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New principal keen to help students thrive

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Shaping young minds: new Somersfield principal Carlos Symonds loves the school’s focus on celebrating diversity (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Carlos Symonds loves making students look at things from a fresh perspective. This is partly what drew him to Somersfield Academy. According to the 58-year-old, he especially loves that the Devonshire school “honours diversity and celebrates differences”.

He took over as the school’s first black Bermudian principal this month.

What made you want to be a teacher?

I was at the Sixth Form Centre [the predecessor to the Bermuda College] and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did know I needed a scholarship to go to university.

What did your parents do?

My father, Wallace, had a water trucking business and my mother, Isla, had a preschool. While at the Bermuda College, men from the Ministry of Education visited us. They suggested I become a teacher and I looked at them with scepticism.

Why so sceptical?

I’d been considering law. They said they would sponsor me while I was in school all I would have to do is pay back the number of years to the system. I applied and was accepted and supported for six years.

Was it a good decision?

When I returned to Bermuda in 1982 and started teaching I enjoyed it. I can’t go anywhere in Bermuda without seeing a former student. My wife and I went to dinner on Saturday night. On my way back to the car, the security guard wanted to know how he could advance his career.

What did you tell him?

Sometimes you are in positions where you just assume leadership. I started out teaching English at Berkeley. I recalled how there was an assembly and the leadership of the school was late, so students were not as quiet as they should have been. I took a risk and stood up and had all the students gather their composure.

They quietened down. I kept them that way until leadership arrived. Then I felt a sense of empowerment. Then I applied for a position of leadership and for other positions until I was here.

Where were you before coming to Somersfield Academy?

I was deputy head at Berkeley Institute for six years and then principal at Clearwater Middle School for six. While at Clearwater, I tried to get the government to implement the International Baccalaureate middle years programme in public schools.

They went with the Cambridge system but I became known as government’s IB man. That’s why Somersfield [which uses the IB Middle years programme] recruited me five years ago to head their secondary department.

When you first started at Somersfield, did you think you were going to be the principal?

When I arrived I was leaving a principalship and I wanted a new experience. It wasn’t something I was aspiring towards. It was a great change to assume the head of secondary.

Were you nervous when you started at Somersfield?

At that time there were a number of challenges that the [secondary] division was experiencing. They were looking for someone to bring some stability to that post — there had been three previous division heads who lasted up to two years. But I enjoyed the challenge and rose to it.

What do you do in your spare time?

In the 1990s I was known as the “Voice of Bermuda”. I recorded hundreds of commercials and represented Bermuda tourism. I still do voice work every now and again. Some of my students say they can recognise my voice all the way across the playground.

You’re also a photographer?

I actually worked for the Bermuda Sun at one point. I really love it. I keep my camera in the office. The Somersfield year book has plenty of my pictures. You’ll see me out there during school sports events taking pictures. I have had photography clubs while I’ve been here. Our students have won awards in local competitions.

Has the photography influenced your teaching at all?

It has helped with making decisions. Art forces you to look at things from different angles and not be settled by what you see on the surface.

Do you have any children of your own at the school?

My wife Venetta and I have two grown children, Marcus and Natasia, but I have several nieces and nephews at Somersfield.

What are your goals for Somersfield moving forward?

To make us the finest school in Bermuda. I would like to ensure that staff, parents and students have a shared vision and we are all working together, singing in harmony.

The vision is to ensure we fulfil the Somersfield Promise, to stimulate intellectual curiosity and accomplishment, to instil compassion and respect and always to honour the daring dreams and hidden talents of the individual.

We will focus on improving the visual and performing arts, science, technology and mathematics, health and wellness, green school initiatives, and provide opportunities for more students to enjoy a Somersfield education through scholarships and bursaries.

Man of many talents: principal Carlos Symonds is also a skilled photographer and keeps a camera at the office (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)