Oct. 10, 2002 After months of speculation concerning her abilities, the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Noreen Michael as Education commissioner.
Michael has served as acting commissioner since April 30, when Gov. Charles W. Turnbull fired Ruby Simmonds from the position shortly after the territory's appeal of the loss of accreditation for three high schools was rejected. The governor sent his nomination of Michael to succeed Simmonds down to the Senate Aug. 30.
At Thursday's hearing, Michael was accompanied by about 20 other Education Department officials.
The Rules Committee chair, Sen. Carlton Dowe, had voiced doubts about Michael's qualifications for the job. He put Turnbull on notice last month that he did not intend to take up Michael's nomination without proof that the Education Department had complied with legislation enacted in June setting out certain steps to be taken toward reaccreditation of the schools.
Michael told Dowe on Thursday that one major accreditation condition is being met. She said substitute teacher pools have been established in both districts — with 20 individuals on St. Croix and 15 for St. Thomas-St. John in place, and a goal of 25 for each district.
Funds have been line-itemed in the Education Department's Fiscal Year 2003 budget for the substitute teacher pools, Michael said. Each senior high school will receive $102,267. Each junior high school will receive $43,060. St. Croix Educational Complex Vocational School will get $48,422. Additionally, each school superintendent will receive $53,825 to pay for substitute teachers at the elementary level.
Dowe said he had heard that some students are using 1989 science textbooks and asked Michael how $250,000 which was appropriated for textbooks had been spent. Michael said the department bought books for various disciplines but is still in need of more.
"If you are asking if each student has a book for each subject, the answer is no," she said.
Dowe asked her to submit a list of the books needed within a week, indicating that money to pay for them would be found.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, who recently toured Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and found students sitting outside their classrooms to escape from the 90-degree heat inside, asked what has become of $280,000 in bond funds appropriated for the school's improvement. He suggested Michael ask the Public Finance Authority where the money is. Michael said the department is aware of the problem and will be dealing with it in the next two weeks.
Michael, 44, moved to the Virgin Islands at the age of 6 from her native Dominica. She is a graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School and the then-College of the Virgin Islands. She received her doctorate in education from the University of Illinois in 1985.
After teaching for two years in the territory, she moved to the mainland and taught on the college level. She returned to the Virgin Islands in 1991 and has since held management positions in the Education Department, most recently as assistant commissioner before becoming acting commissioner.
She told the senators that the department is on schedule in its accreditation timetable. An accreditation institute in September, she said, "provided an opportunity for the Territorial Task Force to revisit timelines" for the corrective action steps set out by representatives of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools at a meeting on St. Thomas in June.
Michael also noted that the territory's compliance agreement with the federal Department of Education has been finalized. The agreement delineates a pivotal role for school principals, she said, and outlines the process that must be followed this year to ensure federal education funding for the next fiscal year.
After Michael presented a lengthy outline of the department's accomplishments, her background, and her ideas on education, Sen. David Jones asked her, "Why do you want this job?"
Michael rose to the occasion: "My passion has always been education. This will give me the opportunity to make a contribution, and I believe I have a lot to offer."
The Rules Committee concurred, voting unanimously to approve her appointment.
Committee members attending the hearing were Sens. Cole, Dowe, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Celestino A. White Sr. Two committee members, Sens. Adelbert Bryan and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, were absent for the vote. Jones, and Roosevelt David non-members, also attended.
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