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.