Shona Moss-Knowles Aquinas College principal
Now the jewel in the Catholic education system
They play classical music to signal the end of a period. The classical music is a part of our new bell and IT system. Everything is computerized on the campus. The campus is also completely wireless. All of the announcements are activated via the telephone into the classrooms. You can pick up the telephone, put in your code and make an announcement, so I have a wireless telephone, that allows me to be anywhere on the campus and make an announcement. The director at head office Claudette Rolle can make an announcement from head office. If I wanted to call head office without using the BTC digits, I can call an extension using our AP phone system. Totally wireless, totally computerized, so we program music into the bell system. At Advent, we would play Christmas music, at Easter time we would play Easter music, and the students move to the music which signals the beginning and the end of class. The five minute period in between, classical music is played. The music acts as a stimulus, and also introduces the students to the various genres of music, so it’s not always that loud sound. Also to sensitize them and calm them down a bit. Somebody said to me the other day that they believe the music is making the students like zombies, because they seem to just be moving in tune with the music. This is the latest system on the market and used extensively throughout the United States in various schools.
The new Aquinas College is in its second school operating year. What was the reaction of the kids at first?
At first, a lot of walking, because of course the campus is I would say four times as large as the one on Maidera Street. First and foremost it was like a lot of walking. They appreciated the open space, they appreciated the cleanliness and also the entire set up of the campus, but they complained about the walking and all the rules and regulations that would govern them on the campus. In Maderia Street, once the bell rang at 3 p.m., everyone headed out to Maderia Street, and now at the Gladstone Road campus, they’re not allowed to leave the campus at all. Those students who take public transportation, or who have to walk, they are identified. Their ID card has a red stripe and we call them walkers. Once they leave, they are not allowed to come back on to the campus. It’s not a swinging door. Once they leave, they cannot come back. They cannot hang out outside the gate. Parents are not allowed to drop students on the outside. Everything has to be done on the inside. And that was a major difference for a lot of students.
Students running out to the street was a major no no with me, but it was hard to control that, because parents would say stand out front, I’m not coming through that little alley, so they stood. This way they’re better protected, security is in place and you don’t have to worry, because they are within the confines of the campus. At Maderia Street, our maximum was 500 students. Our maximum here we plan not to take more than 650 eventually. We’re at 460 currently.
She saw an increase with people trying to get their children into the school once it moved to the new campus. We would really have been bursting at the seams, but in September, tuition increased and that sort of deterred some parents I guess. Tuition itself is$1,200 per term(every three months), special fees are$225 per term(computer lab, science lab fees)so basically every students is paying$1,425 per term. At the Madiera Street campus, the base tuition was$800 per term, plus the special fees.
Aquinas College is now the premier school
Moss-Knowles was principal at Maderia Street for three years, and vice-principal for 13 years.
Where do you see the campus going?
They now currently house students in grades seven through 12. Long term we see the campus growing in terms of student enrollment, also increasing our vo-tech and technical programs that we presently have on campus, because Aquinas is the only private high school were you have academic, vocational and technical subjects. On the technical front we have auto mechanics, electrical installation, cosmetology, tourism and hospitality and food and nutrtition. We’re looking to expand, especially in the area of allied health and also agricultural science. Eventually, we see the expansion of other vocational and technical subjects coming on stream.
Vocationally we offer cosmetology, tourism and hospitality.
All of them were offered on Maderia Street. We’ve just expanded them a little since we came here, but all of these programs were offered on Maderia Street.
We offer them because not all children are academically inclined, and also you want to give kids an authentic experience as to what to expect, especially those kids leaning more towards the technical field area. They get exposure to it in high school so that by the time they would have graduated, they have a good foundation on which to build. In addition, children who are enrolled in our technial programs, especially auto mechanics and electrical installation, those kids are exposed to physics, because those are important elements in those programs. Kids who are doing the food and nutrition and cosmetology are exposed to chemistry.
