Thu | Dec 14, 2017

School Report | Maxfield Park Primary: Success under construction

Published:Thursday | October 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Students at Maxfield Park Primary in St Andrew line up before entering their classrooms.
Students in the grade one all-girls class - 'Designers' at Maxfield Park Primary learn literacy skills.
Beverley Gallimore-Vernon, principal of Maxfield Park Primary School in St Andrew, assists a student in operating a computer in the lab.
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"Have you received your invitation to the end-of-term lyme?" Beverley Gallimore-Vernon, principal of the Maxfield Park Primary School in St Andrew asked a vendor plying her goods across from the school's gate.

Building positive relationships among all stakeholders who interact with the institution is the cornerstone of the strategies being employed by the principal and the board to improve the school's performance.

The vendors have ceased selling to students by 7:30 a.m. This has resulted in punctuality now being near 100 per cent, compared to November, 2012 when the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) scored the school as 'unsatisfactory' for punctuality.

The relationship building is being done within the framework of the School-Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention Support (SWPBIS) programme introduced by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. The core values adopted by all stakeholders at Maxfield Park Primary are safety, reliability, respect, and responsibility.

"SWPBIS involves all the employees, including cooks and janitors, teachers, as well as parents and the vendors on the outside. It is working," reported Guidance Counsellor Karen White-Samuels. "We have painted our core values on the outside of the school wall to share them with the community and they seemed to have bought into it."

 

Conversation for Greatness

 

The positive behaviour intervention programme is buttressed by the Conversation for Greatness initiative implemented at the school by the Joan Duncan Foundation as part of the education ministry's Operation Turnaround intervention. The nine-month-long Conversation for Greatness initiative exposed all category of staff, and, most important, students, to unearthing the greatness in self and by so doing, unearthing the greatness in others.

"The programme is about transformation, and it promotes self-esteem, which produces positive attitudes towards others," explained Paul Smith, representative of the Joan Duncan Foundation.

"This results in more harmonious relationships among the wider school family, which contributes to improved conditions for teaching and learning."

... Stakeholder relations key to development

Patricia Castriota, board chairman of the Maxfield Park Primary School in St Andrew, underscored the importance of good stakeholder relations to the development of the school.

"Our most important task as a board is to build a cohesive staff with a common goal because educational leadership is critical to moving forward. If educational leadership does not know where it's going, the school can't go anywhere," she told The Gleaner.

The National Education Inspectorate (NEI) had scored overall leadership of the school as unsatisfactory.

"So the conversations for greatness fits right into that because it really is about enabling the staff to work together despite differences due to personalities and personal culture," Castriota noted.

"In the workplace, too often, these challenges intervene, rather than everybody being fixated on the common goal. As the board, we want to have a staff that is comfortable and able to speak to anybody at any level."

Following its inspection of the Maxfield Park Primary in November 2012, the NEI rated the school's overall effectiveness as 'unsatisfactory'. The chief inspector cited, among other weaknesses, unsatisfactory performance and progress by students in mathematics and English language.

In that year, 51 per cent of grade four students achieved mastery in the Grade Four Literacy Test and 27 per cent achieved mastery in the numeracy test.

In the Grade Six Achievement Test results for 2012, the average level of attainment was 48 per cent for language arts, 63 per cent for communication tasks, and 50 per cent for mathematics.

To improve students' academic performance, principal, Beverley Gallimore-Vernon, has adopted a remedial teaching methodology for the many students with learning challenges who enrol at Maxfield Park Primary.

"We take every single child who comes through the door without administering any kind of testing," she disclosed. "Other schools test students, and when they fail, they recommend them to Maxfield Park Primary, which they characterise as a special education school."

However, Gallimore-Vernon is not bothered by this label. As a trained special educator at the post-graduate degree level, she joyfully receives students with learning challenges and adds value to their education. The process starts with a core set of teachers in grade one who bring these students up to standard. One remediation strategy is the assembling of an all-boys class.

"When we assess performance, we look at where the students are coming from," the principal said. "We look at their performance and the value that has been added over time. We have added a lot of value to our children."

... Significant improvement in literacy

Beverley Gallimore-Vernon, principal of the Maxfield Park Primary School in St Andrew, pointed to the institution's overall improvements in literacy in the Grade Four Literacy Test, moving from a low of 51 per cent mastery in 2012 to a peak of 74 per cent in 2015.

Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) scores for language arts moved from a low of a 54 per cent pass rate in 2012 to a high of 68 per cent in 2014 and 2015, then 13 per cent in 2016, followed by 26 per cent in 2017.

Although grade six student Nikitta Smith was a Math Olympics finalist in 2016-2017, students' overall performance in numeracy skills and mathematics at Maxfield Park Primary needed significant improvement. The proportion of grade four students mastering numeracy moved from a low of 27 per cent in 2012 to 34 per cent the following year, declined in the ensuing years, and recorded 25 per cent in 2016.

Similarly, GSAT scores for mathematics moved from 50 per cent in 2012 to 55 per cent the following year, declined significantly in the ensuing years, then recorded 26 per cent in 2017.

 

MEASURES IMPLEMENTED

 

To address this trend, the principal has implemented several measures, including the following:

- Teachers attended an intensive mathematics workshop during the Easter break and learnt differentiated teaching approaches, among other strategies, to improve performance in the subject.

- Staging of GSAT clinics by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, where students were immersed in literacy and numeracy for an extended day.

- Provision of instructional material and equipment to assist in the teaching and learning of mathematics by Stocks and Securities Limited.

In addition, the teaching staff attended development workshops and are now using the National Standard Curriculum with its emphasis on student-centred learning, critical thinking, and STEM-based instructions.

The school motto is 'Academic Success Under Construction'.

"In another year, Maxfield Park Primary will become a school of choice," Gallimore-Vernon asserts. She anticipates that the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) will share this view when it reinspects the school.

Success for Gallimore-Vernon will not only be in academic performance.

Although lacking equipment, the school placed third in a gymnastics competition. It placed fourth in the KSAFA primary football competition, and female student Amoy McKenzie has been called up to make the National Table Tennis Juniors team. In addition, students participated in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC) dance competition and received certificates of merit.

The change has begun and is evident in the behaviour of the students. The principal placed grade five and grade six students in jackets as part of their uniform, and this seemed to have improved their self-esteem, resulting in fewer fights.

The parent-teacher association (PTA) meets monthly, and parents are taught how to support their children's education, provide nutrition, a proper dress code, and parenting skills.

"We have an excellent relationship with the principal and the board," testified PTA representative Nattoya Wedderburn.