The halls of Guy Benjamin School were just about empty on Thursday, June 4, as parents kept students home as part of a planned Parent Teacher Organization protest to demand the hiring of Jane Roskin.
About 10 GBS PTO members, parents and students stood outside the school holding posters which read “We Need Mrs. Roskin At Our School — No More Excuses,” and “Together We Can Make Guy Benjamin Great.” There were only about 18 of the 100 students in attendance on June 4.
Roskin taught at the small Coral Bay elementary school for 17 years until 2004, when she was abruptly transferred to Addelita Cancryn Junior High School on St. Thomas. After a battle with the Department of Education and facing potential firing, Roskin was reportedly encouraged to retire, which she did.
After teaching at the Gifft Hill School for two years — during which time Governor John deJongh was elected and a new Department of Education Commissioner was appointed — Roskin was informed that she would be hired back by the department, according to GBS PTO president Lois Simmonds.
“She quit her job at the Gifft Hill School, where she was well-respected and well-loved, expecting to be hired by the Department of Education and return to GBS,” said Simmonds. “It never happened though and no one has said why.”
For the past two years, Roskin has been the Reading First coach for GBS, but she is still not an employee of DOE.
Instead, Roskin’s salary has been paid with special funds from private sector donations, Simmonds explained.
In addition to the Reading First position, there will be two more vacancies at GBS next year as both the first grade and second grade teachers are retiring at the end of this school year. GBS PTO officials and parents want Roskin to be hired as the school’s first grade teacher.
“The teachers want her, the parents want her, the principal wants her, the students want her, she lives in Coral Bay and she wants to be here,” said Donna Matthias, whose two daughters attend GBS. “It seems like a no-brainer.”
PTO officials, however, have not gotten a clear answer to why Roskin hasn’t been hired yet, according to Simmonds.
“We’ve called everyone from the governor, superintendent and the commissioner, and everyone gives us a different story,” Simmonds said. “They say she isn’t qualified, which is not true. They say she hasn’t gone through the process, which isn’t true.”
“These statements are coming from the Department and the governor of the Virgin Islands — the same governor who said when he was campaigning that education is his number one priority,” said Simmonds. “There are excuses after excuses and that is not fair.”
Matthias talked to DOE Commissioner Dr. Laverne Terry personally and still didn’t get any answers, she explained.
“I spoke to the commissioner last week and asked her how I can help get Ms. Roskin hired and she said, ‘you can’t,’” said Matthias. “She said, ‘you’re not sitting in that room when the hiring happens.’ She basically told me parents don’t have a voice, but she is wrong”
“I’m here to tell her that parents do have a voice,” Matthias said.
Another excuse Matthias heard from Commissioner Terry for Roskin not being hired was that the DOE is fulfilling transfer requests, explained the GBS parent.
“Let’s be honest now, there are no St. Thomas teachers who are requesting to be transferred all the way out to Guy Benjamin School,” said Matthias.
As an alumnus of the school, Matthias’ husband, Ernest Matthias, takes matters at GBS to heart, he explained.
“This is my school — this was my foundation,” said Ernest Matthias. “This school means a lot to me and Ms. Roskin is an amazing teacher. We have students with needs and we need to put politics aside and do what’s right for the students.”
GBS PTO members and parents have had enough, explained Simmonds.
“Here we have a teacher that wants to teach and lives right here,” said the GBS PTO president. “In the meantime, the department is recruiting teachers from Jamaica and the Philippines. The PTO is tired of the run around and we want her in the classroom educating our children.”
Simmonds urged parents and residents to call Senator at Large Craig Barshiner’s office at 693-8061 to share their support for the hiring of Roskin.