The point woman with a mammoth task
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Aug 28, 2013
Carolyn Wright-Mitchell has a mammoth task ahead of her as the point woman at the helm of one of the largest primary schools in the country, but as students begin final preparations to head back to school next week, the new principal at Garvin Tynes Primary says she’s ready for the challenges that will come with her new position. But it’s not just herself she’s concerned about, she says her staff and the student body must all step onto the school grounds ready to teach and learn, from the first toll of the bell to signal the new academic year.
“I want the students to be ready on day one, prepared to work because we are very serious in trying to increase our level of excellence and getting it to a higher quality standard of excellence at Garvin Tynes,” said Mitchell.
The new principal who matriculated towards an International Masters of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy two years ago in China is no stranger to her new campus. She served as senior mistress at the school for four years before she headed to China for a year. Upon her return home she served as vice-principal at T.G. Glover Primary School for a year. And now she has made her return to the Alexandria Boulevard, Sunset Park, campus of Garvin Tynes, excited about her new position, and the fact that she has a team behind her that she believes is willing to help her see her vision through.
Wright-Mitchell has been meeting with her staff all week in preparation for the new school year that starts on Monday, September 2.
“We want to begin this new school year with a high quality standard of excellence,” she said. “While in China, excellence was definitely the buzz word and the password for Garvin Tynes Primary School is excellence, and I told the teachers we want to build upon that and move towards a high quality standard of excellence.”
As she steps into new shoes, the principal has a few initiatives she would like to see implemented, to ensure that they can improve, and build upon the instructional program that she says will cause them to achieve excellence in education at the institution.
She is looking forward to the implementation of the reading program introduced to a majority of the primary schools by Primary Language Arts Officer, Vanria Jacques. Wright-Mitchell says the systematic sight words kit is a program that allows students to learn through the introduction of sight words that they can build into sentences and then paragraphs.
The principal said she worked with the program from September to June in the last academic year while at T.G. Glover Primary School and saw marked improvement as a result.
“I was truly impressed with the results,” she said. “When the students started, we tested them in October and they were getting the majority of the words wrong, but the teachers worked the program every day. There was a lot of immersion with the words — the students learnt them and were able to write sentences using those words on a daily basis. In February, we tested them again and in June we saw tremendous improvement, so I know that it works.”
Wright-Mitchell said the improvement was as high as 85 percent.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has mandated that literacy and numeracy be promoted at the primary school level, and Wright-Mitchell says she and her team have looked at strategies to improve in the challenging areas — specifically writing, listening comprehension and mathematics. She says numeracy and math mental drills will be priority at her school.
“In the area of literacy we are holding our own, but we have to continue to work in mathematics in the numeracy area. We’re trying to get our kids familiar with the math vocabulary and mental drills to prepare and allow them to have more exposure into mathematical concepts and be able to just analyze, question and reason, to see why when you say something it adds up to something else. We are going to work assiduously in trying to reduce the level of difficulty for the students,” she said.
And she will be doing so at a school with well over 1,000 students. Wright-Mitchell is at the helm of a school that at the close of the last school year had 973 students. Over the summer, they registered 149 first grade students, and took in 62 transfers. She will have to accomplish her goals with a staff complement of 60 — six of which are administrators, the principal, two vice-principals and three senior mistresses.
In her new portfolio, besides grades one through six, she has two pre-school classes, and the school is also synonymous with the Center for Autism.
Wright-Mitchell’s task is mammoth, but she says she’s ready, as the educational leadership skills that were of priority in China had given her the preparation she needs. In being an effective leader, she said she knows she has to support teacher development within her school as developed teachers have the skills and tools to get the job done.
The school-based teacher research training model which entails a lot of collaboration and which she was exposed to in China she says will also be visible at Garvin Tynes this school year to get the results they seek and maximize talent.
“We need collaboration between our teachers, our grade one teachers need to collaborate with grade two teachers and so on. This model allows the teachers to actually sit in other classes and observe lessons and the classroom becomes an actual laboratory, so they dissect the lessons, the strengths and weaknesses and how the teacher can improve. So if we work with each other, and in collaboration, we are going to maximize and get the best results ever,” she said.
During her one-year stint at T.G. Glover she was at a school with involved parents. And says she’s returning to a system in which the parents are just as highly involved, but she says she would like to increase the parental involvement even further.
“We want to engage our parents, because we realize when the children come to us, they have to go home and it’s incumbent upon the parents to push the children, to get involved, get to know their children’s teachers.”
When the school bell tolls on Monday for the first time this academic year, Wright-Mitchell says everyone — educators, students and parents should be ready, because she will be.
“I have said to the teachers this week that we are going to be ready on day one and I need students to come back with that mindset — be ready on day one. A lot of times we come in on the first day, we talk about how we spent our summer vacation and all that as we try to get to know the students and that’s well and good, but we want to be working, engaging, participating, getting some homework in. Yes we’re going to talk and discuss how we spent the summer, but we want to be working — hard at work — so I want the students to be ready on day one, come prepared to work because we are very serious in trying to increase our level of excellence and getting it to a higher quality standard of excellence at Garvin Tynes,” she said.
As she begins her journey towards leaving her mark on the institution, Garvin Tynes is getting a transformational leader in Wright-Mitchell who is an instructional leader. As principal, she is responsible for the school’s instructional program and says she will be very involved.
At the end of the day, Wright-Mitchell says they re preparing students for lifelong learning to be able to go into the community and be independent.
“We have to now prepare our students to be global citizens. A lot of times we find ourselves being Bahamian-centric, but we need to mold global citizens … global students, and in order for us to do this we have to be exposed to global trends in education,” she said referring to her one year in China.
She’s also told her teachers that they can’t rest on their laurels of past performances and successes, but must think of new ideas to impact their classrooms this year.