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Education Officials refute Ashley’s Learning Center claims; announce no solution to its pending closure

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By Deandrea Hamilton

Editor

 

#TurksandCaicos, July 15, 2022 – The country had only heard glowing sentiments about Ashley’s Learning Center, a seven year old special needs school located in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos but a week ago on July 8 that all changed when a high level team from the TCI’s Ministry of Education held a press conference to rebut statements made by Angela Williams of ALC the day before.

Williams said a $70,000 grant, previously pre-approved by government was withdrawn when she refused to sign a binding agreement which she believes would compromise the quality of learning and care at ALC.

Thousands reacted with outrage at the announcement of the possible closure of the center and denial of funds by the Government.  The Ministry of Education however said, the version of circumstances presented by Angela Williams at her press event on July 7, were inaccurate.

From Rachel Taylor, Minister of Education: “Contrary to what may have been making rounds in social media yesterday, we as a Ministry remain committed to supporting our students and families, especially those with special needs.

Of paramount importance, I wish to address the misleading claims voiced by Ms. Williams, founder of Ashley’s Learning Center which were levied against the Ministry of Education and by extension, the Turks and Caicos Islands Government indicating that we failed to provide the requested financial support to aid in the continued operation of this institution… these statements are without merit.”

Minister Taylor called Angela Williams a “dear friend” and explained the long and strategic partnership with Ashley’s Learning Center has only been embraced by the Ministry.  She said this posture is held by the MoE with any private school assisting with the placement of students.

“We are open to receiving support, to providing support to anyone who wants to partner with the ministry towards meeting the needs of our students, however, we want to emphasize that  in doing so, there are standards that must be met.  We continue to have report of schools, in particular, with parents complaining  that their students are not getting the proper support that they need.  In this case, we have been working with the school, Ashley Learning Center, to provide the support to bring them up to the standard that we want,” explained Wesley Clerveaux, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education speaking during the press conference which was carried live.

Suddenly, with these characterizations, the school’s founder and its method of operation were put in a far less favourable spotlight.

While Ashley’s Learning Center had passed a site inspection and gained a “satisfactory” rating from the Ministry of Education on the suitability of its facility, this was not the same outcome for students’ time in class or in session in person.

“…in compliance with the guiding regulations, my team conducted a comprehensive assessment of the center to ensure compliance of the special education policy prior to the allocation of fund, this  is something anyone would do if they are going to give that sum of money to anyone or any organization,” the Minister said parents concerns about contact time were confirmed, “However there were major concerns in regard to program remediation, student contact time…” said Minister Taylor, who also shared the proposal for additional funding from ALC came in September 2021.

She said despite the unsolicited concerns from parents about contact time, the ministry was prepared to proceed to the next step to approve the additional funding to Ashley’s Learning Center, which already receives over $30,000 in government monies annually which meet the salary of one teacher and school fees of a few children.

“We were very content to the next step in an effort to award the additional funds as proposed,” said the minister.

However, it seemed the gulf on the clause within the contract was too great.   Williams said she was advised it would be detrimental and rejected the counter proposal by the Ministry of Education’s team.

Jas Walkin, the Special Needs Officer for the Ministry of Education said he often experienced confusion when dealing with ALC.

“One of the consistent challenges that we have experienced, is often times what is discussed and agreed in meetings with the proprietor of that school, when we would have left that meeting it’s a totally different interpretation.   And I believe that is what has matriculated yesterday and it is what I was so disappointed in.”

Walkin denied that the Ministry of Education has a “personal problem” with her yet, there were a steady stream of statements which make cloudy the reputation of the school and Williams; at one point the minister said Williams falsified information to her office.

“It was mentioned that there were 10 additional students what would benefit from that $71,000, actually that ten did not exist.  It was for the existing cohorts who are currently at the school,” said Rachel Taylor, TCI Minister of Education, Labour, Employment and Customer Service.

What however was missing in the press event was an announcement about where the students, who would no longer have Ashley’s Learning Center come September, would be placed.

“The money will still be there, the $30,000 for the teacher.  The money will still be there to assist her.  It is still there to assist.  We are not taking away anything.  Not anything we are taking away.  The $71,000, and as the minister, I must make it clear, was supposed to unpack an additional 10 students.  That didn’t exist. The students were there already.”

Each official rolled out a string of special needs programs and new funding on the horizon to support the near 200 special needs children in Turks and Caicos; including a document outlining a plan for a special needs center to house 60 students.

But to meet the immediate need of the displaced students of Ashley’s, there was no solution.

Caribbean News

15,000 Caribbean Educators to get Training to recover from COVID

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

The Caribbean, September 16, 2022 – Approximately 15,000 educators in the region will be trained under a newly implemented programme, the Learning Recovery and Enhancement Programme (Let’s REAP) to assist students in overcoming the learning losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The training programme, expected to begin the first week in October, will improve the competencies of five cohorts of educators in three modules over two years.

This initiative is being facilitated by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, and the OECS Commission.

Upon successful completion, participants will receive a certificate from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Joint Boards of Teacher Education.

