Heinz Simonitsch School has a new home
(From rear left) Tamar McKenzie is joined by her husband, Samuel McKenzie; Acting CEO at the Ministry of Education, Dr Kasan Troupe and Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay, Richard Vernon along with students of Heinz Simonitsch during the official opening of the new building on Ironshore Drive.

ROSE HALL, St James - After 25 years operating from the landmark Half Moon Shopping Village in Rose Hall, St James, the Heinz Simonitsch School now has a new home. As of September 13 the private educational institution will operate from Ironshore Drive, a few kilometres away from its original spot.

Tamar McKenzie is head of school and explained what inspired the move.

"This undertaking came about because the needs of the students continued to grow and we were faced with… the challenge of not being able to meet those needs and to properly support the community in the space of education," she told the Jamaica Observer.

Her comments came following a glitzy ceremonial opening at the new school grounds last Saturday afternoon. Students, staff, and well-wishers, who had been told of the move at the end of the last term, gathered to celebrate a new chapter in the school's life.

The original home of the Heinz Simonitsch School which was established at the Half Moon Shopping Village about 25 years ago.

McKenzie explained that over the last four weeks they have worked to retrofit, renovate, repair the roof, and expand the new space to make it the ideal location for what they plan to offer. She opted not to reveal the price for the massive undertaking but instead praised those who made the project happen. It had been, she said, a superhuman effort.

"We had 68 hard-working men, from across the island, who came in and never went home, all because the kids have to come to school," she remarked.

The new facility comes with roomier classrooms which are all air conditioned, a larger auditorium, tech and innovation spaces, among other amenities.

McKenzie said the new building can accommodate a lot more students.

MCKENZIE… we're heavily pushing to have our university programme here as well.

"This space can fit up to 1,000 students and we're looking to step off really big in the next couple of months. One of the things you'll see coming out of this space is a wholesome package, where education is concerned, where from the age of one to pre-university and university programmes, that's what we are pushing here," she explained.

The pre-university programmes were launched last year when they began to offer sixth form programmes, but she said they are looking beyond that towards tertiary education.

"Last year we started our first cohort of sixth form, that's grades 12 and 13, and through partnerships and intense collaborations we're heavily pushing to have our university programme here as well. With this mega campus, that's the type of expansion we're going for," she revealed.

She explained that the institution will seek to stand out from the rest by providing the latest and best in education.

"We are coming with programmes that our children no longer need to leave western Jamaica to go to other parishes to access. When you look at performing arts, we have a performing arts hub, we have a tech room where [you may go] if you are a young creator in Montego Bay. One of the things we are developing is an innovation room, where we'll provide services for persons who may want to record or complete their podcasting and things like that," the head of school stated.

A robotics component will also be a part of the curriculum, and work is now ongoing to source equipment which will ensure students have "their own robots" when they participate in those classes.

McKenzie also spoke about how user-friendly the new facility will be.

"Our new campus is all about inclusion and accessibility. Our school and every aspect of the property is accessible by wheelchair. So when you look at our students and our children with disabilities across the western part of our island, they have a space where when they come in here, they're not left out or confined to a few spaces or a classroom or holding area. [Even] the canteen is wheelchair-accessible," she stated proudly.

Two hundred students are enrolled for the start of the new school year, but she expects that to grow.

"This year we've had the highest number of new enrolments we've ever had. We ended last school year with a little bit under 150 and we've signed up more than 50 students in the last six weeks," she divulged.

While not revealing the school fees, McKenzie said they offer value for money.

"I think our prices are below market for what we offer and if you look at the value and the quality of the delivery, we have committed to maintaining affordability as one of the highest priorities," she stated.

"This space came about to create equity and access for students to learn and that's why we are looking at this sort of investment here," McKenzie added.

The Heinz Simonitsch School was founded by the hotelier whose name it bears and the head of school said the recent developments fit into the plans he had for the institution.

"Our founder had this big vision and when we look at where we are and what we are doing, we're up to what he had in mind. We've created a centre here of education tech and innovation," McKenzie remarked.

"This is our new location, with a space that we need to continue to grow and perform at the level that we've been performing at," she added.

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