- Nero fiddles . . .
Blewit read the advice, knew that what it said was absolutely true, and decided he had to do something. Unable to deal with the reality, Phil needed to deflect attention away from the truth. It was his choice to construe that this notice of concerns reflected a personal, rather than professional, difference between Mayhew and Fracks. This was utter nonsense, but Mayhew foolishly agreed to sit down at a conference with Fracks. Mayhew’s preference was for Blewit to mediate, but the principal cried off, and asked the school counsellor to take his place.
The meeting, at which Mayhew hoped some conciliation might occur, provided Fracks with an opportunity to make personal attacks upon the assistant principal, accusing him of cowardice and jealousy. The counsellor, who was already in the process of joining Fracks’ clique, did not attempt to mediate, but took copious notes. Ultimately, Jeremy left the room feeling scalded, and next day informed Blewit that he would engage in no more of these meetings, unless Blewit himself were present. Phil did not organise any more meetings.
Fracks’ need to dominate Mayhew, largely concealed until that time, became obvious to all, following the failed conference. He had challenged her right to oversee the workings of the school. He would have her responsibilities limited to mundane clerical and administrative duties, when she was capable of so much more. Phil had made her his right hand, but they were so much more than just principal and school assistant. They were close friends who shared a vision. That vision didn’t include people like Mayhew.
Blewit retreated further into his technology. His own physical health was deteriorating rapidly, and bouts of asthma were frequent. Aside from periods of sick leave, he took any and every opportunity to be away from the school, at meetings, conferences or making visits to suppliers, in order to assess new technology. This exacerbated the problems at Banksia because, whenever Phil was away, Mayhew was left in charge. This aggravated Fracks and Legge beyond measure. By now, Legge had deemed Mayhew to be a bumbling fool whose “authority” was non-existent. Where she was concerned, during Phil’s absences, she and Aern would manage the school.
It was during one of Phil’s off-campus days that Fracks and Legge played out the most significant of the many despicable events of the period.
Sue had been called to the playground by a teacher’s report that a student was carrying a dangerous implement. She found Jethro, one of the less stable students in the group, playing with a device that he had constructed. It consisted of a small electric motor attached to a single AA battery, and spinning a paddlepop stick like the propeller of an aeroplane. This presented no immediate cause for concern, until it was realised that Jethro had attached the blade from a pencil sharpener, to the end of the stick.
Although Jethro had not used the device in proximity to other people, and there had been no suggestion that he was likely to use it as a weapon, Legge panicked. Forgetting the most fundamental rules for managing troubled students, she tricked Jethro into allowing her to take the toy from him, on the pretext that she wanted to see how it was made. Having secured the “weapon”, Legge refused to return it to the boy. Jethro went ballistic. From a teacher’s point of view, Legge had lied to the student and betrayed his trust. From Jethro’s point of view, the bitch had stolen his machine and he wanted it back.
Legge retreated behind closed doors and sent instructions to the teachers on playground duty to bring the other students inside. Fortunately, since it was still early, only a handful of students were present, and these were shepherded inside through another door. Jethro, locked out of the building, continued to scream that his machine had been stolen. He emphasised the point by kicking furiously at the glass panels in the doors. He had shattered two by the time Mayhew was able to reach the scene and make some sense of what had transpired. The broken shards of glass were held together by the tinted film that had been installed on the windows for just this purpose.
Mayhew left the building, locking the door behind himself. After half an hour of careful negotiation, and with only one more window smashed, Jethro was calm enough to focus his attention on what Mayhew was saying.
Jeremy persuaded the angry boy to put down the stick, which he had been swinging to keep Mayhew at a distance, and to allow Mayhew to approach close enough to allow quiet conversation. Mayhew himself was angry that this situation had ever been allowed to occur. Legge’s betrayal of the student’s trust was unconscionable, and she had set up a situation in which people might have been seriously injured. She had not only betrayed the student, but she had betrayed her colleagues. The damage she had done, whilst serious and obvious at that moment, would have far reaching effects.
Mayhew and Jethro spoke for some time – long enough for Mayhew to be certain that Jethro’s machine had never been built for use as a weapon, and that he had not threatened anyone with it, as was later confirmed by the duty teachers. Their concern had been about safety, not potential violence, and their notification of concern had been made on that basis. Legge hadn’t bothered to discover this in a situation assessment. She had simply barged in, flexing her muscles.
Jethro wanted to have his toy back, and to go into class. Mayhew assessed that it would be next to impossible for Jethro to put his anger behind him and manage his behaviour appropriately in class. Jethro was operating on a short daily programme, which finished at eleven o’clock and Jeremy told him that it would be best if the day were finished early. Mayhew would drive him home as usual, but they would leave early. The boy eventually agreed, but demanded that his machine be returned to him before he would get on the minibus.
Mayhew had anticipated that this would be a stumbling block to the resolution of the crisis, and countered with a compromise. He explained to Jethro that, because the machine was potentially dangerous, Jeremy could not return it to him at school, but that he would return it to him, in his mother’s presence, when they reached Jethro’s home. Much calmer now, and better able to understand what was being said, Jethro agreed that this was acceptable.
After about fifty minutes of careful management, Jeremy had Jethro ready to go home. Mayhew, still not confident that ending the lockdown was yet a safe option, phoned the office and asked Aern Fracks to bring Jethro’s machine, and the keys to the minibus, to him, outside the front door. Fracks’ response floored Mayhew.
She told Mayhew that it would not be appropriate to return the item to Jethro, because it was a weapon. Mayhew could scarcely believe what he was hearing. He did not know whether his anger had been created by the stupidity of the argument which Fracks had presented, or by her refusal to follow his instruction. Mayhew had never been one to enjoy power-plays, and he had never used the power of his position as a weapon against students or colleagues, but he was acting principal, in Phil’s absence, and he had made a decision, which needed to be enacted immediately. If Jethro were to get wind of this attempt to thwart the plan he and Mayhew had agreed, there was every chance that the boy would re-escalate his violence, this time with very serious consequences.
The rain, which had been threatening all morning, began to fall just as Mayhew was repeating his request. Out of courtesy, he took the time to explain his plan to Fracks, expecting that the woman would understand its intent, and follow Mayhew’s instruction. He hadn’t realised that Fracks’ refusal really had nothing to do with legalities, technicalities or ensuring safety. She was hell-bent on establishing her power over Mayhew, and what better way in which to do it?
