Professor Vivienne Roberts of the University of the West Indies Open Campus is a scholar of great repute. She is known for being meticulous and of holding to high standards. As a colleague, I am honored and privileged to have the opportunity to write the Foreword for her latest book celebrating the eightieth anniversary of her alma mater, Ferncourt High School in St Ann, Jamaica. Professor Roberts is specially positioned to write about her alma mater. She is from a large family in a neighboring community in St Ann and many of her siblings attended Ferncourt High School. It is accurate to say that she has known the school for almost all her life, and has the benefit of experiences, views and opinions of her younger siblings who also attended the school. These, coupled with her academic competencies, special knowledge, intimacy, and vantage points, make Professor Roberts the best candidate to memorialize and celebrate Ferncourt High School at the young age of eighty years.
The Inspiring Story of the Founding of Ferncourt High School
Professor Roberts recounts the inspiring story of the founding of the school in 1938. The 1930s witnessed the Great Depression following the crash of the stock market in the United States in 1929. Labor unrest swept the Commonwealth Caribbean beginning in Belize and then spread to Trinidad and Guyana in 1933 and 1934. Labour unrest arrived in Jamaica in May 1938. World War 11 was on the horizon. These were the uncertain times and inauspicious circumstances in which Mrs. Iris Blanche Simpson founded Ferncourt, supported by her Inspector of School husband, Joseph Josiah Simpson. Dark times prompted the Simpsons to light a candle in Claremont, St Ann. Many faint-hearted lamented the times and remained paralyzed in the dark. They saw no future beyond despondence.
Ferncourt High School 1938-2018: A Story of Enterprise, Access and Opportunity documents the transformation of that flickering candle into an LED Lamp with a strong beam over its first eighty years. Hopefully, all who have benefitted from the vision, courage, and endurance of Ferncourt’s heritage, and those who now have responsibility for its continuance, will continue to be inspired by the example of Iris and Joseph Simpson.
Telling the Ferncount Story
Ferncourt High School 1938-2018: A Story of Enterprise, Access and Opportunity tells at least five stories which I will only mention, and each is deserving of further research.
- First, it is the story of the eight decades of the existence of the schools. It is therefore a history of the school, probably its first.
- Second, the story of these eight decades is told systematically with respect to governance and management, buildings and physical infrastructure, principals and teachers, students, curriculum and extracurricular activities. This provides insights and understanding of conservation and change, since the founding of the school.
- Third, it’s a story told with the inclusion of living voices from most of these decades. Documents, including newspapers, are not its only source. Several of these voices, especially of the earlier decades, speak without being sanitized or scrubbed by nostalgia. They tell of realities that are outside the experiences of most of the youngest generations, but which older generations often do not verbalize. I will not give examples, to allow readers to discover them.
- Fourth, it’s a story of not only a school but the rural communities that it has served and of social, economic and educational changes over the 80 years. In several respects, it is a social history of the school and this area of St Ann.
- Fifth, it provides reference materials that will be invaluable for further and future research on Jamaican high schooling. Moreover, it includes material that are now archived and not readily available. For example, details of the points system by which high schools were classified during the period of Grant-in-aid that are still relevant to contemporary discussions of the financing of high schools since the era of free tuition beginning in 1974. Another example are the names by years of all students who were selected by the Ministry of Education and placed at Ferncourt during the early period of the Common Entrance Examination starting in 1959, as published in the Daily Gleaner. The future usefulness of this information, that is all in one place, should not be underestimated.
A Treasure Trove of Personal Enjoyment
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. In fact, I love it. I kept grinning from ear to ear in learning more about Ferncourt’s principals, teachers, past students, and board members I know. Ferncourt High School 1938-2018 is a treasure trove of personal enjoyment. If my experience is anything to go by, then I can only imagine the joy, excitement, and enjoyment that it will bring to others. To show my personal enjoyment let me share a few examples which add to Professor Roberts’ comments in the book.
Mr. Oswald Fisher taught me Geography at Calabar High School. I never knew that his background was in the Natural Sciences. Mr. Fisher was a disciplinarian who constantly whistled and had a heart. He was one of the young Jamaican teachers who inspired my generation of Calabar Old Boys. An annual practice at Calabar was a staff versus student cricket match. Students invariably won the match. It was an opportunity not only for boys to get back at the staff but also to revel in derision, if a staff member got the better of a bowler or batsman of the student team. You would be jeered for days. Peer pressure demanded top performance from team members. I still remember the deep regret I felt in bowling Mr. Fisher for ducks in one staff match. It was a good length, not so fast a ball. I expected him to play, or at least get an edge for some runs. He played down the wrong line. The stumps were ‘spread eagled’. Some boys laughed. I felt terrible. He was a nice guy and a good sport. He played to make up numbers on the staff team. He was not a cricketer.
