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Governor Presents His Choice for Education Commissioner

Aug. 14, 2007 — Major change is needed within the V.I. public school system that has continued for years to "fail" its students, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said Tuesday, as he announced his choice to fill the Education commissioner slot.
"We are here to change the way we educate our children, to change the way we prepare them for their lives as productive, honest and caring members of our society," deJongh said. "To begin the discussion on education, we must first come to a realization: our system is not working. We are failing our children worse and worse each and every day. This must change, and change it will, beginning today."
During a press conference held at Government House, deJongh described Lynn Spampinato as the right candidate for the position, one who can be the catalyst in solving some of the Education Department's most critical problems, such as raising low test scores and offering more career and technical training to both students and adults.
Calling her an "agent of change," DeJongh added that Spampinato, with her long and diverse career as a teacher and administrator at inner city school districts on the mainland, would help achieve a much-needed turnaround in the V.I. public education system. He said Spampinato's experience, coupled with her passion for education, could "save our children from our own low expectations and mediocrity."
Drawing on Spampinato's work in urban school systems in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, deJongh added that that the commissioner-designee has "made a difference and improved every system she has been a part of," putting focus on areas such as crisis management and reform.
"She is what we need today," he said. "And I'm asking all my colleagues to support her, to take the time and meet her, and uncover the depth of her knowledge, skills and passion for education. She gives the Virgin Islands a real chance for success."
DeJongh explained that the search for an Education commissioner first started close to home.
"We began, as we always do, looking locally for our answer," he said. "Nothing would have made me prouder than to appoint a local product of the Virgin Islands to a position of such meaning and importance."
But deJongh said after reaching out to senators and educators alike for referrals he received none that met his criteria. "This position — commissioner of education — is one that is far too important an appointment to take lightly."
With no local candidates, deJongh said the administration was forced to turn to the mainland for a solution.
Over the past few weeks, rumors about deJongh's pick have been aired on various radio talk shows, with callers expressing concern over the fact that the new commissioner was not from the territory. And behind closed doors, an undercurrent is reportedly circulating about the fact that Spampinato is white.
Spampinato addressed both concerns on Tuesday, asking community members to put their faith in the decisions she will make while on the job.
"Please trust that I will bring passion, energy, fairness and commitment to this position," she said.
She also addressed the issue of skin color when she said in her entire career she had only served one predominantly white school district. Most of her years in education have been served in urban schools serving primarily minority populations.
Spampinato added that she has already spent time talking to staff within the Education Department and community members who have continuously highlighted the need for change within the public school system. Building upon those comments, Spampinato explained that any kind of movement within the department could be achieved through passion and building the energy of all stakeholders in the process — including administrators, teachers and government officials.
She said that as commissioner, one of her tasks would also be to continually pull community members — particularly parents — into the educational process, involving them in day-to-day conversations, training workshops and seminars designed to keep them abreast with what’s going on in the public schools.
Placing more emphasis on students with special needs is another of concern for Spampinato, who holds both a bachelor of science and masters of arts degree in special education. Implementing a new and more rigorous curriculum, one that can give V.I. students a "global edge," is also on a list of top priorities, she added.
Building on deJongh's comments, Spampinato said that many problems present within the local school system are displayed on the global level as well, including the perpetuation of an expectation gap that affects both students and teachers. Low expectations, she said, allow students to feel that a high school diploma represents the end of their educational career, instead of the mid-point, and help keep standards such as a lack of accountability and planning alive within the system.
To combat these issues, Education officials need to set clear goals and best practices to determine exactly what works and what doesn’t, she said. This includes evaluating every aspect of the public school system, making sure teachers get the training and resources they need and adopting "transparent" accountability measures, Spampinato explained.
"Moving forward, we must insist on hard work at every level," she said. "This also includes learning to work cooperatively with the U.S. Department of Education, adhering to laws and regulations in a timely manner and making sure we allocate and spend every federal dollar."
In these respects, failure is not an option, Spampinato added.
Spampinato believes the country is in a "civil rights era of education."
"If we lose public education, then we lose it all," she said. "And here in the Virgin Islands, we must begin to stem that tide."
Spampinato's nomination must go before the Legislature's Rules and Judiciary Committee, along with the full Senate, for confirmation.

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