Editorial: Cluster schools, boards of governors
A year ago, when the education ministry and three high schools in the eastern Jamaica parish of St Thomas signed an agreement to cooperate on initiatives to enhance efficiencies and improve the education outcomes of the institutions, this newspaper welcomed the move, although it fell far too short of the arrangement for which we had lobbied. It was, hopefully, a start.
As we understand it, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) among the schools - Paul Bogle, Robert Lightbourne and Seaforth - commits them to share best practices and to work together on the placement and transfer of students, the implementation of remediation programmes, and staff development. Teachers might also share instructional duties across schools. However, each of the schools would remain an independent entity.
Our proposal was, and remains, for a more deeply integrated regional cluster and management system for the island's schools. For instance, schools in a defined geographic idea might be grouped under a single chief executive officer (CEO) who would oversee the administrative and operational management of the institutions, including finances, while each would have a principal responsible for pedagogy and accountable to the CEO for educational outcomes. The CEO would be accountable to his or her board for overall performance.
Removing head teachers from the time-consuming, widget-counting and financial management-type processes that come with operating large institutions would free them to operate in their areas of competence and, given Jamaica's educational difficulties, where they are most needed: overseeing the appropriate instructions of students. Further, such an integrated management approach should deliver the benefits that arrive with economies of scale, which would probably allow the system to pay for itself.
While models are not precisely the same, the idea is not precisely novel to the management of some public institutions, in particular hospitals, where CEOs are responsible for the broad management of the facilities, and chief medical officers are accountable for the medical side of the operation.
A year on from the St Thomas MOU, there is as yet no report on what, if anything, has been done and how these have worked. We look forward to that update.
In the meantime, we wish to revisit the central idea and how it might be moved forward, starting with school boards, the process for whose appointment is in need of overhaul. School boards, when they work well, play a significant role in holding school principals accountable and influencing good, all-round performance by the institution.
However, there is a dearth of qualified and competent persons to serve on each school board. The education ministry, in the circumstances, should explore seriously the possibility of introducing regional boards for clusters of schools, with subsidiary boards to oversee each institution, as was recommended by educator Esther Tyson in yesterday's edition.
The likely result of this approach would be more efficient governance of schools, improved accountability by principals and other staff, and, ultimately, we hope, improved performance by students.
The approach would be most effective with the implementation of the recommendations of the National Task Force on Education for the removal of the politicisation of the selection of the chairs of school boards and members and their training in issues of governance. Doing it would probably require some legislative changes. But education is serious business and in need of urgent attention.