Thomas Holmes
Thomas Holmes

At the start of the new school year, St Mary's Academy (SMA) students will meet their new principal, Thomas Holmes-- an experienced educator and guidance counselor with a solid action plan to help his charges achieve and succeed.

When it comes to school management and effective education, Holmes has clear-cut philosophies and strategies, honed by his lifelong passion for his Christian ministry and his teaching career.

Holmes decided very early in life that he wanted to be a teacher and a priest. "When I went to SMA [as a student] I realised that the Brothers also teach," he recalled.

"I see them as almost like priests . . . I decided that was the best thing for me." So he joined the Congregation of Christian Brothers as soon as he had completed high school.

As a Brother, Holmes began teaching in 1977 at a Catholic school in Antigua. He later went on to teach at Catholic schools in Saba and Dominica.

He expanded his role to become a school administrator and served as Vice Principal at the SMP as well as Vice Principal and Acting Principal of St Martin Secondary.

Since 1999, he has also served as a guidance counselor in the government service.

Holmes explained that his approach to education is to foster beneficial interpersonal relationships among teachers, parents and students as well as mutual respect among teachers and students.

He strongly believes in effective teamwork and he intends to implement a system of 'Inclusive Principal-ship/Leadership.

As an educator, his greatest satisfaction is helping struggling students to improve their performance.

Students' needs are his top priority. "When people chose SMA, they chose it for a reason," he asserted. "They believe in SMA! . . . I do not want teachers. . . myself, and even parents to disappoint our students."

"We want the students to know. . . when you come to SMA, you come to learn; first and foremost," he declared, adding that effective learning requires wholesome interaction between students and teachers.

This only comes from mutual respect, he maintained. "Do not be disrespectful to teachers," he instructs students; and teachers are likewise urged: "Do not disrespect our students."

Holmes said one of an educator's greatest challenges is dealing with children who are indifferent about their education.

"As a teacher you can be doing your best, but if the student does not respond and do their work and really show that they are interested in their work, that can be a challenge."

"Teachers have to meet them half way; find out, talk to the students…they may not want to tell you as a teacher, but they may want to tell somebody else in private. That's why counseling is very important," Holmes said.

He pointed out that a good teacher must be a nurturer who, at various times, has to assume multiple roles in the interest of helping students.

"Mother, father, policeman, doctor, lawyer… these are the roles. . . If you see a child in class apparently withdrawn, you may go and say, "What is wrong?'"

All teachers do not have counseling skills, but they can refer troubled students for counseling, he said.

According to Holmes, it is a teacher's duty to ensure that students learn and education is a team effort.

That's why he expects teachers to bring out the best in students; yet he also demands that students do their best also.

Students must attend school with the clear intention of learning and give due respect to the school and its rules, he said. Holmes called on parents to instill discipline and respect in their children during their formative years, before they are five years old.

In particular, parents need to be sufficiently involved in their children's education.

He referred to parents who fail to push their children to do schoolwork for most of their school days until its time for their Grade Six or CXC examinations.

"You put your children in the care of teachers. You should be there all along the way to help the teachers. . . it is a great challenge . . .

"Some parents, you just do not see them in schools. Even when the students are misbehaving and you call them as a counselor, you don't even see them…" he complained.

Holmes intends to build strong communication between parents and teachers at SMA to ensure that students are more disciplined and perform better.

He pledged to ensure that SMA's policies and programmes are implemented effectively, in full communication with the Ministry of Education, and with total financial accountability