As I read the account of Mr. Fisher’s tenure as Principal, I could relate to the person I knew: a calm but firm manner with malice to none. He was always with a positive word, even when reproving errant ways. It is gratifying to see that the school has named a building block in his honor, based on the contribution he made to the growth and development of Ferncourt.
Other principals that I have known quite well are Mr. Douglas Weller, not when he was Principal, but at Wolmer’s Boys School and through his wife, Norma, who was on the staff of Department of Education, UWI Mona for many years; Miss Velta Clarke, not when she was at Ferncourt but as Principal of Moneague Teachers College; and more recently Rev Lenworth Sterling, the current principal. I first met Rev Sterling as the Returning Officer for St Ann South Western in 2002 and was more than impressed with his competence, impartiality, and efficiency. When he was appointed Principal of Ferncourt in 2008, I felt sure that he would do a great job, which has turned out to be the case.
Dr. the Honorable Dorothy Pine-McLarty has always spoken fondly about her years at Ferncourt in the early years and of Mrs. Simpson. It was therefore not surprising to read that she has been a continuing source of support for the school and its students. But there were a few real surprises. Dr Rose Johnson and I worked on the staff of the Institute of Education, but I never knew that she was the sister of Dr. Vivienne Roberts and that they were both past students of Ferncourt. The late Dr. Barry Wade and his wife, Merle and I were in the same Botany and Zoology classes at the University of the West Indies. We have been life-long friends. But I did not know that Merle attended Ferncourt and that for a short time, Barry had taught at Ferncourt.
Most surprising was the case of Dr. Arthur Geddes. I have known him as a distinguished public servant, scientist, and outstanding past student of Mico University College. But I did not know that this staid statesman and gentleman of mature years, in addition to teaching Chemistry and Mathematics at Ferncourt, was the lead singer and conductor of the Ferncourt School Choir, but also the dashing debonair lead singer of a band named ‘the Vandals’. Vandals were the tribe of barbarians whose malicious destruction of Rome made ‘vandalize’ a word in several languages. There is nothing barbaric about Dr Geddes. We need more books that tell rich past stories of our schools, their teachers, their students, and our friends.
But my most personal reason for enjoying the book comes from home. I must disclose that my wife, Sharon, and her family are from St Ann: the St Ann’s Bay, Higgin Town, and Claremont areas. Indeed, my mother-in-law, Mrs. Phyllis Grant, lives a stone’s throw from the school. Every time I visit her, I must pass Ferncourt High School, during term-time or vacation. One of my brothers-in-law, Mr. Overton Grant, is a past student of Ferncourt.
Happy reading to all and thanks to Professor Vivienne Roberts for enlightening the mind, stimulating reflection and bringing joy.
Professor Emeritus, the Honorable
May 7, 2020
Ferncourt High School 1938 – 2018
Ferncourt High School 1938 – 2018: A Story of Enterprise, Access and Opportunity harks back to my early life in rural Jamaica in a country that had been emancipated from slavery for just over a century. Through the agency of the schools and other institutions, it was in the process of reshaping an inherited colonial educational system to meet its own aspirations and needs. The perspective is from that of a child who experienced in the 1960s a small Jamaica High School in the final days of its enterprising founder, Iris B Simpson; a teenager who learned a lot about life and school and opportunities under the watchful eyes of Principal O. S Fisher, and an adult who watched and felt the conservation and changes of the school through the eyes of younger siblings, the words in correspondence, and the cameras of newspapers. There is much more that can be discovered about educational institutions and education in a changing society, from that book.
Tribute to Honorable Mr. Justice Horace Marsh
It may have been good luck or more likely divine guidance that led Cherrell Robinson and I that night to the Marsh’s home in October 2018. We tried to make an appointment for an interview at a later date, but Horace insisted on giving the interview then. His words are recorded in the book: “Ferncourt High School 1938-2018: A Story of Enterprise, Access and Opportunity “ pages 48-49
Ferncourt meant a lot to him and he made us very proud. He served his country with distinction.
May he rest in peace and may his family, friends as well as his former schoolmates find solace in the wonderful memories.