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Dec. 8, 2001 – Senators and administration officials are solidifying plans for trying to persuade the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools not to take away accreditation from the territory's three accredited public high schools at the end of this year.
The Senate is working on legislation designed to reduce chronic teacher absenteeism; Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds is writing reports to demonstrate that the territory has made steps toward more on-site school management and to combat student truancy.
And Gov. Charles W. Turnbull is forming a team to meet with Middle States officials after they begin Dec. 10 to review the decision to take away accreditation for Charlotte Amalie High School, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and Central High School on St. Croix. The territory's fourth public high school, the Education Complex on St. Croix, has never been accredited.
In a public hearing before the Senate Education Committee on St. Thomas Friday, those testifying outlined for senators why the accreditation is set to be lost Dec. 31, its impact on students and parents, and what is being done to avert the loss. (The committee took testimony on St. Croix on Monday; for a report of that hearing, see "School accreditation: Blame elusive".)
Last month, Middle States informed education officials that the three high schools would lose accreditation because no significant progress had been shown in improving teacher and student attendance, forming a viable substitute teacher pool and allowing school principals greater administrative control on their campuses.
Education Department officials missed a May deadline to submit reports covering these areas of concern, all of which had been documented as far back as 1997.
In a letter dated Nov. 16, Turnbull wrote to George Allison, chair of the Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools, to ask for a reprieve and to point out ways that improvements had been made.
"I humbly appeal to you and the other members to reconsider your decision," Turnbull wrote. He pointed out that since the last Middle States onsite visit, in 1999, principals at each high school had been allocated $100,000 in funds for on-site management and that superintendents in each district had gotten $100,000 to pay for some substitute teachers.
A move in 1999 to block scheduling — in which students take four 90-minute classes each day instead of more 45-minute classes — appears to have reduced student absenteeism, Turnbull wrote, and it is hoped that salary increases implemented this fall will improve teacher attendance.
The governor offered to send a delegation to meet with Middle States officials. On Friday, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Education Committee, said he hoped some senators would be included on that team.
Jn Baptiste also noted allocations in the last year of $1.5 million for training and recruitment of teachers — including substitutes — and that the Legislature also has appropriated about $11 million in increases for other education needs.
Sen. Carlton Dowe proposed legislation Friday to pay teachers for any of their five annual personal-leave days that they don't use. The bill would encourage teachers not to take those days off, Dowe said. "Let's give them incentive not to use it."
Statistics provided by principals show that daily teacher absenteeism has remained at about 6.5 percent since 1996. CAHS Principal Jeanette Smith said it is normal at her school to have seven teachers absent on any given day, with each one's absence putting 81 students in the halls for that instruction time.
"CAHS clearly needs a substitute pool," Smith wrote in a frank seven-page report on the accreditation issues. "Truthfully, we need to focus on seriously addressing these issues. And we need to realize that these aren't the only issues that need attention."
Several students from CAHS and Eudora Kean said it was not uncommon to have a teacher not show up for class and to have no substitute there to lead instruction. In the six or seven times that has happened this school year to Deon LeCointe, a CAHS senior who testified Friday, students have simply worked on an assignment that the absent teacher left with a department head.
"This is unheard of in many jurisdictions," Smith wrote of the situation of students getting to class and not having a teacher there.
Throughout the hearing, persons testifying spoke of their disappointment at the impending loss of accreditation and of their frustration that these issues have been known about for years and not addressed. But they also spoke of the need to move forward, rather than simply placing blame, both in working to retain accreditation and in addressing the deficiencies and improving the overall education of students.

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