When Fracks again refused, Jeremy repeated his request as an instruction, politely, but with authority. With Jethro standing beside him on the porch, sheltering from the rain, he needed to set an example of appropriate behaviour. Fracks hesitated and then, as if suddenly coming up with a bright idea, told Mayhew that she would need to speak with Sue Legge. Before Mayhew could speak again, Fracks hung up.
During the minutes which passed, Mayhew explained to Jethro that there was a problem, which would soon be solved. Trusting the man, Jethro accepted this explanation and, although impatient and agitated, he waited beside Mayhew. Jeremy’s school mobile rang and he answered, to hear Fracks explain that she had consulted with Sue Legge, and that it was their opinion that Jethro’s machine should not be returned to him under any circumstances, since they had determined that it was, in fact, a weapon. Fortunately, Jethro could not read Mayhew’s mind, nor did he see the flush of anger as it crossed Jeremy’s face. These people were playing dangerous games.
Displaying a calmness, which he did not feel, Jeremy again instructed Fracks to bring the offending item, along with the keys for the minibus, to him. Fracks again protested, this time saying the Legge had instructed her to refuse. When Jeremy repeated the direction more forcefully, Fracks replied that she would have to speak with Sue again, and again she hung up. Jethro knew, by now, that something was wrong and his mood began to change. Jeremy sensed rather than saw it, as he was speaking with Fracks, and he now turned to Jethro.
Following his moment of agitation, Jethro suddenly became calm. “Don’t trust those bitches”, the thirteen year old advised his teacher. Before Mayhew could remind Jethro that there were more suitable ways of expressing his view, the phone rang again. This time it was Phil’s voice. Trying hard not to disturb Jethro’s calm state, Mayhew explained to Blewit what had been happening. Blewit asked about Jethro’s state of mind, and his likely behaviour in the immediate future, and when Jeremy suggested that the boy would possibly remain in a manageable state, Blewit told Mayhew that the troublesome toy should not be given back.
Not only had Blewit undermined the acting principal’s position, he had forced Mayhew into a position where he would have to break a promise that he had made to a student. It was the latter, rather than the former, which incensed Mayhew. Truth and trust are the two most critical factors in the establishment of a working relationship with any student, but with kids who are victims of lies and deceit by adults, on a daily basis, they assume an even greater importance.
Blewit informed Jeremy that he was on his way back from the computer shop, and asked if Jeremy would be able to persuade Jethro to go back inside the building. He said that he would ring again in ten minutes, in order to know the state of play. Jethro had a knowing smile on his face as Mayhew explained what was happening, and he cheerfully agreed to accompany Mayhew into his office. Jeremy apologised to the boy for breaking his promise and explained that Blewit himself would explain his refusal to return the item.
When Blewit eventually rang again, Mayhew told the principal that he, Blewit, would have to explain to Jethro that the decision to keep his machine had been taken out of Mayhew’s hands, and that Mayhew had not broken his word. Blewit was clearly bothered by this news, asking Mayhew to find out whether Jethro was prepared to be taken home at that moment. When Jethro, still smiling, agreed, Blewit instructed Jeremy to take the boy home, there and then. Blewit had again avoided his responsibility, this time to a teacher and to a student.
Jeremy drove Jethro home and spoke with his mother about the dangerous situation, which she had helped to create, by allowing her son to take such a potentially dangerous toy to school. She said that she had told the boy to leave it at home, but, as usual, he had ignored her. With just a touch of anger in is voice, Jethro explained that “Sue stole it from me and Jeremy tried to get it back, but Sue and Aern are bitches and they wouldn’t do what Jeremy said. Phil’s just gutless.” (It was customary for students to address staff by their first names at Banksia House – a custom which Mayhew missed when he eventually returned to a mainstream school.)
Having dropped Jethro off at home, Jeremy decided that he would take the long way back to school, in the hope that he would have time to cool off. Half way there, he knew that it was not going to happen, and he pulled the bus over to the side of the road and parked. Mayhew’s mood swung between incredulity and fury. He knew exactly what had just happened, up to and including Blewit’s cowardly effort, but a part of him found it hard to believe that Fracks and Legge would actually have had the gall to do what they had done. After ten minutes he still wasn’t any less angry and he started the bus and pulled back into the traffic.
As he switched off the motor and locked the door, Jeremy was struck by the fact that he had managed to control his anger incredibly well. A younger Mayhew had been know to throw objects, punch walls and so on, when he was upset, but this was different. He found Blewit in his office, placed the bus keys on the principal’s desk and told Blewit that he would be unavailable for some time. Not trusting himself to maintain control, Jeremy found a vacant office upstairs and hid there for a while. He wasn’t worried about a confrontation with Fracks or Legge, so much as he was concerned that if anyone, friend or foe, raised the subject of their behaviour with him, he might explode. After an hour he still wasn’t able to be sure about his behaviour, so he told Blewit that he was going home early.
The television crew would have to wait, Phil said. He didn’t want them on the school grounds while there were students roaming the playground, threatening to smash windows and damage cars. It was bad enough that the current affairs programme’s reporter was on-site, along with the Departments’ middle-level bureaucrats, who’d been given the responsibility for organising this public relations exercise.
The government had made a big deal, via the media, about the expenditure of money in establishing the new “behaviour schools” and it wanted a fair return in terms of electorate approval, so the Education Department would need to fulfil it’s obligations. After all, the Education Department’s first priority was to serve the government of the day. Meeting the needs of students, their families and their teachers was an important, but secondary consideration.
Blewit had announced the impending disaster, at one of the increasingly rare staff meetings, several weeks before. He seemed unconcerned about its potential impact upon the students and staff, and was almost childlike in his excitement. Aern Fracks was delighted and bubbled with enthusiasm at the prospect of appearing on television.
Most of the teachers were initially unimpressed, and soon became very worried. They passed their thoughts on to Jeremy, whose misgivings were extreme. He could only imagine what some of the more unstable students would do, once they lost control of their excitement at the arrival of the television crew. Although he knew it was a waste of time and breath, he passed on the staff concerns to Blewit, who seemed not to hear Jeremy, and who, seemingly distracted, began to comb his hair.
The big day arrived and so did the students, who had been briefed about appropriate behaviour, and so on. These kids had serious difficulty managing their behaviour in a calm and peaceful environment, something which had been missing from their school for some time. Now they would be expected to keep it together, while strangers filmed them and asked them questions. It was no surprise that Jethro was the first to lose it.
From the moment he arrived at school, he was extremely agitated. He began by interfering in a game of handball, which brought typical responses from the players, who threatened to bash him. Moved on from the handball area by teachers, Jethro decided that he needed to climb a tree and swing, Tarzan-like, from a low bough. When told that this was dangerous and unacceptable behaviour, Jethro threw a torrent of abuse at the staff, and invited a classmate to join him in climbing the two-point-five metre high fence around the basketball court, where the pair sat atop a concrete block wall, yelling expletives at all and sundry.
