Christopher, a man he has personally mentored and groomed.
Bernard is still staring outside the window wondering what move his opponents will make next when a woman enters his office unannounced. He wonders where his secretary is; she never allows anybody into his office without alerting him.
Before he fully understands what is happening, the woman opens her handbag and throws a wad of cash on his desk. Then she starts undressing.
“Who are you and what are you doing?” he asks.
The woman moves closer to him, throws herself on the floor and starts screaming. Two men burst into the room immediately, as though they had been standing at the door waiting for her to scream.
“What is going on here?” one of them demands.
“Detective, like I told you, this man demanded fifty thousand shillings so that he can admit my son to school.”
“Did you give him the marked notes we gave you?”
“Yes I did, but he said it is not enough. He said he wanted to sleep with me. When I refused he started taking me by force.”
“Madam you are lying!” Bernard bellows.
“I am sorry sir, but we will have to take you down to the station,” one of the detectives says. “You can either follow us voluntarily to the police car or we can handcuff you and drag you out of here. Which one is it?”
“I will come with you. But I can assure you gentlemen that this is one big misunderstanding. This woman is lying.”
“You will tell that to the magistrate, not to us. As far as we are concerned, we caught you in the act.”
Image by Rudy2006 from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/wolves-animals-animal-world-howl-188553/
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