Dec. 23, 2002 – After many months of speculation, meetings and public inquiry, Noreen Michael was finally approved as Education Commissioner in one of the last acts of the 24th Legislature, which met in its final session on Monday.
Michael has served as acting commissioner since April 30, when Gov. Charles W. Turnbull fired Ruby Simmonds from the position upon learning that the territory's appeal of the loss of accreditation for three high schools had been rejected. The governor sent his nomination of Michael to succeed Simmonds down to the Senate on Aug. 30. She was unanimously approved by the Senate Rules Committee Oct. 10.
But this has not been a cakewalk for Michael.
The Rules Committee chair, Sen. Carlton Dowe, and his Education Committee counterpart, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, had questioned Michael's abilities throughout the summer, saying they needed proof that the reaccreditation process was proceeding on schedule. Michael provided that assurance with a current timetable in her appearance before the Rules Committee.
Her approval Monday was near unanimous, with the lone "no" vote cast by Sen. Adelbert Bryan on his last day in the Senate, at least for the next two years, as he lost his bid for re-election in November.
Bryan, in a discourse that was to continue throughout the day, accused Michael of being part of a "conspiracy of silence." "What does she know now that she didn't know when Ruby Simmonds was commissioner?" he asked.
He commented on the "state of decadence" in the school system, and the "hypocrisy" surrounding it, comments he applied to other individuals and government departments as the long day wound on.
A few of the other senators supporting Michael's nomination had advice for the new commissioner. Sen. Lorraine Berry suggested strongly that Michael familiarize herself with a report the University of the Virgin Islands did earlier this year on the Department of Education. (For the complete report, see "UVI study of Education Department efficiency".)
The report recommends an entire restructuring of the department into two politically independent districts. Berry reminded Michael that problems that existed before the loss of accreditation still exist — such as the writing skills of the territory's students being 39 percent below the rest of the nation.
Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, who also lost her bid for re-election to the 25th Legislature, told Michael: "I may not be in this body, but the courts are available to me. I'll be keeping an eye on you." Pickard-Samuel has a son and nieces and nephews in the school system. She was instrumental last year in getting repairs done to the deteriorated J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School, which her son attends.
As Michael walked around the Senate well receiving the customary congratulations from the lawmakers, Bryan remained silent with his hands in his lap.
The senators also approved the nominations of:
– Enrico V. Gasperi to the V.I. Conservation District Board, St. Croix district.
– Maira del Carmen Garrido, of St. Croix, to the Psychology Examiners Board.
– The following members to the V.I. Council on the Arts: St. Croix — Ruben Vessup (reappointed), Claire Roker and Karen Thurland (reappointed). St. Thomas — Jose Raul Carrillo (reappointed), Lucinda Schutt, Vernon Finch and Glenn "Kwabena" Davis.
All senators except Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Jn Baptiste attended the morning session, which covered the nominations and broke about 12:30 p.m.
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