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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024


Dec. 4, 2001 — Try as he might, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste had a hard time Monday night pinning blame for the pending loss of accreditation of the territory's high schools on the leaders of the Education Department.
Under questioning by Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, the chronology of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools' decision to drop the accreditation of St. Croix's Central High School and St. Thomas' Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean High Schools on Dec. 31 came to light.
In a series of letters from Middle States to Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds earlier this year, the organization spelled out what the department needed to do to keep accreditation. But a key letter to the commissioner in April reminding the department of a May 1 deadline got lost in the shuffle, Simmonds said. The result was Middle States' Nov. 8 decision to decertify the three high schools. Even though Central High School submitted its required documentation by the deadline, it will likely lose its accreditation because of the inaction on the part of the other schools.
Middle States wanted to see improvement in several areas, including site-based management of the schools, improvements in teacher and student attendance and the creation of a substitute teacher pool — demands that date back at least three years. Additionally, it was revealed Monday that another reason for the loss of accreditation was that IEKH officials hadn't paid dues to Middle States in three years.
Simmonds said the department's focus on retaining federal funding, combined with the sheer amount of mail received by her office, caused the accreditation issue to get lost in the shuffle.
"I did not actually see that letter right away because I was in the midst of doing business on the federal funds," Simmonds said. "We should have gotten back to [Middle States] in a more timely manner."
But apparently, neither of the Education Department's two district supervisors — Terrence Joseph for St. Croix and Rosalia Payne for St. Thomas-St. John — managed to keep tabs on the accreditation issue either, even though it dates back to before 1998, Baptiste pointed out. That the ball was dropped after the Senate appropriated funding for site-based management and to rectify the substitute teacher problems irked Jn Baptiste, a member of the Education Committee in the 23rd Legislature and now chairman in the 24th.
"This issue has been on the front burner since the 23rd Legislature," he said. "Don't tell me ‘I don't know what's going on in my office.' Hell, no. I'm not going to accept this. Stop passing the buck."
He pressed Simmonds, Joseph and Payne to say who was responsible for the accreditation debacle.
"I really wouldn't say anybody dropped the ball," Payne said. "You just can't look at it as a person. It is several things…"
In a follow-up letter to Middle States several months ago, Simmonds said she bore the responsibility for the outcome. But neither she nor her subordinates reiterated that Monday, perhaps in light of the fact that Jn Baptiste has called for her ouster.
"I don't feel good sitting here knowing I'm the commissioner of Education" and the schools have lost accreditation, Simmonds said. "It's not something I'm proud of."
What specially bothered senators was that the 24th Legislature has appropriated about $140 million for education, including $1.5 million to recruit teachers and establish a substitute teacher pool and $100,000 each for the territory's four high schools so they can carry out site-based management.
Under questioning, Simmonds said that no teachers have been identified to fill the substitute pool. And though the district superintendents were notified last March that the high schools had their $100,000 available, Kent Moorhead, Central High's principal, said he didn't receive a check until last week.
What Does Accreditation Mean?
Accreditation by Middle States is an external, non-biased evaluation to let a school know where it stands and how to improve. Accreditation today is typically for five or 10 years. It does not necessarily mean that a student who has graduated from a non-accredited school cannot go on to college.
When asked by Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd what accreditation meant to her, Simmonds said it was "important," even though she made a statement several days ago that loss of accreditation doesn't mean the territory's public schools are bad.
"It is extremely important. It says the schools have met a certain standard of performance," Simmonds said. "But it doesn't mean we need to go out and make a hue and cry."
Kurt Vialet, principal of the St. Croix Educational Complex, which has yet to apply for accreditation because of its relative newness, agreed with Simmonds. Vialet said he sees positive things being done at the Complex, including an increase in teacher and student attendance and the ninth-grade promotion rate.
"We basically have the whole [St. Croix] island panicking over the accreditation issue," he said.
Others, however, said it was an issue to be worried about because it illustrates systemic problems within the Education Department. Dr. Jorge Galiber, chairman of the V.I. Board of Education, said a bill aimed at giving the board more governance power over the department has been submitted to the Senate.
"It is incomprehensible that we're faced with this accreditation crisis," Galiber said. "It's becoming increasingly clear that the structure of our education system is designed for failure."
Jn Baptiste said the territory's schools need to be evaluated by outsiders.
"My understanding is that if you have curriculum, faculty and facilities, you need an independent entity to evaluate your program," he said. "The issue of accreditation is important, contrary to those who seek to downplay it."
Simmonds said she has filed an appeal with Middle States to reconsider the loss of accreditation. She has also asked that accreditation be extended until the end of the school year in June.
Middle States, she said, "has not said the door is closed. So to me, there is still the possibility to have our accreditation restored."
The Senate Education Committee will hold a meeting on the accreditation issue at 3 p.m. Friday in the Senate chambers on St. Thomas.

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