490A4179 - Students return to school
Students at the Central Eleuthera High School on the first day of classes for the 2023-2024 school year.

The new 2023-2024 school year, which opened for students on Monday, August 28th, saw a number of shifts and changes in leadership at several of the schools within the Eleuthera District, confirmed Mr. Michael Culmer, District Superintendent for Education (DSE) on the island.

Major movements in the high schools, said Mr. Culmer, include Ms. Troy Rolle being welcomed as the new principal at Samuel Guy Pinder All Age school. She is coming in from the Exumas, as former principal Navidia Mills heads to Grand Bahama. Ms. Sharon Scott (formerly at Preston Albury High school) is now the new principal at the Harbour Island All Age school, and Mr. Kenneth Roberts (formerly at Harbour Island All Age school) is the new principal at Preston Albury High school.

Central Eleuthera High School and Preston Albury High School also saw a switch-up at the mid-administrative level, with the former senior mistress at Central Eleuthera High School, Ms. Yoshan Charlton, elevated to vice principal at Preston Albury High. Also, the former senior mistress at Preston Albury High School, Ms. Loretta Butler is now the vice principal at Central Eleuthera High School. Lavette Strachan, at Preston Albury High School was also promoted to senior mistress, along with Christina Toney at Central Eleuthera High School who was promoted as senior mistress.

Other teachers who previously served in the Eleuthera District were also promoted to positions off island, including Tarishka Cleare Ellis from North Eleuthera High School who was promoted to senior mistress, Candice Moncur also from North Eleuthera High School was promoted to senior mistress, and Shantell Seymour from Central Eleuthera High School was promoted to the senior mistress level – all now serving in different school districts.

In the primary schools, Ms. Eldiqua Thompson was promoted to senior mistress, and is now posted at the Emma Cooper Primary school. Mrs. Gabrielle Dorsette was promoted to senior mistress at the Emily G. Petty Primary school and the Center for Exceptional Learners. North Eleuthera’s Laura L. Anderson Primary school has also welcomed a new principal in the person of Maude Carey Neely.

During an interview in the week ahead of schools reopening, DSE Mr. Culmer expounded on the purpose of both the movements within the district, as well as the focus taken with new teachers joining the education team in Eleuthera, saying, “Where we have seen things working, we have looked to support and undergird it. One of our goals was also to ensure that there is equity amongst our institutions, in terms of the offerings. We are going to be welcoming to Eleuthera in a very short while, a number of career and technical educators who will be posted at all of our high schools.

He continued, “Auto mechanics is going to be reintroduced to one of our high schools. We are also going to have graphical communications and technical drawing introduced at a couple of schools, where it has not be available… The goal is to ensure that we are offering all students, the same opportunities to be successful in other areas of education that are going to cater to multiple intelligences, skills and interests… We say that we are the Ministry of Education & Technical & Vocational Training. So, we want to ensure that we are offering more vocations to our students.”

The annual summer break, usually sees repairs and other works done within school campuses, as they ready to receive students for a new year of instruction and learning. DSE Culmer informed that in addition to the customary minor repairs, a number of major repair works were undertaken at some of the schools in the district, saying, “There has been a commitment by the Ministry of Education this year to ensure that we address some of the major infrastructural concerns that have existed across this district. So, there was a massive investment, much greater investment in repairs at schools. We have three institutions that are getting complete roofs. We have addressed major concerns at all of our institutions across the district. These are things that we have been wanting to address now for several years.

“One of the things we are now doing is in Harbour Island, where we are doing the necessary preparation to the physical plant to accommodate – for the first time – preschool at that school. So that will require the construction of an independent bathroom for exlusive use by students in the preschool section. We have also added bathrooms for staff in one of our schools. We are preparing windows. We are doing a massive work at the Haynes Library. There is a lot of work that is going to be done at the Center for Exceptional Learners. You will see roof repairs being done at the Central Eleuthera High School, at Wemyss Bight Primary School, at Preston H. Albury High School, at the Eleuthera District Office – that is major roof repair done. There have also been minor roof repairs done at some of the other primary schools.

