TRAVELLERS heading into Linstead, St Catherine, get a clear idea that they are close to Dinthill Technical High School when the burgundy and gold-painted wooden posts, which separate a well-kept orange orchard from the thoroughfare, simply jump at them.
The school, well known for its lucrative farm, sits atop manicured lawns away from the hustle and bustle of vehicular traffic. It is a school known for its strict discipline and facta non verba (deeds not words).
At the helm is Lloyd Fearon, an alumnus, who returned a month ago to take up the mantle as principal from recently retired headmaster Dennis Clarke.
And while the school is known for its high level of discipline, excellence in academic work, sporting activities, and its farm, Fearon said that he had every intention of taking the famed institution even further.
"This year I have adopted a focus on enhancing that culture of excellence," Fearon said. "We are building it on four pillars — commitment to excellence in academics; commitment to excellence in extra-curricular activities; commitment to excellence in conduct and deportment; and commitment to excellence in spiritual development," he told the Jamaica Observer.
Fearon said that achieving these goals will require some changes to the present curriculum and other social development programmes in the school.
One of the changes will be the introduction of religious education from grade seven to grade 11. All that now exists is daily devotion.
"My vision is to have that culture of excellence going," he said. "It may be challenging, but I will find a way to get it in," he added.
Fearon said that so far, his staff has been very supportive. He said in their determination to halt breaches like the altering of school uniforms, 15 teachers would take it onto themselves to line the long walkway into the school daily, to ensure that students are properly attired.
Altering of trousers is not allowed, while girls should not wear their skirts above the knees.
But wayward boys regularly breach the dress code by wearing the correct trousers to school, but would later swap them for tighter-fitting pants they carry around in their schoolbags.
Girls, too, adjust their skirts on the compound by rolling them at the waist to ensure that they stop above the knee.
"I really intend to maintain the discipline," Fearon said. "So far, we have confiscated four 'pants' from the boys and these will not be returned," Fearon said, holding up the forbidden tight khaki trousers. "The teachers have done a good job of ensuring that this rule is followed. Where discipline is concerned, my methods may be different (from that of the former principal) but it aims to produce the same results."
Since taking up the post at the school, Fearon has implemented another rule, which does not sit well with a number of students.
"Regarding students caught altering their uniform, we see it as an act of disrespect to the uniforms, and so the boys will have to wear black shirt and black 'pants' and the girls wear a black dress for a week or so, or until we are satisfied that they appreciate the uniform, So, everyone will know what they have done. We are taking measures to ensure breaking of this rule doesn't happen," Fearon told the Observer.
Meantime, he said he was happy to be able to serve at his alma mater, having attended from 1978 to 1982, and to give it his best shot.
"I have accomplished a lot elsewhere and it has not been smooth sailing," he said. "But I think God has prepared me to take up the position here."
Fearon comes to Dinthill from the Clement Howell High School in the Turks & Caicos Islands, where he served as principal for seven years.
And, his tenure there has not gone unnoticed.
In her recommendation, Dr Beatrice Louise Fulford — former director of education and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education in the British dependency — said that during his time at Clement Howell, Fearon demonstrated strength of character, fearlessness in decision-making, and appreciation for teamwork.
"His ongoing emphasis on quality classroom instruction, coupled with his practice of using data to evaluate students' progress and teacher performance, exemplified his passion for education and educational progress and achievement. Mr Fearon's resourcefulness, his ability to enforce discipline and focused approach to managing the school went a far distance in improving the school's image," she wrote.
She said that Fearon quickly stabilised an institution that was experiencing notable challenges.
"The school was a difficult school. It was the worst in the island and I managed to get an excellent school," Fearon said.
He said that when he went to the institution in 2005, it had a 57 per cent pass rate — a figure which shot up to 90 per cent by the time he was ready to leave.
"It has now become the school of choice," he stated proudly.
"After seven years, I was looking for an opportunity to come home. I saw the position advertised for principal at Dinthill and I said 'wow, this is the opportunity I have been looking for'. I prayed and asked God that if I should be back, let it be here," he recalled.
Fearon was coerced into teaching, although he wanted to become a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. He spent the first two years of his career as a pre-trained mathematics teacher at the Tacius Golding Secondary School. He later completed a diploma in teaching at the Mico Teacher's College, now Mico University.
His journey took him to Happy Grove High, Mico Practising School, and then St George's College, serving head of his department at all three institutions. He spent 11 years at St Georges — promoted to vice principal after only 10 months there and then became principal nearly six years later
He left the island for Clement Howell High in 2005.
In-between his teaching jobs Fearon completed a bachelor's degree in education, two masters degrees from Boston College as well as a Certificate of Advanced Educational Specialisation. He is currently pursuing his doctorate.
He served on numerous committees in the Turks & Caicos and has received a number of awards, including the Outstanding Graduate Student award from Boston College in 2001, Distinguished Alumni award from University of Technology (2002), Outstanding Contribution to Education award from St George's College (2004), and the Outstanding Contribution and Dedication to Sports award from the Turks & Caicos Islands in 2010.
"One of my personal goals is to get Dinthill to be one of the most prominent teams in the area of sports," Fearon said, as he walked the expanse of the school's ground, stopping to chat with student and teachers.
"With God's help, this is my retirement job," he said.
"But I don't have the final say," added Fearon, who is married with two sons.