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Teachers Call for Contracts and Better Wages

Oct. 12, 2007 — The barbs were flying Friday, but so was the humor, as friend and foe shared the stage at Marriott’s Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort on St. Thomas for an American Federation of Teachers conference.
Hundreds of teachers spent the morning listening to speeches from a panel of dignitaries, including Gov. John deJongh Jr., acting Education Commissioner Lynn Spampinato, Senate President Usie R. Richards and presidents of the local AFT chapters, Vernelle S. de Lagarde from St. Thomas-St. John and Tyrone Molyneaux from St. Croix.
The occasion was the AFT’s 29th annual Quality in Education Standards in Teaching conference, or Mini-QuEST, whose theme this year was "Exploring the Joy of Learning."
Speaker after speaker applauded the theme, including de Lagarde: "We must discard the old traditions of chalk and talk and replace them with hands-on active learning."
Speakers repeatedly noted V.I. teachers are working without a contract and for salaries they regard as poor — starting teachers in the territory get paid $28,000 a year. Teachers are still awaiting a contract for the 2007-08 school year, as well as back pay from a freeze instituted between 1992 and 2000.
The governor found himself seated between the local union presidents with whom his administration has been negotiating contracts, wages and back pay. He joked with the crowd that he was grateful he hasn’t lost weight because, given the seating arrangement, he needed the extra padding to protect himself.
DeJongh, along with his acting education commissioner, was lashed by the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee Tuesday when it voted 6 to 1 not to endorse Spampinato. He prodded the crowd, saying "I do not want incremental change, I want vast change" to the territory’s educational system. He also vowed to work with teachers: "I don’t have all the answers, but I know you know all the problems … I am asking you to let me walk by your side."
A total of 12 speakers kicked off the conference, leading up to author and educational consultant Mychal Wynn, the keynote speaker.
"I sat here today listening and I understand that there are issues and politics," he said, prompting applause with his conclusion. "But no matter when the contract is ratified, your voice in the presence of a child is significant. And what you say to the child has nothing to do with what you earn. It has to do with your spirit."
Wynn’s publishing firm, Rising Sun, bills him as one of the world's premiere authorities on black male achievement, school-improvement planning, closing the achievement gap and college planning. An African-American man who grew up poor in Chicago, Wynn’s talk was frequently interrupted by laughter, as he recounted experiences that typify the problems facing black children in today’s educational system — problems he blames in large part on cultural expectations.
"When my younger son went back to elementary school in the 10th highest-performing school in the state of Georgia, he had on a Yale T-shirt," Wynn said. "And the first teacher that he came into contact with, her comment to him, which he related to me, was ‘Jelani, Jelani, where did you get that T-shirt?’ She didn’t say, ‘Oh, Jelani, you want to go to Yale!’ She said, ‘Where did you get that T-shirt?' This is the mindset throughout education — that our children don’t have the capacity to affirm the very highest levels of education."
Wynn recited statistics that blacks repeatedly rank as the lowest achievers on college-entrance SAT and ACT tests, followed by Hispanics, then whites and finally Asians, who consistently score highest.
"What do we know from research?" he asked. "That rigor is everything."
African-American children in affluent, predominantly white schools will still perform at a lower rate than white students, he said. But he also pointed out that they are less likely to be enrolled in the most rigorous course work: "Why is that? Because we have such low expectations."
National data shows that for every 100 black boys who enter kindergarten this year, only four are projected to graduate from college, Wynn said. Having been regarded as someone incapable of success by many of his teachers, he called on teachers to remain enthusiastic and positive, even in the face of a trouble-making child.
"Do what a teacher did to me in elementary school," Wynn said. "She was a large woman, and large breasts usually go with large women," he said apologetically. "And it seemed like she drenched herself in witch hazel and then baby powder. Well, whenever I misbehaved in class, she’d call me up to the front and hug me into her bosom and I’d come up with white powder on my nose. I gotta tell you, I stopped messing up! All she’d have to do is look at me and I’d say, ‘OK, I’m going to be good!"
Peals of laughter rocked the audience. Laughter was a common refrain throughout the morning.
The speech by the insular superintendent for St. Thomas and St. John, Lisa A. Hassell-Forde, emphasized the many roles teachers find themselves in as more and more children experience divorced parents, missing fathers and social ills that turn educators into what she described as "nurse, psychologist, surrogate parent."
While saying there’s a need for change in the territory’s education system, Senate President Richards — who voted against recommending Spampinato to the full senate — told the audience, " … this change can only rise up with the consent and participation of our educators, our administrators and our parents and elected leaders."
Spampinato, who took the podium following Richards’ speech, said the past week "has been difficult." In addition to the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee’s vote, she said, someone sent fraudulent emails in her name to Education Department email accounts. She described it as serious infraction and possibly "a federal crime."
But Spampinato still maintained a light tone: "I just want to tell you that when you’re done at the end of the day and you have an email from Lynn Spampinato at gmail that says you have a $20,000 raise and can take next week off — enjoy," she said, to the laughter of the crowd.
Despite the Senate Rules Committee vote, Spampinato said, she has had "tremendous response from the people in the community" and she said she has received calls from people all over the nation encouraging her to fight.
"The nation is watching us," she said. "And you have my commitment when I am appointed commissioner of education for the United States Virgin Islands, you have my commitment, that as this nation watches, we will lead. We will lead for the children of the Virgin Islands."
Moderator Lillian V. Moolenaar followed up Spampinato’s remarks by saying, "Let’s not judge a book by its cover. Let’s give her a chance and get to know her."
