Just over 40 per cent of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) students placed at Tarrant High School by the education ministry's placement mechanism have been pulled by their parents.
Esther Tyson, the educator called out of retirement to steady the shaky Tarrant High School ship, told The Sunday Gleaner that 240 students were placed at the school after the recently concluded GSAT, but 100 of them have not turned up.
"A number of students have transferred to other schools. That's not usually the case. Normally, about 300 students are trying to come in," said Tyson, who was contacted in late August by the education ministry's director for Region One, the zone in which the school falls, and asked to temporarily take over the reins at the institution.
School will rise up
The former Ardenne High School principal, who retired in 2011 after spending 11 years on Ardenne Road, urged parents to send their children to the school.
"Teaching and learning is taking place at Tarrant in spite of the challenges we have with the infrastructure. Parents shouldn't be reluctant to send their children. There is a clear structure to supervise teaching and learning. There are systems in place for teaching and learning. What I'm concerned about is the support for those structures like the infrastructure," said Tyson.
She continued: "I think the school will rise up even further as we give them the necessary tools to enhance teaching and learning. There are committed teachers who are going beyond the call of duty to add value to the students."
The school's physical plant is in bad shape. However, The Sunday Gleaner was unable to ascertain whether there was a correlation between the poor state of Tarrant's infrastructure and the high number of grade-seven students withdrawn by their parents.
After speaking with the newspaper, Tyson led a contingent from Tarrant to meet with Minister of Finance Dr Peter Phillips, who is the member of parliament for the East Central St Andrew, the constituency in which the school is located.
She said she would be appealing to the minister for, among other things, help to fix the roof that prevents the grade-11 classes from functioning when it rains. The estimate is $1 million.
Tyson also appealed to corporate Jamaica to come on board and help a school that is doing all that it can with the limited resources provided to it.
"We are working to effect change and we want others to come on board - the Ministry of Education's procurement unit, the private sector organisations that can help us with furniture and computers, because most of the computers in the lab are not working," she said.
A visit to one of the school's computer labs confirmed this. The teacher had 28 students and only six working computers. The lab roof also leaks and is the reason some of the computers need repairing.
"You have to rotate them. It's very difficult. The students don't get enough practice. It's frustrating. The grade-11 students are way behind and they haven't mastered things they should have already mastered," said Nadine Warner, who teaches electronic document preparation and management.
Lorna Gardner, the school's only vice-principal, said the institution desperately needs computers.
"It's for the nation's children," Tyson pleaded. The seasoned educator hopes to achieve quite a bit in the one term she has at Tarrant. She hopes to help restore staff morale by motivating "teachers to believe again in the vision of Tarrant as a school of choice".
Not habitable for teaching
In addition, Tyson said she hopes to assist the school in obtaining basic furniture, acquire lighting fixtures, and effecting needed repairs to the leaky roofs that often disrupt classes.
"It is not the best. We need to upgrade the infrastructure because it is not habitable for teaching and learning right now. When it rains all of the grade-11 classes (are affected). The have to put the students in a corner," she revealed.
The vice-principal pointed out that one of the classrooms that leak has "to be abandoned" whenever it rains.
Both educators lamented that, based on the ministry's own standard - one vice-principal per 600 students - the school should have a second vice-principal, but after years of lobbying that assignment has not taken place.
Last year, the National Education Inspectorate gave the school a satisfactory grade.
Tyson also revealed that the school is operating without an intercom.