Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A school fondly known as STTJ

(Diperolehi dari sebuah buletin pendidikan negeri sembilan, hasil nukilan En Azizi bin Lin. Kebenaran telah diperolehi dari beliau untuk tujuan paparan disini)

I remembered reading about an archeological excavation in the Middle East, learning about the archeologist’s feeling when he opened the forgotten tombs for the first time in thousands of years. Now I feel like an archeologist myself. I am now walking down the steps towards the main door far below. The wall is marked STTJ in an ancient script; not pictorial script, no description and no footnote. I just like to meander through the passages with no intention of reaching the exit door but rather to move round, touching the walls, feeling the dampness of the floor and breathing in the sweet familiar air.

1. The beginning

It was quite early in the morning in February 1999 when boxes were loaded into the lorry. Kamaruzzaman, Zolkarnain, Mohamad, Lin Hussin and others were there, helping and sweating. The boss joined in a short while after and he sat and chatted intermittently setting chorus of laughters to motivate others as it were. I was on the move again, this time to Seremban, leaving Politeknik Shah Alam and its glitters behind.

In Seremban, it’s like coming home. The terrain was very familiar. I came to a school set on a firm foundation. Within the vicinity were SMT Ampangan, SMK Seri Ampangan, SK Ampangan and PPD Seremban. I was told that the schools and the PPD share the same land title.

There was certain aloofness about the school. Years of enthusiasm, effort, planning, and toil that come through from En Rashid, En Abu Samah, Mr. PP Nair, En Mazlan and En Sulong must have shaped it. A civil engineer would say, the foundation was indeed strengthened with some excellent underpinning work! But the core values that I treasured a lot had always been; orderliness, good execution of tasks, and timeliness. These values seemed to be there. Flashes of experience gathered over the years in SMT Muadzam Shah during the 90’s started to get in somehow, blended. The one in Muadzam Shah and the one in Seremban look very much similar, yet they differ in many ways.

2. The physical

The school upgrading work was about to end at that time. The project involved the construction of 2 hostel blocks, a classroom block, an administrative block, a multipurpose hall and a number of staff quarters. I had the opportunity to attend two site meetings during the defect liability period. A memorable one was the one held in HM’s room when I was just posted there for about a week. The PWD state director cautioned the meeting about a letter of complaint received by BPR concerning the upgrading project. He put it bluntly that PWD suspected that it’s SMT Tuanku Jaafar. My mind worked hard getting ready for a combat episode. Lines like “Why was PWD so worried if things were in order” was in my mind. However being new, I just looked at him and said nothing. I was not too sure if in that split second the decision to say nothing was a better one. By the way, the project had problems. The workmanship was appalling.

A year after the defect liability period, when the PWD was about to close the final account, a district engineer came over and authorized remedial work such as tiling the engineering drawing’s room, sealing and put new tiles to the hostel’s toilet. Leaking was very serious there. I had to say something about the engineer. There was lot of sincerity and honesty in him, and one could almost sense it immediately the moment we interacted with him. But then sadly he died few months later. As they say, good people die young.

The old garden formed the focal point of the school. It witnessed the development of the school for the past 30 years. The tall pine trees were the pinnacles and had given shade and breathed life to many. Everyone had to pass through them on their way to the canteen. I had to express my gratitude to the earlier staff, principals and students for what they had left behind. We enjoyed the benefits, the shade, the view and the character. I always like to think that landscape had to be long term. Whatever had been planted must be maintained. By doing so we are actually training the young minds to be respectful and appreciative of effort and contribution of others, hoping in the end they have some respect for the older generation. Anyway shrubs and potted plants will allow room for creativity and keeping up with trends and can be replaced every 5 years. But the conceptual design of landscape should remain intact

The plot had an area of 35 acres, with lot of buildings and it comes with a nice piece of playing field. I can bet, the field is easily the best in town, green and soft .The sight of houses on the other side of the road adds to the character. Sungai Landak forms the boundary at the back. The mosque at the top of the hill is a great sight.

3. The people

I had the opportunity of having 4 senior assistants during my tenure. Puan June was the first one, quick and cheerful lady, who was extremely good at PR. The second was Puan Sham. She was a nice lady, had deep interest in landscapes and exhibited character of a good mother or sister to everyone. The third was Haji Rosli, a very polite man with a soft voice. That was his strongest trait in dealing with people. He always had his way with teachers and students. The fourth was Haji Jumali, a real gentleman. He really was a rarity; a doctorate who has good networking. They were strong in their own ways, dependable and had rendered their time and energy to push the school to greater heights. I did learn a lot while having 4 deputies during the 6 years there.

