“We still must remain hopeful, we must remain positive. We have to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know as a faith-based school you know that God is on our side.”
On Monday, August 21 Education Commissioner Dr. Sharon Ann McCollum assured a group of over 30 faculty and staff members of the St. Thomas – St. John Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) School that despite all of the challenges facing the Department, locally and nationally, it will persevere. Commissioner McCollum, at the invitation of SDA School Principal Dr. Whitman Browne, welcomed the educators back to another wonderful school year.
At the forefront of her remarks, Commissioner McCollum remained candid as she explained the current state of finances for the Department. She informed the group that since 2009, the Department has operated on a $40 million deficit and announced the $11 million budget cut projected for this upcoming fiscal year. She added that budget cuts also affect non-public schools through the services provided to them by the government, to include funds administered through the U.S. Department of Education’s Consolidated Grant Application.
With money being the fuel that runs Education, Commissioner then addressed the national teacher shortage and its direct impact on the Virgin Islands. She alluded to the fact that many teachers leave the territory for better job opportunities in more economically stable locations. In addition, college-bound students are simply uninterested in majoring in education. She hinted to the idea of the local government subsidizing a portion of students’ college tuition at the University of the Virgin Islands with a contractual obligation for them to teach for a number of years in the territory’s public school system.
Commissioner then shifted gears to talk about media and national politics in which she encouraged the educators to frequently discuss current events in the classroom. Teachers have a responsibility to engage students in healthy conversations about current issues, to include racism and politics.
Commissioner McCollum implored all faculty, staff members and administrators to encourage any young person if they can. Studies show that most times, the difference between a student failing and succeeding is one adult and it is usually an adult they encounter in school.
“We have to what is best for our children, because what is best for our children, is best for the territory,” said McCollum.
She ended by challenging them to teach students the value of an education, to respect and love one another and to simply fight the good fight of ensuring the success of the students in spite of the obstacles they may face.