Silvera Castro | Remembering SW Issac-Henry – an educator par excellence
Stafford Wycliffe Isaac-Henry, educator extraordinaire and administrator par excellence, graced this Earth on May 29, 1924. Born in the village of Banbury, St Catherine, Isaac-Henry, with diligence and honour, served St Andrew Technical High School (STATHS) from 1969-1990 as its principal, punctuated by an interregnum when Madge Facey administered.
His remarkable 40-year teaching career began at Elletson Primary. Then he had stints at the Mico Teachers’ College and the Stony Hill Industrial School. He entered the high school system at Kingston College, where he spent 20 years serving as a teacher whose leadership traits and penchant for discipline were legendary.
The year 1969 heralded his ascendancy into the principal’s chair at STATHS, and with boundless energy, he worked to transform the Spanish Town Road- based institution into what we proudly referred to as “the Oasis in the Desert”. He was the driving force behind the start of an Advance Level (A level) programme at the school at a time when it was unthinkable for technical high schools to implement such a programme. Yes, Isaac-Henry was a visionary. He also had the innate ability to tap the right sources to get things done. He taught the male population, by example, to be fearless and to be respectful to the opposite sex, and he taught us collectively to be ambitious, ready to serve, and industrious.
In the sporting arena, who can forget his invaluable contribution to ISSA in athletics and football (Manning Cup). I remember the first time I travelled to Penn Relays was on his insistence. I was the manager of the team for several years. I remember on one occasion, the coach ran off. When I got back to Jamaica, he asked, “Where was the coach?” I said, “He did not come back with us, Sir.” He said, “What? I will have to report that to the US Embassy.” That was the end of that. His bark was harsher than his bite. Under his leadership, STATHS produced world-class cricketers such as Richard Austin, Hylton Gordon, Terrence Corke, and Anthony Campbell. The school won the Sunlight Cricket Cup for supremacy in 1969.
POTENTIAL TO WIN
In 1987, when we won the Manning Cup and the Olivier Shield, I, being the manager of those teams, the visionary that he was after recognising that his students had the potential to win, he came up with a plan to lock down the boys in school for the entire holiday so that they could be away from the girls because girls love stars, so they were planning for them. “Not so fast!” said SW Isaac. I, too, have plans for them.” So for the entire July, August, and September, he kept them away from the girls and fed them well. He understood the overexuberance of youth and was willing to work with them. The end result of this was Excelsior losing the Manning Cup to STATHS 6 goals to 1. That was a most historic moment.
The St Andrew Technical High School unselfishly shared him with Jamaica because we recognised that he possessed the energy and capacity to serve. He belonged to St Andrew Technical High School, and the institution was proud to claim him as ours. A chronicle of his journey with STATHS will elucidate our claim of ownership of this illustrious man. Over 51 years ago, he charted a course to serve STATHS and stayed with us until his departure to higher service. When he became principal, STATHS was in its formative stage and he piloted STATHS through its teething pains.
He served tirelessly for over 21 years. With his leadership, STATHS became a force to be reckoned with, academically, with sports, and in culture. He was truly a visionary. His passion to develop STATHS has been seen through the diligence with which he willing immersed himself in STATHS. He believed that STATHS was bigger than any one man. He embraced the concept that STATHS is built on the tenet of assisting the growth of education to the youth of the day.
Values are the guiding principles in our lives. They define who we are and how we behave. SW Isaac Henry taught his flock to have certain basic values as core principles in our lives. Respect, integrity, humility, compassion, authenticity, and wisdom. These values make great posters on the walls of our institutions at STATHS. He was not a spineless leader.
OPPORTUNITY TO STUDENTS
I remember in the early days while I was employed at the Carib Cement Company, I would receive a telephone call, saying, “Castro, I am sending you twelve students for summer employment.” I dare not say no. That period opened up opportunities for students of Dunoon Technical, Kingston Technical, and STATHS. That was his vision: on-the-job training. The open sharing of information expands knowledge from a few persons to many. Those students would go back to school excited about the world of learning and working. This process would increase the responsiveness of the other students and increase their efficiency. Some of them are successful managers today.
He was more preoccupied with his team and those he served than he was with himself. He recognised that the goal of the organisation could only be achieved with the collective support and effort of every member of the team. I remember that he mortgaged his house in Zaidie Gardens to pay down on a motor car that was being used in a raffle to raise much-needed funds for the school. He wrote in his will that his house in Zaidie Gardens should be sold and 50 per cent of the proceeds go to the St Andrew Technical High School. Such was the mettle of the man.
As a great leader, SW Isaac Henry gave thought to who would succeed him as succession planning was part of his mantra. Part of his legacy was how well he developed potential successors. Therefore, his legacy was not only what he did while he was in the position, but also the continuity of these changes. He spent time mentoring and training others such as Dr Carole Powell and Dr Curlene Christie, two of his mentees who later became principals of this noble institution. He shared best practices and potential pitfalls with them. His view was not for his successor to be a mini Isaac Henry, but rather, an individual who had the necessary skills and abilities.
Stafford Wycliffe Isaac-Henry’s 21 years of service was truncated by his passing on July 16, 1990. His was a remarkable journey that will see history indelibly chronicling him among the top echelons in the annals of Jamaican high-school principals and administrators. See you later, Sir Isaac.
- Silvera Castro is a past student and former chairman of the Board of Governors of STATHS. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org