There are tentative plans to eventually start a primary school and an early learning center, but it won’t be on the present campus. It would happen on the other side of the campus across from Loyola Hall. The campus is approximately 20-plus acres. The sporting field itself is about 10 acres. We have the basketball court, soccer field, softball field and track and field area. The PE rooms will be constructed in that area. Their is a site designated for a pool to come, which will happen towards the western portion of the school and utilized by the primary school when it comes on stream and the reasoning for putting the school in that area.
The new campus is a breath of fresh air. Sometimes just walking through and hearing the birds chirping is a pleasure. Oh we know about the trailers backing into the gate and the whole nine yards. It is a massive difference. The little ones in grades seven and eight cannot appreciate. They don’t know from whenst we’ve come. This dream took 22 years to realize, at a cost of$13 million.
It’s similar to St. Augustine’s College-the way the classrooms are laid out with the bare-faced block, it’s similar in that style.
What did you say when you walked onto the completed campus for the first time?
I said thank you God, we are so gracious.
The pride is increasing. The kids are very proud, we’re working on getting them to show their proudness. To be proud of where they attend school and to know that they are getting more than their money’s worth.
We also have a fine arts building on campus, which I call the jewel of the campus really-the shape is totally different, but within that building, we have the art and music program and we pay a great deal of attention to the arts as well as music. The foyer of that building is named in honor of our former principal Mr. Vincent Ferguson it’s the Ferguson Art Gallery, and then we have a theater that seats 63 named in honor of Andrew Curry, the first lay principal of Aquinas. We use it for some of our performances. Just recently they had a private showing of their musical production”To Sir With Love”which was a tribute to Andrew Curry. His family members and special friends were invited to the private showing. We use it for small class-based recitals for parents.
Thirty kids per class is our maximum and we do have classes with less than 30. We also have a program that we call Prep 7 where we have students who do not need to re-do grade six, but aren’t really ready for grade seven, and we’re working on their foundation, and they will flow into seventh grade next year, and it’s basically siblings of students who are already in the school. They are here on the campus. They would have come in from sixth grade at another school and are in Prep 7. They just need extra time, so rather than saying repeat grade six, they prepare them really for grade seven. They havr 12 kids in Prep 7. They just started the program in September. It’s working out very well. They have siblings in the school and the parents are like what are they going to do with the child. They didn’t pass outright, but we thought we would put together a program where we would accommodate and help and they have become a part of the school community.
We’ve started our accelerated program of our eighth graders who will be sitting their BJCs-not all of them. We have one core group they will be sitting BJCs at the end of grade eight, begin their BGCSE program in grade nine, take BGCSEs at grade 10, being their pre-Advanced Placement at grade 11, then AP programs in grade 12. That is very important, because it helps our kids be very competitive, and also gives them an edge in terms of college admission. Those kids who are very gifted and need a little more challenge we find that they do well in those programs because a lot of those programs are very self-motivated and the student has to be an intrinsic learner. The student is really the facilitator. And so this year we started with our AP Math, next year we’re bringing on stream English and History. Currently in AP Math, they have 17 students. They would have been our 10th graders who passed the BGCSE Math with an A or B, and now in grade 11 are doing pre-AP and next year will be doing AP.
Our students also this year will sit the Scholastic Aptitude Tests in biology, literature, math and chemistry. We know what we’re doing here, we know what we’re about, we don’t want to brag about it. My motto has always been slow, steady, but consistent growth and I will say we’ve increased the bar, and every time we re-evaluate our curriculum and programs we move the bar up. This year also, our matriculation GPA is a 2.3, where you will find in the average school it’s a 2.0. And we’ve seen that progession over the years. I remember when the bar was a 1.5, then it was 1.8, then a 2.0, now it’s a 2.3, and also now that we’re exposing our students to AP, the SAT 2s our students have a well-rounded holistic type education. In addition, once they get into the real world, these are students that can function and can be contributing citizens. This year as well as a part of the Catholic school system, we’ve been mandated to ensure that we look at the profile of a Catholic school graduate as to exactly what a student coming out of a Diocesan Catholic School should look like at the end of the day. And we have mandated to follow the profile, and on the profile we have to ensure that our students are life-long learners, good citizens, so that is what our whole emphasis is on.
