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Woodgrove's teacher experiment: The principal doesn't know money is collected from students, said defense



SINGAPURA: The principal from Woodgrove Middle School did not know that the teachers had collected money from students for learning materials for various subjects, the defense said in court that a teacher accused of misusing student money.

When asked by the defense on Thursday (November 29), the principal Chee Chit Yeng admitted that he found money collected for various learning materials, only after the case involving Maslinda Zainal was brought to his attention in March 2017.

Maslinda, 44, was accused of a criminal offense by misusing around S $ 40,000 intended for learning material known as the Excel package. This allegedly occurred between January 2016 and April 2017, when he became Head of Department (HOD) for English.

Maslinda handed the money to the school book store, which would print material for students.

However, he allegedly raised more money from students totaling S $ 40,000.

Maslinda Zainal

Maslinda Zainal claimed the trial for two misuse charges of around S $ 40,000 was intended for student learning material.

Lawyers for the Singa Retnam defense alleged that Chee, the prosecutor's first witness, actually did not know how Excel packages were prepared and paid for.

In response to the question, Mr Chee explained that it was his understanding that the packages were compiled through "team work", with certain teachers in charge and level coordinators pulling resources together.

Asked about who prepared a special package for Secondary 1 students, Mr Chee said he could not remember.

"This is because, Mr. Chee, you don't know what is happening at school," demanded Mr. Retnam.

At this time, the prosecutor objected that the question was "without foundation at this point".

Mr. Retnam continued with Mr. Chee's question about how the money collected from students for the package was handed over to Maslinda by the teachers.

"I haven't seen it myself," said Mr Chee. "But my understanding is that they pass it in envelopes with class lists sometimes to take into account whatever they have collected."

"But in reality you do not know how the money was handed over to the accused by each teacher," urged Retnam, who was approved by the witness.

When the defense was questioned, Mr. Chee acknowledged that he did not give written instructions to the teachers about how money should be collected for the material.

Mr. Chee has been the principal since 2013. At that time, Maslinda had been a British HOD for seven years.

During the cross-examination, Mr. Chee also related that he had previously been the deputy head of the school at Greenwich Middle School, and that his role at Woodgrove was the first as the principal.

PROCEDURES NOT PROVIDED: PRINCIPAL

Earlier, Mr Chee told the court that the procedures relating to collecting money were not adhered to.

Requested by Deputy General Prosecutor David Koh, Mr. Chee described the school's practice of raising money: "In 2014, I shared with the school management committee consisting of key personnel that each collection, every letter to parents involving collecting money must be self-signed or at least one of the vice principals. "

Key personnel informed include HOD, subject head and level head.

Mr Chee added that he had not signed a letter to parents indicating that money had to be collected for the Excel package.

He said he was surprised by the discrepancy because it was "not expected".

He added that both the procedures and policies were obeyed, because there were "no letters accompanying the collection", and that students had to pay for the material in the bookstore directly.

District Judge Ng Cheng Thiam asked Mr. Chee what usually happens if there is money left after cash is collected from the students.

Mr Chee said there were instances where money was deducted from students' Edusave accounts, and some were later returned to students when there was a reduction in costs.

AWARDS, DELIVERED BY WORKING, SAYING DEFENSE

When asked by Maslinda's defense, Mr. Chee explained that he was responsible for the English learning program, coordinating different levels of subjects, examining examinations and assessment papers.

He also made an annual budget proposal, and was responsible for teacher performance.

Mr. Retnam pointed out that above all, he had a number of other assignments, including teaching roles, leading six committees, leading to the performance of "roaring success", as well as marketing schools by visiting elementary schools in the neighborhood to talk about Woodgrove.

"He coordinated the English language program for five levels," said Mr Retnam. "And there are 1,200 students and 30 classes."

"That's right," Mr. Chee answered.

"So, do you think he isn't overworked?" Mr. Retnam asked.

"In my opinion, as a senior education officer, who holds the role of HOD, I would say it is a more or less average workload for senior education officers," Mr. Chee answered.

He added that he had "many other officers who also carried out such workloads".

Mr. Retnam showed photos of the court of two awards Maslinda had received. One of them was the best service award in 2011, and the other was the award of caring teachers in 2016, when Mr. Chee was the principal.

"How was the defendant's performance as the department head?" Mr. Retnam asks.

"I have shared before – to the point of the incident, I judge he has performed satisfactorily," Chee answered.

"Didn't he get a 90 percent graduation rate for the O-Level exam for English subjects?" Mr. Retnam asks.

"Yes, for all classes," said Mr Chee.

He later admitted that when he first became headmaster in 2013, the school received high marks in what was known as the school climate survey conducted by the Ministry of Education. The purpose of the survey is to get a basic sensing of teacher sentiment about how things work in school.

The survey results reached 90 percent, Retnam said, asking Chee what the number was at this time.

"The last thing we have, I believe is 51, 52 percent," said Mr Chee.

"So it dropped from 90 percent to 52 percent in a few years," Retnam said.

"Yes," Mr. Chee admitted.

The trial continued next month with other witnesses on the stand, because Mr Chee could not attend the court on that date.


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