Following what the government described as an “open recruitment process,” Christen Suckoo has been appointed chief officer in the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs. That makes Mr. Suckoo the highest-ranking civil servant overseeing critical areas such as schools, pensions and workforce development in the Cayman Islands.
We offer our congratulations to Mr. Suckoo (whose brother Alva, by the way, is an elected member for Bodden Town) on this professional accomplishment, which poses considerable challenges and tremendous opportunities. Of this Mr. Suckoo is already well aware, as he has been “acting” chief officer for the better part of a year, since the departure of Mary Rodrigues.
We’d also like to recognize Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and the private sector members of the selection panel, Dart’s Chris Duggan and Maples’s Wanda Ebanks, for their role in the hiring process. Any time that an “acting” leader within government can be succeeded by a permanent leader — whether that means a change in the individual or a change in job title — is a positive development.
Whether it’s in the public or private sector, in large organizations or small, it is not ideal for someone to be invested “temporarily” with significant responsibilities, in the absence of the requisite authority endowed by a “permanent” appointment. Throughout Cayman’s civil service, that is currently far too often the case.
Apart from general management principles, Mr. Suckoo’s performance as acting chief officer gives us reason for optimism, specifically on the subject of education, which in our view is the single most important public policy topic in this country.
In regard to revamping, reordering and re-energizing our government schools, during Mr. Suckoo’s watch, we have seen the publication of reports by independent inspectors and consultants that, in our opinion, unflinchingly portray Cayman’s public education system “as is” and, more importantly, propose innovative solutions.
The stance of this newspaper remains that we do not particularly care who runs Cayman’s schools, so long as they are run well. We believe the keys to academic success — defined by student performance — are high standards and accountability for all (administrators, faculty, parents and students). The new model of governance proposed by KPMG, “Cayman Partnership Schools,” similar to U.K.-style academies and U.S. charter schools, promises to provide the disruptive discontinuity that Cayman’s education system sorely requires. We continue to encourage Mr. Suckoo, Education Minister Tara Rivers and lawmakers to consider seriously KPMG’s proposal.
While what occurs inside the classroom is of far greater importance than what the classroom is constructed of, it is no secret that the physical facilities of John Gray High School are, to be kind, sub-optimal. Because of the government’s squandering of its capital projects budget (and then some) on the $110 million Clifton Hunter High School campus, the new John Gray campus remains half-finished, despite more than $54 million being sunk into the structures (as of March 2012). At the time, then-Education Minister Rolston Anglin estimated the project would require another $43 million to complete.
Mr. Suckoo, meanwhile, has embraced this proverbial albatross. Acting as the head of the steering committee for the project, he said the new John Gray will be tackled in three phases over the next several years. Mr. Suckoo pledged to avoid the sort of boondoggles that plagued the previous schools project and said the new John Gray project will be pursued according to new regulations for capital projects.
So far, Mr. Suckoo is saying all the right things. Our hope is that he now goes on to oversee the progress he says can be delivered.
To Mr. Suckoo, we applaud your appointment as chief officer in the Ministry of Education. We, and your country, wish you the greatest success.