- Three weeks into the merger of Charlie Smith and Trench Town high schools, Principal of the new institution, Garth Gayle, says students and staff are adapting well to the union.
- The decision to combine both schools was taken after a May 2014 assessment of the institutions by the Ministry of Education, which revealed that 75 per cent of students from grades seven to 10 were performing below the required academic levels. In addition, it was found that student enrolment at both institutions was low.
- The changes also extend to the redesigned uniform that is proudly worn by the 1,025 students enrolled.
Three weeks into the merger of Charlie Smith and Trench Town high schools, Principal of the new institution, Garth Gayle, says students and staff are adapting well to the union.
The amalgamation, which took effect on September 14, sees Charlie Smith accommodating students from both institutions, with Trench Town to be transformed into a polytechnic college, which will offer career training.
Mr. Gayle says that while there were some initial challenges, the students have settled in and things are going well.
“The merger, in the initial stages, had some issues but…we are continuing in a very positive and steadfast way,” he tells JIS News.
The guidance counsellors were instrumental in assisting the students through the transition period.
The decision to combine both schools was taken after a May 2014 assessment of the institutions by the Ministry of Education, which revealed that 75 per cent of students from grades seven to 10 were performing below the required academic levels. In addition, it was found that student enrolment at both institutions was low.
Mr. Gayle tells JIS News that the merger is only the beginning of the changes being implemented to improve the performance of students.
“We have benefitted immensely…from renovations and also the rebranding, in a sense, of the institution,” he says.
He informs that the Ministry of Education has invested $56 million in the construction of a new block. Work is underway and is slated to be completed in January 2016. The project includes the establishment of a technical/vocational block, which will house several laboratories for vocational training and science.
Already, the school plant has been given a facelift with freshly painted classrooms and retrofitted students’ bathrooms that have been retiled and new fixtures installed.
The administrative wing has been moved to the front of the property and is in the process of being renovated to accommodate staff members.
The changes also extend to the redesigned uniform that is proudly worn by the 1,025 students enrolled.
With the merger now complete, the Principal says the emphasis is now on improving the academic performance of the students.
Mr. Gayle says that the teachers, students, parents and community members are all committed to a common goal of academic excellence. “We have a clear mandate to make Charlie Smith one of the premier high schools in Jamaica,” he tells JIS News.
He informs that the administration has been working with the Ministry of Education to revise the curriculum to place greater emphasis on literacy, numeracy, science subjects as well as vocational skills.
The school is drawing on the expertise of Lecturer in the School of Education, Centre for the Assessment and Treatment of Exceptionalities at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Joan Spencer-Ernandez, who is coordinating academic programme implementation.
Mrs. Spencer-Ernandez tells JIS News that the curriculum is being revamped to meet the individual learning needs of the students, with keen focus placed on boosting literacy. This ensures that students will have a better understanding of concepts taught across all subject areas.
“With the heads of departments, especially the head of English, we are working on making modifications to the curriculum to emphasise literacy. So, for example, if a student comes in at grade seven and we know that the reading level of that student is grade one or grade two, we tailor the programme based on the student’s current learning level,” Mrs. Spencer-Ernandez explains.
She says that the teachers across all subject areas have been consulted about the changes to the curriculum and they have committed to employing this innovative approach to improve literacy and comprehension among the students.
“We started this with a workshop that we had for the teachers and they understand that they have to apply this in their teaching of the various subjects. So, for example, a home economics teacher will not only focus on the cooking aspect, they will also teach the vocabulary of the subject. They will teach the functions of the language so that students will be forced to use the correct language in every instance,” she explains.
With Charlie Smith High added to the list of participating institutions in the Government’s Tablets in Schools programme, Mrs. Spencer-Ernandez says that this will assist the remedial reading programme at the school.
“It is good that we have the Tablets in Schools programme here…we are downloading reading programmes on to the tablets that will match the reading levels of the students, so we are going to start where they are and build from there,” she explains.
The school has also engaged two reading specialists to work with students with reading problems. There are also plans to appoint a special educator to work with students, who have learning challenges.
The school is also committed to the development of the students beyond the secondary level.
To this end, Mrs. Spencer-Ernandez says that upon completion of their grade nine studies, students will be “tracked” into specific areas and programmes for career development and training.
“Some students will sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), National Council on Technical ,Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET) or City and Guilds, so it is no longer about only measuring what students are doing based on the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams,” she points out.
She notes that the Trench Town polytechnic college will be a viable option for students, once it comes on stream.
“Students can matriculate smoothly to the college where they can continue their education for further career development,” she says.
While the students had some initial apprehension about the merger, they are now welcoming the move and the measures undertaken to improve the schools plant and student attainment.
Grade 11 student, Abigail Willis, tells JIS News that so far “it has been a very good experience.”
“Both schools were underpopulated before and now that the schools have been combined as one, it has had a good impact on me and my classmates because we get to socialise more and meet new people. Now, I get to have competition, so class is more challenging,” she says.
Calvin Evans, who is also in grade 11, notes as well that the change has had a positive impact.
“The environment is looking different from what it was before and the students’ behaviour is changing. They are more focused, particularly the 11th graders. They are more settled and ready for CSEC now,” he states.