Spampinato Outlines Plans for V.I. Education System at St. Croix Meeting

Aug. 22, 2007 — Lynn Spampinato, tapped by Gov. John deJongh Jr. to head the Education Department, defended her past and talked about her plans for the future Wednesday in Christiansted.
About 20 people, some of them members of the Rotary Club Harborside, listened for 45 minutes at the Fort Christian Brew Pub. Sonia Boyce, president of the club, introduced Spampinato.
The designated commissioner said she had experience in inner-city schools as a special education teacher and principal before becoming a superintendent. Her career has taken her to Denver, Philadelphia, St. Louis and the town of her birth, Pittsburgh.
"Education is my life and has been for the last 31 years," Spampinato said, adding, "I am not here to criticize."
Children need to be prepared to be competitive globally and locally, she said. Spampinato sees a lot of work ahead preparing children for the future. The schools need to work together with employers and the community, and principals, teachers, staff and parents all need to work together for the lifelong goals of the children, she said.
Her plans are to study the best models of schools and not waste time reinventing programs, Spampinato said. Principals have to take risks and never give up on kids, she said.
Spampinato has a 90-day plan set up that she will work from. She has talked to people willing to help investigate, learn and analyze what would work best for the Virgin Islands.
The designated commissioner plans to go to Washington, D.C., to meet with auditors and third-party fiduciaries. Education needs to be funded federally first and by local taxpayers second, she said.
Spampinato said she feels a need to communicate openly with the public. She answered questions from the audience, such as one about her work history. Criticism over her short stays at recent jobs has been aired on talk-radio shows and in letters to the editor.
Spampinato filled in the years and told why she was at some jobs longer than others. Changes in the board of education caused her to leave one school district, she said. She also explained that at some jobs the plan was for her to stay only a short period.
In making the nomination, Gov. deJongh called Spampinato an "agent of change."
Another person asked how she planed to get parents involved.
"Engage the parents,” she replied. “They need to get involved in critical issues."
Spampinato says she talks to parents and communicates with them in a friendly way. Educators have the children for a certain number of hours during the day and are accountable for them, and parents are accountable for the rest of the time, she said.
Special education was also discussed.
"There are rules and laws to follow,” she said. “Rules may be broken, but you cannot break the law. Too many districts are in lawsuits, wasting money."
Schools must work with everyone involved in educating special-needs children, because they are able to learn, Spampinato said. Reading is a very basic component in education and many children don't learn to read, she said.
That led to a question about how she would help students overcome language barriers. Spampinato said she has really scrutinized this problem. Teachers should be bilingual, biliterate and reading experts, she said.
Someone asked her about standardized tests and teaching students just to pass tests. Testing data definitely has its place to model, help coach and support students, she said, and teachers can use results like a road map to plan for students’ futures.
Spampinato said she will be available and approachable to the public. She said she is happy to have met a lot of intelligent people willing to work to make things happen.
"This is doable,” she said. “The Virgin Islands should be a model school system three years from now."
Steve Cohen, a high school teacher, attended the event.
"I hope the hiring process is done soon, because if she is not approved by the Senate, they will have to go through the whole process again,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We then could be in the middle of the school year without a commissioner."
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