81.7 F
Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, May 18, 2024


Everyone says our children are our future, but translating that rhetoric into action has eluded our government officials for as long as we can remember. Now our high schools have lost their accreditation, while governors, senators and other top officials talked non-stop about their unswerving commitment to our young people's education.
The worst part of this latest debacle is that the Education Department was put on notice years ago about the potential for losing accreditation. And still, with years to remedy the conditions threatening the status, virtually nothing was done.
Should we wonder at this?
Let's look at the behavior of those vested with the responsibility for educating our children over the last few years. Maybe there is a clue here.
Linda Creque, commissioner of Education in the early 90s, lost millions of dollars in federal funds because of her failure to file grant documents in a timely manner. Several commissioners have followed in her footsteps on that account.
Next came the elusive James Cheek, under the Roy L. Schneider administration, who was almost always off-island and who finally resigned and disappeared completely. Cheek was later exposed living in the lap of luxury in Washington, D.C., while the Howard University bank he had oversight for went belly-up.
Then came Liston Davis, commissioner when Melvin Claxton wrote his "Cheating Our Children" series in 1996, who cautioned principals and other personnel not to give Claxton "information that is considered classified, confidential or deemed not in the best interest of the department." What about the best interest of the students?
Now we have Ruby Simmonds. This is the commissioner who ignored Notices of Violation issued by Planning and Natural Resources about the condition of drinking water at two schools until the story was leaked to the press and she was exposed. She later defended herself by saying there were so many papers on her desk that she couldn't be expected to see one in particular unless it were noted as urgent. Were toxins in school drinking water not urgent? And with the layers of bloated administrators working at the Education Department, it is hard to fathom why Simmonds’ desk should be so overloaded.
Simmonds later was exposed spending $23,000 on a new SUV for herself, using federal discretionary funds to do it. The justification for this expenditure: The car she was driving wasn't safe. How safe are our unsupervised students?
We must mention in passing the commitment to our youth displayed by St. Thomas- St. John insular superintendent Rosalia Payne when she went off on a cruise while a teachers’ strike was in full bloom. She hadn't had leave in over a year, she said.
In the meantime the deplorable physical conditions at many of the territory's schools still beg for attention.
Our students have nowhere to go when no teachers show up to teach them. Many still graduate from high school without being able to write a proper sentence. Shall we blame them?
Teacher daily attendance percentages have remained the same over the five years since Claxton exposed the abysmal record – "one in 10 V.I. teachers is absent from school on any given day" – and have even risen to one in five at the high school level.
While children have gone begging on the streets for such things as a copier for their school's administrative offices, top Education officials travel to useless conferences, buy new cars and take cruises – and much worse, they don't do their jobs with any efficiency or accountability; jobs they are very well paid to do.
We expect the governor to either demand that his commissioners do the job they could now be paid up to $94,000 a year to do or replace them with people who could — people with management experience and administrative skills, people with the proper priorities, people who can make hard decisions, people who will inspire their underlings and hold them accountable. In short, people who can turn their departments — especially the Education Department — around.
The job of Education commissioner is not a sinecure position to be used to pay off political favors or gain political favor. We urge — we implore — the governor to look far and wide for someone to lead this department — the most important department in government with the most important responsibility in our community — back into accreditation.
No more lip service. If our children are our future, let’s prove it – with action, not words.

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.