Mackenzie High School after 60 years
By Joe Chapman
December 12, 2006
MACKENZIE High School, formerly Echols High School, now in its 60th year of existence, has maintained its status not only as the premier secondary learning institution in Linden but, undoubtedly, has kept its reputation among the top secondary schools in the country.
Its history dates back to 1945, when it came into being, as, up to then, students from that riverain location had to travel to Georgetown if they wished to pursue secondary education.
The journey undertaken by children, in those days, was not by road but sailing some 65 miles along the Demerara River.
However, their parents were dissatisfied with that situation and a group of them, after World War II ended, explored the possibility of a schol in the mining town. The Parent Teachers Association (PTA) of Mackenzie Undenominational School, now Mackenzie Primary School, met Mr. William Grant, Mr. Sam Blackett, Mr. Dawson Carr, Mr. Charles Gittens, Mr. F. Cheddie, Mr. W. Wright, Mr. William Nedd, Mr. O.D. Cambridge and the lone woman, Mrs. Beryl Joseph.
Joseph, who celebrated her 88th birthday last week Tuesday and is the last surviving founding member of the Supervisory Board, recalled that, in 1946, Echols High School opened its doors with one teacher, after Mr. Henry Vance Echols, a manager of Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) authorised the conversion of a building, that was a clinic for British soldiers, into the institution named for him.
Parents initially undertook to employ and pay the teachers but, one year later, DEMBA accepted full responsibility for maintaining Echols High School with 26 children on roll.
The official opening day, on Arvida Road (now Republic Avenue), was recorded as November 19, 1946, with the first principal being Mr. E.U. Wilson.
Shortly after, he was succeeded by Mr. Eddie Gunraj, who also hailed from the city.
Ms. Patricia Blair was among the first teachers to be employed from the Mackenzie area and another principal in that period was Mr. Milroy Victor, who, subsequently, was Principal of Central High School in Georgetown.
In their tenure, the appropriate uniforms for both boths and girls were in junior and senior categories but all carried the ‘Echols High School’ badge on their berets or caps.
Dr. Dennis Craig, later well known as Vice-Chancellor of University of Guyana, took up the principalship in 1952 and, by the time he left Echols, in 1956, the number on register had grown to just under 200.
GROWING SCHOOL POPULATION
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building that was near the Recreational Hall (now housing the Linden Museum) was used for general assembly, as the two were among those occupied temporarily by the growing school population.
While the curriculum covered a number of subjects, Science, Art or Physical Education were not taught until, in 1957, when Mr. D.D. Sim became principal and the programme was reformed.
Candidates from Echols no longer took College of Preceptors (CP) or Senior Cambridge examinations but switched to the General Certificate of Education (GCE) ‘O’ Level, from London University and the school became a centre for those tests.
On September 11, 1959, with Sim still in charge, then Minister of Education and Community Development, Mr. Balram Singh Rai formally opened the now renamed Mackenzie High School (MHS) on Purpleheart Street, Mackenzie, where the main building is now located.
That structure was built by Sprostons Construction Company to the architectural design of Messrs Mence and Moore.
Through a trust deed, in 1959, as well, DEMBA handed over the property and the facilities within, together with the responsibility for policy and administration, to a Board of Trustees appointed by office. They were the Chief Justice of British Guiana, President of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society (RA&CS) of the colony and the Managing Director of DEMBA.
Then Managing Director of DEMBA, Mr. J. G. Campbell remarked, at the opening, that “education is fundamental to the development and growth of a country. DEMBA has clearly and tangibly demonstrated its belief in this principle.”
“With this completion of the new Mackenzie High School, this secondary school will be the most up-to-date in British Guiana,” he pledged.
In his speech, the General Manager of DEMBA, Mr. J. N. Fraser particularly noted that the company had, not by accident, provided a fully equipped Science laboratory and a storeroom with space to accommodate a second when required.
It happened at a time when the company was building a complex chemical plant nearby to produce alumina and would continue to require employees trained in technical subjects.
Recognition of the four founding members of the MHS Board was reflected in the house system, through which houses were named after Mr. William Grant, Mr. O. D. Cambridge, Mr. Dorsett Carr and Mr. Sam Blackett.
Mr. William Ogle replaced Mr. Sim, a Canadian, before Mr. John Cummings succeeded to the principal post in 1965, a year prior to candidates from MHS beginning to sit GCE ‘A’ level exams. The first batch that sat achieved a 100 per cent pass rate.
