Wed | Nov 22, 2017

St Joseph's shuttered - Private high school closes after 40 years

Published:Thursday | August 31, 2017 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke
Newton ‘Cappo’ Williamson, the caretaker who has been with St Joseph’s High School, located on Collins Green Avenue in St Andrew, for 40 years. Sitting in the empty classroom, he ponders his next move, with the school closing its doors today.
Books now scattered in the empty classrooms at St Joseph’s High School on Collins Green Avenue in St Andrew. Founded in 1978, the private school shuts down operations today.
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Faced with a multimillion-dollar debt and a drastic reduction in enrolment, St Joseph's High School, located on Collins Green Avenue in St Andrew, is closing its doors after just under 40 years of serving the education sector.

The private school, founded in 1978, placed a public notice in yesterday's Gleaner stating that it would "close down its operations on August 31".

Founder and director Headley Thomas said that it was a painful decision that had to be made given the mountain of problems being faced by the institution.

"It is with regret and a deep sense of loss that after years of operating, we have decided to close our day-school department," Thomas said.

"This is a result of us experiencing many budgetary challenges in staying afloat over the past four years, due to a number of factors."

The challenges he outlined included a significant reduction in the school's enrolment based on the downsizing of a partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, as well as very poor collection of school fees and development funds, causing serious financial issues. These factors, he said, led to the school not only being unable to maintain itself and meet its obligations, but it was also faced with multimillion-dollar indebtedness.

"Although we had very high hopes for our school, we had to take the decision in order to salvage a part of what is left by putting up the property for sale in an effort to pay our creditors," Thomas told The Gleaner.

 

DRAMATIC DECREASE

 

The majority of the students who attended St Joseph's came from a partnership with the education ministry through the Grade Six Achievement Test and the Grade Nine Achievement Test.

"We signed on to that MOU (memorandum of understanding). Quite a few other private schools are also involved, and this started, maybe, some 10 years ago," Thomas said.

"A general downsizing, however, over the last four years, and with the influx of 'ministry students', the population of the independent students has seen a dramatic decrease. That meant that our bottom line was being seriously affected."

The population at the school fell sharply in that period, with fewer than 150 students left on roll at the end of the last school term, coming from over 600.

The teachers and auxiliary staff complement also took a hit, with just 12 teachers left on staff as of June 2017, half the total of three years previous.

"With this low number, we just could not continue operating because at the school year just ended, there was a budget of $18 million, and we collected less than $9 million," the founder stated.

Personal savings were used to service some of the school's mounting debts. However, several millions remained unpaid, prompting the decision to put the school property up for sale in order to cover some of the expenses.

"This loss is big. I just cannot get over it. I am still having the thought of starting school come September again. It's a big loss. We have students passing out from our school who are now lawyers, doctors, and teachers," Thomas said with regret.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com