Port Maria Primary - Making better best

Port Maria Primary - Making better best

Saturday, November 29, 2014

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The iLead education programme, managed by the JNBS Foundation and the Ministry of Education, is supporting 15 of the weakest-performing schools in the parishes of Portland, St Mary and St Thomas (Region 2), as well as education officers in this region, in order to turn around performance in the schools in a sustainable manner. To maintain the attention on the work of this project, we continue a series of features on schools participating in the programme.

THEY are only between the ages of six and 12; however, the children of Port Maria Primary in St Mary seem a conscious little bunch.

There is excitement everywhere, and it is clear why as one walks around the school compound. Little posters mounted along the corridors indicate that there is something positive happening in the school and the children sense it. They are so full of joy that instead of talking, they sang about their sense of excitement.

"Education makes us very proud, very proud..." they sang to the tune of the popular gospel song God's love, pass it on and their glowing smiles lit up their faces as they sang with spirit.

"We tell them every day about the iLead Programme," says principal Vendilita Kennedy of the initiative conceptualised and managed by the JN Foundation in partnership with the Ministry of Education.

Port Maria Primary is one of five primary and high schools participating in the first year of the three-year programme, officially launched in September. It targets 15 schools in the eastern parishes of Portland, St Thomas and
St Mary; and during the
three-year period will transform the leadership in the schools and consequently outcomes for students.

The three parishes, which are currently among the lowest performing in the country, have the highest number of schools considered to be most in need of leadership support according to the National Education Inspectorate. The iLead programme is supporting these schools and the education officers assigned to the region.

"It's helping us to turn around the culture in our school," Kennedy says of the iLead programme, pointing to the various challenges the school experiences. The leadership has several difficulties, she admits, many of which are external to them, but a critical internal matter, she identifies, is the issue of middle managers not understanding their role.

"The middle managers, including grade co-ordinators and heads of departments, work in their slots; however, they do not go beyond their duties, because the principal carries quite a lot of the load. For example, with discipline, I found situations where issues come to me that could have been dealt with," she says.

The population of the school is 984; therefore maintaining discipline is an arduous task. However, that is changing as middle managers become more acquainted with their roles and responsibilities.

"The iLead initiative has been an eye-opening experience for me, and the teachers are catching on," Kennedy says. "We now have weekly senior teacher meetings and use our guidelines and checklists that have been instituted."

Guidance counsellor Carla Ruddock says the principles of the programme are being included in a handbook, which will be printed for use by all teachers and school leaders.

"We are recording, in a compact manner, all the training and procedures that will be done. Overall, more people are catching on and we are hoping to see some positive changes."

"Communication has been a problem because middle managers don't necessarily know all their roles and responsibilities," acknowledges Timroy Shaw, a teacher at the institution.

But according to Suzanne Calvert, grade four co-ordinator, "We are seeing a change where the middle leaders are not just concerned with the academics, but the entire school environment and the general operation of the school."

The move to empower middle management has provided the school leadership with more space to address other issues, Kennedy notes. For although Port Maria Primary is among the better performing schools when compared to others in the region, within a broader national context the school is struggling with numeracy and literacy, particularly among its boys.

"Math is a big challenge for us. Sometimes we surpass the regional average, but we are aiming to go beyond that and go over the national level," she says, noting that the school hopes to increase its 64 per cent numeracy at the grade four level by 30 per cent over the next two years.

The subject will be one of the areas of focus under the iLead programme, which will be led by mathematics co-ordinator in the Ministry of Education Dr Tamika Benjamin. A math specialist has also been assigned to the school, in addition to coaching for math teachers to build capacity.

"We also want to teach them a skill," Kennedy adds, revealing that agriculture, which is a mainstay in the community, will be used as a means of teaching the children, especially boys, math concepts in pragmatic ways.

The performance in literacy is much better, but the school intends to improve its current pass rate of 79 per cent. Kennedy says a critical component of the plan to improve overall performance will be more parental support. She says while parents and Port Maria residents generally support school activities, there is not enough involvement in the academic side of the institution.

"We're planning to meet with parents grade by grade and we are going to be selling this new two-year programme. We want to get them involved in things such as homework and getting the children to school on time," she says, noting that punctuality is also a major problem for students.

"Things are changing and the iLead programme is helping us. There is now a different focus, one which will certainly help us to perform better."


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