By Anselm Caines
In any consideration of exceptional educators, the name Earlene Maynard assumes much significance. Seemingly simple and quite simply profound, she has left an indelible stamp on education in this country and, as a result, has earned much admiration and appreciation throughout the island of Nevis.
It was at the Charlestown Girls’ School that her dream of becoming a teacher emerged. The teachers here were very embracing and really pushed her to aspire for greatness. There was one teacher, however, whom she developed a particular affinity towards and that was her Grade 3 teacher, Irma Johnson. Personal testimony of Ms. Maynard indicates that it was because of the impact of Irma Johnson, why she gravitated towards a career in education.
In 1974 at the tender age of fifteen, Ms. Maynard made the bold step into a career of education, getting her start at the Combermere All Age School. Many may wonder, how this little fifteen year old managed to withstand the rigours of classroom instruction, when in some cases, the students she taught were two years her senior. It is an affirmation, however, of the resilience and resourcefulness of Ms. Maynard that she was able to evolve into one of the most influential teachers of her time.
In 1995, three years after having attained her B.Sc. (summa cum laude) in education from the University of Miami, she became the principal of the Combermere Primary School (now known as the Violet O. Jeffers Nicholls Primary School), which afforded her a great opportunity to serve the interests of her community. Although the school was dilapidated, the ever inspiring, always insightful Ms. Maynard made sure to let the parents and students know that the school was so much more than a building. Of course, that did not stop her from agitating for the type of school that she knew her students desired and deserved. In January 2000, her dream became reality when a new state of the art school opened its doors.
However, she was only to get a mere taste of this newfound success, for, in September 2000, she was transferred to St. Thomas’ Primary.
This was rather disheartening for her, not because she was reluctant to serve those in the St. Thomas’ community but for the reason that after having spent 26 years in an old building and to have finally gotten a new school, she saw all her dreams for her community shattered before her very eyes. Nevertheless, Ms. Maynard realised that she still had a calling and, most importantly, she had a mission to fulfil.
Consequently, it was with an open mind that she went to St. Thomas’ Primary, intent on changing the landscape of the school. Ms. Maynard, however, encountered her fair share of difficulties at St. Thomas’ Primary. Morale amongst the student population was low and she had a very young staff of teachers. Despite these circumstances, she did not complain about their inexperience, as she always believed that every teacher brought something that would positively impact the institution, but it was her responsibility to find it. Indeed, that is the responsibility of every leader. Although the task was sometimes arduous, it was the voices of her three experienced and trained teachers – Gloria Caines, Norlene Smithen and Steve Manners - that kept her going. They would often come and pat her on her back and let her know, “You’re doing alright Ms. Maynard. Don’t worry. You’re doing alright.” With those words of encouragement, Ms. Maynard and her staff would eventually transform the St. Thomas’ Primary School into the envy of the island. They excelled at EVERYTHING! Sports,
Academics, Concerts, Cultural Events...You name it and St. Thomas’ Primary under Earlene Maynard won it!
Ms. Maynard would be the first one to tell you, however, that the success that the school achieved was not her own doing. She had a stellar guidance counsellor in Sandra Fleming to help guide the children; she was wholeheartedly embraced by the parents of the St. Thomas’ community and received maximum support from the PTA and several educational personnel.
Even so, it is the staff at the St. Thomas’ Primary School that was truly a great asset to Ms. Maynard during her time spent at the institution. They supported her and she supported them. All you had to do was take a walk into the staffroom of St. Thomas Primary and the camaraderie was evident.
In a conversation with one of her former workers, I posed the question, “Why is the morale so high at the St. Thomas’ Primary School?” The response I got was, “Anselm, do you want to know why the morale is so high at St. Thomas’ Primary as opposed to some other schools? The answer is quite simple...Earlene Maynard!” While some schools are firmly structured, everybody at the St. Thomas’ Primary School was included in the decision making process. Whether you were a trained teacher, you had a doctorate or just came out of high school with five subjects, you were made to be involved and feel involved. If you were from Nevis, Dominica or Iran...you were made to be involved and feel involved. That same teacher also noted that, “After working with Earlene Maynard for so many years, she has not changed one bit...other than to get BETTER. She is like fine wine!”
I must admit, that for the very brief period I sat down with this exceptional and eminent educator, I was honestly tempted to drop out of law school and resume my career as a teacher! Such is the measure of influence and impact of Earlene Maynard!
Over the past nine years, I have looked on with astonishment as Ms. Maynard transformed the St. Thomas’ Primary School into the crème de le crème of all the primary schools on the island. So much so, that parents were transferring their students from other schools during the middle of the term to St. Thomas’! When I saw this, I could not help but paraphrase Prime Minister Denzil Douglas and say, “St. Thomas’ Primary School...It’s Working!” However, underneath it all, I knew that it was Earlene Maynard who was working and indeed, she worked well!
Ms. Maynard’s career has been a remarkable one. Despite this, she would be quick to tell anyone that no magic was worked during her 35-year tenure in education. As far as she is concerned, “It was about showing the children that she believed in them and, most importantly, that the children too can and must believe in themselves! Ultimately, it is about service to country!” These are words that all teachers, regardless of whether they are principals, classroom teachers or prospective teachers, must hold dear to their hearts as they get ready to begin another year of educational development; another year of national service.
I would suggest that teachers adopt the philosophy that has guided the teaching career of Earlene Maynard - “When you touch one child, you touch a nation!” For there can be no doubt, that Earlene Maynard has touched this nation a thousand times over throughout her 35-year commitment to the people of this country. Countless children have benefited from her generosity and grandeur.
Although Earlene Maynard has closed one chapter of her life in terms of no longer being involved in the day to day responsibilities of school administration, by all accounts, she still has so much to give. I would hope that the powers that be would really capitalize on the wealth of knowledge and experience that this lady holds and see to it that in the very near future, she is in a position where she can continue to make a meaningful contribution towards the development of education here on Nevis.
In the meantime, to you Teacher Earlene, I say a job well done! You have served and you have served with distinction. It is for this reason why I, along with so many others who have observed your magnificent work, proudly acknowledge you as “An Educator Par Excellence!”