A brighter day for Mile Gully

Education minister says ground will be broken next year for new high school campus

By Garfield Myers
Editor at Large
South Central Bureau

Monday, May 22, 2017

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Mile Gully, Manchester — When acting principal of Mile Gully High School Claudette Shaw first came to work at that school in 2003 she heard of plans to build a new facility to replace aging, mostly wooden, run-down structures.

Down the years since then she has heard lots more talk but seen no action.

For that reason, Shaw, like many others in the Mile Gully High School fraternity, was only cautiously optimistic on hearing a pledge from Education Minister Ruel Reid last Wednesday that come next financial year, 2018/19, ground will be broken for a new school.

Reid also promised that within five years after that, the new facility costing about $900 million should be complete and ready to accommodate 1,200 students.

“We hear it and we say 'thank you', but at the same time we want to see it start,” Shaw told Jamaica Observer Central.

However, all agreed that the minister's pledge was a big step forward for the high school and the wider community of Mile Gully and northwestern Manchester.

“This is very good news for us right now,” said Mikael Phillips, member of Parliament for Manchester North Western.

Phillips sees the project as especially important since Mile Gully High, which currently accommodates 770 students — though it should only properly hold 720 — is the only high school in his constituency.

Inevitably, the situation is causing financial and other stress for many families since scores of students — some as young as 13 — must travel across Manchester, changing vehicles two-three times, in order to attend schools such as Winston Jones High and Cross Keys High in southern Manchester.

Reid told journalists following a quick tour and a meeting with school and community leadership that during the period of construction of the new Mile Gully High School campus, buildings at the existing facility — some as old as 80 years and more — will be upgraded.

Further, when the new school is completed on about 40 acres of land donated by bauxite/alumina company UC Rusal, the existing site — which by then will be upgraded — will become the Mile Gully Primary School, as it once was. The primary school is currently accommodated at Fern Hill, half a mile away, in a complex originally built as a skills training centre.

Locals explained to Jamaica Observer Central that the current high school plant was once the Mile Gully Primary and Junior High. It was upgraded to high school status in the early 90s with primary school students being relocated to the skills training facility at Fern Hill because there was nowhere else for them to go.

“One of the key commitments I am making today is that we will be committing to building a new plant for the Mile Gully High School. But we are going to improve the current facilities because in the medium term we are looking also to put back the primary school at this facility,” Reid told journalists.

The Minister of Education said he would await school leadership and the technical department of his ministry to “come up with details of exactly what improvements we are going to do in the medium term” at the existing high school facility.

Phillips told journalists he expected the current primary school to revert to being used as a technical skills training centre serving the high school as well as adults in Mile Gully and beyond, as soon as the primary school students — currently numbering just over 200 — are relocated. Phillips envisages a role for the State-run HEART Trust/NTA, which is a leader in supervising and certifying vocational training and education in Jamaica.

Shaw says the promised new high school campus should provide precious additional “space” and basic “resources” such as a playfield and science laboratories. Currently Mile Gully High has no playfield though it competes well in football and other sports.

“We need some more resources … we have one science lab to teach chemistry, physics, biology,” the acting principal lamented.

Despite the handicaps, Mile Gully High was doing well academically, Shaw said, with many of its students matriculating to Sixth Form programmes at other high schools in the parish such as Knox College, DeCarteret High, Manchester High and Belair High.

She expects that when the school is relocated to its new facility it will be in a position to develop its own Sixth Form programme.

“As a high school we have made our name, this is not inception anymore,” she said.

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