THE new school year commenced with setbacks at St Jago High School in Spanish Town, St Catherine due to construction work being carried out on the administrative building which has left more than 30 teachers without a staff room and the principal without an office.
Moreover some students who were looking forward to face-to-face classes will be forced to stay home and take online classes on select days, at least until October.
Collette Feurtado-Pryce, principal of St Jago, said she was grateful that the Ministry of Education and Youth decided to execute the project, but could not help but express frustration over the current situation.
According to Feurtado-Pryce, the renovation works only started the week before school reopened.
“Rooms before were infested with termites despite treating them every quarter. We’ve spent millions on treating termites. The last time that roof was repaired was when there was Hurricane Gilbert [September 1988]. The area that is under construction now housed my office, the bursary, the administrative office and a staff room for nearly 40 teachers, as well as the foyer.
“They thought this work would be a quick fix, like six to 10 weeks, but it was worse than what they thought. As a result, we had to move out of that area so that it could be worked on. The work started in late August, just last week. I understand they had procurement processes they had to follow and there was another delay because it was much more than was expected in cost, over $6 million. That had to be recasted and it caused delay. They promised us that by the middle of September the area would be made habitable. As it is now I doubt that’s going to happen,” the principal said on Wednesday.
All the equipment, furniture and other items that were in the principal’s office, the staff room, and other areas inside the administrative building, were relocated to the auditorium and are being stored there until construction is complete. However, that has caused a domino effect. The teachers and administrative staff are currently using the library as their staff room and office, respectively.
Relocation to the library means that students seeking to use the space for studying and research cannot currently do so.
Since the auditorium is now a temporary storage area, the school has had to become creative in how it facilitates classes that used to be kept in there.
“The auditorium was another place for learning. We have been asking for more classrooms at St Jago for years. In any one teaching session, that auditorium has six to seven classes going on in there. Those have been dislocated because we cannot remove the things from the auditorium. Our six A rooms are out, the enhancement room and the library is out. We cannot have a full resumption of school for all our students here during any one day.
“We unfortunately have to resort to online learning. We did so well this year in English and mathematics so our fifth-formers have to come in. We want 100 per cent [passes] next time. Fourth-formers are just starting the syllabus so they have to come in. Our first-formers, we want them to start off on the right footing. They have to be here every day. For September, second and third form will be engaged online for two to three days per week,” she said, adding that the school’s stakeholders are to be thanked for standing by the institution in these times.
Feurtado-Pryce said stakeholders included the St Jago Cathedral, and added that the church opened its doors so that orientation sessions could be held and parents could be accommodated.
“There would have been no right time for the work to be done, but we are at the start of school and there are things you want to ensure, like registration of both parents and students. That would have been affected somewhat, but we’ll manage. We have been very resourceful. When I hear the minister of education and youth talking about allocation of funds to education and infrastructure, I am very interested and want to know what they are going to do for this flagship school, the number one high school in St Catherine. Next year we’ll be 280 years old. What are they planning to do for us?
“We excel in the academics and in the performing arts. Our compliance rate for contributions is not good, just as my colleagues in other schools are facing. We will continue to invest in our students to make them well-rounded for Jamaica and the world, to face the global economy there. They have fixed up other schools, but what happened to St Jago?” the principal said.
Careen Barrett, vice-principal at the school, echoed Feurtado-Pryce’s sentiments.
“We are appealing to the Government. We need more classrooms. It is going to be a challenge in terms of teaching, come next month,” Barrett said.