Category: Education Editorials

Leadership in Our Schools

At the end of our 5 year partnership with several local public schools, we concluded that in addition to teacher quality, the issue of school leadership was equally critical and offered great opportunities for growth and system-wide educational reform. While nationally the educational reform spotlight is often focused on teacher training, technology, and curriculum standards, we have found that successful schools not only have great teachers but also have stable and dynamic leaders.

To begin this discussion, we want to first relate some hardcore facts about our experience with public education leadership. During the first four years of our partnership with our pilot junior high school, we saw 3 Principals, 6 Assistant Principals, 3 Insular Superintendents, 3 Acting Commissioners, and 2 confirmed Commissioners. Nothing else we could say more clearly illustrates what goes on at the helm of our public education system. To state it plain and simple, in our opinion, revolving doors do not a stable system make.

Now, we in no way mean to suggest that successful school districts don’t employ some of the same rotation tactics that we see in the Territory. But, once they find the quality of leadership they are comfortable with, they step back and let successful principals lead–even if it means watching scores slip a bit as whole-scale, long-term reform efforts get under way.

Having spent time exploring what effective school leadership looks like, the reality is that principals have a herculean role to play in our schools. They are tasked with being caretakers of hundreds of students and faculty members, not to mention facility managers and instructional leaders. Based on national statistics, the average ratio of principals to student population is 1 to 306. In some cases in the Virgin Islands, the principal to student ratio is double that, causing our principals and assistants to struggle daily to build relationships and capacity for improvement among their many stakeholders- teachers, students, parents, and community members.

As it turns out, many of the characteristics found in great leaders in the corporate world are similar to those possessed by the leaders of great schools. Our experience indeed mirrors these findings as well as those of From Good Schools to Great Schools, whose authors identified the characteristics of strong educational leaders as: 1) Has compelling modesty, humble yet fearless; 2) Has unwavering resolve; 3) Nurtures a culture of discipline which promotes teacher responsibility; 4) Is persistent in hiring the right people; 5) Is passionate about student achievement; 6) Puts school first, before personal ambitions; 7) Builds strong relationships by exhibiting people skills.

According to our research, one of the most important characteristics is the last: the ability of principals to build relationships. It is the one area that great principals excel at beyond all others. While they may not arrive on the job with extensive skills and experience in accounting, facility management, human resources, or labor law, great principals do have the skill, willingness, and yes, even eagerness, to build the relationships required to get the support they need from those who do know.

Today, understanding the importance of the role of principals, the Foundation has been struck by the degree to which the selection process for principals at public schools in the Virgin Islands remains almost entirely insular. In a field that is highly dynamic and at a time when global economics rules the day, it is perplexing that our principals (and other district leaders, for that matter) continue to be drawn solely from the ranks of our local teacher pool.

Of course, we are in no way suggesting that there are not highly qualified homegrown leaders already at the helms of some of our schools. In fact, if one takes a look at our highest performing public schools throughout the Territory, they need not look further than the principal. But, without sufficient “density” in our leadership pool, the prospect that all of our schools will be led by the brightest and the best remains slim. Ultimately, there are amazing stories of struggling schools that have transformed into higher performing schools in a short period of time—but the stories almost always begin with dynamic, resourceful, and strategically-minded principals who have a laser focus on success.

One recommendation we offer for dealing with this issue is to encourage Virgin Islands educators, who are leading successful schools on the mainland, to return home. But to do that we must first provide all of our principals with the supports necessary to ensure their success. Another recommendation is to provide more of our educators with opportunities to intern at high performing schools abroad so they can obtain first-hand exposure to working in healthy, highly effective systems. This election season, let’s ask our elected officials what specific plans they will put in place to ensure high quality leadership at the helms of all our public schools.

For more information on the Foundation’s Education First series, please call 773.9898.

