April 30, 2002 – The Commission on Secondary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools has rejected an appeal from the V.I. Education Department, meaning that three public high schools in the territory have lost their accreditation, an official at Middle States said Tuesday.
The decision was reached at the commission's semi-annual meeting, held Friday and Saturday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The commission informed Education Department officials of its decision Tuesday, according to Susan K. Nicklas, who was named executive director of the commission at the weekend meeting after having previously served as deputy executive director.
"Effective immediately, the schools' accreditation is no longer in effect," Nicklas said Tuesday. "We can't say a school is accredited if it's not meeting a minimum standard."
Middle States announced in November it would no longer accredit Charlotte Amalie High School, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School or Central High School because of high teacher and student absenteeism, lack of substitute teachers and a lack of authority of school principals to manage their own schools. The territory's fourth public high school, Education Complex, has never been accredited.
Since 1994, the commission had been warning that the schools faced the possible loss of accreditation because of poor school maintenance, outdated learning materials and problems with financial management, according to letters from the commission.
The Education Department appealed the November decision, making its case before a Middle States hearing panel on Feb. 28. Upon their return from the hearing, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds and the heads of the three schools said at a press conference that they felt they had received a fair hearing. "The three members were very receptive," Kent Moorhead, Central High School principal, said then.
But the commission upheld its earlier decision at its meeting Saturday, Nicklas said. She said she planned to send written notification of the decision to Simmonds this week.
The loss of accreditation could hurt graduating students' chances of gaining admission to colleges and universities, Nicklas said, but the commission has a responsibility to push for improved education for future students.
At Charlotte Amalie High School, several students said Tuesday that they are worried that the loss of accreditation can hurt their prospects after they graduate. "The colleges won't maybe judge you on how smart you are," said Le'Triece Santiago, a CAHS sophomore. "Losing accreditation makes us all look bad."
Edward Gillis, admissions director at the University of Miami, said he will continue to recruit Virgin Islands students, but that the loss of accreditation raises concerns about the quality of their high school education.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he is disheartened at the loss of accreditation, and that it is one more sign of a need for change in the education system. "We've had so many red flags come before us in the past, and this is one more," he said. "We need to re-evaluate our approach to education."
Jn Baptiste has proposed legislation that would put control of the schools under an elected school board, rather than the current system of an Education Department headed by an appointed commissioner. His legislation also includes provisions for improved assessment of school performance.
Virgin Islands students have consistently scored at or near the bottom of students nation- wide on the SAT and other standardized tests in reading, math and other academic skills.
On Tuesday, Jn Baptiste called for Simmonds' resignation, as he has done before, saying that the loss of accreditation has undermined confidence in her ability to run the school system.
Simmonds declined to comment Tuesday on the loss of accreditation, saying she had not yet received formal written notification of the commission's decision.
The Virgin Islands schools have the option of seeking new accreditation, and in fact began the application process late last year while at the same time appealing the adverse decision. But Nicklas noted that the schools would have to make major improvements to gain new accreditation.
"They would have a long, long way to go," she said.
The criteria to gain accreditation through Middle States are far more stringent today than they were when the territory's schools were first accredited, Nicklas said.
"The standards today would present them with major challenges," she said, adding that the criteria cover everything from curriculum to building maintenance, library services, plans for emergency situations and use of technology in the classroom.
Editor's note: For details on the Middle States decision to withdraw accreditation and the response of Education officials over the last six months, type the word "accreditation" into the search window at the bottom of this page.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.