As soon as one of the older students objected to being told to do things to himself which were physically impossible, and retaliated by shaking the chain-wire fence in an effort to dislodge Jethro and his partner, the school went into “lockdown”. All students were eventually moved inside and the doors locked, leaving Jethro and his shadow ranting outside, kicking windows and throwing rocks towards the carpark. Blewit eventually dragged himself away from the bureaucrats, and the television reporter, and appeared in the playground to get a status report. He then hurried back inside to let the film-crew know that they would have to wait.
Eventually the scene settled a little and the angry students became calm enough to be re-admitted to the building. Things weren’t good, but the film-crew had a deadline to meet. They were in the process of setting up their gear, when Jeremy had to remove an unhappy Jethro from the staffroom, marching him out of the building, past Waldo Garrison, who was patiently waiting in the foyer for Aern Fracks to announce his arrival to Blewit.
Fracks was in her element. She was the one person who knew everything about everything. She was unstinting in her advice, and in giving instructions to staff and students. Teachers and aides tried to get on with the business of teaching very agitated students in a very unsettled environment. Lots of “spot-fires” were rapidly extinguished before they could erupt into a full-scale blaze. Mayhew needed to consult Blewit with respect to Jethro, but the principal was having is make-up applied, prior to his on-camera interview, so Jeremy decided to send Jethro home before he could do himself any more harm.
By the time the reporter and the cameras had vanished, two students had earned serious suspensions and numerous others had experienced negative consequences for inappropriate behaviour. The staff were exhausted, teachers and aides having managed to make it appear as though the school was relatively “normal”, for a behaviour school, that is. Aern had been run off her feet, her dark two piece suit a little rumpled and her immaculate hair a little ruffled, but she had been there for Phil, and the bureaucrats had been very impressed with her efficiency, in such a responsible position. Phil himself was dead on his feet. The interview had been a tremendous strain, but the film was “in the can”, and that was the most important thing.
15. AND FIDDLES . . .
More than anything else, the television filming signalled the true beginning of a very nasty end. Nothing much happened for many weeks. (It’s worrying that such a comment as this could be made, given the seriousness of the situation, but it indicates how extreme behaviours can be accepted as “normal’ after lengthy periods of exposure.)
The behaviours of the students became more extreme, with Ed leading the way. Phil Blewit bumbled from one crisis to the next, at times trying to distance himself from his “Frankenstein’s monster”, but generally spending the days when he wasn’t absent, ill, or away at another conference, locked into his computer. Fracks, and Legge had secured the support of the school counsellor, were working on Hannah Phylaxis and Laura Norder, and had Mick Hunter pretty well wrapped up.
Mayhew eventually concluded that Mick wasn’t an immoral jerk. He was actually amoral, the difference being very significant. The vexing part of this lay in the fact that Hunter, in his role as a teachers’ aide, was clearly exceptionally skilled in working with troubled students. His affinity with them was almost magical, and his ability to communicate with them, Mayhew reluctantly confessed to himself, probably exceeded his own. During the early days of their relationship, Mayhew had worked hard to persuade the teachers’ aide to begin studying for a degree in education. Jeremy believed then that Mick was a natural, and would make an outstanding teacher. Jeremy would be proved very wrong.
Mick and Singer Berger had struck up a friendship soon after the young teacher had joined Banksia House. They were inseparable and provided good company for each other. Mick’s fiancé was working in Goulburn and the couple only spent their weekends together, so Singer and Mick filled in free time during the week, together. Not that Singer had a lot of free time. The brilliant youngster gave two hundred percent to her work, and any additional energy was usually spent in her sport. Being an out-of-town girl, she appreciated Hunter’s friendship and the two attended almost all of the staff outings together.
Mick had only been married for six months when the marriage abruptly ended. Fracks and Legge provided sympathy and attention. Singer was there to give support, saddened by her friend’s misfortune. Singer Berger was probably Mayhew’s equal when it came to naivety. It wasn’t long before Hunter tried to advance their relationship past the platonic. Singer was having none of it.
Hannah Phylaxis was next on Hunter’s list of targetted acquisitions, and she was only too willing to be “acquired”. Phylaxis, her jealousy of Berger knowing few, if any, bounds, took great delight in promoting a breakdown in the friendship between Berger and Hunter, a friendship which had already been damaged by Hunter’s misguided attempt to move his relationship with Singer to the next, more horizontal level.
Predictably, the working relationship between the three disintegrated rapidly, and the Fracks-Legge consortium, swooped, gathering Mick and Hannah to their bosom. It suited Legge, who had always been jealous of young Berger’s ability, and found favour with Fracks because Singer, despite her youth, had been able to see Phil’s incompetence for what it was. As the school’s union representative, Singer Berger had had the need to approach Blewit on several occasions concerning staff safety issues and she, too, had met Phil’s famous stone wall.
So the stage was set for the final acts in this sad melodrama. The camps were more or less established. Phil Blewit appeared lost and confused, alone, despite Fracks’ constant attentions and Legge’s perpetual fawning. Fracks, Legge, the counsellor, Phylaxis and Hunter, had formed a solid unit. Laura Norder, distracted by her own personal and family problems, was wandering in a daze. Still targeted by the Fracks-Legge group, she was struggling to manage herself, let alone deal with work issues.
Laura, whilst on a south-east Asian holiday, had married, against her mother’s wishes. Whether this had been a rebellious act designed to break her domineering mother’s hold, or a natural consequence of true love, was largely irrelevant, because the lasting effect of the decision to marry was a fractured relationship with her mother, and a difficult marriage to a man who seemed to have little more maturity than a child. Throw in some children and the recipe for personal disaster was complete. Mayhew was saddened as he helplessly watched the deterioration in a person whom he had believed to be a fine teacher and a genuine human being.
Fiona Hamilton saw what was happening around her, and, like Mayhew, was amazed. Fiona was a mature, vastly experienced and highly skilled teacher, whose experiences working with troubled young people had enabled her to produce remarkable results with Banksia House students. The events unfolding at Banksia would eventually see Fiona lost to the New South Wales teaching service, and ultimately managing her own educational unit, for students with behaviour disorders, in New Zealand.
