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Diego Sec to get new block of classes

DIEGO Martin North Secondary, where parents recently held a protest over their children attending school on a rotational basis, is scheduled to have a new block of classrooms constructed before the new term in January, reported Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh.

He toured the school yesterday, together with a number of ministry officials, on the invitation of Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley and Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne, who were also in attendance.

Acting principal Joanne Shurland explained that a block of pre-fabricated classrooms that were installed had "outlived their useful life", and when the staff returned to school on August 28, they were not "habitable".

She said the staff took the decision to rotate the classes, with some forms attending two or three days a week, and only the form fives attending school every day.

Some parents complained that they were having problems supervising their children on the days they did not have school.

Shurland stressed the most important thing was to have the children in school every day as the rotational basis was causing challenges.

The pre-fabricated classrooms were demolished by the Education Facilities Company, and the plan was to have 14 new classrooms built.

One ministry official reported that the tender was scheduled to be awarded yesterday, and the contractor is scheduled to complete the work before the new school term in January 2013.

One parent said officials had been promising for three years to replace the classrooms and believes it took a protest to bring the Education Minister.

"We have to wait and see with this Government," she added.

During the tour, Shurland said they had been assigned 205 pupils following the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam while their complement should be 175, "exacerbating the issue of accommodation".

Gopeesingh asked if she believed there needed to be another secondary school constructed in the Diego Martin area, and she replied "definitely", noting they service people as far as Arima.

Rowley recalled that following an assessment back in 1994, it was determined that schools were needed in Tobago, Sangre Grande, Carapichaima and Diego Martin, but the latter was the only school of the four that was never constructed.

He noted the ministry had reached the stage of starting to initiate construction of that school, south of Victoria Gardens.

Rowley pointed out there is always a space shortage for Diego Martin schoolchildren who utilise Port of Spain and Diego Martin schools.

"I have a constituency where there is not a single Government secondary school," he said.

Rowley said when the school is built on the site in Westmoorings, a lot of the issues of overcrowding will be addressed. Gopeesingh noted the new school in Diego Martin could start this year and be completed in a two-year period.

Browne noted that with some pupils attending classes for just two days a week due to the rotational basis, there was a need for "sharp social intervention" and increase in social support before January.

Rowley said due to the catchment area, a lot of staff effort that should go into teaching have to go into managing social issues, and even an increase in counsellors on an ad hoc basis, possibly with retired teachers, was necessary.

"Because, let us not fool ourselves, some of the children who are coming here are not ready for secondary school, and they bring with them challenges from the primary school," he added.

Gopeesingh said there was an immediate need for guidance officers, school social workers and counsellors for the school.

—Julien Neaves

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