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Teacher Walkout in St. Croix Dominates Discussion at Senate Committee Meeting

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A meeting of the Senate Committee on Rules & Judiciary, initially convened to review 28 bills related to the budget, was significantly overshadowed on Wednesday. The main topic of discussion shifted towards a protest by educators across various schools in St. Croix.

Senator Franklin Johnson shared insights from conversations he had with several participating protesters on his way to the legislative session. According to Johnson, the issues brought up by the educators are “highly concerning and significant, especially regarding the state of our schools.” The Senator expressed his solidarity with the teachers, pointing out that their grievances align closely with the well-being of the students. “Our current learning environment is far from ideal,” he remarked. He mentioned that some classrooms are ill-equipped to deal with record-breaking heat, with windows that won’t even open. Johnson also expressed concern over the lack of drinking water in schools like Pearl B. Larsen Elementary, an issue he claims has been overlooked by the Department of Education.

Rosa Soto-Thomas, President of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), spoke to journalists earlier that day. She highlighted a slew of challenges that educators are grappling with, including an expired collective bargaining agreement and the introduction of digital learning resources that many students can’t access due to lack of computers. “Even those who have computers are affected as the internet speeds are frustratingly slow,” she said, questioning the government’s investment in broadband that isn’t benefiting classrooms.

During the committee meeting, lawmakers also noted multiple issues contributing to the educators’ protest. Senator Johnson highlighted the shortage of specialized staff such as special education workers and an overall lack of teaching personnel, which leads to oversized classes often lacking proper support. He further revealed that some schools suffer from rodent and termite infestations, as well as inadequate equipment. For example, a teacher at one elementary school in St. Croix had to conduct a cooking class without the benefit of a stove or refrigerator.

Senator Novelle Francis emphasized a long list of other issues affecting schools across St. Croix, such as “inadequate supplies, employee shortages, malfunctioning freezers and coolers, subpar air quality, and insufficient school security measures including lack of working cameras and not enough school buses.”

When asked about the next steps, Ms. Soto-Thomas was uncertain but emphasized that the walkout had successfully captured the attention of decision-makers. Senator Francis agreed, stating, “These are issues well within our capability to address, and we will collaboratively tackle them at the right time.”

The protest by educators in St. Croix serves as a vivid example of the urgency needed in addressing the multiple challenges plaguing the island’s educational system. The Senate committee meeting, originally focused on budget-related bills, turned into an urgent call to action to improve the teaching and learning environment across St. Croix schools.

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Education

St. Croix Celebrates Dedication and Success of Technical and Adult Education Graduates

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Families and well-wishers gathered at the St. Croix Educational Complex High School auditorium for a pair of significant ceremonies on Thursday, honoring the graduates of the St. Croix Career and Technical Center and the St. Croix Adult Education Center. These events celebrated the dedication and resilience of adult learners.

The St. Croix Career and Technical Education Center saw approximately 170 students graduate, while the Adult Education Center celebrated 34 graduates. Among them, 33 earned high school diplomas, and one received a GED.

Numerous elected officials attended the ceremonies, including Senators Marise James and Diane Capeheart, who were present at both events.

In his address to the Adult Education Center graduates, Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach emphasized the importance of staying in the USVI despite current outmigration trends. He highlighted the extension of the free tuition program at the university to part-time students as an incentive for graduates to further their education locally. “We need human capital now more than ever,” Roach stated.

Echoing the ceremony’s theme of “overcoming barriers,” many speakers, including Roach, acknowledged the significant sacrifices made by the students. Education Commissioner Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington remarked, “This is not an ordinary graduation. It’s a celebration of determination, resilience, and an unwavering belief in the power of education at any stage of your life.”

The Career and Technical Education Center’s graduating class included both adult and teenage students from local public high schools. CTEC Principal Yves Abraham commended the adult students, saying, “Thanks for making the sacrifice, thanks for being an example, thanks for being a beacon of hope and a role model for our youngsters.”

Chantal Browne, a local businesswoman and alumna of the CTEC cosmetology program, embodied the “beacon of hope” mentioned by Principal Abraham in her keynote address. “I took the skills learned in the cosmetology program and cultivated my life’s work,” she told the students.

The ceremonies also honored the top students of the graduating classes. At CTEC, Ishmeal Greenidge and Jenifer Martinez-Rondon received first and second honors from St. Croix Central High School, respectively. Meckayra Bruce and Ajhiba Williams were the top honors students from St. Croix Educational Complex High School. Additionally, four post-secondary students were recognized for sharing the same GPA. Andrew Adams and Victor Barnes received first honors, while Charles Baptiste and David Defour received second honors.

At the Adult Education Center, Shinah R. A. Herbert was named valedictorian, and Ta’Sha T. Bannis was named salutatorian.

Assistant Principal Betina Jules-Larocque addressed and debunked a common stereotype about the CTEC program. “There’s a misconception that at CTEC we welcome only a certain type of student: students who may have behavioral problems, students who may be struggling academically. But that is not the case. At CTEC we welcome all students—the best of the best—and they excel throughout the workforce,” she stated, receiving loud applause and cheers from the audience.

