83.9 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 17, 2024


The Virgin Islands Board of Education on Thursday made no secret of its dissatisfaction with the governance of education in the territory and announced a bill to restructure the Education Department.
In an afternoon press conference, board members said they have submitted legislation to the Senate Committee on Education which would place authority for public education in the hands of a board, instead of the present department structure.
Board Chairman Keith Richards said schools did not open on time this year because plans were not made soon enough. He said the board found summer repairs and maintenance could be greatly improved by having a maintenance plan by March that would go into effect immediately after the close of school, and by more effectively utilizing maintenance and custodial staff.
He said the board had made site inspections throughout the year which revealed that custodial staffs of the schools were not well-utilized, especially on St. Thomas where they saw "custodial staffers sitting around doing nothing."
The board, he said, knew Charlotte Amalie High School, Lockhart and Peace Corps elementary schools wouldn't be ready. Massive cleanups on other island schools are needed, Richards said. On St. John, he said, Guy Benjamin Elementary School needs more work. On St. Croix, Central High School and Juanita Gardine Elementary School are still not ready.
Another grave concern of the board is making up the 1,080 school hours lost with the late openings. Board member Donna Frett Gregory noted that adding hours onto the school day isn't an acceptable alternative, nor is using holidays as school days. She said experience has shown that "kids won't come on those days, and their parents won't encourage them to."
Gregory and board member Gerald Hodge were both adamant that action be taken "quickly" to resolve the matter. They noted that the V.I. Code supersedes any union agreement on the matter.
However, they said the board can only advise and make recommendations — it can't take action.
In the legislation the board drafted, a Board of Education would be developed with new responsibilities, and some teeth. It would hire a commissioner or superintendent of education whose tenure would be performance-based. The board would be responsible for the commissioner's performance and could remove him or her immediately if it determined the person wasn't performing effectively.
Gregory explained that she hoped the bill would remove politics from the commissioner's position as much as is possible. She said education funding now just "falls into the pot" with all other administration budgets. The new structure could solicit funding for education from dedicated taxation, she said, and remove some of the present overlapping responsibilities.
Richards noted these are not novel ideas. "These are proven concepts used in thousands of schools throughout the States," he said. He said all private schools are run successfully by boards.
The bill is now in the hands of Sen. David Jones, who told the board it should be heard by the committee before the end of the month. Jones was not available for comment Thursday afternoon.
Board members also said that the Education Department by Monday must comply with a list of certified or certifiable administrators given it by the board to fill administrative vacancies. If other persons were put in those vacancies, they must be removed before school opens. The board has not heard from the department on this issue, and will ask the governor's assistance if it doesn't hear by Monday. Legal action, Gregory said, will be a last resort.
The board had also mandated the department to provide alternative education for secondary students who have violent tendencies or other social problems that can't be addressed in a traditional school setting. Though the board has requested an update, Education hasn't submitted a plan as yet. Gregory said the board had its own plan to share with the department, if the status report isn't satisfactory, but the report is due now.
In other measures, the board:
– Emphasized enforcement of the V.I. Student Discipline Policy.
– Increased the number of courses required for graduation from 21 to 26, which would affect incoming ninth graders only.
– Added additional courses in Computer Science and Developmental Reading, Writing and Speech.
– Requested an independent assessment of the Block Scheduling System to be completed by June 2001.
Board members attending the press briefing were Gregory, Richards, Hodge and Pat Williams.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.