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Legislature Corner: Capehart Leads Delegation to Tour Real Time Crime Centers and Schools on Mainland

Sen. Diane Capehart (Photo: V.I. Legislature)

Sen. Diane T. Capehart is the prime sponsor of Bill No. 35-0131, an act amending Title 3, Virgin Islands Code, chapter 15, to establish a “Real Time Crime Center” Centralized Crime Data System within the Virgin Islands Police Department. In addition to Capehart, the delegation of senators and staff included Sen. Javan E. James Sr., who is also a retired Deputy Police Chief in the St. Thomas District, and Sen. Dwayne Degraff, who offered his valuable perspective from his position as a former law enforcement officer. The Office of Senator Franklin D. Johnson was represented by his Chief of Staff Maureen Maynard. Touring began on Monday, Dec. 4. Sen. Capehart and her chief of staff could speak to county leadership on Sunday for a briefing and effective use of time.

The senators in Capehart’s delegation toured the Real Time Crime Centers of the Atlanta Police Department, Cobb County Police Department and CitiWatch of Baltimore, Md. Bill number 35-0131 passed the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Dec. 7 of which Capehart is the chair and was forwarded to the full legislative session scheduled for Dec. 19.

Capehart thanked her colleagues for attending the tours and sharing their inquiries with law enforcement partners who facilitated the tours. Capehart said, “I needed to take my colleagues to see the crime centers for themselves, to ask the hard questions regarding implementation of these centers directly to the leadership and discuss the shortcomings of legislators as it relates to this resource.” Capehart further said, “This is a great opportunity for the Virgin Islands to organize their crime-fighting technology under one umbrella to prevent waste and maximize the usage of taxpayer dollars and the grant the VIPD received.”

As it relates to Bill Request numbers 23-0178, the delegation toured Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Elementary School in Baltimore, Md., hoping to diversify the education options offered to our territory’s children. Sen. Marise James, chair of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development joined the tour at Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights EMS. The community serves more than 800 students in grades K-8

th grade. Graceland Park is a community school that offers wraparound services to families while meeting educational mandates. Learning takes place everywhere on these neighboring campuses, preparing scholars for successful STEM careers. students referred to as scholars are provided with restorative discipline practices such as peer mediation, community service, and post-conflict resolution to help shape attitudes, learn from their mistakes, and foster positive, healthy school climates where respect and compassion are core principles. Community schools also offer meals outside regular hours of operation and, as in the case of Graceland Park O’Donnell food bank services.

“Officials strive to meet the needs holistically of families through positive relationships and interactions but also facilitate project-based and informal learning opportunities.” School leadership included Johanna “Rita” Mullally, Principal, Eliza Pfeffer, Assistant Principal, Grades PreK – 2, and Anna Scribner, Community School Director. “School Principal Rita Mullaly and her leadership were more than accommodating to the delegation,” Senator Capehart said. “I am grateful for their willingness to provide information and their hospitality.”

Hillsboro Charter Academy in Loudoun County, Virginia is an autonomous school, run by educators who make decisions at the school level. The school currently serves approximately 144 students in grades Kindergarten through Grade 5.

As the students referred to as “scholars” led the tour, “we learned that educators aim to incorporate an innovative curriculum focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) education and Project Based Learning (PBL) that helps each child to develop and grow.” The children from kindergarten through the 5th grade were “actively engaged in technology coding activities and assignments.” Capehart further said,

“These children were eager to learn and fully engaged, and some were overly excited and focused, not even noticing our presence in the classroom, and I desperately desire this for the

children of this territory.”

“The children of the Virgin Islands deserve options for their education, a system designed to promote critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity – the skills that are essential to achieving the very best 21st Century education through elementary school and beyond into college and career,” Capehart said.

Leadership present on this tour included Principal Paul Vickers and Megan Tucker, dean of curriculum/STEAM specialist/instructional facilitator who also helped organize the tour for the delegation. “We are excited to share our passion for STEAM and engineering,” Tucker said.

At Grace-McDonnell kindergarten teacher, L. Allen from St. Croix expressed the potential success of community schools in the Virgin Islands. A product of the public school system, a graduate of the St. Croix Central High School Class of 2001, Ms. Allen answered a plethora of questions the delegation posed as it relates to the benefits of community schools to teachers and quality education.

The next step is to finish the draft of the legislation and continue conversations with the Virgin Islands Department of Education to apply for Community School grant funding. In November 2023, the U.S. Department of Education announced nearly $74 million in new, five-year Full Service Community Schools (FSCS) grants to support educational agencies, nonprofits, and other public or private organizations and institutions of higher education working to expand community schools.

The Biden-Harris Administration has expanded Full-Service Community Schools five-fold, from $25 million in 2020 to $150 million in 2023. The Virgin Islands can capture these funds to ensure diversification of education options

For more information, or to contact the Office of Senator Diane T. Capehart, call 712-2335 or email senatorcapehart@legvi.org.

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