In the three years since David Marshall took the reins as president of the International College of the Cayman Islands, we’ve only had to publish one disappointing headline about his tenure. This appeared on the front page of yesterday’s newspaper: “ICCI President stepping down after three years.”
Mr. Marshall, who will officially leave his post on Aug. 1, said he’s pleased with what he’s been able to accomplish in his time at ICCI, and, quite frankly, so are we.
He described his experience at ICCI in Sisyphean terms: “It feels like pushing a rock up a hill and you reach the top, but there are still three or four more peaks to go.”
We do not doubt that what Mr. Marshall says is true. Since he arrived in spring 2014, Mr. Marshall has been one of Cayman’s singular champions for increased accountability, not just at his institution, but throughout the country’s education system. It’s a difficult enough task to raise and sustain standards in education, but when you are holding them up by yourself, (to refer again to Greek mythology) the labor becomes Atlantean.
Unlike Atlas, Mr. Marshall has not been entirely without support. He has had consistent backing from the ICCI board, its chairman Mike Mannisto, and from the Compass. From the moment he uttered his first public statements upon his arrival in Cayman, we recognized Mr. Marshall as an ally in the battle to improve education in Cayman.
In April 2014, we wrote, “Mr. Marshall commits what many of today’s educators will consider heresy, if not blasphemy, namely that he intends to elevate the academic standards of ICCI to the degree that the qualification the school bestows upon its students at graduation actually means something. He makes clear there will be no ‘affirmative action’ or ‘social promotion’ going forward at ICCI – either in terms of getting into the school or, more importantly, getting out.”
In July 2014, after Mr. Marshall implemented rules on mandatory tutoring for failing students and mandatory attendance for all students, we wrote, “Now we are pleased to lend our support not just to Mr. Marshall’s pronouncements, but to his actions.
“Just as the wind traverses the ocean to give Seven Mile Beach patrons a breath of fresh air, oftentimes it takes the perspective of someone from overseas to revitalize our insular institutions.
“When future ICCI graduates arrive for job interviews, employers will be inclined to look upon them favorably – because their degrees will actually carry with them the presumption of academic achievement.”
That prediction has since proved accurate. Nearly all of the students graduating from ICCI in the past two years have left their commencement ceremonies not just with diplomas, but with real educations (and, most significantly, with employment).
Jumping ahead to November 2016, a letter from Mr. Marshall to local education leaders was made public, containing his characteristic straight talk and truth-telling. In his letter, he expressed concerns about differing grading standards between ICCI (higher) and the government’s University College of the Cayman Islands (lower), and about the lack of preparedness among students entering ICCI.
He said in the letter, “We believe that an employer should have a real and accurate record of a student’s true academic performance.” We wrote, “At this juncture, let us note that we are not supporting Person A over Person B, ICCI President David Marshall over UCCI President Roy Bodden, or ICCI over UCCI. What we do support is education, higher education and higher standards.
“If the words and actions of Dr. Marshall, Dr. Bodden or anyone else align with that vision, then we support them in their mission as well.”
That remains the case. Although we, and the entire country, will feel keenly Dr. Marshall’s absence from the continuing crusade to improve Cayman’s education system, it remains a cause most worthy of fighting for.
In the long run, education can be considered as the only issue that really matters because it sets the floor, and shatters the ceiling, for what we can accomplish as individuals and as a society.