Guy Benjamin School Faces Famine or Feast?


Acting Principal Dionne Wells assured the Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization meeting Tuesday, May 8, there would be no shortage of teachers for the 2007-08 year at the continuously short-staffed school.
But, Ms. Wells added, she couldn’t say why.

The St. Johnian school administrator, in her first year at the island’s smallest public school, told the 20 parents and faculty members in attendance she would have enough teachers at every grade level.

“We’ll have more than enough,” said Ms. Wells.

Ms. Wells reiterated she couldn’t say how many.

In her first year in charge of her own school, the bureaucratically-astute young educator has competently enabled the continued refurbishment of the cluster of cinder-block buildings around a tree-shaded playground.

In recent years, the school has faced an uncertain future sitting in the way of a proposed multi-million dollar waterfront development on surrounding land which also is owned by the neighboring Moravian Church.

But Ms. Wells, who earlier in the meeting had acknowledged the school’s sixth grade class this year would be graduating after a full year without a designated classroom teacher, would not elaborate on why the school would be fully-staffed for the first time in recent years.

Ms. Wells, however, assured parents she had prepared the lesson plans for the graduating sixth grade class and the school’s paraprofessional and others had staffed the classroom to give the graduating class a good academic year.

When I asked, as a third-year parent of a second grader at the school, about a report I had heard from a education official of plans by the Depart-ment of Education to move a handful of elementary school classes from the Julius E.

Sprauve School to GBS, Ms. Wells acknowledged education officials were considering relocating several classes within JESS and transporting more students by bus from the Cruz Bay area to GBS.

School officials are concerned because work planned to begin this year on the construction of the Cruz Bay roundabout on the current site of the Texaco service station will impact the neighboring Clarice Thomas Annex which houses the Sprauve school’s lower grades, Ms. Wells explained.

Several of the veteran teachers at the school, which in recent years has had a student population of approximately 70 students in seven grades – kindergarten through six, recalled days when the school had more than 120 students and said there would be no problem handling additional students next year.

If education officials are considering such major changes in the island’s two public schools, whywas it not discussed in detail at the recent V.I. Senate Education Committee hearings?

Of course, it would be a lot easier if V.I. government officials had not stalled and then derailed plans to construct a cafeteria at the school.

There is no logic to the circuitous reasoning of government officials on St. Thomas which moved the federal funding for the construction of a new cafeteria at GBS to a St. Thomas church group’s purchase of a structure for a homeless program.

While the Education Department has paid the Yssis Group architectural firm for some work on a GBS cafeteria design, the school’s PTO, with the assistance of the Coral Bay Community Council (CBCC), had new plans drawn up in 2006.
Despite their best efforts, PTO and CBCC representatives were unable to prevent the loss of the federal grant for the cafeteria in April of this year.

Meanwhile, no one has been able to explain any connection between Yssis and the developer of the proposed condominium and marina project.

(The elementary school is located on property owned by the Moravian Church which was leased to the V.I. government for use as a school.)

The school’s students will continue to use the current makeshift dining area between one classroom building and the school’s offices alongside Route 10 on a concrete pad prone to flooding.

Ms. Wells, who was assistant principal at the Julius E. Sprauve School before coming to Guy Benjamin, confirmed she is still waiting to be officially named principal of the  school – which requires processing of the pending official retirement of former principal Dr. Margaret Bowers.

Among recent improvements, Ms. Wells procured a storage bin for the cafeteria’s garbage pails which has discouraged the resident flock of herons from gathering to recycle leftovers dumped from students’ breakfast and lunch trays.

Ms. Wells did say the school’s marvelous cafeteria staff of Justina Titre and Gwenda Dagou could use a new stand-up refrigerator and freezer.

Tom Oat,
Three-year GBS Parent