Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Aretha Willie on a drive to transform George Headley Primary

Published:Thursday | August 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Aretha Willie
Ponsetta Edwards, a grade six teacher at the George Headley Primary School in St Andrew, poses for the camera with her top students in the Grade Six Achievement Test, Xavier Sahadea and Lydia Samuels.
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Aretha Willie has seen both sides of the coin as it relates to school administration. An education officer in the Ministry of Education, Willie opted to take up an opportunity to serve on secondment as principal of George Headley Primary School.

Having played the role of principal for a year, Willie has applied for another year on secondment, so enriching has the experience been.

"I think being an education officer makes me a better principal because being at the ministry opened my eyes. I was able to see the best practices here and worst practices there, and some of those won't fit my institution, but I can tweak them, and what might be a worst practice in School A might be a best practice in my institution," Willie said in an interview with The Gleaner.

According to Willie, the experience has been rewarding.

"There are lots of challenges, lots of obstacles, but I am enjoying it. I have become obsessed with seeing things moving along. I have a great team working with. The fact that the two vice-principals I have working with, they had applied for the post, so clearly, I came thinking I would have had a lot of resistance, but I shared my vision and we are working well together. So the experience has been a rich one, I have grown as a professional. I studied at the master's level and a lot of things that were textbook, I am now able to put the theory into practice ... . I have learnt a lot and I think I have also taught a lot," she said.

Willie argued that working in the Ministry of Education made her more rounded as it allowed her to interface with several aspects of the education system. This experience, she said, makes one a consummate educator and it is for that reason that she would support a move for more education officers to serve on secondment.

 

WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE

 

The wealth of experience and knowledge she acquired at the ministry is now being applied as a part of her drive to transform the leadership and administrative capacity of staff at George Headley Primary.

"I call myself the head teacher, so I have a body of senior teachers working with. Based on what I know from my officer days, many principals keep what they know close to their chest; they don't share with the staff. So for me, every Monday morning I meet with my vice-principals religiously and we look at the week past and then we plan for the week to come. Once we have done that, at the end of every month, we collate all of that and distribute it to the teachers so they know what is happening at the highest level," Willie explained.

Another initiative implemented since Willie's tenure includes an Admin 101 session with teachers, which exposes them to different elements of school administration and explores case studies compiled from Willie's experience as an education officer. She also disclosed that the assessment process has been overhauled and the results used to reassign teachers where they are best suited. Willie also ensures that each member of staff gets an opportunity to chair staff meetings and is exposed to leadership roles.

"Everyone has to take part in leadership. No longer are teachers senior teachers in name only. They have to function in the role," Willie said.