“Some of the little concerns we would have wanted to address in the past – we have been intentional about addressing those now. So, where there may be a minor inconvenience now – it is going to bring about a major reformation, and a major improvement that we have been longing for at our schools for a while.”

In the area of possible teacher shortages and gaps in human resources within the district as the new year begins, Mr. Culmer commented, “One of our challenges in Eleuthera, is accommodation. Believe it or not, all of our teachers are prepared and ready to come. Our challenge has been, though, finding accommodation for our teachers – so, that has delayed the arrival of some of our teachers to our institutions.”

He added, “I want to just appeal to property owners across the district to consider teachers with their rentals. In the past our challenge has been finding teachers. Our challenge now has adjusted from finding teachers to finding places for teachers to live… If property owners have multiple places for rent… we are appealing to them to consider reserving several for teachers… See it as your investment in our students, in the future, or even as your contribution to nation building.”

To assist in remedying this challenge as quickly as possible, Mr. Culmer mentioned that key principals across Eleuthera were acting as liaisons for incoming teachers – with ‘go to’ people in north, central, south, and on the islands, helping to find homes. He also stated that, despite the challenge, the number of new or incoming teachers not expected to be in place at the start of school, was a much smaller number than in the past.

Despite the smaller number of teachers possibly not in place during the first week of school, Mr. Culmer emphasized, “Every teacher that is not in place at the beginning of the school year will reflect in loss of contact time, teaching time, productivity, or it can even impact the attitude or the state of readiness for learning of the childen affected… So, if one teacher is not in place on the first day, that is one too many.”

In response to being asked about his analysis of the overall performance of students in Eleuthera in the 2023 national BJC, BGCSE and GLAT examinations, Mr. Culmer opined, “We have seen an improvement across the board. There are still areas to be looked at in how we can bring about the desired improvement in literacy and numeracy, at the BGCSE, BJC as well as the GLAT level. We have seen various aspects of it where there have been some really bright spots, and there are one or two areas where we have really got to do some work across the district. One of those areas is creative writing and mathematics application at the GLAT level. We have seen some improvement, but there is a need for more improvement.

“In our BJC and BGCSE – the performance of students is on par as it was in the past. We have quite a number of students who have attained a good number of A passes at the BJC level across the district. We have seen quite a number of students also attained A passes in the BGCSE. It’s a testament to the work of teachers, students and parents – that powerful triad. So, I congratulate our hardworking teams, and students and parents – who achieved the success.”

Directed at parents, as children embark on the 2023-2024 school year, DSE Culmer, shared, “I want to encourage parents to partner with our schools, and to make it their business to know what their children are doing in school – what their children are doing while they are at home – who their children are associated with, and what they are doing in cyberspace. We want to encourage our children to take some time, not only to be engaged in the technology, but to also read books – reading for leisure and for enjoyment. Parents can also create experiences for their children… It doesn’t take a lot of money to take your child for a walk on the beach – to pick up shells, to talk with them about our native flora and fauna. It doesn’t require any money for a parent to sit down on the outside on the patio and speak to students about the issues that they may have. I also want to say to parents – ‘Don’t just be concerned about your child, but understand that we are a community, and we should care just as much for other people’s children – lending an eye, offering that good advice, demonstrating care, providing guidance and support.”

Mr. Culmer continued, “I also want to encourage parents to interact with their institutions – get to know your children’s teacher/s before midterm break, before report card day – before any incidences occur – take some time to get to know who those teachers are, and establish those professional relationships and contacts. That is how we are going to move our country ahead.”

He further urged, “Also, look out for opportunities for your children to get exposure and to be involved in positive organizations – Sunday school, youth group, junior achievement, the brownies or the guides, the SCM (student christian movement), rotaract or the key club. Encourage your children to participate in band, in speech competitions, in track and field, in art. We want to build, not just good students, but we want to build good people, and for our children to develop values and morals – not just to be ‘intellectual’ or ‘smart’. You also need to have some kind of values about and appreciaton for yourself as well as care, affection and love for other people. Let’s help our children to understand that the world does not revolve around them, and that they also need to give something back. Encourage them to be a part of charities, to do something for someone else. Those are just some of the things I would like to encourage parents to do.”