Nov. 10, 2005 –The purpose of technology clearly is to cut down the need for manpower. According to testifiers at an Education, Culture and Youth Committee Wednesday on St. Croix, however, the problem in the Education Department seems to be not enough manpower to manage the technology.
Senators received an update on the Education Territory Area Network (ETAN). The network, which, when working, should allow teachers and students to electronically conduct research, share lesson plans, take virtual field trips and hold video-conference meetings.
Some of those things are working well. Sen. Liston Davis, chairman of the committee and former Commissioner of Education, said that the network has shown great progress since it was initiated under his watch in 1999.
Noreen Michael, commissioner of Education, said that initially the network ran very slowly and was not reliable. She said that both those issues were being addressed.
However, other testifiers raised questions about the ability of the department to maintain the network and the equipment to allow staff and students access to it.
Julio Espinosa is coordinator of Media Library Services at the Curriculum Center where the center of operations for ETAN is located.
He told senators, "We are having a difficult time in effectively carrying out its responsibilities due to lack of adequate staffing and the shortage of funds for the purchase of equipment and materials and fulfillment of contractual obligations for support services."
He went on to say, "The number of employees assigned to the Center has been reduced to nine employees from the original 17."
Terrence T. Joseph, St. Croix district insular superintendent, said he was aware of most of the problems Espinosa mentioned and the district was trying to address them.
Clinton Stapleton, territorial director of the Office of Instructional Technology, reported that his office had a staff of five working, but there were also seven vacancies. The vacancies include a network engineer, Web master and two technology integration specialists.
Michael said it was hard to attract educators with the right qualifications in technology and it made little sense to hire anyone without the necessary qualifications. She said, "The job still won't get done."
Stapleton further stated in a written report, "There is much network equipment in schools but they will have little to no impact without a program that has support from federal and local leaders and stakeholders." He said that it was imperative that the vacant positions be filled in his office.
The federal E-Rate program funds most of the ETAN costs. To date the territory has received $20.2 million in E-Rate funding. The federal government funds 90 percent with a 10 percent matching grant required from the local government.
The department has applied for a $4.6 million grant this year. This will require about $460,000 in matching money from the V.I. government.
Bertina Jules, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers and a teacher at the Alfredo Andrews School, also testified that access to equipment was a problem. She said teachers at Alfredo Andrews had to call fire fighters and have them cut locks so the teachers could get access to laptop computers stored in a cabinet.
Present at Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt David, Ronald Russell, Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Louis P. Hill.
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