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Students Will Get to Work Right Away, Education Commissioner Says

Aug. 19, 2008 — When the territory's schools open their doors Aug. 25, students will walk right into their classrooms, take their seats and begin the school year without delay.
The first week of school will not be lost with orientation details that traditionally take up a full week, with actual instruction beginning the following week, says Education Commissioner La Verne Terry.
"We can't lose crucial time," Terry told the Rotary Club of St. Thomas Sunrise on Tuesday morning.
The commissioner talked about her role in shaping the territory's education system, a task she officially began in April, though she began laying the groundwork months earlier.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. gave Terry a challenging mandate. In his State of the Territory address, de Jongh said, "Education reform was a cornerstone of my campaign for governor, and it is one of the most important commitments that I have made to the people of the Virgin Islands."
Terry wants to be a catalyst for change.
"One person cannot change a school system, its culture, its mores, but I do believe one person can provide the impetus to encourage change," she said. (See "Governor's Choice for Education Commissioner Eyes Big Changes.")
Change is necessary to meet contemporary challenges, she said.
"We live in a global society now," Terry said. "It's up to us to get our act together for the students themselves, and for them as representatives of the Virgin Islands. We have to ensure the students' skills are solid, and make sure they can take those skills to any other place and use what they have."
Terry spoke with a growing understanding of the problems she faces in a new environment.
"Education is the only industry where we accept all, everybody," she said. "In no other profession is that demanded. We have six and a half hours a day. We need for all students to graduate — all," she continued, with a determined gaze, "not 95 percent. Do we make it? No. But everybody is somebody's child. They need the best possible teachers."
Before her nomination as the territory's education commissioner, Terry was the deputy superintendent/chief academic officer of the Hartford Public School system in Connecticut — an urban district with more than 24,000 students and 40 schools. According to her resume, while serving as assistant superintendent of the Christina School District in Delaware, Terry tripled enrollment in AP courses, increasing enrollment of minority students by 300 percent, improved test scores in the district's elementary and middle schools by 20 percent, and developed several model teaching and development programs.
Terry mentioned her background Tuesday in reference to an important subject for her — special education. She considers it a top priority, and it's a field in which she has experience.
"Students with special needs should still have access to the same curriculum as their peers," Terry said. "Only if we put special education students in regular classrooms, as much as possible, will they have the same opportunity."
Terry spearheaded an unprecedented educational event this summer. Taking the governor up on his challenge for educational reform, the Department of Education took 300 members of the territory to Orlando, Fla., June 22-26 to attend the 2008 Model School Conference. It was sponsored by nationally renowned education reformer Willard R. Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, who spoke on St. Thomas earlier this year. (See "Inspirational Educator Woos Territory's Teachers.")
At the conference, Terry said Tuesday, "We worked every day, all day. No playing. We worked in teams, we made plans, discussed how they would work when we returned." Smiling, she added, "And no one got paid for attending. This was on their own."
Terry addressed another chronic issue: the territory's decaying school infrastructure.
"We face so many challenges with the old buildings," she said. "Inspecting the schools, it might look as if everything is running well one day, until the next day it rains and a classroom is discovered to have sprung new leaks, or the power is cut off in the computer lab."
Terry is looking at those problems firsthand this week. She toured St. John Monday, and she left the meeting Tuesday for a tour of St. Thomas schools. Wednesday she will tour St. Croix schools.
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