Sources & Suggested Reading

Center for Public Education: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/principal-perspective

Relationship Building: The First ‘R’ for Principals: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED501101.pdf

The Making of the Principal: Five Lessons in Leadership Traininghttp://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/school-leadership/effective-principal-leadership/Pages/The-Making-of-the-Principal-Five-Lessons-in-Leadership-Training.aspx

 

EDUCATION FIRST “Gems of Inestimable Value”

The St. Croix Foundation’s Education First series has generated a great number of positive responses from our community. The following editorial was submitted to the Foundation by Alan Smith of St. John, along with the following comment: “…unless and until we recognize that education is a community responsibility, encourage real dialogue and adopt an attitude of learning, our present crisis will continue until the system collapses because it can no longer serve the interests of all.”

As technological innovations rapidly reduce or eliminate jobs, we must understand that education is more than training a person to find employment or pursue higher education. Education is a process that empowers individuals to discover the “gems of inestimable value” latent within them. Education cannot continue as a commodity produced by an industry that is focused on students’ standardized tests scores or measures a teacher’s performance by his students’ test scores. Rather, education must become a process through which all develop ever increasing capacity and skills needed to serve their community. That is, we must have an educational system that instills in children, parents and teachers an abiding appreciation that they are part of a community; a community that can only be sustained through interdependence, cooperation, reciprocity and respect for the contributions of all. The obsolete 19th scarcity,century notions of rugged individualism, competition and survival of the fittest must be abandoned. Such notions must be replaced by an ethos and pedagogy that pivots around the concept that humanity and the environment are both essential elements of an organic whole.

This is not to say that people will not or should not have to work for a living or that the material needs of a community can be met without employees, entrepreneurs and government services. Our educational system must continue to provide the necessary fundamentals of math, science, reading, etc. To be effective, however, our educational system must also ensure that every child learns what it means to be a contributing member of a community. Our children must be so educated that they know who they are, to what purpose they exist, how they should act towards one another and once they know the answers to these questions, they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to everyday behavior. Teachers will necessarily require similar education. Teacher education must empower teachers to be miners of “gems of inestimable value”.

So, how is this supposed to happen? As with all human institutions, fundamental systemic change occurs when crisis forces us to adopt new attitudes. Perhaps our crisis will stimulate the following five attitude changes. First, if we are to educate the whole person, a general consensus must be developed and fostered that views education as both material and spiritual. Second, teachers must be valued as highly as the chief executives in business and government for without teachers there would be no chief executives. Third, teachers must view their profession as the most meritorious of all deeds; nothing less than an act of worship or prayer. Fourth, the community must regard the education of every child as its collective responsibility. And fifth, every parent and potential parent, which means every student, must be trained to take responsibility for the educational preparation of their child and stay engaged in his or her child’s educational journey.

Changing attitudes is a tall order that is always resisted. If, however, we refuse to change our attitudes the fundamental and systemic educational transformation we desire will not occur and the decline in the quality of our community life will continue unabated. Finally, we cannot continue to deny that  “children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity.”

For more information on the Foundation’s Education First series or how to join the conversation, please call 773.9898.

EDUCATION FIRST It’s the Teacher, It’s the Teacher, It’s the Teacher

Over the last ten years, the St. Croix Foundation has worked inside classrooms, side-by-side with teachers. We have sat in on teacher team meetings, lunched with teachers, and walked the same hallways. We traveled with them to educational conferences, wept with them through trying times and celebrated in times of great triumph.

What we learned is that many of our teachers spend each day in isolation, dealing with disadvantaged, oftentimes ill-mannered students (and parents), not to mention a bureaucracy that can de-motivate the most energized professional. In actuality, many of the educators we have met have a real passion for educating children. They are unquestionably the single greatest assets in our public schools because they are the one constant. While administrators and students come and go, sometimes in rapid succession, teachers are the long-term caretakers of each school’s history and culture and the foundation of our children’s academic achievement.

Today, in the 21st century, a lot is expected of teachers. They must be adept at using a variety of new technologies; keep up with popular culture; understand changing language and ideals; and spend many personal hours preparing new lessons and researching new teaching methodologies. They must also contend with the pressures of a bad economy, “hyperactive” students, and a lack of meaningful support from their superiors and the community at-large, all the while being forced to be both parent and teacher for many students.

