A boy, about fourteen years old, flies past with his leg outstretched in the crowded hall. He grazes another student’s shoulder. The movement is grosser than the intention, the play heavy handed. “Outwards!” Mahamadi Zahti, the caretaker of the Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum in Amsterdam, sounds stern, but also meek. The reprimanded student walks out, and re-enters the hall through another door, his face straight. Seconds later – Zahti has sent him away again – he laughs and pushes a fellow student into a corner, behind the hall. Across the street, a freshman taps a staff member on the head, closer a girl sprays Glassex on a classmate.
The rain is keeping the Haga students indoors this Tuesday, which is hitting the bursting school hard: lots of hormones and pent-up energy whizzing over very few square meters. The management has already cut the schedule in such a way that the first year layers take a break together, and only then the third and fourth graders, but without an auditorium or canteen there is simply not enough space for more than four hundred students. The few staff members present do not get all the pushing and running troublemakers reprimanded. The care coordinator, formerly an authority in the corridors, is at home after a conflict with the new management, parents are deployed as corridor guards.
The fourth year of the Haga’s existence is almost over. Fifteen of the sixteen MAVO students – the very first group of final exams – heard last week that they passed, despite a school period marred by controversy. The low point: AIVD warnings at the beginning of 2019 that then director Soner Atasoy and surrounding Orthodox Muslims would pose a danger to the students. It led to a damning report from the Education Inspectorate. Minister Arie Slob (Primary and Secondary Education, ChristenUnie) decided to stop funding the school. But, under the leadership of headmaster Atasoy – a coarse-mouthed 40-year-old The Hague with Albanian-Turkish roots – the school successfully counterattacked: the judge whistled Slob back because he poorly substantiated his charges of mismanagement and defective citizenship. The AIVD intelligence service was corrected for warnings that were too sharply formulated.
End of Atasoy
In May 2020, the Atasoy era suddenly ended. His chairman of the board fired him, partly because of wiretapping and alleged authoritarian behaviour. While Atasoy tried to force his return with a series of lawsuits, Haga found 49-year-old Achmed Baâdoud a replacement with a seemingly completely different stamp. Where Atasoy was a visible part of a Salafist generation that uses democratic rights for Islamic initiatives such as the Haga and orthodox mosque schools, Baâdoud is a government friend, a Moroccan-Dutch race administrator.
Under the former former district chairman (Amsterdam Nieuw-West) and diversity advisor at the fire service, the relationship between the Haga and the government changed: the Education Inspectorate was transformed from an extension of a hostile minister into “an APK inspector” and mayor Femke Halsema into a ” stupid goose” a useful interlocutor. Successfully. The tone of the inspection reports became – despite the fact that substantive criticism continued – more positive and the Haga slowly escaped national attention
Also read: Education inspectorate more positive about Islamic Haga Lyceum Amsterdamum
Yet it is still restless at the school, a year after Atasoy’s departure, according to several visits from NRC and interviews with eighteen staff members, fourteen students and the board. Baâdoud’s firm management style and reforms – he dismissed a quarter of the staff with one e-mail – are met with resistance. At least five employees have resigned in protest in recent weeks. The Education Inspectorate says it has received such “continuous signals” from the school that they visited the school on Tuesday for additional investigation. Baâdoud himself speaks of “calculated unrest” as a result of “hard choices” needed to get the school on track.
After four years, the students are still in a noisy, stuffy container building without a gym
Fourth graders Dounia and Amina are sitting on the stairs in the hall of the Haga. They look bored. Dounia in a beige hijab with gold stitching, the ankles exposed under tight pants, Amina in jeans and a black headscarf. Too cool for school. Their MAVO final exams are over and they can’t wait until they are gone. The Haga has become less fun, they say. What used to be a small school where everyone knew each other is now a “chaos” with rude first graders. It is partly the air of seniors – many Haga students are still happy with the school – and partly a criticism shared, especially among older students: with Atasoy the regime was strict, but the school was quieter.
