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USVI Department of Education Faces Challenges Amid Staff Shortage and Pending Health Report



The US Virgin Islands Department of Education faces mounting challenges, from staff shortages to an impending health report that holds the key to reopening schools. Commissioner Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington expressed concern over the continuous loss of educational professionals, especially against the backdrop of a burgeoning student population on St. Croix.

This past Monday, Dr. Wells-Hedrington brought to light the departure of 65 education experts from the USVI public school system. A concerning pattern has been observed on St. Croix, where all grade levels, with the exception of kindergarten and second grade, are witnessing an upward trajectory in enrollment. This revelation came during the Department of Education’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development.

In addition, the national education landscape is not looking any brighter. By way of illustration, Wells-Hedrington pointed to the drastic loss of more than 200 teachers in Florida’s Brevard County. Zooming back in on the USVI, from late May to mid-July, the territory witnessed the resignation or retirement of 65 key education professionals. This figure included 37 teachers.

In an effort to counteract this drain, proactive measures are being adopted. The department is organizing job fairs and has even opened its doors to international educators through the J-1 visa exchange program. “Employee retention is paramount,” Dr. Wells-Hedrington emphasized.

Regarding infrastructural enhancements, the commissioner shed light on a slew of maintenance and upgrade activities undertaken for the upcoming academic year. The overarching goal is to offer students a secure and enriching learning environment. Noteworthy projects encompass ventilation inspections, electrical and plumbing overhauls, classroom revamps, and overall safety and aesthetic upgrades on school premises throughout the territory.

However, there are hurdles still to overcome. The School Maintenance and Construction Bureau is awaiting the appointment of its executive director. Meanwhile, collaboration continues with FEMA to secure funding for new schools. There’s a spotlight on the Charlotte Amalie High School and the Arthur Richards preK-8 school. These developments are backed by local funding, encompassing the dismantling of existing structures like the Evelyn Williams and old Arthur Richards schools.

The department is also prioritizing post-pandemic readiness. Kitchen facilities at various St. Croix schools are set to undergo renovations for safe post-Covid operations. Students will need to wait a while before they can utilize these new facilities. But Dr. Wells-Hedrington assures the community, “Our contractors are mobilized and ready.” For the St. Thomas/St. John District, the kitchen revamp process is in its preliminary planning stages.

In a discussion with Senator Franklin Johnson, the commissioner highlighted the expected completion date for these projects by the close of 2024. The road to completion is paved with challenges, from difficulties in securing contract bidders to unforeseen electrical and plumbing complexities.

However, the most pressing issue is the awaited health readiness report from the Department of Health, due just a week before the recommencement of classes. This document’s delay further complicates the department’s preparations for the upcoming school year.

St. Thomas-St. John District’s Superintendent, Dr. Stefan Jürgen, also shared updates regarding the district’s restructuring, indicating revamped venues, school amalgamations, student attendance pattern shifts, and the introduction of special education provisions in select schools.

In summary, while the USVI Department of Education is pushing forward with its preparations for the upcoming academic year, it does so amidst a landscape of challenges, highlighting the resilience of the educational community in these trying times.

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Education Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington Advocates for Enhanced Learning Methods and Curriculum in Recent Podcast



Education Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington recently appeared on a podcast hosted by Jeffery Hernandez, CEO of National Academic Education Partners, where she shared her strategic vision aimed at revitalizing education within the U.S. Virgin Islands. Highlighting the dynamic changes in technology and career landscapes, she underscored the importance of adapting educational systems to effectively prepare students for future challenges.

With a robust background spanning over three decades in various educational roles, including teacher, principal, and administrator, Wells-Hedrington brings a comprehensive perspective to her role as commissioner. She passionately advocates for a student-centered approach, emphasizing, “It’s all about the students. I ensure that every decision prioritizes their long-term success.”

During the discussion, the Commissioner pinpointed literacy and mathematical skills as critical areas needing attention, particularly following the setbacks from recent hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing a 2023 academic achievement report, she expressed concern over alarmingly low math scores among the territory’s seventh graders. Wells-Hedrington argued for a foundational focus, starting from early childhood education, to address these gaps evident even before the pandemic.

In response to these challenges, the V.I. Department of Education is collaborating with various organizations to bolster teacher training in the science of reading and to enhance intervention efforts. Wells-Hedrington is also a proponent of data-driven strategies, aligning educational budgets with strategic objectives to foster measurable growth.

The Commissioner acknowledged the need for greater engagement from students and parents, noting the territory’s struggle with consistent parental involvement post-pandemic. She shared effective strategies from her time as a principal, such as hosting parent seminars and offering English classes to foster better school-community interactions.

Addressing teacher recruitment and retention, which remains a critical issue, Wells-Hedrington described several adaptive measures her department has implemented, including optimizing human resources and integrating virtual teaching to address staff shortages.