Have you seen other schools patterning themselves after you?
Their are three Catholic Diocesan High Schools-Aquinas College, Grand Bahama Catholic High and St. Francis de Sale in Marsh Harbour, Abaco. They are run by the Catholic Board of Education. There are automatic transfers between the schools.
Aquinas and Catholic High Schools have been using the cycle system for a number of years. We’re on what we call a six-day cycle system. The average school operates on a Monday through Friday basis. We operate on a day one through day six. For example, today is day four, but it’s a Monday, tomorrow which is Tuesday would be day five, Wednesday would be day six, Thursday would be day one-the days rotate. It’s not that you’re in school six days, it’s that you have a six-day week in school. You are able to afford your students more teaching time. The regular Monday through Friday, if you have seven periods in a day and a 35 hour week, whereas with us with a cycle six system we have seven periods in a day, times six, we have a 42 hour week, so when they take out their five hours each week for their lunch period, they are left with a 30-hour teaching period. We take out the six we’re left with 36, so we get more. If today we had activities, we could repeat this day. You never lose a school day, you can repeat the day. The cycle system has been used by the school for 16 years.
People did not respect what was happening on Maderia Street. I think the location had a lot to do with it, because I always made the statement that great things happened in the valley, and people just didn’t know or just didn’t want to take a chance at it. All of the programs that we brought here, we had on Maderia Street.
We had a number of families with history in Aquinas. Persons with five or six children coming through Aquinas, students at Aquinas who were second and third generation come through Aquinas. There is a lot of history in Aquinas. There are some families when you call the name, everyone has been to Aquinas and now we have students in the school whose parents I taught, so there’s a lot of history. Now that we’re here at a campus that is conducive to learning, a campus that is truly state-of-the-art in terms of infrastructure as well as technology, and our parents are really educated now and they know what it is they want, and what is needed in terms of a good education.
Aquinas College is a very disciplined school. It’s high on our list. There’s a no-nonsense approach. Students must know why they’re here, they must appreciate the sacrifices that their parents are making, and will continue to make in order to keep them here. Our mantra says we create an environment where excellence soars, we create an environment where teachers enjoy teaching, and students enjoy learning, we create an environment where no teacher nor student will be left behind, and so therefore professional development is important. We’re different because we make the difference with a real family-like atmosphere. We put the soul in eduacation. Its important to reach the child’s soul, to sensitize them to who they are and whose they are, and that’s why it’s important that we have our bi-monthly masses and word service, and we ensure that the Catholic identitiy is forever present on this campus. Granted, that the majority of our students may not be Catholic, but the Catholic identity is always present. That’s a part of the contract you sign. Our first statement is that you’ve registered your child for a Catholic school and there are daily masses and word services and your children must participate. We’re not about indoctrinating, but this is our faith, and we make no apologies. We really don’t have any problems with the students-the make the sign of the cross, they say the Hail Mary’s, we say the Angelis every afternoon, it’s our afternoon prayer. Every classroom you go into you will see the prayer, the creed, the Angelis-it’s everywhere.
Because the campus is new, we’re in the process of dedicating every building on campus and we have 14 buildings on campus. In October, the administration building was dedicated to the late Archbishop Lawrence Burke-and named the Lawrence Burke Adminstration Building. Fortunatley he was able to see his dream, because he was the one that planted the seed, and shortly after that he passed. The school’s library is named in honor of William Holowesko, the first chairman of the Catholic Board of Education. In the fine arts building there’s the Vince Ferguson gallery, and the Andrew Curry theater.
The main thoroughfare that runs down the entire length of the campus has been named Higgs Way in honor of Dwight Higgs, the project consultant who helped to ensure that Aquinas became a reality.
