On Wednesday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. cut the ribbon of the newly renovated Ralph O. Wheatley Skill Center, officially recognizing the space as the new home for the Charlotte Amalie High School 9th Grade Academy.
“We are here today to celebrate a new beginning at the Department of Education,” said Cynthia Graham, referencing the modernized features installed into the facility. Graham is the director of public relations for the Department of Education.
The Charlotte Amalie High School Annex includes new interior LED lighting, state-of-the-art information technology systems, a computer lab, movable panel walls, storefront windows, monitors, intercoms, access control doors, and new restrooms. It has 17 spaces that can each accommodate up to 27 students for a total of 459 ninth graders.
Education Department Chief Operations Officer Dionne Wells-Hedrington said, “We are transforming the teaching and learning experience of our children. … We want the best for our staff, we want the best for our children.”
When asked why the Education Department chose the location of the Skill Center to serve as the new annex, Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin said, “We have a number of factors. Number one being the physical location, the proximity to the original Charlotte Amalie High School campus. When it comes to educating students, transportation is a big factor that takes up time. So, we wanted to make sure we utilize the grounds and the facilities nearest to the school.”
Berry-Benjamin also said there is a desire to expand career and technical education in the community and said, “Our goal is to expand on Career and Technical Education, and this facility, with the Skill Center program being here, of course, with the expansion we would’ve eventually needed more space. So, in our vision planning out forward, we are utilizing the Gladys Abraham Elementary School campus, and we’re currently modernizing that space with a launch in 2022, with a grand opening.”
For now, the Ralph O. Wheatley facility will serve as both the Charlotte Amalie High School Annex and the Skills Center.
“The Skill Center’s courses right now are usually offered in the evenings. So they definitely
will be sharing the facility … so the morning will be the ninth graders, and the afternoon/evenings will be the Skill Center,” said Symra Brown. Brown serves as a deputy superintendent of the St. Thomas/St. John district.
The Education Department received funding from Congress to cover disaster-related damages due to 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. Currently, there are 32 educational facilities across the territory. That number will be reduced to 18, according to the Education Department’s Educational Facility Master Plan that outlines the proposal for how the funding will be used. Now the Education Department has completed phase one of its construction plans by renovating the Skills Center into the Charlotte Amalie High School Annex.
Wells-Hedrington said, “We are proposing to reduce our footprint. We have to downsize. I know that we want community schools, but feasibility and funding-wise, it’s not practical anymore. We struggle with maintaining. It costs $29 million to maintain our schools and we get three or four [million].”
Modernization and consolidation projects are still underway for schools across the territory. According to the Education Department’s Master Plan, they include:
St. Thomas/St. John
– Charlotte Amalie-Addelita Cancryn-Lockhart PK-12 Education Corridor New Build.
– Wheatley Skill Center (Adult Career and Technical Education) at Gladys A. Abraham site.
– Julius E. Sprauve School K-12 New Build.
– St. Thomas Curriculum Center New Build.
Modernization Projects at Various Schools and Facilities:
– Ulla F. Muller K-8 Modernization.
– E. Benjamin Oliver Education Center
– Ivanna Eudora Kean 9-12 with Sports and Marine Program
– Bertha C. Boschulte 6-8
– Joseph Sibilly K-5
– Joseph Gomez PK-5, Jane E. Tuitt PK-5 and Yvonne E. Milliner-Bowsky PK-5
– Monroe Pre-Kindergarten
– Education Department Headquarters
– Arthur A. Richards K-8 at Evelyn M. Williams Site New Build.
– Pearle B. Larsen K-8 Modernization.
– Juanita Gardine K-8 Modernization.
– St. Croix Central High School New Build.
– John H. Woodson Vocational School Modernization.
Modernization Projects at Various Schools and Facilities
– Claude O. Markoe ES, Andrews K-8, St. Croix Educational Complex, Woodson Vocational School
— Ricardo Richards, Eulalie Rivera and Lew Muckle Support Facilities
– St. Croix Curriculum Center and VIDE Headquarters
Wells-Hedrington said, “What you see here you are going to see in St. John. What you see here you are going to see in St. Croix.”
“Our goal as a territory is one that always has to be about making it better for the people,” Bryan said.
More information about the Education Department’s Educational Facility Master Plan can be found here.