Nov. 19, 2001 – With the start of the new year 2002, none of the public high schools in the territory will be accredited.
The three schools accredited now– Central on St. Croix and Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean on St. Thomas — are about to lose that accreditation because of long-standing deficiencies that have not been corrected. The Education Complex on St. Croix, which opened its doors in the 1990s, has never sought accreditation.
Charlotte Amalie Principal Jeanette Smith broke the news Friday to CAHS faculty members. She told them that the Commission on Secondary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools had notified the schools that their accreditation will end Dec. 31 because, among other things, there is no substitute teacher program and there are excess absences of both teachers and students.
The need for improvement in these areas and also in providing library services had been spelled out by a visiting Middle States accrediting team more than three years ago.
Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said Monday night, "I will be making a statement shortly." She declined to comment further.
Faculty members at CAHS were expecting to receive information about their new health insurance Friday, one teacher said, and Smith caught them by surprise with the accreditation situation. She told them "she wanted to let us know before we heard it in the media," the teacher said.
A meeting announcing the impending loss of accreditation was held at Central High School at the end of last week, too, according to Tyrone Molyneaux, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers. He said union members told him that Regina Williams, CHS assistant principal, asked the faculty and staff "not to discuss it, other than among themselves, until the principal released the information to the public." Central Principal Kent Moorhead was off-island Monday, he said.
Molyneaux said he had been trying to get a copy of the letter, which was read at the CHS meeting, from Middle States.
Efforts Monday evening to contact Eudora Kean Principal Sinclair Wilkinson were unsuccessful.
"I remember the last time the accreditation team was around, and they were pretty strict," one CAHS teacher said. "You either improve these things, or forget it. Of course, we still do not have substitute teachers."
Teachers who met Friday with Smith said she also pointed out that she had completed reports due to Middle States on time last spring and sent them to the commissioner, who had then not submitted them by the May 1 deadline. However, they recounted, Smith told them that Moorhead had sent his reports directly to Middle States, and they apparently were all considered together, so that did not seem to have been a factor in the loss of accreditation.
"The schools have been trying to deal with the things that can be addressed from within," one teacher said. "But a substitute pool is not a school-based management thing."
When a teacher isn't there to teach a class, there's nobody else to do it unless other teachers are able to cover the classes. On Monday, one CAHS faculty member said, 22 teachers were not in their classrooms due to personal leave, administrative leave and other reasons. For their students, "there is no study hall, there is nowhere for them to go but into the cafeteria or the library."
As another example of the crying need for substitutes, the teacher cited the case of students scheduled for fall term classes that were to be taught by a teacher who had retired the year before. It's not unusual, the teacher said, for a student to have no classes for two or more periods in the day.
"This is a crisis government," the teacher commented. "Well, now they have another crisis."
Molyneaux said the government can't solve it alone. "I don't want to be putting any blame on anyone," he said. "We need to come together and appeal to Middle States for an opportunity, a waiver, 60 days, 90 days, whatever is needed to put in place what's needed to maintain our status … The union is willing to sit with the administration. We need to see how we could approach Middle States from a unified front to say we will do everything we can."
His counterpart in the St. Thomas-St. John district, Vernelle de Lagarde, said Monday that she had just gotten back on island and had not heard the accreditation news. Molyneaux said the two would probably meet Tuesday to discuss what the unions can do.
A five-year continuum of non-compliance
In 1997, the three schools kept their accreditation but Middle States warned of the need for improvement in student and teacher attendance, a viable substitute teacher system and school-based budget control. Then-Commissioner Liston Davis said at the time that on an average day, 50 teachers were absent across the territory, and that hiring the necessary number of substitutes would cost nearly $1 million, while Education had $200,000 budgeted.
In February 1998, a Middle States team visiting the two St. Thomas high schools warned that by the time of the final inspection in April of that year, many improvements would be needed in order for the schools to keep their accreditation. In May, Middle States said the ongoing shortcomings were no longer acceptable, stating that the team sent to the schools "was firm in its view that little or no progress was made to correct these conditions following the last notice." Middle States ended up granting the schools conditional accreditation through Dec. 31, 1999.
In March of 1999, Middle States returned to the territory to review four areas of concern: site-based control of budgets, student attendance, teacher attendance and availability of substitute teachers. On March 19, Government House announced that the three schools had been assured of accreditation through May 1, 2001. A release stated that the visiting team had voiced confidence in Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's "ability to oversee completion of their recommendations and to institute full site-based management, continued improvement of the student/teacher attendance rate and creation of a viable substitute teacher pool."
On Jan. 10, 2000, in his State of the Territory message at the end of his first year in office, Turnbull stated, "Education is the top priority of our administration, and improving student achievement is our principal goal. To this end, the Department of Education has completed a draft of a five-year strategic plan that includes major goals that have been and will continue to be utilized to guide major efforts within the department." He cited commitment to, among other things, "secure the re-accreditation of our secondary schools in both districts."