It was natural that the young Berger, although having a close working relationship with Mayhew, would find a strong friendship with Fiona. The two women shared a mutual respect for each other as teachers and as people, and together felt frustrated at their inability to do anything substantial about the chaos which was Banksia House. They would support Mayhew as far as they could, although little could be done by anyone other than Mayhew himself, to improve his state. Their open support for Jeremy of course made them a target for Fracks and company. After the revelation of Hunter’s new relationship with Phylaxis, and in response to Fracks’ perception of a developing alliance between Singer, Fiona and Laura Norder, the campaign of harassment against Singer Berger was widened to include Fiona Hamilton.
Someone once said that Hannah Phylaxis was dumb, but this was not an entirely accurate description of this extraordinarily complex character. During the few years in which Mayhew and Phylaxis coincided at Banksia, he came to know much about her. His feelings towards her ranged from sympathy to disgust.
Unsurprisingly, Banksia House had been unable to attract and retain sufficient permanent teachers. Soon after the move to the new school site, Blewit had been desperate to fill a teaching vacancy. Hannah Phylaxis was introduced to him as a teacher who had just returned from overseas, where she had spent a couple of years allegedly working in some very tough schools. Blewit persuaded Hannah to give the job a trial run, and gave Jeremy the responsibility for supporting her.
Nothing in her overseas experience had prepared Hannah for the trials that she faced at Banksia. Jeremy’s observations led him to believe that she was technically quite a reasonable teacher, who would probably have managed comfortably in a mainstream situation, but that she was lacking the key ingredient, which separates average teachers from excellent teachers. Hannah did not understand the essence of teaching, and she was almost totally devoid of empathy. Worse still, she either could not, or would not, learn.
Hannah would ultimately show herself to be narcissistic in the extreme, ruthless and manipulative and determined to crush anyone who stood in her way, but her initial persona reflected vulnerability and poor self-esteem, qualities which eventually made her an ideal acquisition for Aern Fracks.
When she had trouble understanding that her students would not accept her authoritarian attitude in the classroom, Jeremy explained to her that this was the very reason for their attendance at Banksia House. He showed her how the abuse of the power of her position could never bring positive outcomes, and spent many hours advising and suggesting alternative strategies, which had proven themselves to be successful. After a meeting with Mayhew, Hannah would go away promising to try these different approaches and for a while she would have success. Unfortunately, she would soon be overcome by her need to dominate her students, and the whole cycle would begin again.
On one occasion, Phylaxis had dissolved into tears and told Mayhew that she believed that she could not cope and that she should leave Banksia House. Still hoping that she could be taught to manage these students, Jeremy persuaded her to stay. On top of everything else, having to find another teacher to replace Hannah would have been more than Blewit could bear. In the light of events which were to occur, it was a bad move, which would eventually have a serious impact upon many people, including Mayhew himself.
- AND FIDDLES SOME MORE . . .
Fracks and Legge were having a conversation in the staffroom when Mayhew entered, carrying the documents which he needed to photocopy.
Fracks seemed agitated, walking back and forth, picking up pieces of paper from the desks and muttering. Legge stood, one hand upon her hip, looking sympathetically at her friend. Mayhew was about to hit the start button on the copier when Fracks spoke to him. She wanted to know where her message had gone. Mayhew had no idea what she was talking about, so she explained. It was surly and disdainful, but it was an explanation.
Jeremy had made it his daily practice to place notices for staff in the folder in which they “signed on” each day. These notices, dated to show their currency, usually referred to staff absences or changes to routine. Mayhew would, more often than not, remove and discard the notice at the end of the day. If he failed to do so, he would attend to the task first thing on the following morning. This morning he had done just that. As he collected the sheet of paper, he had seen that there was an additional message, added below his previous day’s writing. It made some reference to Sue Legge’s daughter, but Mayhew had no time to give it much attention. Since the message had obviously been read yesterday, it could be discarded.
When Mayhew revealed his part in the riddle of the missing message, Legge puffed herself up like a pouter pigeon, offended and indignant. Fracks, in her own inimitable style, hissed and blew, spitting out the news that she had not written the message yesterday morning – it had been written yesterday afternoon – and followed this with a complaint that nobody had had a chance to read the good news about Sue’s daughter.
Mayhew apologised for disposing of the message, and considered the matter concluded. Fracks, however, hadn’t finished. As if Mayhew were not there, she suggested to Legge that Jeremy’s action had been deliberate, a slight against Legge and against herself. Mayhew was just digesting this ludicrous accusation, when it was followed by yet another. “I’m sick of this. (Fracks’ voice) This is typical of his behaviour. Sue, we’ll need to add this one to the others in the archives, for future reference.”
Mayhew could scarcely believe what he had just witnessed. These women were supposed to be adults. One was supposed to be a teacher, whose job was to teach children how to behave appropriately in many different situations.
This wasn’t the first time, or the last, during which Banksia House would serve as a school for teachers with behaviour disorders.
Jeremy was perceptive enough to know that Fracks’ accusation was being made either out of stupidity and ignorance, or as a ploy to elicit an angry and uncontrolled response from him. He said nothing and finished his photocopying while the women, mumbling to each other, left the room.
He was angry, however. He was very angry. He was almost as angry as he had been on the day when Legge had stolen Jethro’s toy, but again it was cold anger. He felt no need to shout, or throw things, or hit someone. His anger was controlled and then directed into the only reasonable course of action open to him.
Talking to Blewit would obviously be a waste of time. A written, formal complaint was immediately drafted and presented to Blewit that same afternoon. The statement cited the specific accusations made by Fracks that morning, and then included comment in relation to Blewit’s own failure to properly manage his staff. It was early December and Blewit would have only two weeks in which to take some positive action “in-house”.
By this time, Phil Blewit was well past the stage of being able to manage anything, but a formal complaint could not be ignored. Mayhew’s previous notifications, even those written down, could be put aside. He’d be able to say that he was dealing with these matters internally, but there were rules to be followed in relation to formal complaints. Blewit said nothing about anything to Mayhew during the next few days. Perhaps he was hoping to awaken from a nightmare. Perhaps he was overwhelmed. It might have been that he was just indecisive, but Phil couldn’t be sure.
What was happening to Blewit was shameful. In a properly organised and efficient system, the debacle which was Banksia House would never have been allowed to occur. It is true that in huge bureaucracies, such as the Education Department, fairness and justice can never be expected, but under the New South Wales system, these concepts could not even be approached.
The Phil Blewit scenario was almost devastating in its simplicity, and totally devastating in its outcomes. Blewit had been a reasonable teacher and passable middle-level school executive, in the small field of special education. He had a dream, to make things better for disadvantaged kids through giving them an opportunity to learn, but he lacked the skills necessary to bring his dream to fruition. This simple factor was the one which had made him cannon-fodder, when faced with the big guns carried by people like Aern Fracks. Blewit, basically a gentle and compassionate person, was always going to be an easy target for manipulation.
