WESTERN BUREAU - The history of the Maggotty High School in St Elizabeth has been one of challenges. Yet, amidst those obstacles, the 33-year-old institution has managed to emerge with a ranking of second among the top 10 upgraded high schools in the island, based on CXC performance.
It is an achievement of which they are proud, but one with which they are in no way content. For one thing, not all students get an opportunity to sit the CXC examinations.
"We feel proud of the ranking. My feeling is (also) that with the necessary resources, we can do better than that. Over the years we have only a percentage of the students doing well. What I would like to see is that we get the necessary resources to have everybody sitting the CXC," acting principal Rawle Benet told the Sunday Observer.
"It is not a matter of being in the top five. It is a matter of being able to help the students so that later they can hit the world of work or get into a higher institution. When they leave here they should be able to contribute to the development of others," added Benet, who, at 46, is a relatively young acting principal.
The school - with its complement of 86 staff members and just over 2,000 students - is run on a shift system and is in need of infrastructure expansion to comfortably accommodate its population.
"We are short on rooms. We do not have fixed rooms. Students can't say "this is my room", the acting principal explained.
This, he said, had proven problematic and not a little inconvenient since students had to trek across the campus to attend classes. Added to that, he said the institution had been unable to offer Physics since, among other things, it does not have a Physics laboratory. Indeed, all the institution has is a general laboratory where all scientific pursuits are undertaken and which is in need of equipment.
"We have one or two equipment in there (the lab) and the rooms we are doing the subjects in are not suitable," he said.
But more than a lack of room space, they are faced with a shortage of equipment that has left them unable to meet the growing demand of students to pursue studies in, for example, Information Technology.
There is also the challenge posed by the calibre of students the school receives each year - many of whom are barely literate, making the need for a reading room facility at Maggotty High an urgent necessity .
"Some of the students we get at grade seven have reading problems. We need a reading lab so sometimes we could identify that problem," said Benet, who is himself a past student of the institution. "You will find one or two students who are performing above average. (But) we are getting the average and below average students... I am concerned," he added.
But challenges aside, the institution has managed to achieve growth and development over the years, breathing life into its motto, "Striving for excellence through hard work and discipline".
Magotty opened as a junior high school in 1971, with M C Thompson as the principal. In 1974, it was upgraded to a new secondary school and at the time managed to snag a number of trophies in athletics. Later, in 1988, the school was further upgraded to a high school. Since then, the institution has made academic progress to the point where it is now ranked - according to A-Quest's 2004 study on high schools in the island - second place among the top 10 upgraded high schools.
Benet credits, at least in part, the foundation set by former principals and the hard-working members of staff and students for that success.
"I would put it to the high standard set by former principals, especially M C Thompson, whose thought all the time was education and training... With that, the foundation was laid," said the teacher of 24 years.
He added: "We (the teaching staff) attended seminars, workshops and with that the teachers were really motivated to work hard. Some have gone extra time, over time to help the students to do well."
At the end of the day, they had a 100 per cent pass in IT, a 92 per cent pass in Metal Work and Principles of Business and a 76 per cent pass in Principles of Accounts. Mathematics and English Language, however, proved a disappointment, with passes of 26 per cent and 16.9 per cent respectively.
Meanwhile, in addition to the work of staff members, the acting principal indicated that the school's practice of screening also contributed to their current A-Quest ranking, something which, ironically, Minott frowns on, saying it makes the school look good but masks serious problems in performance levels.
"The hard work starts at grade seven," Benet told the Sunday Observer. There is a mixed ability group at grade seven. We start screening them at grade eight. At grade nine, further grouping is done. What we tend to do, especially with the GSAT students, is group them according to performance."
Screening, he added, very often served to motivate students to work hard, even as it provided guidance as to the subjects they should pursue at the CXC level.
"Students are placed according to their strengths. And, we have some students who come and you guide them. They take instructions and by grade nine you find that they know what they want and settle down," he said.
One-on-one meetings between parents and teachers, Benet said, complement the screening.
"We have to spend a lot of time with them, call in parents. The guidance teacher also sits with them," he said, adding that the objective was to change students who are below average into students who are doing well.
At the same time, he said, a concerted effort was also made to blend academic pursuits with a range of club and sporting activities to allow for more rounded students.
But here again, there are challenges, since club activities are limited to science, the Inter-School Christian Fellowship, the Girl's Guide and the 4-H. Furthermore, Benet indicated that they did not have full-size playing fields.
At any rate, he said, the institution was prepared to make do until they could change the situation. That change, he added, could come as early as the next school term when they expected to have more active past students' and parent teachers associations that would help in fund-raising activities to allow for the upgrade of, among other things, their playing field. In addition, he said, there were also efforts to revive certain other clubs like the Drama Club.