Berkeley: doing its best for 120 years
Keisha Douglas describes herself as a “lifelong Berkeleyite” having studied at the school, taught there for 20 years and who now takes the helm as its principal.
She began her career at the school as a mathematics teacher and rose through the ranks taking positions as head of a year group, head of math, deputy principal and acting principal.
She “left the building” for two years to become principal at Clearwater Middle School before applying for the top job at Berkeley.
Ms Douglas holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Mathematical Sciences, and a Master of Arts degree in Instruction and Curriculum.
Asked what her reaction was when she learned she had been chosen to become principal at Berkeley, Ms Douglas told us: “It was a journey of all journeys to bring me back to this ultimate goal and dream.”
Bermuda’s first non-segregated school is celebrating 120 years of education .
The Berkeley Institute, the idea of 11 “founding fathers”, opened its doors on September 6, 1897 — and it has stuck to its original plan to provide a first-class education to any pupil prepared to try their best.
New principal Keisha Douglas, the school’s eighth head teacher and herself a former pupil, said: “The founding fathers would be excited to know that we truly remain a senior school for all and it is our vision to be first choice for everybody.
“We continue along that path with our programming and with our staffing — enticing persons over and realising that we continue, after 120 years, to produce role-model citizens who go to the highest heights in Bermuda and worldwide.”
Top businessmen and a string of Bermuda premiers, including Paula Cox, Ewart Brown, Alex Scott, Dame Jennifer Smith and Dame Pamela Gordon-Banks, have all worn Berkeley’s distinctive green and gold.
Ms Douglas said: “Not everyone will be a premier, a doctor or a lawyer, but we are still ensuring success for all by finding their strengths.
“It is amazing how we evolved to give everyone access. From a principal’s perspective, our goal is to keep that legacy and pride at the fore.”
She added: “Our history and legacy will never change. That is the only thing that can ever stay constant and current.
“We will be around for a long time — we are going nowhere. Our goal is that everyone will have a pathway to success and live out the dream of our founding fathers.
“We are providing a first-class education for all.”
The school first opened at Samaritan’s Lodge on Court Street, Hamilton, then land on St John’s Road, Pembroke, in 1899 was bought for a new and larger school, which opened in 1902.
The latest incarnation, in nearby Berkeley Road, opened in 2006.
The school was named after Bishop George Berkeley — an Anglican priest from Dysart, Ireland, who wanted to establish a school in the colonies.
But his original project collapsed after funding failed to materialise.
Around 100 years later, the Reverend William Dowding revived Berkeley’s dream of establishing an interracial school but financial support for Rev Dowding’s short-lived interracial St Paul’s College also evaporated.
The Berkeley Educational Society was formed and met on October 6, 1879 at the home of businessman and landowner Samuel David Robinson.
Members campaigned to raise funds for the school and they became known as Berkeley Institute’s founding fathers.
And they achieved their dream of a new school for all, despite 18 years of struggle — not least with a reluctant white establishment in still-segregated Bermuda.
The school’s motto Respice Finem — Keep the end in view — still stands as a tribute to their determination.
Chairman of the board of governors Craig Bridgewater, who is a managing director at professional services firm KPMG, said new pupils were made aware of the struggle to found the school.
He said: “For the students coming in, we have the Berkeley Project where they have to write about what it is like to be Berkeleyite.
“The students have to research the history of Berkeley — the founding fathers, who they were and so on and whoever writes the best essay gets to present that at a prize giving.
“From day one — the whole Berkeley spirit, the green and the gold school colours and the history of Berkeley — is instilled.
“Even wearing your uniform properly is important. We incorporate that from day one — from orientation — and keep that going.”
And Ms Douglas added that former pupils also acted as an unofficial school police to ensure present pupils lived up to the school’s high standards.
She said: “It’s true — Berkeleyites will call up the principal and tell us about someone’s tie not being on properly — they take it very seriously. It is part of that pride. That is what we are about — building up a nation. We don’t apologise for our greatness — we never have.
“When I attended Berkeley from 1985 to 1990, we were told every day that we were the best.
“We believed it and we carried ourselves accordingly. No one could tell us anything different.”
Ms Douglas, ex-principal of Clearwater Middle School, said former Berkeley Institute principal, maths teacher and anti-segregation campaigner Dr Clifford Maxwell set her on her career path.
She added: “My dream was to be a nursery teacher. But Dr Maxwell said I had to teach mathematics because I was able to galvanise all my friends and help them to understand the subject. I attribute everything I have become to him.”
And quality of teaching remains a major part of the school’s ethos.
Ms Douglas said: “It makes a big difference — we have to have top teachers in order to continue with top programmes. We have to ensure pathway for success for all students of all abilities now that we are comprehensive. We have teachers who know all about the guidelines to get students top scholarships.”
Another key ingredient is a programming schedule that helps to connect Bermuda to the rest of the world.
Mr Bridgewater said: “We have to meet guidelines around the curriculum but we reserve the right to go over and above that.
“There was always a focus on internationally recognisable qualifications — we did our RSAs and GCEs and now there are the IGCSEs — because we are trying to create global citizenship.
“Over the last few years under former principal Dr Phyllis Curtis-Tweed we focused on bedding down our international qualifications so there was a big focus on advanced placement for college and dual enrolment with the Bermuda College.”
Ms Douglas added: “I can go to any continent and mention Berkeley Institute and they know what it means.
“I believe that we are, and will continue to be, first choice. It takes strong leadership and programming married with our staff and our ability to have a board that governors and that can make changes.”
Sir Edward “E.T.” Richards
Born in Guyana, but came to Bermuda to teach maths at Berkeley in 1930. Later joined the United Bermuda Party, and became the island’s first black government leader in 1971. Two years into his tenure, the position was renamed premier. Retired as premier and from politics in 1975 and died in 1991.
Dame Pamela Gordon-Banks
Attended Berkeley from 1967 to 1971, before leaving aged 16 because she was pregnant with her daughter Veronica. Became a United Bermuda Party senator in 1990, an MP in 1993 and the island’s first female premier in 1997, before serving as Opposition Leader for three years after the UBP lost the 1998 General Election. Retired from politics in 2003.
Dame Jennifer Smith
Part of the Berkeley Class of 1963, along with former finance minister Bob Richards, former health minister Jeanne Atherden and former Progressive Labour Party senator Vince Ingham. A PLP senator or MP from 1980 to 2012, leading the party to its historic 1998 General Election victory to become its first premier, a position she held for five years.
A Berkeley student from 1951 to 1956. Described the school as his “security blanket” which provided him and other black pupils with exceptional education at a time when the school system and Bermudian society were both rigidly segregated. A Progressive Labour Party MP between 1993 and 2012, and premier from 2003 to 2006.
Attended Berkeley in the late 1950s before his parents sent him to live with an aunt in Jamaica. Became a Progressive Labour Party MP in 1993 and premier in 2006, before retiring from politics in 2010.
A Berkeley student in the late 1970s. A Progressive Labour Party MP from 1996 to 2012, completing a rise through the ranks with a “coronation” as premier in 2010. Bowed out of the House of Assembly when the One Bermuda Alliance gained power in 2012.
• This article was amended to correct an error which said Dame Pamela Gordon-Banks retired from politics in 1998. In fact, Dame Pamela served as Opposition leader from 1998 until 2001, and on the Opposition back benches until her retirement in 2003.
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