Welcoming Lyneth Monteith to the 'head of her class'

 Let’s, as a country, place a congratulatory apple on the desk of Lyneth Monteith, who on March 1 will take up her new position as acting chief education officer of the Cayman Islands. Ms. Monteith is replacing Shirley Wahler, who has held the post for the past seven years.

Although Ms. Monteith’s name might not be in the top box of an organization chart of the government, we believe her position is among the most important in the country. It will be up to her to formulate and execute education policy going forward – an exercise that in large measure will determine the fate and future of the young people of these islands.

On paper, both educationally and experientially, Ms. Monteith is well-equipped to face her considerable challenges.

She holds a Bachelor of Education degree from Leeds University, a Master of Arts in Educational Management from Bath University and a National Educational Leadership Certification.

Most recently, she has been serving as principal of John Gray High School and, overall, has more than 26 years in top-level education assignments in the Cayman Islands.

Perhaps the biggest career question for Ms. Monteith is whether she can separate herself from being a well-established “insider” to being an independent-minded reformer.

Despite recent improvements in student test scores, Cayman will benefit only marginally if Ms. Monteith’s tenure is marked simply by a continuation of current practices, policies and standards. Local schools are a long way from turning out graduates ready for the intellectual demands of the local workplace – or prepared to pursue serious tertiary education.

Ms. Monteith’s focus, we would submit, must initially be on basic literacy, best mastered in the early primary years.

Unless young people aspire to only the lowest rungs on a career ladder, they are handicapped, close to crippled, if they emerge with their diplomas unable to read effortlessly, speak properly, and write intelligently.

These are not difficult skills to teach, or to learn, and it perplexes us to understand how any student can progress from first grade through graduation without acquiring them. We suspect the misguided practice called “social promotion” is at the heart of the problem. Social promotion, in effect, progresses students through the system, regardless of whether they have mastered the skills required at each grade level.

It is a concept that, ironically, “only an educated mind” could have conceived, and its effects have been devastating, both here in Cayman and elsewhere. Despite the howling that might ensue from parents (i.e., voters), we would encourage Ms. Monteith to kill it. Dead.

Although Ms. Monteith has spent her most recent years as a principal, we would encourage her to think like the teacher in the classroom she once was. Teachers, not administrators, not educational “theorists” and certainly not politicians, are the soul of any school system.

In Cayman, we need to recognize, revere, respect and reward our best teachers – and retire or fire our worst. We hope Ms. Monteith agrees.

Finally, we would encourage Ms. Monteith to include among her many responsibilities the development of a communications strategy. The community needs to know whether its schools are progressing, or regressing, and we can assure her that Pinnacle Media, which includes the Cayman Compass, will be most open to working with her as she embarks on her promising new path.

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