Principal Matter: School in remote Armenian village protests controversial appointment

A protest by students and the teaching staff of a school in a remote Armenian community against a controversial appointment of a new principal has produced the result, but the situation has again raised questions about problems in the education sector and gaps existing in the related legislation.

In the village of Berkaber in Armenia’s northeastern Tavush province where students sometimes do not attend school because of enemy fire from across the border with hostile Azerbaijan, this time they did not go to school for three days demanding that the authorities return to their school its principal Vladimir Balasanyan, who served at the post for two years before being controversially dismissed.

Balasanyan, who had taught the Armenian language and literature at the school for years, acted as school principal in the past two years. But by the February 15 decision of the Tavush governor, another teacher, Gayane Khudaverdyan, was appointed to the post.

The governor’s administration explained this step by saying that the school board itself could not come to a decision on the appointment, after which, by the established order, the names of the candidates were sent to the deputy prime minister, who chose the teacher to be the next principal.

It turned out that the deputy prime minister’s decision was not liked by people in Berkaber as well as many in the 17-member staff of the school. People say they have nothing against Khudaverdyan, but they want Balasanyan to stay as principal because he has proved himself as a good manager in the interim capacity. Besides, they say, the newly appointed principal is close to retirement age and within a few years the issue of the new principal will emerge again.

The school which has 32 students this week had less than a dozen of them attending classes, while the parents of students appealed to the village mayor and governor for the decision on the new appointment to be reconsidered. The situation appears to have got a solution.

“Today we had a meeting and settled every matter. The teacher who was appointed principal herself decided not to take up the position and remain a beloved teacher,” Berkaber mayor Artur Madatyan told ArmeniaNow.

Despite the “local” victory of the public in a small Armenian community, the problem of controversial appointments continues to remain topical for the education sphere.

Deputy Director of the National Institute of Education, education expert Anahit Bakhshyan says that such cases happen regularly, which shows that the institution of school boards in Armenia continues to remain dysfunctional and school principals continue to be appointed by political authorities and, therefore, obey them.

“Very often the person whom political authorities want to be installed as school principal is not the one whom the community wants and the authorities have their way in the election procedure,” Bakhshyan told ArmeniaNow.