A small school with huge accomplishment  Louise McDonald High School, Bimini

TOP ACHIEVERS – Principal at The Louise McDonald High School Demetrius Wildgoose, shared that while the school is small in size, it is indeed a true gem as it relates to schools within The Bahamas and students are accomplishing great things academically. (PHOTO: JENNEVA RUSSELL)

Officially renamed The Louise McDonald High School on January 13, 2012 by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and then Minister of Education, Desmond Bannister – the school formerly known as Bimini All Age School, holds a rich history.

While on North Bimini for this daily’s series ‘Eye on Bimini,’ The Freeport News’ team – reporter Jaimie Smith and photographer Jenneva Russell –had the opportunity to interview the school’s principal, Demetrius Wildgoose, who shared that while the school is small in size, it is indeed a true gem as it relates to schools within The Bahamas.

“Louise MacDonald High School is the best kept secret in The Bahamas. I say that because for years, the school had a reputation for discipline problems, which had begun changing prior to my coming; but what a number of persons did not recognize was the academic achievements over the years. For example, with our art programme, for over 20-plus years we have received As consistently (in external examinations). An admirable recognition, but one of those successes, as a school, we need to take responsibility for not promoting,” stated Wildgoose.

Serving as principal of The Louise McDonald High School for the past two years, the educator also served at Sweeting’s Cay School and the East End Junior High School, among others, prior to his transfer to Bimini.

“In terms of what is currently happening, when I came in two years ago, Mr. Dominic Sweeting (Senior Master) and I realized that a lot of our challenges with academics was directly related to behaviour. We tried to tighten up on the behaviour and as a result in 2017 with our exam results, we had 28 percent passes; by 2018 it was at 49 percent. Within one year we would have gone from 28 percent to 49 percent on the Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC). With the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) examinations, during that same time, we went from 45 percent, in 2017, in passes to 68 percent passes in 2018.

“Of course, with the National High School Diploma (NHSD) one of the requirements is to have a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 and above. In 2017, 55 percent of the school was averaging a 2.0 GPA and above; by 2018 we were at 73 percent and so, almost three quarters of the school has been passing,” said the excited principal.

Wildgoose added that he is a huge supporter of the NHSD programme, as it affords students, regardless of school, a level playing field in terms of achieving the diploma.

“I like the National High School Diploma; it removed the personal preferences and personalities from the equation. A pass at Louise MacDonald should be the same pass at Jack Hayward, Preston Albury or C. R. Walker High. The NHD brought a level playing field; either you are meeting the requirements or you are not and that is the beauty. I am a big fan of it,” opined Wildgoose.

Wildgoose informed that this year they anticipate increased numbers, based on the Christmas examination results.

“With our tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade students we had 100 percent passes as far as 2.0 GPAs and above; that is, including students that went from a zero point GPA at the close of the summer, to a 1.0 GPA by Christmas and up to a 3.0 GPA.

“The potential is here, the talent is here,” he added. “Many times, it is on us as administrators, teachers and parents to remove those distractions, to allow students the ability to properly function. So sure, my pride and joy has been those academic results. In fact, with our plaque that we received from the Ministry of Education this year, we were named one of the most improved schools. In fact, we were the most improved in terms of our BJC results during the 2018 year, when compared to prior years. There is a lot to be thankful about and to celebrate,” revealed the principal.

In addition to their academic achievements, he shared that they have also embarked on implementing a number of civic groups for their students to enroll in, affording them the opportunity to become well rounded students, post their high school careers.

“Last year, for the first time, we introduced Local Government Junior Council. This year, we introduced for the first time our Rangers Programme, working with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF).”

The graduation ceremony for the Rangers Programme was held on Saturday, June 8.

“We have a Nature Trail on campus and, at our last count we were up to about 30 medicinal plants, that you would just walk by and not think anything of, and so now we have them properly labeled as to what it is and the health benefits.

“The academics have improved tremendously. Our biggest challenge right now is dealing with public relations which is why I am so grateful that you are here. Many persons within the community are not fully aware of what is happening at the school in terms of our students’ success and their achievements. Not just with their academics, 78 students, we went into Grand Bahama and came back with three medals for National Sports. There is a nice healthy balance here.

“The kids are getting excited about learning, realizing that we are in school but it is more than just going to school, they are now understanding why they are here.

“I think that we are making some success in that area, but our biggest challenge coming in was the discipline issues and I think we have a pretty good handle on that right now,” stated Wildgoose.

“As far as our teachers, I said to our Director when he visited last year, that even though the school is small and yes, we always have needs, I personally believe that everything that is needed for the success of school, we have in place, providing that we can get everyone to function to their maximum, which means keeping teachers highly motivated.

“The reality is, when you are serving on island it is easy to become discouraged and feel like returning to New Providence or Grand Bahama. And so, one of the things we have been able to convince our teachers to do, I am sure that you have heard about the minister’s programme of implementing technology into the schools. Rather than waiting for Education to come to us, at the beginning of the school year, during our Professional Development in October and again in February, so far, we have completed 30 hours of professional development in what we refer to as the ‘Hat Model’ for innovative instruction.

“The Hat Model focuses on how do we implement technology into the classroom, without relying on technology; whereas technology is not the teacher, we are just using it to enhance what we are doing.

“It is geared more towards encouraging students to be more responsible in terms of their own learning. That is one of the highlights and, I am happy to know that it seems as if by the new school year, the technology will be in place. The question that I kept getting from the teachers from the whole year was that they were doing all of this training, what are you doing it for? I told them, let us do the preparation and if the opportunity comes, then we will be prepared,” explained Wildgoose.

Presently the school student population is 78. We have two Administrators, Dominick Sweeting, Senior Master and myself; Guidance Counselor, Sasha Sawyer and10 teachers, two security and two janitresses.

“It is a small school but very productive. Once we can get everyone functioning in their areas effectively, we will not have much complaints coming from this school. Many times, the biggest challenge is keeping people motivated because it is so easy for persons to get discouraged; self-included. Sometimes you feel as if you are fighting a losing battle but, then when you see these results, you sit back and smile; it was worth it. We have teachers now who are excited.

In conclusion he shared that overall, during the past two years as Principal of the school he is indeed pleased with the schools’ performance, and is hopeful and optimistic that the positive trend will continue.

“I can look back at the end of the school year and smile, because the academic performances have improved, thanks to the entire staff; teachers, support staff and also the teachers willing to engage the extra, above and beyond. I have had teachers here from 8:00 a.m.... to 5:00 p.m. That is strange; you do not usually get government teachers sitting around from 8 to 5 for professional development, but it was exciting,

“There are a number of things happening at Louise McDonald High School; I am extremely grateful,” expressed Wildgoose.

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