Prior to then, students who qualified to enter sixth form had to seek admission to a senior secondary school in Georgetown, from where they wrote the ‘A’ levels and DEMBA offered scholarships for the purpose.
Cummings died tragically in a road accident on the Soesdyke/Linden Highway in November 1971 and Mr. Seigfred Lyken and Mr. Josephus Bakker, in that order, acted briefly as Principal until Mr. Clifton A. McDonald was appointed to the position in September 1972.
MORE CLASSROOMS NEEDED
It was during McDonald’s stewardship that the student population grew substantially and necessitated more classrooms. As there was a dire need for a concert hall, too, the MHS Board, under the chairmanship of Mr. Clarence London, a senior DEMBA manager, in collaboration with the Gray Dramatic Group, decided to erect an edifice to meet the two needs.
On October 17, 1973, the nationalised Guyana Bauxite Company (GUYBAU), in keeping with one of its goals, offered interest free bridging finance for the undertaking.
In 1974, MHS produced its first Guyana Scholar, Alfie Collins, based on his showing at the GCE ‘A’ levels.
The next year, a three-year project saw the opening of the Linden Concert Hall and School (LICHAS) building, on July 6, 1975. It houses forms one to three in 10 classrooms on the upper flat above the concert facility.
MHS fell under full government control in September 1976 with the advent of free education and the board lost much of its authority.
In 1979, MHS began sending candidates to sit the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) Basic and General Proficiency tests, originally in three subjects, English, Mathematics and Geography.
James Kranenburg became the second MHS Guyana Scholar in 1981 and, in 1985, Nigel Blair was only the third student to be so honoured from that institution.
Mr. Stanley Johnson acted as Principal when McDonald retired in September 1983 and Mrs. Gloria Britton got the appointment in 1985.
The first female head of MHS, she maintained the principles of guidance and counselling that she introduced there on becoming Guidance Teacher in October 1978.
Mrs. Janice Gibson took over from Britton in 1992 and stayed until 2005 as the second woman principal. On her retirement in 2005, the former had been the longest serving head in the school’s history, with a tenure lasting 13 years.
Her successor was her deputy, another female, Mrs. Cheryl McDonald, who is currently in charge.
Presently, MHS offers 23 subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. It has 647 students, 232 boys and 405 girls.
Last September, 39 students were admitted to the lower sixth form, the highest number in the history of the school.
At the CSEC 2005 exams, 15-year-old Tahir Casey shredded the records of MHS when he passed in ten subjects, studded with straight ‘A’s as he obtained nine grade ones and one grade two.
This year, at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE), he recorded the most passes (five) ever achieved at the school. He got two grade ones and three grade threes.
MHS, according to Ministry of Education 2001 statistics, placed third, behind Queen’s College and Bishops High School, out of 71 schools countrywide which offered candidates for the CXC.
MHS scored passes in grades one, two and three and had a percentage pass of 84. 4, compared with 92 for QC and 91.6 for BHS.
For those schools with grades one to four, also in 2001, MHS was joint second, tied with BHS, when QC led with 98.3 per cent,
MHS and BHS both recorded 98.2 per cent in that category.
Over the years, MHS has continued to do well with the overall pass rate reaching 89 per cent in 2005.
On November 15, 2005, a new MHS Board, with 15 members, was commissioned by Mr. Vibert Hart, Head of the Schools Boards Secretariat in the Education Ministry.
The Board is now chaired by Mr. Brian Claxton and the others with him are Mr. Basil Jaipaul, Mr. Abdul Majid, Mr. Orrin Gordon, Mr. Leon Roberts, Mr. Aubrey Benjamin, Mr. Peter Benny, Mrs. Joy Walton, Mrs. Leslyn Charles, Mrs. Miriam Zephyr, Ms. Camille Cummings, Ms. Serena Knights, Ms. Debbie Fiedtkou, Mrs. Cheryl McDonald and Mr. Gary Roberts, the Deputy Principal.
In retrospect, almost 30 years after it lost much of its power, the new body is empowered to recruit staff, make appointments, enforce discipline and appraise teachers among other tasks.
Past Principals were:
1946-1952 Mr. E.U. Wilson, Mr. Eddie Gunraj and Mr. Milroy Victor
1952 Dr. Dennis Craig-1956
1956-1960 Mr. D.D. Sim
1960-65 Mr. William Ogle
1965-71 Mr. John Cummings
1972-1983 Mr. Clifton McDonald
1985-1992 Mrs. Gloria Britton
1992-1995 Mrs. Janice Gibson
2005 Mrs. Cheryl McDonald