WHEN a valedictorian promised, in her speech, that the entire fifth form class of Wolmer's Girls' High School would give their soon-to-retire principal Pamela Harrison their very best last year, it seemed almost a cliché to Harrison. She smiled approvingly but thought little of it.
Then a few weeks ago, she saw new data revealing that the school was rated third among the top high schools in the island, based on majority student performance in 16 Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) subjects last year.
The data ranks Immaculate Conception, Campion College and Wolmer's Girls as the first, second and third top schools in the island. Each school had between 90 and 100 per cent of its fifth formers passing most or all their subjects in the 2003 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams. Based on the study, Wolmer's Girls had 90 to 95 per cent of their students passing their subjects in their exams, a major improvement over the 70 to 75 per cent of the mid-1990s.
"I knew they (students) had done well, but when I saw the analysis I was thrilled," Harrison, who retired May 1 this year after 19 years at the school, told the Observer.
But it would have been too early for valedictorian Gayle Lewis to have known that the school would have risen to third place in the island.
Yet that was just one of many achievements this year.
Just months before the April study was published, Wolmer's lower sixth form student Kacey-Ann Modecai was awarded second place by the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, out of 58,403 CXC candidates in the island. She passed nine subjects with distinctions in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations (CSEC). First place trophy went to Danielle Campbell from Immaculate Conception High School. But Kacey-Ann also received two additional awards, one for being the top student islandwide in last year's IT (General) and Science exams and the other for being the second best student in the Humanities. Besides this, the school has excelled over the years in several competitions.
Harrison gives credit to God and a 'fantastic' team of staff who worked hard to meet the goals of the three-year development plans she writes, ever since she attended a 1996 workshop from a Japanese/HEART-sponsored Technical High School Development project which taught her all she needed to know about development planning.
The CXC's annual reports were also used every year to remedy those areas of weakness shown by students in the subjects across the region, and her staff diligently utilised every opportunity to up the performance of the girls.
"I wanted the school to be the best in the Caribbean, and possibly the world, and the staff wanted that," Harrison said.
Stakeholders, including the school's board, past students and parents bought into the vision and as a result, she said, "the school moved from strength to strength".
There were also special incentives and honour roll recognition given to students who had done well as staff tried to celebrate every single achievement.
"We kept telling them, 'you are the ones who would change the school' and put them on top, Harrison explained.
Last year's CXC girls were a particularly challenging group.
They were "the last year Common Entrance set" and the youngest fifth form class the school ever had. They took a while longer than others to settle down to work, she said.
"We really had to straighten them out. Sometimes they felt I was a bit hard, but they worked," she said. "I'm surprised that they kept their promise to give me their best."