The advantage now? Less attention is paid to rules. They bring out the banned smartphones more often and the children are also more relaxed with the dress code (a skirt to the knees, no training pants). They used to be brought in for afternoon prayers, now the lion’s share misses this one huhr.
The criticism? After four years, the students are still in a cramped, cramped container building without a gym, the new food stall is mostly closed and Islam is hardly taught – a result of personnel problems and conflicting beliefs of parents. At the end of June, two hundred students signed a petition initiated by a few of them, which lashed out at the new leadership. The school is said to have deteriorated in “almost all areas” in the past year and has “no order and structure” and “constant school dropout”; This is partly the result of a corona wave and overstrained staff.
According to the children, Baâdoud takes a ‘harsh and unreasonable’ attitude, offers them no room for a reply in the event of incidents. It was unclear exactly how many students supported the criticism: some wanted to get off the list afterwards because they didn’t know what they were signing, others couldn’t because the management called a halt to the petition tour.
Baâdoud suspended one of the initiators for a week, also because he, together with Atasoy and an English teacher, had summoned the school board and himself. At the end of 2020, the same student was already expelled from school because he allegedly defaced the Haga building with anti-director slogans (still legible: “coup plotters, you are destroying the school”). But the judge reversed that decision due to lack of evidence.
Baâdoud dismisses the petition, lawsuits and graffiti as attempts by Camp Atasoy to create chaos and stop him from doing what he was “ordered” to do: patching up the school.
Baâdoud – large, gray beard, quiet diction – presents himself on the Haga as a firm reorganizer who does not shy away from difficult decisions. In addition to the student and teacher who sued him, he recently suspended another teacher, and sent another off “to cool down.” Three others with whom he came into conflict are at home stressed out. On May 29, two days before the deadline, he informed thirteen teachers by email that they would not renew their annual contracts. The argument: the Inspectorate will return after the summer and wants teachers to be sufficiently qualified, also for upper secondary education. And because the budget is limited, second-degree teachers have to make way for first-degree teachers.
It led to irritation among the students, who see beloved teachers disappear – and to anger among the teachers. Four employees resigned in protest.
The students see beloved teachers disappear
Criticism of Baâdoud is no stranger to the teachers. Even before the contract terminations, a group of teachers emailed ‘de Spruitjesbrief’ (named after the anonymous sender firstname.lastname@example.org) with complaints about backroom politics and poor teaching experience. They also denounced the impunity and far-reaching influence of parents on the school. Baâdoud ignored the letter – because anonymously – and says he does not recognize himself in the personal reproaches. He was partly “already busy” with the other criticisms.
“People don’t want changes,” says Baâdoud. He noticed this in previous reorganisations. For that reason, he understands that his “painful measures” are unpopular. But the Haga „must professionalize, must next level”. And so a “long-term plan” and weekend tutoring were recently introduced, and he attracted Islam teachers. With applications for two new Islamic colleges in Amsterdam, the latter is even more important. The annually growing popularity of the Haga – from 45 new students in 2017 to 137 in 2020 – did not continue this year for the first time. 103 children registered, supplemented by ‘ten, fifteen lateral entrants’.
And that – the counter comes to more than five hundred students – really no longer fits in the current building. And so the Haga will have a second location from August, stated mayor Halsema on Wednesday; an empty school building ten minutes by bike. It is the same proposal that Atasoy indignantly rejected in 2019, when he argued with the municipality about building rights, about working at two locations (too expensive), and about the household effects, which he thought were too old.
The former director will be jealous of the other half of Baâdoud’s recent deal: in 2024 a new complex will be built especially for the Haga on the site of the current container building.
According to Baâdoud, Haga is developing positively, despite all the hassle. In mid-June he posted 21 vacancies, even before the five employees left in protest, but the teacher base has already been replenished “95 percent”, he says, including seven non-Muslim teachers. It turns out that Haga is a popular employer, says Baâdoud. “We are the Ajax of Islamic education.”