... Making the impossible possible and the possible impossible
In my thinking thoughts, I pondered the end of tenure and departure of Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) Superintendent Adolphus Benjamin Jacobs and the appointment of Isaac Saye-Lakpoh Zawolo as the new superintendent of an MCSS which had been literally dead under the administration of Jacobs.
I wondered how Jacob could be leaving and accusing the Government of Liberia that he did not receive requisite support to manage a dead Lazarus MCSS and now Zawolo would be taking over under such circumstances. I consoled myself that maybe Zawolo has been ushered in to make Jacob’s Impossibility Possible and those things which were possible under Jacobs’ administration, impossible, now henceforth.
The Former Living MCSS
For the sake of brevity, the MCSS was established in 1968 as a gift from the people and government of the United States of America. It initially comprised several schools such as Tubman High (Lab High), Charlotte Tolbert, Tolbert High, Matilda Newport, Boatswain, Demonstration School, W.F. Walker #1 and 2. Other schools were later incorporated. Those of us whose parents were poor, became “government bones” because our whole education was obtained from MCSS schools.
Albeit, our education was top-notch and when other schools beheld us, it was with fear and much trepidation due to our scholarly postures. When it came to “Meet the Challenge”, “Teen Time Quiz” “Sherman Brown TV Intellectual Show” MCSS students excelled. Those days, it was exceedingly prestigious and satisfying to be an MCSS student.
Notably, MCSS of the 1960s and 1970s produced renowned personalities some of whom are currently making invaluable contributions to society. Methodist Bishop Samuel Quire, Episcopal Bishop Father Buku Hart, and Philadelphia Church Bishop George Borbor Harris, Dr. Adams Lincoln, veteran Journalist Philip N. Wisseh, and the proven diplomat and author Gabriel Williams were just a few of our MCSS mates. Mama Cook Sweet Soup (MCSS) and Papa Eat (PE) were our passwords as we navigated the scholarships of our time.
During our MCSS days, a teacher could stop a student in the street and punish him for being out of school during school hours if he did not have a pass. Each MCSS school was identified by the color of the uniform trousers. If you had on the green you were from Newport, maroon was for Tubman High, and navy blue was one of the elementary schools. Of course, brown and beige were Tolbert High. Tubman High which was the “Drum Major” of the MCSS was a nut to crack. To enter was hard. To graduate was hard. But when you graduated, you became a whole social, academic, and political animal and a product of the revered MCSS.
The Cream of Past Superintendents of the Living MCSS
According to the recruitment policy of the MCSS, aspiring superintendents were vetted by the Board and recommended for appointment. By this process, past superintendents demonstrated savvy of administrative skills, showed proof of their experience in managing a school system versus a school; superintendents like the late J. Hodo Manston, Violet Flah, and Joseph Koffa were the cream of Liberians who tasted rigorous grilling before they got appointed as Superintendents of MCSS; they presented and defended credentials that were commensurate with the task of managing a school system.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, this was not the case and hence, Adolphus Benjamin Jacobs and Isaac Zawolo who had never been principals for any school got appointed by Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and President George Weah respectively. Who can oppose the wisdom of the highest office in the land? Nobody, because when presidents speak or give edicts, they become policy. But the aftermath of such edicts are factors that could have generated a dead rotten Lazarus MCSS.
The Dead and Rotten Lazarus MCSS
In the Gospel according to John Chapter 11, Jesus who was a friend of Mary’s and Martha’s delayed when news reached Him that His friend Lazarus, Mary’s and Martha’s brother was sick. Now the ladies knew Jesus could heal their brother because everywhere He went he was doing good. He was a Mighty Healer; He cleansed the lepers; when the cripple saw Him, they started walking. Even blind Bartimaeus and the lady with the issue of blood were healed immediately after they encountered the Master Jesus. And so Lazarus’ two sisters had high hope that if Jesus could heal people He was not acquainted with, He would hurry immediately to heal his friend Lazarus their brother.
Fast forward, Jesus delayed, Lazarus died and was buried. Then Jesus arrived after four days making it appear impossible that Lazarus could be resurrected. It was at that point that Martha informed Jesus that Lazarus had been buried four days ago and the dead body was rotten and stink with no hope of being healed nor resurrected. She retorted, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died”.
Fast forward again, as the story goes, Jesus wept, asked the stone to be rolled away, prayed, and shouted, “Lazarus come forth” and the dead rotten Lazarus came walking out of the grave like a normal human being with no rotten dead body scent on him. Despite its glory in the heydays, the MCSS died and became a dead rotten Lazarus and forgotten with an unpleasant trend of events.
It is not clear if Jacobs was the sickness that killed MCSS or the one who buried it and ensured it got rotten and as stink as it is. Note that when Jacobs became Superintendent, he encountered a hostile team of administrators, a bitter staff association, and a caliber of disgruntled teachers who carried the perceptions that they were not earning the value of their pedagogical contributions to the MCSS.
