La Sonja Terwissen-Harrison gunning for JTA top post

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, June 30, 2021

When the country’s teachers go to the polls in June to elect a president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), La Sonja Terwissen-Harrison, principal of the St Faith’s Primary School, Glengoffe, St Catherine, will line up against four men – Timroy Shaw, Easton McNamee, Leighton Johnson, and Anthony Kennedy.

And while the odds do not favour her, based on the organisation’s history, she is undeterred.

Logic would suggest that with more than 80 per cent of the island’s educators being women, this would make her selection a shoo-in. However, in 57 years, only 11 women have made it to this top post, according to Terwissen-Harrison.

“Generally, the membership tends to favour male leadership as can be seen with the dominance of the male presidents we have had over the years. However, I am confident given the extent of my work with the association over the years in terms of representing the teachers at the national, regional. and even international levels,” she told The Gleaner.

While admitting that it will all come down to votes on election day, the educator is convinced that she has done enough to make a strong case for being elected to lead the JTA on the strength of her advocacy, much of it while she was still a classroom teacher.

“I am confident, but I am not playing the female card. I really am not as I think this will probably work against me instead. I will be running on the strength of my work in the association, which is well documented, and my commitment is unquestioned in terms of my advocacy for the teachers,” she told The Gleaner.

In addition, Terwissen-Harrison, who was instrumental in the drafting of the Jamaica Teachers Council Bill, has served on a number of panels at the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) level and represented Jamaican teachers at Education International fora.

“So it is my work on behalf of the association that I am putting forward, and certainly my being invited to the Parliament to speak on an issue of national interest shows that I am keeping pace with matters of great importance.”

Following her response to a call by the Joint Select Committee for members of the public to submit their views on the National Identification and Registration Act, 2020, committee chairman Delroy Chuck was so impressed that she was invited to deliver her presentation in person.

“While I was not representing teachers, it demonstrates my ability to represent on issues of a wider scale and of national import. Before that, I was the teacher representative when the prime minister commissioned a task force to review the JTC bill while I was still a classroom teacher. So in essence, I have experience and knowledge about the issues which affect educators at all levels of the teaching fraternity.”


For this reason, the St Faith’s Primary School principal is confident that her record of accomplishments on behalf of teachers and the industry should be enough to propel her to the JTA top post, but she is not taking anything for granted.

“It still comes down to the votes on the day, and so we will see how the teachers vote in June.”

A devoted Christian who is married with one adult child, her goals if elected will centre on ongoing professional training to enhance and retool teachers’ skills and competencies in the blended modality. She also intends to lobby for an increase in the GEASO/Sagicor health plan for teachers and agitate for their children to qualify automatically for Sagicor benefits until the age of 23 and until the age of 30 in the case of children with special needs.

On the issue of health benefits, Terwissen-Harrison intends to make a strong case for the expansion of the counselling services offered by the JTA to each region to give more teachers access to psychosocial support. In addition to partnering with the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons to extend benefits for retired teachers, she will also engage in investments and acquire private partnerships to expand the Critical Illness Trust Fund. Advocating for the establishment of nurseries in schools or on a cluster basis for lactating teacher-mothers - promoting getting it right at the start – is also another of her priority agenda items.

If elected, she will be installed as president for the 2022-2023 period. Winston Smith, the current president-elect, is expected to be installed as president for the 2021-2022 academic year.

She also intends to continue to lobby the Government for improved conditions of service and remuneration packages.

[email protected]

Live Stream







Latest Member Musings