As President Obama stated in one of his first speeches on education, “It’s time to start rewarding good teachers, and stop making excuses for bad ones.” We believe that in order for our community to ‘walk the talk’ about the importance of our children, our teachers—our good teachers—must be elevated to a higher stature and prominence matched with higher pay that is unequivocally married to high expectations.

The Impact of Bad Teachers

For the same reasons they are assets, our teachers can be potential liabilities because, on the flip side of our teachers’ tremendous contributions, there are also some critical deficiencies that require the diligent focus and attention of every public education stakeholder. From the very beginning of our on-the-ground work in schools, the Foundation began to observe some noteworthy performance patterns, including: Use of the Union Contract as a guard against new ideas or personal accountability; Low expectations for themselves, administrators, and students; Resistance to the use of technology; A propensity for blaming “others” (administrators, parents, funding shortages, and etc.) for poor student performance; And, a sometimes shocking lack of professionalism and respect for authority.

 

Undoubtedly, ineffective teachers are a huge part of the challenge that lies before every effort to improve the quality of public schools nationwide. In reality, states throughout the country are afflicted with the same powerlessness and costliness that our local district administrators experience when attempting to create a greater density of good teachers while also removing bad teachers. In New York, hearings for a dismissal of just one incompetent teacher can extend for 830 days, over two years, and cost taxpayers $313,000.

The arduous task of filtering underperforming teachers from the system is inextricably tied to the greater challenge of building a sufficient pool of high-quality teachers, particularly here in the Territory. In truth, the seldom discussed reality in our school system is that many of our teachers are homegrown products of our own public education system, moving straight through the system from Kindergarten to 12th grade, to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and then right back into our classrooms. To fully understand the challenge, consider that in 2013 88% of UVI’s freshmen were required to take remedial courses in English because they were not college-ready after graduation.

Luckily, there are proven models for attracting, training, and retaining effective teachers. In Finland, they decided that only the best and the brightest will teach their children: 100% of new teachers graduate in the top third of their high school class. In contrast, a math teacher in Oklahoma today is required to receive a score of at least 19 on the ACT test to be admitted to a college of education. At the time, the national average was 20.6.

We know we have extraordinary, talented, passionate teachers in the Virgin Islands, because we meet them every day. And, we know that the District is in the middle of implementing a new evaluation system, for which we applaud them. But, this election season, let’s ask our political candidates how they plan to legislate even more comprehensive reforms that raise the bar, prepare, support, and compensate our teachers like the professional, highly qualified educators that all our children deserve.

This editorial is part of the Foundation’s Education First series. For more information, call 773.9898.

Sources and Links:

President Barack Obama:

• Remarks by the President to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on a Complete and Competitive American Education, March 10, 2009

New York Teacher Dismissal Data:

• http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/firing-teachers-mission-impossible-article-1.1615003

February 17, 2014

US Virgin Islands Remedial English Classes Data:

Literacy Across UVI, UVI Voice, University of the Virgin Islands, September 19, 2013

Finland and the United States:

• Ripley, Amanda. The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way. Simon and

Schuster. 2013 (92-93).

EDUCATION FIRST “The Finland Phenomenon”

Do you know who the smartest kids in the world are? Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got that Way, recently decided to look for an answer. In her book, Ripley explores many of the myths surrounding ‘smart kids’ by following three American students who studied in some of the highest performing educational systems in the world.

What Ripley found was that ‘smart kids’ are found everywhere. They are found in classrooms with over 60 students, in ramshackle schools, without textbooks or even chalkboards. High performers are sometimes homeless, sometimes orphans, and yet they succeed. Why? According to Ripley and other researchers, many smart kids are smart because of the teacher. In fact, while culture, geography, and politics can vary widely, one thing is common between high performing students: a truly great teacher.

