Jan. 8, 2004 – Little more than a month after being named principal of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School last summer, Sharon McCollum-Rogers called a press conference and went out on a limb.
"I have no doubt that at the end of the school year we will pass candidacy for accreditation," she told the media at that September gathering. "We are working feverishly in that direction. It is going to happen."
On Thursday she found out it had happened in half that time.
Education officials couldn't have asked for a better way to start off the new year than the news they got the day after classes resumed from the holiday break: Eudora Kean, the territory's one public high school rejected last summer as a candidate for accreditation by the Commission on Secondary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, has now been approved for candidacy.
"I got a call this afternoon from the principal and the superintendent [William Frett]," Education Commissioner Noreen Michael said later Thursday afternoon, "and they shared with me the letter that the principal received." She added: "We are certainly extremely pleased. We believe this sets a really good tone as we open schools up again … Students returned to school yesterday, so this is a wonderful bit of news for us."
Susan Nicklas, Middle States executive director, wrote to McCollum-Rogers with the news, offering congratulations "for meeting candidacy standards for accreditation set by MSA and confirmed by John Bartemus and Dr. Mary Ann Keeley."
Bartemus is Middle States' Caribbean regional director, based in Puerto Rico. Keeley, associate director of MSA's Commission on Elementary Schools, has primary responsibility for schools in the Caribbean. Both have made repeated visits to the territory in recent years, before and since Middle States announced in November of 2001 that it was pulling the accreditation of Eudora Kean, Central and Charlotte Amalie High Schools after years of warnings.
In 2002, after the territory's appeal of the action failed, the Education Department resolved to seek new accreditation for all three schools, as well as the newer Education Complex High School, which had never been accredited. Middle States proceeded to lay out the rules, and the territory committed to a meticulous timeline for compliance.
Last June, following site visits in April, Middle States announced that it had granted candidacy to Central, CAHS and Complex, but not to Kean. Among the problems cited with the East End St. Thomas school were safety issues, the lack of a staff nurse and a lack of receptivity on the part of school personnel during a site visit.
Two months later, just three weeks before the start of the new school year, McCollum-Rogers was named principal of Kean, ending a 20-month period following the retirement of Sinclair Wilkinson during which the school had been under the direction of an acting principal.
At the press conference last September, McCollum-Rogers said she and her team of newly appointed assistant principals had been working extra hours and meeting with members of the school's accreditation team. "It's going to take the whole community to raise this school," she said, but "at the end of this school year, we will have candidacy for accreditation."
While McCollum-Rogers was in the spotlight to receive Thursday's good news, it was a sign of success for Michael as well. It was the territory's failure in 2002 to win a reversal of the loss of accreditation that led Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to fire then-Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds and elevate Michael, then assistant commissioner, to acting commissioner. Nine months later, she was confirmed by the Senate to take the job on permanently.
The next steps for Eudora Kean now, Michael said, are that "there is some paperwork that the school has to submit to Middle States. We have to pay a fee; that will be done. Eudora Kean is now in position to begin its self-study — which, of course, the other three public high schools are currently engaged in."
McCollum-Rogers credited team efforts for the candidacy approval. "The Eudora Kean family is looking forward to beginning work on the self-study segment of the process and re-accreditation," she said in a release.
In the release Michael stated: "Our pledge to the community has always been to remain focused and committed to doing what it takes to continue the work started to regain the accreditation of our high schools. We continue to need and request the assistance of all stakeholders and private persons to complete our mission and continue to strengthen the public education system."
According to Michael, the report Eudora Kean received from Middle States based on the most recent visit "was very strong and very positive." So much so, she said, that "I believe that it positions the school to actually fall into line with the other schools."
Middle States in fact accelerated the application process for Kean so that the school is at the same level in seeking accreditation as CHS, CAHS and Complex except for the self-study, she said. "And so they can step up their efforts and they would be able to receive the visit relative to accreditation probably around the same time as the other schools."
When that will be remains to be seen. Middle States has said the accreditation process typically takes at least three years, which would place the decision on accreditation for the V.I. high schools in 2005.
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