No Kindergarten at GBS Sparks Fears of Closure

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Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School is the only K-6 public school in Coral Bay.

With public schools across the territory gearing up for the 2013/2014 school year which begins on Tuesday, September 3, several families on St. John are still wondering where their children will spend their academic year.

Several Coral Bay parents trying to register their children for kindergarten at the public elementary school Guy Benjamin School have recently been turned away.

At least one family was told that the class size at GBS was too small and the parents were told to register at the Julius E. Sprauve School for kindergarten.

Department of Education officials did not return emails or phone calls from St. John Tradewinds requesting information on the status of classes available at GBS.

A mandatory meeting has been scheduled for this Monday, August 26, at 5 p.m. at the JESS cafeteria, according to several Coral Bay residents who asked to not be identified.

“St. Thomas/St. John Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry is calling a mandatory meeting this Monday for all parents of kindergarten and first grade students on St. John,” said the resident.

Coral Bay residents are hearing that more than 25 students have signed up for kindergarten at JESS, yet only nine students have registered at GBS. It remained unclear, however, how many of those students were in fact turned away from GBS.

“What has happened is that 29 kindergartners have signed up for JESS which is more than they can accommodate,” said the Coral Bay resident. “Nine students have signed up for kindergarten at GBS. JESS does not have a second kindergarten teacher and we are hearing that they will be taking the GBS teacher for the second kindergarten class at JESS.”

“But we don’t know if some of those students who registered at JESS were told they could not register at GBS,” the resident said. “We do know that several people were told they could not register at GBS.”
While the lack of a kindergarten class at the small Coral Bay elementary school — which enjoys strong community support from the Coral Bay Yacht Club and Coral Bay Community Council — is worrisome for many residents, even more rumors about GBS were swirling last week.

While GBS teachers have been busy getting their classrooms ready to welcome this year’s students, at least one other classroom in addition to kindergarten might be sitting empty when classes begin on September 3.

“We are also hearing that JESS is lacking a second grade teacher,” said the Coral Bay resident. “We hear that the superintendent plans to combine the JESS and GBS first grade classes at JESS which would allow them to use the GBS first grade teacher as a second grade teacher at JESS.”

The name being rumored for possible reassignment from GBS to JESS is first grade teacher Jane Roskin, who is no stranger to DOE’s reassignments. Several years ago Roskin, who lives in Coral Bay, was reassigned to an elementary school on St. Thomas. She was eventually returned to GBS, but it remains to be seen for how long she’ll have that assignment.

With no kindergarten and no first grade at GBS, residents and parents in the area fear DOE officials could be preparing to close the elementary school; something which has long been rumored.

With no response from DOE officials last week, however, these prospects for now remain only rumors. But residents are hoping that all St. John parents of kindergarten and first grade students attend the Monday, August 26, meeting at the JESS cafeteria at 5 p.m.

“Parents are getting different stories and we’re hearing stories about parents being turned away at GBS,” said Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren. “The good thing is that there is a meeting coming up on Monday night, but we have to get the word out to every single parent of a kindergarten and first grade student on St. John. Parents need to come out to this meeting so that they can hopefully help make a good decision for the future of our school.”

“Parents have already bought uniforms and arranged child care, and may now be involved in a last minute shuffle that has everyone upset and demoralized including the parents of other grades, parents of preschoolers,” said Coldren. “GBS test scores this past year were so high — best in the territory I think — yet it keeps getting threatened and effectively disseminated if it doesn’t have its first two grades.”

“I hope this idea gets rethought and revised,” said Coldren. “Otherwise working toward high education quality and the value of community involvement in public schools is just being ridiculed by the government. I know budget times are tough, but there have to be other solutions that would work better for all.”