History - English

V Liceum Ogólnokształcące im. Augusta Witkowskiego (The August Witkowski 5th High School)

is a state secondary high school of general education with over a 130-year old tradition.

The school was founded in 1871 as “The First Imperial Practical Upper School” on the strength of the decree issued by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.

The main purpose of the newly established school was to prepare the youth for further studies at technical universities. At that time, this type of school, with the Polish language as the language of instruction, was of great importance for the Polish nation - deprived of their own independent state.

Soon, the school reached a very high standard of education owing to its many eminent teachers (famous geographers, philosophers, historians, mathematicians and artists) who, in great majority, were also distinguished professors of the Jagiellonian University or The Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow.

In the years between 1860 and 1914, known as ‘the era of autonomous Galicia”, The First Imperial Practical Upper School earned a reputation as one of the best schools all over Galicia.

For the first twenty five years of its existence the school had changed its address twice and it was not until 1896 that it finally moved into a newly built splendid neorenaissance edifice at 12 Studencka Street, where it has been housed up till now.

During World War I the school building functioned as a military hospital. The military operations affected the education system severely, making it hard and unsteady to maintain. A lot of young boys were so strongly determined to fight for their country’s independence that they abandoned school to join the Polish Legions, formed by the legendary Polish commander Józef Piłsudski. The Legions were the first Polish paramilitary troops to resist the Austrian occupation successfully, regain independence and finally usher in a new era of the Second Republic of Poland (1918 – 1939).

In 1921 the school received its new name: VIII Państwowe Gimnazjum Matematyczno-Przyrodnicze

im. Augusta Witkowskiego (The 8th State Grammar School of Mathematics and Natural Science).

Since then we have been bound up with our patron - professor August Witkowski (1854 -1913) both, an eminent physicist and great humanist, also one of the former Rectors of the Jagiellonian University.

The school’s principles were aimed at continuing the best Galician traditions of teaching math and physics as the top priority subjects. The best evidence for recognizing the school’s highest standards of teaching science and technology on the secondary education level was the fact that the school’s graduates gained, quite exceptionally, unconditional admission to Lvow Institute of High Technology (at that time a top ranking technical university in Poland) without being obliged, like all other candidates, to take a special entrance examination.

The time of peace and the school’s prosperity was brutally interrupted again after the outbreak of World War II (1939 – 1945). The interiors of the school building were completely devastated, which caused a considerable loss of the school archives.

The Nazi persecution of the Polish civilians spared neither teachers nor students. The war ordeals of many teachers and students of our school could be the best evidence of not only their utter personal tragedy but also of their ultimate sacrifice, bravery and patriotism. Many of them met a martyr’s death in concentration camps or were killed in battle. But there was also a considerable number of the students who managed to force their way to the West in order to join the Polish Army Corps being formed there. In the postwar archives one can find a few names of our graduates who, as pilots in the British Royal Air Force (RAF), took part in the Battle of Britain or, as soldiers of all ranks in the Allied forces, fought in all battle fields both in Europe and Africa.

However, despite the war ordeal, the school survived and was restored to life immediately after the war was over. In 1945 the school’s first postwar graduates succeeded in passing the finals and obtained their ‘matura’ i.e. secondary school certificates.

In 1956 the school’s name was changed for the last time and since then it has been known as

V Liceum Ogólnokształcące im. Augusta Witkowskiego w Krakowie (The August Witkowski 5th High School in Krakow).

From the mid-1950s on, the school started to revitalize rapidly, thanks to its contemporary headmaster Stanisław Potoczek, M.A. Owing to his great determination and perseverance,

the school could boast over the school theatre that was famous not only in Krakow but all over Poland. Throughout the seventeen years of its existence, the theatre gave 20 premieres and 500 performances for the audience of over 100,000 spectators.

Among 12 former headmasters of our school there is still one more, very distinguished person of great merits, whose name deserves a special mention for all he did, during his term, to make this school so highly esteemed today. Mieczysław Stefanów, M.A held the office from 1971 to 1991, greatly contributing to the school’s steady progress towards the highest standards of education. During his term, the school earned a reputation as one of the best known, top ranking senior high schools in Poland. It was at his time as the headmaster that the school pioneered in introducing highly advanced levels of education to the so called ‘extended program forms’, in which the students could broaden the knowledge of their favourite subjects by choosing one of the two advanced syllabuses, offered to them either in the humanities or science. The students were also offered special ‘language forms’ where they could learn foreign languages more intensively and much faster. Since that time we have maintained friendly contacts and school exchanges with several senior high schools in Europe, mainly from Germany France, Spain and Switzerland.

It was also Headmaster Mieczysław Stefanów’s idea to initiate a joint cooperation between our school and the Jagiellonian University, which has enabled our students to attend academic lectures and gain their first serious scientific experience in university laboratories, excellently equipped with the latest high-tech. modern devices and facilities, all at their disposal. The advantages of this cooperation are invaluable. Having permanent access to all available, regularly updated sources of information and the latest research data, our students have already made it a good old school tradition to participate in a great variety of subject competitions, usually winning most of them or achieving such excellent results that they always place them among the best competitors.

In 1992, mgr Stanisław Pietras was appointed the sixteenth headmaster of the August Witkowski Fifth High School in Kraków. It was now his utmost responsibility to continue the great traditions of his predecessors. His first years in office were a time of many important changes, especially the modernization of the school, but all in the spirit of what had already been done, respecting the memory of great teachers and pupils who actively took part in creating the school’s rich history. The more prominent initiatives include the founding of the Society of Graduates and Friends of the 5th High School, which has proved to be a great way of keeping in touch and maintaining emotional ties amongst the former students. The school keeps track of its graduates' careers, and each year Matura anniversaries take place and new memorial tablets of outstanding pupils and professors are added to the already impressive array decorating the school’s corridors.

Retaining the school’s modern image has always been the object of the headmaster’s special attention. In the last twenty years he has succeeded in carrying out several projects including a severe renovation of the building and the surrounding area. The roof was renovated, the windows were replaced and some of the cellars have been transformed into classrooms. Small gardens with interesting plant-life have been created in the school’ courtyard, giving the students an opportunity to relax on the park-styled benches. As early as in 1995 the school was connected to a modern internet network, which resulted in the creation of a sound educational base (2 IT rooms, chemistry and biology laboratories) Classrooms have been equipped with interactive whiteboards, and the school has been fully computerized. A great amount of attention is being paid to detail in every investment, in keeping it in line with the school’s heritage and history. A modern work-place has been created in the historical building. The innovations that were introduced in 2010 include a lift, which allows easy access for disabled students, as well as the renovation of the school’s gym and the introduction of an electronic school attendance and grading system.

The school’s priority in every field of activity is the students’ thorough development, a special care for the expanding of abilities and interests, as well as helping in honing individual talents and passions. For this reason our teachers organize many different initiatives designed to help achieve specific goals (education camps, charity work, international student exchange, science projects and lectures, theatre activities, PIWO, the school choir, The Ryszard Zapała Education Week, and many more). Every year the school organizes a series of lectures named after the school patron, Wszechnica Witkowskiego (series of popular science lectures), during which outstanding figures of Kraków’s academic circles are invited to the school to share their knowledge with the students. Our pupils’ achievements in the nationwide Olimpiada contests have earned them state scholarships as well as Kraków City educational prizes of all kinds. The school provides not only a great environment for “olimpians”, but also perfect conditions for developing individual passions, making sure no student is left without attention.

The Fifth High School’s reputation is recognized not only by the large number of candidates applying each year, but also in various high school rankings.