July 26, 2002 – Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Legislature's Education Committee, expressed dismay Friday at what he sees as the Education Department's apparent lack of progress toward reforms critical to securing new accreditation for three of the territory's high schools. And acting Education Commissioner Noreen Michael was the target of his ire.
Michael, he said, "has yet to show that this is a new day with new leadership."
The acting commissioner was to have submitted status reports to the Legislature by June 30 on the development of policies for site-based management and a substitute teacher pool, critical issues in the loss of accreditation for the schools last year. The fourth public high school isn't accredited and never has been.
Early this week, Jn Baptiste wrote to Michael asking her to submit the reports, nearly a month past due, immediately.
On Wednesday, Michael wrote back to Jn Baptiste: "I acknowledge that the department should have submitted a written request to the Legislature for additional time for submission of the reports. I apologize for not doing so."
Her letter continued, "We started work on the progress reports several weeks ago, and are continuing to work toward their completion for submission to the Legislature. While the reports are not finalized, it is anticipated that they will be complete and submitted to the Legislature not later than July 31, 2002."
That is not good enough, Jn Baptiste said Friday. "I'm going to hold her feet to the fire," he said. "It is crucial that the Education Department complies with the mandates of the law. I don't think she has anything to report. The simple fact of the matter is they have not done their duty."
Last December, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed legislation creating the V.I. Public High School Site-Based Management Fund and calling for the development, adoption and implementation of site-based management policies. The Legislature amended the measure in February to require timely reports to the lawmaking body on progress toward those ends.
Jn Baptiste also stressed the importance of complying with a timeline laid out by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools at a June 18 meeting with Education officials on St. Thomas. Middle States is the regional accrediting entity for the Virgin Islands schools.
"What does this say? This sends a message that with the DOE, it's business as usual, and all our hopes of gaining reaccreditation by 2004 will be shattered," Jn Baptiste said, shaking his head. Middle States officials have said that the earliest the territory could hope to regain accreditation for the schools would be for the 2004-05 academic year.
Michael was named acting Education commissioner on April 30, the day Gov. Charles W. Turnbull fired Ruby Simmonds from the post after learning that Middle States had rejected the territory's appeal of the loss of accreditation.
"What we need is bold, effective and efficient leadership. That is crucial to our schools," Baptiste said Friday morning. He noted that he expected to see Michael in the afternoon at the Education Department's Fiscal Year 2003 budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, of which he is a member.
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