- It is not a traditional high school, but that has not been a deterrent for students attending Old Harbour High, who consistently perform well academically, and excel in sports, the performing arts and other extra-curricular activities.
- Currently ranked among the 60 best performing high schools in Jamaica, the St. Catherine-based institution is steadfast in its mission to strive for greatness as stated in its motto: ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’.
- With a passionate, driven and innovative educator at its helm, it is no surprise that this upgraded school continues to outperform some of the country’s more established institutions.
It is not a traditional high school, but that has not been a deterrent for students attending Old Harbour High, who consistently perform well academically, and excel in sports, the performing arts and other extra-curricular activities.
Currently ranked among the 60 best performing high schools in Jamaica, the St. Catherine-based institution is steadfast in its mission to strive for greatness as stated in its motto: ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’.
With a passionate, driven and innovative educator at its helm, it is no surprise that this upgraded school continues to outperform some of the country’s more established institutions.
Lynton Weir, who has been Principal for the past six years, shares that his vision is to ensure that the school is a “cut above the rest”.
“Over the years, we have been doing extremely well in academics. Our students have been performing well. Our past students have been taking high positions in society,” he tells JIS News.
To ensure that the school continues to shine, Mr. Weir has ingeniously devised ways to keep students as well as teachers motivated and, most importantly, he has earned the support of parents in his endeavours.
One major strategy the principal employs to keep motivation high is allowing students to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) or Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) subject of their choice, noting that there is no screening process.
“I do not operate the school, where only students in our minds, which we think can pass, are allowed to sit exams; we sign everybody. The objective is to give every student an opportunity. When we sign every student, my job becomes easier. I walk the corridors less, because students have a purpose to be in class,” he tells JIS News.
He notes for example, that in 2014, a total of 420 students were signed up to sit mathematics, and while only 182 students passed, the objective was to give them an opportunity.
With a strong belief that “failure can lead to success,” Mr. Weir says the students, who failed the exam, would have gained knowledge and experience, which would give them an advantage when they next take the test.
The Principal also sweetens the labour for teachers, by giving them monetary rewards whenever a student receives high marks in CSEC and CAPE.
“Every teacher that produces a range one in CSEC, I give them $1,000 and every teacher that produces a range one in CAPE, I give them $1,500…we give it to the teachers as an incentive. Why? because we want to improve on the quality passes. While range three is a pass, you always must try to improve on the quality of passes,” Mr. Weir says.
To make this arrangement work, the Principal has solicited the help of parents through the Parent Teachers’ Association (PTA). “So I have said to our parents in our PTA that I need for you to be part of this contribution because I can’t take Ministry funds to do this, so the parents assist me in doing it,” he informs.
Arguing that “teachers love success,” Mr. Weir points out that it is not difficult to keep their performance level high. “Once a teacher finds a student, that teacher is going to work with the student and the student doesn’t want their percentage to drop either,” he notes.
Proof that these and other strategies are working is in the exam results. Two Old Harbour High School students were among the top CSEC and CAPE performers, who were honoured at the Jamaica Association of Principals and Secondary Schools (JAPSS) National CXC Awards ceremony in November last year. They were the number 8th and 10th students in the island for electrical installation.
“(In 2014), there is a young man in grade nine, who passed four subjects at CSEC…range one in maths, range one in electrical installation, range two in chemistry, and range two in physics. (Last) year too, 15 of our grade 10 students got range one in mathematics,” the Principal boasts.
Mr. Weir notes that students are encouraged to sit math and English language in grade 10, and then start the CAPE curriculum in grade 11.
“We try to push them and challenge them. What we recognise from pushing them and challenging them is that they produce and put out better quality work. It’s always about pushing our students, so that we can get the best out of them,” he says.
Mr. Weir informs that the school pays the auxiliary fees for members of the various sports teams, whenever they perform well.
“Once our students perform, we will reward them. In doing these little things, students have a purpose to work because they are motivated…It looks costly but at the same time, you have to reward the students to get results. Some students are motivated extrinsically and you know that you have to provide the incentive for them,” he points out.
Also contributing to the ongoing success of the school, the Principal opines, is the fact that there are several past students on staff, who have a vested interest in ensuring the success of the institution, which they attended. Mr. Weir is himself is a past student, so too his secretary, as well as the bursar.
“Currently on staff, we have 36 teachers, who are past students of the Old Harbour High School. That, by itself, is significant, because any institution you have, having its past students coming back, is an institution that is poised for greatness, because these past students…protect and support the institution,” he argues.
Mr. Weir is proud of the fact that the 46-year-old institution boasts a certified 6th form programme, the first for an upgraded high school.
“There are other upgraded schools in Jamaica that have sixth form programmes but they are not certified by the Ministry of Education. Old Harbour is the only non-traditional high school that has a certified 6th form programme,” he says.
The hard-working principal has also put in place strategies to make the school the number one choice for potential students, and stave off competition from more established schools in the parish.
Mr. Weir informs that every year, scholarships valued at $10,000 each are provided to students from 12 primary schools in the surrounding area, with the highest Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) passes for Old Harbour High.
He says he also invites these cluster of institutions, dubbed the Old Harbour Group of Schools, to utilise the resources at Old Harbour High, such as its science lab. The students are taught by the high school’s science teacher.
To maintain the high standard of performance the school currently enjoys, Mr. Weir says plans are being put in place to strengthen various programmes and improve infrastructure.
“When you walk through the gate of Old Harbour High School, you must get a tertiary feel. It must feel like a tertiary institution, we are almost there. Just recently, we put in our state-of-the-art lecture theatre and we plan to sharpen up on the different programmes that we have here,” he says, noting that there are also plans to establish a “proper” sixth form building.
Mr. Weir notes that there are other infrastructural developments that are to be pursued, but this will take time, as the school is working to undertake these projects using its own funds.
The Principal, who has been serving the school for the past 19 years, including as Vice Principal and regular teacher, says that ultimately, the aim is to improve on the quality passes of students, while enhancing the professionalism of staff.
“We want to improve our practice so that our students can get better results, better quality passes. We also we want our students, at the end of the day, to go out into society and society will embrace them as individuals, who…are going to be serious change agents of our country,” he says.
Sitting on 19 acres of land, the Old Harbour High School, which is on a shift system, was instituted in 1969. It started as new secondary (junior high) school, and was later changed to a secondary school in 1977, before it was upgraded to a high school in 1988.
Old Harbour High has a student population of approximately 2,500, with a staff complement of 133, including three Vice-Principals, three guidance counsellors, and a dean of discipline. There are 22 ancillary staff members and 11 administrative staff.