EDUCATIONAL leadership professional Dr Renee Rattray says there is a “fierce urgency” for stronger leadership in the nation’s schools if education is to be used as one of the planks to support the economic thrust for national development.

Speaking ahead of the upcoming leadership summit being organised by the JN Foundation for school leaders from July 25-26 in Kingston, Dr Rattray, who is also director, education programmes at the foundation, underscored that strong leadership is a critical factor for school performance, noting that it directly influences many areas in the school environment, including teaching and learning.

“Research reveals that outstanding schools are those with strong leadership which is focused, sets standards, and drives a culture of high expectations and accountability,” she said.

She pointed out that based on the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) data, “Underperforming schools in Jamaica all suffer from weak leadership.”

The NEI, based on its 2015 findings, noted that leadership is unsatisfactory or in need of immediate support in 41 per cent of high schools in Jamaica, up from 40 per cent in its 2014 report. Leadership was satisfactory in 47 per cent of schools compared to 52 per cent in 2014 and only 11 per cent of high schools were deemed to have good leadership structures. Only one per cent had exceptional leadership.

“And those that are deemed satisfactory are really meeting the bare minimum,” Dr Rattray, who is also former school inspector with the NEI, indicated.

“We cannot continue to operate our schools and conduct teaching and learning in the same way that we have always done. It is not working. We must do things differently and act urgently. We, therefore, need an education revolution.”

The educator conducts the iLead programme, a comprehensive three-year school leadership programme involving ten schools in the parishes of Portland, St Mary and St Thomas, which is being implemented under a partnership between the JN Foundation and the Ministry of Education.

“Some great things are happening in our schools and classrooms across this country; but in too many places there is this one-size-fits-all approach. How then do we expect to achieve creativity and innovation?” she questioned. “We need an injection of disruptive leadership in our education system.”

Carefully explaining that school leadership was not confined to principals and vice-principals, she indicated that boards and middle managers such as grade coordinators and heads of departments also need to display solid leadership.

Against that background, she said the upcoming JN Foundation School Leadership Summit is organised under the theme Join the Education Revolution: Innovate. Impact. iLead, will provide school leaders with the opportunity to exchange ideas, infuse their best practices, and renew their commitment to supporting their staff, as well as improve the outcomes for students.

Participants will also benefit from insightful presentations from several local and international speakers during the two-day event, including turnaround school principals such as Salome Thomas-El, head of school at the Thomas Edison Charter School in Delaware, United States, who will be the keynote speaker on the opening day of the summit.

Science Professor at New York’s prestigious Columbia University, Chris Emdin, who is well-known for his use of hip hop music to build interest in science among young people in the US; and US-based turnaround principal and motivational coach Pete Hall, will also speak at the summit, as well as local experts Kasan Troupe, who led Denbigh High School in Clarendon to success; Dr Nsombi Jaja, management consultant and change leader, as well as Dr Rattray.