Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
Marcus Garvey Technical High School (MGTHS) in St Ann's Bay is one of four schools that Education Minister Andrew Holness has targeted for intervention by his ministry.
Holness made the announcement at the annual conference of the Jamaica Teachers' Association at Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios last week, and while not identifying them then as failing schools, the intervention casts the schools in a negative light.
Principal, Leslie Riley, describes the ministry's intended intervention as timely, citing the special nature of the school.
"In terms of the feedback from the Ministry of Education and how they see our school, it is very timely for the ministry to recognise that there are deep-seated issues in a school like this," Riley told The Gleaner in an interview on Friday.
"This is no ordinary school; this is a school that has gone through all kinds of infighting which would have had this impact on staff morale and all of that. Since I took up office in 2001, there have been two different commissions of enquiry into the operations of the school, so that it means for a school to be given this kind of attention, indeed something would have had to be special."
Residents in the community continue to view MGTHS as a troubled institution where indiscipline prevails and examination passes fall below expectations.
In need of brighter students
While residents have their views as to what could be done to improve the situation, Riley also has his views.
The first thing that Riley has identified as necessary for improved examination output from the school is brighter students.
"Improved output from the school in terms of examination performance would have needed students who have the aptitude to perform in these examinations," Riley said.
"I believe, too, that in terms of the literacy arrangement or the literacy level of our students, that adequate streaming is done so that we can cater better to the remedial students to bring them to a level where they can at least process information for the different subject areas that will give them adequate chance to perform in the various examinations."
Marcus Garvey Technical is an upgraded high school and one of those schools that get students who are graded at the bottom of national placement examinations, Grade Six Achievement Test and Grade Nine Achievement Test, and even students outside the scope of those exams.
But it goes beyond better students. According to Riley, teachers' input is also critical.
"We would also like to have more supervision by teachers, by our middle managers of the educational process and to ensure that structured work is given to students and adequate feedback is given to students, timely feedback is given to students.
"We would also like for parents, guardians to step up to the responsibility and to ensure that they play a more supportive role to what the school is doing."
And what about the principal? Some persons believe Riley is not doing a good job as principal and should be replaced.
In response to the suggestion, Riley said, "Like in everything else, leadership will be held accountable for whatever happens and that is part of the responsibility of leadership - uneasy is the head that wears the crown.
"But I will say to you that I've tried my best with the school over the years and I have done all that I can do to put in place the necessary machinery to run the school," Riley added.
Hated by staff, community
Riley has had to deal with opposition to his tenure. On May 1, 2008 he returned from eight months' leave and was stoned by students and some teachers who were protesting against his return.
"I'm hated, literally hated by a number of persons both on the staff and the community because of the drastic steps that I have to take. I have even gone ahead and allowed the courts to decide on issues related to cases of impropriety at the school and I know that I am hated in the community by people who would have been connected to such persons because of that. And I've had to do that when the (previous) board sat down and wasn't doing anything, didn't decide to do anything. So literally speaking, my position in this school has been one in which I've had to take the bull by the horn without the support of the (then) board.
"I know I'm unpopular among members of the community in which the school is located, members of the staff, members of the community and (even) some parents."
Nonetheless, Riley thinks MGTHS is one of the best schools in Jamaica.
"Best in terms of the distribution of talent among students, in terms of the teaching staff, the competency of members of staff, and when I speak of competency I'm not speaking that absolute right across the staff you would have found brilliance, but we have very competent teachers here, very committed teachers here and members of staff; best school in terms of where it is located - some of the infrastructure in place in terms of some of the system we have running the school.
"What we lacked in the past is a system of governance that would have defended the authority of the principal, to insist on certain qualities. We now have a new board which I'm looking forward to give the kind of support and committed leadership.
"The school can only go up. We are expecting that with the kind of leadership of the board we are going to be able to surpass any hurdle that straddles us now," the principal said.