"Teamwork makes the dream work," stated principal, Eunice McKenzie, as she relates how Scott's Hall Primary in St Mary pulled itself up from near the bottom of the school effectiveness ranking established by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI).
In November 2011, the NEI graded the school's overall effectiveness as unsatisfactory. The chief inspector was very critical of the unsatisfactory quality of the leadership and management of the school, noting that the then principal had "a vision for the future development of the school but did not sufficiently involve all staff in the implementation to make it meaningful."
Five years later, the school has turned itself around. On its re-inspection of Scott's Hall Primary in January 2016, the NEI rated its leadership and management, as well as overall effectiveness, as satisfactory.
The principal attributes this improvement to teamwork. This involves team teaching, where a teacher who is stronger on a concept will exchange places with the class teachers. She noted that the board chair, who is also a former principal, has been very supportive of efforts to turn around the school's performance.
Eunice McKenzie (left), principal of Scott’s Hall Primary in St Mary, discusses the school’s performance with members of the teaching staff and the parent-teacher association. From left: Maranda Livingston, Tomica Smellie, Jacqueline Phillips (PTA president), and Rashel Palmer-Rhoden.
In 2011, the NEI rated the school's "performance in national and regional tests and assessments as unsatisfactory, both in mathematics and English". The chief inspector found then that the school had been performing below the national average over the preceding five years, except at the grade four level, where the performance in literacy was satisfactory.
Fast-forward to 2016. The NEI re-inspected Scott's Hall Primary and found satisfactory improvement in teaching and learning. A comparison of the school and national averages for the Grade Six Achievement Test examination from 2014 to 2016 shows that Scott's Hall Primary improved in most subjects and exceeded the national average in all subjects except Communication Task. Mathematics moved from an average of 42 per cent in 2015 to 58 per cent in 2016, an increase of 16 percentage points.
Improvement in teaching and learning was also evident in the outcome of the Grade Four Literacy and Numeracy Test for 2016. Scott's Hall Primary students attained average levels of mastery in literacy of 76. 9 per cent and 58 per cent in numeracy. The principal notes that although the mathematics average is not where she would have wanted it, nonetheless, the school performed one percentage point above the national average of 57 per cent.
Before students achieve readiness to sit any national exams, the teaching team must first address the low levels of literacy and numeracy among significant numbers of grade one students, which the NEI had noted in its November 2011 report.
"We observed that students from a specific feeder basic school are not as ready, but 60 per cent of students are ready," reports grade one teacher Rashel Palmer-Rhoden. "During the first term, we use drills to improve literacy and numeracy skills," she adds, while noting that boys, who outnumber girls on roll, are mainly the ones who are reading below grade level when they enter the school.
... Using different methods to match learning abilities
During its first inspection of Scott's Hall Primary in St Mary, the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) rated teachers' modification and adaptation of the curriculum as unsatisfactory. Since then, the teaching staff has been using differentiated instruction to teach students with different learning abilities. For example, boys who are reading below their grade level are taught concepts through the playing of cricket. They return to class to discuss what they did and learn, using flash cards. These boys subsequently achieve near mastery or mastery in the grade four test.
"We scored high on differentiated instruction in the NEI's latest assessment," principal, Eunice McKenzie, reported. She disclosed that Rashel Palmer-Rhoden, teacher for grade one, is responsible for analysing data on all students, which informs her colleagues how to adjust teaching and learning. Each class has a data book on each student and it is passed on to the teacher in the next grade.
Regarding professional development, McKenzie is enrolled in the Effective Principal Training Programme offered by the National College for Educational Leadership, and all teachers attend the ministry's training in the National Standard Curriculum.
Turning to welfare, the principal emphasises that no child is forced to learn on an empty stomach because the school provides breakfast and lunch support. Students who attend Scott's Hall Primary come from low-income families living in the mainly farming community. Attendance is very good at 91 per cent.
The parent-teacher association and past students' association are supportive of the school's administration and raises funds to improve the facilities.
"We are more than satisfied with the progress of the school," says the president of both organisations, Jacqueline Phillips.
The principal acknowledges the support of these organisations and the NCB Foundation, which has refurbished the sick bay.
IMPROVEMENT IN LEADING INDICATORS
- Leadership and Management
- Teaching and Learning
- Curriculum and Enhancement Programmes
(NEI Report, 2016)
GSAT COMPARISON FOR THREE YEARS
School Average National Average
Mathematics 56 60
Language Arts 61 62
Communication Task 67 75
Mathematics 42 56
Language Arts 51 64
Communication Task 75 75
Mathematics 58 57
Language Arts 66 64
Communication Task 58 67
Source: Jamaica Gleaner