Memorial Day Activities Scheduled for May 30 on All Islands

Memorial Day is Monday, May 30, and the Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs, the American Legion, the Survivor Outreach…

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Half a dozen young people, local artists and music producers have created a peace song for Carnival 2014. To read more about the song, click here.

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Antilles Sailing Team Ties for Fourth in Nationals

The Antilles High School sailing team placed fourth in the Interscholastic Sailing Association’s Baker National Championship, which took place Saturday and Sunday in Anacortes, Washington. 

2016-05-30 01:12:09
Virtue of the Week: Helpfulness

Helpfulness is being of service to others, doing thoughtful things that make a difference in their lives. Offer your help without waiting to be asked. Ask for help when you need it. 

2016-05-29 21:50:04
Two Injured in Shooting at Winston Raymo Basketball Court

Two people, a young adult and a teen, received minor injuries late Saturday when shots were fired at the Winston Raymo Basketball Court, the V.I. Police Department reported. 

2016-05-29 18:32:45
Local news — St. Thomas
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Schools Prepare for Tuesday Opening

Gladys Abraham Elementary Principal Lisa Hassell-Forde seems excited about her school's new oven. (Photo provided by V.I. Department of Education)

Acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory has spent the past few weeks touring the territory's public schools with the department's heads of maintenance, Human Resources staff and even Board of Education members, looking at everything from school preparedness to staffing challenges.

The Education Department's goal is to ensure that each school is safe and prepared to open in September, according to officials.

Thursday's St. Thomas tour focused on the overall state of the schools, with officials looking at general repairs, contracted projects and student-built work. For the summer, each district received $1.4 million for maintenance projects. St. Thomas-St. John Deputy Superintendent Joseph Sibilly said that so far, all of that has been spent in the district on items submitted by the schools at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

The requests ran from installation of doorknobs to completely redoing bathrooms and entranceways. Each request is reviewed on the district level and approved based on the need and level of funding available, he said. Sibilly added the smaller projects tend to be completed in-house by the St. Thomas-St. John district's small maintenance staff, which is short six or seven people due to budget cuts and early resignations, the superintendent added, while the larger projects are contracted out.

Multi-million dollar budget cuts over the past four years have also pushed the department to abandon its larger scale summer efforts in favor of year-round maintenance, which Frett-Gregory said this week helps cut down on deferred maintenance costs by addressing problems right away.

Acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory checks out a repaired bathroom at Gladys Abraham (Photo provided by the V.I. Department of Education)
Acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory checks out a repaired bathroom at Gladys Abraham (Photo provided by the V.I. Department of Education)

At Gladys Abraham Elementary, for example, Sibilly said one of the big priorities was fixing several sets of bathrooms throughout the school. For the past two years, the district was able to fix two pairs of bathrooms, and wrap up this year with the final two. While on the tour, school principal Lisa Hassell-Forde said that one of the bathrooms hasn't been used in at least a decade, since flooding and leaks from the roof made it unsafe and even warped some of the stalls.

Weeks ago, V.I. Port Authority officials announced they would take care of another of the school's problems, the demolition of two vacant Bournefield Housing Community units that school administrators worried could become a breeding ground for illegal activities. While Bournefield residents have argued against it, Hassell-Forde said removing the buildings behind the school have actually brought some relief and gave Sibilly the chance to create a new entrance at the back of the campus, with concrete stairs, railings and an electronic security gate.

Community partners such as the Port Authority, WAPA and Public Works have helped to fill some of the gaps by helping with overall maintenance work, Sibilly added as he pointed Thursday to workers from Public Works removing a downed tree on the Gladys Abraham campus.

"Of course we still have challenges – nothing is perfect," Hassell-Forde said at the end of the tour. "But this school has come a long way over the past few months and really, all we want to do is make sure everything is functioning and safe for the students."

Some schools, such as Addelita Cancryn Junior High, have been consistently maintained over the years and Sibilly explained Thursday that all that was really needed this summr was some painting and roof work.

Walking around the campus, Frett-Gregory also said some puddles will be dried before school starts Tuesday, helping to cut down mosquito breeding and the threat of dengue.

This new gymnasium at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School is almost ready for use. (Photo provided by V.I. Department of Education.)
This new gymnasium at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School is almost ready for use. (Photo provided by V.I. Department of Education.)

Other schools, such as the Edith Williams Alternative Academy, have engaged their students in the summer projects. Last year, approximately 30 teens replaced the deck and railings around a few of the lower classrooms on campus, and this year, student volunteers helped rebuild the outside bungalow that serves as a lounge area for students, according to principal Mario Francis.

Two of the school's bathrooms were also redone, he added.

Francis said giving the students a chance to fix up their own campus creates a sense of ownership, which they pass on to others during the school year.

"They'll say, 'Hey man, don't you know how long it took me to build that?' if they see another student damaging or defacing the school," Francis said. "We think that's quite great, and a very important lesson to teach them."

Frett-Gregory said sending students back to well-maintained and functioning facilities is part of an effort to "create a positive school culture," which she said will help to kick the year off on the right foot.

Meanwhile, there have been a few "wish-list" items some schools were able to get this year, including a sound booth at Gladys Abraham (to help the school's celebrity choir lay down their tracks) and an auditorium at Cancryn. The Cancryn facility has been two years in the making, but should be turned over to the school during the upcoming semester, according to Sibilly.

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