But unfortunately, it has not been easy for nations around the globe to build a larger pool of master teachers. In America, the job is even tougher. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that “American teachers work harder under much more challenging conditions than teachers elsewhere in the industrialized world. They receive less useful feedback, less helpful professional development, and have less time to collaborate to improve their instructional skills. Not surprisingly, two-thirds feel their profession is not valued by society — an indicator that OECD finds is ultimately related to student achievement” (Darling-Hammond).

Luckily, we can ensure that all our young people have the best and brightest standing in front of every classroom by examining and implementing successful models that are transforming the teaching profession around the world:

FINLAND: To improve their education system, Finland relied heavily on improving teacher quality through restructuring teacher education programs. Today, as a result 93% of their students complete high school on time (Tschudi). And, for the past decade, Finland has scored in the top tier of the Program for International Student Assessment– the international equivalent of the SATs (OECD, p. 118). How did they do it?

First, as Ripley reported, they closed smaller schools of education and moved teacher preparation into the more respected universities (p. 88-89). At the same time, they raised the entrance standards for teacher-training programs, making the profession as “prestigious as a getting into medical schools in the United States” (p. 85). In Finland, all teachers are required to:

• Be in the top 1/3 of their high school graduating class (Auguste);

• Complete a rigorous application process, including taking special examinations specific to their desired course of study (Ripley, p. 84);

• Take three years of ‘general’ courses, including high level math and statistics (p. 86);

• Hold a Master’s degree and complete a three-year graduate school preparation program that includes:

o One year of internship in a public school under the tutelage of three teacher mentors who train and provide feedback that is at times, “harsh, in much the way medical residents are critiqued in teaching hospitals,” and;

o Complete original research (p. 86).

But, as an added bonus, Finnish high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102% of what their fellow university graduates do and because Finland pays for a teacher’s education, they graduate without debt. Contrastingly, in the United States, a teacher with a Master’s degree earns just 65% of their peers and must carefully piece together grants, scholarships, and student loans to pay for their education (Tschudi).

A 2007 McKinsey report stated that, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” (Barber, p. 16). We couldn’t agree more. In fact, we believe serious consideration must be given to the creation of a state-of-the-art teaching college in the USVI with the highest entrance standards and real-world, in-class instruction where teachers-in-training are mentored by master teachers and taught by local, regional, and international experts. And while some believe high entrance standards and a rigorous curriculum will discourage our youth from wanting to be teachers, consider this: Rhode Island’s push to increase entrance standards at their School of Education initially met with controversy with its dean arguing that higher standards would discourage students from applying; instead, their application and admittance rate went up, even among minorities (Ripley, p. 92).

We think all will agree that our children deserve the best, and the Virgin Islands has the talent necessary to ensure they receive it. We encourage teachers, parents, and education stakeholders to visit the St. Croix Foundation’s Facebook page and watch “The Finland Phenomenon,” and this election season, let’s all ask our candidates what models and policies they plan to support to improve teacher quality. Because, Virgin Islands children can be the smartest in the world…

For more information, please contact us at 773.9898.

Sources

Auguste, B., Kihn, P., & and Miller. M. (2010). Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top third graduates to a career in teaching. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from http://mckinseyonsociety.com/closing-the-talent-gap/

Barber, M. & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from http://mckinseyonsociety.com/downloads/reports/Education/Worlds_School_Systems_Final.pdf

Darling-Hammond, Linda. (2014). To close the achievement gap, we need to close the teaching gap. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-darlinghammond/to-close-the-achievement_b_5542614.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular,teachers

Jehlen, Alain. (2010). How Finland reached the top of the educational rankings. NEA Today. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2010/10/07/how-finland-reached-the-top-of-the-educational-rankings/

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2011). Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/pisa/46623978.pdf

Ripley, Amanda. (2013).The smartest kids in the world: And how they got that way. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster

Tschudi, Edle Astrup. (2014) Finland’s education system through foreign eyes. Brown Political Review. Retrieved from http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2014/04/finlands-education-system-through-foreign-eyes/

For information on the Program for International Student Assessment, visit their website here: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/

Cracking the Code – Together!

