On Wednesday, the Virgin Islands Department of Education shared interactive updates with the community live on their Facebook page about the upcoming 2023-2024 school year and what parents, teachers, and students can expect.
The Education Department announced that students’ first day of school is set for Aug. 7. The department’s official calendar is published with parent conferences, professional development, and more important dates highlighted. Orientation dates for students will soon be revealed. By Friday, all orientation schedules will be posted on their website. It was encouraged during the live presentation that during orientation, parents walk with a copy of their child(ren)’s immunization record to expedite the registration process.
Commissioners Dionne Wells-Hedrington and Victor Somme III, as well as Superintendents Ericilda Herman and Stefan Jurgen, hosted the discussion. They identified areas of improvement and change that can be expected for the upcoming school year.
Jurgen highlighted the buzz around teacher shortages, mentioning that the vacancies came from teachers whom the department anticipated to remain.
“From February we’ve been on a hunt trying to get teachers for the following school year,” said Jurgen. Now “in these past couple of days, we’re seeing where [new] resignations are coming in.”
He added that there is a shortage of foreign language teachers in both districts and that virtual learning may be used to “fill the gap.”
Herman mentioned that there will be more focus on ESL classes and additional special education classrooms will be added to schools.
Regarding school lunches, Somme III said that the department is working on the effectiveness of school cooks. Where there was a shortfall due to an “inability of cooks to prepare meals for hundreds of people,” one solution will entail all schools preparing the same lunch daily. Somme III announced that the St. Croix district will also implement local produce into meals and that all schools will work on making meals “more Caribbean in nature,” incorporating foods such as whole wheat johnny cakes, eggplant parmesan, and implementing salad bars.
Wells-Hedrington said, however, that not all school kitchens will be open.
Additionally, Somme III highlighted that school safety is being enhanced.
“We have spent a considerable amount of time planning and training,” said Somme III.
Somme said that the department is working to come up with a school security bureau that will comprise of monitors and counselors to act as a deterrent for ill behavior. There was a “school monitor retreat” in June on St. Croix, providing monitors with training and social-emotional wellness, and additional training is scheduled in New Mexico that starts this week, focusing on active threats.
Regarding buildings, Wells-Hedrington addressed the merger of the Lockhart Elementary School and Addelita Cancryn Intermediate and Junior High School, which will now become the Lockhart K-8 School. Additionally, she added that FEMA will give “close to $2.5 billion” to fix schools in the territory. Some schools, such as Alexander Henderson Elementary, will be replaced and others, such as Claude O. Markoe Elementary School and Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School, will be renovated.
“The life cycle of a school is forty years. Our schools are fifty-plus years. Our newest schools are Complex, BCB, Lockhart, Bowsky,” said Wells-Hendrington.
Regarding modulars, Wells-Hendrington said that the structures were guaranteed to last the department for five years and this is now year six. Maintenance has been actively working to fix issues of separation, deterioration, and moisture. More so, issues of mold from last school year have been identified and addressed. An assessment of electrical systems is taking place to ensure systems do not have power failures and that they can support air conditioning units, especially at the Eulalie Rivera and Joseph Gomez schools.
Concerns about additional crossing guards were raised to which the Education Department responded that there is a crossing guard shortage and that they are deployed in collaboration with the police department.
Jurgen highlighted that while “nothing is perfect,” all students will be returning to a classroom that is a clean, nurturing environment.
Further, while many areas of change and improvement were highlighted, some achievements were identified as well. Early in the live presentation, Jurgen and Herman mentioned summer programs that students attended at Berklee School of Music, Emory’s School of Medicine, and Yale that will assist in their development.
“We’re changing course a little bit this year with more intensive focus on what’s actually happening in our schools,” said Wells-Hedrington.
The Education Department will host back-to-school events prior to the start of school. Interested persons who would like more information from the department can visit Tutu Park Mall on July 29 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sunny Isles Shopping Center on August 4 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.