In 1999, the number of staff was 55 and it swelled to 71 by the year 2005. The number of supporting staff maintained at 20 over the years and the number of students fluctuated around 800.

4. The management system

I guess being a principal; my duty was to lead the way and motivate those under my care. There should also be target to achieve. PDCA concept must be applied to every possible activity and enormous amount of thrust should be given to people.

The management meeting was regular, always on Tuesday 9.00 am. Senior assistants, head of departments, counselor and chief clerk were the members. The meetings began with me the chairman doing briefing. The briefing was arranged in a simple priority list; gist of earlier meetings at JPT, JPN and PPD level, circulars and my own observations. Next would be a working paper to be presented. Then each member would report on the tasks done, issues and matters for consideration and approval. I usually wrapped up with some forward planning according to the school calendar and share my monthly schedule with them. My aim had always been to see things done, administer excellence and using teamwork as the vehicle to continuously strive forward. Minutes would be taken on a rotation basis in the management team, excluding the senior assistant and the chief clerk. The meetings covered areas like delivery system, management of resources; provision of resources, human resources, and infrastructure and work environment. There was a regular check on management commitment, customer focus, quality policy, planning, responsibility, authority and communication.

The school ensured that appropriate communication processes were allowed within the organization and that communication did take place regarding the effectiveness of the school management. Everyone was called up for a short 20 minute briefing every Wednesday from 11 to 11.20am. Just to keep up with latest updates and to brief on urgent matters. There would be other sessions; meetings, discussions covering general areas such as curriculum, students affairs and co-curricular activities. Some sessions would be event based such as sports day and prize giving day.

Prize Giving Day which was held once every two years was an important event. Usually it was held the week before the King’s Birthday. Minds and efforts were put to test for three months. As in any other task or event, there was a clear cycle of toil and rejoice. The activity started with a courtesy call to the palace in January. The purpose was to seek the permission of the Yang DiPertuan Besar on the date of the event. The second call would be shortly before the big day. I always made it a point to bring the senior assistant and the secretariat along. The first call in 2000 was quite tense and I really tried hard not to forget the language of the palace, like “Tuanku, patik, menjunjung kasih, etc”

When the day arrived, students were very much excited; cadet’s parade under the hot morning sun, happy and proud parents joined in the excitement, students would be performing on the stage and the most important people are the recipients of awards. I thought, what’s memorable to most would be the tense feeling and the worries everyone had to endure before and during the event.

An organization requires event like this, to keep the adrenalin working, as well as enthusiasm and commitment going. Otherwise the place is dead; everyone would be doing their own things, in their own paces, in their own ways, and in their own directions. Regular stopover and doses of activities would put things in order, giving a sense of direction, the objectives and mood enhanced as a whole.

5. Training the young minds

Dato Seri Dr Abdul Shukor had sent across simple messages like ‘back to basic’ and giving the school a character. Schools are supposed to translate that battle cry into meaningful actions with programs and activities as an integral part of the organization. When Dato Ahamad Sipon was appointed as the KPPM, then an interesting war cry was flogged. No Rust! That was a very simple message but a very tough one to implement. It’s like having a big flood light in the middle of the school and everything had to be accounted for, people, buildings, structures and its content. That requires strong teamwork, and stretches the organization to its elastic limit from top to bottom and left to right.Everything in the school will be scrutinized. Walking down the memory lane, I could not help noticing the impact. A truly simple war cry indeed but with a massive impact!!

School is almost like a worship place. Lots of rituals, dos and donts. I like to admit that the impact is tremendous on the young minds. Schools are training grounds. I like to go through the list casually without hurry : Teachers, students, back to basic, 40 minutes periods, homework, stand up to answer, duty roster, fire drill, monthly test, the cry, the punishment, rewards, the laughters, the jokes, forget, remember, pass, fail, clean, dirty, untidy, angry, exercises, notes, teachers day – worksheets , trial exam, school bags, report cards, register of attendance, log, school fees, annual dinner, school uniforms - waktu rehat –spot checks - relief teacher – trainees – prefects – headboy - counselor, discipline teacher, rattan stroke, blackboard, duster, chalk, queue up, negaraku, school song, toilets, keep off the grass, Cycle of Learning- classrooms-observations – cleanliness – Monday morning assembly – report card day - PIBG – hostel life – rewards/punishment – mentoring – prefects – sports – teachers – staff – cleaners – guards – canteen staff – dining hall caterer. Mosque nearby – Ampangan – Paroi – Terminal – Pasar Malam Ampangan – Tops - Giant- Seremban Town - Undang Sungei Ujung – Local ADUN – the networkings.

