May 4, 2006 – Out of the 1,530 teachers in the territory, 976 – or 64 percent – are not certified, according to Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, who testified during an Education, Culture and Youth Committee meeting held Thursday on St. Croix.
Michael said the Board of Education's responsibility to certify teachers "poses the biggest threat to the territory" and explained that the Board had issued only 150 teacher certificates so far this year.
Trying to defend the organization, Terrance D. Joseph, co-chair of the Board's committee on teacher certification, said the Board is "doing as much as possible" to certify as many teachers as it can. However, since the Board has limited staff, he said, "some teachers fall through the cracks."
Once such teacher is Kamalia Jackson, who testified during the meeting that she has been waiting since 2003 for her certification to come through. Frustrated, she suggested that the Education Department take over the issuing of certificates, since they currently play a more active role in the process.
Michael supported Jackson's statements by saying that the department has been partnering with the University of the Virgin Islands to help students with their teacher education requirements, and has, with the use of federal funds, been subsidizing some of the courses.
However, she said there are still certain challenges which prevent 100 percent teacher certification. "We have both certified and highly qualified teachers resigning or retiring – therefore, we cannot anticipate that at any given time, every teacher will be certified," she said.
Michael added that the problem has been "compounded" by the fact that the remaining pool of teachers from which the department must choose is limited, with many individuals not meeting the certification requirements set forth by the Board.
Nevertheless, Michael told senators that the department would be willing to review teachers' files and submit a list of eligible candidates to the Board, who would then issue the certificates. Since the Board currently determines the criteria for teacher certification, she said that the department would use the Board's requirements when considering which teachers are qualified.
Alcess Lewis-Brown, the department's human resources director, said Education had already sent two lists of eligible teachers to the Board.
Jackson said she was on one of those lists and was "overlooked."
"It seems as if the Board is only certifying whoever they want to," Jackson said.
Sen. Neville James said, "That's embarrassing. And I can't believe that the Board is trying to downplay the gaping hole in its system as a 'crack.'"
While Joseph said the Board is trying to establish "alternative routes" to certification, he also said the organization has not met its federal mandate to certify 20 percent of teachers in the territory each year between 2003 and 2007.
"The Board met this requirement in the first year and has fallen in subsequent years," he said.
At past Senate meetings, Board members have said that it is hard for them to certify teachers while also balancing a mandate set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act, which states that teachers be certified to teach in their specific areas of study.
To expedite the process, however, Joseph said the Board recently passed two amendments to its policy to facilitate the certification of veteran teachers – one that stipulates teachers hired before 1997 don't have to fulfill student teaching requirements laid out in the compliance agreement between the local and federal Education departments, and another that states teachers who have taken all teacher education classes except for special education and/or education technology shall be considered certifiable.
Additionally, Joseph said the Board would be meeting on Friday and Saturday to develop a High Objective State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE) – a plan that, he said, provides for alternative methods of certification and that will yield a greater number of certifiable teachers during the next year.
Other testifiers – such as Tyrone Molyneaux, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers – stressed the importance of finding alternative methods of certification, since "many teachers have been waiting years to get certified."
"It is the fault of the Board of Education that our teachers aren't certified," he added, saying that both the AFT and the Education Department have requested that the Board adopt alternative methods of certification. "The Board did not work toward meeting the quotas set forth in the federal mandates, and that's shameful."
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