The ceremonies celebrated not only the achievements but also the potential future success of these graduates, marking a significant milestone in their educational journeys.

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USVI Elementary and Middle Schools Celebrate Student Promotions at Annual Ceremonies

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Graduation season has begun across the U.S. Virgin Islands, with several schools hosting promotional ceremonies to celebrate their students’ academic achievements and transitions. On Monday, St. Croix’s Claude O. Markoe, Pearl B. Larsen, and Alfredo Andrews Schools held their ceremonies, while Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School and Yvonne E. Milliner-Bowsky Elementary School did the same on St. Thomas.

The communities of Pearl B. Larsen and Claude O. Markoe Schools gathered to mark their students’ transitions to high school and middle school. These ceremonies highlighted the students’ past successes and anticipated their future academic journeys.

Claude O. Markoe School celebrated the promotion of 47 sixth-grade students to middle school at the St. Croix Educational Complex High School. Meanwhile, Pearl B. Larsen hosted its event in its home auditorium, where 47 eighth-grade students were honored as they prepared to enter high school.

Alumni from both schools delivered keynote speeches, sharing their experiences and memories from their own school days. Jayda Brown, a Pearl B. Larsen alumna and keynote speaker, recounted how her eighth-grade promotional ceremony had been held virtually. As she prepares to graduate from St. Croix Central High School, Brown reflected on the resilience and adaptability gained during that time. “We may have missed out on the traditional ceremony, but we gained something far more valuable: resilience, adaptability, and the knowledge that we can overcome any obstacle life throws our way,” she said, encouraging the students to carry these skills forward.

Pearl B. Larsen also recognized its top honors students, Nyack Nathaniel and Zayden Turner, for their academic and personal achievements. Assistant Principal Anna Marie Gordon praised them as “intelligent, athletic, [and] humble,” and as examples of perseverance and passion. “I’m so proud that they are young men leading the class,” she remarked.

Dr. Etta Lee Pickering-Mitchell, an alumna of Claude O. Markoe School, reflected on the influence of her elementary school teachers on her academic journey. As the Assistant Principal of Eulalie Rivera School, she addressed the promoted students, emphasizing that their “real work begins now.”

While Claude O. Markoe did not designate first or second honors students, the school celebrated another significant achievement: all six students recommended for the St. Croix Educational Complex High School’s magnet program were accepted. “I’m so happy to hear that all the students who participated in the interview process were able to get accepted. That speaks volumes about the teachers’ dedication to preparing students for the future,” said Dr. Pickering-Mitchell.

Dr. Pickering-Mitchell expressed her optimism for the future, stating, “I love to celebrate the small successes, and I look forward to seeing what they’re going to do in the future.”

In her closing remarks, Pearl B. Larsen’s Principal Joanna Brow commended the promoted class for their exemplary behavior, noting, “They are one of our best eighth-grade classes,” and praised the students’ collective achievements to the gathered parents.

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Career and Technical Education Faces Hurdles Due to Underfunding and Agency Delays, Board Reports

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The Board of Career and Technical Education (CTE) is facing significant challenges in fulfilling its mandate due to chronic underfunding and delays from partner agencies. CTE Chair Joane Murphy highlighted these issues during a testimony before the Committee on Education and Workforce Development on Thursday.

Ms. Murphy stated that the board’s main responsibilities include establishing, maintaining, and supervising vocational schools. However, despite being legally empowered to do so, the board lacks the authority to enforce these provisions effectively.

A key issue is the board’s reliance on other agencies for critical aspects of its mandate. The Department of Education is tasked with developing curricula, but the CTE board has not been kept informed about curriculum development relevant to its mission. “The board has not yet received those documents for further scrutiny and ultimate approval,” Ms. Murphy explained, noting a two-year delay. This lack of enforcement capability hampers the board’s ability to fulfill its duties.

The information gap from the Education Department impedes the CTE board’s efforts to attract more participants to its programs, which aim to enhance career prospects for youth and adults. The board’s plans include restructuring school hours to integrate workforce experience in the mornings and academic classes in the afternoons. They also propose breaking down two-year programs into smaller, more manageable segments. However, without the ability to enforce its mandate, these plans remain theoretical.

Ms. Murphy emphasized the need for additional funding. Federal Perkins Act funds can no longer be used for travel expenses, making it difficult for students to attend important conferences that offer scholarships, certifications, and networking opportunities.

Ms. Murphy also criticized the V.I. Legislature for its role in the lack of progress on CTE initiatives. Former Senator Genevieve Whitaker’s Bill 34-0378, intended to establish the Career and Technical Education Training Fund, failed to advance beyond its initial committee hearing in November 2022. This fund would have provided direct financial support to the board. Committee chair Marise James pledged to revisit the proposal during Thursday’s hearing.

Despite these challenges, Ms. Murphy affirmed the CTE Board’s commitment to maximizing available resources and collaborating with stakeholders to positively impact the career and technical education landscape.

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