Harry Hanson recalls journey from head boy to principal at Cambridge HighThursday, September 16, 2021
MONTEGO BAY, St James
When Harry Hanson became the head boy of the Cambridge High School in the year 2000, he did not dream that 21 years later he would be serving his alma mater as principal.
Hanson, a past student of both Cambridge Infant and Cambridge Primary school, started his journey at the rural St James secondary school in 1996. He credited his introduction to leadership to his past principal, Harvey McFarlane.
“I started Cambridge [High School] in 1996 as a student, and I was able to grow under the influence of Harvey McFarlane, who was the principal then. The exchange was really meaningful, and the opportunities provided for leadership were also [tremendous],” Hanson told the Jamaica Observer West.
Hanson grew up in the community of Retrieve in deep-rural St James, with his parents and seven siblings. Though they were not a rich family, he said, his parents always ensured that he and his siblings had whatever they needed. He was encouraged to participate in church, and with his parents' strong values, he was guided along the right path.
“I grew up in a stable nuclear family. My mother was a seamstress and my father a taxi operator. I am the sixth of eight [children]. My father and mother were careful to distinguish needs from wants. While we did not get all we wanted, we got what was needed,” Hanson stressed.
“An important part of my formative years was church. I served the Retrieve Seventh-Day Church in almost every capacity and became a member of the church board at 16 years old as [the] children's ministry coordinator,” he added.
When he left high school, Hanson spent the first two years working at the Cambridge Primary School's front office before going to teachers' college.
After graduating college in 2006 at the age of 22, he said, fate would have it that he ended up right back where it all started, at the Cambridge High School, as a history and social studies teacher.
“Having left high school, I worked at the Cambridge Primary School as a clerical assistant for two years, [then] I went on to college, the [then] Mico Teachers' College. I came back to Cambridge to work as a classroom teacher and again Mr McFarlane was the principal,” recounted Hanson.
“My intention at first wasn't to come back to Cambridge High School and the reason is that I wanted to go into one of the new schools where I could shine and show what I can do, so that was my intention. But fate would have it that the first school to call me was Cambridge High and I was offered an eight-month position. After I submitted my papers, I was called by other schools but because I had already given the commitment to my former school, I decided to stay for the eight months,” he told Observer West.
Hanson wanted to shine.
He told the Observer West that his burning desire to excel in his new profession caused him to question working with his past principal and teachers, because how would he have shined among the people who taught him almost everything he knew?
“What I was feeling at that time was trepidation because you know, going to work with your past principal and teachers, you don't know what to expect. They know your strengths and weaknesses, these people reprimanded you while you were going to school, how would you shine among them when they were the ones who were so instrumental in your growth?” Hanson questioned.
The welcome he received when he first went back to Cambridge High School was overwhelming, Hanson said. His fears slowly vanished as he realised that all the teachers who were instrumental in his growth were elated to have him as their new colleague.
The celebrations were led by a teacher who he remembered as being strict on him during his high school years, he said.
“I remember when I went back, one of my teachers, Pauline Brown…as a student she was really hard on me and when I went back to teach at Cambridge High, she welcomed me and she said to me, 'When I saw your potential and I saw that you weren't putting out your all, I had to become stern on you' and I just looked at that to say what I was seeing as her being hard, when I went back the happiness that she had in seeing me, the way she helped me to set up, it was just remarkable,” said Hanson.
Working with his past teachers, he told Observer West, allowed him to grow in his professional career as they took him under their wings yet again.
“And all my past teachers were just instrumental in allowing me to grow; they gave me tasks, they gave me advice, and whenever I might have looked like I was not matching up to my potential, they reminded me of my true purpose. I am humbled and grateful for having their guidance even to start my professional career,” he stated.
In his first year at the institution, Hanson said he was made housemaster for one of the school's sports teams because of his leadership qualities, though he had no experience in sports.
“From the get-go, I was asked to become housemaster. The story of being a housemaster is kind of funny; I went to my first house meeting, and I saw that it was devotion time but there were no movements to start the devotion so as a new teacher, I just started the devotion and after doing that for two weeks, I was informed that I was the new housemaster. That was in my first year of teaching,” Hanson recalled.
“And I must say that being a housemaster was not a matter of being a sports-oriented person but just wanting to see things get going. I couldn't play football, I could kick the ball and run it down but nothing more than that and I wasn't the fastest thing on the track but during this period, I learned more about sports so I could get my house to win sports day,” he added with a chuckle.
His initial fear of not being able to shine at the Cambridge High School proved to be wrong as this was the first of his many leadership positions while being a teacher there.
Hanson went on to serve on the Jamaica Teachers' Association board after four years of being a teacher, and he has held many leadership positions at the school.
In 2019, at the age of 35, Hanson was appointed principal of the school.
“I was elected parish president for the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) in 2008 and I served for two consecutive years. At Cambridge High School, I served as grade 10 coordinator, cultural officer, head of department, timetable committee chair, I also served as acting vice-principal on two occasions and in 2019, I became the principal,” he disclosed.
This, he said, has given him pure joy as he is now able to look back and realise that he did indeed shine among those who were instrumental in his growth.
For that, he told the Observer West, he is humbled and grateful.
Now Hanson is focused on moulding the lives of the children who pass through the gates of the Cambridge High School.