Editorial: Lessons from Padmore Primary
When the new school year begins in September, Padmore Primary School, in the Red Hills area of St Andrew, will accommodate approximately 200 students. Its principal, Keisha Hayles, would like to keep the grade-six class to around 25, but expects that it will be a little larger. The school's performance in this year's Grade Six Achievement Test, which examines students' readiness for secondary education, and its highlighting in this newspaper, have made Padmore Primary a hot commodity.
The test scores of the 16 students from the school who sat the exam averaged in the 90s, and all gained places in some of Jamaica's best-known high schools. There has been celebration in the community.
Yet, four years ago, Padmore Primary was slated for closure as the education ministry responded to what seemed to be the double whammy of poor performance and demographic changes. Then, the school's enrolment was a mere 38. Literacy and numeracy among its grade-four students were 29 per cent and among the worst in the country. Padmore Primary was a failing school, and deemed so to be by the education ministry.
'leadership is everything'
As it turned out, the drift from Padmore was not because the population had shifted. Rather, parents wanted more for their children than what Padmore Primary offered. So, they preferred to enrol them in schools farther away.
If there is anything profound in the current circumstance at Padmore, it is the principle, often stressed by this newspaper, that in turning around Jamaica's poor education outcomes, vision, leadership and accountability are not only critical, they come first. Keisha Hayles exemplifies this ideal. To put it baldly, she is responsible for the rejuvenation of the school.
"Leadership is everything," said Ms Hayles, who formerly taught at Red Hills All-Age School. "But leadership has to be broad, involving everyone. The leader has to be prepared to lead by example."
When Ms Hayles took over at Padmore Primary, for instance, she was not absolute in her intent to improve performance, but was clear that this could not be achieved by being a distanced bureaucrat. She took classes to demonstrate to demotivated staff her philosophy that the curriculum should be delivered. She was ready, if staff were not available, to cook and clean, or to set the standard of how things ought to be done. She badgered officialdom, the private sector and the community for support, and sometimes, poured her personal resources into the enterprise. As performance improved, the community invested emotionally and otherwise in the school.
Leadership apart, there is another major factor articulated by the resurgence of Padmore. It starts with making the fallacy, perpetuated by the teachers' union, that fundamental improvement will depend on equity in the resources available to all schools and that this must be sine qua non for performance-based remuneration for teachers, including principals, determined within a clear performance/accountability matrix.
Ms Hayles is unlikely to make or support this case, but we see no reason why she should not be paid extra on the outcomes at her school and her teachers similarly rewarded based on their contribution to the effort. As much as the Jamaica Teachers' Association will deny its practicability, it can't be beyond the capacity of Jamaicans to design such a system.