EIGHT YEARS ago when Green Pond High School opened its doors in St James, it had hopes of being the school of choice in the parish. However, shortly after receiving its first cohort of students, the school was classified as a 'failing school' and shunned by the parents of students who were leaving the primary school system.
However, since the 2009 intervention of the Mutual Building Societies Foundation's (MBSF) Centres of Excellence Programme, the school has been transformed and its academic performance in the Caribbean Secondary Certification Education (CSEC) examinations has improved by 33 per cent. Most of all, the attitude of its students towards learning and achieving has also improved, and Green Pond High is now seen by the community as a school of choice.
According to data from the MBSF, "The teaching styles at Green Pond enhanced the school's academic performance, and the number of passes in the CSEC English increased by 471 per cent between 2009 and 2012. CSEC mathematics passes also improved by 260 per cent between 2009 and 2012, and CSEC Integrated Science passes moved up by 59 per cent during the same period.
"As a result of the significant improvements during its four years under the MBSF Centres of Excellence Programme, the school recently received an award, and principal, Michael Ellis, was named the Most Outstanding Principal, in the Centres of Excellence Programme.
Green Pond High's accomplishment as the greatest achiever among the six rural schools in the programme was recognised at an educational leadership symposium organised by the MBSF Centres of Excellence Programme at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston recently (July 19).
Ellis said the achievement was no mere feat as "over the four years of the Centres of Excellence intervention, we developed an attitude, which was that we expected to be successful. It was that attitude that helped us to design 10 strategies, which became the engine to drive everything that we did."
He pointed out that the 10 strategies at Green Pond High included:
"Apart from these 10 strategies, we also made a concerted effort to communicate three simple messages to students: you can do it; everything in the school is important - from devotion to dismissal; and, if you give up on yourself, we have not given up on you," he stated.
Ellis said that one of the radical changes at Green Pond was the appointment of a dean of teaching and learning. This individual has responsibility for teaching and learning, and he does this through data gathering and research. In addition to observing the lessons of teachers, the dean also collects information, disaggregates and uses it to make valuable judgements about the teaching and learning process.
Green Pond has also performed remarkably well, winning several national awards such as the Jamaica Public Service Company/Scientific Research Council Expo competition in 2009; placing second in the same competition in 2010; second in the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCB) Science competition this year; and was first in the high school category of the PCB Poster Competition in 2012 and 2013.
"These are a few of the many awards we have won," Elise said with pride. "The community is now seeing that the school is adding value to the students we now get," he said. He also revealed that the quality of SAT students has improved, moving from students who received 35 per cent to students with an average of 65 per cent and over in the recent SAT placements for 2013.
Dr Renée Rattray, MOBS programme manager, said the foundation was proud of the exceptional improvements which Green Pond High School has made over the last four years.
"Green Pond High School stands as a beacon, clearly demonstrating that determination can overcome obstacles," she said. "This institution has implemented a new form of leadership and management style, which reverberates throughout all levels of its organisational structure, and as a result of its keen implementation of the Centres of Excellence strategies, it has been reaping success."
$100 million investment
The MOBS Centres of Excellence Programme is a partnership between the Victoria Mutual Building Society and the Jamaica National Building Society. Both mutual societies invested $100 million over five years, from 2008 to 2013, to transform school leadership and improve management performance in six non-traditional rural high schools across the island.
The other five high schools are McGrath in St Catherine, Mile Gully and Pours in Manchester, Godfrey Stewart in Westmoreland, and Seaforth in St Thomas.
During the past five years, the Centres of Excellence Programme focused on providing technical assistance to improve organisational efficiency in the six high schools through capacity building for principals, heads of departments, and school boards.