It’s like a very big purple parcel wrapped up with yellow and red ribbons given to to each student by the King during the July Speech and Prize Giving Day. The most precious gift ever ……………. and it’s called the future!

6. Measurement, Analysis and Improvement

The school is an interesting bureaucratic place. People are so used to forms, procedures and the dos and don’ts. It is a very orderly place. Teachers have a niche to come up with good working paper at a very short notice. That culture would not have been there without years of drilling. I am very proud to be part of an excellent organization. May God always bless Sekolah Teknik Tuanku Jaafar and whoever that comes, stays and moves on.

New staff, time and time again, said the school is moving fast. Jie for one mentioned that she had time to read novels during office hours at her former school. Another lady said that the first three months was very tough, she felt like fainting due to the tough and tight work schedule. Once she managed to cope with the pace then everything was plain sailing.

I enjoyed doing my rounds in the school. Sometimes I would take the senior assistant, teachers or technicians along. Principals have to be visible and manage while walking around. By doing the rounds, I guessed I was projecting the image of a leader on the ground, wanting to know and getting involved. Sometimes I would jot down a few things to be raised up later. The school was generally clean. During examination time, however it was not that good. Students were too engrossed with revision to remember their duty roster. I had seen it through the years.

There are lots of measurement, analysis and monitoring on the school and its performances such as Examination Postmortem, student attendance check, cleanliness report, security feedback, canteen and dining hall performance report, , booking for buses, halls and fields, school auditing, discipline reporting, inspectorate reports , District Education Office report, sport performance and their analysis. It’s an important element of management cycle, providing solid analysis for strategies and continuous improvement.

7. The Awards

Quality is often used to signify the standard of a product or service – people talk about Mercedes quality and top quality. In some engineering companies the word may be used to indicate that a piece of metal conforms to certain physical dimension characteristics often set down in the form of a particularly tight specification. In a hospital it may be used to indicate some sort of professionalism. If we are to define quality in a way that is useful in its management, then we may recognize the need to include in the assessment of quality the true requirement of the customer – the needs and expectations. The quality of a school is embodied in the Quality Manual called “Standard Kualiti Pendidikan Malaysia”. It is a very comprehensive manual outlining the parameters, the indicators and the analysis of service provided.

Implementing the quality manuals is like putting the school through acid test. STTJ has gone through years of acid test. The results were reflected in the following awards:

1997 Minister of Education Quality Award first prize for management of
1998 Minister of Education Quality Award first prize for management of
1999 -
2000 Minister of Education Quality Award 3rd prize for school management
2001 Minister of Education Quality Award 2nd prize for school management
2002 -
2003 Minister of Education Quality Award first prize for school management
3 K National Award champion
2004 Dato Dr Ahamad bin Sipon Trophy for excellent school management.
2005 -

Dato Dr Ahamad bin Sipon Trophy in 2004 completed the array of recognitions given to STTJians for their performance, enthusiasm, care and strong teamwork shown year after year. A school with a history of its own images came to my mind whenever I think of Sekolah Teknik Tuanku Jaafar, my most adorable school. The school is inspired by intimacy and touched by tranquility.

8. The final part

The news broke that Dato Dr Ahamad bin Sipon, the KPPM, had signed some eleven transfer letters and my name was in one of them. I was made to ride again, but this time on a modified version of DG1 across the South China Sea for more adventure in May 2005. I brought along the collection of six memorable vintage years. The Land of Adat Pepatih was really something and had been worthwhile.

Many trails through school management have been made and forgotten and although the answers brought back from these trails are universal in nature, school performances have varied in the trail chosen. We have many answers to the same question, all of which can be considered true within their own context. Even then, old trails are constantly closed and new ones opened up. School management is quite an adventure.

Everyone in Batangan, Tariyong, Telipok, Karambunai, Inanam, Menggatal and Sepangar Bay would have a list somewhere of valuable things to remember that can be kept in some safe place for future reference and inspiration. Details. And now, while the others are still snoring away wasting this beautiful morning sunlight………well……to sort of fill the time……the sun peeps over Mount Kinabalu with deep serenity. The Land Below the Wind is cool and the terrain is rough and rugged. That sounds like a very adventurous journey waiting.

Kota Kinabalu
7th of August 2005