WASHINGTON, DC – While in Washington with The Bahamas delegation to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Minister of Education Desmond Bannister established initial contacts with important entities including the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), the Office of the Mayor of DC, the State Department, the Organisation of American States and the National Science Foundation.
The minister’s hope was that through partnership and collaboration with these entities, the Bahamian education system might share best practices in a number of critical areas: teacher training, the integration and effective servicing of special needs students and development of partnerships for the advancement of science and technology.
Dr. Carey Wright, Chief Academic Officer of the DCPS Central Office, spoke with Mr. Bannister about DC’s “Effective Schools Framework.” The goal of the Effective Schools Framework is to ensure that every child in every classroom has access to engaging instruction, and the programme’s key elements reflect the focus areas for district reform. One of the elements of this framework is principal accountability, by which principals’ effectiveness is in part measured against student achievement data.
Dr. Wright and Mr. Bannister also discussed the use of “instructional coaches,” professional development specialists embedded within the schools to work with specific teachers. The DCPS plan, according to Dr. Wright, was to implement this system district-wide in 2012. They also discussed the implementation of video recording of lessons as a professional development tool, mandatory offering of “advanced placement (AP)” courses at each DC public school and the use of “instructional superintendents,” whose job is to work with the principals and DCPS.
At Mr. Bannister’s instigation, they also discussed the charter school system at length. Dr. Wright confirmed that about 38 percent of DC’s student population is in charter schools. She said DCPS loses many students to the charter school system – which in DC is fairly independent – in the middle school years, which meant that DCPS must focus on middle school reform and improvement as well.
The minister visited three schools while in DC: Neval Thomas Elementary, West Education Campus (meaning K-8), and McKinley Technology High School.
McKinley Tech is one of DCPS premier magnet schools, with hundreds of students applying for places each year. Gideon Sanders, Director of Partnerships/Internships at the school, talked with Mr. Bannister about some of the partnerships and programmes at the school, including partnerships with Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and SMART Technologies (makers of digital blackboards for educators).
In addition to the school’s greenhouse – part of the biotechnology programme – the minister toured McKinley’s library/media centre, where the school is in the process of building a podcast studio, a 3-D computer modeling classroom, and a science lab, where he met and spoke with Aqueelah James, the Air Force Association’s 2011 National Science Teacher of the Year.
The minister also visited Neval Thomas Elementary, the school adopted by the Embassy of The Bahamas for the 2010-2011 academic year as part of the Washington Performing Arts Society/DCPS “Adopt-A-School” programme. He took with him three students from The Bahamas, Samuenta Marc – Second Place Winner in the Bahamas National Spelling Bee – and Suraj Vinuraj Nair and Brittany Demeritte – who tied for Third Place.
After the minister’s presentation, the students questioned each other about a range of topics, from what they studied in school to how they were punished to the different climates to whether they had homework and how students advanced.
Meanwhile, Abaco student Sujith Swarna represented The Bahamas with great distinction in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in DC, only just missing the semi-final round. The Bahamas delegation to the bee included Mrs. Eula Gaitor, Supervisor Student Services Section, Mrs. Rochelle Cox-Hill- National Spelling Bee Coach- Student Services Section, Mr. Haldane Chase – Professor College of The Bahamas, young Mr. Swarna and his parents, the runners-up and others.
By K. Quincy Parker
Embassy of The Bahamas