Peter Espeut | Foster schools can work!
Recently, de facto Minister of Education Karl Samuda declared that to generally improve the quality of secondary schools, better-performing institutions should develop a fostering relationship with others of lower rank. This is a good idea that deserves attention, but there are other intervening issues which must be considered.
Recognising the shortage of high-school places in Manchester, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mandeville wrote the Ministry of Education on November 8, 2013, indicating its intention to launch a grant-aided denominational Catholic high school in Mandeville. Wishing to establish an institution of excellence, a collaboration agreement was signed with another Catholic high school, Campion College, providing for the sharing of curriculum, policies and procedures, and expert teachers.
Cheryl-Anne Gayle, head of the Science Department at Campion, was appointed to be the founding principal of the new high school adjoining Mount St Joseph Preparatory and Kindergarten School run by the Sisters of Mercy (who also operate Alpha Academy in Kingston). The board of governors included experienced persons from Mercy schools, Campion College, and the Catholic Church.
The new secondary institution was named Mount St Joseph Catholic High, and the Ministry of Education contributed a classroom block. It registered its first students on July 7, and opened for classes on September 1, 2014, with 179 students in five streams.
Even though the school’s students sat the CSEC examinations for the first time last month, and the results are not yet in, the school is being rated in the top tier of Jamaican high schools. The students have done well at the Math Olympiad organised by The University of the West Indies, in the Jamaica South Africa Friendship Association Art Competition, and in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) Visual Arts Competition.
In modern languages, students from Mt St Joseph Catholic High have been winners at a French vocabulary competition. They also medalled in the National Spanish Festival.
As is usual in Catholic high schools, the students’ learning experience includes an outreach component, which involves voluntary service at the Mustard Seed Gift of Hope Home for disabled children, located at Spur Tree. The school’s mission statement challenges the school to produce graduates who will make Jamaica a better place.
And their athletes have already won their first points at Boys and Girls’ Champs.
Here is a case where top-class Jamaican high schools have midwifed and fostered what seems to be another top-class Jamaican high school. Minister Karl Samuda’s idea can work! But the fostering schools have to have an efficacious educational ethos worth passing on. In the top 20-ranked Jamaican high schools, only one is owned and operated by the Government. And there are only two government high schools in the top 30. All the others are owned and operated by churches and trusts.
For Minister Samuda’s idea to work, church and trust schools have to adopt government-owned schools, for the ethos lived out in state-run schools is not bearing top-quality fruit.
Last Sunday, I had the honour of addressing the first-ever graduating class of Mount St Joseph Catholic High School in Mandeville, Manchester. I found the young ladies and gentlemen to be articulate, mature and self-confident. They seem to be formed with the values and attitudes that will build Jamaica.
As a first-former, I was in the school choir that sang at the first-ever graduation of my own high school in 1964. And I have lived to see Campion mentor Mount St Joseph Catholic High School to its first graduation.
Maybe in years to come, this Mandeville school will mentor top-class high schools elsewhere!
Peter Espeut is a Roman Catholic deacon and dean of studies at St Michael’s Theological College. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.