May 7, 2002 – Positive measures to approach the territory's education crisis will be discussed in a public forum on Saturday by many of the Virgin Islands' most knowledgeable stakeholders, including the student body presidents of the four public high schools.
However, newly designated acting Education Commissioner Noreen Michael will not be among them. She will be on Tortola with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull attending a U.S.-British Virgin Islands Friendship Day ceremony, Government House confirmed Tuesday.
And an aide to St. Thomas-St. John Superintendent Rosalia Payne said Tuesday afternoon that "It's a toss-up" as to whether Payne will attend the forum. Her St. Croix counterpart, Terrence Joseph, is scheduled to participate.
The forum, which will be held at the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., is one in an ongoing series sponsored by the Virgin Islanders for Democratic Action Club, whose chair is Sen. Lorraine L. Berry. The club presented a forum on the territory's economic future last November and another on problems within the V.I. insurance industry in January.
Berry said she sent invitations out in ample time for all to arrange to attend Saturday's forum. In fact, she said, the forum was postponed from April 6 to accommodate some officials who couldn't make that date, including then-Commissioner Ruby Simmonds, who was scheduled to be off island.
"It is our contention that out of the present crisis, a rebirth in education is possible," Berry said. "It will be a constructive discourse. The planned dialogue is calculated to develop solutions to bring about positive collaboration for education reform so badly needed in these islands."
The forum was planned long before it was learned last week that the territory had lost its appeal of a decision last November by the Commission on Secondary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools to withdraw accreditation of Charlotte Amalie, Central and Ivanna Eudora Kean High Schools. (See related stories by typing the keyword "accreditation" into the search engine at the bottom of this page.)
Education is in crisis not only in the Virgin Islands but nationally, Berry noted in a message to forum participants. She quoted a sobering excerpt from a report by the U.S. Commission on National Security issued earlier this year: "Second only to a weapon of mass destruction detonating in an American city, we can think of nothing more dangerous than a failure to manage properly science, technology and education."
Along with Joseph, those scheduled to take part in panel discussions during the forum are:
– Dr. Laverne Ragster, University of the Virgin Islands provost and president-elect.
– Board of Education members Malik Sekou of St. Thomas-St. John and Claudette Peterson of St. Croix.
– Leroy Trotman, deputy Education commissioner for curriculum and instruction.
– Verona Dore and Anthony Kiture, Education Department assistant human resources directors for St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John, respectively.
– Anna Lewis, Education state director of vocational and adult education.
– Patricia Nathan, Education district director for curriculum, asssessment and technology.
– American Federation of Teachers local presidents Vernelle deLegarde of St. Thomas-St. John and Tyrone Molyneaux of St. Croix.
– Carver Farrow, the president of the Education Administrators Association.
– Margarita Benjamin and Ira Hobson, presidents of the Parent Teacher Student Associations in the two districts.
– UVI faculty members Richard Hall and Richard Moore.
– Student body presidents Chevelle Leonard of CAHS, Eartha Peterson of CHS, Klarice George of EKHS and Makeda Okolo of Education Complex.
Officially representing the Education Department are Dore, Joseph, Kitture, Lewis, Nathan and Trotman.
Berry also said Turnbull announced Tuesday that Manuel Justiz, dean of The University of Texas College of Education and an adviser to the governor, is in the territory. Turnbull, in his January State of the Territory address, announced the appointment of Justiz as his "assistant to the governor for education affairs, including our efforts to retain our accreditation."
Berry added, "My hope is that if Dr. Justiz is on the island, that he would come and participate" in the Saturday forum.
Among issues to be addressed, Berry said, is the need to comply with the strict provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, President Bush's education reform package that has his Reading First initiative as its centerpiece.
The territory was invited to send a team of education policy advisers and officials who direct education policy and programs to an orientation to the Reading First program in February. Those who attended were Turnbull and Simmonds. (See "Governor at D.C. orientation for educators".)
Berry said one of the mandates of the new act is that all teachers must be certified by 2004. "We should not be caught off guard," she said. "The federal role in education is going to have a major impact on the V.I. — the testing and certification of teachers. How we can fast track this process is one of the issues I have asked the panelists to investigate."
Also at the forum, Ragster will present a draft report of UVI's evaluation of the Education Department's administrative efficiency. The study, mandated by legislation Berry introduced last year, includes an analysis of the department's budget in relation to the services it is expected to provide.
For the panel discussions, Berry said, participants have been asked to provide input on four basic objectives:
– Identifying barriers to academic success and creating a plan for improved parent and community involvement.
– Establishing a network for faculty and administrators to create a two-year professional development plan.
– Establishing communications and support systems between teachers and students.
– Defining policy issues on access to services, public engagement, school-university connections and teacher training.
And underlying all of the discussions will be the schools' loss of accreditation, and how to regain it.
The forum is open to the public without charge. It will be broadcast live on WIUJ radio, 102.9 FM.
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