Santucci defends public schools system
A former board chairman at two public schools has defended Bermuda’s education system after economists claimed it had failed children for decades.
Leonard Santucci said he feared that Peter Everson and Robert Stewart did not carry out an “objective assessment” of the system because it failed to take account of major differences between public and private schools.
He added: “I’m not of the opinion that you can criticise the public education system without an accurate critique; there’s no reference to private education.”
Dr Santucci, a pastor, a former chairman of the board at CedarBridge Academy and at Dellwood Middle School, explained: “The major difference between public and private education is that the public school system is obligated to take in any and all special needs children, irrespective of their level of academic attainment or ability.
“Sometimes the performance numbers become skewed when they’re doing assessments because you have students who cannot take the assessment and it will negate the overall standing of the class or year group or school, but that doesn’t apply to the same extent in the private schools.”
Dr Santucci was speaking after Mr Everson told The Royal Gazette last week that successive governments had failed to provide “good and robust” education in the public sector “together with encouraging the appropriate skills training and retraining for adults”.
Mr Everson said: “We have more than enough well-paid jobs, but the reality is that many able-bodied Bermudians have been failed by the public education system.”
Mr Stewart, a former teacher, claimed that the government educational system had been “a disgrace” for about 30 years.
Dr Santucci said that the economists’ conclusions “smacked of elitism”.
He added: “They’re not referencing private school education, so they’re looking from an ivory tower and it appears as if they’re favouring persons who would be the beneficiaries of private school education.
“Private school education means that families will be required to have a financial outlay of $15,000 to $25,000 per student, per year.”
Dr Santucci said that many in Bermuda suffered from a lack of opportunity in the international business arena.
He added: “The other thing that concerns me is there are people who are not employed in the international business sector, and other sectors as well, because of what I call exclusionary hiring practices.
“Many jobs are already gone before they’re advertised, people can identify people, and it’s a challenge for the Government from the perspective that it’s difficult for the Government to regulate some of these employment practices because the employers know that they have economic muscle.
“My concern is, as good economists, they should be acknowledging some of these very points that I’m highlighting.”
Dr Santucci said: “I’ve studied education in Bermuda for the last 40 years. The product is good.
“It can still be improved but it should not be presented as if private school education is acceptable and public school is not, as if private school education is flourishing and public school is not.
“I’m a product of the public school system and we have a number of Bermudians who go on to great heights.”
But Mr Everson said on Monday that his comments referred to all jobs, not only “top jobs”.
He said: “There are more than enough jobs already paying above a living wage for all Bermudians in the workforce.
“We all recognise that some children face substantial challenges.
“What we have failed to do as a community is to help the children overcome those challenges. This has nothing to do with public versus private schools.
“It is about taxpayers not getting value for their very large investment in public education.
“Employers in Bermuda actively seek out Bermudians to employ. Sadly, too many who have graduated from the public school system lack basic proficiencies in maths and English.”
Mr Stewart claimed: “To say that a reason for the failure of public schools is that public schools are obligated to take any and all students while that is not the case with private schools is to imply that such students do not perform well because they are poor.
“This is patently absurd as academic aptitude is not inherited from a big bank account.
“In addition, many public schoolchildren perform as well as those from the private system.
“What I think occurs is that teachers and administrators are not held to the same exacting standards as that which exist in the private system.
“The private schools are wholly dependent on providing a good education otherwise parents will decline to send them there. They either do a good job or parents will tell them to get lost.”
Mr Stewart said: “In the public system there is little incentive for both administrators and teachers to meet the wishes of parents, although many do.
“Their concern is the wishes of the Ministry of Education and of the Bermuda Union of Teachers.”
He added that private schools operated like businesses and if parents were dissatisfied they took their custom elsewhere.
Mr Stewart said: “With public schools, if the parents are not satisfied with the quality of education, they are basically told by the Ministry of Education to lump it or leave it.”
A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said earlier that the Department of Education would continue to “implement strategic priorities and areas of action” identified in Plan 2022, “the blueprint for what the Bermudian public wants from our education system”.
She added: “Everything the ministry and department is currently doing is tied to Plan 2022, and we will follow this blueprint as we transform education to improve teaching outcomes and provide our children with the best education experience.”
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