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HomeNewsArchivesPost-Earl Glitches Complicate First School Day

Post-Earl Glitches Complicate First School Day

Opening day at St. Croix Educational Complex. (Photo Bill Kossler)After a few days’ delay courtesy of Hurricane Earl, children from first- through 12th-grade all across St. Croix put on uniforms early Thursday morning, gathered at bus stops or piled into cars and made their way to the first day of school.
A crowd of children walked up to Claude O. Markoe Elementary School, some excited, some nervous, accompanied by mothers, fathers and some grandparents. All broke into smiles when they saw who was waiting for them there.
It was school monitor Arlene Penn, who greeted each arriving student with a smile and a hug.
"I like to make sure they all get hugs," she said, enfolding a youngster in her arms.
According to Assistant Principal Faith George, it’s been a busy summer at Markoe, during which the 54-year-old facility underwent a major renovation. Cabinets were replaced, bathrooms refurbished and the whole school generally given a once-over.
"For us, it is the challenge of getting the school ready through the construction and renovation," she said.
Faculty and staff worked late and used the extra time afforded by the hurricane-delayed opening to make sure the building was ready for students Thursday, she said.
Markoe monitor Arlene Penn providing welcoming hugs on the school's first day. (John Baur photo)Over at Elena Christian Junior High, students started the new school year off with the school facilities all spruced up. The greenery in the school yard was neatly trimmed and surrounded by a new fence. The interior walls were freshly painted pink and blue, and windows were fixed on the west side.
“It is important for the students to come back to a school that looks nice,” said Carlos McGregor, Elena Christian principal. “Our expectation remains that way – it is their school and they exhibit pride in it and are expected to take care of it.”
He said the first day back went very smoothly and was a very productive day.
“We were very eager to get started,” McGregor said. “We had a great year last year with great academic performance.”
He said this year their major goal is to make the overall Adequate Yearly Progress, a quality benchmark for V.I. schools.
This year he said they will be working on the reading and attendance aspects of the AYP. He said Elena Christian was one of four schools to meet the AYP in mathematics last year.
“This year we are focusing on reading content in social studies, math and science,” McGregor said. “The more students read, the better readers they will become.”
Margaret Burnett, language arts department chair, feels confident they will make the AYP.
“I think the students have the ability to make the reading AYP goal,” Burnett said. “It will help if parents encourage their children to read in their spare time.”
McGregor said they look closely at attendance daily. He added if students are absent, officials call the parents. If it’s deemed there’s too many days absent, they send an attendance counselor to the child’s home.
There are 405 students enrolled this year, 36 more than last year.
“We are doing great things here and more parents want their children here,” McGregor said. “It makes sense — the more we achieve, we can expect the numbers to climb.”
A few leaks necessitated the replacement of some ceiling tiles, but otherwise, the school weathered Earl unscathed.
Eight-grade students in U.S. History class at Elena Christian. (Photo Carol Buchanan)Over at the St. Croix Career and Technical Education Center, staff looked over student uniforms, issuing stern warnings to those not quite in compliance, while Principal Willard John put out (metaphorical) fires and helped students figure out where they were supposed to go. As with Elena Christian, the center survived the storm with little damage.
"There were a few flooded classrooms, but it’s all taken care of now," John said. "We have no major maintenance issues here. As a vocational school, if anything is broken, we fix it ourselves."
Enrollment is similar to last year, at "close to 900 students this year," John said. Enrollment may increase slightly over the next few days as students at Complex and Central make final plans to attend vocational education part-time, he said.
Although structural damage was slight, the recent storm did create some major opening-day glitches at the center, St. Croix Educational Complex and St. Croix Central High, with the schools’ computer systems, internet access and phone systems all non-functional at the beginning of the day.
At Complex, Principal Kurt Vialet said the school had some maintenance issues, but the situation was manageable.
"The storm knocked out all the air conditioning units, but we are ready to begin," he said, though he found it frustrating the computer system was down. Without the computer system, class registration is slowed down and staff cannot readily resolve questions about student enrollment and where a particular student should be, he said.
Over the summer, he said, work crews did a lot of painting, made restroom repairs and replaced exterior lights in front of the office to help add security at night.
About 1,400 students are registered right now at Complex, Vialet said. "That is a slight increase, maybe 50 more students than last year," he said.
Some staff were more critical of the school’s condition. Patricia Oliver, a librarian at Complex, said the water pump supplying the entire school had just barely been fixed in time and could fail at any time, leaving restrooms and cafeteria without running water. "The pump has to be primed every single day because they can’t leave it on," she said.
The library itself is plagued with mold, too, because its air conditioning system no longer had a dehumidifier, she said. There is an aroma of mold in the air, dry, powdery yellow mold on the cabinets, and black mold on the walls and ceiling.
"It has been like this for a decade, and it is reported every year," she said. "And they need a backup generator. This was a storm shelter, and the backup generator doesn’t work," she said.
When asked, Vialet confirmed the same concerns, but emphasized that some improvements had been made. While acknowledging that longstanding problems were unfortunate, he remained optimistic the school could soldier on as in past years.
While he spoke, Oliver walked by, notifying him and other staff that internet access had just come back online, as of 9:05 a.m.
Detailed information was harder to divine at Central, where staff vigilantly prevented unexpected visitors from looking around and referred all questions to Principal Chermaine Johnson. In turn, Johnson said she was too busy with opening day to stop and answer questions but paused for a short synopsis.
"The cafeteria was rebuilt, we did some minor painting, and the gym parking area was repaved," she said. "It’s an old school and has its issues, but we can cope and are ready to open."

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