On May 3rd, Jim Day, reported in "The Source" (Education's Michael to start from scratch) that newly designated acting Education commissioner Noreen Michael said "the Education Department will start from scratch to find ways to improve the school system and thus to regain accreditation."
Scratched is what she needs to be. She is obviously lacking the levels of understanding, sensitivity and dedication required by one who will lead the effort required to develop both a vision and plan to bring the VI system to a level acceptable to the federal authorities and the V.I. citizenry. She has started her tenure by making a critical decision that is absurd, disrespectful and demonstrative of very poor judgment. Her decision, confirmed by Government House, to accompany the Governor to the British Virgin Islands for Friendship Day festivities, rather than be in attendance at the forum sponsored by the Virgin Islanders for Democratic Action Club sends a clear message about her misplaced priorities.
Priority #1 should be building bridges and communication channels by listening to the constructive ideas, opinions and suggestions that will emanate from the various publics concerned about accreditation, the quality of education and related services and issues. The opportunity afforded her by the forum is an invaluable one. Her decision to be elsewhere, in a place having nothing to do with her awesome responsibility as Education commissioner, is incomprehensible to me, and hopefully to many others who will also speak out. The effort at hand will require not just "a village," but an inclusive, well-informed and dedicated village.
The forum, the ideal venue for the commissioner to begin to build and connect, is designed to promote discussion about positive measures to approach the territory's education crisis. Every school administrator, all concerned parents and teachers should do their best to attend; obviously, the commissioner and her lieutenants should occupy front row seats. The forum, open to the public, at the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., provides opportunity to hear from the Virgin Islands' most knowledgeable stakeholders, including the student body presidents of the four public high schools. These young people are the real victims and represent the very real and most important stakeholders in this tragic situation. They must be heard and heeded, as there is much to be learned from them. They are rarely, if ever, included in the planning, problem-solving and decision-making processes.
How can we expect to reach effective and viable decisions without having the "affected parties" represented as partners throughout the "process"? The Virgin Islanders for Democratic Action Club is to be congratulated for including the student body presidents of the four public high schools.
Quoting from The Source: "Noreen Michael said that efforts to regain accreditation would require a comprehensive look at how the schools can be made better." This quote is indicative of the appalling and limited vision of the individual that has been chosen to lead this Herculean and crucial effort.
"How the schools can be made better"? Schools are merely buildings, physical facilities. The issues are student needs, quality of student services, school and classroom environmental factors, teacher and principal roles, responsibilities and performance, behavior management, public engagement, parental involvement, curriculum enhancement, books, supplies and relevance of decisions.
We should be looking at building a system that will serve the needs of students and the V.I. economy in the context of global markets and 21st century trends, not merely satisfying the Middle States mandate which includes curriculum requirements, safety plans, school maintenance, library services and use of technology, among other criteria. Re-accreditation should be the primary goal, but real education/ environmental reform could be, should be part of the vision and the plan.
Improving the education system cannot and will not occur without the involvement of all sectors, private and public. The V.I. economy depends on having well-educated, self-sustaining citizens to maintain its stability.
Education cannot be left to educators. Like it or not, education is business and needs to be run by competent people from both arenas. Educators are trained to educate and administrate … business people, to lead and manage. A combination of the two should insure a win-win opportunity. The people of the V.I. must rise up, demand the best and be willing to take part in creating the solutions, as the absence of their previous involvement has helped to create the problems they face today.
The territory's children deserve the best! They will give their best in return. I pray that they will have that opportunity!
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to firstname.lastname@example.org
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.