A Controversial Posting
Marta Herrera, Bay Islands Education Director, came to the Bay Islands expecting a challenging job, but not a fight. She got both.

June 1st, 2007
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] Herrera came to Roatan on June 4, 2006. Energetic and articulate, she was hoping to make this her last posting before retirement, a culmination of her 25-year-long career as an educator. Instead she spent three months and six days locked out of her education offices in Sandy Bay by a group of patronato members supported by two Bay Islands politicians.

Mayor Jackson and Congressman Hynds wanted their own candidate, Prof. Juana Aguillar, to take over the permanent posting as the BI Education Director. While Aguillar spent many years living on Roatan and served as interim director of education, she did not pass the exams allowing her to compete for the top post.

Now, a year later, the emotional wounds left by the conflict are slowly healing, and Herrera says that she is able to communicate with both Mayor Jackson as well as Congressman Hynds. She overlooks a 70 million budget, is in charge of around 400 public school teachers and oversees 200 private school teachers.

She is expected to serve three more years, but follows David Olivera, a director who has left a bad impression on many Bay Islanders. “He was here a year and collected money for three,” Herrera says about Olivera.

In 2007 Herrera helped in opening three primary schools on Utila, in Oak Ridge and in Sandy Bay.

v5-6-Interview-Marta HerreraWhy was your appointment so controversial?
The position isn’t controversial with people of the Bay Islands. It is controversial with two people: the Deputy and the Mayor of Roatan. My relationship is good with the other three mayors and the alternate-deputy in Guanaja. They give me support and thanks to them, I can go forward in solving educational issues here.

How did you handle this stressful situation?
This was a difficult time. Sometimes I would receive a phone call and someone would fire a gun on the other end. They would threaten my family also. I almost suffered a nervous breakdown due to this [conflict]. I was threatened with my life. I was given police protection. I bit-by-bit came out of it. I feel tired because in the last year I gave more than my physical and mental strength would allow. I sometimes bring in people to work here. They are trained, but they don’t put up with the conditions here and leave. I come to the office at 7:30 am and don’t leave until 9-10 pm.

Did this situation cause a disruption to the education of children in the Bay Islands?
We don’t have supervisors for the schools. We end up with teachers who leave early, who don’t come to work at all. To take care of this problem we neglected the education of students. The people don’t want to come here from the mainland. They say it is too far, too expensive. We limp forward with only 10 out of 30 people hired. I hope this year we can resolve the issues of hiring.

How is your relationship with Roatan Mayor and Bay Islands Congressman today?
Today we have a cordial and respectful relationship. We communicate via phone. Some of the appointments for education have to be approved by the deputy. So he sends me a candidate he wants and we come to an agreement.

What is in store for public education in the Bay Islands?
It’s the first time that the country has a big plan for education reform- Plan F, education for everyone. We have until 2015 to make the national education system more democratic. We want to give access to preschool education. We have 12 goals in this plan and Bay Islands has achieved four of them. We are in the red. The problem of this island is not the diversification of the population. It is geographical. It’s very expensive to go to Utila or Guanaja. We need to understand the cultural aspect of the Bay Islanders. They have a strong culture,

Does FHIS (Fondo HondureƱo de Inversion Social) help in school construction in the Bay Islands?
Generally, only the most central departments benefit from FHIS. We receive little or no benefit from FHIS.

Why have the four district directors not been hired since 2003?
They have to be named based on contest, but no one went to compete in it.
The minister has the right to name them, but he hasn’t. Recently, for example, I had to travel to Guanaja to resolve a problem that the local director should have resolved, but they are not named.

So there is lack of interest amongst local people in trying to get to these positions as well as disinterest of the central authorities?
Yes.

You introduced a help committee of 20 people. Why?
They can help us in improving the quality of educational services, give us ideas. We meet once a month.

Can the education commission of CANATURH -BI be successful in achieving improvement in the educational conditions here?
They haven’t taken me or the administrative, authoritative sector in mind to work out their strategically plan. The professors can be the first and best allies in achieving a plan of action. [/private]

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