Tarrant High overcoming the odds
Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
Situated off Molynes Road in St Andrew, the 51-year-old Tarrant High School has had a chequered past, permeated by academic underperformance, violence and indiscipline. Following the release of this year's Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) results, the school once again came to the fore with an outcry from some quarters against students being placed there.
But Principal Garfield Higgins is arguing that the high school today is a far cry from the once problem-plagued institution. The school's infrastructure, discipline and academic performance have been so greatly improved that in recent years, it has been turning out students with high Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) passes.
Last year, Tarrant was named one of the top schools in CAPE performance, with 100 per cent passes in four of the seven subjects it offered, and 90s and 80s in the other subject areas.
"I am not going to preoccupy my time with a lot of the issues that parents have about upgraded schools - or Tarrant, in particular," said Higgins. "Some of the concerns are legitimate, yes, but my approach is that it is our job to ensure that we change the perception of those parents over time by putting out the best and getting our students to perform on par with the other schools that they want their children to go to. The fact of the matter is that it is a market and you want to choose the best from the market."
He added: "You can't change the perception without increasing the outcome, so it really comes down to us improving our standards and improving our results to ensure that we change the perception."
DIFFERENCES CAN BE ELIMINATED
With regard to the issue of social differences between students, Higgins said at the end of the day, he didn't believe there were vast enough differences among Jamaicans to prevent people from accommodating each other and, over time, integrating those differences.
He noted that whatever the social differences or concerns, once the school gets the performance up to par, those differences would be eliminated because the focus would shift to the outcome of the student.
He pointed out, however, that Tarrant was not new to getting students from uptown preparatory schools and those students had adjusted to the environment and done quite well.
One of Tarrant's greatest challenges was the grade level of GSAT students the school would get, with their grades in the examination ranging from 30 to a high of 60 per cent, some with very limited competencies in numeracy and literacy. However, this year, Higgins is quite satisfied with 60 to 70 per cent grade averages received.
"I think it is a bold step by the minister (of education) to send a greater mixture of students with a mix of grades to the emerging or upgraded schools," the principal said.
"It is only natural that if we are getting students with better averages, we would produce students at the end of five years with better CSEC passes, and overall get better grades."
WORKING TWICE AS HARD
He added: "Having said that, at Tarrant, we have been getting students with 50s and 60s and we have been getting reasonably good results, graduating students with up to nine CSEC passes. It means, therefore, that our teachers have to work doubly hard to get the kinds of results that are comparable to what some of the traditional high schools get."
He said despite the challenge that it poses, at the end of five years, value must be added to the students' lives, allowing them to achieve some level of academic development.
Higgins, who took up the post as principal a year ago, said Tarrant offers a comprehensive curriculum to its approximately 1,400 students. In addition to the academic offerings, the school also places a strong emphasis on vocational training in areas such as auto mechanics, cosmetology, electrical engineering, home economics, and food and nutrition. The school also boasts two fully equipped computer labs, and its canteen is operated by Tastee Ltd.
The school also has a vibrant sports and cultural arts programme, as well as numerous extra-curricular activities.
"Students who go to our sixth form have results like minimum five O'levels with [grades] ones and twos, so we don't have a different standard from any of the top traditional high schools. The same student who can make it here to sixth form can get into any of the sixth forms in the other top schools," said the principal.
"In fact, our grades are so encouraging, we are going to expand our sixth form this year to include subjects like law, economics, accounting, computer science, etc. So our results speak for themselves."
He said what separates Tarrant from the traditional high schools is that those schools have been in existence for much longer, therefore it was unfair to expect Tarrant to have the same level of academic development.
"I know there are areas we can improve on, and we are putting in strategies to improve them, but we are doing commendably well in a lot of areas. We are doing the things to add value to students' lives," he added.
"At Tarrant High, we are committed to producing results that are being demanded nationally. Working with all stakeholders and the Ministry of Education, we are ready to achieve success."