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Seminar Searches for Solutions to Education Woes

Dec. 15, 2005 — "If we as a community value our children, then we have to find a way of communicating that value," Noreen Michael, Education commissioner, said earlier this week. Michael spoke about the importance of communication between adults and children at a seminar held by the Leadership Academy at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas.
The Leadership Academy holds seminars with teachers every month to work on school improvement plans and the institution of reading and math workshops in schools territory-wide.
Monday’s seminar additionally brought together a small panel of community members who talked to teachers about their feelings about the local education system. Michael also told teachers what she thinks the community should focus on when dealing with children.
Michael said the community as a whole should address "the erosion of values that’s spilling into schools." For example, Michael said she has seen students taken out of classes during the school week because parents are going on vacation or because they have to babysit for other children.
Shaun A. Pennington, publisher and owner of the Source, was a panelist at Monday’s meeting. She said the proliferation of guns, drugs and alcohol, coupled with the presence of things like cable television and metal detectors in schools are also giving kids the wrong message. "There are things affecting kids now that weren’t an issue 20 or 30 years ago," she said. "And that’s what’s helping to cause the erosion of these values."
Panel member Dee Baecher-Brown, president of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, noted that poverty compounds the problem even further.
Michael also spoke about the lack of "father figures" in the society on the Virgin Islands. "So few men are present at community functions or things like church meetings," Michael said. "I want to start going to faith-based meetings and tell the individuals there to become more actively engaged with all aspects of the community."
Michael proposed that the Department of Education could partner with other government agencies to form a collaborative effort to help children.
Baecher-Brown and Pennington said the schools could help by holding meetings where parents could speak with the teachers about such matters. "There are not a lot of people who want to know what’s going on in our schools. That’s the challenge of communicating right now. We have to find some way of making them listen," Baecher-Brown said.
She then added that problems with the Education Department are structural – and need to be changed.
She also said, "There are a lot of folks who are self-pronounced experts on formal education, but I think the people who have the credentials and experience should be the ones to talk about and fix the problems we’re experiencing."
Pennington said there could also be more two-way communication between the Education Department and the media, parents and community as a whole. "I don’t think that people have a lot of faith in the public school system right now," Pennington added. "There is violence on our campuses, teacher walkouts, and teachers who are not at school during the day. I think the perception of the community is that this is not working."
Pennington also suggested that public school teachers should be paid more.
To wrap up the conversation, Baecher-Brown said, "It really isn’t a blame game. We shouldn't focus on who started the problems, we should focus on what we’re going to do about them."
Michael agreed. "There are some areas where we [Education] are not where we want to be," she said. "But we are improving, and we’re going to keep working on getting better."
Michael spoke about efforts made to improve test scores, and teaching reading to students in two-hour blocks. "We’re really trying to make a difference," she said.
When asked, some teachers at the conference said it is "too soon to tell" how reading and math programs are affecting the students.
"The reading program has only been implemented for two years now," Brian McLernan, literacy coach at Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School, said. "We’ll really see how the kids are doing with it in 2008, when it comes time for the department to measure the increase in test scores."

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