A mammoth task, but worth it
Principal making mark with pragmatic professionalism
Mark Jackson believes that a principal should possess genuine passion and commitment to serve the children, with the vision of seeing them excel in all aspects of life and not solely in academics.
Jackson, the headmaster at Ascot Primary School in Portmore, St Catherine, is convinced he was born for the job, describing the profession as his life’s calling.
“This job is very challenging if you choose to be an effective principal and to be mover and shaper of change,” he told The Gleaner last Thursday.
Sharing details about his personal journey, Jackson recalled his youthful days returning home from school and going into his backyard to teach the plants and stones, which he named after his fellow classmates.
He would take home unused pieces of chalk from school and write on the walls in his backyard as he delivered the same lessons he learned in class for that day, unknowingly reinforcing concepts covered.
Jackson admitted that he struggled with reading in primary school, and if it were not for the interest shown in him by Lola Parchment, a teacher who was in charge of the canteen at the Epping Forest Primary School, he perhaps would not be in the position that he is now.
“She would make sure that my plate was well filled and would say, ‘Go an eat and then come to my table every lunchtime because you are one of those boys who are really trying’,” he recalled.
READING AT LUNCHTIME
He would stand beside Parchment every lunchtime, reading to her as she ate lunch.
“Because of her, I ended up being an fluent reader, and that’s one of the main reasons I can sit behind this desk,” said Jackson.
“At that point, I realised how influential a teacher can be and that is why I always say to my teachers, ‘Be careful what you say because when children go home and play ‘school’, as we call it. The parents are gonna know who you are’,” he added.
Jackson, who also functions as a grade six teacher, in acknowledging the lack of parental support among some of the 1,050 students on roll at Ascot Primary, is trying to boost parents’ – and especially fathers’ – interest in the academic lives of their children.
“Many fathers also have the old view that when it comes to school, [it] is the mothers who should go, and when you call them, they will tell you that ‘Boy, Sir, mi a work the money, y’know, but the mother will come’, but we are dispelling that notion and to let them know that there’s a psychological impact here because who children are now will determine the kind of adults they become,” he said.
“It’s really trying to rescue our children through the parents,” added Jackson, adding that it was very alarming to discover that most of the children were living in homes where their fathers were absent.
Jackson reasoned that the lack of proper parental support not only causes the children to underperform academically, but also causes the children to display destructive behaviours, such as bullyism and theft, which he admitted are rampant at the institution.
As such, the initiative dubbed ‘The Fathers’ Movement’ was reimplemented with the objective of engaging most – if not all – fathers to be involved in their children’s lives at school. It also aims to host at least one meeting per school term to educate fathers on the importance of their presence to the children’s development – psychologically, emotionally, or otherwise.
The after-school meetings are sometimes held more than once per term, often with presentations by guest motivational speakers and the guidance counsellors as the programme aims to empowering fathers to become better parents, while providing them with the tools necessary to do so.
KEPT FROM FATHERS
Jackson highlighted that in many instances, the children lived with mothers, who bar their fathers from seeing them because they might not be contributing financially. He is encouraging mothers to cease the practice and urges fathers to visit the school, where they will be facilitated to see their children.
He also said that there are times when the invitations are sent out for the meeting, the mothers deliberately keep the message from the fathers.
As a result, to get a greater numbers of fathers in attendance, Jackson makes the extra effort to get in touch with the fathers himself.
“To get some of them here, [it] is like literally putting a noose around their neck and pulling them to come,” he added, noting that they are not always willing.
He has also encouraged mothers to speak with guidance counsellors if they find themselves in situations that would impact the children’s attendance and to get some counselling if needed.
“We’ve had to do several home visits in some nooks and crannies to rescue our children, and they live with mothers,” Jackson said, adding that the school’s Guidance Counselling Department is looking into staging similar sessions for mothers.
Ultimately, Jackson said that his desire is to see a transformed school environment, which primarily focuses on quality education and building the capacity of its students and teachers.
“It’s a mammoth task. It is time-consuming; it zaps your energy, but I do it and I encourage my other team members to do it because at the end of the day, if we are going to have a better society, it’s all about creating a cadre of students that you hope when you do this to rescue them, they’ll go out and become better parents,” he said.
“Whatever it takes I will mobilise the team to ensure [the success of] the dream. The [education] ministry says every child can learn, every child must learn. I believe in it, too,” he said.