It was political expediency which led to the hasty creation of Banksia House and its contemporaries. It is impossible to say how much, if any, research and planning had gone into the scheme, but the outcomes for many of the schools would seem to suggest that nothing more than lip-service was paid to the task of setting up such important institutions. Principals had to be found. Executive teachers had to be found. Classroom teachers and aides had to be found. Quality was not important, quantity was what mattered.
Blewit was not able to carry out the administrative duties which come with the principalship. This was not because he was stupid, he simply had had no training or experience. Had training been provided, he would probably have coped adequately with budgeting and accounting. Blewit had very poor personnel management skills, not because he lacked social skills or interpersonal skills, but because he had had inadequate training in the very specific area of workplace management. Despite his disabilities, Blewit got the job. He was probably the best of a suspect lot, and somebody had to be chosen.
Had Blewit’ superiors been blessed with sufficient foresight to predict management problems in such new and different educational settings, a support structure for their principals could have been put in place to enable those who were experiencing difficulty, to raise a hand and ask for help, without fear of losing their position, or dignity. Had his superiors cared sufficiently, or been allowed the time to do so, they would have supervised him closely, providing support as they saw a need, whether Blewit had sought it or not.
Had his superior’s superiors been concerned with anything other than protecting or improving their own positions on the bureaucratic ladder, time and energy would have been provided, sufficient to support all of those further down the ladder, perhaps even as far as the students!
Had the Minister for Education, and the Premier, been concerned with anything other than throwing money at a problem, in order to garner positive public opinion, in order to ensure their re-election, the whole sick system, of which Banksia House was only one sad symptom, might have been improved to a point where students’ needs were paramount.
As it was, Blewit was afraid. He could not ask for help for fear of being found wanting, and possibly damaging his future promotion chances. The best he could do was to keep on treading water, and trying not to drown. He could do no more than hope that those people for whom he was responsible, were strong swimmers also.
A week had gone by when Blewit informed Mayhew that he had decided that he could not deal with the formal complaint, and had referred the matter to Don Lane, the District Superintendent. Nothing would happen to resolve anything until the new year.
- ROME BURNS.
Aern Fracks greeted the news of Jeremy’s formal complaint, with indignation and disgust. Not only had this low mongrel shown nothing but disloyalty to Phil Blewit, contempt for Sue Legge and disregard for Aern herself, he was now trying to undermine her position, in order to gain more power himself. It was highly likely that Mayhew had a hidden agenda. If he were able to show that Blewit was incompetent, he would be next in line to take control of Banksia House. Mayhew’s complaint, as explained to her by Blewit, had the potential to remove both Phil and herself from the school.
Susan Downia-Legge was leaving Banksia at term’s end. Fortified by her glowing reference from Phil Blewit, she had convinced a promotions panel to give her that long-sought executive position, where she would be in charge of a secondary school faculty. She would have several teachers answerable to her, an entirely appropriate situation given her personal and social status. The increase in pay would be handy, too, since her daughters’ private school fees had just increased substantially.
With nothing to lose, Legge removed herself from the office, which she was supposed to share with Mayhew, and moved into the administration office. Aern was only too pleased to have her there. She would need her ally close by, as she prepared to sort out Jeremy Mayhew. Her plan was brilliant in its simplicity and it would not only destroy Mayhew as a force at Banksia, but it would also reflect credit upon Fracks herself. She would come out of this as a hero, someone who was prepared to do what was needed, in order to protect Phil and the students at Banksia House.
To have been able to look inside Aern Fracks’ mind at any time, would have been a fascinating experience, but to have been privy to her innermost thought during those weeks of December, would have given any observer an insight into a remarkably convoluted individual.
Aern knew that teachers and aides had complained to Mayhew about her position of responsibility within Phil’s management team. She also knew that the complainants were the incompetents, who couldn’t or wouldn’t do their jobs properly. Their first responsibility should have been to support Phil, since he was the one who would make Banksia a great school. She gave Phil her total support, personally and professionally. She understood that he relied upon her, trusted her implicitly, regarded their friendship as a most important part of his life.
Aern felt contempt for those who were treacherous enough to criticise Phil, and herself. They had no right to suggest that she was operating outside her area of responsibility, when she gave advice to students and directions to teachers. After all, her teacher training had equipped her to make professional judgements. The fact that she had never taught, didn’t disqualify her from taking an educator’s perspective in the management of her school.
Despite her troubling experiences in classrooms during her teacher training, Aern was not really afraid to venture there again. The reason that she had not had the opportunity to teach, lay in the fact that she had dedicated her life to her family. Her husband’s job had taken him around the country, moving every few years, and Aern had needed to give herself to caring for her children, and supporting her husband. Her own needs had been put on hold, a sacrifice which she had willingly made, for the benefit of others. Now, with her children grown and her husband managing his own business in Sydney, she could realise those dreams of personal success, which she had held for so long.
Her experience with Paul Coustas had been upsetting. She hadn’t wanted to report the man to the Audit Directorate, but he had left her no choice. He would simply not follow her advice, and she was the expert in her field. However, it had resulted in her transfer to Banksia House, and this opportunity to work with Phil Blewit, so it was worth the temporary unpleasantness.
Phil didn’t question her advice and he was only too willing to let her have free rein with much of the financial management. He respected her, admired her. He let her know that she was valued, and not just as a school assistant. He was already asking her to help with supervising students, and she had her say at staff meetings about educational as well as administrative matters. She would be able to accomplish great things at Banksia House, she and Phil.
However, before she and Phil could do anything further, Mayhew must be removed. Aern knew that her plan was extreme. She knew that her allegations could probably not be proved, but that didn’t matter. The important thing was that Mayhew wouldn’t be able to maintain himself at Banksia, once the accusations were made. His predisposition for depression would ensure that. This would certainly trigger a major episode. His career, such as it was, would be over, but that was less than he deserved. If it hadn’t been for Mayhew, she and Phil would be happily working together, making Banksia House a model school. Any measures were justifiable if it meant being rid of Mayhew.
With her plan set, and with the support of her loyal colleagues, Aern went to the Christmas vacation excited and optimistic for the events of the coming year.
- ASHES TO ASHES.
