The Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) welcomed U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to the territory on Wednesday, November 8, 2017.
Secretary DeVos, along with Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Jason Botel and her Chief of Staff Joshua Venable visited the Charlotte Amalie High School (CAHS) and dialogued with the school’s administration about the recovery efforts and challenges they now face as educators.
The administration voiced concerns about the senior year experience and the effect split-session schedules have on students’ ability to adequately prepare for standardized tests. Representatives from the school’s math, social studies, science and English departments expressed the difficulties they face without complete access to the internet and technology.
VIDE Chief of Staff Anthony Thomas also attended the brief session with the Secretary and advocated for the construction of new schools in the territory, citing the eleven closed and condemned sites. Dr. Maria Melendez–Tirado, Director of Federal Grants, also chimed in and thanked the U.S. Department of Education team for working with the Department to secure emergency funding for education-related services.
St. Thomas – St. John District Deputy Superintendent Racquel Berry-Benjamin and CAHS Principal Alcede Edwards led Secretary DeVos on a walking tour of the school’s campus where she saw some of the damages and classroom deficiencies from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Secretary DeVos also greeted students and educators during the afternoon session while learning about the various extracurricular activities disrupted by the storm’s impact, to include sports and music education.
Following the campus tour, Secretary DeVos sat in the midst of CAHS students and listened to their concerns. Seniors voiced their concerns about the connectivity challenges prohibiting them from filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and juniors inquired about colleges’ willingness to assist students from disaster areas.
Secretary DeVos encouraged the students to remain positive and work hard for the remainder of the school year and she assured students that the USDE will make concessions where it can for students hailing from disaster-stricken areas like the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Secretary notably mentioned that federal assistance, “is a process, not an event.”
The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Virgin Islands Department of Education a $2 million Project SERV grant to assist with education-related services for public and non-public schools in the wake of the two hurricanes. Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence), is authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and can be used for activities that help state and local educational agencies manage practical problems caused by a traumatic or violent event, to include mental health services, overtime for teachers, counselors, security, payment of substitute teachers and emergency transportation.