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Addressing Attendance Challenges in Territory Schools: A Unified Approach Needed

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The Department of Education’s insular superintendents for St. Thomas/St. John, Stefan Jürgen, and for St. Croix, Ericilda Ottley-Herman, have raised concerns about the persistently low attendance rates in schools across the territory. During their recent testimonies before the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development, they highlighted the direct link between regular attendance and student achievement. In particular, Jürgen pointed out that seven schools within the St. Thomas/St. John district are particularly in need of improving their attendance figures, emphasizing ongoing dialogues with school principals to address this critical issue.

Jürgen identified a pattern of tardiness among a consistent group of parents, suggesting targeted interventions by the district’s truancy officers and attendance counselors, including home or workplace visits to promote the importance of education. He also reminded the community of the fines parents could face for neglecting their children’s education, although he acknowledged that current strategies to boost attendance have yet to yield the desired results.

In a similar vein, Ottley-Herman reported a troubling decline in attendance among kindergarten students on St. Croix, with figures falling to 86%, in contrast to a more robust 93% attendance rate among high schoolers. She assured that efforts are underway to bridge the achievement gap, with schools forming attendance teams to work closely with the families of absent students and, in extreme cases, involving external agencies.

The revelation of these challenges prompted questions from Committee chair Senator Marise James about the Department of Education’s strategy to combat parental negligence in ensuring their children’s school attendance. Ottley-Herman shared insights into the logistical difficulties faced by parents, particularly concerning school start times, and reported a positive outcome from adjusting the start time at Eulalie Rivera School to 7:30 a.m., which significantly improved attendance rates. A forthcoming parent survey aims to further understand the impact of school start times on attendance patterns.

Both superintendents and lawmakers engaged in a candid discussion about the broader implications of these attendance issues, drawing parallels with current workplace attendance trends and emphasizing the critical role of parental responsibility in shaping a culture of punctuality and reliability. Jürgen highlighted the need for holistic support systems for children, indicating that absenteeism might be symptomatic of more complex social and familial issues.

Senator Carla Joseph and Ms. James called for a more integrated approach to identifying and addressing the root causes of absenteeism, suggesting a collective effort beyond immediate educational circles to include broader community and governmental support. The dialogue underscored the urgency of fostering a more accountable, supportive, and engaged community to ensure every child receives the education they deserve.

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Education

U.S. Virgin Islands to Enhance Career Training with New Courses Pending Certification

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The U.S. Virgin Islands is poised to expand its Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings, as the CTE board anticipates the certification of new curriculums in a variety of fields. Monique Faulkner, the state director of Career and Technical Education, announced at a recent board meeting that new programs in nursing, phlebotomy, medical massage therapy, medical assistance, and computer network engineering are on the horizon.

Faulkner emphasized the importance of formal certification for these programs, some of which have been informally implemented for years. Certification by the board will facilitate their integration into high school curriculums and alignment with university programs, thus streamlining educational pathways and reducing redundancy.

A particularly innovative aspect of the expansion is the adaptation of an agricultural curriculum from Mississippi, which is being customized to meet the unique needs of the Virgin Islands. Faulkner’s team plans to ‘Virgin Island-ize’ the curriculum, ensuring it is relevant to local students and industries.

The Department of Education’s internal committee is set to collaborate with CTE Board Committee Chair Anastasie Jackson on evaluating and refining the agricultural curriculum. Faulkner proposed a flexible curriculum model that includes specializations in areas vital to the local economy, such as agritourism, agribusiness, and aquaponics.

A key goal for Faulkner is to ensure students earn industry-recognized certifications that hold value both within the Virgin Islands and nationally, propelling them into meaningful careers in agriculture and beyond.

Collaboration with the University of the Virgin Islands, particularly leveraging its aquaponics expertise, is central to the initiative. This partnership aims to offer students dual credits and certifications, enhancing their educational and career prospects.

The board expressed strong support for Faulkner’s leadership in developing these essential CTE programs, despite challenges in retaining teaching staff for existing courses. This initiative represents a significant step forward in equipping Virgin Islands students with the skills and certifications needed for successful careers in emerging and traditional sectors.

