Tue | Mar 20, 2018

Joan Duncan Foundation's, 'Conversations' fosters real growth

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2016 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill
Facilitators in high spirits following the Conversations for Greatness training workshop. From left (front row) are Sandra Cooper, Christene King, Sheryn Hylton, Roxanne Dawson, Ingrid Blackwood, and Catherine Davis-Smith, project coordinator of Joan Duncan Foundation’s Conversations for Greatness (CFG). From left (back row) Trevor Johnson, Lennox Deane, Beverley Thompson, Tricia Dehaney Williams, Phadra Saunders, Hope McNish, Sadie Lewis, O’Brian Ebanks, Judith Allwood, and Paul Smith.

Donald Quarrie High School in eastern Kingston has recorded significant improvement in the behaviour of its students and a decline in absenteeism since the school's participation in the Joan Duncan Foundation's transformational initiative, Conversations for Greatness (CFG).

The school has reported a mammoth decline in suspensions, with just under 10 students being suspended over the academic year ended August 2016. In the previous year, there were more than 100 suspensions from the school, which has a population of approximately 1,200 over two shifts.

Donald Quarrie High's student attendance has also seen improvements since the initial findings of the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) in 2010, which showed an unsatisfactory student attendance rate, then, of 70 per cent. Since then, the school has seen a student attendance rate of 94 per cent over the 2015-16 academic year.

These changes have been attributed in large part to the school's participation in the pilot programme of CFG, which was launched in October 2015. Project coordinator of CFG, Catherine Davis-Smith, said the foundation has been encouraged by the positive results so far.

"We are encouraged, especially at Donald Quarrie High, and with other schools, including Maxfield Park and Holy Family Primary, that have also shown commendable results. We are anxious to replicate similar successes across other schools islandwide," Davis-Smith said.

"The programme addresses a critical component of the transformational process, including the mindset, attitudes, and behaviours of the key stakeholders, and complements the Ministry of Education's Operation Turnaround project, which is focused on curriculum, training, and infrastructural improvement in schools that are currently not meeting the national targets in critical subject areas," she added.

The foundation, alongside trained facilitators, engages in conversational workshops with all members of the school's staff, including the academic, ancillary and administrative staff, to share the core principles of the programme. Following the workshop, facilitators are assigned to the school to act as a direct accountability partner and provides one-on-one coaching to the principal during the nine-month-long sustainability period.

Talbert Weir, principal of Donald Quarrie High, said that the journey of transformation has been challenging. "The overall interpersonal dynamics and trust level at the institution have improved significantly, which has afforded us the room to implement some of the changes that we see fit in steering the school in the right direction and improving the academic performance of the school," he said.

This behavioural improvement in the school environment has been widespread and has allowed the students to maximise on their contact hours, which has also improved students' academic performance. So far, marginal improvements have been recorded, with an eight per cent improvement in the grade average of the school over the past year. Although the performance of the students in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations remained even, Weir remains encouraged by glimpses of hope, as evidenced by a significant increase in the number of passes in subjects like English language and electronic document processing and management.

The Joan Duncan Foundation has implemented the CFG programme in 19 schools in several parishes, including Kingston and St Andrew, Clarendon, St Elizabeth, St Catherine, and St Ann. The project is being implemented on a phased basis and is expected to be rolled out in approximately 150 primary and secondary schools across the island.