Oct. 14, 2002 – About 180 of the seniors attending Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean High Schools might not graduate next May unless the Education Department finds a way to get them into three courses that are newly required for graduation.
The Board of Education, which sets the curriculum for the schools, made the three courses — Developmental Reading and Writing, Computer Technology and Speech — mandatory in 1996, but the action was never implemented until last year, but then, a member of the board who asked not to be named said, Education Department officials succeeded in getting a waiver that allowed the Class of 2002 to graduate without having to take the three courses.
The board ordered that the course requirements become effective this year. At a board meeting on Friday, St. Thomas-St. John district Superintendent William Frett said it was an "unfunded" mandate and that there are not enough classrooms, teachers or technology to serve more than a third of the current senior classes in the district.
"I do not know if all the students will be able to comply with all of the requirements being imposed on them," he said. "For the Class of 2003 there will be difficulties."
St. Thomas board member Linda Thomas, who teaches at the University of the Virgin Islands, stressed the importance of the courses, especially Developmental Reading and Writing, in light of the number of incoming UVI freshmen whose skills are inadequate. "More than 80 percent of the students — and some of them are honor students — have to take reading and writing skills courses." she said.
About 500 students graduate from CAHS and Eudora Kean together each year. Slightly fewer students graduate from the St. Croix district schools — Central High and Educational Complex. But because the district's superintendent, Terrence T. Joseph, did not appear at the Friday meeting, board members complained they could not gauge the scope of the problem there.
St. Croix board member Claudette Petersen noted that Thomas had a track record of not attending board meetings. "I am completely disgusted with Mr. Joseph," she said. "He has completely disrespected this board by never showing up. I don't even want to hear his report, because he's not here to question," she said.
One St. Croix board member also is named Terrence Joseph. He said he, too, was disturbed at the St. Croix's superintendent's absence during a critical discussion involving the future of this year's graduating classes. "It's becoming an issue," Terrence D. Joseph said. "Please let him know we would like to see him at one of these meetings."
Frett appeared at the meeting in the company of acting Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, who left it to him to lead the discussion about implementing the new required courses.
At Eudora Kean, all seniors are taking computer instructions, Frett said, while at Charlotte Amalie, 90 are doing so. He said that left 186 CAHS students short.
As for the speech course, Frett said a decision was made to allow students taking business communications to substitute that course for the speech requirement. On that basis, he said, 12 Eudora Kean students appeared to be having difficulty meeting the speech requirement.
The big problem, Frett said, is Developmental Reading and Writing. "How do we in fact identify the students for this course?" he asked.
Board members urged him to find ways to get the seniors in compliance, asking him to submit a list of classes he would consider suitable as alternatives and suggesting he set up a weekend academy for students to attend in order to get credit for the courses.
St. Thomas board member Gerald Hodge appealed for board and department members to work together to find solutions as quickly as possible. The way things stand, he said, many students "will fall short of the requirement needed for graduation" through no fault of their own. "Either we are going to help them, or we are not," he said. "We need to make a commitment … We need to do it as one team, together."
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