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Education csar lays out strategic plan

Jeremiah Newell (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all school system” is one of the lessons Jeremiah Newell learnt when turning around failing schools in the US.

The American-based educator hired by the Department of Education to develop a strategic plan for public education in Bermuda was speaking at an information session on Thursday evening at CedarBridge Academy, attended by education stakeholders.

A graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the CEO of Jeremiah Newell and Associates, Dr Newell specialises in transforming public education systems into high-performing, learning-focused organisations.

He has opened charter schools in the US — independent schools that are funded by governments but are given greater flexibility on the condition they are accountable for academic results promised in their charters.

Education commissioner Dr Freddie Evans introduced the evening as a means to establish “the vision for the strategic plan”. He said that Dr Newell would be “laying the framework for us so we can follow the process with integrity”.

Dr Newell first provided some background on the work he has been involved with in the States, which included improving a failing school system in Mobile, Alabama, and then described what work will be done to move Bermuda forward.

He opened his speech telling the audience how he received a “high-quality education purely by chance that is not accessible to many”.

“It felt wrong to me that the opportunity I had was not open to everyone.”

Dr Newell went on to become a teacher, a principal and then chief of staff for Rhode Island Department of Education.

He shared his experiences working to improve the public education system in Mobile, Alabama where students were not getting access to “high-flying, well-paid jobs” that were available in the district because they were not qualified. People were brought in from elsewhere to do the work.

Speaking on the process he said: “You can’t have a one-size-fits-all school system and we had to bring our entire community together to make it possible.”

He said he wanted to ensure that public schools were not the second option and went on to outline a robust, four-month process to develop and implement a solid plan.

The three stages leading up to the plan, as reported in this newspaper previously, will involve authentic community engagement through small-group, community-held conversations; a survey to gather island-wide community input on public education; and the establishment of an Ambassador Design Team: a diverse group of strategic planning writers.

The timeline is as follows: April — Develop a vision, mission and values; May — Draft priorities and key outcomes; June — Refine priorities, outcomes and begin strategies; July — Refine priorities, outcomes and strategies; August — Final adoption of the plan.

Dr Newell asked the question “what is public engagement?” which he described as “a committed and interrelated citizenry rather than a persuaded populace”.

He said “kitchen-table” type conversations were needed, made up of small groups discussing what type of community we want to live in.

He said all dialogue must be “transparent, engaging, empowering and respectful”. With the development of the ambassador design team, the teams will meet every two weeks for about two hours between now and August. In total there will be about 40 hours’ commitment.

The next step will entail the creation of multiple drafts and prototypes which will receive feedback before being revisited.

This will allow “real data and real results” which will lead to a “multiyear strategy that is developed by Bermudians, for Bermudians”.

There will also be research into best practices globally.

After that the prototypes would be released and feedback would be gathered on each draft until they get better over time.

There will be a community conversation next Tuesday at TN Tatem Middle School at 5.45pm and an advertisement will be published in the media the following Monday, calling for applications for those wanting to join the ambassador design teams.

Community conversations will be advertised in the media, via various partners including the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, and via social media.

The Board of Education invites the public to visit www.moed.bm to complete a strategic planning survey on public education in Bermuda.