Claudette Rolle can vividly recall standing in a classroom in the 1980s when she received her first pension statement noting her retirement date as August 31, 2022 – a date which she said at that time seemed far away. That day has come. After 42 years with the Catholic Board of Education (CBE) – 41 years as director – Rolle, as she made retirement rounds ahead of her official end-of-academic-year completion date, during one of her stops, to the delight of well-wishers, could not have said it any more succinctly than when she sang the Nishie L.S. hit song “Loose Me”.
But by no means will Rolle be distancing herself from the church. She told The Nassau Guardian that she will continue to give of her time where she is most needed.
“Once a part of Catholic education, you never leave. There is always time that you can give to a cause,” said Rolle.
As she made her retirement circuit, she said she felt a sense of accomplishment that she was able to answer God’s call “humbly, faithfully, and with purpose”.
Now that she is leaving, she said she is most proud that the Catholic community functions as a community.
“There is a stronger esprit de corps (morale),” said Rolle. “While each school has its own culture, there is commonality in what we do.”
One thing she is pleased with is the fact that after the devastating Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, that they were able to bring St. Francis de Sales students back to their school within a year.
“That was a feat because we all know what Abaco was like after Hurricane Dorian … what Grand Bahama looked like. But being able to bring them back after one year, that was an incredible feat for the system, so I am very pleased about that,” said Rolle.
The most enjoyable aspect of her role she said was working with a team she described as “dedicated” and “supportive”.
But there were things she hoped to accomplish and did not get to see go all the way, which she said included providing more professional development and training for all employees, particularly where there were opportunities for more international exposure to the way education is delivered and capital improvement in schools, especially in the area of early learning and upgraded facilities.
“I had hoped to offer more opportunities for professional development and training and that is across the board. We tend to focus on administrators and teachers but we also have some other critical roles in the schools like the guidance counselors, nurses, support staff and even teachers’ aides. I would have liked to have offered these persons more opportunities for training and building their capacities. I would have liked to have accomplished more professional development and training for all employees and capital improvements in schools.”
The major challenge she said was finances.
“The time and the opportunities existed, but finances for these initiatives was a challenge. Just trying to stay afloat and satisfying the basic needs of operating a school system is challenging.”
The toughest part of the job she said was the closing of five schools.
During Rolle’s tenure, Catholic schools that closed their doors included St. Anne’s School, Rock Sound, Eleuthera; Holy Name School, Bailey Town, Bimini; St. Vincent de Paul School, Hunters, Grand Bahama all in 2010.
St. Bede’s School and Our Lady’s School, both on New Providence, closed their doors in 2013.
Rolle said the CBE could not financially sustain the schools with the low enrollment numbers they had.
“The enrollment for communities like St. Bede’s … Our Lady’s were undersubscribed. When you go from a school that is operating at full capacity in five to 10 years where those schools are now operating at one-third of the capacity, but you still have all of those other elements. The staffing may have shifted a bit, but you still have to pay utilities, operational expenses of making sure that the school is maintained. So, basically, undersubscription was the reason.”
The retiring director said communicating the news of the closures to the community where the schools were in existence for more than 50 years was tough.
“It felt like a death, because at the end of it you felt like you were going through a grieving period because it affected so many people, particularly those persons who had historical attachments to those communities. Particularly, when you look at the Family Island schools … it doesn’t matter if the settlement only has 200 people, schools are the nucleus of a community. So, when you decide that you are going to remove that nucleus for one reason or another, it is very, very tough. The community feels like you are taking a critical component away from them and where are they going to go, what are they going to do. It just feels like you are forcing a community to adjust to a situation where a school may have been in that community for 50 to 60 years and now you are pulling that out and they are looking at you as if to say, ‘So, what do you expect us to do? Where do you expect us to go?’”
With the closures, she said the CBE was able to sustain themselves and build a more efficient school system; and at the same token, not have to be in a situation where they were worried about whether they could meet responsibilities in all their schools.
Rolle said they were then able to do more in terms of capital projects, such as the integration of technology and the internet, fix schools that are more than 50 years old, improve operations and meet responsibilities without having to go elsewhere to get assistance.
“We are no longer a mission. What we do not get from tuition and the government, we do not have,” she said. “We were able to put money into further development of our curriculum as well as ensure we were able to complete some capital projects.”
The director’s job is to ensure the factors/tenets are in place to accomplish the mission and vision of the Catholic church. The director is answerable to the Board – of which Archbishop Patrick Pinder is a member – and has responsibility of ensuring the Board’s policies are executed. The director also serves as the leader who will bring ideas to the team for the further enhancement and improvement of Catholic education.
When Rolle assumed the director’s role on September 1, 1981, she was the first person in the position. The position was previously known as superintendent, which was held by Sister Mary Benedict Pratt.
The Board transitioned from the title superintendent to director, but the responsibilities remained the same.
“It was simply a nomenclature change,” said Rolle.
“As I sat in this chair as director, the roles changed. From a curriculum aspect, there was definitely a change. While we were at the threshold, the beginning of using a common curriculum, there was not enough time between my transition from the curriculum officer’s position to the director’s position for that to be properly executed. So, we had to monitor that change to a common curriculum, conduct some assessments and ensure that there was a commonality (curriculum) throughout the schools, so that whatever happens at, say, St. Cecilia’s, happens at Xavier’s [Lower School] in terms of curriculum initiatives.
