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Education Department Shares Insights on Summer Initiatives; Legislature Investigates Student Progress Monitoring

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interior of a school with desks equipped with protective plexiglass screens to allow social distancing to prevent covid 19 infection. 3d render.

The V.I. Department of Education provided a comprehensive update to the Senate Committee on Education & Workforce Development about their ongoing initiatives for the upcoming academic year and the summer activities being undertaken by students.

Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, the Education Commissioner, outlined a clear vision for the future, revealing the department’s move towards digitizing its operations, refining pedagogical practices, and enhancing the overall quality of education in the Virgin Islands. A testament to this drive towards a digital future is the recent successful roll-out of online registration and the anticipated launch of an online cash management system by year-end, aimed at streamlining school-related financial transactions for parents.

A critical component of the revamped education strategy is to provide greater autonomy to schools, allowing them to design tailored programs catering to the unique needs of their students. With this change, schools will also be subjected to performance-based evaluations, using metrics like academic achievement, student growth, language proficiency, and attendance rates. Dr. Wells-Hedrington emphasized that schools needing assistance would get targeted support through the imminent Education Turnaround Office. This office’s primary objective would be to intensively support schools, ensuring educational excellence while minimizing operational roadblocks.

Insular superintendents then shed light on their district-specific undertakings. Dr. Stefan Jürgen from St. Thomas/St. John reported participation from over 1100 students in various summer programs. These programs catered to a broad spectrum of learners, from special education students to those looking for advanced academic opportunities, such as those offered by prestigious institutions like Emory, Harvard, and Berklee College of Music. A notable mention was the success of the Saturday Academy program, where students outperformed their peers by a significant margin in Math and English over the past two years.

From the St. Croix district, Ericilda Ottley-Herman detailed a plethora of offerings, from academic enrichment programs to specialized academies focusing on arts, gardening, and coding. Furthermore, St. Croix also had specific bridge programs to aid the transition of students between crucial stages of their education, focusing not just on academic prowess but also on critical life skills like time management and emotional intelligence. Ms. Ottley-Herman proudly mentioned a consistent decrease in the number of students repeating grades, pointing to the district’s successful educational strategies.

During the discussions, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory inquired about the mechanisms in place to track student performance over time. Dr. Jürgen elucidated that students requiring additional support were promptly identified, and the necessary arrangements made. However, Senator Frett-Gregory stressed the importance of having robust tracking mechanisms to ensure every student’s continued success.

In response, Ms. Ottley-Herman highlighted the PowerSchool system’s “flagging” feature, which allowed for monitoring student progress post credit recovery programs. Dr. Wells-Hedrington concurred with this approach but also recognized the importance of a holistic student tracking system, underscoring the department’s commitment to narrowing the achievement gap.

Addressing Senator Frett-Gregory’s concerns, Dr. Wells-Hedrington stated, “Your concerns about tracking tools are valid. We are on the lookout for comprehensive solutions. Rest assured, the superintendents and I will further discuss this matter, aiming to not only monitor but also to create alternative academic avenues for our students.”

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Education

Department of Education Seeks Approval for FEMA-Funded Rebuild of St. Croix Central High School at Upcoming CZM Meeting

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The V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) has announced a pivotal St. Croix Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 20, at 5:30 p.m. via Microsoft Teams. Key topics include the proposed rebuilding of St. Croix Central High School using FEMA funds.

DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol stated that the agenda would highlight several vital infrastructure projects aimed at bolstering the island’s resilience and community amenities. The primary focus will be on the V.I. Department of Education’s proposal, under Federal Consistency Determination No. CZM0028-23, seeking approval to utilize FEMA funds for the demolition and reconstruction of St. Croix Central High School. This significant project, located at Track 3 Upper Bethlehem in Christiansted, represents a major initiative to modernize the island’s educational infrastructure.

The committee will also deliberate on enhancements to Highway 75. Under Federal Consistency Determination No. CZM0017-23, the V.I. Department of Public Works intends to improve roadway geometry, install underground electrical distributions, and make several other safety and accessibility improvements along the north shore road west of Christiansted.

Another major item on the agenda is the V.I. Water and Power Authority’s (WAPA) proposal, under Federal Consistency Determination No. CZM0005-24, to use FEMA funds for burying utility lines along Queen Mary Highway to VITEMA Road. This project aims to enhance the electrical power resilience for the VITEMA Headquarters and nearby residents.

Public testimony will be welcomed during the hearings on the highway and utility projects, but no testimonies will be heard during the decision meeting on the high school project.

Interested parties can participate or view the proceedings with the following meeting details:

  • Meeting ID: 290 917 297 230
  • Passcode: aoPusj

Relevant documents and additional information are available on the DPNR website under the Federal Consistency and permitting sections. This meeting highlights the Virgin Islands government’s ongoing efforts to address critical infrastructure needs by effectively leveraging federal funds to ensure the territory’s resilience and development.

