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Acting Education Commissioner Known as Bold Reformer

Aug. 28, 2007 — She has a reputation as a tough, gutsy and goal-achieving education reformer, but is Lynn Spampinato the right person for such a uniquely troubled department as the V.I. school system?
When Gov. John deJongh Jr. nominated Spampinato last week, he rattled off her high-grade resume: In 31 years working for public school systems, she has tackled education reform in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Denver and Frisco, Colo.
Spampinato has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master's in special education and a doctorate in education administration, and attended the Leadership Institute at Harvard University. She has won high praise as an aggressive reformer, eager to improve schools — not just test scores.
When a Frisco, Colo., school newspaper committed 117 spelling and grammatical mistakes in a single issue, Spampinato shut it down, then put students in touch with professional journalists and peers at other school papers. Soon after, parents were writing in praise of the revamped school paper's quality, saying a teaching moment had been seized by Spampinato, then the district's superintendent.
Sen. Shawn Michael Malone, vice chair of the Committee on Education, Culture and Youth, said he is researching Spampinato, and keeping an open mind. Malone and Spampinato bumped into each other on St. Croix a few months ago when she was taking an informal tour of the public schools, he said.
"She's dedicated,” Malone said. “She said she came down to see what the schools look like.”
Not from Around Here
The senator addressed ongoing concerns about Spampinato being a stranger to the territory.
"Many of us are going to be concerned about her ability to assimilate into the culture of the Virgin Islands," Malone said. "Nothing is wrong with having people from the outside to connect us with the rest of the real world. She could be from Timbuktu. I don't care."
From language to history, the Virgin Islands is unique, and certainly different from school districts on the mainland, he said.
"I want to see someone who can go in there and motivate, a commissioner who is resourceful — most of all, a commissioner who is practical about education in the Virgin Islands," Malone said.
The Virgin Islands needs to improve its vocational schools, training kids to work in the tourism sector — and they also have to know how to read and write proper English, he said. Malone called the territory's schools an "abyss," but said some of the groundwork toward change has already been laid.
Spampinato was back in the territory this week, touring the schools on all three islands and finding plenty to improve on. (See “Governor and Designated Education Commissioner Take Three-Island Tour.”)
Leadership Style
Not everyone has been happy about Spampinato's bold style of leadership. Look into some of the districts in which Spampinato has worked and you're sure to find plenty of controversy over her performance.
Three years ago in Frisco, Spampinato and a newly elected school board got into a spat over her style of leadership, according to a local newspaper. Spampinato said the school board held secret, improper meetings without her; the school board said she was uncooperative, bullish and simply not a good fit.
Whatever the reason for the spat, school board officials voted they had "no confidence" in her and Spampinato left. She was, however, paid for the remainder of her contract, which stretched into June 2005 — some $211,000, according to the Summit Daily Newspaper.
In Pittsburgh, Spampinato's departure was more mysterious. She went on paid leave in October 2006 after receiving much praise for her reform plans, and now works as an off-site consultant for the school district. No one has ever said why.
One of Spampinato's fans, Willard R. Daggett of the International Center for Leadership in Education, assessed the Virgin Islands' schools in March. (See “Education Expert Challenges V.I. School Officials to Change.”) Strong leadership is needed to overcome the many deficiencies, he said.
"I look at it like this: Either you provide quality education for all kids or you try to make the adults happy," Daggett said by telephone from Boston. “I come down on the side with the kids. They need to have someone looking out for them. I feel she will do an excellent job there.”
Because Spampinato is dedicated to educating all kids, regardless of their social or economic challenges, she will fit in well at the V.I. Department of Education, Daggett said.
Of her troubles in the past, Daggett said he didn't know firsthand what may have happened, but added, "Any time you push the envelope for high standards for all kids, you are going to find those people who say, 'Eh, this isn't for us.'"
The proof is in the callaloo, however, and some Virgin Islanders hope negative Internet reports about Spampinato haven't tainted the soup.
The Petition
An e-mail petition passed around this week asked signers to support Spampinato.
"Without having the opportunity to go through the nominating process, there are individuals out there with Google as their sole source of reference maligning and misrepresenting her character, credentials, record and ability,” the petition read. “We want Dr. Spampinato to have her chance to prove herself in front of the Legislature and on the job as commissioner.”
The petition also hinted that the Senate's confirmation hearing may be tainted by unfair fears about Spampinato's race — she is white — and the fact that she is from off island.
"Those people that are out there in opposition solely on her race and the fact that she is not from the Virgin Islands need to consider if the shoe was on the other foot,” the petition said. “What if all our students from the Virgin Islands that go off to college and had non-Black professors at their respective college or university were automatically failed by their professors, because they are Black and from the Virgin Islands?"
How the territory's representatives in the Senate will feel about Spampinato and the V.I.'s scholastic needs remains to be seen. Her confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Sen. Liston Davis, a former education commissioner and the committee's chairman, said he was studying Spapinato's resume "cautiously" and awaited her answers to questions about sticking with a school system through tough times.
"I'm looking for someone who has a track record of success over a period of time," Davis said. He said he wasn't opposed to hiring someone from off island, but said, "I think we have people here who can do the job."
