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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
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Governor's Call to Action

I recently attended the American Federation of Teachers’ TEACH summit on St. Thomas, where I spoke to our territory’s education professionals about the need for us to not let the present financial and budget crisis be an excuse that keeps us from working to improve public education for our children so that they are able to compete – and succeed – anywhere.

We must accept the reality that the ongoing economic recession means not having the money we all would like to have – and to spend – on public education. But, this cannot keep us from investing in the professional development of our teachers and education professionals, addressing essential infrastructure needs, and doing whatever it takes to improve student outcomes. We must do better to prepare our children for success both in school and in life.

The Iowa Test of Educational Development (“ITED”), and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (“ITBS”) form the national testing standards for grades 3-11. The average national percentile rank on the ITBS/ITED is between the 40th to 60th percentiles. The most recent results show that Virgin Islands 3rd graders have a National Percentile Rank (NPR) of 36. This means that 64 percent of third graders nationally scored higher. USVI students in grade 11 have an average performance in reading scoring at the 41st percentile. All grade levels are performing below average in math when compared to the national sample with no level scoring higher than the 37th percentile.

At a recent Trustees meeting of the University of the Virgin Islands, it was reported that the SAT scores for entering freshmen were down on average twenty-five points to 771 in reading and math, out of a possible score of 1600, and that approximately 82 percent of freshmen required skills classes to transition to college-level work. We also continue to experience dropout rates as high as 8 percent and 9 percent in grades 10 through 12 among our young men and as high as 6 percent in grade 9 among our young women.

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What the above statistics reveal is that too many of our students are failing to achieve even minimally acceptable standards of performance in the basic skills and knowledge necessary for them to go on to further technical, vocational, academic or professional schooling after high school. And yes, I acknowledge and applaud our many students who are doing well. I know they will continue to do well. But, we must not use this as a reason to not do more – much more – to ensure the success of even-larger numbers of our children.

I do not believe there is anything that prevents our students from succeeding in school and therefore in life. I strongly believe that many more of our children must be better prepared for school, and that is why we have placed so much emphasis on early childhood development. This includes our founding of the Parents University which has already involved over 750 of our parents and guardians, as well as the work done by the Children’s and Families Council and the Department of Human Services for modernization of rules and regulations for day care and development centers and baseline training requirements for childcare providers. This is why we were among the first to sign on, with over 48 states, to the Common Core Standards as endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council of Chief Education Officers.

Yet the numbers don’t lie. The numbers tell a story that we must rewrite sooner rather than later. For as things now stand, when our children get to school and are measured by nationally administered standardized tests, they test at performance levels behind their peers in the U.S. and have done so year after year. This places them at a disadvantage they do not deserve. What we must accept is that we must all do better in our public schools: parents, school administrators, school principals, school teachers and politicians. Our time to do so is now. Our opportunity to do so is also now as we sit and discuss with our education professionals their expectations and our needs, all within the context of how we best serve our students.

I believe that even with the challenges we may have in other areas, this responsibility to our children is paramount. What we provide them in a solid education determines their future and our community’s well-being and development. I take the position that our current contract negotiations with our teachers and principals are an opportunity to see how we can dramatically improve what we are doing for our students. How and what we do will take rigorous effort and frank assessments of what we have been doing that has not been working and how we can do better. With goodwill and hard work we shall not fail.

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I recently attended the American Federation of Teachers’ TEACH summit on St. Thomas, where I spoke to our territory’s education professionals about the need for us to not let the present financial and budget crisis be an excuse that keeps us from working to improve public education for our children so that they are able to compete – and succeed – anywhere.

We must accept the reality that the ongoing economic recession means not having the money we all would like to have – and to spend – on public education. But, this cannot keep us from investing in the professional development of our teachers and education professionals, addressing essential infrastructure needs, and doing whatever it takes to improve student outcomes. We must do better to prepare our children for success both in school and in life.

The Iowa Test of Educational Development (“ITED”), and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (“ITBS”) form the national testing standards for grades 3-11. The average national percentile rank on the ITBS/ITED is between the 40th to 60th percentiles. The most recent results show that Virgin Islands 3rd graders have a National Percentile Rank (NPR) of 36. This means that 64 percent of third graders nationally scored higher. USVI students in grade 11 have an average performance in reading scoring at the 41st percentile. All grade levels are performing below average in math when compared to the national sample with no level scoring higher than the 37th percentile.

At a recent Trustees meeting of the University of the Virgin Islands, it was reported that the SAT scores for entering freshmen were down on average twenty-five points to 771 in reading and math, out of a possible score of 1600, and that approximately 82 percent of freshmen required skills classes to transition to college-level work. We also continue to experience dropout rates as high as 8 percent and 9 percent in grades 10 through 12 among our young men and as high as 6 percent in grade 9 among our young women.

What the above statistics reveal is that too many of our students are failing to achieve even minimally acceptable standards of performance in the basic skills and knowledge necessary for them to go on to further technical, vocational, academic or professional schooling after high school. And yes, I acknowledge and applaud our many students who are doing well. I know they will continue to do well. But, we must not use this as a reason to not do more – much more – to ensure the success of even-larger numbers of our children.

I do not believe there is anything that prevents our students from succeeding in school and therefore in life. I strongly believe that many more of our children must be better prepared for school, and that is why we have placed so much emphasis on early childhood development. This includes our founding of the Parents University which has already involved over 750 of our parents and guardians, as well as the work done by the Children’s and Families Council and the Department of Human Services for modernization of rules and regulations for day care and development centers and baseline training requirements for childcare providers. This is why we were among the first to sign on, with over 48 states, to the Common Core Standards as endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council of Chief Education Officers.

Yet the numbers don’t lie. The numbers tell a story that we must rewrite sooner rather than later. For as things now stand, when our children get to school and are measured by nationally administered standardized tests, they test at performance levels behind their peers in the U.S. and have done so year after year. This places them at a disadvantage they do not deserve. What we must accept is that we must all do better in our public schools: parents, school administrators, school principals, school teachers and politicians. Our time to do so is now. Our opportunity to do so is also now as we sit and discuss with our education professionals their expectations and our needs, all within the context of how we best serve our students.

I believe that even with the challenges we may have in other areas, this responsibility to our children is paramount. What we provide them in a solid education determines their future and our community’s well-being and development. I take the position that our current contract negotiations with our teachers and principals are an opportunity to see how we can dramatically improve what we are doing for our students. How and what we do will take rigorous effort and frank assessments of what we have been doing that has not been working and how we can do better. With goodwill and hard work we shall not fail.