After extensive discussion of the state of the schools and the role of the Division of Personnel in recruiting for the V.I. government, the Rules and Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to send on for approval Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s nominees for personnel director and Education commissioner.
Acting Education Commissioner Sharon Ann McCollum is a career educator who started teaching on St. Thomas in 1982 and has been principal of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School since 2003. Under her tenure, Kean High School was awarded full accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in 2008 and the designation has been extended through December of 2019, McCollum testified.
Kean High hosts the only hydroponic laboratory in a V.I. public school. That program, where the students grow and sell tilapia and fresh vegetables, has received national recognition and has been showcased by First Lady Michelle Obama in her blog, “Let’s Move.”
McCollum said she is also proud of the school’s sailing program, the only one of its kind in the public schools.
A native of Louisiana, McCollum described herself as a "product the New Orleans public school system." She was awarded a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Southern University in New Orleans, a master’s degree in sociology from the University of California at Davis, and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Southern Mississippi. McCollum also attended the Principal’s Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and completed certification courses in secondary education and educational administration from the University of the Virgin Islands.
While the territory is facing a budget crisis, the schools nonetheless need more resources, McCollum said.
"We must find funds to support the changes that must take place,” she said, noting the need for improvement of facilities, improved technological infrastructure, increased wages for teachers and staff, and increased funding to augment and develop programs and initiatives.
There are severe maintenance staffing shortages, as well as teachers and administrators, she said, telling the committee there are about 170 vacant positions in the department.
Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly asked for three important skills a leader should have. In response, McCollum said a leader should be able to foster positive relationships with the people that you lead, establish a solid foundation and to be an effective manager in terms of managing the various departments within the Department of Education.
Sen. Novelle Francis asked, “What are your plans to reach a struggling student?”
McCollum said when students are interested and involved in school activities, like music and sports and the hydroponics program, they are also more engaged in studying. "Remember, in sports, they cannot play unless they keep their grades up," she said.
The committee also approved Milton Potter for director of the Division of Personnel, sending his nomination on to the Senate floor for a final vote. Potter, brother to Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter, is a native of Tortola who moved to St. Thomas as a young child.
He received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in psychology from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. He has held an array of management positions in the V.I. government, including assistant director of the Division of Personnel.