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Lieutenant Governor Tour a First for Many Local Schools

Aug. 27, 2007 — During a first-day-of-class tour Monday, teachers, workers and administrators told Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis they are unusually well supplied and prepared for the fall, but the state of the actual school buildings remains a challenge.
Francis visited Pearl B. Larsen Elementary, Elena L. Christian Junior High and Juanita Gardine Elementary, speaking with principals, teachers, workers and students about what is right and what needs improvement at their places of learning. In the afternoon, Gov. John deJongh Jr. visited schools on the west end of the big island.
Janice Tutein, science resource teacher at Pearl B. Larsen, showed the group a hands-on science lab, with bins housing enormous red-footed tortoises, glass cages with white mice and pens with guinea pigs.
“We are a big fan of hands-on education,” Tutein said. “The children learn more and enjoy learning more when they can connect directly to the subject. There is a big marbles craze here, for instance. So we use the marbles as a way of illustrating the principals of taxonomy. Say the yellow marbles are a species. They are alike, but then they are still all different, as individuals or subspecies would be.”
How does this approach work?
“The proof is in the pudding,” Tutein said. “We win the science fair every year.”
Tutein said she had all the science workbooks and other supplies she needed, and was happy with how things were going at the school.
Grace McNamara, a sixth-grade teacher at Larsen, was similarly sanguine.
“In our public school we have everything,” she said. “We have new textbooks, materials, overhead projectors. Anything we need we get. The school is very supportive.”
McNamara said this was the first time she could recall a lieutenant governor touring the school, and hoped it was a sign of how the future will be. Teachers made similar comments at all three schools, with one teacher saying this was the first such visit in her 21 years of teaching.
Teachers were also happy student workbooks would be free this year.
“Workbooks for this class are usually $50,” Tutein said. “I was shocked when I heard all the workbooks were free to the students this year.” Designated Education Commissioner Lynn Spampinato announced over the weekend there would be no charges. (See “Brief: Workbooks Free for V.I. Elementary Students.”)
“There is a direct correlation between that support and the results which come out in the students’ grades,” Francis said while touring Larsen.
Over at Elena L. Christian, Principal Willard John showed the group a brand new computer lab, donated by Hovensa.
“We are going to really become a paper-free school,” John said. ”I’ve invited parents to come for free computer-literacy training. They just have to join the PTSA (Parent, Teacher and Student Association).
Asked what his biggest concerns were, John said the age and condition of the school’s physical plant was probably the most severe problem. In other parts of the tour, he pointed out rooms with ceilings that needed work and pointed out that the gymnasium has a cement floor. The need for more parental involvement was a close second, he said.
The school will emphasize reading above all, John said.
“We know reading affects everything else, even math,” he said. “The most problematic area is story problems, and those involve more reading and comprehension. We want parents to have books in the house and to encourage their kids to read. We don’t want to shut our doors after school hours, too. If home isn’t the best place to study, they should be able to stay here in the afternoon, as a quiet, safe haven where they can study in peace.”
John showed the group a nascent radio studio being put together this year by the English department, and said in another part of the school a meteorological station had been set up.
“The students will gather information on the wind speed and direction, the temperature, the barometric pressure and so on, and the information will be read out over the public address system in the morning,” he said.
As Francis strolled around Juanita Gardine with his assistant and security person, he reminisced a little about his days in those very buildings, decades ago, when they were Christiansted High School.
Gloria John, primary guidance counselor at Juanita Gardine, showed the group a new computer lab and other brand new equipment and supplies. Asked what needed the most attention, she said the surrounding abandoned buildings were a major safety hazard, and she would like to see all brush and trees cleared around them so there would be no place for anyone to hide.
Flanked by news media, Francis and the small group visited a class, where he asked, “Who read books over the summer?”
All but one raised their hands, and it was soon revealed that The Cat in the Hat and A Christmas Carol were popular this year. Later in the hall, a uniformed young boy yelled, “Hi, Uncle Francis,” and ran up to give him lieutenant governor a hug.
Juanita Gardine appeared to have more severe problems than Pearl B. Larsen or Elena Christian.
“We need supplies,” said a woman at Juanita Gardine who asked that her name not be used. “We need more paraprofessionals and more groundskeepers. We only have two. And we need custodial workers.”
She and a friend with her both went to school with Francis.
In the cafeteria, a worker told Francis they were understaffed, and water was coming up through the drains, flooding the cafeteria after heavy rains. Francis asked his assistant to contact Public Works to investigate if there might be a simple fix to the flooding problem.
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