CLARKSON BREWSTER could stand before a noisy bunch of children and without uttering a single word, speak volumes.
Case in point: on many occasions after the lunch bell rang for classes to restart, unconcerned children instead continued making merry on the pasture of Vauxhall Primary School, all he had to do was place his statuesque figure in the doorway next to the School Meals Department, arms crossed behind his back (sometimes to hide his nifty leather strap), and in a matter of seconds the entire field was clear.
That was the man who students came to love, respect and admire as a stern but fair disciplinarian.
“I think I was disciplined enough,” Brewster said in reflection.
“I used the scripture to chastise the children to a proper degree. Jeremiah 30, Verse 11b: ‘I will discipline you to the proper degree and I will by no means leave you unpunished’. So even though some of the children might think that discipline was too hard for them, when they become adults, they are the students who appreciate me now. Interesting enough, not one of them has said anything that is negative to me,” he said with a laugh.
Now in his 70s, “Mr Brewster”, as he is affectionately known, sat comfortably in his Christ Church home for an interview with the DAILY NATION wearing his signature spectacles and sporting salt and pepper hair, now mostly salt.
The father of two daughters was engaging, still very astute and at times witty. A constant smile enveloped his face whenever the name of his beloved school was mentioned and as he recounted some of his experiences of serving as headmaster of the Christ Church institution for 19 years.
His career in teaching spanned more than four decades, but many people might not be aware that Brewster almost did not join the service. That’s because, in 1965 upon his graduation from Boys’ Foundation School, although he had always aspired to become a teacher, he had no desire to sit at home doing nothing until a position opened. So, he applied for a post in the general Civil Service.
Luckily for him, soon after he was called for a temporary job in the Water Works Department. And as fate would have it, not long after he was offered a permanent post there, a teaching job became available. Of course he chose teaching and was transferred to Parkinson Memorial Secondary School, which had opened five years earlier in 1960.
“I went to Parkinson but I didn’t like it at first. I was put in a class with some senior fellows and they were challenging; they didn’t seem too receptive. One day I called the chief personnel officer to ask to be moved and he told me the report I got [from Water Works] was so good in that short time and that I should stick it for a little longer, and if I didn’t like it then come and see him. But I never went to see him. I didn’t want to change my job again having come from a temporary post, for people to think that I am unsteady,” he recalled with a laugh.
Brewster decided to “stick it out”, and he literally did that for 20 years, during which time he was promoted to senior teacher, after just seven years, and also made a name for himself as a mathematics tutor.
In 1985 his tenure at Parkinson was completed when he became headmaster at St Giles Senior School, and less than a year later, head at Vauxhall Composite School.
A devout Jehovah’s Witness, Brewster maintained that he arrived at Vauxhall at the “right” time.
Admittedly, at that time Vauxhall Composite was not
known for anything positive but as many past pupils would attest, Brewster’s drive and strength of character not only played a significant role in the transformation of the school, but also the surrounding communities of Vauxhall, Sargeant’s Village and Kendal Hill.
“Strive to grow in strength, in knowledge and in grace” was the motto that students pledged. Brewster said that daily he made a commitment to himself “to provide the pupils with quality education, compatible with the changing times and seasons”.
Hence, one of the first goals he set upon accepting the new post was to return the school to primary status.
The educator explained that he never liked the idea of a composite school (a school that catered for both primary and secondary-age children) because he did not believe that children of secondary school age could be adequately served.
“A composite is a glorified primary school so you have children who should be in the secondary school system lumped into the other system saying it is composite without [teachers] having the appropriate skills. That was challenging. So I tried to introduce skills that would help those children [but] we didn’t have the physical space. I negotiated with the Ministry of Education and they were transferred,” he explained.
Upon the transferral of the seniors, another issue arose. The school’s roll wasn’t growing and some students were routinely absent. It was then he learnt that was because the older children had to stay at home to babysit their siblings who were younger than the required age to enter school.
“Lots of the parents would go to get two days’ work at supermarkets on Fridays and Saturdays, so the bigger ones would have to keep the smaller ones. So I thought if I brought them into school, the big ones would come. And it worked. That to me was one of the important initiatives,” Brewster said. He credited Lucille Goddard with being “the single most important person” for building the school roll.
In addition to creating a nursery class and lowering the entrance age to three, Brewster also introduced several developmental programmes for staff, students and parents over the years. The most successful was arguably the parent education programmes that began in 1990, mainly because they gave parents a sense of involvement and accomplishment, which mushroomed throughout their families and communities.
In 2005, Brewster retired as principal and from the teaching service.
With Ginger, his wife of 45 years, by his side, Brewster stressed that he was happy with all his experiences.
“I don’t have regrets. I did not want to replace the role of the parents but I was very glad that I was able to assist, whether in some small measure, the formation of the character and shaping of the personality of quite a few people, some who hold important positions in this country . . . .” (SDB Media)