Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin led a delegation of school administrators, content-area coordinators, and state and district leaders at the 29th Annual Model Schools Conference in Nashville, Tenn., June 27-30, as part of the VIDE’s partnership with other school districts across the country to re-examine the design, practices and educational outcomes of schools — work that would directly and positively impact the territory’s public education system.
The VIDE’s attendance at this year’s conference also comes as the official launch of its involvement in Demonstration Districts, a national network of innovative school districts committed to transforming their teaching and learning practices through 2025, with the intent of preparing students to meet the demands of the 21st century.
“We are in the midst of the turn of one educational era into another and there is no better time than now to have Virgin Islands’ schools actively participate in new research to develop best practices for teaching and learning, especially since the pandemic has transitioned education systems overnight,” she said.
Berry-Benjamin said, “For far too long, as a U.S. territory, the Virgin Islands has been left out of national work, and most times, impacted by that work later on. The VIDE’s acceptance into the Demonstration Schools network affords the territory’s two school districts access to a host of consultancy services to help schools transform and meet predetermined educational goals in line with the VIDE’s transformational strategic plan. From 2021 to 2025, Virgin Islands’ schools will be co-authoring the learning journey, reengineer the learning journey and redesigning the system.”
She reflected on the vision she shared with her Senior Leadership Team back in 2019 at the launch of the department’s Transformational Strategic Planning process. The planning slowed last year when schools and districts across the country shifted attention to responding to the immediate academic, safety and wellness needs of students and staff as a result of the pandemic.
Berry-Benjamin explained that part of her vision to transform public education in the Virgin Islands is to ensure “schools, districts and the department are engaged in transformative work taking place nationally. We want to advance our public education system and improve the educational product for Virgin Islands’ students.”
Model Schools 2021, themed “Unite & Ignite,” brought together more than 3,800 education professionals from around the country and the globe for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020. The gathering served to “reset and develop a new direction forward for public education, based on what the latest research shows are the knowledge, skills and competencies most needed for the future,” Berry-Benjamin said.
During his conference keynote, renowned educational leader Dr. Bill Daggett, founder of Model Schools and the International Center for Educational Leadership, pointed out that current research shows now and into the near future students will spend 26 percent of their time using technical skills, 39 percent of their time using social-emotional skills, 25 percent of their time using higher cognitive skills, 6 percent of their time using basic cognitive skills, and 4 percent of their time using physical and manual skills.
Daggett further underscored the need for greater focus to be given to social emotional learning, Career and Technical Education, and the embrace of technology in the classroom, but not as a substitute for effective teaching. He also said student-centered learning should be prioritized, the benefit of which makes lessons more relevant to students, as they discover real-world applications for course content.
At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Daggett gave the keynote for the VIDE’s virtual back to school conference. Berry-Benjamin said it was gratifying to hear some of the same discussions she had with him as early as 2019 be highlighted at Model Schools 2021.
“Attending Model Schools provided conformation that the VIDE is moving in the right direction,” Berry-Benjamin said. “The conversations I began with Dr. Daggett in 2019 surrounding technology and transforming education were highlighted at the 2021 conference. It shows the V.I. is at the forefront and on the right path with our thinking around the shift in education.”