The new year began on an uncertain note. Fracks had lost two of her group. The counsellor had been transferred due to a reshuffle. Legge had gone, but the two were in daily contact and Sue was anxious for news of the plan’s progress. Mick Hunter was a solid ally, and he could be useful in reorganising the computer record system, so that Mayhew would have little chance of getting access to documents when he would most certainly need them. Hannah Phylaxis had come on-side, especially since the news of her sexual relationship with Mick had been made public. She was already lowly regarded by most staff members and even those who chose to stay uninvolved in the factional disagreements, rejected her behaviour, and Hunter’s, out of hand.
Laura Norder was uncommitted. At Mayhew’s suggestion, she had been given the acting executive position vacated by Legge and, for the moment at least, she could not be relied upon.
The dynamics of the entire group could almost be drawn on paper. Fracks’ group consisted of herself, Hunter and Phylaxis. They targetted Mayhew primarily, with Berger and Hamilton as a secondary option. Laura Norder was non-aligned, as was Shellby Swayde, but both women might well be brought onside, if Fracks and Phylaxis played their cards right. The rest of the staff tried to keep out of the crap, and just got on with doing their best to do their jobs, not an easy task given that their nominal leader was drifting in limbo.
Jeremy was doing his best to pull things together, as well as manage the students at school on a day-to-day basis. He was pleased that Laura had been given the executive job, and she was supporting his efforts to move the staff forward. Mayhew was a little surprised at the time, that Fracks had not pulled her horns in at all. The loss of Legge should have been quite a blow to her, but she seemed even more committed than she had been, to expanding her influence. Mayhew had no inkling of what Fracks had in store for him.
During the second week of first term, Don Lane summoned Mayhew to the district office, as a preliminary step in the process of dealing with Jeremy’s formal complaint. As Mayhew waited in the foyer for his appointment, Fracks emerged from the superintendent’s office, accompanied by one of her daughter’s, and, smiling, walked past Mayhew and out of the door.
Several minutes later Mayhew was called in, to be met with a very cool reception from the superintendent. A third person was present, equipped with pad and pen, and ready to take notes.
Don Lane was a career bureaucrat. He had passed through the school system easily and saw himself as a person who had the capacity to become a very influential member of the bureaucracy’s upper echelon. He cared little for the fact that there were people beneath him who feared rather than respected him, and he saw his reputation, for being a demanding and ruthless supervisor, as a reflection of his efficiency and single-mindedness. Impeccably dressed and spotlessly groomed, he indicated a seat to Jeremy, who sat down.
Banksia House had been a thorn in Lane’s side since the decision to establish the school had first been made by his political masters. He had battled community resistance, the difficulty of finding a suitable site, the process of staffing the place, and now, when Blewit had been telling him that everything in the garden was rosy, he had to deal with some jumped-up middle executive who was unhappy because the school assistant was too good at her job. He expected to fix this quickly. He’d put a flea in the fellow’s ear, and send him away.
Lane’s questions were to-the-point, and not quite biased, but his manner towards Mayhew made it apparent to Jeremy that Lane had heard Fracks’ story and found it entirely credible. The man’s manner remained almost aggressive for a short while, but Mayhew could detect a subtle change, as Lane heard Jeremy’s responses. The meeting was short, consistent with its preliminary nature. When Lane indicated that he had heard enough, Jeremy spoke, inviting the superintendent to read the contents of the folder, copies of all of Mayhew’s notifications and suggestions to Blewit, which Mayhew had brought to the meeting. With the early chill now less evident, Mayhew took himself back to school.
The anticipated second meeting never eventuated, at least not in the form that either Lane or Mayhew had expected. The process was halted on Wednesday 13th of February 2002, when Blewit handed to Mayhew, the letter from the Child Protection Division of the Education Department.
At three-thirty p.m. on that day, Blewit had asked Mayhew to come into his office. The door was closed and Mayhew sat down, as he had done countless times during the good years. Blewit looked terrible. His hair was untidy and his clothing dishevelled. Rather than sit beside his desk, as was his custom, Blewit stood. He told Jeremy that he had been instructed to give a letter to Jeremy, handed the envelope to him, and stood leaning slightly forward towards Mayhew, as the older man opened it.
Mayhew had been surprised by the invitation to the principal’s office. It had been a long time since Blewit had initiated a conversation with him. Mayhew had become used to seeing Phil looking bad, but he was a little taken aback by Blewit’s particularly unkempt appearance. The pain evident in Blewit’s face, and the agitation which emanated from the man, caused Jeremy to look twice at Blewit, as he accepted the letter.
As soon as he saw the Child Protection Division’s address at the top of the envelope, Mayhew realised what had been happening in Blewit’s mind. Mayhew opened the letter and read its contents. He was to be investigated for unspecified inappropriate behaviour towards students.
Jeremy was strangely calm. At that moment he was in far better condition than his principal, who could do no more than simply stand, on the edge of tears, and mumble some query as to Mayhew’s welfare. Jeremy assured the sad man that he was ok, and that he would be ok, and without another word from Blewit, Jeremy went home.
The shock was delayed, but even when it came, it was unlike anything Jeremy had ever experienced. When, at twenty-one, his long-term girlfriend had ended their relationship, Mayhew had been devastated. His body shook, and mixed emotions of anger and fear and loss, brought tears flooding. His Holden panel van had laid black strips of rubber through first and second gears. When his close friend had been killed in a motor accident, the phone call had had a physical impact upon Mayhew, almost as if he had been punched in the stomach.
This was strangely different. Mayhew knew that he had done nothing wrong and, initially, he assumed that someone had made a mistake. Perhaps a kid had gone home to a refuge, where a social worker had overheard him telling exaggerated stories of the abuse he had been subjected to at school. Maybe a parent had taken their child’s story at face value, and not bothered to check with the school. It could be that one of the older students had made a complaint as “payback” for a suspension. The possibilities were endless and Mayhew didn’t bother wasting time with conjecture.
Fortunately, the trip home was short, and Jeremy reached the sanctuary in one piece. He made himself a coffee and sat alone with the letter, which he read and re-read. At fifty-something, he now knew quite a lot about himself. He certainly knew that this incident might trigger depression, so he decided to telephone the CPD investigator, whose name appeared at the end of the letter. By finding out what the specific allegations were, Mayhew knew that he could be prepared to refute them, and that would give him some peace of mind.
The investigator was unable to tell Mayhew anything. Not only did he not know anything about the case, he would not have been permitted to give Jeremy information, even if he had had it.
The accused in such cases were not permitted to know the allegations, until the investigation had been completed.
According to the investigator, this might take two or three weeks, or it could extend to five or six weeks, depending upon the complexity of the case. Mayhew was left to sit and contemplate the possibility of weeks without any knowledge of the charges, and without any knowledge of his possible defence. For perhaps six weeks he would be guilty until he could prove his innocence.
