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Gratias refero, Michelle

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It was our distinct privilege to serve as Michelle’s teaching colleagues at Berkeley during her initial period of service, that is, from 1975 to 1978. Robert was a teacher of English language and literature, I a teacher of French and Michelle a teacher of chemistry and biology.


And what a wonderful time that was at the old Berkeley on St. John’s Road — admirable professionalism, great camaraderie, passion for teaching, wonderful students [of course, there were the nuisances too!], lots of fun and, above all, an unwavering love for Berkeley and all for which our school stood. And there was a dynamic young science teacher named Michelle.


Gary: Mrs. Michelle P. Simmons, née Grant, was born on 20th October, 1952 to adoring parents, Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Grant. Mrs. Simmons recalls that expectations for her older sister Sonia and her were set from home and cites her parents’ firm but loving guidance as key to their success in school.

At the tender age of three, Michelle commenced her formal education at the Tankard School which was operated out of a home on Ewing Street in Hamilton. She next attended Central School [now Victor Scott Primary School], which at that time, before the zoning of schools was introduced in Bermuda, was much sought after by parents and students across the Island because of the outstanding quality of education that it provided. Michelle performed brilliantly throughout her years at Central.

Upon finishing Central at age ten, Michelle entered The Berkeley Institute. Many will recall that at that time, Berkeley required not only an entrance exam, but also an interview with the principal, Mr. F.S. Furbert. Her quiet demeanour notwithstanding, Michelle dazzled Mr. Furbert with her responses and soon became a member of Form 1 West.

Whilst a student at Berkeley, Michelle demonstrated keen interest in all areas of the curriculum, but notes that even in those early years, Latin, the sciences and mathematics were her favourites. Having performed superbly in all subjects in the GCE ‘O’ Level exams, earning the coveted honour of Top Girl upon her graduation from Berkeley in 1968, it was no surprise, therefore, that Michelle would later gain ‘A’ Levels in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics, subjects that provided the foundation of what was to be a stellar career in science and education.

Mrs. Simmons recalls that Sports Day was one of her favourite events at Berkeley, the fun-filled battles between Green and Gold. Alas, she was a member of the Gold House, the one negative that I am obliged to attach to Michelle’s otherwise most distinguished career as a Berkeleyite!

She also recalls with fondness the Annual Prize Giving Ceremony [but why wouldn’t she, as she always walked away with the top prizes!], and many teachers who made a profound impression on her. Some of her fondest memories in this regard relate to the principal Mr. Furbert who was also her Latin teacher. She recalls that as she and her classmates prepared for their ‘O’ Levels, Mr. Furbert offered extra classes and, most notably, began those classes at 7:30am, a practice that she would follow during her own career as a teacher.

In 1978, Mrs. Simmons left the Berkeley to teach in other countries. She taught GCSE ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level Chemistry in the United Kingdom and then ‘A’ Level Chemistry for a year and a half in Nigeria. When Mrs. Simmons returned to Bermuda in the early 90s, she served as a substitute teacher at Warwick Secondary School before taking up a permanent position at Bermuda High School for Girls where she was to serve for ten years. She was ultimately appointed BHS’s Secondary School Head, a position that enabled her to hone the leadership skills that she had acquired whilst serving at Berkeley previously, in the United Kingdom, in Nigeria and at Warwick Secondary School.

The following is a submission from Mrs. Penne Leseur, parent and former Board Member, Bermuda High School:

“Michelle was an outstanding Head of Chemistry and then Head of the Secondary Department at BHS. She left a long trail of confident young women that will long remember their amazing relationship with their chemistry teacher and later as an advisor.

“We had long hoped Michelle would become Head of BHS but her alma mater won out.

“Our loss was truly Berkeley’s gain.”

Mrs. Simmons’s service as BHS’s Secondary School Head would also prove advantageous as she moved in January 1993 to her next post, the principalship of her Alma Mater, The Berkeley Institute. Asked to comment on how her varied teaching and administrative experiences were perfect preparation for the principalship, Mrs. Simmons advises: “God directs our lives, if we allow him to.”

Thus, in January 1993 Mrs. Simmons was appointed the first female principal of The Berkeley Institute. Upon assuming her new post just over twenty years ago, she said that she hoped to give back to the school that had given her so much. She stated: “I would not be the person I am today without the foundation that Berkeley laid for me.”

During her 20 year tenure as Berkeley’s principal, Mrs. Simmons has led the school through a time of profound change, ushered the school into a new building and implemented a comprehensive and inclusive system. Other great accomplishments as principal include, but are not limited to, the introduction of introducing new technology, the addition of more Student Leadership opportunities and the integration of GCSE’s into the school’s curriculum.

Though these tasks were not without their challenges, Mrs. Simmons accomplished them all with steely determination, the highest standards of professionalism, a warm smile, a caring heart and a fervent hope to help better The Berkeley Institute. Mrs. Simmons remains optimistic that Berkeley will establish more internationally accredited programmes and advance its mission to prepare Berkeleyites to compete globally. One of her greatest wishes is to “Berkeleyites leading … where ever they may be.”

Retirement plans? Mrs. Simmons says with her characteristic smile that she remains open to any opportunity. She hopes to spend her immediate days in a time of reflection, enjoying the chance to take a break or to travel the world. She eagerly anticipates spending time with her husband, Dr. Erskine Simmons, and with her dear mother who will soon celebrate her 90th birthday.


So, as the sun sets serenely on Mrs. Simmons’s tenure as principal of The Berkeley Institute, we pause to offer heartfelt gratitude to her for a job exceedingly well done.

Michelle, Berkeleyites past, current Berkeleyites and future Berkeleyites owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for continuing to hold Berkeley’s banner high during the past two decades, for ensuring that her flame remained burning bright, and for ensuring that excellence of character, excellence of scholarship and excellence of citizenship remain the cornerstone of the Berkeley experience.

In your favourite Latin, gratias refero. Madame Principal, mille fois merci! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Respice Finem.

Robert and Gary:

Below former teaching colleagues Robert Horton and Gary Phillips, who diplomatically and eloquently ‘roasted’ principal Michelle dialoguing about her earliest days in Bermuda, exploits in Liverpool, England and teaching in Africa among other places.
Other Berkeleyites at ‘The Keep’ above are Head of Government’s Civil Service, Donald Scott with his wife; Dr. Maria Seaman, BI Chaplain and Pastor of Shekinah Worship Center and friends.

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Published June 22, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 21, 2013 at 12:12 pm)

Gratias refero, Michelle

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