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Charlotte Amalie High School Graduates Celebrate Success and Perseverance

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Charlotte Amalie High School celebrated its 93rd graduation ceremony on Thursday, with 187 graduates, known as Chicken Hawks, gathering in the school auditorium alongside family, friends, and well-wishers.

Principal Angel Petrus hailed the year as one of “great accomplishments and moments to be proud of and to celebrate.” Rather than dwelling on the disruptions caused by the pandemic, Petrus highlighted notable achievements. These included the JROTC battalion’s victory in the inter-island drill competition, triumphs in the territorial moot court competition, and championship titles in basketball, volleyball, and soccer. Academically, the class excelled with 113 students graduating with honors and 42 receiving high honors. Additionally, 51 seniors were inducted into the National Honor Society, and six were recognized as AP scholars. Three students gained early admission to the University of the Virgin Islands, and 71 obtained certifications in technical and vocational subjects.

District Superintendent Dr. Stefan Jurgen emphasized the power of self-belief in his address before presenting awards to the valedictorian and salutatorian. “If you believe you can, or cannot – you’re absolutely correct… It’s the power of your mind,” he remarked.

Education Commissioner Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington encouraged graduates to embrace their unique gifts. “One of the things I think that we struggle with today is trying to fit into some kind of mold of what a successful person looks like,” she said. “All of us were born to be unique; that’s why we all look different. We’re not meant to fit into anybody’s mold.”

Salutatorian Karra Henderson reflected on her transition from a small private middle school to a large public high school. She credited her success to her hard work and the support system around her. “This recognition is not just a testament to my hard work and dedication, but also the incredible support system that has surrounded me,” she said, calling her high school experience transformative.

Valedictorian Maleah Davis acknowledged the challenges faced by her classmates. “The two years of isolation brought with us an uneasiness and loneliness that time has yet to fix,” she said. However, she expressed pride in her peers, noting the diverse futures ahead of them, from entrepreneurs to healthcare professionals.

Keynote speaker Ivo Philbert, a 1984 CAHS alumnus, praised the resilience of the graduating class and urged them to remain true to their identity as Chicken Hawks. “You got this, because you are Chicken Hawks,” he said. Philbert highlighted successful Virgin Islanders like Aliyah Boston and Theron Thomas, urging graduates not to feel limited by their island background.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. praised the school’s “culture of excellence” and stressed the importance of community support. He commended the graduates for their achievements and encouraged them to remain bold and authentic. “You have many mountains to climb and many, many, many graduation stages to walk across. Be bold, be yourself,” he concluded.

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A Generation of Trailblazers: IKEHS 2024 Graduates Lead with Academic Distinction

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In a jubilant ceremony on Thursday, 181 seniors of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (IKEHS) proudly crossed the gymnasium stage to receive their diplomas.

This year’s graduating class has set a remarkable academic benchmark, with Principal Sally Petty highlighting its achievements in her opening remarks. She noted that 25% of the graduates earned high honors, while an additional 29% received honors. Impressively, 87% of the class is set to pursue post-secondary education.

The IKEHS Class of 2024 also boasts the highest proficiency rates in English Language Arts, Math, and Science across the territory, according to the 2023 Smarter Balanced State Standardized Assessments. Their exceptional performance has garnered $2.1 million in scholarships. Additionally, 52% of this year’s graduates are boys, marking one of the largest cohorts of male graduates in the school’s history.

Principal Petty encouraged the graduates to take pride in their accomplishments and embrace the opportunities ahead. “The world you’re entering is full of opportunities and possibilities,” she said, urging them to be confident in their ability to achieve great things.

Class salutatorian Nillia John-Pierre, 17, described the Class of 2024 as “the chosen ones who are survivors of Irma, Maria, and COVID-19.” She shared four guiding principles for success—aptitude, altitude, attitude, and ambition—and advised her peers to remain grateful for the support of family, friends, and teachers.

Valedictorian Darnell Birmingham, who will attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, echoed the theme of gratitude and thanked his support network. He encouraged his classmates to use negativity as motivation. “Take the discouragement as encouragement and motivation to prove them wrong,” he said, likening their struggles to the transformative process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. praised Birmingham’s achievements, humorously expressing his admiration. “I want to be Darnell Birmingham when I grow up,” he joked, celebrating Birmingham’s recent national recognition.

Dr. Muria Nisbett, a 1999 IKEHS alumna and the event’s keynote speaker, shared her inspiring journey from teen motherhood to earning a doctorate. She emphasized resilience in the face of challenges and the transformative power of education. “Success is not a straight path,” she said, encouraging graduates to pursue their passions with determination and to give back to their communities.

Dr. Nisbett concluded with a powerful message: “The world is waiting on you to make your mark. Find what you’re passionate about and pursue it with all your heart.”

The IKEHS Class of 2024 stands poised to make significant contributions, embodying the school’s tradition of excellence and resilience.

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