Educators around the country and the world are racing to ‘crack the code’ and find the perfect recipe for reforming their underperforming educational systems. It’s a race against the clock that underpins state economies, global competition, and the viability of entire civilizations. The same is true for the Virgin Islands as policymakers and education stakeholders continue to analyze solutions to improve the Territory’s public school system.

For the past 10 ten years, St. Croix foundation has also sought to crack the code, exploring national models of educational excellence with one overarching mission: to advocate for and support innovative and sustainable strategies that will lead to rapid public education transformation. We have read about and personally witnessed groundbreaking programs both locally and abroad- ones we believe, if replicated with fidelity, could lead to radical improvements in our educational system.

But in order to get there, we have learned that what we do is much less important than the how we do it when building strong systems that best serve the needs of all our community’s youth. In our research, we have also seen that long and short term goals are more often met when reform plans are built on a solid foundation of collaboration—broad-based and community inclusive. For the Foundation, collaboration is really the fundamental “How” to the issue of education reform.

Sadly, collaboration is also the greatest challenge for most education reform efforts as far too many stakeholders haven’t fully mastered the art of working together. Thankfully, there are many models of collaboration for us to examine and model our reform efforts after, some of which we think are particularly noteworthy and could help the VI find solutions:

RACE TO THE TOP: In 2009, Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched Race to the Top (RTTT), and radically changed America’s educational reform landscape. As the largest competitive granting program in the history of American public education, RTTT awarded $4.35 billion through the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to spur K-12 education reform. While the Territory was not eligible to participate in RTTT (Puerto Rico was), one criteria for applying was that states had to build broad collaboration into their strategies, which meant that major stakeholder groups had to sign off on each state’s reform plan. States that passed the first round of the application process had to submit video presentations demonstrating collaboration and alignment between stakeholders including unions, boards of education, departments of education, political parties, business leaders, charter operators, parent groups, and more.

In the end, Delaware and Tennessee were chosen by the USDOE as the first states to be awarded RTTT grants and there’s little doubt why. Both states took the challenge seriously and set a high standard for radical and rapid reform. We urge local stakeholders to review their RTTT video presentations, which can be found on the St. Croix Foundation’s Facebook page, to see what collaborative reform really looks like. It’s an inspiring demonstration of Leadership and Commitment – one that our education stakeholders can model. 

VISION 2015: Delaware’s RTTT plan, “Vision 2015,” resulted in an award of $100 million and is a bold agenda designed to provide a world-class education to all public school students in Delaware.  Developed by a coalition of education, government, business and civic leaders throughout Delaware, Vision 2015 established the following goals for the state’s reform agenda: 1. Setting High Standards and Developing a Common Curriculum; 2. Developing and Supporting High-Quality Teachers; 3. Empowering Principals to Lead their Schools and; 4. Establishing a Simple and Equitable Funding System.

L.A. COMPACT: Another reform model is the L.A. Compact, which is a city-wide plan signed by 18 major stakeholder groups in the Los Angeles Unified School District that has become a national model of collaboration and common visioning. The L.A. Compact established the following goals (among others) for its reform efforts; 1. Achieve High Quality Teaching and Learning In Classrooms; 2. Build Collaborative Leadership Capacity; 3. Streamline and Decentralize Operations; 4. Expand Innovative Practices that are Working; 5. Implement a New Accountability System and; 6. Provide Students Multiple Pathways for Workforce/Career Preparation.

Education reform is too big of a task for just one group to tackle. The whole village needs to be a part of the process, recognizing that our children are pouring out of our schools and onto our streets unprepared in the midst of a depressed economy and an unprecedented crime wave. In the words of Rahm Emmanuel (Obama’s former Chief of staff), we would be foolish “to let a good crisis go to waste.” This election season, let’s ask our political candidates how they intend to support collaborative efforts that serve our children and our schools.

