Trench Town, Charlie Smith high schools to be merged
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Two Corporate Area high schools languishing for years in the throes of gang feuds and low student turnout are to be merged.
Trench Town and Charlie Smith Comprehensive High schools, both located in the traditional battle zone of South St Andrew popularly known as 'Jungle', will become one in September, when the 2015-2016 academic year gets under way.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told The Gleaner that Trench Town High will accommodate students from the two schools while Charlie Smith is to be transformed into a career training institution.
Thwaites disclosed that the initiative is the brainchild of former director of the Jamaica Association for Children with Learning Disabilities, Joan Spencer-Ernandez, the educator. She was embraced by member of parliament for South St Andrew, Dr Omar Davies, to advance the constituency's education programme.
"The issue was brought to my attention by Dr Omar Davies and Dr Joan Spencer-Ernandez, chairperson of the Caribbean Maritime Institute, who is leading the education thrust in the community," said Thwaites. "They suggested that there is need to concentrate on one location and use the other to meet palpable community needs for skills training," he said.
He told The Gleaner that both schools are running at less than half their capacity and the performance at Charlie Smith has been deemed to be way below standard.
It was Spencer-Ernandez who, nearly 15 years ago, hatched another plan in South St Andrew to turn around poor literacy levels of hundreds of students in the constituency.
Thwaites said it was agreed that there would have been the need for some rationalisation involving students and staff complement from both schools. "This is being thrashed out," he said.
The minister disclosed that a community meeting last week found favour with the proposal.
"Residents were in agreement but indicated that they don't want to lose either, and recognised that there was need for a revised and enhanced programme for the merged high school.
He said it was with this in mind that Charlie Smith would be a training base involving the ministry's Career Advancement Programme and HEART levels one and two.
Another meeting involving members of the boards of both schools was also held yesterday to advance the plans.
It is not the first time that Spencer-Ernandez has come up with a novel approach to assist the students of South St Andrew.
She did so years ago when she came up with a plan to turn around the poor literacy levels of hundreds of students in the constituency.
"The literacy level of the students at the time was really very low. For various reasons, the students weren't grasping reading skills," Spencer-Ernandez told The Gleaner at the time.
"We needed to have an intervention. We had to go in, find what the issues were, and implement measures to address them."
It was then that she approached Davies for help with funding.
"He was a little sceptical at first," said Spencer-Ernandez. "He's known for helping students in his constituency, especially in education matters, but I guess he has seen many of these programmes start and then fizzle out, so he wasn't eager at first."
But Davies eventually came around, and with the use of monies from what is now known as the Constituency Development Fund, as well as private donations, an immediate intervention was started.