Dr Edmond Heatley
Dr Edmond Heatley

The biggest challenge in the education system is getting everyone working together, according to the new Commissioner of Education.

Since being appointed to the role in August, Dr Edmond Heatley has been busy visiting schools across the island and getting feedback from students, parents, teachers and administrators.

It is still early days, he says, regarding making any budget decisions but the US educator is confident of getting Bermuda’s beleaguered public schools system back on track.

“I’m a product of a public education system — I believe in it and support it,” he said. 

“But if you’re looking at ways of improving public education, it’s investment. Invest, invest, invest, and we will be okay.”

Regarding the Ministry of Education’s finances, he said: “We are still reviewing, visiting every school site and having public forums as part of  the consultation process.”

Dr Heatley, however, has a reputation as a tough cost-cutter, having shaved $198 million from the operational budget in his last school district (Clayton County, Georgia).

“I like to say, ‘We align the expenditures with the strategic plan and the academic pathway’,” he commented, on his reputation.

He describes his management style as: “I’m a collaborator with a sense of urgency. 

“I’m a collaborator, but decisive. I collaborate to get other people’s opinions but I won’t hesitate to make the decision and implement it.”

Has he been tasked with making cuts with his latest appointment?

“I haven’t been challenged at all,” he told the Bermuda Sun. 

“The challenge is to make sure I learn (about) the island, the community, my teammates and the students, and that we all know the outcomes we’re expected to achieve. 

“It’s to make sure I’m not an outsider but a teammate.”

Cuts?

Can he foresee any major cuts?

“I think that’s an easy way out for people,” he said.

“We need to be more effective and efficient, to ensure we have the optimum support to schools and classrooms.

“It’s too early to tell whether that will involve cuts.

“The biggest challenge is just making sure the island gets on the same page; that the public, the parents, the system, the students, have an education that we are all in sync with.

“I believe parents send us their most precious possessions and it’s our job to educate them to a certain level, whether they choose to go on to college or a university overseas, or into a certain field of employment… It’s our job to make them (the students) successful in anything they choose to do.

“So the challenge is going to be the communication, and making sure we’re all on the same page, moving in the same direction.”

On the state of Bermuda’s public school system, he is optimistic.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job, but we can always get better,” said Dr Heatley.

“That’s the goal, to make sure the product we put out is the best internationally.

“So every day we come together to make sure we do better than the day before.

Engaged

“We all need to be engaged in education. Parents, students, educators and society as a whole must embrace education.

“We need to get better, but it’s making sure we are involved, to take students to greater heights.

“And we want every child to be involved in something. The more involved, the more connected they are, whether that’s through sport or other interests.

“When it comes to parents, generally we are very involved at the primary level but as students get older, we can become less involved.

“But we need to be more involved, and Bermuda is no different to anywhere else.

“So our goal is to help parents help us, and to ensure all our children succeed.”

“We have to take a strong look in the mirror and make sure that our communications (as a Ministry) are clear and concise.

“We also need to make sure the professional development and accountability is there.

“We do have pockets of excellence (in the system) and our goal is to take these pockets and replicate them.

Excellent

“But I think the HR (human resources) department is doing an excellent job. They are focusing on bringing the best to the classrooms, period.

“That is our goal — hiring highly-qualified, highly-skilled teachers who are in tune with the students.

“Every conversation I’ve had about staffing and hiring, the process is clear. The one thing we want to do is include the community in the communication of the process. 

“Parents have a right to understand and to know. This will be communicated, with a reemphasis on our process around hiring.”

On teaching standards, he said this year’s graduation rate of 96 per cent of S4 students achieving a GPS of 2.0 or higher was “pretty high”.

“But obviously we want 100 per cent — our goal is 100 per cent of our students graduating on time,” said Dr Heatley.

“We are hovering pretty well, but we will get better.”

The new Commissioner is also researching how to improve the system for those with special education needs. 

Progressive

 “We’re in the research stage right now, but I think there’s a lot more going on in Bermuda than there was in the past, and staff are doing progressive work,” he said.

“We want to make sure it’s the right work and that it will give students the opportunity to move through the system.”