After suddenly closing Althea Scatliffe Primary School last month because of concerns about its structural integrity, government officials are still figuring out the best options to temporarily house students, according to Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie De Castro.
After Ms. De Castro assumed her role about two months ago, she asked her ministry’s projects manager and maintenance manager to assess all the schools in the territory, she said July 21 in a statement delivered at the House of Assembly.
“This report is required to allow us to plan the necessary work to be done over the summer break and also to ensure that a work plan is in place for consistent and continuous work throughout the school year,” Ms. De Castro said.
She added that most of the school structures are at least 40 years old.
“We recognise opportunities for restructuring and upgrades,” she said. “The assessments have revealed important information that is vital for decision-making.”
One result was the immediate closure of ASPS on June 17 due to the concerns about structural integrity.
“We had to move swiftly to close the school to ensure the safety of all users of the building,” Ms. De Castro said. “Currently, we are exploring options for temporarily housing students, and we will make an announcement shortly. We must do everything possible to ensure the safety of faculty and students, and this sentiment goes for all schools throughout the Virgin Islands.”
The maintenance team is already carrying out remedial works in other schools to prepare for the 2022-2023 school year, she said.
The Recovery and Development Agency is also making progress on improving schools, Ms. De Castro said.
That includes construction on two classroom blocks for the senior division of Elmore Stoutt High School that began on April 4 and “has progressed at a rapid pace,” according to the minister.
The project also includes a specialised technical block and an administrative block. Workers have completed about 70 percent of the project, Ms. De Castro added.
However, she did not say if the buildings will be completed in time for the start of next school year as initially promised, thereby allowing senior students to leave their temporary accommodations at the former Clarence Thomas Limited building in Pasea.
The RDA has also launched the procurement process for rebuilding the Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre, she said, promising more details soon.
The Jost Van Dyke Primary School project, which is also in the final stages of procurement, should be functional within 18 months, according to the minister.
As for the students who recently finished their 2021-2022 school year, Ms. De Castro said they and their teachers “have continued to demonstrate great resilience as they dealt with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
She said 330 students went through sixth grade at 13 public schools and six private schools. Of those students, 310 were promoted to grade seven, and 20 will be required to do remedial work while transitioning to the next grade.
Of the 224 grade 12 students at public schools, she added, 168 met their graduation requirements — about 75 percent. Those graduates included 104 with honour roll status, and seven with high honours.
“I offer sincere congratulations to all our students and commend principals and teachers who have contributed to their success this academic year,” Ms. De Castro said. “While recognising the accomplishments, we are also cognisant of the challenges and are committed to addressing them.”
She said 189 students in grades 10-12 joined a monthlong summer school programme on July 5 and have since received “intense intervention” in select subject areas.
They included 22 students from Bregado Flax Educational Centre, 15 from the Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies, and 152 from ESHS. About 70 are attending Exit Proficiency Examination preparation classes, and 42 were working on reaching their graduation requirements.
“This summer school initiative gives these students another opportunity to attain their high school diploma and thereafter move on to the world of work or tertiary institutions,” she said. “They will retake the Exit Proficiency Examination on July 29.”
Ms. De Castro said an overall review of school curriculum and assessment policies will take place with the start of the new school year.