We usually associate standing ovations with rock stars, Broadway musical performers, and superstar athletes – not with newly minted education ministers. And yet, that is exactly the reception that the Hon. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly received when she addressed 700 schoolteachers and educators on Tuesday.
Had we been in the audience, we, too, would have been on our feet applauding.
The longtime Cayman Brac representative, who has formerly served as Premier and House Speaker, vowed to shake up a government school system that for far too long has failed far too many students.
Ms. O’Connor-Connolly vowed to be the champion for our education community, and her commitment and resolve is revealed in her statements:
“I have been there, done that, and I have nothing to lose. I can afford to be bold; I can afford to be courageous.
“I will say, as the Lord leads me, I will lean as He guides me, and we will take education to new heights.”
A former teacher, Ms. O’Connor-Connolly believes that increasing teacher salaries is one key to improving student performance. She promised to fight for a minimum $5,000 a month salary for teachers, which would represent a substantial raise for many of Cayman’s government teachers, the majority of whom are paid between $3,500 and $4,800 a month.
Compensation, of course, is an important ingredient in hiring, and retaining, highly qualified and effective teachers. But even more important, we believe, is respecting and supporting the teachers to whom we entrust our children and, by proxy, our future.
The education minister referred to test results that show only 53 percent of Cayman’s school-leavers passed standardized math tests, and 73 percent in English.
“When I sit at the end of four years, we won’t be contented that math and English is 50 percent and 73 percent,” she said. “The perfect score is 100 percent, and we will embark on that journey. No child in my tenure will be left behind.”
More significant than her comments on compensation was the minister’s pledge to open a direct line of communication between herself and educators, without the intervention or interference of bureaucratic administrators.
Again, Minister O’Connor-Connolly appears to have her priorities in the proper order: Teachers come first for the most obvious of reasons: Teachers teach; administrators, well, they do something else ….
We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the essential role that effective principals play in their schools. Indeed, many observers, including ourselves, believe that high-performing schools almost always have at their core a high-performing principal. Ms. O’Connor-Connolly, whom we know to be a devout woman, would agree with our sentiment: “God bless them!”
Perhaps the most widely published photograph of Ms. O’Connor-Connolly shows her, in dress and heels, in 2010 at the wheel of a massive asphalt paving machine on the Brac.
As she now looks to reform the education landscape, perhaps Ms. O’Connor-Connolly ought to consider bringing the paving machine with her. Now that we think about it, she might want to bring along a bulldozer as well ….