Acting Chief Education Officer Lisa Henry-David has said the movement of the South East Port of Spain Secondary School from its Nelson Street home to the University of Trinidad and Tobago John Donaldson Campus on Wrightson Road was a temporary measure.
Henry-David was speaking at the second virtual meeting of a joint select committee on human rights, equality, and diversity: equal access to education. The meeting focused on the factors contributing to academic achievement, school climate, and student engagement in Port of Spain schools.
Henry-David was responding to criticism from committee chairman Hazel Thompson-Ahye, who questioned the Ministry of Education’s decision to move students back to the Nelson street location, given the area's reputation for high levels of crime and violence.
In November 2019, a stray bullet entered a classroom at the school. The Port of Spain Criminal Investigation Department and Besson Street police attributed the shooting to gang rivalry.
Henry-David said, “The movement to John D was a temporary measure while the ministry sought to treat with physical issues on the compound.”
She added that to move a secondary school would mean stakeholders would have to ensure all facilities, such as labs, are in place.
“When the school was established to serve the community, we did not have the unfortunate occurrences (and) socio-economic issues that we have now.
“To remove the school out of the community it serves would require all ministries, government, social NGOs, to come together and address the issues in that geographic area.”
After the ministry made some improvements, including concrete louvres, students returned to the school in January 2020.
Thompson-Ahye asked Henry-David whether students deserved to be exposed to such a high-risk environment. Henry-David said, “It is not a question of what they deserve. It is a question of what the society has to do to ensure students are in an environment where they can thrive.”
TT Unified Teachers Association head Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said the school is also a heritage building and as a result, relocation would be difficult.
“We will need to allocate specific resources to the construction of a new school, not just South East Secondary, but other schools.”
She said although the school has been deemed as underachieving, it has produced scholarship winners in the past.
“While teachers are committed, lack of adequate resources due to limited funding would impact the school environment.”
She said a cross-agency approach is needed to enhance the environments in schools.
“We need to consider that it’s not simply a matter of relocating a school, but using resources in a strategic way to enhance the entire community where the schools are located."
Henry-David said since the move back to the area, student academic performance has remained the same.
Second vice president of the Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools David Simon said there must be a holistic approach to education.
“A systemic view must be examined, and we must also take a microscopic approach to examine the individual institutions.”
He said students are going into secondary schools with Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam scores as low as 30 per cent, but are being assessed using the same markers as other students to determine their success.
“As far as we know, there is no index to determine achievement in technical and vocational areas (such as) sporting and cultural activities. The institutions highlighted (including South East Secondary) have been known to add value in every aspect of its life and livelihood, and these things are not necessarily taken into consideration.”
Henry-David said students with scores of 30 per cent or under, in terms of output, may not perform as well as other students academically, but value is added as the student moves through the system.
“They may not have all five subjects. (but) the school would have leveraged in other areas such as co-curriculars and arts.”