MONTEGO BAY HIGH SCHOOL
“ESSE NON VIDERI”- TO BE AND NOT TO SEEM
Montego Bay High School was established in 1935 by the Government of Jamaica as the first Government owned high school for girls on the island. The school is controlled by the Ministry of Education, with a local Board of Management and started when St. Helena’s High School, a private school ran by the Anglican Church and situated at 46 Market Street, had been closed due to lack of funding. It was said that things got so bad financially that the then Custos of St. James, Sir Francis Kerr-Jarrett, had to take money from his pocket to pay the teachers. He, along with Archdeacon E. S. Harrison of the Anglican Church, and the Hon. Phillip Lightbody who was the sitting member of the Legislative Council, petitioned the Government to start a school for girls. In response to that plea, the property named Beaconsfield at 51 Union Street was bought. It consisted of a two story house and outbuildings situated on approximately two acres of land. Because of the name of the property, the school became known as Beaconsfield School and the girls were affectionately called “Beacs” girls. Students from St. Helena’s were relocated to this new school which was officially named by the Government, Montego Bay High School for Girls. The link with the Anglican Church was maintained. Archdeacon Harrison was the first Board Chairman, and the student body attended the services at the St. James Parish Church on the first Sunday of each term.
Under the able leadership of Miss Blanche Jeffrey-Smith, the school began with forty (40) students and three (3) teachers. It was established with the aim of developing in its students, mental alertness, physical health, spiritual consciousness and a sense of responsibility so that they would grow up to be self-reliant individuals capable of earning their own livelihood while serving the community to the best of their ability. The school also aimed at helping students achieve a high level of academic performance and discipline. Both the school curriculum and its extra-curricular activities were geared towards achieving these aims.
At that time, students were prepared for two English-based examinations, the Junior and Senior Cambridge Examinations. The Junior Cambridge was taken at the end of the upper fourth year and Senior at the end of the upper fifth year. The school did not enter enough candidates to have its own center, so the girls wrote their examinations in the dining room at Cornwall College along with the boys from that institution. The Higher School Certificate was introduced in 1949, and the first set of students sat their examinations in 1950. At that time, some of the sixth form students had classes with the boys at Cornwall College for some subjects not offered at the school, and the boys came to Montego Bay High School for some subjects. The school had no laboratories so it was fortunate that at the time, the practical work for the Cambridge Examinations was annual. Most of our graduate teachers were from the United Kingdom, as the University of the West Indies came into being in 1948.
The 1940s were, on the whole, uncertain: there was indecision as to whether the school would continue its independent existence or be amalgamated with Cornwall College. During that decade, the leadership of the school kept changing: there was Miss Ritchie (who later became Mrs. Croskery), Mrs. Marjorie Grahame and Mrs. Janet Morrison who kept changing places for a while but each later held the post for extended periods.
The student body increased and the need arose for new buildings to be erected. The present Needlework room was erected in the forties and provided two classrooms. The present second form block was erected soon after and later, the outdoor stage made way for the teachers’ hostel with two classrooms on the ground floor. In 1955, two temporary buildings were erected: one of bamboo and the other of aluminum. The former was called “Tatoo” and the latter the “Oasis.” The “Tatoo” was pulled down in the late fifties to make way for what is now known as the Main Building which contains Administrative offices, staff room and lounge, Chemistry, Biology and Food and Nutrition Laboratories, Art Room, twelve classrooms, sanitary facilities and a large auditorium which seats approximately one thousand when the balconies are used. Mrs. Janet Morrison was the sitting Headmistress when this building was constructed.
In the decade of the eighties, the Parent Teacher Association and Past Students Association spearheaded the erection of another building and the aluminum structure gave way to the building which houses a Library, Physics and Computer Laboratories, a cafeteria and the Bursar’s office, along with sanitary facilities and store-rooms. The Ministry of Education has recently added two classrooms to make room for a large number of grade nine students who were admitted this year.
The school has maintained a record of academic excellence and the results in external examinations regularly exceed the national average. On several occasions, students have been awarded for outstanding performance in the CXC examinations. The sixth form ‘A’ Level classes and the Commercial Sixth were transferred to the Montego Bay Community College when it opened in 1978. However, the 6th form was reintroduced in September of 2014. The school boasts an exceptionally strong program of extra-curricular activities and musical aptitude spearheaded by some the most of dedicated teachers in Jamaica. The school has the capacity to house over nine hundred students. Currently, Mr. Gairy Powell is the Principal.