Consequently, Jacobs’ tenure was marked by frequent protests over all and sundry issues. Some were over the authenticity of his MMaster’sdegree and his suitability for the job; some, over his alleged obscured leadership style, some, over his alleged ineptitude and lack of finesse to manage the high-class MCSS, among other allegations.
In his last days, Jacobs defended the shortcomings of his tenure as one that was strangled by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah who is an MCSS product, by delaying and sometimes refusing to fund the system which prepared him for what he currently is, minus his affiliation with the CDC. Jacobs averred he did not receive the requisite support from Minister Tweah hence his hands were tied. As the result, MCSS died under Jacobs’ watch while waiting for Samuel Tweah to come quickly to heal his alma mater but delayed just as Jesus did in John chapter 11.
But after dead Lazarus MCSS had been buried and rotted, the Government of Liberia deployed a change-maker, Isaac Zawolo to resurrect it and make what was impossible to Jacobs, possible. Mind you, before Jesus raised Lazarus, he informed the crowd that he was raising Lazarus simply for those who do not believe so that they could see the glory of God. Isaac Zawolo might be resurrecting the MCSS to show to detractors and opposition, how efficacious, adroit and efficient the CDC-led government can be.
Making Impossible Possible
During Jacobs’ tenure, several things were impossible for him to accomplish. For example, hardly any MCSS made Division–1 on the WASSCE; each day MCSS students are seen wandering in the streets while their academic performances remain nasty; MCSS schools never reached semi-finals when they participate in intellectual contests.
Jacobs had to use his own cash oftentimes to buy fuel for the MCSS office generator; the budgets which Jacob submitted to the Finance Ministry were usually deeply cut if not delayed, and at times never supported; renovations of schools and provisions of armchairs and instructional materials were a huge challenge; at one occasion, President Weah expressed frustration over the education system upon visiting an MCSS school; Jacob did not have friends in the GOL kitchen to stir his soup, hence, became an outsider inside the team.
According to the 2011 Education Law, the MCSS was supposed to be the exemplar school system that all other schools would mimic. Unfortunately, Jacobs’ MCSS was not able to exemplify anything that any school could copy; no innovation and no foresight because he was shackled and stranded by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah. Under Jacobs, almost everything was impossible at the MCSS hopefully under Zawolo, things will be better.
Now, as Mr. Zawolo takes the mantle of leadership, it is obvious that he would be tasked to make the things which Jacob averred were “Impossible, Possible”. The list could be longer.
Making the Possible Impossible
During the tenure of Superintendent Jacobs, certain things were possible and went without investigation and punishment. While Superintendent Zawolo would be making impossible things possible, he would also be faced with making things that were possible in Jacobs’ days impossible.
For example, allegations continue to linger that certain MCSS schools were extorting illegal fees from students for tests, homework, and teachers’ appreciation. It is alleged that certain teachers were offering grades for sex and money; that certain teachers were receiving bribes from parents for their children to receive passing grades.
Instead of allowing schools to administer their own entrances and collect the fees for operating their schools, Jacobs’ office administered the entrances and collected the money. Zawolo might want to change the chemistry whereby school principals were disgruntled and bearing all sorts of speculations relating to Jacobs’ transparency and accountability.
The principals are claiming that if Commission on Higher Education does not receive the entrance fees from the University of Liberia, why should MCSS take those of her schools’? Those could be some of the presently possible things under Jacobs that Zawolo would render impossible if the grand old MCSS will rise again to its former status as the exemplar school system.
To you my fellow teachers, as we anticipate the advent of our change-maker, let me prayerfully leave you with a stanza in the words of the 1719 songwriter, Isaac Watts, when he penned, “O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; our shelter from the stormy blasts and our defense is sure”.
Now may the Lord bless the erstwhile Superintendent Jacobs and the aspiring Superintendent Zawolo. May the Lord make His face shine upon them; May the Lord give them grace and give them peace. Not the peace that gossipers, naysayers, and inept fake educational experts proffer; not the peace that bribery and all sorts of vices would offer, but the peace that passes all understanding that only Jesus Himself gives. Amen.
About the author:
The CEO and founder of the Diversified Educators Empowerment Project (DEEP), Mwalimu-Koh Blonkanjay Jackson holds a Master of Education from Harvard University, and a Master of Science in Mathematics Education from St. Joseph’s University; he is a Yale University Teachers Initiative Math Fellow and UPENN Teacher Institute Physics Fellow. He is a part-time lecturer at the UL Graduate School of Education. Mr. Jackson served the government of Liberia diligently for four years and returned to private practice as Development Specialist and Education Engineer. The Mwalimu-Koh can be reached at 0886 681 315 / 0770 206 645.