On the prospect of adopting a four-day school week, a concept gaining traction elsewhere, she expressed openness to exploring such innovations. Wells-Hedrington is particularly enthusiastic about the potential applications of artificial intelligence in education, viewing it as a tool to further personalize learning and enhance instructional methods.

As the U.S. Virgin Islands continues to repair and rebuild hurricane-impacted educational facilities, the Commissioner sees these efforts as an opportunity to re-envision school environments that cater to diverse learning preferences and needs, thereby ensuring students are not only academically adept but also well-rounded in their social and emotional development.

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Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to Address UVI Graduates at 60th Commencement



The University of the Virgin Islands has proudly announced that Keisha Lance Bottoms, the esteemed former Mayor of Atlanta and previous senior advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement, will grace its 60th Commencement Ceremonies as the keynote speaker. These milestone events are set to unfold on May 9 at the Orville E. Kean Campus on St. Thomas, and on May 10 at the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, with both commencements beginning at 1:00 p.m.

Bottoms, whose career spans various echelons of government, made significant strides during her mayoral tenure beginning January 2, 2018. She adeptly steered Atlanta through tumultuous times, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the zenith of the racial justice movement, underscoring her pivotal role in tackling pressing urban issues and seizing opportunities within the United States.

The University of the Virgin Islands commends Lance Bottoms for her leadership, which propelled Atlanta towards notable economic resilience and growth amidst the pandemic’s challenges. Notably, her administration achieved balanced budgets across four years without increasing property taxes or reducing city personnel, all while bolstering city reserves to a robust $181 million. Her time in office was characterized by economic advancements for Atlanta, highlighted by the attraction of nine Fortune 500 company headquarters and the execution of initiatives aimed at systemic reforms to improve the lives of city residents.

Lance Bottoms’ administration made headline-worthy strides, including repurposing Atlanta’s jail into a center for diversion, abolishing cash bail for non-violent crimes, and the creation of over 7,000 affordable housing units. Her leadership was pivotal in advancing diversity and inclusion, through the establishment of new police and fire stations and substantial law enforcement reforms.

With Dr. David Hall, who is concluding a remarkable 15-year tenure as UVI President, at the helm, the university looks forward to Lance Bottoms sharing her journey and insights. Her story of impactful leadership and dedication to fostering an equitable and inclusive society is set to inspire the Class of 2024.

Keisha Lance Bottoms’ illustrious career and dedication to public service have garnered her widespread acclaim, including being named a Distinguished Civil Rights Advocate by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year, and securing a spot in Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 List.

As the daughter of R&B legend Major Lance, Keisha Lance Bottoms shares her life with her husband Derek Bottoms and their four children, embodying the roles of a committed public servant, spouse, and parent with grace and dedication.

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UVI Empowers Future Female Leaders to Tackle Social Issues in Annual Conference and Competition



At the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences successfully hosted its second annual “Young Ladies Learning to Lead” Conference and Competition. This innovative program is designed to empower high school girls from across the territory by equipping them with essential knowledge and skills for both personal and professional growth. The initiative also serves as a platform for them to showcase their leadership capabilities.

The event attracted a diverse group of female students from various high schools who initially took part in a conference dedicated to the development of self-esteem, empathy, authenticity, and an array of leadership styles. They were also trained on effective teamwork, public speaking, and preparation for academic pursuits beyond high school.

Following the conference held in late February, participants were given a month to prepare for the competition. The challenge required them to apply their newly acquired skills to devise solutions for social issues affecting the Virgin Islands, as highlighted by event committee chair Anna Clarke. The criteria stipulated that the social problems chosen should be addressable through the collective effort of the participants or the wider community, without expecting government intervention, and aimed at achieving tangible results.

On March 27, during the competition, contestants presented their proposals to a panel of judges. The standout presentation was by Savanna Holley of Good Hope Country Day School, who focused on combating youth apathy towards environmental concerns. She outlined significant issues such as the excessive use of single-use plastics, waste management challenges, and the pressing need for more accessible recycling options, coupled with the overarching threat of climate change.

Holley proposed a comprehensive strategy to engage and educate young people through community service, solution-focused discussions, educational clubs, and formal schooling. She emphasized the importance of fostering a sense of individual and communal responsibility towards the environment, predicting that such educational and empowerment initiatives would lead to heightened environmental activism among the youth.

The judges praised the high quality of all presentations, awarding Nadjah Jn Phillip of Gifft Hill School second place for her examination of social media’s impact on Virgin Islands teens, and Ne’Keyla Amey of Charlotte Amalie High School third place for her insights into dismantling the ‘who you know’ mentality for a more unified society. Donnalee Isaac of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School received an honorable mention for her exploration of abortion’s effects on VI teens.

The program invites 10th, 11th, and 12th-grade female students interested in next year’s conference and competition to contact Dr. Clarke for more information. This initiative underscores the University of the Virgin Islands’ commitment to fostering leadership and addressing community issues through youth engagement and education.

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