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Board of Education Passes Policies, Confronts Criticism

Jan. 29, 2006 –The V.I. Board of Education Saturday passed policies for block scheduling along with requirements for the selection of the valedictorian and salutatorian. The board also approved the certification of 36 teachers.
The section in the valedictorian and salutatorian policy that mandated eligible students must have successfully completed at least two Advanced Placement courses or a least four Honors courses during high school sparked discussion.
Noreen Michael, education commissioner, told the board, "We want to push our best and brightest to take challenging courses."
Board member Shawn Gibson said, "The fact that this disenfranchises the majority of our students bothers me."
Board member Malik Sekou said, "It is a good policy. We should be challenging all our students."
The measure passed with five board members for and two against. The block scheduling policy — which would take students from seven 50-minute classes each day to four 90-minute classes — was not unanimously accepted either. Judy Gomez, board chair, voted against it saying that she thought the new policy would be too disruptive for students trying to get all their necessary courses scheduled. The policy states, "Block scheduling is authorized for use in junior and senior public high schools in the Virgin Islands."
The block scheduling policy is to go into effect next school year. However, the policy concerning the selection of the valedictorian and salutatorian won't go into effect until the 2007-2008 school year, giving time to students who might choose to take AP or Honors courses before their senior year.
After the motions were passed, Gomez informed Michael, who appeared at the meeting to answer questions about the policies, that the board had earlier approved sending a letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to resolve another problem the board was having with the Department of Education. The board has been trying to get files from the department's human resources department to determine how the process on teacher certification was proceeding.
Gomez said the board approved the letter because it had not heard back from Michael concerning the scheduling of a meeting to resolve the problem. Michael said a letter from her office would be forthcoming to the board on Monday. She said it had been delayed because of her recent illness.
The meeting started with testifiers Steve Nisky, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Patricia Oliver touching on a variety of subjects, including the previous evening's hearing on the Positive Connection Education School on St. Croix.
Nisky questioned why the board is considering changing what appears to be a successful school on St. Croix and modeling it after a program on St. Thomas that has only been in effect one year and has no "track record."
Gomez said that the effort was to comply with requirements for federal funds that apparently are easier to get for programs like that on St. Thomas than for schools like Positive Connections.
Nelson, who taught in the V.I. public school system for nine years before becoming a senator, questioned whether Positive Connections was actually a success or just a "dumping ground" for certain students. He said that only 25 percent of the students assigned to the school were showing up with any regularity. He said the board should be considering a school where attendance is mandatory and maybe even set up as a boarding school.
Nelson also dealt with board members' concerns that the board does not have the authority to right what is wrong with education in the Virgin Islands. Nelson said he believes the board has the power; it just needs to assert that authority. He said, "You are a board of education. Assert yourself as a board of education. Right now the board is too complacent."
Gomez responded, "We can't go out and assert ourselves. Our only power comes from the Legislature."
Sekou said, "We need to launch a campaign to gain power so we can actually administer public education. The system is now not working and has not worked for years."
Board member Keith Richards responded to remarks from Nisky concerning the overall state of the Department of Education. Richards said the department was dysfunctional and "presently overwhelmed by all its problems."
He added, "What I don't understand is, we all say education of our children is a priority, but we have not restructured the system. We have restructured other departments in the government."
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