November 18, 2019

Cayman: CPHS 70th Anniversary History


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Written by Amber Bothwell, Faculty Head of English and past CPHS stddent

The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands has been heavily involved in primary education in the Cayman Islands ever since Rev. James Elmslie began ministering in 1846, sending back reports of both Sabbath Schools and ‘day schools’ attended by hundreds of pupils. One hundred years later, gathered in the Sanctuary bearing his name to celebrate its centenary, the Church sought out a fresh mission: to establish a means for local children to receive a quality secondary education, at a time when few such opportunities existed. Hence the resolution in 1948 to open a high school with a preparatory department.

Rev. George Hicks, both a Presbyterian minister and the Government’s Inspector of schools, was instrumental in securing a site for the new school: the space behind the George Town Library, in buildings left over from the US Navy’s World War II base ‘Baldpate’. In January 1949, students from ages five to sixteen streamed into the former radio shack and officers’ mess to begin learning, with Rev. Hicks acting as Headmaster until Rev. John R. Gray arrived in April. Local teacher Mrs. Ercel Connor headed up the prep division and the staff was rounded out by teachers Darlene Panton, Beulah Robertson nee Johnson and Olive Miller nee Wright. The first teachers were all members of the Presbyterian/United Church. Several of these pioneer educators have had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren attending the school up to and including the present day.

Resources were limited in those early years when, even after the teachers had designed the uniform, many students could not afford to wear it, and those from the outer districts had to travel in on trucks – in some cases, riding along with the day’s consignment of thatch rope. Trained teachers were often supplemented by missionaries, volunteers and parents. Yet, despite limited resources, those first students (the “Fortyniners” to use their preferred term) quickly established a standard of excellence that continues to this day, with the first class sitting their Cambridge School Certificate exams in 1951. Both they and their teachers have fond memories of those first fifteen years or so under the thatched (later zinc) roof at the Cayman High School.

The school established three houses which have inspired passionate devotion from children across the years, from the early days of barefoot races and a playing field ringed by cow itch to today’s computer game tournaments and astro-turfed football pitches. They were named for three significant missionaries:

Rev. Elmslie, the church’s founding pastor; Rev. Thomas D. Redpath, whose educational advocacy included supporting through her professional training the woman who would become the first primary head teacher; and Rev. Robert Young, who had been a minister in the George Town charge and whose descendants continue to attend the school.

The 1960s were a time of considerable change. During a period of financial strain, the Government in 1964 took over operation of the upper years as the comprehensive secondary institution that would eventually become the John Gray High School, in memory of its first permanent headmaster. (In the 201 Os, the Clifton Hunter High School would branch off from this common root also). The Church continued to operate the classes from Infants to Group 6 as the Cayman Preparatory School, soon nicknamed just ‘Prep’. Donations of land and a concerted fundraising effort led by Sir Vassel Johnson enabled new buildings to be established at a second site in central George Town. The school grew so rapidly, however, that they were soon sold to facilitate the move to the current Walkers Road site in 1969.

The mid-1970s was another challenging time, with financial difficulties and falling student numbers necessitating a period of retrenchment. This soon allowed the school to flourish again, with demand for places swelling through the late 1970s and the 1980s to the point where it was deemed advisable to put a cap on the number of pupils per class. Championed by parents Capt. Charles Kirkconnell and Mr. Bill Walker, it was decided to add Groups 7 and 8 in 1980 and 1981, respectively, thus creating a middle school. Consequently, the ‘extension’ buildings at the back of the Walkers Road site were obtained via peppercorn lease from Government. Despite being ‘temporary’, they are in use today as the Sixth Form block. In 1982, Matthew 5: 16a was selected as the school motto: ‘Let your light so shine’. The next few years ushered in a range of modernising innovations: computers, a learning centre for reading, an accelerated maths programme, a dedicated office and administrative staff. The first overseas trips took

students to Epcot Centre in Florida and to Cayman Brac, with a range of other destinations following. In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert struck just days after the start of the academic year, causing such damage to the school buildings that the middle school had to be housed in Elmslie’s church hall for a few months.

In 1990, the decision was made to extend into the secondary years and to introduce a two (eventually it would be three) form entry. The current two-storey, air-conditioned ‘main’ building of the Walkers Road site was opened a year later, followed within three years by a multipurpose hall. Groups 9, 10 and 11 were successively added, beginning in 1994, with external exams being taken for the first time in over thirty years in 1999, the school’s fiftieth anniversary. Meanwhile, the primary years (Kindergarten to Year 6), were moved to their current location at the Smith Road site in 1997. Initially, they occupied the former First Baptist Church buildings but soon evolved with a range of new classrooms, play areas and other purposebuilt facilities. To cope with this larger and more complex school, it was necessary, starting in 1992, to appoint a deputy principal and, subsequently, Year group and subject leaders.

In the 2001/2002 academic year, this was extended to include the Sixth Form and the first A Levels were successfully sat two years following. In 2004, along with the rest of the island, CPHS weathered the devastation of Hurricane Ivan and its consequent challenges. As the school developed throughout the 2000s and 2010s, many changes were needed to accommodate its growing ranks of teachers, support staff and stUdents. The senior leadership gradually took on its current form with an overall Director, Principals at both sites and a Business Manager. New buildings with specialist rooms for music and art, spacious libraries, computer and science labs were fitted out to drive teaching and learning for the twentyfirst century. Both sites installed artificial turf on the playing fields and enhanced the provisions for sports and recreation.

Academic progress has kept pace with the growth of the physical plant and the 2019 external exam results included 92% A-C passes at Year 11, with 49% of passes at A-A, and many stUdents taking ten or more subjects. Year 12 received 85% of their passes at A-C and Year 13 83% at A *-C. The school inspection in March 2019 identified the school as good, with several areas of excellence, and praised its ‘consistently effective teaching throughout the school’ (OES Annual Report). Support for Learning departments with specialised teachers and learning assistants empower children with a wide range of abilities and learning needs. Additionally, student welfare and safeguarding are bolstered by Counsellors at both sites and a dedicated School Nurse. A robust careers programme features support for university applications and work experience placements. StUdents as young as Kindergarten begin learning Spanish and Computer Science, while in high school, subjects like Marine Science, Psychology and Economics complement more traditional offerings and ready students for the modern Caymanian economy. Moreover, learning is augmented by clubs such as robotics, Model United Nations and diving. In 2019, a new co-curriculum was introduced with students grouped vertically (years 7-13 learning together) for lessons in financial literacy, philosophy, astronomy, Caymanian history and culture, and a range of other topics beyond the exam syllabi.

True to its roots and mission statement, the Primary division constructs an annual Prayer Space and collects canned goods for donation at its Harvest Festival. Students take Religious Education through IGCSEs in Year 10, followed by a year of Ethics taught by United Church pastors. Year 6 students engage in Christian Life Sessions for 6 weeks which are coordinated by the Primary School Chaplain. Primary pupils look forward to the annual Cayman Day and take pride in being eco-warriors while secondary students using the Community Action Service Model, formerly called Go MAD (Go Make a Difference) take an active part in community service. Students across both sites raise thousands of dollars for charity, most recently for childhood cancer and Bahamas hurricane relief and they themselves benefit greatly from what they glean from this altruistic approach to the world.

We give God thanks for the amazing transformation our school has undergone, from humble beginnings to the largest private school in Cayman, with nearly a thousand pupils and over one hundred thirty staff. We also recommit to our original mission to provide excellent, Christian education, to enable students to become fulfilled, resilient and capable citizens, both nationally and globally.


Reproduced from CPHS Church Service 70 Years Celebration programme.

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