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Old Harbour 'university' - Principal undertakes major upgrades to create First-World school in a Third-World country

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMAndre Poyser
Linton Weir, principal of Old Harbour High, shows of a plaque outside the school's lecture theatre.
Workmen carry out repairs at the Old Harbour High School ahead of the start of the new school year.
The conference room at the Old Harbour High School.
Weir takes The Gleaner for a look at a section of the school.

Old Harbour High School principal Linton Weir runs his school like a multinational corporation.

The school houses a documentation centre, stationery and gift shop, conference room, lecture theatre and farm, all of which serve as income-generating sources that Weir has tapped to finance the transformation of the institution.

For the imminent school term, new furniture will be outfitted for teachers, the administrative building expanded, the engineering department retrofitted with more modern roofing, state-of-the-art abattoir opened, and new offices provided for the auxiliary staff.

Work was still ongoing on all of these projects when The Gleaner visited the school last week.

"We have also made an addition to the front of our school because it is very important in terms of your aesthetics, how you welcome your people, because education is a business ... so what we are striving to do is ensure that we have your business. So as it relates to the physical plant, we are ready to welcome our students and teachers," he told The Gleaner, while explaining plant upgrades under way.

Weir, while indicating that the 50 per cent tranche of tuition support received from the Ministry of Education assisted in offsetting the cost of the upgrades, noted that this was not sufficient, and funds from the various business centres of the school were also leveraged.

"The Ministry of Education alone will not be able to fund the school effectively. That is why, for example, we have put in place a document centre where we even print funeral programmes and generate income from that. Additionally, some of the additions we are introducing for the new school year have come from evening school funding, because we have a robust evening school programme, and the abattoir was actually funded through income from the gift shop," he added.

Turning his attention to academics and his school-improvement plans, Weir expressed pride at the fact that student pass rates in all subject areas have been trending upwards for the past five years, a trajectory he says he wants to maintain in the upcoming school year. A pre-sixth-form programme has been introduced, giving students an opportunity to pursue Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination subjects simultaneously.

"Not all of our students will make it to university, and that is the reality. The legacy I want to leave at Old Harbour High is that for those students who don't make it to university for whatever reason, this school will be their university; it must provide that quality of education. Old Harbour High School, where I am taking it, must be a First-World high school running in a Third-World country," he said.

As it regards administrative issues, Weir said he was in the process of wrapping up interviews to hire new teachers for September. Financially, the school is in a good position as parents have been compliant in making their non-obligatory contributions. When combined with the additional tuition support to be received from the ministry, those sums create a steady cash flow for the school.

"Now that the term auxiliary fee has been removed, we have called it development fee. It's the same $6,400 that we charged previously, and we have said to our parents that it is in their best interest to make a contribution to their child's education and they had no problems with that, so the compliance rate on our development fee collection has been very high so far, because our parents never complained about paying auxiliary fees.

"They are willing and they have given the commitment, because they understand that the ministry's money alone will not be sufficient in running the school effectively and efficiently," he said.

In the area of safety and security, Weir indicated that he has inked a deal with Juici Patties, the school's canteen concessionaire, whereby the company will upfront the cost to complete the school's perimeter fence and recover those sums from the monthly rental charge. Three additionally security guards will also be employed.