This editorial is a part of the Foundation’s Education First series and will be published every Wednesday until election day. For more information, call 773.9898.

 

Resources:

Race to the Top Eligibility and Criteria for Funding

Race to the Top Video Presentations (2010)

State Plans and Compacts

Our Children—Who are They, Who Can They Be?

At the core of the St. Croix Foundation’s commitment to our public education system is our children and our awareness of the amazing potential that lies in every one of them. But, the reality is that every day our social services and public safety agencies are forced to deal with many of the Territory’s failures to serve the needs of our children with fidelity.

When we launched our Model Schools Initiative in 2005 and began to work directly in our schools, we didn’t know how much insight it would provide about our children. Overall, what we learned about our students is very positive—they are talented and curious, gregarious and charismatic. They have the capacity to move from one unrelated subject to the next faster and more accurately than most adults do on their best day. Born in the Digital Age, our students have never known a time without computers or cell phones. Unfortunately, our young people’s gift for navigating the Digital Age is our educators’ biggest challenge: keeping students engaged with the same chalkboards, textbooks, and teaching strategies of 20 years ago.

We also found that our students span a vast range of individual competencies and family backgrounds, and we now stand in awe of what our schools accomplish in educating and nurturing all our children and doing so effectively—a daunting and high-stakes task. Even beyond the impact of the Digital Age, the average child today has an extremely different home life than those of just one generation past. According to the 2012 Kids Count, in just six years, the percentage of children living in single-parent households rose from 35% to 58.8% (from 2003-2009). Poverty rates have also increased: in 2010, 31% of all families in the Virgin Islands lived in poverty compared to 24.9% in 2009. On St. Croix, the 2010 poverty rate was 36%.

How our children are faring inside our schools is equally distressing. Based on the 2012-2013 Report Card from the Virgin Islands Department of Education, 68.2% of 7th graders are reading below grade level; and less than 36% of 11th graders are proficient in reading. This means that approximately 2 out of 3 of our 7th and 11th graders are not reading at grade level. The 2012 Kids Count also reported that 18.9% of our 16-19 year olds were not enrolled in school, were not graduates, and were not employed. Some believe the numbers are much grimmer. As a result, the Foundation is constantly grappling with a sense of urgency and an obligation to advocate for rapid improvements in our schools.

Over the last 10 years, we have spent a considerable amount of time visiting schools, learning first-hand their day-to-day challenges. We encourage all education stakeholders, especially candidates seeking elected office, to do the same. Some of the observations we made illuminated skill gaps that we believe make educational reform in the Virgin Islands a formidable challenge. In general, we found that a large number of students exhibited:

  • Limited vocabulary, poor grammar, speech, and writing skills
  • Lack of attachment to learning and/or academic excellence
  • Limited exposure to the world beyond their immediate environments
  • An inability to ‘switch code’ between local dialects and Standard English
  • Extraordinary confidence in the face of their academic deficiencies

Recognizing these issues, in 2009, the Foundation launched our Youth Advisory Council (YAC) seeking to give a voice to our youth. Comprising junior high and high school students from our public and private schools, YAC members have sought to better understand the challenges facing their peers. In 2012 the Council surveyed over 900 of their peers and identified, overwhelmingly, that mentoring and motivation are their greatest needs! Among the expected responses, like violence and peer pressure, students also acknowledged in personal interviews “the need for self-confidence; lack of positive influences; lack of motivation; and a corrupt society.”

We are listening and we urge our entire community to take heed, because the bottom line for every one of our students is simple: they have an untold amount of talent and intellect that we, as a community, have failed to effectively nurture to their and our own detriment. Moreover, while all of the data and the statistics may indicate what is happening to our young people, numbers can never paint an accurate picture of who they really are. And no matter how we categorize and class our children, their potential is our potential.

We challenge everyone to get involved and to ask our candidates what specific education policies they plan to sponsor in support of the welfare of our children and our Territory.

This editorial is part of the St. Croix Foundation’s Education First Campaign and will run every Wednesday for the next several weeks. For more information, contact the Foundation at 773.9898.

