20 Feb. 2022
Weekly Current (archived version)
Educators report feeling “exhausted” and “burnt out” by additional duties demanded during COVID-19 pandemic. Highlights from inspectors’ visits to local schools. Cayman swimmer sets historic NCAA benchmarks.
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
The Office of Education Standards continues to roll out reports from inspectors’ one-day ‘thematic visits’ to public and private schools, and it’s fair to say that some common themes are emerging.
School leaders and staff have been taking on additional duties throughout the COVID pandemic, while trying to address learning gaps and mental health issues in students, and the strain of it all has become apparent.
At the pandemic’s 2-year mark, Cayman Islands educators are “exhausted”, “overwhelmed” and “burnt out”; and some say they don’t feel the current workload is sustainable, even through the end of this school year, according to reports from OES inspectors.
Student learning has been affected by school closures, quarantine periods and specialists being stretched thin to cover staff absences. School leaders say it is difficult to recruit new teachers or to secure temporary supply (substitute) teachers to replace staff lost to resignations or quarantines. Meanwhile, leaders and staff both have taken on new duties related to COVID, such as assembling lateral-flow test kit packages, developing strategies to deliver effective ‘synchronous’ lessons in-person and online , and carrying out public health procedures to minimise the spread of the virus in schools.
Bright spots do emerge from the narrative in the inspectors’ reports, however. For example, as a rule school leaders and staff are described as being dedicated to the needs of students and their families. Staff have been willing and flexible to do what it takes to deliver education during the pandemic. Many schools intend to continue technological innovations and enhanced student health measures that were implemented in the past 2 years. And there has been an increased overall focus on staff and student well-being and additional support for the mental health of adults and children.
So far, the OES has published reports on 14 of 31 schools it will visit during the Spring term. The Current has written stories on 9 of the reports as of today. We’ll keep covering the reports as they come out. In the end, the OES intends to create a national report, and the Current will create an overall story as well.
Of the 14 schools, St. Ignatius Catholic School was the only one where inspectors forwarded “significant concerns” to the Ministry of Education.
Chief Inspector Nicholas Sherriff “found significant concerns regarding staff wellbeing, the continued Principal vacancy and the governance arrangements”.
He said, “During the visit staff reported feeling burnt out, exhausted, and requiring counselling support.”
The former Head of School departed in August 2020, around which time the St. Ignatius School Advisory Board was reconstituted into a School Advisory Committee, with a reduced scope of responsibilities.
A new Principal joined St. Ignatius in March 2021 then left after the Spring term.
Sherriff said, “The school still does not have a Principal however both Secondary and Primary Vice Principals have stepped into the space. Although, in the current climate this is an unsustainable position for them both.”
He said, “The school has an Advisory Committee but it does not have the remit to hold the Parish Administration or school Principal to account.”
Despite these concerns, St. Ignatius educators are ensuring that students are making academic progress.
“It was clear during the visit how committed school leaders, teachers and support staff were to keeping the school safely open and continuing students’ learning,” Sherriff said.
George Town Primary School educators feel “overwhelmed and burnt out”, an inspector said.
“While staff were clearly invested in the education of their students and willingly accepted redeployment and additional duties, current arrangements for staff cover may prove unsustainable over time,” she said.
A majority of students at the school were making acceptable academic progress, in part due to the government’s laptop initiative and free school meals programme.
However, staff were exhausted from the additional work related to COVID.
“Staff expressed the need for a national parent association to alleviate staff of some of the responsibilities associated with supporting parents and families during a pandemic or other adverse circumstances,” the inspector said.
Leadership and staff at Red Bay Primary School have taken on extra duties during the pandemic, and their work is showing in the continuing progress among all groups of students, an inspector said.
However, staff said they were “exhausted” and did not feel that the current demands were sustainable.
The inspector’s letter does not mention allegations of misconduct toward Red Bay Primary schools reported in May 2021 or the law enforcement investigation that was “still ongoing” as of December 2021. Since May 2021, Ryan Dale has served as acting principal in place of longtime principal Vickie Frederick.
“Only 33% of staff who completed the survey felt that the school had sufficient staff to deliver the curriculum effectively during the pandemic,” the inspector said.
