Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
Despite notable advances in education in Jamaica, several institutions continue to struggle to deliver quality education to their students. While some of these challenges are inherent, coordinated sustained efforts and strong public-private sector partnerships are required to transform the system, thus providing a level playing field for the delivery and maintenance of quality educational standards, at all levels.
Besides, guided by this vision of change, Glengoffe High School in deep rural St Catherine has stepped up its drive to bring about a new genesis.
In fact, as it opens its doors for the start of the 2012-2013 academic year this week, there are significant changes to its operations.
"With the decision taken not to accept any new admissions for grade seven - that's GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) - and also grade nine GNAT (Grade Nine Achievement Test), it's a good move in terms of getting off the shift system and creating space," principal George Price told The Gleaner.
Moreover, the shift system will be replaced with an extended-day timetable. This means some students will attend school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and another set from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, Price indicated that this move has its accompanying challenges.
"With approximately 300 students not being accepted, it's gonna affect our finance significantly, because we are going to lose a minimum of $4 million from our school budget, which would normally come in as tuition, auxiliary fees and PTA (parent-teachers association) contribution," he explained.
Notwithstanding, Roosevelt Lawrence, president, Glengoffe Community Development Committee (CDC) hailed the repositioning of the school as a step in the right direction.
"It's an excellent move because the students were always at a disadvantage, not only in terms of less time at school but leaving home early and going home late, especially in the country area," he said.
Only last year, the 43-year-old institution came under the microscope when former Prime Minister and Education Minister Andrew Holness named it as one of four 'failing' schools in the island. The others are Marcus Garvey Technical High School, St Ann; Holy Trinity in Kingston; and Balaclava High in St Elizabeth. He cited deterioration in discipline, poor academic performances and complaints of poor management and indicated that intervention was required.
However, Price, who was on study leave at the time, said the classification was unfounded as in addition to being ill-equipped, the institution, which was upgraded in 2000, has never been the beneficiary of top GSAT performers.
"It's a shame to say the students' entry levels are atrocious and in most cases a significant number of them are below the passing grade, not in just one subject but in all five areas that they were tested," he noted.
Even so, he said the teachers' hard work and willingness to maximise the limited resources to tap into students' potential were often reflected in several notable performances.
"Denventon Lewis, who obtained seven CSEC passes this year, is one example. He was placed here with scores of 23 per cent for mathematics, 29 for science, 28 for social studies, 21 for language arts and six for communication task and he got seven subjects. The teachers here must be doing something right," he argued.
Furthermore, as vice-principal Heather Grizzle pointed out to The Gleaner, in previous years, their plea for additional classrooms, furniture, upgraded equipment and a generator went unanswered.
"I asked some companies to sponsor equipment for the workshops, but we are so rural, we are out of where the industries are so they ignored us. We need machines for metal work, woodwork, the home economics department needs a freezer and a washing machine. We also need a generating plant because electricity goes off regularly in this area," she detailed.
However, Price expressed optimism and indicated that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
"The ministry has pledged to give us some tents for three temporary classrooms, in addition to three prototype buildings so that the students will have more space," he said.
Likewise, in keeping pace with the institution's vision for change, corporate giant RJR Communications Group has stepped up and has transformed an existing building into a health-and-wellness centre which was officially opened last Thursday.
But that's not the only additional feature for the new school year, after two years in the making, the school now boasts a state-of-the-art library. This facility is expected to boost its technological capabilities which were initiated with the establishment of two e-learning labs. But Grizzle is appealing for more learning material and manpower to staff the labs.
'If we could get some software for reading, we have computers, we need age-appropriate material because some of these senior students have difficulty reading and the ego comes in, so you have to get appropriate material to motivate them to read," she explained.
Excel in sports
Though there is no playing field, the St Catherine-based school has managed to excel in sports, producing outstanding athletes such as middle-distance runner André Drummond. It is for this reason that Price has lauded PUMA for providing gear for the athletes over the years. However, Grizzle yearns for more sponsorship in this regard.
"One of my dreams is to have transportation for the athletes that costs us every year. We have to hire bus to and from training grounds and to and from the locations of the meet and that is costly, so if we could get a large school bus and maybe, a pickup too, because sometimes we have to go for equipment," she added.
And during the summer holidays, most of the classrooms were fitted with new doors and damaged desks repaired.
On the other hand, while the parent- teachers' association has been weak, the past students' association, which has undertaken several initiatives including the tiling of the students' bathroom, has pledged to step up support for its alma mater.
"Our support is vital because the past students are the life of the school," said Carol Rutherford, president of the past students' association.
At the same time, Lawrence reiterated the value of partnership for transformation and said that although the CDC is strapped for cash it would continue to lend its support where possible.
"We installed a kitchenette in the staff room and helped with the beautification of the school, but while we are willing to help, we don't have the financial resources to help in the manner in which we want to," Lawrence noted.
As Glengoffe High continues to effect change and make an invaluable contribution to the educational development of the community, hope remains high they will be able to attract additional sponsors to continue their mission.