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Aug. 28, 2007 -- She has a reputation as a tough, gutsy and goal-achieving education reformer, but is Lynn Spampinato the right person for such a uniquely troubled department as the V.I. school system?
When Gov. John deJongh Jr. nominated Spampinato last week, he rattled off her high-grade resume: In 31 years working for public school systems, she has tackled education reform in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Denver and Frisco, Colo.
Spampinato has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master's in special education and a doctorate in education administration, and attended the Leadership Institute at Harvard University. She has won high praise as an aggressive reformer, eager to improve schools -- not just test scores.
When a Frisco, Colo., school newspaper committed 117 spelling and grammatical mistakes in a single issue, Spampinato shut it down, then put students in touch with professional journalists and peers at other school papers. Soon after, parents were writing in praise of the revamped school paper's quality, saying a teaching moment had been seized by Spampinato, then the district's superintendent.
Sen. Shawn Michael Malone, vice chair of the Committee on Education, Culture and Youth, said he is researching Spampinato, and keeping an open mind. Malone and Spampinato bumped into each other on St. Croix a few months ago when she was taking an informal tour of the public schools, he said.
"She's dedicated,” Malone said. “She said she came down to see what the schools look like.”
Not from Around Here
The senator addressed ongoing concerns about Spampinato being a stranger to the territory.
"Many of us are going to be concerned about her ability to assimilate into the culture of the Virgin Islands," Malone said. "Nothing is wrong with having people from the outside to connect us with the rest of the real world. She could be from Timbuktu. I don't care."
From language to history, the Virgin Islands is unique, and certainly different from school districts on the mainland, he said.
"I want to see someone who can go in there and motivate, a commissioner who is resourceful -- most of all, a commissioner who is practical about education in the Virgin Islands," Malone said.
The Virgin Islands needs to improve its vocational schools, training kids to work in the tourism sector -- and they also have to know how to read and write proper English, he said. Malone called the territory's schools an "abyss," but said some of the groundwork toward change has already been laid.
Spampinato was back in the territory this week, touring the schools on all three islands and finding plenty to improve on. (See “Governor and Designated Education Commissioner Take Three-Island Tour.”)
Leadership Style
Not everyone has been happy about Spampinato's bold style of leadership. Look into some of the districts in which Spampinato has worked and you're sure to find plenty of controversy over her performance.
Three years ago in Frisco, Spampinato and a newly elected school board got into a spat over her style of leadership, according to a local newspaper. Spampinato said the school board held secret, improper meetings without her; the school board said she was uncooperative, bullish and simply not a good fit.
Whatever the reason for the spat, school board officials voted they had "no confidence" in her and Spampinato left. She was, however, paid for the remainder of her contract, which stretched into June 2005 -- some $211,000, according to the Summit Daily Newspaper.
In Pittsburgh, Spampinato's departure was more mysterious. She went on paid leave in October 2006 after receiving much praise for her reform plans, and now works as an off-site consultant for the school district. No one has ever said why.
One of Spampinato's fans, Willard R. Daggett of the International Center for Leadership in Education, assessed the Virgin Islands' schools in March. (See “Education Expert Challenges V.I. School Officials to Change.”) Strong leadership is needed to overcome the many deficiencies, he said.
"I look at it like this: Either you provide quality education for all kids or you try to make the adults happy," Daggett said by telephone from Boston. “I come down on the side with the kids. They need to have someone looking out for them. I feel she will do an excellent job there.”
Because Spampinato is dedicated to educating all kids, regardless of their social or economic challenges, she will fit in well at the V.I. Department of Education, Daggett said.
Of her troubles in the past, Daggett said he didn't know firsthand what may have happened, but added, "Any time you push the envelope for high standards for all kids, you are going to find those people who say, 'Eh, this isn't for us.'"
The proof is in the callaloo, however, and some Virgin Islanders hope negative Internet reports about Spampinato haven't tainted the soup.
The Petition
An e-mail petition passed around this week asked signers to support Spampinato.
"Without having the opportunity to go through the nominating process, there are individuals out there with Google as their sole source of reference maligning and misrepresenting her character, credentials, record and ability,” the petition read. “We want Dr. Spampinato to have her chance to prove herself in front of the Legislature and on the job as commissioner.”
The petition also hinted that the Senate's confirmation hearing may be tainted by unfair fears about Spampinato's race -- she is white -- and the fact that she is from off island.
"Those people that are out there in opposition solely on her race and the fact that she is not from the Virgin Islands need to consider if the shoe was on the other foot,” the petition said. “What if all our students from the Virgin Islands that go off to college and had non-Black professors at their respective college or university were automatically failed by their professors, because they are Black and from the Virgin Islands?"
How the territory's representatives in the Senate will feel about Spampinato and the V.I.'s scholastic needs remains to be seen. Her confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Sen. Liston Davis, a former education commissioner and the committee's chairman, said he was studying Spapinato's resume "cautiously" and awaited her answers to questions about sticking with a school system through tough times.
"I'm looking for someone who has a track record of success over a period of time," Davis said. He said he wasn't opposed to hiring someone from off island, but said, "I think we have people here who can do the job."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.