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THE CONSULTANT HEADMISTRESS

by Louis Woodley


1. A Vital Board Meeting

The Templeton Academy for Girls was a boarding school for students from the 6th to 12th grade. The school's website portrayed the school as idyllic, the perfect place to send your daughter or granddaughter. The buildings were ivy-covered, the facilities superb, and the classrooms filled with smiling engaged students and their teachers. However, if you were able to look beyond the fašade and read the comments, you would soon discover that all was not well.

In reality the school was struggling. It had been built to emulate the traditional British boarding schools, down to appointing senior girls as prefects to watch over their sister students. It had once been a highly respected establishment, with a waiting list for parents anxious to register their daughters. However, those glory days had faded. Registration had been dropping and now there were empty dormitory spaces. A series of ineffectual administrations had allowed discipline to break down, to the point where the inmates were now running the asylum. The older girls were hardly role models for the younger girls to emulate.

The current Headmistress, Ms. Wallace, avoided conflict like the plague and just wanted everyone to get along. So the girls had pushed the envelope further and further in their favor. The school had rules governing everything from a dress code to cell phone usage; however they were ignored, sometimes brazenly. Teachers felt unsupported because whenever they tried to enforce the rules, the students would whine to the administrators about how unreasonable they were being. Then the Headmistress would try to smooth things over without actually holding the girls accountable for their behavior. Some teachers had given up because it wasn't worth a fight that they knew they weren't going to win, and simply let the girls carry on at will. Several of the best and brightest of the teaching staff had found jobs elsewhere, unwilling to subject themselves to their brat-like students.

Likewise, some students convinced their parents to better spend their money elsewhere, and left the school. And they left comments on the school's website bemoaning the dismal state of affairs. Over time, fewer parents were willing to make an investment with diminishing returns.

Carolyn McCormick (nee Kenney) was the Chair of the Board, and a graduate of the school. She remembered her school days as being nothing like the Templeton Academy of today. It was sickening how badly things had fallen off, and she was far from alone in that view. Mrs. McCormick had prevailed upon the Board to hire a consultant to do a covert evaluation of the entire school's operations, and propose changes needed to pull the school out of its decline. Nothing was off the table, including cleaning house completely if needed. And tonight, the Board was meeting in private to hear those recommendations during the students' Winter Break. Whatever changes they made would be implemented when the girls returned for the Spring Semester.


Kathryn Duffy was a controversial figure within the realm of academic administration. She had worked her way up through the ranks to serve as Headmistress for several successful boarding schools. Wanting a new challenge, she had transitioned into the consulting world, specializing in turning around under-performing schools.

Now in her early 60's, she might be gray haired but would never be mistaken for a kindly grandmother. She exuded authority and a quiet certainty in the absolute correctness of her position. She refused to suffer fools gladly, and her imposing glare tended to cow those who might question her.

With that being said, she was not universally admired, even by those schools she'd turned around, because her methods were viewed as draconian. Schools had received a similar analysis but then declined her services when they discovered what they would require. She dealt primarily with private schools since they didn't have the bureaucracy of the public school system. But she'd served one public school district because they used the paddle to correct their misbehaving students.

This was because Ms. Duffy was an old-school disciplinarian. She blamed many of the ills of her schools she assisted on the fact that they didn't rigorously enforce discipline, yet were surprised when their students acted like little hellions. If teachers would stand firm and demand respect instead of trying to become their students' friends then the lines wouldn't be blurred. Ms. Duffy believed that if students aren't called out for their behavior it's ridiculous to expect anything to change; mollycoddling them to protect their tender feelings only further encouraged them.

However, this was curable; teachers just needed to be empowered by the administration to enforce changes in attitude and behavior, and Ms. Duffy was a major proponent of the curative properties of corporal punishment. A young lady's backside was perfectly made to be walloped and a stinging palm would take the girls minds off playing with their cell phones.

Sometimes the school already had corporal punishment policies but had grown lax in enforcing them. Either not enough students were punished or the level of punishment applied wasn't stringent enough. So sometimes it was a matter of getting the school to actually follow their own standards. For others she had to get their Board to institute new guidelines allowing the spanking of their students.

Some schools were horrified at her suggestion that their precious little darlings should get their bottoms spanked simply for not obeying the rules. Spanking was so 19th century and they were far too progressive to revert back to the olden days. So they would rather continue their stern talks about respecting other's feelings (even though if those methods had been working they wouldn't have contacted Ms. Duffy in the first place).