The 45-hour course will focus on three core components of Let’s REAP: Leadership and Accountability, Assessment and Differentiated Instruction, and Communities of Practice (CoP).

The Let’s REAP programme was launched in July 2021, and it had input from the CARICOM Regional Network of Planning Officers (RNPO), the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT), and the Caribbean Association for Principals of Secondary Schools (CAPSS), and the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC).

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Education

Ministry fails, no school again for Grand Turk Special Needs children

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, September 16, 2022 – Special needs children in Grand Turk will not be starting the new school year with other students; once again the Government has failed to ensure educational opportunities for all children.

Parents of special needs students set to start at the Ona Glinton Primary school in Grand Turk were again disappointed when nearly a week after school was supposed to start, they were told a staff shortage means their children will not be able to be accommodated.  It is a disturbing repeat of previous years and a heartbreaking reality as the Ministry of Education has failed to get the desperately needed program off the ground.

On July 8 this year during a press conference to address the special needs situation, Minister of Education Rachel Taylor said: “We are at a critical turning point in our country and our special-needs community will not be left behind, you are at the forefront of our plans and programs, my government and I will ensure that you have all you need to progress.  No effort will be spared in ensuring that the needs, infrastructure and programs are in place to fill the gaps.”

Yet, on Sunday afternoon parents were advised by school officials of the vacancies and told they would be informed as soon as the staff need was filled. Only then would their children be able to enter school.

It leaves special needs children in limbo and parents and the community angered.

As neuro-typical students advance, their special needs children remain behind, not due to a lack of ability or compliance with the law which demands children over four years be registered in a school; but due to the inadequate response by successive governments.

In the press conference, Minister Taylor had said that the ministry had hired more special-needs teachers to deal with the growing population.

“We have on boarded additional special-needs teachers across the Turks and Caicos Islands so they can deal with the challenges. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need that special needs school and as a ministry we will deliver on that promise.” she said.

We now know based on a more recent back to school press conference it will take at least three more months for that school to open and it will open in phases instead of at full capacity.  We also learned as many as 15 teachers quit TCIG abruptly leaving a public education in a lurch.

And while the government is giving a big pitch on the establishment of that special needs centre, sustainability may be an issue as the initial class size will be tiny; an admission from the Education Director Edgar Howell.

“It is the government’s remit to make sure that services are provided for all of our children. This means plans are afoot to create a special needs center that all of our children whether diagnosed or not. We will start with a small group of students and then build out our capacity,” said Howell.

Permanent Secretary Wesley Clerveaux and Special Needs Officer Jas Walkin both admitted that the Ministry was aware prior to the press conference and prior to the summer that there were not enough teachers for all special-needs students on the island. Yet appropriate steps have still not been taken and notices have come so very late.

It leaves parents now scrambling to implement an alternate plan for their children, who are being left behind by their peers in the same age group.

One resident in an open letter stated, “It does not seem to be a real concern for the public servants who swore on the Bible to serve the Turks and Caicos Islands— A shortage of staff may have created a shortage of services in the school system but it is abundantly clear that special needs are surely not being given priority.”

There have been reports in Providenciales as well of children being turned away from public schools having to enter the private system to give their children a chance at an education.

Every year the inability to register hundreds of students, complete refurbishment of schools and fill teacher gaps rears its ugly head. Residents express outrage as millions of dollars in surplus is celebrated while basic constitutional rights are sidelined and underserved.

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Education

TCI Resignations Impact

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Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

Students in the Turks and Caicos Islands will be short of 15 teachers this year as 13 have already indicated they will leave before September’s opening date, and two more are set to leave during the school year, increasing the number from the initial ten that resigned in late August.

Director of Education, Mr. Edgar Howell explained,  “As a result of what is going on in the world, the Turks and Caicos Islands has been impacted by resignations. To date, there are 15.  The opening of school will be impacted directly by 13, the other two will leave during the school year, which will give us the opportunity to have those positions filled or to have temporary appointments in them.”

Deputy Director of Education Mark Garland hinted that the resignations had come suddenly, describing them as “unforeseen”.   As a result of those unforeseen resignations, the education ministry won’t be able to start school with a complete complement of staff.

“In situations such as these, efforts would have been made to employ teachers on a temporary basis until we are able to fill those vacancies via the recruitment process.” he said.

The unfortunate aspect of the recruitment process however is that it can be lengthy, because of the significant number of steps involved.  In addition to that, Garland said even after a suitable candidate has been identified, individuals may reject the offer, forcing the ministry to restart the process.

The TCI is not the only country suffering from resignations; Jamaica and the United States have reported hundreds and thousands of gaps respectively.

In a previous press conference, Minister of Education Rachel Taylor had indicated that the gaps were specialized teachers, including home economics, science, and mathematics.  All three representatives assured that the Ministry is working as quickly as they can to fill the gaps

Permanent secretary in the Ministry, Wesley Clerveaux, told residents not to be alarmed at the vacancies, stressing that they had substitute teachers in place that they could call on to provide support in the meantime.

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