BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR Mile Gully High School in rural Manchester, the days of being treated like a pariah in favour of more traditional high schools are long over.
The school — which is one of the six high schools selected to participate under the Centres of Excellence programme, managed by the Mutual Building Societies Foundation — is on the rise as a result of the initiative, according to Principal Lawrence Rowe.
"Mile Gully High School and McGrath (St Catherine) were the two first high schools on the project and the two that have benefited from the full five years. For us at Mile Gully, what it has done is improved our overall performance in terms of academics, behaviour, and the general culture of the school," Rowe told reporters and editors at the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue offices in St Andrew.
According to Rowe, Mile Gully, which was being bypassed at one point, is now seen as a viable option.
"It's surprising that I have students opting not to go to a Manchester High School and Bishop Gibson and seeking transfers to Mile Gully. There is a renewed interest and I think one of the things that has caused that is the Centres of Excellence programme. It has really helped us all the way up from middle managers to principals and vice principals to have this new belief that something good can actually come from these schools," Rowe said. He acknowledged that for the school, which was upgraded from secondary to comprehensive and then to a high school, to compete with traditional high schools that have years of history on their side "was almost a daunting process".
"But with the assistance from the Centres of Excellence we have realised it can be done and it is being done and we are reaching our targets. For example, when I started as the dean of discipline, we were having on average four fights per week and that has decreased to maybe four fights for the term; so these are some of the achievements," Rowe said.
Academic performance is also on the uptake, he said.
"We used to have say 130 students in the Grade 11 cohort and maybe 60 of them going up for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC); last year we had 132 and 127 of them were registered for CSEC. The others who did not register opted not to participate or they dropped out of school," Rowe outlined.
The school, which had some 400 students at the start of the project, now has 720 since this September.
"I think that the improvement in terms of the number of students there is as a result of the Centres of Excellence project. If I had the space it would be more than 720, but we have had to be turning back students," Rowe said.
Somewhat wistful that the programme is at an end, Rowe said its intervention has left Mile Gully on a path that augurs well for the future.
"I have benefited from workshops from the programme, one of the things we have learnt is to hold persons accountable, we have been emphasising the positives. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Centres of Excellence programme. In wrapping up we have asked them to stay on a couple more years and just hold our hands if it's even in the wings," he noted.
These are different days for the institution located in the rural farming community of Mile Gully.
"We set targets and we work towards our targets, that's something we have started doing. Before, we were just leaving a lot of things to chance, now we are setting targets, each department has targets presented at the first annual general staff meeting and reviewed at the end of each term," the principal said, adding that all hands are on deck.
"There is a renewed interest; we have seen this in the increased attendance to our Parent-Teachers Association meetings; parents are holding us accountable, students take part in my appraisal as a principal," Rowe said.
"At Mile Gully we see parental involvement as very important," he added.