Schools Get A Lift From Federal Stimulus Package

Feb. 20, 2009 — Virgin Islands schools will be getting a pleasant surprise as part of the nearly $800 billion federal stimulus package, according to Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry — about $22.8 million in new funds.
Terry told the Committee on Education, Youth and Culture on Thursday that some of that money will go for new instructional technology, computers, software, and interactive computer blackboards called Prometheus Boards. Some will go to facilities and programs for students with disabilities, she said.
The funds are on top of Education's share of the territory's $67 million in state stabilization funds, much of which will also go to Education. (See: "Governor Calls Stimulus Plan a 'Breathtakingly Fresh' Approach.")
"I'm told the state formula is 80 percent," Terry said. "But we have found the territory doesn't follow quite the same rules as the states so we are in the process of determining exactly what we are looking at."
A portion of that money can be used for school modernization, she said. "But (U.S. Education Secretary Arne) Duncan made clear some must be used for new programs. We are hoping we will be able to use some to recruit more teachers with it."
In the meantime, Terry reported, the territory is falling behind in the annual Adequate Yearly Progress targets mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"This year, five schools made AYP compared to 13 schools that made AYP the previous year," she said. Education has developed strategies to address the shortfall, including buying interactive reading software to help struggling students.
Sen. Neville James asked Terry what she was doing about the high rate of dropouts.
"We are losing nearly 40 percent between the 9th and 10th grades," he said,
As of Sep. 30, St. Croix Central High had 465 9th graders but 295 10th graders, according to testimony from Education. At St. Croix Educational Complex, there were 515 ninth graders and only 330 tenth graders. Considerably fewer drop out later in high school.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he had been hearing reports the school lunches had recently become very repetitive.
"I'm hearing that schools all over St. Croix are having almost exactly the same menu again and again, whether it be tuna sandwiches or cheese sandwiches or what have you," he said. "Keep in mind, I have three children in public schools right now."
Molloy said a large order of food was shipped in such a way that not all the items needed to complete full menus were on the first trailer to arrive, limiting the food choices. The vendor was contacted and the next trailer is on the way, but not yet here, he said.
Questions and testimony in the oversight and information hearing, presided over by new chairman Sen. Wayne James, covered a swath of education and other youth programs for several hours. Present were: Nelson, both James senators, Nereida "Nellie" O'Reilly, Craig Barshinger, Louis Hill and Sammuel Sanes.
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