The Alumni Commons seperates the seniors from the juniors. To the right of the Commons is the senior school and to the left is the juniors. Eventually every building on the campus will be named. In January, they will dedicate an obelisk in honor of the Dominican Sisters who were the founders of Aquinas College in 1953.
I’ve been here 28 years, and I’ve seen the growth and development of Aquinas College. Other than the physical works, in terms of academics, in terms of achievements, in terms of staff development. Aquinas has come a long way. And I guess we are one of the schools to be reckoned with, not to say it in a boastful manner. We’re now on the cutting edge, we’re now looking at all the best practices, we’re now trying to ensure that our teachers have the kind of professional development needed to propel us to the next level. We’re presently looking at our teaching strategies and methodology to really cater to the student in the 21st century. The whole structure here is geared for that.
We have the Promethian boards installed in six of the classrooms already and that’s a venture that will continue as time goes on.
The attitude towards the old Aquinas College was that if you couldn’t get your child into any other school, you got them into Aquinas College. It’s not so today and people realize that. It’s not the school where if nothing else works let me try, because you will find that you may not be able to get in. There is criteria in place that we look at and scrutinize.
For a student entering they have to take entrance exam, and once we accept you based on the entrance exam. For seventh graders recommendations from past teachers are needed, copy of last report card, behavioral record so to speak, because some students do well in the classroom, but have behavioral problems. For students coming in for grades eight through 10, in addition to recommendations from the teacher or principal, we’re asking for a recommendation from your pastor, along with the report card, and then we make a decision. There’s an interview and then a decision is made. No students are expected for 11 and 12 grades, because the program begins at grade 10. This is so we know exactly what we’re getting.
IT Technology at Aquinas College
20 years ago Aquinas College had no internet. Today Aquinas College has become the pace setter in Information Technology in schools in the Bahamas .We boast the most advanced IT Infrastructure amongst schools in the Bahamas.
ACES can now also mean Advanced Computer Education System.
Over the years Aquinas College has pioneered a number of technological innovations.
Aquinas College is toted as the first school to:
• Implement an electronic Student Information System.
• Use Cable modem.
• Use VoIP(Voice over IP)We use VoIP in our PA/telephone system basically this means the use of the computer network for voice communication.
-I can be on my wireless phone on the premise and use it to make announcements and calls using the wireless/Phone/PA systems.
-Announcements can be made on any phone on the school campus
-The director can stay in her office on West Street and make announcements also. She can also make telephone calls.
-Phones are easily added to the system by merely plugging it into a data port.
• Use IP based clocks and speakers-computer based system
• Use IP Bell system computer based system
• Use IP based thermostats computerized thermostats-No need to manually adjust thermostat
• Use Intelligent switches we can track every user that access our network and know who visited what site and when.
• Implement the new wireless N technology This wireless technology allow wireless devices to access the network much faster than the old wireless technology.
• Employ a 10 gigabit network backbone this means our network is 10 times faster than most if not all other school in the Bahamas. This allows our phone, PA , Bell , Access Control, CATV and video systems to work without any network problem.
Eno and Promethean boards are being added to enhance teaching.
Aquinas College has the capability for a teacher to be in one classroom and be teaching in another classroom.(Using our state of the art network and projector).
The design of the fiber optic network at Aquinas College is the most versatile of all schools in the Bahamas. This was put to the test when”Mr. Rat visited and did some damage to a fiber optic cable”. We were able to restore network access to the affected building, without major interruptions.
• Implement Green Technology use of LED fixtures for lighting. LED uses less energy and does not create any harmful substance. LED uses can be found everywhere now:
-like the technology used for the 147 by 22 meters screen that was used in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
-In flashlights, outdoor lights, party lights, etc.
• Implement wireless access across the campus
• Implement campus wide Video Surveillance
• Implement Access Control System to campus and rooms
• Implement CATV/HDTV, satellite, internally generated video, and other video-on-demand(VOD ex .pay per view)services over our data network.
ACES will continue to embrace technology.