While parents of island children are working to enroll at least 100 students to keep the school open next year, Coral Bay’s Guy H. Benjamin elementary school could be converted to an Early Headstart center.
Department of Education officials last week released the latest Adequate Yearly Progress report for the territory and both St. John public schools celebrated good news.
The Guy Benjamin School and Julius E. Sprauve School both met AYP along with 16 other schools across the territory.
AYP is based on V.I. Territorial Assessment of Learning (VITAL-S & A) exam data, which is designed to measure student proficiency in the core subject areas of reading and math. The VITAL-S & A is administered in the territory in accordance with federal No Child Left Behind mandates.
While JESS did meet AYP standards in reading and math, the school was Identified for Improvement, as it has been for the past five years, according to the report. GBS, however, was not Identified for Improvement.
While the news was positive for elementary schools with 17 primary schools meeting AYP, there were still five elementary schools which did not meet standards in reading and math.
Last week’s AYP report was grim for the territory’s middle and high schools. Not one of the middle or junior high schools in the territory met AYP and the only public high school in the U.S. Virgin Islands which met AYP was Charlotte Amalie High School.
DOE officials plan to continue offering professional development as a way to boost those high school proficiency scores, explained DOE Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory in a prepared statement.
“Looking at the released data, it is clear that there have been some gains overall — particularly in the area of our elementary schools — but we continued to be challenged with our high schools in both the areas of reading and math,” according to Frett-Gregory’s statement. “To address these challenges, the department, on the state level, has been supporting the districts and schools by providing our educators with the job embedded professional development they need to really succeed in the classroom.”
“On the district level, our superintendents and their teams have also been implementing a number of intervention programs — such as online comprehension programs in reading and math — for students in need of extra academic help, while also working to identify which of those programs work, which ones don’t, and which ones can be maximized to reach as many students as possible,” Frett-Gregory said. “Consultants have also been working with our State and District Offices of Curriculum and Instruction to provide support to those schools in restructuring.”
GBS Future in Question
The AYP news was announced last week as Coral Bay parents continued questioning DOE’s plans for the future of Guy Benjamin School.
DOE Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry met with St. John parents at JESS last week to get feedback on what to do with the small Coral Bay public elementary school. The Coral Bay elementary school, whose students consistently meet AYP standards, has seen steadily declining enrollment, according to a DOE press release.
“Education officials met on St. John this week to receive feedback from parents on the possible placement of Guy Benjamin School students for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year, given the school’s low enrollment numbers and the cost of continuing to keep the campus running in spite of the small student population,” according to a prepared statement by DOE issued after the meeting.
DOE officials, however, did not announce Commissioner Frett-Gregory’s plans to attend last week’s JESS meeting either to the press or to GBS officials.
The prepared statement cited enrollment at GBS as steadily declining from a high of 112 students to the current student body of 55.
“At recent Senate hearings on this issue, officials have also explained that the department has continued to spend upwards of $1 million to operate the school, and while they understand the parents’ desire to keep Guy Benjamin open, the department still has work responsibly within its limited budget,” according to the DOE the press release.
GBS parents, however, say the number of students would be higher if DOE didn’t transfer two grades to JESS this school year. A last minute teacher shortage at JESS just before school opened in September, prompted DOE to transfer kindergarten and first grade from GBS to JESS.
Despite GBS consistently ranking among the highest scoring schools on standardized tests in the territory, many parents are convinced that DOE plans to close the beloved Coral Bay campus.
“There have been numerous meetings where government officials are giving parents and faculty different information,” said one parent. “There is a lot of confusion out there. So many people want their children to attend GBS, but they are being told it will be closed.”
Meanwhile, other parents are being told they should register their children at DOE’s early registration on Monday, March 24, at JESS.
Other parents have been told that the early registration is only for new students and Kindergarten students. Adding to the confusion, one parent of a GBS third grader was told she would be turned away if she went to the March 24 registration.
Some parents have been told that GBS would remain open if 100 students were registered, although that figure could not be confirmed by DOE officials last week.
Senator at Large Craig Barshinger has been urging residents to call his office at (340) 693-8061, if they plan to register their children at Guy Benjamin School.
While it remained unclear last week what the future of GBS would hold, DOE is also looking into the possibility of transforming the campus into an early education center, explained Commissioner Frett-Gregory in the prepared statement.
“The department is looking into the early childhood education concept, and has begun discussions with the Department of Human Services to look into the feasibility of a partnership that could transition Guy Benjamin into an Early Headstart/Headstart facility, serving children from ages zero to 5,” according to DOE’s prepared statement.
Parents at last week’s unannounced DOE meeting at JESS also offered additional options for the Coral Bay campus, including GBS becoming the sole elementary school for the island with JESS teaching fourth through eighth grades; and enforcing DOE’s districting policy compelling students to attend the school closest to their homes.
“This was a very productive meeting,” Frett-Gregory said in the prepared statement. “It was important for us to get input from the parents and to see how we can collectively work out a solution that’s in the best interest for both the St. John community as a whole, and the students.”
For more information about the latest happenings at GBS, check out the school’s Parent Teacher Organization Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GuyBenjaminSchool?ref=br_tf.
Residents can support the school on Saturday, March 22, at the Coral Bay Yacht Club’s 18th Flotilla Party at Hansen’s Bay Beach. The event benefits GBS and all proceeds are used to enhance education for students at the school.
Flotilla attendees can sail to the beach party aboard a volunteer sailboat in the morning, for $40 per person, which includes admission. Or residents can drive to the beach where is admission is $20 per person, which includes food consisting of West Indian dishes, hamburgers, hot dogs and salads.
Larger tax deductible donations to GBS may be made by check to the Coral Bay Community Council indicating “Flotilla” in the memo line. For more information call CBCC at 776-2099.