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HomeNewsArchivesCommittee OK's Grades 10 Through 12 for St. John

Committee OK's Grades 10 Through 12 for St. John

Aug. 15, 2008 — A bill to authorize the Education Department to extend education on St. John from the 10th through 12th grade sailed through the Senate's Education, Culture and Youth Committee meeting Friday, but not without an out-of-the-box suggestion.
"Why is it not possible to allow students to go to Gifft Hill School?" Sen. Louis P. Hill asked.
Hill suggested that St. John public high school students who now take the ferry across Pillsbury Sound to attend high school on St. Thomas be given the option of attending St. John's only private combined elementary and high school. The Education Department would pay their tuition.
According to the Gifft Hill School's website, tuition in grades nine through 12 runs $9,900 a year. The school has 54 high school students, with a total of 160 in all grades.
A message left for Gifft Hill School head Ben Biddle was not returned.
Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry said that she's already discussed with Gifft Hill School the possibility of using the Gifft Hill School facility as a high school. She said the school was facing financial difficulties.
Oswin Sewer of the Board of Education pointed out that private school teachers do not have to meet the same certification requirements as public school teachers.
Hill observed that private school students did better academically than their public school peers so the lack of certification didn't seem to be an issue.
And he said it would probably be more economical than paying transportation costs to Red Hook for students attending Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. Terry did not know how much the department spent on transportation costs for St. John high school students.
Sewer, a St. John resident and a former teacher at Julius E. Sprauve School, bristled at Hill's comment.
"I am a product of the public school system," he said.
No one testifying at the meeting, held at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers on St. Thomas, disagreed that St. John needs a school. But Terry said it will be at least four more years before a combined elementary and high school complex can be built.
"That's if all the stars line up and there are no obstacles," Terry said.
The Trust for Public Land, the National Park Service and the local government are discussing an exchange of privately-owned land at Estate Grange on St. Croix that was once home to Alexander Hamilton for V.I. National Park land at Catherineberg, St. John. The swap would give the local government title to mid-island St. John land it wants for a school and the Park Service St. Croix land it wants for an historical park.
After several testifiers, including Terry, said they thought the bill imposed a mandate on the Education Department to build the school, Sen. Liston Davis disagreed, saying it merely changed the existing law to allow public education on St. John up to grade 12. The law currently allows for public education up to grade nine.
The Education Department is working on a study of St. John's demographic trends, Terry said. Currently, the island has 96 public school students in grades nine through 12. Only those in grades 10 through 12 attend school on St. Thomas because Sprauve School offers ninth grade.
Terry did not know how many students went to private high school on St. John and St. Thomas. Presumably, some of those students might transfer to a public high school on St. John.
Students also attend Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay. While Sprauve School has the most issues with students trying to learn in the middle of busy and congested Cruz Bay, Paul Devine of the St. John Youth Committee pointed out that Guy Benjamin School also faces challenges. He said there's a bar across the street and dramatic growth at that end of the island means more trucks passing the school. And one of the two marinas planned for Coral Bay will be built adjacent to the school.
In addition to Davis and Hill, Sen. Carlton Dowe and Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone voted yes to move the bill on to the Rules Committee. Sen. Neville James, Sen. Norman JnBaptiste and Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson were absent.
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