The incoming principal of Guy Benjamin School has nothing against Coral Bay, he just doesn’t want to work there.
Late last month, Department of Education officials announced sweeping changes to public school administration throughout the Virgin Islands. On St. John, Julius E. Sprauve School principal Mario Francis was transferred to Edith
Williams Alternative Academy on St. Thomas, while current GBS principal Dionne Wells was transferred to Julius E. Sprauve School.
Among other changes in the St. Thomas/St. John District, DOE officials also announced the closing of Evelyn Marcelli School on St. Thomas. The current principal of Marcelli, Whitman Browne — who lives in Estate Wintberg on St. Thomas — was assigned to take over at GBS in Coral Bay.
In an interview with St. John Tradewinds last week, Browne said he has nothing against St. John or Coral Bay or GBS, but believed that his transfer was politically motivated.
“I am not positive about this transfer at all,” said Browne. “I don’t mind coming to work on St. John, but I don’t think it’s fair for me, who lives in Wintberg, St. Thomas, to come to Coral Bay for work each day. It’s not attractive to me at all.”
Browne is not the first principal to be transferred to the small Coral Bay elementary school as punishment, he explained.
“The history of sending people from St. Thomas to Coral Bay is a strategy to victimize and harass them,” said Browne. “It’s political — I know it’s political. I didn’t support Governor deJongh and I will not support deJongh.”
“This is well known on St. Thomas,” Browne said.
Browne has been working in education since 1984 when he was a consultant for the Department of Education.
Following that, he taught at Addelita Cancryn before taking over as assistant principal at Charlotte Amalie High School.
Browne also worked for Governor Turnbull’s administration as a special assistant to the governor.
After Turnbull’s administration, Browne taught at Gladys Abraham and then became principal of Evelyn Marcelli School in 2008. Browne has earned certifications in both elementary and secondary education and has helped Marcelli meet its Annual Yearly Progress benchmarks since 2008, he added.
Marcelli is set to close at the end of this 2011 school year and Browne is still not exactly sure why, he explained.
“The reasons change every day,” he said. “Nothing is wrong with the school. The school is more successful and better prepared for the future of education than other schools they are leaving open.”
“The teachers are very upset,” Browne said. “The students are also sad. They have their chins in their hands each morning.”
Despite the confusion, Marcelli is slated to close at the end of the month. DOE officials have not commented about future uses of the building.
For his new assignment, Browne contends that his transfer is unfair and was planned to push him into retirement.
“I have nothing against Guy Benjamin School, but I don’t think this is a fair assignment,” he said. “These things are planned. They sit and plan their moves and they look at the contract we have and figure out how they can get away with these moves.”
“This is punishment,” said Browne. “I can only see vindictiveness and punishment. When principals are sent from St. Thomas to Guy Benjamin School it is punishment.”
The principal cited Jean Richards as an example of an administrator who was transferred to GBS and soon retired.
“Jean was transferred to GBS and she retired,” Browne said. “I am getting close to retirement and that has been the history with the DOE. Whenever they want to give someone a hard time, they send them to Guy Benjamin School.”
While Browne is not happy about his transfer, he wanted to be sure that residents understood he has nothing against GBS or Coral Bay.
“I want the people of St. John to understand that I have absolutely nothing against them or against the school,” said Browne. “I want the school to understand that I have nothing against GBS or the teachers or staff there. I want them to understand that I wouldn’t come over angry at them.”
“I would come with what I bring as a professional educator to make a difference which is what I’ve done at every school I’ve worked,” he said.
Browne is not against working on St. John; he’s more than happy to take over for Francis at JESS, he explained.
“I have nothing against working at a school on St. John, but why does it have to be in Coral Bay” he said. “I would prefer coming to JESS in Cruz Bay because when you get off the boat you are right there. I am certain I could go to JESS and be a successful principal.”
While Browne can not change his assignment, he is still pondering his next move and urged residents who want to keep Dionne Wells at GBS to contact the DOE Commissioner and the governor.
“I can’t change my assignment, but I’m still thinking about what I’m going to do,” he said. “I think the residents should convince the governor and DOE to leave Ms. Wells at GBS. Again, I have nothing against the school, but this is unfair to me.”