Kaysia Kerr's service to education

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT

Monday, September 11, 2017

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WHEN someone is classified as a product of their environment, there is usually a negative connotation that accompanies the statement.

But in the case of Kaysia Kerr, new CEO of the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC), her environment had such a positive influence on her life that she followed in the footsteps of those around her.

Born and raised in Duncans, Trelawny, the 44-year-old Kerr boasts that she is a country girl at heart who had the privilege of growing up at a time when she could fall asleep with her doors open, could rely on neighbours, and thoroughly enjoyed her childhood years.

Amidst those happy memories, she recalls being surrounded by teachers, a university lecturer, principals and an education officer.

She explained that while at the time she didn't give it much thought and certainly didn't see herself as a teacher, the interactions she had moulded her personality and character.

“The spirit of giving was so very evident around me that I developed the same, and learnt to give without expecting anything in return. On top of that, having the teachers around me had an effect I wasn't certain of. I would write on the walls, and during the summer I taught my sister, would beat the furniture and plants, as that's what I saw and modelled. My sister, who was seven years younger than me, also excelled because of my tutelage,” explained Kerr, a graduate of Westwood High School.

Despite this early teaching practice, Kerr's teachers thought she would become a lawyer. Although quiet and reserved, she was part of the debating society, would always win an argument, and her grasp of the English language and love for literature and reading came naturally.

After leaving Westwood, Kerr went on to pursue a diploma in education at Church Teachers' College before teaching at Muschett High for seven years. Her next assignment was at Herbert Morrison Technical for three years, then on to St James College where she served as dean of academics before becoming principal at DMP Academy in Montego Bay.

During this time Kerr also completed studies in business and professional management at Nova Southeastern University, then did a first degree in special education and a master's in administration and supervision at Western Carolina University.

“My experience in teaching taught me a lot. I had to become an amoeba and adapt to who they wanted me to be in order to get through to the students. We developed healthy relationships; the last five minutes of my class at Herbert Morrsion was given to some students to sell so they could come back to school the next day. I developed healthy relationships with parents. While at St James College I was in a private institution. The school served the upper echelon of society where only the well-to-do came. We had [a mixture]: gifted, underachievers, children with disabilities, all sitting together in the same classroom. So full inclusion was practised at St James College. The same at DMP.”

After her teaching stint, Kerr left education and became a youth empowerment officer for Trelawny, and also worked in marketing and sales. However, she said her true love called once more and she returned to education — this time as a regional special needs coordinator in the Ministry of Education, serving the parishes of Trelawny and St Ann.

“It was a position in which I learnt a lot and got to give of myself totally. I was dealing with a cohort that was vulnerable in the system. You were required to plan for a day but you couldn't, as you couldn't tell what you would meet upon because special needs was so wide. You thought the persons you were going to meet were few, but there are many in the system with autism, no two are the same, there are those with intellectual disabilities, mild to moderate to severe disabilities and other health impairments, such as students with HIV or even childhood diabetes. There was a whole gamut of special needs I had to cater to.”

Now at the helm of the NPSC, Kerr hopes to craft and design programmes for parents and children of all 13 categories of disabilities, move the organisation out of eastern Jamaica to serve other parishes, take some of the programmes internationally, and get the unit to a stage where it generates income.

“I am grateful to be in a position to offer help to parents across all strata. I am here at a time we need to talk about things going on in society and I give credit to my predecessors, Dr Patrece Charles and Andre Miller, who held the organisation together for a year,” she said.

Also a mother and a Christian, Kerr says her career continues to be a service to God as she ensures that her Christian principles guide her in all her decisions.

She also used the opportunity to encourage young people to listen to their parents as there is value in experience, and to realise that education is the best reward for success, explaining that if you take the shortcut, you rob yourself of the celebration.

Kerr's daily mantra is simple: “Each day we're given an opportunity to serve; we owe it to ourselves to do and be the best we can be, serving those we come in contact with.”

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