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Principal, Former Principal Offer Insights to Senators

Aug. 4, 2004 – Only two of the eight school principals invited to testify at the Senate Education and Youth Committee public hearing on the status of education on St. Croix appeared at the Monday hearing in Frederiksted. And one of them, it turned out, was a former principal.
Education Commissioner Noreen Michael pointed out to the senators that most principals were on vacation.
Sen. Ronald Russell, committee chair, thanked Kurt Vialet, principal of Education Complex High School, and Roy Pemberton, former principal of Education Complex Vocational School, for being present. Their testimony addressed issues not covered in the one-hour presentation by the commissioner that began the meeting.
Complex High School
Vialet said there is a renewed emphasis on reading skills at his school. Because some students were arriving at the high school reading at the 5th and 6th grade level, he said, the school re-instituted a mandate for such students to take a remedial reading course. "Reading is so important in all subject areas," he said.
Also, Vialet said, school officials are trying to get students' minds off fashion and into studying. He said students were showing up at school dressed like they "were going to Sunny Isles to party and have a good time." He said a good mindset is important for students at school, and the wearing of proper attire contributes to a good mindset.
Vialet has been on radio talk shows recently defending the stricter dress code that goes into effect this fall at his school. One of his arguments is that when students get jobs, they won't be able to dress any way they like; so, why should they when they are going to school?
He also addressed the subject of testing. The Iowa Basic Skills test was instituted for sophomores two years ago, he said, and this year all three classes will be taking it.
One reason that V.I. students do so poorly on standardized tests, in Vialet's view, is that they take so few of them. "The more you take the tests, the better you get at it," he said.
According to Vialet, students have done a lot of painting and maintenance work at the school this summer. He said he tried to get the group of young people to do as much of that work as possible. However, the school had a major plumbing problem that the students could not fix. Workers got one pump working, he said, but there is no backup if it fails.
Concerning other maintenance projects, Vialet reported that the school is trying to get the track and tennis courts resurfaced and a softball field developed. He told the senators: "The problem in the Virgin Islands is that we let everything fall apart before we address it. We want to look at potential problems and fix them before they become major problems."
Something that he hopes will help new teachers at the school, he said, is a new mentoring program that teams new faculty members with experienced teachers to whom they can go with questions and problems.
Vocational School
Pemberton said his remarks were as a private citizen not representing the Education Department. He was recently transferred from the principal position at the Vocational School. There has been speculation that the reason for the transfer was his vocal opposition to a Job Corps satellite program on St. Croix.
When Russell asked Michael about this speculation, she said she had no idea. She said Terrence Joseph, St. Croix district superintendent, has the authority to make such transfers without getting any input from her. Joseph, although invited to the hearing to testify, was not present.
Pemberton said vocational education on St. Croix "needs serious help." He said the district once had a technical adviser but no longer does.
He said the safety of the students needs to be addressed and that the way credits are earned by vocational students needs to be reviewed. The present system allows students to miss only one course on the vocational track, he said.
A bigger problem, according to Pemberton, is the way vocational education is perceived. He said it is often seen as just something that students do if they can't make it academically. In his opinion it is something quite different. He compared the skills of a modern auto mechanic to those of a medical doctor.
Sen. Louis Hill, a committee member, appeared to concur with Pemberton's analysis. In an earlier statement he had said that "serious challenges face vocational education."
Hill told Michael that he had visited a masonry class. He said that because of a lack of materials the class had become "a waste of time for the teacher and the students."
Four other St. Croix principals were invited to testify but did not attend the hearing: Kent Moorehead of Central High School, Susanna Smith of Elena Christian Junior High, David Rossington of Arthur Richards Junior High and Vaughan Hewitt of John H. Woodson Junior High.
Also invited were the two St. Thomas high school principals – Sharon McCullum Rogers of Ivanna Eudora Kean and Jeanette Smith of Charlotte Amalie. However, the invitation list was the same for the committee's scheduled hearings on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, so there would be no reason for the St. Thomas educators to travel to St. Croix to attend that hearing.

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