“Then, there was a lot of centralization that was implemented during my time as director. Prior to there being a director of Catholic education, we did not have the level of centralization that we do now. For example, the whole implementation of PowerSchool that happened in 2005/2006. We traveled to California for PowerSchool training and PowerSchool was implemented in all CBE schools, I think, in 2006. The implementation of PowerSchool was very different but necessary as we now had a common student information system that was in all the schools. There was no school that was left behind with this implementation. From Eleuthera to Bimini, PowerSchool was implemented in all schools and that was a plus for us. Then, we had centralization of the finances, more of a centralization and ensuring there were commonalities in the system. Persons sometimes worked in isolation, so there was a little disjointedness, but our goal, which we accomplished, was more connectedness – being able to bring people together and working more as a system. Bringing CBE schools throughout The Bahamas onboard.”
When she took on the role, she said her expectation going in and what she wanted to bring to the position, even though they were transitioning from a system to one headed by a lay person, was that the Catholic ethos had to remain central to everything done.
“As we often say, in this archdiocese, education is the biggest social ministry of the church, and our focus is to ensure that we are forming young people who will be academically capable, well-rounded Christian leaders.”
Her advice to the incoming director, who has already been identified, is to “pray unceasingly, be patient, and be just”.
No two days are alike
The most difficult aspect of the directorship Rolle said was that there was never a typical day and that she had to constantly shift attention and sometimes was not able to do what she had planned for any given day.
“Dealing with people is a part of the job – understanding people’s personalities and working with people.”
She said policies and procedures are what they are, but people have personalities, and understanding how people think, and how to approach them played an important part of the job.
“It involves rationalizing the reasons why people do what they do – and their reasons may be perfectly fine – so understanding people gives you greater success in leadership in my opinion than just discounting people,” said Rolle.
“If you think of a school administrator, an administrator is dealing with hundreds of bodies each day. This includes parents, the staff as well as the students – everyone with their own personalities, their own idiosyncrasies. Keeping this group together and having them function and trying to understand the human dynamics of all these individuals, particularly the parents, it takes a strong person to be able to do that. And when I say strong, I am not just thinking of cognition, I am thinking about your whole affective domain. How does your job and your duties affect your emotions, your personality, your psychological state?”
Rolle said situations can change at a “drop of a hat” and the person must be able to pivot. And taking care of “situations” she said can be quite a feat, because they can be anywhere from as simple as the cafeteria not functioning with hundreds of people to feed; restrooms going down, again with hundreds of people to think about; a curriculum issue where an archdiocesan exam for which technology is needed is not available.
“The most critical part of an administrator’s job is dealing with people and dealing with people from different generations, the multigenerational aspect – grandparents, parents, students – and then you have your staff. You have to know how to speak to and how to understand even the different generations – and that is on a daily basis. And you have to run a school, you have to make sure that teaching and learning is going on, so it is not easy.”
Then, there’s the fact that she said across the board – from principals to administrators and central office staff – that once a person is in education, they never stop working.
“You may leave the physical space, but if you are a teacher or an administrator, you are always planning for the next day. And you cannot do that during the course of the day where you have lots and lots of interruptions. So, they are dedicated. All of them go above and beyond. If you go on a campus, you will see that the administrators are there well after the time because you cannot leave a child in the yard; someone has to be there to make sure that that child is safe and secure. So, you are taking care of children, having conversations and meetings, so it does not stop at three-four o’clock.”
During her tenure, one of Rolle’s policy positions was that parents try to resolve any issue they may have with an administrator with the person, before it came to the director.
“It is only in extreme cases that I feel people have to come to the director [or] issues that may be sensitive,” she said. “We have a procedure in place – you speak with the teacher if it is a matter that deals with instruction; then, you escalate it to where it needs to go. The director is the last person because most of the situations can be handled at the school level. Coming to the director, the director still has to go back to the administrators to find out what happened.”
She said there is always two sides to a story.
“There is no point in coming straight to the director if there is not a situation you are satisfied with unless you have already gone through the principal and the situation seems not to be resolved in what you feel is a just manner. In that case, then you can come to the director.”
In order to maintain and build relationships and that sense of community with the school that a child is at, Rolle said it is always good for parents and guardians to first try to resolve things within the community.
As her time wound down, Rolle worked with the incoming director, Dr. Alexandria Roberts-Bowe, the current curriculum officer, for a seamless transition.
Rolle said she was confident that Roberts-Bowe would continue to nurture the Catholic ethos while focusing on the training and development of their team members.
While she has worked as director for more than four decades, there is more to Rolle than the position of director. She is a wife to Barry, and loves her family as well as her church. She loves to dance, loves music and reading, and gardening.
“[The] plan is to continue to enjoy life by spending time with family, serving various charities, gardening and traveling,” said Rolle.
In the lead-up to her official retirement, Rolle was taken on a nationwide tour of Catholic schools to celebrate her. Retirement assemblies were held on Abaco on May 4, Grand Bahama on May 8, and New Providence on May 10. An evening of Bahamian art and music in her honor was held on May 12. A special Mass for Rolle with CBE employees is to be held on June 20.