Even now, Mayhew’s naivety was unbelievable. He had followed closely the case of the teacher in the Riverina, who had been accused of sexual misconduct, by two female students, and who had committed suicide when the investigation dragged on past the limit of his endurance. Shortly after his body had been cut down from the tree where he had hanged himself, the students confessed to making false allegations.
Mayhew knew of other cases where a CPD investigation had gone on for months, before finding that there was no case to be answered. He had actually worked with another teacher, who had been accused of improper conduct whilst on an extended excursion. After two years, there was still no end in sight to that investigation.
Jeremy knew that his case would be different. He had done nothing wrong. Someone had made a mistake, or was trying to settle a grievance. Either way, it would be over soon, and he could get back to work without fear.
He told Jenni, when she arrived home from work. He could only imagine how she felt as he broke the news. She had already endured so much as a result of Jeremy’s passion for his work, and now this. As always, she stood firm, re-assuring Jeremy that this was just another of the department’s classic stuff-ups, reminding him that they had survived Fauntleroy, Palin and Flashman, and that they would deal with this as well.
Jeremy rang Damon, who expressed concern for his father’s health, and promised that he and Cassandra would be available at a moment’s notice if support of any kind were needed, and he greeted Erin with the news, when she arrived home. Erin seemed to have some suspicions as to the origin of the allegations, but she did not disclose her thoughts at that time. She, too, would be there when her father needed her.
He awoke on Thursday morning after an almost sleepless night and knew that he could not go to work. In any school situation a teacher needs to be fit and fresh, mentally alert, if they are going to make sound judgements and fair decisions. At Banksia, if you weren’t mentally prepared, you ran the risk of making poor decisions, which might undo the good work of many people, carried out over many weeks. It was unfair to everyone if you turned up at work unprepared for the challenges which you would meet.
He phoned Blewit, who was unsurprised, either then or when Jeremy again contacted him after a Thursday night’s insomnia. Blewit phoned Jeremy later during that Friday, to let Mayhew know that his position as assistant principal would be suspended. Each day, Mayhew refused Jenni’s offer of company, sending her off to work. Erin, too, went off to work, following Mayhew’s insistence that he would be fine.
The following weekend passed without seeming to. Mayhew was strangely detached from the world. Even when he returned to work on the following Monday it was as if he were in denial, but it was during that Monday that the realisation of Fracks’ involvement in the scenario first began to dawn.
Once lit, the flame flickered awkwardly and Mayhew tried to ignore it, but it grew rapidly until the thought consumed Jeremy’s mind. Fracks had set him up. Her remark to Legge, last December, about storing his misdemeanours away “in the archives for future reference”, suddenly made sense. Her cocky behaviour, despite the loss of Legge and the counsellor, and her overt recruitment of Hunter and Phylaxis, became significant. The peculiar impact of the CPD letter upon Phil Blewit, could be better understood.
However, Mayhew had been well behind in his thinking. His colleagues had begun voicing their suspicions to each other, as soon as they heard that Jeremy was under investigation. Berger and Hamilton were joined in their support of Mayhew, by others who had tried to remain uninvolved, but whose anger and disbelief had drawn them to Jeremy’s defence.
Monday passed almost dream-like. Although he knew that it had to true, Mayhew could scarcely believe that, even a person as twisted as Fracks had shown herself to be, could sink as low as this. He raised his suspicions with Jenni, when she returned from work. Jenni had been wondering how long it would take her gullible husband to realise what she had recognised instantly. Erin had kept her suspicions to herself since hearing the news, and, when he rang that evening to check up on his father, Damon revealed that he and Cass had taken little time to draw the logical conclusion.
Jeremy’s initial disbelief gave way to a cold and considered anger, which was, in turn, replaced by a determination to deny the bitch her win. Mayhew turned up at work each day, and stayed for as long as he could. Since he would not allow himself to spend time with a student, without the presence of another, trusted adult, he was very limited in what he could do for students. He refused to intervene whenever students were violent towards each other, or towards staff, standing back and waiting for another staff member to get involved. He spent a lot of time in his office supporting Bob, an experienced and very capable itinerant behaviour teacher, who had been seconded from the District Behaviour Team, to carry out Mayhew’s former duties.
Within days, due to the volcanic atmosphere, the behaviours of students became increasingly extreme and the offices were almost choked with students who had been removed from their classes or from the playground. Blewit would often have two or three offenders in his office, where they would create further problems. Blewit seemed not to care. The school approached flashpoint.
The end came for Mayhew during a recess break. Singer Berger was on playground duty, along with a teachers’ aide. Mayhew was there too, partly as a relief from the four walls of his office, and partly to keep an eye on a volatile playground situation. A fight broke out between two of the younger students, and when it seemed likely to result in injury to either one or both, Singer Berger stepped in. Despite her diminutive stature, Singer was very strong and very fit, but she was finding it difficult to separate the punching and kicking pair. Mayhew knew that she was in danger, but he could do nothing. He forced his hands deeper into his pockets and called to the teachers’ aide, who was sorting out a problem about thirty metres away.
He watched Berger struggle, looked to see that the aide was not yet able to assist, and stepped closer to the scene. Mayhew looked again towards the aide, who was only now able to move, and looked back to see that Singer was in trouble. The two boys were each as tall as she, and the violence had not diminished. Mayhew couldn’t bear it any more. He stepped forward and was about to take hold of one of the combatants, when the aide arrived, and stepped in front of Mayhew.
Jeremy, ashamed, frustrated and despondent, couldn’t find Blewit to let him know that he was leaving the school, so he told Bob, collected his things and went home. Mayhew immediately made an appointment to see his staff welfare officer, and at that meeting the two canvassed the options open to Jeremy. It was plain that Mayhew could not continue at Banksia House in the foreseeable future, and with Don Lane’s agreement, Mayhew began work at the district office within days.
Lane had not spoken to Jeremy since the preliminary complaint resolution meeting, held a couple of weeks before, but he knew that Mayhew was under investigation by the CPD, and he had made some inquiries into the Banksia situation. Mayhew’s documents, presented at the conclusion of that first meeting, had made disturbing reading.
The situation was not what it had seemed, and Mayhew had not been the person Lane had expected to meet. During their conversation there had been no histrionics, no wild allegations, no angry criticism. Mayhew had answered his questions openly, without trying to conceal his own behaviours. He had given Lane a very different picture to that painted by Fracks only minutes before.
