Regional

Cambridge High reaping success of transformational leadership

Thursday, April 24, 2014    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James

THE rebranding of Cambridge High School in St James is already resulting in notable improvements in the school's culture and the performance of its students.

Principal of four years, Mavis Hamilton, who launched the rebranding initiative, says that the school community is pleased with the improvements that are being made.

Hamilton says when she took over the reins of the institution in 2010, she saw the need for a drastic turnaround.

"I quickly identified disciplinary deficiencies and low academic performance as the two major challenges facing the school. The students' general behaviour lacked social and personal development so we really wanted to change all of that," she reveals.

The school's recent National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report also highlighted the need for transformation.

"We saw where we needed to intensify efforts to revolutionise our school community. To polish our act as well as our image," says Hamilton.

The primary focus was on the areas of social and personal development; academic performance, and discipline. So far, the exercise has galvanised the co-operation of the institution's internal and external stakeholders, pulling support from the Ministry of Education, students, staff, Parent Teachers' Association, the board and the police.

Hamilton and her staff have been impressed by the enthusiastic response from the students.

"It is the entire school (that is on board), but moreso the clubs such as the Red Cross, music and choir, speech and drama, book club, Girls Guide, 4-H and dance clubs," she says.

Board Chairman, Rev Leroy Sterling has high praises for the innovative Hamilton and her team. He commends her determination to

build and promote cohesiveness among staff.

Of great significance, he states, is the addition of a Dean of Discipline to the team in September 2013. The Dean's military background has augured well for his effectiveness and efficiency, Rev Sterling says.

Hamilton notes that the police have also partnered with the school.

"Officers have been coming in to work with the boys and we have also started a police youth club and that is doing well," she says.

Guidance Counsellor, Sophia Campbell is optimistic that "the children are getting the message."

She concurs with the principal that the students were less boisterous and aggressive, and that fewer were being sent on suspension.

According to Hamilton, "normally we would send home about 30 or more students on suspension within a month. For some months now, we are sending home about two and we don't have as many fights as we did previously. The fights sometimes just a mere one for a week -- sometimes we go through an entire week with no reported fights."

Now that discipline is under control, greater focus is being placed on the school's vocational training departments and attendance.

"Most of our students are skills oriented, and so we want to push the vocational training aspect in this direction. We are working with HEART Trust/NTA and this year 103 students have qualified to sit the level one CVQ Examinations," she informs.

Attendance is still a challenge for the institutions, as some parents are experiencing financial difficulties.

"It is difficult to teach effectively without consistency in attendance. Currently our best attendance is on Tuesdays. By Thursdays and Fridays (students) don't come to school because the money is just not there. Our investigations have revealed that some parents are spending upwards of $600 daily just for transport to get their children to school. This is of great concern," Hamilton states.

Plans are therefore being put in place to achieve a higher level of co-operation from parents to formulate strategies to address the economic challenges they are facing. She notes also that parent attendance at PTA meetings, is low and that this too, is being addressed.

Earlier this month, the school staged its first exposition along with its annual Career Day, which sought to bring attention to the top quality performance and ability of students and the school's academic and vocational disciplines.

The principal says she and her staff want to graduate world-class students from Cambridge.

"We want to create that total person so that when we put them out into the world, we can proudly say that is a Cambridge High School graduate. Our ambition is to be known as the secondary school of choice for the parish of St James. I know we have capable teachers and I know that if our students use this as a stepping stone, we will get there," she argues.

— JIS

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