Making school boards accountable
The proposition by the minister of education to have regional bodies serving a bloc of schools is one worthy of positive contemplation, especially for the development of schools within rural Jamaica. It would require more information as to how its application within the Jamaican system would function differently from in the United States.
School boards, charged with the task of policy development, especially in rural areas, face a number of unique issues that impact the quality of delivery on the local level. These include: shortage of quality personnel, limits on financial ability to develop key infrastructure and motivating incentives, the urban migration of students with talent to engage in sports at traditional high schools, and an inability, in some areas, to attract the most competent staff to engage in the learning process.
However, with all these shortages, it is the school board that is tasked with management and with creative thinking to impact the entire school family. The ability of such regional districts to engage in a broader-based strategic planning of its regions and ability to attract the best minds to the board would add immediate and immense value to local schools.
The global shift to encourage performance-based standards is gaining traction within the educational system, and on numerous occasions, the minister has pointed to this. It is critical that schools set manageable targets and progressively work to have these achieved in a more systematic and focused way than the school improvement plan permits. Teachers today mostly have specialised areas of study, and as masters of pedagogy are competent to make key changes to implementation of chalk and talk to reach this new generation. Too many schools and teachers are still teaching with an archaic system of learning.
Academic performance, in such instances, is bland and quite uninspiring. School boards must hold administration and staff accountable, not just for the value-added over the next few years but also for the results both of formal and vocational learning. Targets and performance are not the enemy of growth for schools, and that which is not inspected will not be expected.
The current arrangement of school boards does not best facilitate the holistic and focused assessment of targets and performance. A number of boards are still engaged only in matters of discipline, leaving performance-based targets and assessment out of the picture
A regional management bloc would be an ideal way to foster the growth of local schools in rural areas which have no financial income saving creative means and subvention, which are limited to address the wide development of infrastructure. From classrooms to laboratories, from sports fields to security mechanisms, rural schools are greatly disenfranchised.
A regional district would be in a much better standing to receive, distribute or contribute more funds for the development of the schools within its care. Schools in rural Jamaica need the financial input for development beyond the academic needs and many lack the active old boys' or girls' associations with substantial funds to drive this agenda. Regional districts would have a stronger base to make valuable assessment and prioritise need requests across its district.
As critical as school policy development should be for boards, there are still great loopholes in the system. This is seen in the recent revelations of the sale of contraband on school compounds at specific schools. New policy directions will no doubt come from the Ministry of Education, which may be tempted to issue a cease and desist order. This, I contend, would not be in the best interest of our community development strategy.
Many of our farmers and school neighbours are the watchdogs and protectors of both school and school personnel outside the walls of the educational institution. Additionally, many of these community folk provide the chicken, eggs, pork and vegetables the school requires in good supply.
It would be better, I propose, to put in place a renewable/non-renewable permit system implemented in the following way. All vendors must create a personal file at the school, have a vending permit, and enter into an agreement as to the items for sale, the days of sale, and other terms and conditions deemed necessary.
The permit would be approved for a given time period, say, six months, within which period any breach would lead to a withdrawal of the permit. A system of inspection could be put in place and collaboration with the local police or district constables be arranged to permit safety and have investigation as to the meeting of the contractual arrangements, where necessary.
This proposal, though not perfect, is a new policy of the Aabuthnott Gallimore High School but would be better implemented and governed by a regional management team because of its wide impact on education and would need to have similar standards across the industry.