It’s been a tremendous year for the Cayman Current, local nonprofit journalism and the Cayman Islands education system.
Ok, so it’s been more like 16 months since the launch of the Current, but as 2021 draws to a close, we want to take a step back and consider all that the Current and our community of supporters have been able to accomplish in this short period of time.
To our readers, donors and supporters, we extend our deepest gratitude. We look forward to even bigger and better things to come in the year (and years) ahead.
The following is a month-by-month summary of some of the highlights from the Current since it was established:
We published the first post on the Cayman Current website on 16 Aug. 2020, two weeks in advance of our official launch date.
If you saw this post, you truly are an early die-hard supporter.
We’d like to acknowledge and celebrate our first Founding Sponsor, Broadhurst Law Firm, who has been here since the beginning. Thank you for your steadfast support!
+ We still hadn’t launched yet, but we couldn’t resist writing about the perspective of two US public health experts, who said Cayman students should definitely wear masks and take other precautions such as social distancing, despite Cayman being, at the time, ‘COVID-free’.
Shortly afterward, Cayman’s government went counter to that advice and did not mandate masks in schools.
+ “Friends, readers, and residents of the Cayman Islands, welcome to the Cayman Current.”
And with that, the Current was officially ‘born’ – on 1 Sept. 2020.
“I hope today is looked back on as an important day in Cayman. Not because it marks the launch of the Current as an organisation, but because it will be remembered as when we began to rally as a cohesive community, and together to seek improvements to our country’s education system, for the betterment of Cayman’s children and future generations,” Current founder and editor Patrick Brendel wrote.
+ At the same time, we published our Cayman Islands Scholarships Directory, our first database which has grown to become the most comprehensive repository of information on scholarships, grants and other academic opportunities for local students.
+ We also launched the Weekly Current, our free newsletter that brings all the important Cayman education news to your email inbox.
We consider the Weekly Current to be our flagship news product, and is a key entry point for readers to access our content.
+ Peter Carpenter, then the Director of the Office of Education Standards, graciously agreed to participate in the first instalment of our ‘An interview with …’ series.
These stories are paraphrased Q+A’s where we allow education leaders to talk about what they feel is relevant to the local school system.
+ Shortly thereafter, we interviewed John Gray High School Principal Jonathan Clark.
This ongoing ‘An interview with …’ series, we think, set the ‘constructive’ tone for the Current and laid the foundation for the kind of clear-eyed journalism we strive to produce.
+ Our very first data-oriented story examined the rise in local homeschooling after the COVID pandemic had shut down schools earlier in the Spring.
+ We were the first to report on land given to UCCI for an expansion. Then-President Stacy McAfee told us the land would give UCCI room for new facilities for TVET and STEM education.
+ Nichelle Scott stepped up and became the first opinion contributor to the Current. Her Viewpoint commentary on the effects of segregation (based on immigration status) in local schools became one of the most-read stories on the Current’s website, and remains relevant more than a year later.
+ Based on government officials’ statements, the Current pegged the total estimated cost of the new John Gray High School project at $170 million.
While the number is still a bit ‘squishy’, the project would rank among the most expensive high schools ever built, anywhere.
+ In what has become one of the signature features of our journalism, we reviewed, analysed and broke down Cayman’s results on the CXC exams, including how the results compared to previous years and to our regional peers.
+ Current founder and editor Patrick Brendel made an appearance on Radio Cayman’s Business Buzz programme to talk about the organisation, our goals and our business model.
The Business Buzz appearance was one of our initial attempts at ‘multimedia’ and demonstrated our willingness to partner with other local media organisations.
+ We pored over inspection reports and other data to create, for the first time ever, a comprehensive interactive directory of all of Cayman’s public and private schools.
The Cayman Islands Schools Explorer has become an integral feature of the Current’s journalism and is a key way for readers to access our content.
The launch of the Schools Explorer coincided with our series of stories analysing available data on local schools.
+ We began reporting on UCCI’s significant endeavour to seek approval from a major US accrediting body. The initiative is a key part of the university’s 5-year strategic plan.
+ As a nonprofit, the Current is keen to highlight the efforts of like-minded education-oriented charities. Our first ‘Nonprofit profile’ was on Inclusion Cayman (formerly known as the Special Needs Foundation).
+ It was around this time that we began receiving responses to Freedom of Information requests we had submitted to the government back in the fall.
+ As the 2021 election campaign began to gear up, we issued a general call to all candidates to share their education platforms with us for publication.
We are pleased to report that many candidates took us up on our offer, including the eventual Premier Wayne Panton and Deputy Premier Chris Saunders.
+ In March we officially ‘pivoted’ our attention to the coverage of education as a public policy issue in the political campaign.
We have archived all of our coverage – including platforms, debates, analysis, etc. – in one place for our readers’ convenience.
Our stated goal was to make education the number one priority during the political campaign. Since coming to power, the new PACT government has consistently named education as its top issue.
+ That being said, we still kept up with our enterprise journalism, producing stories on public school enrolment and capacity, exit interviews with departing public school teachers, and the causes of student suspensions in recent years.
Segregation and school crowding were issues hotly debated during the campaign. Our analysis of government information found that no non-Caymanians were turned away from public schools due to a lack of space in the 2020/21 school year.
