THE DISTINGUISHED — EDUCATION
Dr Renee Rattray’s ability to serve, support, and engage people through education is in her genes. Her family has been involved in various forms of community service all her life, so it came as no surprise that she would follow suit to become an educator.
She credits her childhood training at Vaz Preparatory for giving her an “understanding of the importance of being Jamaican and our heritage”. Reflecting on her time at Vaz, she proudly recalls, “And we love competition, excellence and winning.”
At Immaculate Conception High School (ICHS), she says she thrived and found her way into leadership. It was while at the Catholic institution in sixth form that she decided to become a teacher after previously thinking she would be good at law. ICHS is also where she met notable missionary Father Richard Ho Lung and sang with his group for 20-plus years.
A visit to the Mico University College, then Mico Teachers’ College, with a family member solidified her eagerness to teach. There she pursued a diploma in special education. At The University of the West Indies, she completed a degree in psychology while simultaneously working in the field as a teacher.
While finishing a Master’s in Educational Psychology from Colombia University in New York, Dr Rattray says she knew she wanted to return to Jamaica and started to look for jobs. She spotted an opening for vice-principal (VP) at St Andrew Prep, did the interview, got the job, and returned home, where she held the VP position for two years before later becoming principal for half a decade while she completed her doctorate.
She describes her time at St Andrew Prep with fondness but points out that while there, she started to get the itch to expand her horizons. Dr Rattray became trained as a Peace and Love in Schools (PALS) coach and as an inspector of schools with the National Education Inspectorate. She then headed to Jamaica National Group to serve as director of education programmes with chief responsibility for the JN Foundation’s education and people development initiatives, and later she became JN Group’s head of learning, development, and culture, where she designed, developed, and implemented leadership development programmes and initiatives, targeted at the supervisory and executive levels.
Her life of educating led her to start what she calls an “Education Revolution”, with the opening of her consultancy TEACHGood | LEADGood. “The vision behind it is to spread innovation in education, and to motivate and inspire teachers and school leaders to expect excellence and to know that they can make a change.” Having the opportunity to work with the European Union (EU), UNICEF, and other organisations, one of her latest projects is consulting with the EU in 25 schools in zones of special operations (ZOSO) communities to support them, and to improve and help with reintegration, attendance, behaviour, and leadership.
Pioneering in the field, shaking things up, all while trying to make a difference throughout her career, Dr Rattray has become a staunch advocate for edification. “I really believe that our children and the issue of education is important, and it is important to all of us,” she says while moving her hand in a 360-degree motion. Noting that she sometimes doesn’t feel like others see the urgency of being involved in education, she challenges citizens to step up to the plate by “volunteering more, mentoring more”, and even calling for the private sector to be more engaged. “We are reaping the consequences of not taking it [education] as seriously as we could, and the pandemic has shown that big time.”
She lights up when talking about what she does. “I don’t think there is anything else that I could do. Whenever I am not doing it, I feel like I am out of alignment.” She’s had moments of trying and doing other things. Rattray even had a stint as a flight attendant, and while it was a good experience, she is well aware that teaching is “What keeps my soul alive. I am grateful to have found the thing that gets me out of bed every morning.”
Dr Rattray’s biggest accomplishment is being a mom to nine-year-old twins Zari and Luca, who she calls “my teachers” and who she is always trying to do better and be better for. “I’m happy to be the vessel that was chosen to bring them here.”
Her hopes for education in Jamaica? “That we will create a space for all children to have equal access, opportunity, and the quality of learning that they deserve to become the fullest expressions of themselves.” With emphasis, she continues, “My hope is that every adult in this country sees the magic and genius in every child, and sees their potential and seeks to provide that support to ensure that they achieve the best.”
And for herself, she hopes that everyone that comes in contact with her never leaves the same. “I want that my time here is spent in a purposeful way and that people’s lives are changed as a result.”