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Back-to-School Expo Welcomes Parents, Teachers, Staff and Students

Kerry Buckner-Frett, 6, is all set to start first grade Tuesday at Julius E. Sprauve Elementary School. “I got a new backpack, new shoes, new uniform and new school supplies,” he said with a little help from his mother, Nathalie Buckner.

She said Kerry had a great year last year at Sprauve and is looking forward to the same this coming school year.

They were at the Education Department’s Education after Hours Expo at Sprauve, the first of three events to be held on all three islands.

On St. Thomas, it will be held Friday at the Education Department’s main complex in Charlotte Amalie on Education Street near Roosevelt Park.

On St. Croix, it will be held Sept. 5 at the Education Department’s main complex in downtown Christiansted. Both times are 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Pearline Lewis was on hand with her granddaughter, Sprauve student Nia Lewis, 8. Nia said she was ready for school to get started and she practiced her reading over the summer.

“But last year, my favorite subject was counting,” she said.

The event was an opportunity for parents and students to meet and greet the staff.

The Sprauve School has a new assistant principal, Lisa Penn. She taught fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade math at Guy Benjamin School, which closed in June.

“I’m kind of anxious but eager to see how things pan out,” she said.

Sprauve Principal Dionne Wells said she was ready for the new year to start. However, she said, she was hopeful that the school’s two vacant positions would be filled. She’s short a physical education teacher and needs a math teacher to fill the vacancy left when Penn became assistant principal.

None of the department’s top brass would put a number on how many vacant positions it has.

“But we’ve been hiring people every single day,” Assistant Commissioner Sarah Mahurt said.

Jeanette Smith-Barry, the department’s superintendent for St. Thomas/St. John, said that Education is filling in some of the gaps with substitutes.

“Elementary is fine. Most of the problem is secondary,” she said.

The department is also short nurses. Winifred Anthony-Todman, who serves as the department’s director of support services, said ideally every school would have a nurse.

“We don’t have all the nurses,” she said, declining to put a number on the shortage.

Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory addressed the issues that Guy Benjamin School parents raised when the school closed. She said they were concerned about the Sprauve School playground so the department has a plan in place to revamp it. It calls for constructing a four-foot retaining wall, installing a fence along an electrical transformer, putting in playground equipment, installing gates and designating a grassy area.

“The concern was the small children,” she said, noting that the request for proposal would soon go out.

The expo also gave people who work behind the scenes at Education a chance to shine.

Correy Lettsome runs the special nutrition program. He talked at length about how food programs that get federal funds, including the school lunch program, have to meet federal guidelines that, for example, call for a diversity of vegetables on the menu.

Emmy Garcia works for Software One, a Puerto Rico-based company that has a contract with the department to manage its Microsoft computer software.

“I come over every other month,” she said.

Clarissa Warrington, Education’s deputy commissioner for fiscal and administrative services, outlined how money is spent.

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