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Oct. 12, 2007 -- The barbs were flying Friday, but so was the humor, as friend and foe shared the stage at Marriott’s Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort on St. Thomas for an American Federation of Teachers conference.
Hundreds of teachers spent the morning listening to speeches from a panel of dignitaries, including Gov. John deJongh Jr., acting Education Commissioner Lynn Spampinato, Senate President Usie R. Richards and presidents of the local AFT chapters, Vernelle S. de Lagarde from St. Thomas-St. John and Tyrone Molyneaux from St. Croix.
The occasion was the AFT’s 29th annual Quality in Education Standards in Teaching conference, or Mini-QuEST, whose theme this year was "Exploring the Joy of Learning."
Speaker after speaker applauded the theme, including de Lagarde: "We must discard the old traditions of chalk and talk and replace them with hands-on active learning."
Speakers repeatedly noted V.I. teachers are working without a contract and for salaries they regard as poor -- starting teachers in the territory get paid $28,000 a year. Teachers are still awaiting a contract for the 2007-08 school year, as well as back pay from a freeze instituted between 1992 and 2000.
The governor found himself seated between the local union presidents with whom his administration has been negotiating contracts, wages and back pay. He joked with the crowd that he was grateful he hasn’t lost weight because, given the seating arrangement, he needed the extra padding to protect himself.
DeJongh, along with his acting education commissioner, was lashed by the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee Tuesday when it voted 6 to 1 not to endorse Spampinato. He prodded the crowd, saying "I do not want incremental change, I want vast change" to the territory’s educational system. He also vowed to work with teachers: "I don’t have all the answers, but I know you know all the problems ... I am asking you to let me walk by your side."
A total of 12 speakers kicked off the conference, leading up to author and educational consultant Mychal Wynn, the keynote speaker.
"I sat here today listening and I understand that there are issues and politics," he said, prompting applause with his conclusion. "But no matter when the contract is ratified, your voice in the presence of a child is significant. And what you say to the child has nothing to do with what you earn. It has to do with your spirit."
Wynn’s publishing firm, Rising Sun, bills him as one of the world's premiere authorities on black male achievement, school-improvement planning, closing the achievement gap and college planning. An African-American man who grew up poor in Chicago, Wynn’s talk was frequently interrupted by laughter, as he recounted experiences that typify the problems facing black children in today’s educational system -- problems he blames in large part on cultural expectations.
"When my younger son went back to elementary school in the 10th highest-performing school in the state of Georgia, he had on a Yale T-shirt," Wynn said. "And the first teacher that he came into contact with, her comment to him, which he related to me, was ‘Jelani, Jelani, where did you get that T-shirt?’ She didn’t say, ‘Oh, Jelani, you want to go to Yale!’ She said, ‘Where did you get that T-shirt?' This is the mindset throughout education -- that our children don’t have the capacity to affirm the very highest levels of education."
Wynn recited statistics that blacks repeatedly rank as the lowest achievers on college-entrance SAT and ACT tests, followed by Hispanics, then whites and finally Asians, who consistently score highest.
"What do we know from research?" he asked. "That rigor is everything."
African-American children in affluent, predominantly white schools will still perform at a lower rate than white students, he said. But he also pointed out that they are less likely to be enrolled in the most rigorous course work: "Why is that? Because we have such low expectations."
National data shows that for every 100 black boys who enter kindergarten this year, only four are projected to graduate from college, Wynn said. Having been regarded as someone incapable of success by many of his teachers, he called on teachers to remain enthusiastic and positive, even in the face of a trouble-making child.
"Do what a teacher did to me in elementary school," Wynn said. "She was a large woman, and large breasts usually go with large women," he said apologetically. "And it seemed like she drenched herself in witch hazel and then baby powder. Well, whenever I misbehaved in class, she’d call me up to the front and hug me into her bosom and I’d come up with white powder on my nose. I gotta tell you, I stopped messing up! All she’d have to do is look at me and I’d say, ‘OK, I’m going to be good!"
Peals of laughter rocked the audience. Laughter was a common refrain throughout the morning.
The speech by the insular superintendent for St. Thomas and St. John, Lisa A. Hassell-Forde, emphasized the many roles teachers find themselves in as more and more children experience divorced parents, missing fathers and social ills that turn educators into what she described as "nurse, psychologist, surrogate parent."
While saying there’s a need for change in the territory’s education system, Senate President Richards -- who voted against recommending Spampinato to the full senate -- told the audience, " ... this change can only rise up with the consent and participation of our educators, our administrators and our parents and elected leaders."
Spampinato, who took the podium following Richards’ speech, said the past week "has been difficult." In addition to the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee’s vote, she said, someone sent fraudulent emails in her name to Education Department email accounts. She described it as serious infraction and possibly "a federal crime."
But Spampinato still maintained a light tone: "I just want to tell you that when you’re done at the end of the day and you have an email from Lynn Spampinato at gmail that says you have a $20,000 raise and can take next week off -- enjoy," she said, to the laughter of the crowd.
Despite the Senate Rules Committee vote, Spampinato said, she has had "tremendous response from the people in the community" and she said she has received calls from people all over the nation encouraging her to fight.
"The nation is watching us," she said. "And you have my commitment when I am appointed commissioner of education for the United States Virgin Islands, you have my commitment, that as this nation watches, we will lead. We will lead for the children of the Virgin Islands."
Moderator Lillian V. Moolenaar followed up Spampinato’s remarks by saying, "Let’s not judge a book by its cover. Let’s give her a chance and get to know her."
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.