But to her, the old saying that 'You can't make an omelet without cracking some eggs' translated to 'You can't make your students change without whacking some butts'. She agreed that it might seem simplistic, but where it had been properly put to use it had generated immediate changes in behavior. But if they elected not to employ her, she collected her check for her analysis and hoped that their namby-pamby current methods would miraculously evoke change. She had a ready list of potential clients, so if they weren't interested she simply moved on to the next school.

Those options were already available within the existing Templeton Academy policies but had fallen into disfavor; therefore, as part of her proposed 'shock and awe' campaign they should be used early and often to teach the girls that their old behavior was no longer acceptable.

Ms. Duffy had spent a couple of days wandering around in the guise of an interested grandmother considering the school. That allowed her to observe current operations without attracting too much attention.

It was an indication of the students' lack of manners that she'd been jostled several times by students rushing through the halls; only about half the time had the student stopped to apologize for running into her. She'd sat in the back of few classes and noted the lack of courtesy a number of students exhibited towards their teachers. If she'd been in charge and had her cane handy those girls would have left the classroom howling.

She'd talked with several students but only received a bunch of generalities about student life. She had also interviewed teachers to seek their input; half had toed the party line and insisted that all was well, but several were brutally honest and admitted the flaws in the way the school was currently being run. She then combined everything into a detailed report and presented a synopsis of her recommendations to the Board.

She prefaced her remarks by admitting that she pulled no punches in her analysis; if they couldn't face hard facts then they shouldn't have wasted the money on her study; they could continue doing nothing and hope for a miracle. She summarized the problems she'd found as follows.

First, the current Headmistress was too concerned with appeasing her charges rather than supporting her teachers. So when discipline problems arose, she had opted for making mealy-mouth agreements for future improvement that allowed the students to avoid facing any real consequences for their actions. So the teachers were left unsupported while the students became increasingly emboldened when they figured out that they only had to mumble the appropriate platitudes to get off scot-free. Not surprisingly, most teachers had given up, and classroom discipline had gone out the window as a result.

Academic standards had fallen because the students had been coddled and allowed to complain that tests were too hard. They needed to learn that in the outside world hard work was the key to success. If girls failed because of a lack of effort, then they should just have to live with the 'F' and maybe from then on they'd put forth a better effort. Teachers shouldn't be made to defend why a low grade was deserved.

She'd seen girls with their attention on their phones rather than the blackboard, because teachers had given up on trying taking them away; the students just ran to the administration to get them back. Under their existing policies, girls should not only lose their phones for the rest of the day but their teachers should whack their palms for the offense.

A number of the girls she'd encountered had been slovenly attired. The school didn't have a uniform so they were hardly draconian compared to other schools; they only required the girls to be neatly dressed within certain parameters. But Ms. Duffy had seen too many jeans with holes in them, skirts that were exceedingly short, and shirts that hung loosely enough off shoulders that bra straps were showing. But most offensive were the low-slung jeans that exposed portions of buttocks and thongs for all to see. If a girl had no problem waiving her ass around for all to see, then she could hardly claim that it was indecent for her bottom to be bared for reddening.

Some girls' make-up and hair appeared more appropriate for circus clowns than young ladies. And while one or two earrings might be acceptable, seven or eight appeared excessive as did metal elsewhere on the face. She understood that tattooing was no longer taboo, but they shouldn't be out front and center for everyone to see. As long as they remained hidden it was beyond her scope to worry about what other body parts might be pierced or inked.

This lack of neatness extended to their living environments as well. A sloppy room was an indicator of a slovenly mind. She didn't expect the precise cleanliness of a military barracks, but these girls were all capable of making their beds every morning and removing trip hazards from their floor.

Judging by smell, some of the girls were smoking, which she found to be a disgusting habit. It was prohibited by existing school policy, but apparently it still occurred. And the odds were good that alcohol and other substances could also be found in their rooms if anyone did a detailed search.

There was a disturbing overall lack of respectable behavior. They were loud and rude in the halls between classes, sometimes running and pushing their way through. Their table manners were deplorable; they certainly didn't eat like proper young ladies. They chatted during assembly, tuning out the Headmistress. Some students were routinely tardy to class; there was a general casualness about being back on campus or in their rooms at night in a timely manner. In addition, some shop owners she'd talked to in town had experienced negative incidents with girls from the school at the weekends.

A number of problems required immediate attention if the school was serious about shoring up its future. At that point she paused for questions from the Board. Ms. Wallace objected to being described as too lax, claiming that her interest was in her students so she tended to give them the benefit of the doubt.



© Louis Woodley
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