EDITORIAL - Something to learn from the Ardenne acquisition
An advertisement by Ardenne Preparatory and Extension High School on Sunday raises interesting possibilities for the management of schools in Jamaica not far removed from a suggestion that has been advanced by this newspaper, or even the satellite-school mentoring scheme that was once broached by the education minister, Ronald Thwaites.
Ardenne was founded by the Church of God in Jamaica, which runs the prep and extension schools. The church is still involved in the neighbouring, and respected, Ardenne High School, but that is a grant-aided institution, which, essentially, brings it under the control of the Government and Mr Thwaites' ministry.
Sunday's ad invited registration to the prep school for the new school year, beginning next month. But not the one in Kingston. This is the one in Mandeville. It was previously known as Excel Learning Centre but was recently acquired by Ardenne.
In business, the narrative would be that Ardenne's owners are attempting to leverage a successful brand - apparently with success. Registration at the Mandeville school, it is reported, is good. That is no surprise given the competition for quality primary- and high-school space in Jamaica because of the country's poor educational outcomes.
Ardenne Prep Kingston and Ardenne Prep Mandeville will share the same board of governors, who, we expect, will be in a position to impose the institution's core values, philosophy and vision on the new acquisition. They will also be in a position to share best practices. Herein is its potential as a model for school management favoured, in some circumstances, by this newspaper.
The education ministry's review of the quality and leadership and management in Jamaica schools determined that only nine per cent were good to excellent. Only 46 per cent were deemed satisfactory. Forty-six per cent were below par.
In other words, beyond the issues of limited resources in schools, social and economic differentials between institutions, and weak family support for students, Jamaican schools face a crisis of management and leadership, which the education ministry is attempting to address, with resistance, through its training institute for principals. That transformation will, perforce, take time.
Clustering management of schools
We have, in the past, suggested ways of short-circuiting this route, where possible, in two ways. The first is the clustering of the management of schools. Schools in a specific geographic area, for instance, could have a common chief executive officer (CEO), with the authority implied by the title, and a common board of governors to which the CEO reports.
Second, each school/campus would have a principal whose primary job would be to oversee the pedagogic affairs of her institution, although she would have a role with the CEO and governors in shaping its vision, but in the context of the group's overarching principles.
The headmaster, in the circumstance, would be free of the corporate management functions which now often weigh heavily on school leadership. Sharing other management services could also improve efficiencies and cut operating costs. In time, such clusters, like the Ardenne prep schools, might develop a common brand. This, of course, would not preclude community and parent-teacher involvement in specific schools.
Minister Thwaites, of course, floated the idea of successful schools in a community providing outreach support to struggling ones in the same area, to which we have no objections. We, however, believe that Jamaica's educational crisis demands something far more structured and direct.
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