Sat | Dec 2, 2023

Robert Lightbourne High working overtime to remove ‘failing school’ classification

Acting Principal Simms believes label is unjust

Published:Tuesday | May 9, 2023 | 1:00 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
English Language teacher at Robert Lightbourne High School, Nicole Watson (right), teaches grade seven students during lunch break. The school’s staff has dedicated itself to working overtime to improve the academic standard of students.
English Language teacher at Robert Lightbourne High School, Nicole Watson (right), teaches grade seven students during lunch break. The school’s staff has dedicated itself to working overtime to improve the academic standard of students.
Acting Principal of Robert Lightbourne High School, Andrew Simms, speaks about the many steps taken by the school to improve the academic perfor-mance of students.
Acting Principal of Robert Lightbourne High School, Andrew Simms, speaks about the many steps taken by the school to improve the academic perfor-mance of students.
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THERE IS a stigma attached to the term “failing school” that interim principal of the Robert Lightbourne High school in St Thomas, Andrew Simms, does not appreciate. Nine years ago, his school was labelled a failing institution by education think...

THERE IS a stigma attached to the term “failing school” that interim principal of the Robert Lightbourne High school in St Thomas, Andrew Simms, does not appreciate.

Nine years ago, his school was labelled a failing institution by education think tank EducateJamaica.org for not producing any student who attained five or more subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level.

Robert Lightbourne High was at the bottom of the list that included schools such as Immaculate Conception High, Campion College, and St Hilda’s Diocesan High.

Simms has spent 27 years at the institution as a mathematics teacher and gradually moved up the ranks to assume the role of interim principal last September. Just as he thought when the report was first released, the principal still believes that the comparison and subsequent label is unfair.

He argues that the school does the best it can with the quality of students it receives yearly and with the resources it has.

“When you look at the children that would have come here, many of them were not ready for high school,” he stated in a Gleaner interview. “We have gotten children in grade seven that letter sounds they don’t know,” he said.

AVERAGE FOUR CSEC SUBJECTS

Most employers, and tertiary institutions require that students pass at least five subjects at the (CSEC) level. However, Simms explained that students who matriculated to grade 11 did an average of four CSEC subjects in one sitting.

“The number of students that we have to send up to do the CSEC, that also is a challenge because not all who we would have received in grade seven, by the time they get to grade 11, are able to sit five CSEC at one sitting,” he said.

In the past, these students would repeat grade 11 to better their chances of gaining additional subjects, but the principal shared that the sixth form Pathways programme now makes that process much smoother.

The school achieved a 41 per cent pass rate in CSEC last year, a 15 per cent decline from 2021. Students attained a 100 per cent pass rate in agricultural science and building technology. For electrical technology and physical education, they copped pass rates of 90 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively. But only 29 per cent of students passed English and 37 per cent scored passing grades in mathematics.

Simms extolled the consistent strides that the school has been making in vocational areas, which is compulsory for all students attending the school. He attributed the decline in the overall pass rate to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fifty students from the school will be sitting CSEC exams this year. Simms disclosed that preparation for these exams is quite rigorous, with the teaching staff hosting study marathons, free evening classes, and utilising WhatsApp to provide real-time assistance. According to the principal, students’ participation in these extra classes is high.

More specialist teachers to boost academic performance

He said that the prolonged work to improve students’ academic performance will involve the use of more specialist teachers. Currently, only three specialist teachers are at the school, which has a population of 300 students. These teachers facilitate students in grades seven and eight, but Simms contends that they are needed for all classes.

“There are times when you would have gotten students in grades nine, 10, who would have missed out from grades seven and eight, who would have missed out from whatever school they are coming from, so some of them are not able to benefit from grades seven to nine. So if we can get specialist teachers right across then it would have been a plus for us,” he said.

Recently, the Ministry of Education outfitted the school’s computer lab with 51 laptops, and while Simms is grateful for this, he says he wants more technology at the school to bolster students’ learning.

“In terms of other equipment like projectors, document readers, things like those would be of great help to us so that we can use them in our general class,” he said.

MANY CHALLENGES

Meanwhile, the principal highlighted the many challenges facing students at the Trinityville school. Foremost among them is the limited parental support, which, he maintains, impacts the students’ academic performance. There are also the financial challenges and the ongoing work on the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project, which he said affects students’ attendance rate and punctuality.

“A number of the taxi drivers would have pulled off the road. It was a struggle to get things to come up because they would prefer to take the adult as opposed to children,” he said, noting that as the construction works progress, the students’ attendance and punctuality improved.

And with just a few months into his tenure, Simms says he is working to create a school culture that is reflective of the legacy of its namesake, famed musician and statesman Robert Lightbourne, by building the school’s pride, and celebrating its achievements.

“We have been doing things,” he said. “The stigma that is attached I believe that over time it will be removed.”

sashana.small@gleanerjm.com