July 2, 2003 – Acknowledging widespread concern over public feuding within the Board of Education, its acting chair, Harry Daniel, told the Senate Education and Youth Committee on Wednesday that members are "attempting to resolve all internal issues." However, he insisted, "in spite of the complications, the board has continued to function."
Supported by fellow member Keith Richards and executive director Evadney Hodge, Daniel said at the Wednesday morning hearing that recent board accomplishments include:
– Addressing critical education issues, particularly the requirements of the compliance agreement between the U.S. and V.I. Education Departments and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
– Completion of a draft Revised Professional Staff Certification Regulation document which includes a definition of the "highly qualified teacher" as required by the No Child Left Behind Law.
– The convening of three public hearings, on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, to receive testimony on the draft document.
– Review of about 650 applications for the 2003 Territorial Scholarship Program.
– Ongoing review of personnel files to determine the certification status of professional staff and the files of Education's prospective Special Legislative Grants Program.
– Revision of significant educational issues such as the addition of new classes, computer technology, and reading and writing programs.
The importance of the added programs, particularly at the primary level, was cited in a discussion of the "transitional classroom program" called for by the school board as a means of identifying academic problems of individual students. "Consequently, each student is able to receive the help needed in appropriate areas," Richards said.
However, this concept contradicts statements made earlier by Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, who had said that the system's "no retention" policy from kindergarten to fourth grade hinders growth on the primary levels.
"This is not so," Richards said. He also said that the Education Department has neither supported nor implemented the board's transitional classroom policy mandate, thus hindering the academic growth of at-risk students in the targeted areas.
"This is the reason why the children are not doing well," Richards said, "not because we are not retaining the students. If the students are being promoted, then the program is definitely not being implemented."
Senators raised questions about funding, the placement of special education students within the transitional program, and the adequacy of teacher training for the transitional classroom program.
Michael cited inadequate funding as a barrier to training teachers. Once again, Richards disagreed. "No, the teachers are being trained," he replied. "We even brought in teachers from the outside, from Ohio, to take a look at what's going on down here. We then met with the department so that we could get some sort of five-year plan." But, he added, such a plan "never really happened."
Instead, Richards said, the Education Department has been trying to implement a multi-age classroom which functions differently from the proposed transitional classroom. New board member Liston Davis, who served as Education commissioner and district schools superintendent in the Schneider administration, agreed, saying that policies thus become "unenforceable" since the board has no "enforcement mechanism."
Senators raised concerns about the impact of the factionalism within the board on problems within the school system.
Sen. Louis Hill urged the board "to consider the children of the Virgin Islands and how you impact on them and our educational system as you maneuver through your legalities."
Those "legalities" include a lawsuit against the board filed by board member Jorge Galiber, who was voted out as chair, 5-3, in March, and the current suspension of board attorney Nandie Sekou.
The school board representatives said reform is needed within the board and also within the public school system, but they also said the board has continued to make improvements in spite of its internal problems.
Hodge said she believes the board comprises "competent individuals." She said: "We just have to get together to form a more cohesive group. And if we need help, I believe that we can do it from the inside."
The committee was told that Hodge is retiring effective next week. Daniel said the position of executive director will be advertised in the hope of hiring a replacement within 90 days.
The school board itself was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon.
Lottery proceeds to benefit education
In other action, the committee approved and reported to the Rules Committee an amended Bill 25-0042, to transfer 25 percent of V.I. Lottery proceeds from contracted games, including video lottery operations, into the Educational Initiative Fund.
Testifying in favor of the bill were Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull, Charlotte Amalie High School Principal Jeanette Smith and Education Commissioner Noreen Michael.
"I'm here to show support for this bill, for education in general, and for site-based management at our schools," Smith said. "We're supposed to perform miracles without specific resources, and it makes planning … difficult, because we don't often know when the money is coming or where it is coming from." She cited an immediate need at CAHS for summer repairs, especially to rooms damaged by a fire recently.
Committee members present Wednesday were the chair, Sen. Ronald Russell; and Sens. Roosevelt David, Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone and Luther Renee. Sens. Norman Jn. Baptiste and Usie Richards were excused. Non-committee members present were Sens. Carlton Dowe and Almando "Rocky" Liburd.
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