Charlie Smith: expecting blood from stone?
Mark Malabver, Contributor
Permit me to respond to a Gleaner editorial and article concerning the proposed merger between Charlie Smith High and Trench Town High school. The arguments that have been used to justify the merger are somewhat flawed.
Hence, there is a need to debunk some of the misinformation that has been put in the public domain by both articles. First, Charlie Smith High has a maximum capacity to hold some 800 students. We currently have 591 students enrolled. The school is, therefore, operating at 74 per cent, not under 50 per cent as was indicated in both articles.
The issue of 'underperformance' of the institution was another factor that has been used to justify the merger. This underperformance must be juxtaposed against the level at which we receive our students via GSAT and GNAT. Without boring readers, the ministry assigns students to the school who are some of the poorest performers in both examinations.
The vast majority of our students have averages of below 50 per cent, many even of below 30 per cent. We have been known to receive students who have an average below 10 per cent. Unless one expects blood from stone, it is unfair for the school to be judged using the same yardstick as one would use to measure our more prominent counterparts uptown.
The facts will show that our passes at CSEC have been on an upward trajectory in the last three years. In fact, all credible all-island school rankings have shown that we have moved up more than 10 places in 2012-2013. We have once again moved up significantly in the 2013-2014 academic year.
We are currently ranked above some of the more prominent upgraded high schools in the island that even have more resources than we do. Several of our students have received between five and eight subjects, including mathematics and English. Yet there were others who came to us being barely literate and numerate, and they have left with subjects also.
The school has, indeed, added value to the lives of these students who are deemed by society to be from the lower social class. This was achieved in spite of internal challenges and low staff morale. I therefore challenge the notion that the institution is underperforming.
The school board, as recently as May 2014, has appointed a new principal. Under his leadership and with a committed staff to support him, the school has been able to initiate several initiatives and programmes geared towards lifting the academic profile of the students.
School improvement plan
We are currently developing a school improvement plan, given the recommendations in the National Inspectorate Report. A Curriculum Development and Implementation Committee is now in place and is charged with the responsibility to craft a comprehensive curriculum that will be tailored to meet the needs of the students given their literacy and numeracy levels.
The committee is currently evaluating with a view to redesign a more robust and effective literacy and numeracy programme. Critical in all of this is how well we exploit the National Mathematics Programme and ensure that it is properly infused into the school's curriculum.
It has long been established that improving literacy and numeracy will also lead to improvement in other subject areas that are on offer. We are taking a very student-centred approach to curriculum delivery and have placed much emphasis on cooperative learning strategies. We are also setting up a very rigorous teacher assessment and evaluation system to ensure greater accountability on the part of teachers.
In addition to this, the school has engaged the services of a noted software developer to craft a comprehensive school management software system. This will enable us to better track the performance of teachers and students. It will also have the ability to generate much-needed data at the click of a button. This will ensure that our decisions are guided by data.
The school currently has a very good electrical lab. Several students from several prominent high schools in the Corporate Area have benefited from the use of this lab. We are currently on a path to developing and expanding our other technical vocational areas to match the standards of our electrical lab.
Many of our students come to us with very serious behavioural problems. We have implemented programmes that, to date, have achieved measurable success, as already there is a reduction in major infractions in the school.
In collaboration with the Jamaica Theological Seminary and being ably assisted by Esther Tyson, we are also currently designing a Positive Behavioural Intervention and Support Programme. Already, this is reaping some success in helping to modify the behaviour of our students.
Mark Malabver is head of the Social Science Department at Charlie Smith High, the academic staff representative to the board, and chairman of the Inner-City Teachers' Coalition. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.