Jamaica Gleaner / “Good morning sirs,” students in a class at the St Catherine-based Spanish Town Primary School greeted The Gleaner ‘s news team.
“We dream and live excellence.” They chirped the mantra the school administration has adopted in its quest to improve the rating of ‘unsatisfactory’ which the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) assigned the institution following inspection in September 2014.
That year, only 41 per cent of the grade-four cohort at Spanish Town Primary achieved mastery in numeracy and 66 per cent in literacy in Grade Four Literacy and Numeracy Tests administered by the education ministry.
In the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) held the same year, the average pass rate at the school was 52 per cent for mathematics, 57 per cent for language arts and 65 per cent for communication task.
Principal Marva Guest related the efforts of the school’s administration to turn around the institution’s performance.
“We made a deliberate move to redeploy teachers where they were suitable. This way, the students’ needs are catered to and teachers also find their niche,” said Guest.
“There is also a curriculum instructor in the person of Miss Daffodil Thompson, who vets lesson plans, analyse data, consults with teachers, conducts walk-through and assists with the appraisal process,” added Guest, who leads by example, by administering a weekly test to grade three and four students to help them practise their literacy and numeracy skills.
According to Guest, the teachers are encouraged and tutored to deliver differentiated instructions that cater to the different learning styles and needs of the students. This approach, the principal explained, promotes critical thinking, build experience, challenges students’ creativity, and encourages a wide range of teaching and assessment strategies, including portfolios, projects and journals.
Verona Thomas, one of two vice-principals at the two-shift school, outlined the specific strategies applied to improving student performance in literacy and numeracy.
These include the establishment of a numeracy garden and an interactive mathematical wall. In addition, there are Digicel-sponsored enrichment rooms, which facilitate pull-out sessions in literacy and numeracy, especially for students performing below average in grades one to three.
The school also retains grade-five students who should be promoted to grade six, but who have not yet mastered the Grade Four Literacy Test. They are kept in a special class and further prepared for mastery so they will be able to sit the GSAT.
Thomas noted that the school also implements pull-out sessions for accelerated students as well as the average ones. In doing so, all groups of students – mastery, near-mastery and non-mastery – can receive optimum learning opportunities.
In the meantime, vice-principal Maureen Fisher said the school is moving towards a student-centred learning environment. In this system, each child is set a target such as achieving an average of 80 per cent in the first term, and 90 per cent and 100 per cent, respectively, in the second and third terms.
This also includes peer tutoring in which students, from time to time, are assigned to other students to help them grasp difficult concepts.
The Spanish Town Primary principal involves other senior managers in the governance of the school. Each senior manager gets an opportunity to act as principal for a week with the option to delegate to the junior staff.
They also play a vital role in the annual appraisal process and sometimes provide input as to the retention of teachers. Senior managers also keep a daily log and all teachers are asked to keep an incident record book.
To help the teachers excel in carrying out their duties, the senior management team organises staff development sessions, which address specific needs. These include classroom management, differentiated instructions as well as comprehension and mathematics strategies.
Teachers also engage in common planning time, during which they meet to plan common lessons for the grade. They also use the time to demonstrate best practice and clear misconceptions in subject areas.