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Addressing the Exodus of Career and Technical Education Instructors: A Growing Concern for the CTE Board

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The Board of Career and Technical Education is grappling with a significant challenge: a rapid decline in the number of instructors, leading to the potential loss of critical educational programs. Joane Murphy, the board’s chair, highlighted this pressing issue during a discussion with the Education Development Center (EDC), a notable global nonprofit dedicated to providing technical support and expertise to educational authorities. This conversation took place at a recent Thursday meeting, where EDC officials were present to understand the board’s concerns better, with an eye towards securing federal support for initiatives aimed at mitigating these challenges.

The scarcity of instructors is felt across various sectors, with the construction and healthcare fields experiencing particularly severe shortages, as noted by Ms. Murphy. This shortage not only threatens the continuity of these essential programs but also the future readiness of students entering these industries.

Genevieve Whitaker, a board member and former senator, underscored another significant hurdle: the lack of sufficient financial resources to support educators facing administrative barriers. Whitaker emphasized the board’s desire to provide more substantive support to teachers in need of additional classroom resources, a goal currently hampered by financial constraints.

Additional concerns were voiced by board member Suzanne Magras, who pointed out the increasing issue of school violence, alongside deficiencies in teacher certification, basic resources, and technology. Dr. Magras advocated for a focus on preparing both educators and students for the advancements in artificial intelligence, underlining the importance of readiness for future technological impacts.

The dialogue with EDC was deemed beneficial by Sandra Espada, an EDC representative, for identifying the specific needs of the territory. This understanding will guide the organization’s efforts to secure federal funding aimed at systemic improvements. Nicole Breslow, a project director at EDC, emphasized the goal of facilitating support at a systemic level, indicating a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges faced by the CTE Board.

Future meetings with Department of Education officials and the Board of Education are planned by EDC representatives. These discussions aim to create a comprehensive overview of the territory’s career and technical education needs, fostering a collaborative approach to overcoming the obstacles highlighted during the board’s meeting.

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Education

Champions Crowned in USVI District Spelling Bees, Gearing Up for Territorial Challenge

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Rayan Felix and Evan Fahie have emerged as the luminaries of the District Spelling Bee competitions, hosted by the V.I. Department of Education this past Thursday. With 24 students from across the islands converging to showcase their spelling prowess, the event was a testament to the academic dedication and skill of the participants.

Evan Fahie, a bright student from Lockhart K-8 School, clinched the title in the St. Thomas-St. John District, while Rayan Felix, representing Free Will Baptist Christian School, secured victory in the St. Croix District. Their triumphs have set the stage for their next challenge at the Territorial Competition, scheduled for March 19, 2024, on St. Croix, where they, along with 10 other talented students, will compete for the prestigious title of USVI Territorial Champion.

The finalists from St. Croix include a roster of adept spellers: Chasidy Pickering from Pearl B. Larsen, Joseph Greaux of Eulalie Rivera, Jasem Rahhal from Good Hope Country Day School, J’adora Burke representing Ricardo Richards, and Layla Jacobs from St. Patrick’s Catholic School. Meanwhile, the St. Thomas-St. John District will be represented by Kaiden Lettsome-Dowe from Antilles, Eli Blash of Moravian, Amera Paul from Calvary Christian, alongside Kashyma Paul, Yvonne Bowsky, and Kwalane Flemming from Ulla Muller School.

Dionne Wells-Hedrington, the Education Commissioner, lauded the competitors, stating, “Our heartfelt congratulations go out to all the students who took part in this distinguished event. Your enthusiasm for learning and commitment to mastering the complexities of the English language are truly inspiring.”

The Department of Education also extended its gratitude to the schools, educators, coaches, and families for their unwavering support, as well as to the sponsors who helped make the event possible. Emphasizing the importance of the Spelling Bee, the D.O.E. recognized it as a vital platform for promoting literacy and effective communication skills, both of which are crucial in nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.

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