Principal Stephen Jackman marks himself an “average man”. But after an hour-long interview on his life, his service in education, the numerous challenges he faces and overcomes at school daily and his firm belief that “every child can learn”, it is very evident that he’s much more than average.
The teacher of 26 years’ experience, who now has charge of 800 students, 65 teachers and 22 support staff at Daryll Jordan Secondary, admits it was fate that led him to his path.
“A friend was teaching at St Leonard’s Boys’ at the time and got a better job offer. He was asked by the then principal if he knew anyone who could teach maths,” he recalled.
He admits that he started out not knowing where teaching would lead but he has no regrets about where it has taken him.
“I got bitten by the bug. I was unsure how it would all play out, but as time passed I got success. I went from St Leonard’s Boys’ to my alma mater Lodge School and now I’m here at Daryll Jordan.
The 49-year-old credits past Lodge School principal Desmond Browne and first principal of The Lester Vaughan, Ezra Barker, with playing major roles in preparing him for the journey.
“At one stage I was in charge of a house at school. Then I was a part of the timetable. I guess all this exposed me to aspects of management at school.”
In 1999, at age 33, he came to Daryll Jordan as a senior teacher. In 2006, he was appointed deputy principal and in 2010 was appointed acting principal. He has been principal of the school since September 2011.
After leaving the Lodge School with seven O levels, he now has a bachelor’s degree in economics and accounting, a diploma in education, a certificate in education administration and management, and a master’s in education administration.
Stephen said he has always been “in the right place the right time”, gradually working towards his life’s goal of constantly helping people.
“I love being at Daryll Jordan. People will tell you, you are doing a good job then ask if you don’t want to be somewhere else. This is where I am so as long as I am here I am going to give it my best,” he said, adding that he gets up every morning thinking about how he can make today better than yesterday.
“I came to a school that was going through a transition and it still is. We lost three teachers from one department . . . combined they had 135 years of teaching experience.”
The father of two children, Ashley, 18, and Azariah, 13, said teaching and having hundreds of students pass through his care while shaping their lives is very fulfilling.
“There is nothing more rewarding than the gratitude of a child. It’s an adrenaline rush. They can tell you what you did or didn’t do.
“There is this feeling of accomplishment that you have done something for someone. Many of them are grateful that someone took time to help.”
However, he readily admits that his time at Daryll Jordan is very different from his stint at The Lodge School.
“I spend most of my day dealing with the social needs of students . . . . Those problems are as present as the disciplinary issues.”
He cited specific issues and how he tries to tackle them from day to day.
“We have issues where students are late because they had to take a sibling to school or they have had to wait on a parent to provide finances to get to school.
“I have to liaise with social agencies. We have had to implement a breakfast programme . . . . We have a school meals programme to feed those who need lunch but cannot afford it.”
The social issues, he explained, are what often lead to deviant behaviour.
“I am hungry, I get edgy and I will fight. Someone looks at me too hard, I will fight. Someone pokes fun at where I live, I will fight. Someone tells me something I don’t like and I will fight.”
He also talked about the school’s remedial programme.
“We have entrants to the school who average 30 per cent and below at the Common Entrance.
“So, our remedial programme is tailored towards bridging that gap in the first year and filling in the holes. “We recognise they come with other things such as learning difficulties. They have social shortfalls.
“Our hope is to expand that remedial programme to a special needs one.
“We have been fortunate to have teachers who specialise in certain areas like teaching reluctant readers, et cetera.”
Stephen said the school’s motto, Every Talent To Greatest Use, is the basis on which all teachers approach their tasks.
“I am special. I am important. I can make a difference. I will change my world,” are the words the principal makes all students repeat at prayers on mornings.
He explains why.
“I want them to believe that their destiny is in their hands. They come with all the prejudices in a society that operates in a streaming system. I must get them to understand
it is not where you start; it’s where you end.”
Amidst all these challenges, the school’s third principal in 15 years said the most significant thing about the institution is that it has managed to be extremely successful in the CVQ (Caribbean Vocational Qualification) programme.
“We have realised that in the area of training we are reaping considerable success. Those technical areas such as home economics, woodwork, sports things that have a heavy practical component.”
He also highlighted the school’s music programme, especially the steel pan orchestra.
The group’s two crowning moments were playing at this year’s Crop Over Opening Gala and performing with top local steel band Mosaic at Pan Pun De Sand.
The pan orchestra and the school’s choir are semi-finalists in this year’s National Independence Festival of Creative Arts.
Teachers, he said, must always be willing to do a bit more.
“From the point of value added we have to add as much more to students here as we can. I tell teachers that when we take a student that came here performing below average at Common Entrance and they leave here with four or five CXCs (Caribbean Examination Council certificates), we have performed miracles. At the same time we cannot rest on our laurels.”
He is a strong believer in continuous learning.
“You stop learning, you die. If we are educators we are teaching people how is it that we aren’t exposed to certain things.
“We have to keep improving how we do what we do. What worked yesterday may not work today . . . so we have to keep changing, keep reinventing what we do.”
The man who grew up in Brittons Hill, St Michael, has served on the National Advisory Committee on Education – a subcommittee which makes recommendations for changes to the Education Act.
He is public relations officer of Barbados Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools (BAPPSS) and represents BAPPSS on The Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados.
Outside of education, he has a love of basketball that has led to him being an accredited international basketball referee with the International Association of Amateur Basketball Officials and chairman of the local basketball association’s disciplinary committee.
And because of his love of cricket, he has served as a physical education teacher.
He loves any book authored by James Patterson and his garden gets maximum attention on Sundays.
“I tell my staff not to call with any school matters on Sundays.”
Had he not been a teacher, being an accountant would have been his second choice, he said.
And in his number one career, he is very clear about the philosophy undergirding his present assignment.
“I believe every child can learn. I tell the staff our role here is to prepare scaffolding . . . Some will be ready in third form, some in fifth. Others will not be ready until after they leave school.
“Whenever they are ready, they must be able to look back and say my teachers gave me what was needed to make it.”