My year at Tarrant High School
Esther Tyson, Contributor
I have spent a wonderful year as interim principal at Tarrant High School. I had been asked at the end of August, 2013 to go to the school for a term until a new principal was put in place. That term became a year. What a fulfilling year it has been! I can only report on a few of the initiatives that were undertaken during the year.
The first matter that had to be addressed was lifting the low morale of the staff. The low morale had resulted in inconsistent attendance and lack of punctuality. Within the first term I observed marked improvement in both of these areas. The number of teachers who were out sick dropped dramatically. Most teachers consistently attended school and would come to school early. We instituted staff devotions one morning of the week where the prefects would take charge of the class devotions while the teachers met together with me.
During this time, I would lead them in spiritually based reflections on matters such as forgiveness, dealing with anger, handling difficult students, among other issues. We would pray together. In addition, updates were given as to what was happening in the school and the teachers would be able to share information with their colleagues. The feedback from the teachers is that this has helped considerably to bring reconciliation among some members of staff and to build cohesiveness among the teachers.
Most of Jamaica came to realise that the school plant needed immediate attention from an article published in The Gleaner about the matter. In spite of mixed reactions, the school was able to receive furniture to place in our classrooms, so the students are no longer fighting over desks and chairs because there is now enough for each student. Teachers no longer have to stand throughout their classes because we received desks and chairs for them. I thank Mr Dave Myrie, principal of Kingston College; Mrs Carol Alexander, principal of Merl Grove High School; Mrs Margaret Campbell of St George's College, Medical Associates of Jamaica, and the Bank of Nova Scotia for assisting us with furniture for the school. I thank the Ministry of Education (MOE) that was able to send us furniture at the beginning of the second term to complete the provision of the school's needs in this area. We are thankful that at the beginning of the school year 2014-2015, we do not have to request furniture since the teacher and students of welding have repaired damaged chairs and desks. We therefore have enough for the new school year.
A matter of great concern was the state of the buildings. Maintenance had not been carried out on the plant for quite a few years. We begged paint to begin painting in the Christmas holidays and this is still ongoing. I wish to express thanks to The Paint Shop and Hi-Pro for assisting with donations of paint for this purpose. Sherwin-Williams is now on board to provide us with donations of more paint.
The Ministry of Education responded to the urgent need to fix our leaking roofs that were damp and covered with mould. When it rained, students huddled in a corner to try to find a dry area to stay. Teachers taught in classrooms covered in water. Thankfully, the Ministry of Education addressed this matter and the students are now in waterproof rooms.
I was concerned about the poor system of communication from the administration to the school as there was no intercom system in place. I lobbied the board of management to provide an intercom system. With the assistance of the Florida Chapter of the Tarrant Alumni, the board was able to put an intercom in place. What a difference this made to the students' sense of pride in their school and for them to be able to hear announcements each day. I used the intercom to play quiet worship music for half an hour before school began, read them verses from Proverbs both at the beginning and at the end of school, and to pray for the school, and the community at the end of the school day. This has had a positive impact on the ethos of both the school and the community. The National Anthem is played at the start of school with all members of the Tarrant High School family standing at attention. The students' comment was that their school "tun big school".
The level of indiscipline among the students of Tarrant High School was a matter of grave concern. It seemed that it was the culture for students to fight as a way to deal with conflicts. The board of management worked with the administration to deal with a number of boys, who were constantly involved in fights. They participated in counselling and interventions without any resulting positive change.
Eventually, the boys were expelled from the school and the students began to experience a greater sense of safety. There was a marked decrease in the number of reported fights to the dean of discipline's office after the first term.
BEST CLASS COMPETITION
To further motivate students to improve their behaviour, punctuality and keeping the compound clean, I introduced a Best Class Competition in January 2014. Each month, the dean of discipline would calculate from the points earned in these areas which class was the Best Class for each grade level. That class would be given a pizza lunch party, which was sponsored by a friend of Tarrant High School. I thank Virginia Dare for donating the drink mix for the pizza parties. The students began to eagerly engage in the competition and there was further improvement in the general behaviour of the students. The guidance counsellors and the dean of discipline continue to work tirelessly in the resocialisation of the students.
An area that needed to be addressed before I left Tarrant was the curriculum. The school was using the outmoded Junior Secondary school curriculum to which was added the MOE's high school's curriculum requirements, resulting in students of upper school doing 10 to 12 subjects in some instances, while maintaining a poor level of academic performance. The board agreed for the senior staff to go on a curriculum retreat in the Easter. As a result, the school's curriculum has been brought in line to what is the accepted practice in high schools in Jamaica, while maintaining a focus on the technical/vocational areas. Thanks to all the teachers who came on board and worked to bring about this needed change.
Tarrant High School is moving in an upward direction. Under the guidance of the new principal, Mrs Collette Feurtado-Pryce, formerly vice-principal at Jamaica College, I am confident that Tarrant will become a school of choice for our Jamaican students.