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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Aug. 7, 2003 – Three weeks before the scheduled start of the new school year, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael gave the Board of Education an update Wednesday on efforts to prepare classrooms, hire teachers and administrators, and address health and safety issues including school maintenance and food service concerns.
"Overall, schools in both districts are close to being ready for the new school year," Michael said.
However, it became known on Thursday morning that the Education Department is facing a major vacancy, that of superintendent for St. Thomas-St. John district. William Frett tendered his resignation over an apparent dispute involving the reassignment of school administrators, WVWI Radio reported Thursday morning.
The resignation was submitted in the form of a letter Frett addressed to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull asking to be relieved of his duties by Friday, according to the news report.
Public relations officers at Government House would not confirm the arrival of a hand-delivered letter from Frett on Wednesday, but a knowledgeable source said it was evident that communication was taking place between the Frett and the governor, whom the source described as the superintendent's "his immediate supervisor."
At the school board meeting Wednesday on St. Croix, Michael asked the board to review the files of teacher applicants quickly so as to allow personnel to complete paperwork in time for the first day of school. The Board of Education must review such files before the hiring paperwork can be completed. "We're asking for assistance from the board in insuring that the files are reviewed timely," Michael said.
Most vacancies for elementary and secondary teachers and other personnel have been filled, she said, but openings remain for school nurses and physical education teachers. She also said there is still a need for food-service workers.
Michael told the board she is optimistic about filling these posts but also noted that she expects a smattering of last-minute resignations, as occurs before the start of each school year. "All things remaining as they are, if we can fill these vacancies, we will be okay," she said.
Details about the dispute involving Frett were not immediately available.
Frett became superintendent after the governor removed Rosalia Payne from the position last Aug. 26. Michael became commissioner after Turnbull fired Ruby Simmonds at the end of April 2002.
Earlier this summer, Michael had stated at a Senate hearing that efforts were being made to name a permanent principal at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. The school has had an acting principal for more than a year and a half, since Sinclair Wilkinson retired at the end of 2001. Michael told the senators that her department's favored candidate for the position, a Charlotte Amalie High School administrator, was unwilling to accept it.
At the Wednesday board meeting, Michael skirted the issue briefly, saying only that "I do believe we have identified an individual to serve as principal of that school."
On Thursday morning, there were broadcast reports that Sharon Rogers, an assistant principal at Joseph
Gomez Elementary School, had been named EKHS principal and that Lydia Lettsome, acting Kean principal since Wilkinson's retirement, had been named assistant principal at Peace Corps.
Michael told the board that there is still a need for three physical education teachers in the St. Thomas-St. John district and one on St. Croix. Three nurses are needed on St. Croix, she said, and talks are under way with candidates for two of those positions. She said a nurse may soon be hired for Eudora Kean and that school officials are considering hiring a licensed practical nurse as a temporary measure.
The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, in denying EKHS status as a candidate for high school accreditation earlier this summer, cited the lack of a nurse as one of the school's shortcomings. Kean was one of three high schools that lost accreditation in November of 2001; the others, CAHS and Central High, are now certified as candidates for accreditation, along with Educational Complex, which has not previously been accredited.
Michael also provided the school board an update on the Education Department food service program, which has been plagued with equipment failures and backlogs in reporting to the federal government. A candidate to supervise the food program for St. Thomas and St. John has been identified, she said, and efforts are under way to fill 11 vacancies for food service workers.
"With these positions and staff in place, the district will be significantly closer to insuring timely submission of reports and the completion of required [U.S.] Department of Agriculture activities, thus reducing and eventually eliminating audit findings," she said.
Recent problems with refrigeration equipment led to orders from the Health Department's Environmental Health Division to destroy $20,000 worth of ground beef. While the problem is being addressed, Michael said, arrangements are being made to accept partial food shipments from the USDA.
She noted that the department's inability to receive the full allotment of federal commodities will force the St. Thomas-St. John district to purchase food to make up for what would have otherwise have been received free.
Federal authorities are providing emergency assistance in the area of school maintenance, Michael said — a renovation grant to make school facilities more accessible for disabled students and funds for repairs to plumbing, fire safety and electrical systems.
Progress on other school repair and maintenance projects is slow because money is scarce, Michael said. She said her department is waiting for checks from the Finance Department to cover some high-priority projects that need to be completed before the start of school. "Because the department did not receive substantial funds for what we traditionally describe as — quote, unquote — summer maintenance, minor repairs have been completed by personnel on staff," she said.
She said top priorities include repairs to offices and classrooms damaged in a June 8 fire at CAHS and repairs called for by a Middle States accreditation team that visited Eudora Kean in the first week of May.

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