Two high schools, which are among five additional institutions selected to participate in year two of the JN Foundation’s iLead programme, have set high expectations for what they anticipate to gain from their involvement in the education leadership initiative, being implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
The high schools, St Thomas Technical in St Thomas and Happy Grove in Portland, anticipate that high quality training provided by the programme will help to build the capacity of the senior teachers and heads of departments.
“We are looking forward to the training,” says Monique Grant Facey, principal of Happy Grove High. “It will mean more work, but we welcome it,” the veteran school leader, who joined the institution as principal less than a year ago, after spending 18 years at Titchfield High, added.
A frank-talking educator, Grant Facey acknowledges that the school has many challenges; however, she is confident they can be addressed with the right support.
“There is room to improve teaching and learning,” she said noting that while teachers are qualified and know the content, their approach can be refined by skills to help them to apply differentiated strategies that cater to students’ various learning styles.
“Our students are performing below the national average in many areas; and, especially in the core subjects, maths and English,” she said, noting that a contributing factor to the problem is the fact that the approaches being used by teachers don’t always meet students’ needs.
“Our senior management, therefore, welcomes the approach of the iLead programme and look forward to moving the school ahead,” she affirmed.
The iLead programme tackles performance in rural schools by working with the leadership to improve standards and systems. It focuses on raising expectations by setting high standards for students and teachers; assisting schools to strengthen academic and administrative management with checks and balances; and, emphasising the use of data to improve accountability. At the same time, emphasis is also placed on improving teaching and learning in maths and English.
The three-year programme, launched in 2014, currently works with ten schools in the parishes of Portland, St Mary and St Thomas, which are considered by the Ministry of Education as in need of immediate support. It began initially with five schools: Robert Lightbourne High in St Thomas; Buff Bay Primary in Portland and Islington High, Brimmer Vale High and Port Maria Primary in St Mary.
And, at the end of the school year Martin Primary, Retreat Primary and Junior High in St Mary; Windsor Castle Primary and Happy Grove in Portland; and, St Thomas Technical, were added.
“The idea of operating an institution driven by data is what we hope to improve on,” said Betty Bryan Webber, principal of St Thomas Technical.
Bryan Webber, who joined the institution in September, indicates that while the school made an impact on some leadership challenges, there are issues which continue to stymie students’ performance. A main challenge is punctuality, given the long distances some students have to travel; in addition, to poor road conditions and unreliable transportation.
“We have students coming from as far away as Penlyne Castle, in the Blue Mountains close to the border of St Andrew. Therefore, that’s a challenge,” she said.
Although the school has made gains, especially in English Language since 2013, its students are performing at just about the national average in maths and English. Of the 240 students in the grade 11 cohort last year, only 125 sat mathematics and 65, or about 52 per cent, passed. One hundred and ninety-five sat English and 119 or 61 per cent passed.
“We are not comfortable with this, as our aim is to have the entire grade 11 cohort write the examination in Math and English,” Bryan Webber said.
Dr Renee Rattray, director of Education Programmes at JN Foundation noted that numeracy and literacy are the core academic focus of the programme, and are deliverables which are supported by the ministry through the deployment of full-time coaches to the schools.
“The implementation involves intensive coaching and support for the principals, middle managers and education officers to improve the quality of teaching and learning, while offering organisational leadership support for school boards,” Dr Rattray disclosed.
She emphasised that the programme offers mainly on-the- job support, which is the most effective approach to professional development.
“Under-performing schools need game-changing leaders who are equipped with the skills, strategies and energy to break the cycle of under-performance and dramatically improve results,” she said. “And, the iLead programme is structured to provide those critical skills.”