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Governor and First Lady Welcome New Teachers

Aug. 29, 2007 — The lights of Charlotte Amalie twinkled to life Wednesday evening as Gov. John and First Lady Cecile deJongh feted a cadre of new teachers at the annual new teacher’s reception at Catharineberg.
Government officials, education personnel and representatives from the business community mingled with new hires from various places, including the Philippines, South Carolina, the Dominican Republic and University of the Virgin Islands.
“It’s a nice mixture,” said Alcess Lewis-Brown, Human Resources director for the Education Department and coordinator for the event. “This is the seventh year for this reception, and we also have teachers from Guadeloupe, Antigua, Alaska, Mexico and Jamaica.”
Brown said she appreciated the input of Cecile deJongh, who opted to include retired educators in this year’s function as a way to complete the circle of support.
“I’m feeling very optimistic that we’re going to have a great year, and we’re very happy to do this and host all the new teachers … we also wanted to invite some retired teachers so they could meet people who’ve preceded them,” the first lady said.
Retired educator and primary school namesake Ulla F. Muller was delighted to meet the new crop of instructors. “They got good results,” she said.
UVI Provost Gwen-Marie Moolenaar noted the “impressive credentials” of the new instructors, and Lois Hassell-Habteyes, the new principal at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School, heartily agreed.
Experience played a big part in the recruitment process: Career educators were aggressively sought and hired, officials said. Glen J. Smith, deputy commissioner of the Department of Labor, said the recruitment “went well.”
“It’s always good to get new and fresh people and ideas,” he said. “Now we just need our new commissioner to get confirmed so we can send her out to make some changes in education.”
Acting Education Commissioner Lynn Spampinato reflected on her experience, noting that the ability to improve local schools and academic achievement lies within the department.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a lot of talent in this district,” she said. “And it’s directing that talent towards the mission. And that mission is academic achievement. … Our priority needs to be spending on children.”
New to the Department of Education but not the territory, Michael Harrigan is the new deputy superintendent of curriculum, instruction, assessment and technology. Harrigan received his master’s in education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and was on the staff at Antilles School until spring 2007.
“I am absolutely as excited as a new teacher would be,” he said. “I’m new to the department and it’s a wonderful experience. I’m proud to say the department does a really good job of supporting teachers with technology. It’s one of the things that attracted me to the Department of Education.”
Also on hand was Susanna Torres, who has spent several months at the Charlotte Amalie High School as a librarian. She has 24 years’ experience at a public school in the Philippines.
“I like the attitude of the people here,” she said. “I love the kids! I have a lot of friends!”
Gina Tatil is brand new, having just arrived in the territory this month. She applied for the position through an agency in the Philippines and will teach math at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School. Tatil has 20 years’ experience, having taught in both high school and college.
Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis was all smiles as he recalled his early years at school.
“When I toured the schools the first day of school, I recalled the school I went to, which is now called Juanita Gardine,” he said. “I had some teachers — Schuster, Sergeant, Anduze — and when I reflect back on those teachers, there was always that love, that passion. And it went beyond the classroom.”
Later, during a presentation ceremony, Francis pledged the support of the V.I. government and urged the community to follow suit. “It’s not just a job, it’s a commitment,” he said.
AFT President Vernelle deLagarde echoed the lieutenant governor’s sentiment while acknowledging the 1,100 members of the St. Thomas/St. John Federation of Teachers: “Enjoy, reach out and touch our children.”
Spampinato enjoyed a light moment with the audience, suggesting that perhaps contracts should also be extended to the retired teachers, as the need remains for plenty of dedicated staff.
“A teacher does affect eternity,” she said.
The governor recounted his own tour of the territory’s public schools, saying that he enjoyed the opportunity to speak with parents and meet children. With a concerted effort among the departments of Education and Labor, the AFT, retired and current teachers and school personnel, principals, chambers of commerce and the community, deJongh said he believes success is attainable.
Brown invited the new teachers onstage to introduce themselves. Florida Atlantic University grad and 2003 V.I. Carnival Queen Janelle Sarauw was acknowledged warmly as she announced her return home to teach U.S. history at Charlotte Amalie High School.
As she invited everyone to enjoy the refreshments and music provided by Bernard Liburd’s Top Notch band, Brown said, “I’d like to challenge each person to meet a new teacher and do something nice for them.”
Other participants included Education Deputy Superintendent Joseph Sibilly; Edouard deLagarde, representing V.I. Delegate Donna M. Christensen; V.I. Daily News Executive Editor J. Lowe Davis, introducing the “Newspapers in Education” program; and the chair of the Education Committee for the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce, Mulo Alwani.
The second and final reception will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Government House on St. Croix.
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