Saturday, 30 July 2016

School Leadership: A Game-Changer

School leadership continues to be an issue of great concern for all stakeholders in the Jamaican education system. Without an educated workforce the society will not have sustainable development and will continue to have anemic economic growth. The National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report highlights that in 41 per cent of high schools in Jamaica, leadership is unsatisfactory, and in 47 per cent of cases, leadership is just achieving the minimum set targets. Disturbingly, 1 per cent of high schools have exceptional leadership. It is clear that the society has a culture of weak school leadership. It is also obvious that there needs to be a public-private partnership to reverse this issue of ineffective school leadership.
Jamaica National Building Society, through their JN Foundation recently organized a School Leadership Summit, which was held on July 25 & 26. Jamaica National is not new regarding their involvement and scaffolding of matters concerning education. Jamaica National has been an important partner in the creation of the Centres of Excellence Programme, which have transformed many under-performing schools into schools of first choice. The Education Revolution, as the Summit was branded, was ground breaking as much as it was intellectually stimulating as it brought together scores of school administrators, board members, officials from the education ministry, bloggers, local and international experts to arrive at workable solutions affecting school leadership. A revolution is usually a process and begins in the mind.

A revolution also has a historical point of reference and the JN education revolution is no exception. In February of 2004, the then government established a Task Force on Educational Reform. The Task Force was mandated to create an action plan to arrive at strategies for a world-class education system which would generate the human capital and produce the necessary skills set for Jamaicans to compete in the global economy. The theme of the conference was: Innovate! Impact! Lead! Among the remarkable presenters were, Dr. Christopher Emdin, who spoke on “When Innovation and Magic Collide in Education”. Dr. Emdin, a Science professor and Activist uses Hip Hop music in the teaching of Mathematics and Science. Salome Thomas-El, principal and author spoke on “Creating an Atmosphere of Success in a School. Mr. Thomas-El over the years has transformed the attitudes and strategies of academic staff, parents and other stakeholders to assist troubled students.  The electric atmosphere of the School Leadership Summit went into over drive when Dr. Emdin announced that he would be establishing a Science Genius Academy on his return to Jamaica. Best practices regarding transformational versus instructional leadership were also explored.
In his address to the audience, Prime Minister, Andrew Holness stated that the best investment any country can make is in the education sector. The Prime Minister added that quality education was the next frontier to be tackled by the government. Quality education is not achievable without good and exceptional school leadership. Additionally, the public perception is of such that some schools are better than others regarding students outcome and school management. As a result, parents and guardians avoid sending their children to those schools. A critical element of school leadership which requires more attention is the composition of our school boards. We need to re-examine how we go about appointing members to school boards.
The JN Foundation Summit on School Leadership had an abundance of information shared over 2 days. There was a buzz on social media, as well as, traditional media going into the School Leadership Summit which helped to fuel the high expectation school administrators had of the Summit.  One can conclude that those expectations were met as was evident in the interaction between presenters and the audience. All the presenters were exceptional and delivered effectively resulting in all the sessions recording high levels of audience participation. The stimulating atmosphere started on the first day and continued throughout. It would be useful for Jamaica National to make copies of the School Leadership Summit and distribute same to all schools. Jamaica National Foundation should be commended for their effort in facilitating a world-class conference.  We need to continue and expand the conversation regarding the education revolution in Jamaica. In the words of Donald H. McGannon, leadership is action, not position.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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