Principal washes hands of Discovery Bay school mess

DISCOVERY BAY, St Ann — The administration of Discovery Bay High School (STEM Academy) here in this parish is scrambling to find space to house more than 100 students on Monday.

However, principal of the institution Dwayne Mulgrave has made it clear that the institution is not to be blamed for the current dilemma.

“We have run into a brick wall. I did not build it and is now asking for a bailout. It is the Government’s school and they must plan for the school that they have built,” stated Mulgrave.

The school started in 2019 with grade seven, but two years later started experiencing a chronic problem of finding space, despite a gradual reduction in the number of students who have matriculated each year.

Mulgrave said the school needs 13 more classrooms.

“They (founding grade seven students) have moved up in space and this is now the predicament that we are in because now I have a full school of grades seven to 11 and the capacity of the school is about 250. But I have about 500 children. So, to say the situation is precarious is an understatement,” stated Mulgrave.

Similarly to other secondary and primary institutions in the parish, Discovery Bay High is in high demand, particularly due to a boom in construction of housing solutions within the area.

“Were it not for the space constraint, maybe we would have been at 1,000 students by now, because there is a very, very high demand for student spaces here. There is a significant number of parents who come in looking for transfers annually and you have to turn them away because you don’t have anywhere to accommodate them. You take some but you can’t take them all,” argued Mulgrave.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mulgrave is left disappointed that the education ministry did not do the requisite planning to ensure a smooth resumption of face-to-face classes. He said planning was done and meetings were held to address the situation but “when they left, nothing happened.”

Mulgrave said the school community has done the best it can over the years.

“We have managed the crisis yearly but now we are unable to go any further because we don’t have the financial strength, [and] the purchasing power to take on anything. And, it would be too late to take on anything at this time because you have to go through the process which we thought they (ministry) were working on,” stated Mulgrave who made it clear that in the past, the school community, including parents and the business community have played their part along with funds raised by the school to aid with the construction of additional classroom space but is unable to go further this time around.

“We don’t want anybody to feel like oh, this is the principal who sat down and saw that he has nowhere to put the children and be accountable in doing something about it or the (school) board was derelict in their duties, did not find solutions and sat down waiting on the ministry. We have always gone out there and found people who can sponsor our projects and so on. The business community has been very kind to us and we have been very creative but this time around, the ministry said they would find a solution. They would create buildings and so on,” the principal argued.

Mulgrave, who won the 2023 Lasco/ MoEY Principal of the Year Award, said this time around, he and his team had to be creative in finding a solution for the start of the new school term in September. However, he said teaching will not take place in the usual manner.

“So, all the lab spaces that we have available, ICT (Information and Communications Technology), E-learning, human ecology, science and industrial technology, you name it, I will have to put children in the labs. They will stay in these spaces, which of course you know, is not the best of accommodation because these spaces are specialised spaces. But, I have no choice. I will have to put them there until the ministry can find a quick solution and then we see where we go from there.

Mulgrave said containerised structures that take less than two weeks to be retrofitted could be used as a temporary solution.

“I am very disappointed with the pace at which the ministry has moved, because I do know that if we are intentional about solving space issues, there are ways to do it that do not have to be encumbered by bureaucratic procedures and so on. So, people just need the will to make the changes necessary, so that the schools can operate smoothly,” argued Mulgrave.

Mulgrave is of the view that those in leadership have failed the children.

“We are rising, but our children must be given a fighting chance and multiple opportunities to do well. And, I don’t think we have done well in giving them those opportunities to do well,” stated Mulgrave.

President of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) Tania Brown Plummer said it is disheartening to see the school, which prides itself on excellence in all areas, being treated like this. She is hoping for a quick intervention from the ministry.

“Parents are not happy because it means that something has to be done and all students cannot be in the same space at the same time. We have come from COVID where we were in the online space and not many children – even though we did a good job at Discovery Bay High STEM Academy – there were some children who were impacted negatively due to other reasons and we are really hoping that this will not be the situation going forward,” stated Brown Plummer.

President of the JTA, Leighton Johnson said the situation at Discovery Bay High highlights poor planning on the part of the ministry which needs improvement.

“This is a government-owned school that started a few years ago and indications should have been there that by this time they would have needed additional classrooms. A proactive ministry would not have allowed it to come down to this,” stated Johnson.

“We should not have a situation where September morning comes and there are students without adequate space. It is untenable and we need the ministry to improve its planning capabilities and to ensure that education is prioritised,” added the JTA president.

Last month, Education Minister Fayval Williams told the JTA’s 59th annual conference in Hanover that the Government was not short of funding to undertake critical infrastructure repairs in the nation’s public schools. Williams said red tape is the cause of delays experienced in getting things done.

“I want to say to you that… and you might find this hard to believe, we are not short on the funds to do the work,” stated Williams to an outburst of surprise from the teachers whom she was addressing.

“It takes too long for the building officer to visit,” Williams explained, in response to a round of applause. “It is the truth. What we need is a more accelerated process. It takes too long for the building officer to come out and look and for design work to be done, and the tender work to go out and come back and then it has to go to the next level and next level. That is what is holding up the process. It is not the money.”