Melkonian teachers to go on strike in increasingly bitter battle for

Melkonian teachers to go on strike in increasingly bitter battle for school
By Jean Christou

Cyprus Mail, Cyprus
May 27 2004

STAFF at the Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI) in Nicosia will
strike today and announced they would also refuse to give year-end
grades in protest over the school’s governing body’s insinuations
that education standards are not up to scratch.

“We are left with no other option than to bring the above grievances
to public attention,” a statement from the teachers said yesterday.

The loss making MEI, which is sitting on £40 million worth of real
estate in the capital’s commercial district, has been slated to close
in June 2005 by the foundation that governs it, the New York based
Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), which oversees 22 Armenian
schools worldwide.

The teachers claimed that during the past few days, members of the
administrative staff, had on instructions from the AGBU quietly
been ringing students’ parents to discourage them from sending their
children to the MEI next year.

“This is in total contradiction to the fact that last April the AGBU
published an advertisement in the press for new enrolments for the
academic year 2004-2005,” a staff statement said.

Among the reasons cited by the AGBU for the closure of the 78-year
old boarding school were claims that teaching standards were not up
to scratch. In their statement, MEI staff said they would refuse to
give year-end grades or engage in writing any end-of-year reports
“until the AGBU retracted its unfounded and damaging assertions about
the quality of teaching and learning that goes on in our school.”

“If the AGBU considers us, the teaching staff of MEI, as incompetent
teachers it cannot expect us to function as competent assessors. The
AGBU cannot have it both ways,” the statement added.

Last November, the AGBU said the school was not for sale, but then
changed tack and announced the closure. The schools alumni are
convinced the foundation’s only aim is to “take the money and run”.
“Since the announcement of the AGBU’s declared intention to close
the Melkonian… in the year 2005, we the teaching staff have shown
tremendous restraint and patience towards the AGBU’s insulting and
unfounded assertions,” the staff statement went on.

Since then, it said, staff had been told by Gordon Anderson, the
AGBU’s representative on site, that the AGBU did not intend to close
the school – only the dormitories which host over 75 per cent of
the students.

“This is an insult to our intelligence,” said the staff statement.
“How can anybody expect a school to be run when its student population
is reduced from 210 students to just over 50.” It added that last
year the school’s population was reduced from 260 to 210 after the
AGBU unilaterally decided to reduce scholarships to underprivileged
children from the Armenian Diaspora. “Closing the dormitories amounts
to closing the school,” it said.

“In the meantime, our polite request for the AGBU to retract the
ridiculous assertions mentioned above to this day remains unanswered.”

Staff say there is no doubt that the AGBU is trying to use the teaching
staff as a scapegoat for their decision to close the school in order
to sell the land on which it stands and claim they are using devious
methods to reduce the student population of the school in order to
turn it into a non-viable school and ultimately close it down.

“The AGBU is implementing a preconceived plan. These actions by
the AGBU are coming at a time when the school has been attracting
an increasing number of students from the Greek Cypriot and other
communities in Cyprus,” the statement said “We are the ones that
genuinely care for the young people in our charge and, unfortunately,
must come to the conclusion that open, honest and reasonable behaviour
is simply taken advantage of, while others deal contemptuously with
students’ and teachers’ lives and careers.”

The staff are calling on the parents of existing students not to fall
victim to the AGBU’s attempts to discourage them from sending their
children to the MEI next year and to join their campaign to keep the
school open for future generations.

Last month the government slapped a preservation order on the
Melkonian, giving the school, slated to close next year, a temporary
reprieve, but so far there are no assurances about the school’s
continuation beyond June 2005.