For the second night in a row, problems with the island’s primary school grades dominated discussions at government meetings on St. John.
Although there was some hope after an Education Department meeting Monday that enough parents with kindergarten students slated to attended Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay would switch them to Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay so the class sizes would be about equal, efforts to convince them failed. Guy Benjamin’s nine kindergarten students will join Sprauve’s kindergarten students at Sprauve.
With too many students for one kindergarten class at Sprauve – the number is now up to 33 – and not enough at Guy Benjamin, Guy Benjamin Principal Brenda Dalmida said the Education Department did what it had to do.
“It hurts me deeply, but the financial reality is what’s driving that decision,” Dalmida said, struggling to hold back her tears as she made the announcement to the nearly 50 people gathered at Guy Benjamin on Tuesday for a town meeting hosted by Sen. Clarence Payne.
Additionally, Education’s Insular Superintendent Jeanette Barry-Smith had announced Monday that Guy Benjamin’s nine first-graders would also have to attend Sprauve because the class was too small. Guy Benjamin’s first-grade teacher will head to Sprauve to teach second grade because the “international” teacher assigned to teach that class had visa problems that couldn’t be resolved in time for the start of school.
According to Dalmida, Guy Benjamin’s future looks dim because of the small population of the area.
“If we don’t get the numbers up, pretty soon Guy Benjamin won’t be an option,” Dalmida said.
On St. John, parents can register their children at either school no matter where they live. Yvonne Wells, a retired educator who served at both schools, said it’s probably her fault that this practice began because she encouraged the “powers that be” to allow it.
She said that two full buses head to Guy Benjamin from Cruz Bay every day to round out the school’s population.
One idea on the table both Monday and Tuesday nights focused on turning Guy Benjamin into a primary school for all the island’s grades pre-kindergarten through three. The school sits in the heart of quiet Coral Bay, a location that might be more conducive to teaching small children. Sprauve is in busy and noisy Cruz Bay.
However, Dalmida said the Education Department wants the “impetus” to make Guy Benjamin a primary school to come from the community.
One sticking point might be the pre-kindergarten component. Sprauve Principal Dionne Wells said that the classrooms would have to be modified to meet standards. Board of Education Chairman Oswin Sewer, who is lives on St. John, said that departments such as Human Services and Health are also involved in setting up pre-kindergarten classes.
“And the program goes till 5 p.m.,” he said, referring to the fact that the school day ends earlier for other grades.
At issue for both the current situation and developing Guy Benjamin as a primary school is transportation.
“If I had a kindergartener, I wouldn’t want him to be put on a bus and trucked all the way to Coral Bay,” Dalmida said, adding that she’d probably drive him herself rather than use the bus.
Dionne Wells said that the Education Department is committed to helping parents whose children already have their Guy Benjamin uniforms to get those for Sprauve. Both schools have yellow tops, but Guy Benjamin has green bottoms. Those at Sprauve are blue.
Payne, joined by Sens. Tregenza Roach and Craig Barshinger, as well as representatives from other senators’ offices, also heard about other St. John topics.
Alvis Christian asked him to push the Planning and Natural Resources Department to do something about the boats sunk in Coral Bay Harbor and to provide some monitoring for the boats that come and go.
Christian also asked that the senators do something to open an alternative route to and from Coral Bay given the fact that one section of Centerline Road has been waiting for repairs since Hurricane Otto in 2010. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said at a Coral Bay meeting last week that he expects repairs to start in September and be done by March 2014.
Dr. Joseph DeJames, who serves as head of Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center as well as treats patients, said that the Health Department’s reduction of services at its Morris deCastro clinic forced the Roy L. Schneider Hospital-run health center to pick up the slack.
In particular, he said that recently all the appointments were taken up by students who needed immunizations for school.