Jan. 20, 2005 While both teachers and parents said it left a lot to be desired, a meeting between Addelita Cancryn Junior High School parents and faculty and top administration officials Thursday did accomplish two things right off the bat.
– Two police officers will be posted mornings and afternoons to assist students crossing Veteran's drive, a busy four-lane highway teachers say has been poorly staffed by crossing guards.
– A fence in front of the school that has been broken for more than two months was being repaired Thursday morning by Public Works Department personnel.
Teachers began staging a job action Tuesday to get the government's attention, and an emergency Parent Teachers Association meeting, called for Wednesday night, produced a plan to be presented to administration officials. (See"Parents Jam Cancryn Cafeteria to Express Concerns"and "Teachers, Students Walk Out of Cancryn for 2nd Day".)
Listening to the complaints and demands for action were Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, acting governor since Gov. Charles W. Turnbull is off-island; Noreen Michael, Education commissioner; Emily Carter, deputy insular superintendent of schools; Keith Richards, the governor's capital projects manager; Wayne Callwood, Public Works Department commissioner; Randolph Lattimer, Property and Procurement assistant commissioner and Sen. Liston Davis, Senate Education Committee chairman.
Two union representatives, art teacher Leba Ola-Niyi, and physical education teacher Rochelle Jackson-Todman, started off the meeting. Ola-Niyi cautioned members, "Remember we are professionals and need to act accordingly."
Ola-Niyi stressed the teachers' main goal, saying, "We are here for our students. Keep the focus, and do not let go emotions."
Ola-Niyi listed the short and long-term demands of teachers, and asked for commitments in black and white with official signatures and a time line.
Richards said he would have a list addressing all the concerns by Monday.
However, one major concern remained unanswered. For years the government has been trying to decide whether to move Cancryn to another location. Richards said no plan has been made to relocate. "It's not a simple decision," he said.
Last year officials identified $3 million in Public Finance Authority funds to address school problems, but if the school is relocated, current plans must be changed.
Cancryn's principal, Yvonne Pilgrim, lamented the school's plight at Wednesday night's PTA meeting. She said, "We need to put aside politics. We need to build the school up or tear it down."
Donald Cole, a teacher and former senator, said Thursday that the money has been available. He noted legislation he had passed, saying, "It's been there since 2002. It's not just last year."
In discussing the school improvements Michael, who appeared hesitant throughout the almost three-hour meeting, said there hadn't been funds before last year, and that architectural plans had to be drawn up.
Michael and the other administration officials were kept on their toes by parents and teachers who say they have waited far too long.
Darryl Williams, a math teacher, wanted to know why "we have to wait until it is a crisis?"
"I can't answer that," Lattimer said . In answer to further questions about the time frame for work to be done, Lattimer suggested the parents select one person to contact. "I'll let you know a time frame when we nail it down," he said.
The meeting was lively and at times almost raucous as teachers vented long pent up frustrations.
At one point Cherrie Wheatley, a parent, had had enough. "What I'm hearing is very appalling. Our object is to leave here with definite or alternate dates. It feels to me like this is a presentation, no action. How about you guys?" The crowd cheered Wheatley, breaking into applause.
"How long does it take to bring somebody aboard? " she asked. "If we can't have dates, we will go to court, and the time is now."
Parent Michelle Roberts spoke her mind. "What about these older students who bother our younger ones,"she asked. She then related a story of some students being routinely "bothered" by older students. "You say these students can't be moved out as a group. Why? They were moved in as a group. We have to find a solution."
Roberts continued, "I am going to say something that could be called inflammatory, but if our government officers were white, we would call the way they treat us discrimination. These are not little issues. Almost half of the eighth-grade class is failing. This is a large school. We need somebody to brainstorm, come up with ideas. I'm tired of hearing 'due process.'"
Teachers voiced many complaints about the toilets, the plumbing, and simple problems like getting a doorknob fixed within five weeks, while Louis Hughes, Education Department maintenance director, tried to assuage the situation.
Hughes said maintenance work was done over last summer and the toilets were in working order. That didn't go over well at all. After much discussion, Hughes said he would be at the school tomorrow to listen to complaints.
Ola-Niyi's concerns and the resolutions offered Thursday were:
– Will the school be moved? Not decided.
– More lights on campus in dark areas. Hughes will investigate Friday.
– Situation of older students on campus. This was discussed at length, but no conclusion drawn.
Tregenza Roach, Board of Education executive director, emphasized the complexity of removing a student from school. Pilgrim is working with Carter investigating moving two offenders off campus, but no official answer to the problem was given.
– Rats, rodents and pigeon droppings on school property. An exterminator will install rat traps Monday, and Public Works will deal with removing the pigeon droppings.
– A second hall monitor; there is currently only one. Michael said this was pending along with other personnel additions.
– The broken school fence. Repaired Thursday.
– Water lines that don't supply enough water to flush toilets. Callwood said he will speak to the Water and Power Authority about the water pressure problem.
– Telephone service; the school lost lines in the November fire. Innovative will be contacted.
– Leaking roofs. Callwood said temporary tarps will be put on the roofs with pumps. This was met by a groan from the crowd, but Callwood reminded them it was a "quick fix," not long-term.
– Public address system. Michael said this may or may not be included in the surveillance system for the school which is supposed to be installed in February.
– The shortage of crossing guards. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis told Richards two police officers would be assigned morning and evening to the school starting Thursday afternoon.
– Reconstruction of the burned classrooms. Richards will have the timetable in a written report on Monday.
– Reconstruction of the bridge overpass damaged by truck. Callwood said bids on the job had come in too high, but new bids were in the process of being taken.
Wheatley said after the meeting that she has hope something will improve. Pilgrim said she remains optimistic.
At the meeting's end teachers convened a closed session to discuss strategy. They decided they will come to work Friday and Monday, but any further action will be dependent on what the government says Monday.
Vernelle de Lagarde, American Federation of Teachers president, said, "We should never have let this get this far. We always get to this point; as usual, that's how we get things done. This school needs t
o be conducive to learning. What was presented was a real list not a wish list. We had the staff and the parents here so it's not a union action, but the entire school community."
The meeting did not get off to a good start. It was scheduled for 10 a.m. Parents, who had made arrangements to be away from their jobs were outraged when Pilgrim told them the meeting would start at 11 a.m. because of some mix-up in timing.
"It's derailment," said Chrys Petersen. "They don't want us to be organized."
Then, when 11 a.m. came and went and it got to be 11:30, the crowd started clapping and chanting. The administration's officers walked in at 11:35. They offered no apology for being late, but Richards noted the meeting had been moved from Friday to Thursday to address immediate needs.
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