Mayhew had kept detailed records of his conversations with Blewit. He had also recorded real-life examples of the types of behaviour, which had made staff members unhappy with Fracks and Legge. Included in the folder of documents, were copies of the notes which Mayhew had provided for Blewit, outlining Jeremy’s on-going concerns at the management of Banksia House. There were perhaps twenty-odd typed pages, containing some very damning revelations.
By the time he met with Don Lane for the second time, Mayhew was a mess. The strain of the last weeks showed itself on his face, and in his manner. He was in trouble, and he knew it. The spectre of another breakdown haunted Jeremy and he was fearful that he would receive another cool reception from the district superintendent. To Jeremy’s great relief, Lane was attentive and appeared concerned, as Jeremy outlined the reason for his request for a transfer of duties. Lane assured Mayhew of his support for the application, and sent the weary teacher home.
Jeremy’s “boss” at the district office was Tony O’Brien, the office manager. Little taller than a leprechaun, Tony had a sharp wit, a mind like a steel trap and a memory as long as the millennium. A qualified solicitor and long-term public servant, he also had compassion and charm, and he assessed Jeremy Mayhew as being a decent bloke who was deserving of support. The two men would ultimately form a remarkable team, and Jeremy would always remember Tony as being one of the biggest men he had ever known.
Immersion in the business of record-keeping for the district’s fleet of government cars, served as a suitable distraction for Mayhew, who was in no fit state to engage in anything to do with education. The depression was now constant. Only the depth varied. However, Jeremy felt that he was still pretty much in control of himself, and he hoped that he was at least minimising the impact of his circumstances upon Jenni and the rest of the family.
Singer Berger and Fiona Hamilton were in regular contact with him, as were several other members of Mayhew’s staff, offering whatever support they could. News of happenings at Banksia was never positive, but often enlightening. With Mayhew out of the way, Fracks was able to assert her influence over a wider field. Blewit was unwilling or unable to resist her power play. It is likely that, by this time, Blewit was barely able to manage himself, let alone draw rein on his creation. In the virtual absence of a leader, it fell to Laura and Bob to run the ship.
Bob was becoming increasingly fed up with his “fill-in” role, and he was anxious to get back to doing his real work. Bob was highly skilled in his field, and provided excellent support to students, who were struggling with their behaviour, in mainstream schools. He could see that the Banksia situation was going from bad to worse, and, unable to do anything to make things better, he was looking forward to returning to his proper job.
Laura had not escaped unscathed from the events of recent months. She and Mayhew had always shared a mutual respect and a common understanding of the needs of Banksia House kids. She knew that she had been manipulated by Legge, particularly, and the fact that allegations of any kind had been made against Mayhew, had stunned her. Despite the convictions of most staff members, that Fracks was behind the set-up, Laura didn’t want to believe it. Her domestic situation was worsening and she was struggling to keep herself sane at home. With an irresponsible husband and, very young children, Laura herself was a potential emotional shipwreck, drifting towards the shoals.
At first Laura had great support from Singer Berger and Fiona Hamilton. The two women would often babysit for Laura at her home, in order to give Laura a break, and they were always on-call if Laura needed someone to talk to. However, that changed when, in a severely depressed state, Laura let it be known that she was contemplating some drastic action, which would destroy her family. Singer and Laura advised professional counselling, but Laura wouldn’t hear of it. She severed the ties which she had had with Fiona and Singer, and continued to wallow, rudderless, on a raging sea of confusion and despair.
Laura carried her turmoil to work with her each day, and in her distressed state, she was relatively easy prey for Fracks. Shellby Swayde had come on board too, largely due to the efforts of Hannah Phylaxis. Swayde, also, had been teaching overseas and had returned to Australia without a permanent job. She was a strange mixture, seemingly quiet as a mouse for most of the time, but sharing Phylaxis’ proclivity for the public discussion of the details of their sex lives. With both women in full flight, the staffroom atmosphere was, at times, bordering upon pornographic.
Shellby was struck down by a mystery illness, which made her attendance at work patchy, and Fracks provided great personal support. Phylaxis needed someone to share the rent of her house, and Swayde moved in. They were later joined by Hunter, in what might have been a very interesting domestic arrangement.
During term two of 2002, the situation at Banksia House deteriorated into virtual all out factional war. Fracks’ consortium contained Phylaxis, Hunter and Swayde, with Laura Norder a peripheral member. The breakdown of Laura’s relationship with Singer and Fiona had left her friendless in the world. She was under constant pressure from her mother and sister, to move back to her childhood home in northern New South Wales, bringing her children with her. Laura’s husband had been sacked form his job as a school cleaner for inappropriate behaviour, and her financial situation was becoming increasingly serious.
The stress under which Laura was living, was matched by that experienced by Phil Blewit. Phil became almost reclusive, perpetually attached, it appeared, to his computer, his mouse lead an umbilical cord, essential to sustain him throughout the days and weeks. The principal was missing in action, one assistant principal was battling personal demons, and Bob had had enough. No longer prepared to preside over the madness, he returned to his former position, and got on with his life.
Mayhew was out of the way, and unlikely to return to Banksia in the near future. His position as a member of Banksia’s executive team needed to be filled. Blewit should have asked either Berger or Hamilton to take on the acting job, either woman being eminently qualified and suitable, but he did not. By this time, Phil was under scrutiny by Don Lane, and it was decided that the three candidates, Berger, Hamilton and Phylaxis, would be interviewed for the job by an independent third party.
The exercise did nothing more than highlight the fundamental flaws in the process of selection by interview for management positions. Incredibly, Phylaxis got the job. It was the worst possible choice.
Arguably the least capable teacher in the school, Phylaxis possessed none of the skills which would enable her to manage the students at Banksia. Her inflexibility and her punitive attitude, combined with her need to have power over others, were the attributes most despised by the students, by whom she was generally hated. A willing cohort of Fracks, she took any and every opportunity to incite conflict between herself and other staff members, using Hunter, her live-in lover, and Swayde, now her inflatable toy, as weapons of war.
The Fracks contingent was jubilant. Aern now had one assistant principal in her pocket and one who was so strung out that she would be easily led. Aern’s strongest opponents, Hamilton and Berger, were now without any power base at all, and, better still, were subject to Laura’s supervision, and the whim of Hannah Phylaxis.
Aern now knew that no-one could get at Phil. His position, and hers, were safe. Done Lane was poking his nose in at the moment, but he would go away eventually – he’d shown no particular interest before – and things would get back to normal. With Mayhew out of the way, probably for good, she and Phil would be able to run Banksia properly.