Big changes await V.I. students as they head back to class
Published: September 3, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Students return to the territory's public schools Tuesday, and the V.I. Education Department has a new curriculum, new textbooks, new technology and a new school lunch menu ready and waiting for them.
Department officials said teachers are in place and spruced-up schools are ready to open their doors to the territory's students.
It has been years since school began after Labor Day, but the late start has to do with union obligations, according to Education spokeswoman Ananta Pancham.
The first day of school is based on the administrators' last work day of the previous school year. Administrators must have 60 days off in the summer, according to their contract.
When the school year runs late - because of missed days that need to be made up at the end of the year or because of the year's holiday schedules - it pushes back the start of the next school year.
While the department has moved to an all-year maintenance program for the territory's public school facilities, crews were out this summer painting, installing fencing and gates and making minor repairs.
In the St. Thomas-St. John District, several elementary schools have new security gates. Air-conditioning units have been refurbished, and many schools have new bathroom facilities.
The courtyard at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School has been turned into a basketball and volleyball court, Pancham said.
On St. Croix, major roof repairs were completed at Elena Christian Junior High, and the flooding issues that plague the Alfredo Andrews Elementary School parking lot are being addressed, according to a department report.
New auditorium chairs were installed at Arthur Richards Junior High, and new recreational equipment is being installed at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary and Juanita Gardine Elementary schools.
"We addressed several physical plant issues to ensure that the environment of the schools is conducive to learning and healthy," Maintenance Director William Matthew said.
Pancham said the department is facing staffing challenges within the two school districts.
"Even as late as today, the department has been receiving resignations and letters of retirement that continue to add to our growing number of vacancies," Pancham said Friday.
She said the department's division of human resources has been actively recruiting and conducting interviews to fill critical areas. In the meantime, schools will be using their substitute pools to ensure that a teacher is in each classroom at the opening of school and that no instruction time is lost.
Students, parents and teachers will be using a new curriculum with new textbooks this year.
"We have a new curriculum, that uses the federal Common Core State Standards," Pancham said.
The focus is on language and math skills in all grades.
"It's a more rigorous curriculum, and it works with students, parents and teachers to give understanding of what each student is expected to be learning at his or her grade level," Pancham said.
According to the Common Core State Standards website, the system was developed to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce.
Training for teachers on the curriculum was funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant.
In 2009, the V.I. Legislature appropriated $7 million from the Education Initiative Fund to the Textbook Adoption Program, which was used to purchase the new textbooks for the territory.
In 2011, legislation was adopted directing Education to use that same fund to start an e-book pilot program in the 2012-2013 school year to use electronic books and digital devices in the classroom. E-readers have been purchased, and the program is set to begin in one classroom on St. Thomas and one classroom on St. Croix.
The territory's School Nutrition Program is launching a new menu for the coming year, Pancham said. The new menu uses federal dietary guidelines and considers calorie content and portion size, she said.
"It's putting more fruits and veggies into the lunchroom," Pancham said. "It gives kids more options."
She said the department is hoping the new menu is more desirable for students and will coax them to eat the school lunch.
"In addition to wanting to encourage them to eat lunch at school, we also want to encourage them to eat healthier," she said.
"We are launching several new technological initiatives," Pancham said.
More iPads, computers, laptops and e-books will be in the classroom this year, she said.
In the coming weeks, a new web portal will be launched within the department's existing website - www.doe.vi - for parents, teachers, students and the larger community to engage with the department, Pancham said.
Parents will be able to sign up for text alerts about school closings or early dismissals, teachers can post videos for their students and information will be available in multiple languages.
The department also has implemented a student information system, which is a database for all student records. The database will allow teachers and parents to have quick access to progress reports, report cards and disciplinary actions.
The system will streamline the college application process for students, parents and school registrars, allowing students to order copies of their transcripts online and have them delivered to more than 90 percent of colleges and universities across the nation.
Access to real time data also will help the department comply with local and federal reporting requirements, build policy and create new programs and initiatives, according to Education officials.
Education received $31,000 in federal funding during a two-year period for the project, Pancham said.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.