My first term on the VI Board of Education was a challenge and a blessing. I believe challenge promotes growth. It was a struggle to learn the operations and procedures of the board because most documents were outdated or lacking. Meetings with the education stakeholders were shared with certain members. Invitations were shared with certain members. NSBA (National School Board Association) and CUBE (Council of Urban Boards of Education) have enlightening and informative annual conferences, but members return from the conferences and do not act to incorporate practices learned which diminishes the purpose of the trips.
I have completed the shortest term as Chairperson of the Virgin Islands Board of Education. During the short period, significant accomplishments were made. The agency now has a sample operational manual of policies and procedures. The staff had training in conflict resolution, sexual harassment, customer service, and VIBE. The 2016 Close-out report list numerous accomplishments achieved under my leadership. Some items may seem surprising as accomplishments, but the agency had no documented procedures, policies, nor data. The qualifications, knowledge and commitment of Laurie Isaac and Dr. Stephanie Berry were integral to the progress made at the agency, especially without an Executive Director, an Associate Executive Director, a Finance/Budget Director and an Administrative Assistant. Those positions are now filled permanently.
Early January 2016, I was asked to join a conference call. On the call, I agreed the leadership was destructive and needed to be replaced for the best interest of the agency. Individually the three senior members on the conference call, gave reasons they could not be the replacement for Chair. "You’re the best person to lead at this time" was the unified position. With a commitment that Ms. Isaac and Dr. Berry could be temporary employees, and that regardless of the situation, decisions would always comply with VI Code and Bylaws. I agreed to be the replacement. That’s how the decision was made to elect me and Judy Gomez, Chair and Vice Chair for the final year of the 17th Board.
Leadership was delayed with a TRO, by complaints in Superior Civil Court, Supreme Court, complaints in PERB and Superior Court Small claims. The attacks continued with appeals. I learned frivolous, legal complaints were anticipated, and that was the reason I was "the best person to lead at this time." Prior to Nandi Sekou being elected a member of the Board, she served as the Board’s legal counsel and sued the Board when she was removed. The Board paid Nandi Sekou $75,000 to close the issue. The senior members knew that and expected the legal action if the Chair was removed, but that knowledge was not shared.
The complaints have not succeeded thus far, but they negatively impacted the agency. They interrupt progress, increase operational cost and interfered with the Board’s performance. As Chair, I was unable to attend KidsCount because I had to appear in STT Small Claims court for a complaint filed by Nandi Sekou; I was unable to participate in Complex students’ Close Up forum because I had to appear for a discrimination complaint at PERB filed by former finance director Barbara Williams-Brown. The plaintiffs demonstrated a lack of commitment and concern for the well-being of the VI Board of Education continuing with frivolous complaints and appeals, month after month. Three openly hostile members have filed or provide the testimony in support of the complaints against the Board. The complaints continue; a process server delivered documents to me filed by Nandi Sekou at the 18th Board’s first meeting, January 21, 2017.
Hopefully, the organization of the 18th Board will promote a culture of dedication to the interest of the students. Look for part two of this letter.
Mary L. Moorhead, St. Croix District VIBE member