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Education Department Resists Shift Back to Online Learning, Citing Lower Proficiency Scores and Over 1,000 Unaccounted or Damaged Devices



The efficacy of online learning in St. Croix is being questioned, as revealed by Education Superintendent Dr. Ericilda Ottley-Herman, who shared concerning data in a recent Department of Education broadcast.

The data unveiled a notable decrease in proficiency scores, with a mere 5.6 percent of students achieving proficiency in mathematics and 17.4 percent in English language arts post-pandemic. Furthermore, a significant number of digital devices distributed for online learning have either not been returned or are damaged, exacerbating the doubts surrounding the viability of digital education in the district.

In responding to inquiries regarding the department’s apparent reluctance to revert to the online learning model utilized during the pandemic’s peak, despite dire conditions in St. Croix schools, Ottley-Herman highlighted the concerning statistics.

“Post-pandemic, 5.6 percent of our students in the St. Croix district demonstrated proficiency in the Smarter Balanced assessments in mathematics; 17.4 percent were proficient in English language arts,” the superintendent disclosed. These numbers mark a decline from the figures reported last year by the Consortium, with Ottley-Herman adding that pre-pandemic scores stood at 10 percent proficiency for mathematics and 28 percent for English language arts.

Now, education authorities are scrutinizing the impact of virtual learning on the “learning loss” phenomenon. The hurdles posed by online learning were further complicated by challenges in managing student behavior. Ottley-Herman mentioned that while some students wouldn’t log on, others would be online but disengaged. Despite these challenges, she affirmed that technology will continue to be an option as the Department of Education enhances the infrastructure in the territory’s schools. Ottley-Herman emphasized, “We are aware that face-to-face instruction is effective. This understanding informed the decision to adjust the schedule to facilitate in-person instruction, given its positive impact on proficiency, especially in schools with a history of low scores.”

Ottley-Herman noted that students in these persistently low-performing schools would benefit from an extended online coaching program, which had shown promising outcomes during a trial. However, Education Commissioner Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington stressed that such initiatives must be spearheaded by principals. Given the ongoing teacher shortages and the fact that many qualified coaches are already engaged within the education sector, she foresaw schools utilizing their budget to engage retired teachers or other suitable individuals on a per diem basis. “The change we aim to see must originate from the classroom,” the commissioner emphasized during a Thursday event addressing the learning conditions in St. Croix educational institutions.

As the Education Department strives to restore proficiency test scores to pre-pandemic levels, Thursday’s broadcast also revealed the loss of many devices allocated for online learning during the pandemic. According to Wells-Hedrington, “600 devices are unaccounted for at [St. Croix Educational] Complex, and another 500 at Central [High School], either not returned or returned damaged.” Additionally, the department faces a $700,000 bill from Viya for MiFi devices not returned.

While new devices have been acquired through emergency grant support, Wells-Hedrington pointed out that students who received multiple replacement devices during the pandemic “cannot be granted ownership of a device, as they failed to return the Department of Education’s assets.” Discussions are underway to ascertain how to ensure all students have access to technology while fostering a sense of responsibility among both parents and students.

Improving academic proficiency is a cornerstone of the D.O.E.’s “Give Us 10” district-wide campaign, which aims for a 10 percent increment in academics and attendance, along with a 10 percent reduction in incidents. Ottley-Herman, the St. Croix superintendent, mentioned that strategies to achieve these objectives will be customized to accommodate the unique needs of individual schools on St. Croix.

Although there have been grievances from students and educators regarding the challenges of teaching and learning in overheated, moldy classrooms, education officials contend that the alternative – jeopardizing learning altogether – is far more detrimental.

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Marijuana Regulations Approved in the U.S. Virgin Islands



The U.S. Virgin Islands has taken a significant leap forward in its cannabis program with Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s approval of comprehensive rules and regulations governing marijuana use and distribution. The announcement was made during a press briefing on Tuesday by Government House Communications Director Richard Motta.

The newly sanctioned regulations establish a structured framework for both medicinal and adult use of cannabis. This dual approach aims to facilitate recreational cannabis use under regulated conditions while ensuring its availability for therapeutic purposes. According to Mr. Motta, the regulatory environment “provides special protections and benefits to medicinal cannabis users.”

Previously available in draft form for public comment, the regulations detail the process for obtaining various licenses and certifications necessary for participating in the cannabis industry. These roles include designated caregivers, prescribing physicians, licensees, third-party vendors, and consultants. Mr. Motta emphasized the importance of contacting the Office of Cannabis Regulation for those interested in getting involved.