 

Sources:

Percent of Children in Single Parent Households
US Virgin Islands Kids Count Data Book 2012, page 6:
http://www.cfvi.net/documents/2012_KidsCount_Data_Book.pdf

Poverty Rates
US Virgin Islands Kids Count Data Book 2012, page 10:
http://www.cfvi.net/documents/2012_KidsCount_Data_Book.pdf

Academic Scores
No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress Report, VI Department of Education: http://vide.nclbreports.avr247.com/VIDOE/Reports/web/VIDOE/OverAllAYP.aspx

Non-graduates/unemployed 16-19 Year Olds
US Virgin Islands Kids Count Data Book 2012, page 6:
http://www.cfvi.net/documents/2012_KidsCount_Data_Book.pdf

Why We Dare to Try

Over the last 25 years, education reform has emerged as a global, economic challenge. With the stakes extremely high, the private and nonprofit sectors are investing significant resources to investigate and implement reform initiatives they believe will yield the most rapid results. While most agree that community engagement is critical to the success of our schools, in many cases, motive and commitment are questioned when non-educators seek a seat at the table.

For the St. Croix Foundation, the reason we dare to delve into public education is simple: as a community foundation, we are responsive to emerging needs in our community. The deeper draw for us is that with our track record of countless successful initiatives in the areas of Community Revitalization, Economic Development, Public Safety, and Fiscal Management, we realized that almost all roads surrounding our community’s most pressing socioeconomic problems lead back to Education.

In 2005, when we launched our Model Schools Initiative (MSI) at Elena Christian Junior High School (ECJH), we sought to develop a strategic, collaborative approach to raising student achievement scores. From day one, we were given considerable access to our schools, educators, and students. We spent five years witnessing, up close, the complex challenges that our schools face. The result has been extraordinary insight into what is working and what is not. While We were ultimately encouraged by the untold stories of success and the potential our public schools have to be innovative and effective, we were also privy to the ways that most were falling short of that potential.

Despite that reality, the Foundation has accomplished an incredible amount which we believe has afforded us the capital and credibility to speak on this issue. To date we have invested over 1 million dollars in our Territory’s public education system to support some noteworthy achievements, including the following: During the first three years of our MSI, ECJH saw a nearly 70% reduction in discipline infractions, and 8th graders achieved a 30-point gain in math on their VITAL tests; In 2007, in partnership with HOVENSA, we oversaw the development of a state-of-the-art computer lab and underwrote the cost of a delegation of over 50 VI educators to attend the renowned Model Schools Conference in Washington, D.C.; In 2008, with funding from the VI Department of Education, the Foundation coordinated a delegation of over 300 teachers and education stakeholders to attend the Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida—the largest such delegation in the VI to travel abroad for training; In 2009, our work was recognized by the National School Boards Association, and we presented our story at their annual conference; In 2010, we published a report on our findings and hosted Community Roundtables and public forums to inform the public about national initiatives and bold innovations that are taking place globally.

In the last several years, the Foundation’s education work has shifted from programs to policy as we advocate for urgent action on behalf of our children. Grounded in the belief that equity and excellence in public education is the civil rights issue of our time, our mission is to be a catalyst and facilitator for real dialogue and collaborative solutions. How we educate our children must change rapidly and radically to ensure the economic stability and overall health of our communities.

In retrospect, the most important lesson we have learned through our work is this: system-wide, public educational excellence is within our reach and rapid improvement is more attainable than most people think. The catch is that the pathway to reform in the Virgin Islands is more a matter of will and fidelity than anything else. It is going to take greater focus on the part of every stakeholder, particularly our policy makers, to create a vision for education in the Virgin Islands and then to make that vision a reality.

As President Obama stated, “Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, America has let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, as other nations outpace us. What’s at stake is nothing less than the American dream.” The St. Croix Foundation could not agree more.

