HUNDREDS of schoolteachers, counsellors, teaching students and community leaders from across the Bahamas had the opportunity to change their perspective on the educational destiny of Bahamian students last week at the Lyford Cay Foundation’s Speaker Series.
Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the groundbreaking KIPP (Knowledge is Power Programme) network of public charter schools in the United States, led a series of discussions with Ministry of Education officials and local educators about his extensive experience in preparing schoolchildren to succeed in college and in life, and to help build a better tomorrow for their communities.
Mr Feinberg shared his personal revelations about education on his near 20-year journey to create, with fellow teacher Dave Levin, a network of 125 tuition-free, open enrolment college preparatory public charter schools in underserved communities across the United States.
KIPP, which accepts students regardless of prior academic record, conduct or socioeconomic background, sees more than 80 per cent of its alumni go on to college.
Through explaining the mantra of KIPP-like schools, “Good teaching and more of it”, Mr Feinberg inspired the Bahamian teachers present to empower their students and challenge the conventions of public school education.
“I felt that all of the teachers and administrators and community leaders in the room were engaged,” said Mr Feinberg after one of his presentations. “We look at the outcomes of our children and know that the system can do better. But I think there is also hope and optimism and the belief that it doesn’t have to be this way, that we can keep faith knowing that tomorrow we can have a better system of education for our children.
“The reality of how our schools are doing today doesn’t have to define the ultimate reality,” he added. “Demographics do not determine destiny, and we as adults have to determine how to create better outcomes for our children and for the next generation.”
The uplifting messages at two morning sessions at The British Colonial Hilton and an afternoon session at the College of the Bahamas created an excited buzz among teachers, who felt empowered to take educational matters into their own hands after hearing Mr Feinberg speak.
Michaela Smith, who teaches at the School for the Deaf while also studying for her Master’s degree, couldn’t wait to hear firsthand from the educational pioneer.
“The most important thing I took away from this was about empowering my kids, teaching them not just to survive, but rather to thrive,” said Ms Smith. “I want my kids to have options, to go to college if they can and want. When Feinberg explained the character strengths and virtues they instil in their KIPP schools through teaching opportunities, that affected me. That’s something I want to bring into my classroom and instil into the students I have.”
This ripple effect of inspiration is exactly what the Lyford Cay Foundation had in mind when it launched its Speaker Series programme in 2011 to bring together and support individuals and groups devoted to learning about and sharing educational best practices.
Said foundation president Alessandra Holowesko: “Over our 40-plus year history we’ve garnered a great deal of expertise and access to great practitioners in the field of education, and the idea behind the series is to bring all of these great minds together in one place at one time to not only initiate a dialogue but to have a conversation about what everyone has learned, what experiences they’ve had, what has worked, and also not worked.
“This year we’ve been very fortunate to have Mike Feinberg headline the Series. He’s a very warm, approachable, humble man who’s also very curious. And, as interested as he was in coming here and sharing his success story with KIPP, he was also as interested in learning about the Bahamas and what he could do to be helpful and to serve.”
For his part, Mr Feinberg thanked the Foundation for facilitating his visit, which brought about a rich cross-cultural exchange that he hopes will set into motion some innovative solutions to further develop Bahamian public education.
“If you’re not getting people to sit around and think and push and challenge and dialogue, then we are expecting people to figure out solutions alone in isolation and that’s not a good way to do things,” said Mr Feinberg. “Every now and again a blind squirrel finds a nut — you come up with a great idea on your own — but more often than not, great ideas come when we get different people sitting around a table tackling the same issue together.”
“I think if the Speaker Series helps push and challenge our thinking and we expand the realm of what we think is possible, then ultimately all of the children in society will benefit from those kinds of dialogues,” he added.