The tight-knit community at Montessori School of Cayman has largely managed to navigate the challenges of COVID, with students continuing to show learning progress.
However, staff shortages have impacted the school, as tasks related to the pandemic take teachers’ time away from their normal duties. Resignations and temporary vacancies have “placed considerable stresses on the staff this year,” the inspector said.
“The school leader monitors the wellbeing of all stakeholders through a very ‘hands-on’ approach, regularly speaking with each individual and checking on their mental health,” he said.
Hope Academy has focussed on the mental well-being of students and staff through the pandemic, and educators have tried to adapt to COVID using technology and other strategies.
The pandemic has impacted the school in terms of staff turnover and negatively affected some students’ academic performance, an inspector said.
Student attendance had declined by 20% during the school year due to COVID.
“Leaders reported progress had continued to improve during the pandemic across both the middle and high school phases in maths, English and science although, there has been a slight dip in the primary school phase,” he said.
Village Montessori in Camana Bay has had success in dealing with the effects of the pandemic, with attendance remaining high and students continuing to make progress.
However, school leaders said recruiting staff has become more difficult, and they questioned whether government officials took education into account when formulating national policies.
The inspector said, “The Senior Leaders expressed concerns regarding the apparent lack of consideration for education and infrastructure regarding the formulation and implementation of some Covid-19 national initiatives, regulations and policies. An example of this was the Global Citizenship initiative where they did not feel availability of spaces in schools was considered.”
In a bit of a departure from our regular programming, we’re going to pivot away from academics in order to acknowledge one of the most significant athletic accomplishments by a young Caymanian ever.
The word “Congratulations” hardly rises to the occasion — perhaps “Amazing!” or simply “Wow!” will do better.
University of Tennessee swimmer Jordan Crooks recently broke not one but two NCAA Division I records, becoming the fastest freshman in US history to swim the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle.
In the 50-yard event, Crooks’s time of 18.53 seconds surpassed the previous record set by Caeleb Dressel in 2015.
For those who don’t follow the sport of swimming, some context: Dressel is considered the best male swimmer in the world, following a 5-gold-medal performance in last year’s Tokyo Olympics. There he joined a short but distinguished list of American male swimmers to win at least 3 individual golds at a single Olympics: Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz.
In winning the event, Crooks beat out LSU’s Brooks Curry, who in Tokyo had won a gold medal as part of the US 400-metre freestyle relay.
Here, maybe, is the most remarkable thing about Crooks’s 50-yard swim. He started the day with a time of 19.39 seconds, meaning he shaved an astonishing 0.86 seconds off his personal best.
Later on during the same SEC championships, Crooks set a new NCAA freshman mark in the 100-yard event, with a time of 41.44 seconds (in a split time in his team’s 400-freestyle relay).
For context, Crooks is now the 5th fastest NCAA athlete, of any age, in the 50-yard freestyle. Number one is, you guessed it, Dressel in 17.63 seconds during his senior year. (That being said, Crooks’s mark is ‘only’ 0.2 seconds behind the time of the 2nd-fastest NCAA swimmer ever.)
And as Jamaican swimmer/blogger Tony Morrison notes, Crooks is now the fastest sprinter from the CARIFTA region ever.
It bears repeating: Amazing! Wow! … Congratulations!
In this week’s episode of EdBeat, Patrick Brendel of the Cayman Current and April Cummings of Cayman Life TV discuss inspectors’ visits to schools, Crooks’s record-breaking performance and Cayman Life TV joining forces with the Current on our TVET/STEM documentary.
More from the Current
- 2021/2022 National Children’s Festival of the Arts (NCFA) Adjudications Begin Using Hybrid Format
- Cayman Brac Public Library Officially Reopens
Around The Web
The Current is a central resource for education journalism by others, including regional and international news relevant to Cayman education. (Find our running collection of links here.)
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Rabain wants talks with teachers after no confidence vote in education leadership
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools could be step closer to normal next week, says minister
- The Guardian (UK): Students and teachers in England decry ‘virtually useless’ exam previews
The Week Ahead
- More from UCCI
- School inspection reports
- Fifth Annual Youth Mental Health Symposium
- EdBeat: Episode 30