Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Don't rush merger of Charlie Smith, Trench Town

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Mark Malabver, Guest Columnist

THE PRESENCE of Charlie Smith High School in the heart of Arnett Gardens has helped to simmer tensions there. It is noteworthy to also point out that since the announcement of the proposed merger of the Charlie Smith and Trench Town high schools, 53 parents have so far turned up at our school seeking transfers for their students.

As it relates to the proposed merger, there was a meeting on January 16 involving staff and members from the Caribbean Maritime Institute and ministry personnel. It was clearly stated in that meeting that no decision was arrived at in relation to which school would have housed the high-school component of the proposal.

Staff were, therefore, very surprised and felt betrayed that by January 19, there was a newspaper article indicating that a decision had indeed been arrived at. The article also indicated that there was a meeting of the board. This never happened!

Up to the time of the writing of this article, on January 27, neither has there been a meeting with the community and parents.

Second, staff were told in that meeting that what was being proposed was either a polytechnic institute or a community college. At no point were the staff told anything about a Career Advancement Programme with a HEART component.

The idea of a merger is a good one. However, what is being used to guide this initiative? Has there been a cost-benefit analysis? Has there been a survey or a feasibility study, or a comparative study between the two institutions? Has there been any research to determine what are the reasons the two schools have not been operating at maximum capacity or what initiatives will improve academic performance?

consider alternatives

Have we even considered other alternatives or other kinds of mergers? Have we, for example, thought about a Kingston College or a Wolmer's model? The KC model, to my mind, will allow us to house the lower-school students at one, and the upper-school students at the other. This would allow us to use the lower-school campus to enable the students to better absorb the CSEC curriculum.

The other question that must be asked is, how does a merger of this nature tie into the policies and strategic plans of the Ministry of Education? The removal of the shift system comes readily to mind. There will be a need for more spaces if this is to be achieved.

Redistribute students

There are schools within a three-mile radius of both Charlie Smith and Trench Town that currently operate on a shift system. Why not redistribute some of these students to these schools? Many students who attend these shift schools are from the very community in which both schools are based.

The ministry has long been saying that it will start distributing students to schools that are closest to where they live. These options also need to be considered.

A merger in and of itself will not solve the problem of poor performance of the students. There needs to be a strategic plan in place as to how we will significantly improve the academic profile of our students.

The research must be done and guided by best practices. It is not something to rush into, certainly not with an intended deadline of September 2015.

In the meantime, the staff reject the notion that the school is an underperforming entity. We are certainly not where we want to be, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. We have taken several steps to get us where we need to be!

To be labelled underperforming is as demoralising to the staff as it is false. In the meantime, the Charlie Smith brand is a viable one.

Mark Malabver is head of the Social Sciences Department at Charlie Smith High, the academic staff representative to the board, and chairman of the Inner-City Teachers' Coalition. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and markmalabver@yahoo.com.