Governor Bryan has expressed pride in the legislative and executive efforts that led to these comprehensive regulations. Notably, the Virgin Islands is the first U.S. jurisdiction to allow for the sacramental use of cannabis, recognizing its cultural significance. “With a closed economy such as ours, the governor believes it is important to provide opportunities for residents to participate in the program, whether as business owners, partners, employees, or patients,” added Motta.

In addition to facilitating legal cannabis use, the regulations address past injustices related to cannabis convictions. The new rules include provisions for the automatic expungement of certain cannabis-related crimes, enabling individuals previously marginalized due to past convictions to participate in the legal cannabis market. This initiative is part of a broader effort to promote social equity within the industry.

The governor’s approval marks the culmination of a long process of drafting and vetting. The regulations have been reviewed for legal sufficiency and are now ready for implementation. “For those of you who have been eagerly anticipating the rules and regulations for the adult use and medicinal cannabis rollout in the territory, they have officially been completed,” announced Motta.

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Bryan Names Kevin Rodriguez as Interim Island Administrator for St. Thomas/Water Island District



Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has appointed Kevin Rodriguez, his former deputy chief of staff, as the Interim Island Administrator for the St. Thomas/Water Island District. This change follows Administrator Avery Lewis’s decision to pursue a seat in the 36th Legislature of the Virgin Islands.

Under Virgin Islands law (Title 18, Chapter 1, Subsection 2 of the Virgin Islands Code), candidates for the Virgin Islands Legislature must take a leave of absence from their government positions from the date they file their nomination petition until the general election concludes. Lewis filed his nomination papers on May 22, prompting the need for this interim leadership adjustment.

“Avery Lewis has been a dedicated and committed servant to the St. Thomas/Water Island district. Although we will miss his contributions in his current role, we support his decision to run for the Legislature and wish him success in his future endeavors,” Governor Bryan said.

Rodriguez’s appointment as Interim Island Administrator is backed by his extensive experience in public administration and his deep understanding of the community’s needs and challenges. Gov’t House officials believe his leadership will ensure a smooth continuation of services during this transitional period.

“I am confident that Kevin Rodriguez will effectively assist the residents of St. Thomas and Water Island during this time of transition. His proven record of effective management and community engagement makes him well-suited to advance our progress,” Governor Bryan added.

The governor expressed his gratitude to both Lewis for his service and Rodriguez for stepping into this vital role at a significant time for the islands.

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Central Government Staff Honored at Employee of the Year Ceremony



The Government of the Virgin Islands recently celebrated its most outstanding employees in a series of ceremonies on St. Croix and St. Thomas. More than 6,000 government employees were eligible, but only a select few were honored for their exceptional service and contributions to their divisions and the community.

At the ceremony in St. Croix, Division of Personnel Director Cindy Richardson highlighted the critical role these employees play in enhancing the operations of their agencies and improving the quality of life across the territory. She lauded the honorees for their exemplary service and professionalism.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. dispelled the notion that government workers are lackadaisical, instead praising the honorees for their dedication and impact. “You are pretty special,” he affirmed, acknowledging their positive influence within the community and among their colleagues.

Senate President Novelle Francis identified the honorees as the “cream of the crop,” and spotlighted Alfred Donowa, the employee of the year from the facilities management division in St. Croix. Donowa was praised for setting a high standard for his team. In St. Thomas, Adele Thomas was recognized as the employee of the year for her role as a receptionist in the Legislature’s offices.

The Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach also took part in the celebrations, commending employees like Carmen Francis from the Real Property Tax Division for her exceptional customer service, and Chris George from the Geographic Information Systems Division for his leadership.

The ceremonies not only recognized the honorees’ professional excellence but also their passion for their roles within the government. Lieutenant Governor Roach emphasized the importance of ongoing professional development to maintain job satisfaction and retain valuable staff.

The list of honorees included individuals from various departments such as Rachel Haverkorn of the Office of the Governor and Marianne Navarro from the Virgin Islands Lottery. From the Department of Agriculture, Maxine Richards was honored, and from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Diana Gumbs took the title. Belgrave Stedman was recognized from the Water and Power Authority, celebrated for his achievements despite public skepticism about the utility’s successes.

These ceremonies serve as a vital reminder of the dedicated individuals who contribute significantly to the functioning and improvement of government services in the Virgin Islands.

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