Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Every school can be a 'Good School'

Award-winning educator O'Neil Ankle
I believe that every school can be a ‘good school’ with quality teachers and strong leadership.  When I was asked to address the Green Park Primary and Junior High School graduation in 2010, I had no idea where in Clarendon it was located.  Thank goodness, I accepted and found my way there, as I came away convinced of the power of a passionate teacher.

The then Principal was the award-winning O’Neil Ankle, whose speech I quoted at length in this column. “Many parents have told me that they selected Green Park as their preferred GSAT School for their children,” he declared.  “Ladies and gentlemen we must be doing something that is different as a primary and junior high school…Teachers of Green Park please to take bow…I know I have been a hard task master at times however to get to where we want, none of us can be too comfortable.”

Of his students he said, “Even if they are slow learners, we have special programmes to ensure that they move from one level to the next.” He charged students a fine for being late: “When they grumble, I tell them that they have to be prepared for the working world by developing the habit of punctuality. I explain that when they are adults, three times late and they could lose their livelihood.”

Mr Ankle and Senior Guidance Counsellor Melissa Pryce-Stephens conducted Behaviour Change Camp at Morelands for some of the boys in his school. They regard this as an important step towards giving the children as much support as they can. There is a crying need for better parenting. “Children want structure in their lives,” says Mr Ankle. “They want their parents to be in charge.” Mr Ankle boasts a “brag board” for students and awards them with buttons that say “World Changer.”

We learn then that it matters not the name of the school: it is the leadership of the principal and the quality of teaching that will make students excel. We know that facilities in certain schools are not up to mark, but many of our national achievers were motivated by teachers, not facilities.  Indeed, we have heard the insistence of the late Wesley Powell, founder of Excelsior, that one should never give up on a child. He embraced many who are now bringing fame to Jamaica, after they did not do well in some traditional high schools.
Principal par excellence Margaret Bolt

With the arrival of the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC), the aim of which is to maintain high professional conduct, we should see many more ‘good schools’.  One of my sad but uplifting moments last week, was a visit to that legendary Canadian Jesuit Father Jim Webb who is quite ill but strong in spirit. During his tour of duty as priest and then Jesuit Superior, Father Jim among his many other projects, restructured the St Peter Claver Primary School, creating a cradle of excellence.  He recruited the dynamic Margaret Bolt to be its Principal.  The transformation of the school is celebrated in a documentary titled ‘Change from Within’.  The notes for the production read, “What began twelve years ago as a typical Kingston inner-city school with problems of illiteracy, truancy, violence, a lack of resources and motivation has become a phenomenon that is attracting attention nationwide.”  

We also saw an excellent documentary on CBC television about our world famous sprinters.  Their visit to the birthplace of Usain Bolt, Sherwood Content in Trelawny was very special as we saw the basic school and clinic funded by ‘The Big Man’. In an interview three years ago, his manager Norman Peart told me, "As a William Knibb old boy who did athletics, I was called in February 2002 by then principal Margaret Lee who said she wanted me to help with 'this one little one that I think will do big things'."  That school principal triggered a mighty initiative … now Bolt is among the Forbes 100 highest paid sports personalities!

Jamaica can climb even higher on the happiness register – the seeds of greatness are just waiting for some careful watering.  From the household, school house and House of Parliament, our leaders are being called to give Jamaica the Golden Jubilee gift of simple decency.  Surely, for our children, that cannot be too much to ask.

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