Last January, in his 2001 State of the Territory address, Turnbull said, "For 40 years I have championed the cause of education as the best hope for the future of this territory. As a teacher, school administrator, commissioner, university professor, chairman of the Board of Education and now governor, I have always advocated that we put the needs of our children first. Our children are our most precious resource — they are our future. Education remains our top priority."
Last March 15, a new Central High School administration building was dedicated. For three decades, the school library and administration offices had shared the same building. More than $1.1 million was spent to construct the administration building and expand the library after Middle States threatened loss of accreditation if the library work was not done. The library was built to serve 700 students, while Centrals student body had grown to 1,700, CHA's Regina Williams said in March.
At Charlotte Amalie, there are two librarians, one of them with a library science degree. He transferred from Eudora Kean about a month after the start of this academic year after a non-degree librarian became his supervisor at Kean. Sc
hool library standards call for one librarian for every 500 students; CAHS has about 2,000 students.
Plans were drawn up to expand the CAHS library into what is now the cafeteria, which also is undersized for the student population, one teacher said, but they never got beyond the planning stage.
Senate Education Committee to meet on St. Croix, St. Thomas
Sen. Norman Jn.-Baptiste, chair for the last three years of the Senate Education Committee, announced Thursday that he had scheduled hearings next Monday on St. Croix and Dec. 7 on St. Thomas to address, among other things, "efforts presently being undertaken to prepare the territory's public high schools for the upcoming accreditation review by the Middle States Association."
In a letter to the governor Friday, Jn.-Baptiste noted that the Middle States team that visited the territory in March of 1999 specifed the need for "additional site-based control of the acquisition process (budget); improvement in the student attendance rate; improvement in the teacher attendance rate; and provision of substitute teachers."
The senator then stated: "Based on communication with principals at the respective high schools, it is apparent that the Department of Education has not addressed the aforementioned concerns to the satisfaction of the Middle States Association." He added, "I have been reliably informed that the territory's public high schools are in serious jeopardy of losing their accreditation. Were such an event to unfold, it would constitute an act of gross negligence and irresponsibility on the part of those whom you have chosen to lead the Department of Education."
And, Jn. Batiste, wrote, "the usual excuse of lack of funding is not applicable, in that the 24th Legislature passed, and you signed into law, numerous appropriations to the Department of Education to ensure that every immediate concern, including re-accreditation, is addressed." He concluded by recommending that Turnbull "call for the immediate resignation of the present commissioner of Education."
What accreditation does and doesn't mean
John Bartemes is the Caribbean regional agent for the Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools, which is headquartered in Philadelphia. He's based in Puerto Rico and serves the commonwealth and the Virgin Islands. He's come to the job recently, although he's been with Middle States since 1989, and so wasn't involved in the team visits to the territory's three high schools in the last few years.
The letter announcing the impending loss of accreditation was sent out "about a week ago" from the office of the commissioner in Philadelphia, Bartemes said. Such communications are typically sent to the schools themselves, not to the school district administration, he said, but he was not at the meeting where the decision was taken.
"What the procedure would be to regain accreditation would be in the letter," he said. "Middle States as a general rule would state the process." Applying individually "is the usual thing, but they can apply as a district as well; it doesn't make a lot of difference."
Loss of accreditation does not mean that a school's students will face problems getting accepted into college, Bartemes said. "It's very rare now that a college will send back to see if the school a student graduated from is accredited," he said. "I don't think in the majority of cases that it would have any effect on the students."
According to one local administrator, it also will have no effect on the school system's eligibility for federal funding.
The idea of accreditation is a process, Bartemes said. "It's external evaluation to let a school know where it stands and how to improve, and getting that input from a specialized, non-biased source. It's not like a badge that you wear, although a lot of schools treat it that way … You get it, you have to keep it, you continually have to earn it again."
Accreditation today is typically for 10 or for five years, with the school choosing which protocol it wants to follow, then "you have to start all over," he said.
Bartemes declined to discuss the specifics of the Virgin Islands situation, saying how long it would be necessary to wait until reapplying for accreditation "depends on the nature of the problems. If they're long range in nature, it's going to take a year, two or three," he said. "After it's withdrawn or not renewed, it's usually about a year."
Further, he said, "the whole idea of not renewing accreditation is not supposed to be a 'bad' thing; it's supposed to be a red flag that there are problems. The schools need help, and part of that is for public opinion to help them, not to tear them down — for the community to say, 'What do we all have to do to get our schools in shape?'"
PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS TO LOSE ACCREDITATION
Nov. 19, 2001 – With the start of the new year 2002, none of the public high schools in the territory will be accredited.
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