BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter email@example.com
PRINCIPAL of Padmore Primary School Keisha Hayle has been successful in her innovative marketing campaign to attract more students to her small St Andrew institution, with enrolment almost doubled over last year.
In July, the Sunday Observer reported that Hayle had mounted billboards highlighting small class sizes, quiet environs and specialised attention in mathematics and literacy as being among the benefits of attending Padmore.
The result is that the school's population grew from 47 last school year to more than 70 this September, including 22 children in grade one, up from four last year.
However, with the increased number of students having solved the problem of unutilised space at Padmore, a number of new challenges have emerged.
They include a lack of transportation to ensure regular attendance by the students, many of whom reside in communities several miles away. To address this, Hayle, who has been teaching for 11 years, has leased a bus -- partly with her own money -- to take the students to school every day.
There is, too, the problem of inadequate teachers.
"I am quite elated [by the increase], but you know it's more work and no resources, as the ministry, with all its constraints, has not given us any new teachers," Hayle said.
The principal explained that the number of teachers at Padmore has dropped from four to three, including herself, because one teacher has gone on study leave for the first time in 13 years.
As a result, one teacher is now teaching grades one, two and three; the other teacher is teaching grades four, five and six while Hayle is teaching grade six.
The principal said several requests to the Ministry of Education, including letters to the regional director, Chief Education Officer and even education minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites to secure an additional teacher have not been successful.
But the unorthodox Hayle had already decided that another teacher was needed, so she went ahead and hired one without the ministry's permission.
"I have put my job on the line," the principal admitted. "Grades one, two and three cannot be together. How can one teacher deliver three curricula at the same time? What must I do, turn back the students and say I don't have no teacher for them?" she asked.
Efforts to speak with chief education officer, Clement Radcliffe, were unsuccessful up to press time.
Hayle said following a recent meeting with Thwaites, she was promised a new teacher for her school but none has been given so far.
"Mr Thwaites was telling the MP that I am a phenomenal person and so on. But I don't need pretty words, I need things to function," she said.
Former chairman of the Jamaica Teachers' Association's primary schools committee Ann Geddes-Nelson agreed with Hayle that one teacher cannot teach three grades at the same time.
Geddes-Nelson, who is principal of St Faith's Primary in Glengoffe, St Catherine, said the target of 100 per cent literacy in primary schools by 2015 will not be achieved as long as there are multi-grade schools in which teachers are expected to teacher several age cohorts at the same time.
Meanwhile, on the issue of transportation, Hayle said she decided to lease a bus to transport the students because there is no bus route in the area. Parents are asked to contribute $40 or $50 per day to the running of the bus, but it is not enough.
"Last month, I still had to take $20,000 out of my pay to help with the bus," she told Career & Education.
But the principal said she does not want to be viewed as a hero, as she is doing what is necessary to prevent the abuse of the children being taken to school.
"I don't want my children to be carried in the trunk of no car," Hayle said of the custom before she came to the school in 2010.
She has also heard horror stories of girls being ordered to sit in the laps of adult men in taxis taking them to school. One child told her she felt "something hard" pushing against her as she sat on a man's lap.
Being one of five children from a single-parent household herself, the principal said she experienced falling out of a bus while going to school at Red Hills All-Age as a child.
"Government must do something about this. We came to the West Indies chuck up like sardine, and it cannot happen in 2012," an upset Hayle said, adding that the private sector should also help.