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EDITORIAL - Lessons from Denbigh High

Published:Tuesday | April 17, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Denbigh High's shedding of its 'failing school' image is a testament to the critical role of leadership in improving the performance of educational institutions.

As related in the Education 2020 magazine published in today's Gleaner, Denbigh owes its transformation mainly to the vision and leadership of retired principal Joan Wint, who doggedly refused to accept the contempt with which parents, education officials and residents viewed the school.

Her initial attitude and the subsequent improvement at Denbigh High prove the point that failure begins and resides in one's mind. But, equally, success begins in the mind with visioning. This is what made Joan Wint stand out from other leaders of marginalised and underperforming schools.

The school's reality did not match up to her vision of the institution. So, instead of accepting this reality, she set out more than two decades ago to transform the once-scorned school into one of choice today.

Model to be emulated

How she achieved her vision has lessons, particularly for poor-performing, under-resourced schools located in non-supportive communities. Her model of community partnership, staff development and team building, student motivation, curriculum reform and facility upgrading should be emulated by all educators striving for excellence.

So successful was the rebranding of the school and the upgrading of the facilities that science students from traditional high schools began to use the lab at Denbigh. The school has also been steadily improving in the area of academics and has topped The Gleaner's 'quality-scores index' in English and math in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams for the last two to three years.

Joan Wint's motto was that she wanted the best for Denbigh High, even if it meant being the best remedial or vocational school.

Therein lies the key to failing schools lifting themselves out of mediocrity and from the bottom of the totem pole. Notwithstanding the disadvantages of not being classified as a traditional high school, and all the challenges that presents, as well as the ubiquitous problem of inadequate resources, leaders can lift their schools out of mediocrity.

Performance dipped

But, as The Gleaner's assessment of secondary schools' English and math results in the 2011 CSEC exams shows, performance has dipped across all categories of schools, compared to recent years. Underscoring the penchant for mediocrity, many schools continue to judge their performance in CSEC based only on a portion of the eligible cohort sitting the exam.

And there appears to be no worry about the vast number of Grade Six Achievement Test-selected students who had entered the secondary school system five years before - many of them do not even sit the CSEC exams!

The occasion of the nation's 50th anniversary is an appropriate time for us to redouble our efforts to get education right. In this regard, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies has done educators, and the society at large, a favour by highlighting the success story of Denbigh High School.

It is a lesson for all interested in the education enterprise.

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