Education officials seek feedback from parents about closing Guy Benjamin School on St. John


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V.I. Education Department officials met with parents last week about the possible closure or re-purposing of Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay, St. John.

"We have not made a decision yet, this was just to get feedback," Education spokeswoman Ananta Pancham said.

Education officials said the final decision depends on how many students register for the upcoming school year.

The school has seen a steady decline in enrollment during the last few years, and the Education Department is having trouble justifying the financial expense to keep the doors open to serve only a few students, particularly when the students can be taught at Julius Sprauve School in Cruz Bay.

At a Parent Teacher Organization meeting on Thursday, St. Thomas-St. John District Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry said enrollment at Guy Benjamin has dropped from a high of 112 students to the current 55.

Despite the school's declining number of students, it still costs the same amount of money - $1.1 million annually - to operate the school, according to the department.

It costs about $2.3 million per year to operate Sprauve, according to Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory. Benjamin has only 15 employees compared with Sprauve's 44.

Sprauve poses some concerns - it is located in the center of Cruz Bay and is surrounded by bars and traffic - but it does have a maximum capacity of 729, more than enough to absorb the 55 Guy Benjamin students.

Frett-Gregory said the department is looking into partnering with the federally funded Head Start program to bring in Early Head Start, which serves children up to age 3, and Head Start, which serves children 3-5, in addition to the department's kindergarten, first, second and third grades.

Parents speaking at Thursday's meeting also offered other options for the future use of Guy Benjamin School, including:

- Transitioning the Guy Benjamin campus into a kindergarten-to-third grade school, while Julius Sprauve would accommodate the island's fourth- to eighth-grade students.

- Leaving the campus as it is.

- Strictly enforcing the Education Department's districting policy, which would allow students to attend the school closest to where they live. Several residents said during the meeting that they opt to send their children to Julius Sprauve because it is closer to where they work.

Smith-Barry told the group that they still are able to register their children for classes at Guy Benjamin during early registration sessions held during the next two months, which could help boost the school's enrollment.

Early registration was held Saturday at the St. Thomas Curriculum Center and will be held again at Julius Sprauve School on March 24.

"This was a very productive meeting," Frett-Gregory said. "It was important for us to get input from the parents and to see how we can collectively work out a solution that's in the best interest for both the St. John community as a whole and the students."

The small Coral Bay elementary school currently teaches second- through sixth-graders. Residents of Coral Bay were concerned last fall when the department decided to move the kindergarten and first-grade classes from Benjamin to Sprauve. Many worried that the move was simply a precursor to the department shutting down the school completely.

On March 22, the Coral Bay Yacht Club is hosting the 18th Flotilla Party to benefit Guy Benjamin School from noon to 4 p.m. at Hansen's Bay Beach on the East End of St. John (Round Bay). Attendees can sail to the beach party aboard a volunteer sailboat in the morning, for $40 per person, which includes admission. Admission for those who drive there is $20 per person, which includes food consisting of West Indian dishes, hamburgers, hot dogs and salads.

All proceeds are used to enhance the education for students at Guy Benjamin School.

For more information or to make boat reservations, call Mary at 513-8141. Larger tax deductible donations may be made by check to the Coral Bay Community Council indicating "Flotilla" in the memo line.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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