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Sunday, July 21, 2024


June 28, 2002 – Acting Education Commissioner Noreen Michael provided some welcome news about the territory's schools on Thursday night at a Senate Youth and Human Services Committee hearing: The latest statistics show that the number of students dropping out of school before graduation has fallen dramatically in recent years.
The number of dropouts is still high, she said: 272 children left school in the 2000-2001 school year, the most recent year for which statistics are available. But that number is far lower than in 1999-2000, when 487 students dropped out. And that was a drop from about 540 students in 1998-1999.
In the 1999-2000 school year, 1,045 students were graduated from the territory's public high schools, meaning more than one-third of those who began the school year didn't finish it.
At Thursday's hearing on the state of the territory's children, Michael described the decline in the dropout rate as a major achievement for schools that strive to give every student the skills they will need to succeed as adults. Educators want to continue the trend toward keeping kids in school, she said.
The dropout rate on St. Croix is about twice that for the St. Thomas-St. John district, she said, and "We still need a better understanding of the factors that lead to dropping out." She attributed the discrepancy between the districts to a connection between poverty and lower educational achievement.
She attributed some of the Education Department's success in reducing the dropout rate to a team-teaching approach that targets students in the ninth grade, the year that has the highest rate of students dropping out. She noted that some of the territory's high schools, including Charlotte Amalie, have gone to placing ninth graders in classes with teachers who teach more than one of their subjects, rather than having the students switching classrooms and teachers every period.
That allows the teachers to get to know their students better and give them more support as the youngsters make the transfer to high school, Michael said. It is a model that has been shown in other jurisdictions to help reduce the dropout rate, she added.
Also present to discuss problems facing the territory's youth were Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert, representatives of the Health and Justice Departments, and individuals from the private sector.
Dilsa Capdeville, director of the child-advocacy agency KidsCope, noted that the territory's child poverty rate is more than 40 percent and cited the high incidence of physical and sexual abuse of children. "These are deep problems that cannot be ignored," she said.
Others spoke about programs such as Head Start, health initiatives, and not-for-profit organizations that work to help children. They urged parents to take advantage of the programs that are offered.
Jeffrey Johnson of the National Center for Non-Profit Strategic Planning and Community Leadership, spoke about programs that encourage young fathers to take an active role in the lives of their children. About 70 percent of children born in the African-American community are born out of wedlock, he said. But even though the traditional pattern of "marriage before family" is no longer the norm, children need to have father figures as much as ever, he said.
"It's not a question of whether he's rich or not, of whether he's educated or not. It's about having an emotional involvement in kids' lives," Johnson said. "We have to teach kids how to be parents."
Committee members present for the hearing on St. Thomas were the chair, Sen. Vargrave Richards, and Sens. Lorraine Berry, Roosevelt David and David Jones. Also present was Sen. Carlton Dowe. Not present were three committee members, Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Emmett Hansen II.

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