+ Public school teachers told us they were concerned about the impacts of the COVID lockdown on student performance and behaviour, as well as the timing of stressful school inspections.
Importantly, the teachers would only speak on condition of anonymity, citing fears about job security. We never received comments on this story from Ministry or Department officials.
+ Again, as no other local news organisation does, the Current published a series of analyses, graphics and tables on key information contained in the Education Data Report 2020.
+ We reported on the allegations of ‘misconduct towards students’ at Red Bay Primary School, the involvement of law enforcement and the relocation of staff away from the school.
We continue to keep an eye on this story, publishing regular updates. More than seven months later, the investigation continues …
+ Former chief school inspector Peter Carpenter submitted an informative and entertaining Viewpoint on his time in Cayman. It remains on our ‘must-read’ list for anyone interested in local education.
+ We had the privilege of making a presentation at the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on the education options available in Cayman.
We adjusted that presentation and published it in an online format for the benefit of our readers.
+ The first of June marked the beginning of a new era: the launch of our weekly video series ‘EdBeat’, which is a partnership between the Current and Cayman Life TV.
Each week Patrick Brendel of the Current and April Cummings of Cayman Life TV discuss the top issues in local education. EdBeat is ‘broadcast’ on the Cayman Life TV channel and on both organisation’s websites and social media.
(Fun fact: Our initial plan was for EdBeat to be a 5-10 minute programme. It has averaged around 30 minutes, and we’ve also recently adapted it into a podcast format.)
+ What is the value of a Cayman Islands high school diploma? We found that nearly half of public school graduates receive a diploma that the government considers equivalent to a ‘middle school’ qualification, and that can be obtained by scoring ‘straight Fs’ on external exams.
+ Schools were out on vacation, but it was a busy summer for the Current.
We hired our first staff journalist, Kayla Young, with the commission of creating a video series on TVET and STEM education.
Although our schedule was affected by COVID, we are pleased to report that Young has now concluded practically all of the videos and interviews, and we are moving into the ‘studio production’ phase of the project.
We have big plans for the mini-documentary series, so stay tuned …
+ In other Young-related news, she was selected by the Puerto Rico nonprofit Center for Investigative Journalism to participate in a Caribbean investigation project on COVID and climate change.
We recently began to publish the initial series on COVID in the region, ‘Pandemic in Paradise’, and we plan to publish in the near future the climate change project to which Young contributed.
Nothing says ‘Summer’ like ‘Summer Camp’, right?
We are happy to participate in the first-ever Journalism & Media Summer Camp, hosted by Minds Inspired and an array of local media organisations.
Current editor Patrick Brendel participated in presentations to students, and the Current published the journalism projects the students created.
+ And nothing says ‘Back to School’ like ‘School Traffic’, right?
In recent years, all of the growth in student enrolment has been in private schools – meaning, ultimately, more school-time traffic concentrated in George Town roads.
+ The spread of COVID in the community and schools marred the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester.
We touched base with the two US public health experts we first interviewed in August 2020, and they repeated their advice from the previous year: To keep schools open, wear masks and practise social distancing. And also: Get vaccinated.
This year, local officials would mandate mask-wearing in all schools.
+ We delved into an extremely important, and highly sensitive, subject – racial divisions in Cayman’s school system.
The big question is this: Could the structure of our country’s education system be fostering racial divisions in younger generations that have not previously been a hallmark of Cayman Islands society?
We urge you to please read the story and commentaries, and please think.
This is an issue we will continue to explore in the future.
+ As COVID made itself at home in Cayman, schools and other organisations adjusted their responses accordingly.
On top of government guidance, many private schools employed ‘the 3 Vs’: Vaccinations, ventilation and virtual meetings.
+ We also checked in with education charities, who are facing COVID-related challenges but also trying their best to adapt.
The government determined to employ quick-response COVID testing, and ‘surveillance’ and ‘screening’ programmes to keep children in classrooms.
Principals told us the testing policy was effective, though initially there were tight supply margins.
+ UCCI took top billing in our reporting for the month.
First, we reported that the appointed UCCI board was receiving a substantial pay raise, with new Board Chairman Gilbert McLean set to earn $48,000 per year.
That pay raise for the board was being funded by a reduction in the line-item for local and overseas scholarships.
+ Shortly afterward, it was announced that UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee would step down from her post at the end of 2021 when her initial 3-year contract expired.
The leadership change comes at a pivotal time for the university, which is in the midst of its 5-year strategic plan.
At the helm now as UCCI’s interim acting president and CEO is J.D. Mosley-Matchett (UCCI’s Provost and VP of Academic Affairs).
By coincidence at the end of October, McAfee and Mosley-Matchett appeared on EdBeat to discuss UCCI’s accreditation process and the 5-year plan.
The new PACT government unveiled its budget for the next two years, and we were there, neck-deep in paperwork, pulling out the details on education spending.
The bottom line is the Ministry of Education has $384 million to spend in 2022 and 2023, with the biggest chunk going to capital projects, including the new John Gray, as well as new classrooms for primary schools that may enable the addition of a public nursery programme.
The budget also included details on spending on the new free school meals programme, as well as the doubling of public support for private schools.