V.I. Education Department officials announced Monday that a set of industry standards that will drive the long-awaited construction of new schools throughout the territory has been approved by federal regulators. The standards provide the foundation for an overall master plan that not only looks at facilities, but also curriculum and student experience, officials said.
During Monday’s Government House news briefing, Office of Disaster Recovery Executive Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien said that the territory was dealt a win through the most recent federal Bipartisan Budget Act, which, among other things, allows critical facilities such as schools to be rebuilt “without consideration to pre-disaster damage.”
The territory, in turn, had to develop a set of prevailing industry standards that would guide the reconstruction process, and Williams-Octalien said Education officials worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to craft those guidelines and get them approved.
According to Education, input on those standards – which officials said would allow schools to be more resilient and rebuilt quickly – came from a New Schools Construction Task Force of about 40 stakeholders, including students, department staff, local architects and members of the business community, among others. Similar standards have also been approved to guide the reconstruction of local utilities, hospitals and roads, officials said.
“Public education is transforming in the Virgin Islands,” Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin said during the press conference. “We have been anticipating, waiting on and looking forward to the construction of new schools and at this juncture, we have created a model that will serve as the foundation. The approved industry standards are a great example of the milestones we have to achieve in order to develop new facilities, and I encourage the community to remain committed and to exercise patience. This is a perfect example that all will be well, and that we will achieve what we set out to do for schools in the territory.”
Education’s Chief Operations Officer Dionne Wells-Hedrington added later that the department has now begun to use the industry standards as a stepping stone for the development of an overall master plan, with officials looking at “crafting education specifications” that also involve setting guidelines for principals and staff, integrating sustainability initiatives and focusing on how the department can improve the “level of service” delivered to students.
In March, the department will also begin to look at its programming and curriculum as officials strive to answer what they want to put in place to “ensure we are providing a quality education,” Wells-Hedrington said. She also encouraged the public to get involved as the department begins to roll out more town hall meetings designed to get input on the master plan, which will eventually be submitted to the commissioner, Office of Disaster Recovery and the governor for approval.
“This document will help to drive the direction of where we go when we sit down with architects to design our new schools,” she added. “Come out and be a part of the process.”