by Kimberley Cummins
For more than half a decade the Metropolitan High School has been known as the “poor man’s school”.
It has steadfastly served both nationals and non-national over those years as well as many children who other schools deemed too disruptive to manage. It has produced first class citizens such as Grafton Phillips, Keith Belle, Richard Bailey, Allan Bailey and Lester Jessamy just to name a few.
Sadly however, as principal and founder Olivier Cox sat in his office at the Metropolitan Book Store adjacent to the school on Roebuck Street in the City yesterday to speak with Barbados TODAY he revealed that the chapter on the school may soon be coming to an end.
Through the years the number of students enrolled at the school continued to drop annually. Initially, having a roll of 800 pupils, today the high school and the Metropolitan Nursery School have a combined student count of 107 on register.
Very shortly, Cox revealed, the board will meet to determine whether it made financial sense to carry on.
Reflecting on his time at the school, nevertheless, as he glanced through one of the many scrapbooks compiled since the 1960s and which followed the progress of alumni, he described being the head of the school as enjoyable.
“I have no regrets,” he said as he carefully turned each clipping to ensur none was torn in the process. “It was enjoyable, I enjoyed teaching, I enjoyed running the school.
“At 80 there is not much more I can do. The Scripture says three scores and 10 and if you reach four score after that you are going to get all the problems. I would continue as long as I have strength but I cannot do as much as I did before. How many people at 80 are really still active?” he asked.
In 1956, Cox taught at the Federal High School but on evenings he would conduct lessons in the verandah of his Peterkin Road, Bank Hall, St. Michael home. The response was so overwhelming that when Mr. Edwards, his boss at Federal, said he could not pay him in the vacation, he decided to leave that job, open his own educational institution and move his night school to a rental property in Barbarees Hill.
Soon thereafter he opened another school in Upper Roebuck Street and a third at the current location.
Prior to entering the teaching profession at the age of 17, Cox, the father of eight, attended the Seventh Day Adventist School, then located in King Street in the City. He also studied “A” Levels under the tutelage of Lawrence T Gay, and pursued a diploma in Theology at Codrington College.
However, he said, it was not until the father of a teacher who taught at the SDA school took sick, and he was asked to substitute for him that he realised his future was to educate the nation’s children.
“I went, held on in the class and found that I liked teaching. I found that I could teach and I did such a good job at it.”
Always willing to learn, he caught on very quickly to every task he was asked to perform and when he founded his own school, he said that served him well since “the captain has to know everything on the ship so that when someone is absent he can take over”.
His contribution to education over the last 61 years has not gone unnoticed. In 2009, he was presented with the Gold Crown of Merit for his contribution to education and he was also awarded the Barbados Centennial Honour in addition to many other recognitions over the years.
Though many will no doubt feel a sense of sadness at the thought of the 57-year-old institution possibly closing, the extremely frank principal said there was no need to, because Metropolitan had contributed much to this country and the end was inevitable since private secondary schools were “on their way out”.
“All things have to come to an end in the process of time,” the 80-year-old said as he noted that private teaching establishments usually die with their owners.
“To run a private secondary school for the poor man calls for sacrifice and no one is going to make sacrifice like the owner of the school. The founder is willing to make sacrifices because you don’t like to see something you have established fall.
“Look at Cooperative High School. When Mr. Calender died his son tried to carry it on. Modern High School was a big school, Louis Lynch died and the others tried to carry it on but they could not. Wakefield High School… I am 80 years old, so I cannot say I have any hopes that it will continue after I am gone, to be honest,” he said. [email protected]††