In the weeks and months ahead, our editorial series will address some sensitive issues surrounding public education– our children, our teachers, rigor, policy, and money. Some of the topics will undoubtedly be controversial, but we believe the conversations our editorials spark are a healthy part of the reform process. We hope you will join us, whether you agree or not. The future prosperity of our island and the wellbeing of our children deserve nothing less than our full attention. For those who still want to know why now and why us, we ask: why not now and who else?

For information, contact us at 340.773.9898.

A Brighter Future for our Children

The U.S. Virgin Islands faces many challenges. The one common thread of agreement is that the future of our islands depends on our children. Their education, physical and emotional health, and the opportunities provided to them are essential to creating a brighter future for all who reside here. In editorials, legislative hearings, conversations on the stoops around the islands, and on talk radio, most are in agreement that we are failing to educate our children in a way that will ensure their success, and that we need to take action to overcome that failure. The complication continues to center on how to accomplish this reform.

In this spot, for the next twenty weeks up until Election Day, the St. Croix Foundation will be offering a variety of articles on issues that our community needs to consider to achieve system-wide educational reform. They are not meant as prescriptive but as conversation starters for honest dialogue within the community. Recognizing that it is much easier to discuss how to correct faults in the physical plants of our schools than it is to discuss how to correct faults in the system itself, we want to challenge everyone in our community to consider the following: What does our system look like? What does our community value when it comes to education? What does the global economy demand of our children? And, what is our vision for our children and our Territory? We believe that delving deep into these questions needs to be a high priority in our communities and for our elected officials and policy makers. It is urgent that we begin now.

As one of the most vocal advocates for Comprehensive Public Education Reform, St. Croix Foundation also recognizes that, in many cases, our students are surpassing the successes of their parents and grand-parents despite our schools’ urgent needs. The Territory actually has solid groundwork for rapid reform:

  • 37% of our teachers have a master’s degree; 1% have a doctoral degree.
  • Our dropout rate of 9.1% for high school students is only slightly higher than the national average.
  • Graduation rates rose from 61.4% in 2011 to 64. 9% in 2012.
  • Program participation allowing students to recover lost credits doubled from 2011 to 2012.
  • SAT scores are being sent to 50 colleges and universities besides UVI.
  • Excellent vocational programs are available.
  • Gifted and talented programs are available at the elementary level and magnet programs are offered at the secondary level.
  • Our schools offer highly valued programs in music and visual arts.

Yes, gains have been made, but the truth remains that many students are simply not achieving what we should expect in a progressive society. Although our No Child Left Behind achievement scores show some improvement over time in some areas, the fact that the average percentage of our high school students showing proficiency settles at less than 50% means that the majority of our young people are not literate. This is not surprising with only 31% of our core classes being taught by a teacher rated as “Highly Qualified” – down from 45% the previous year. Tragically, only 55% of our teachers are certified.

Overall, however, we are acutely sensitized to the one fact that is often overlooked in discussions about our nation’s public schools’ failures, which is that public schools are just that: public and open to all. As a country, America decided long ago to provide education for everyone. This means that our educational system does not “weed out” students with the use of exclusionary testing at certain grade levels. They accept all. There is no entrance test to pass or financial contribution or standard to uphold for admittance. No matter what the child’s background, preparation, native language, learning needs, or motivation, they have a seat in our public schools.

So, let us begin the dialogue. How do we, as a community, first recognize and then sustain the strengths that exist in our schools? How do we connect isolated successes to create support and trust between all stakeholders? How do we, collectively, decide on our best methods of reform? And finally, how do we convince elected officials and policy makers that there is a will of the people to get this done?

At the Foundation, we believe that we must involve the many competent teachers and administrators who are making a positive difference in our schools in the reform process. And then, we need to go beyond asking candidates what they think about education and begin to tell them what we expect of them if elected as pro-education candidates.

Your feedback is most welcome throughout the next 20 weeks. For more information on how you can join the conversation, contact us by phone at 773.9898. We hope you will join us in that effort to ensure a brighter future for all children in the U.S. Virgin Islands.