Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
A furniture audit conducted at the Tarrant High School in the Corporate Area has revealed that the school is short of close to 1,000 desks and chairs.
As the country approaches the third week of the new school year, teachers at Tarrant High are often forced to stand and deliver the syllabus, while students have to find ingenious ways of securing a desk and a chair.
The furniture audit was commissioned by the school's interim principal, Esther Tyson, who was called out of retirement in late August by the education ministry to stand in the gap until it selects a new principal. Her one-term tour of duty ends in December of this year.
"We realised that we were short 537 chairs (and 393 desks). The visual arts room has no stools, the science lab has 30; they need 90, so we are short 60," the well- respected Tyson told The Sunday Gleaner last Thursday.
A tour of the school during a visit by this newspaper last week confirmed that the institution was in bad shape and needed urgent attention.
"The teachers don't have chairs. They have given them to the students. The teachers have to stand and teach," added Tyson, a former principal of one of Jamaica's leading secondary institutions - Ardenne High School.
The educator also said she had no idea the school was in such a banged-up state before she accepted the task. "When I was taken around, I was absolutely flabbergasted," she disclosed.
Byron Buckley, the Ministry of Education's director of corporate communications, was stumped when told of the situation at Tarrant High.
"No order came in from Tarrant for furniture, so as far as we were concerned things were OK. Now that the ministry is aware, it will respond as promptly as possible," said Buckley, who revealed that the ministry has issued some 16,000 pieces of equipment and furniture for the new school year.
However, Tyson also told The Sunday Gleaner that the education officer in charge of the region has secured 75 desks and 75 chairs for the school and has promised another 100. But, that will not cure the school's massive furniture malady.
Tyson also revealed that the school, which currently has approximately 1,200 students on its register, is in negotiations with a company to secure some additional desks and chairs at a good price.
The furniture shortage at the school is so dire that it causes conflicts among the students. As a result, the grilles at the entrance to the classrooms are chained and padlocked to ensure that classrooms with desks and chairs are not raided when the students leave for lunch or physical education (PE) sessions.
"They move with their desks and chairs if they are going to another class. Some use other students' desks and chairs when they have PE and it's a source of conflict and we don't need that," Tyson revealed.
Lorna Gardner, vice-principal at Tarrant High, pointed out that the school had been clamouring for additional furniture since the days of Albert Corcho, who she said went to the ministry and demanded desks and chairs. Corcho ended his stint as principal of Tarrant in 2011.
"I know he tried," Gardner said.
Despite the infrastructural deficiencies she has noticed since taking over at Tarrant, Tyson revealed that she has also unearthed encouraging success stories. The interim principal revealed that the school received 100 per cent passes in 10 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, including principles of accounts, and three other subjects had passes in the 90 percentile range in June's sitting of the regional exams. However, Tyson admitted that performance in mathematics was a cause for concern.
The school also scored 100 per cent passes in six Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinatons subjects, including management of business, information technology and Caribbean studies.
The interim principal sang the praises of the teachers, as she said it was quite evident that they have added value to the students who come in at the sixth-form level and those that they get from the Grade Six Achievement Test placement mechanism that many observers have lambasted for sending the poorer-performing students to schools like Tarrant High. The seasoned educator said she was pleased with what she has seen from the teaching staff since her arrival.
"Largely, I am satisfied in terms of staff quality and qualifications. Most of the staff are trained graduates and many of them have upgraded. They are trained to teach in their area, and that's a strength," she said.
The vice-principal echoed the sentiment. Gardner said against all the odds, the teachers have been working miracles to get the results that have been coming in over the last few years.