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Miracle at Schoolfield Primary - Huge rise in literacy in just one year

Published:Monday | April 20, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites and Prim Lewis, principal of Schoolfield Primary and Infant School.

Prim Lewis' leadership of the Schoolfield Primary and Infant School in St Elizabeth has been hailed by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites as exemplary.

Thwaites, making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament last Wednesday, said the massive improvement in literacy rates at the school shows that efficient school leadership is central to getting good results.

"This is a lady who has benefited from leadership training, and she had brought her school, at grade four, that critical level, from 33 per cent mastery to 78 per cent mastery," the minister said.

"With solid leadership and commitment and fixity of purpose, we are well on our way to transforming the education system," he added.

Schoolfield Primary and Infant is situated just outside Malvern in a small, rural community where the people depend on agriculture as their source of income.

Lewis told The Gleaner that there are 144 students at the school, 18 of whom are in grade four.

When Lewis showed up at the school nearly one year ago, only 31 per cent of the 29 students achieved mastery in the Grade Four Literacy Test. Of the 29 students, 18 were grade four students, seven of whom attained mastery in the tests. The others were students who repeated the tests because they failed at earlier sittings.

One year later, under the leadership of Lewis, 14 of the 18 students who sat the mock exams for this year's Grade Four Literacy Test achieved mastery.

"My mantra is that wherever I go, I must make a difference," the principal told The Gleaner.

She said that turning things around at the school was possible because of the support of teachers, parents, the Schoolfield district and the business community.

competition for students

In addition to mandating that teachers have a reading period each day, Lewis introduced a top-reader and a top-speller competition. The students are rewarded with prizes such as books and pencils that are supplied by businesses in nearby Santa Cruz.

"I have asked the teachers and they have consented and have been doing an early morning class," she said, noting that the grade four class is currently benefiting from this innovation, which sees students getting to school for 7 a.m., one hour before the scheduled start of classes.

Those students, she said, benefit from breakfast, which is made possible as a result of the goodwill of school chairman Evon Redman, an egg farmer, and support from the education ministry.

"We have an after-school programme as well, and we have a literacy specialist from the Ministry of Education who assists us with our programme," Lewis said.

The principal said there is even a Saturday class for the grade four students which she runs. Students, she said, are asked to contribute $300 per day, but this is rarely paid.

"I go to my PTA (parent-teacher association) and I tell my parents that you should not ever tell me, when I call you and ask you why the child didn't come, that it was because you did not have the money," said Lewis, who is in her first stint as principal.

Meanwhile, Thwaites said the evolving story of Schoolfield is testimony to the fact that quality education can be provided in small, rural schools.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com