Study Deems Typical High School “Impractical” for St. John

A study by the University of Virgin Islands conducted as part of the Virgin Islands government’s mission to construct a public K-12 school on St. John has deemed a typical comprehensive high school impractical due to St. John demographics.

It also found the price of continuing to send Love City students to St. Thomas for school, however, is too great to ignore.

The study is detailed in the government’s request for proposals for the planning and development of the new school, released last month. Bids are due on April 27, and the Request For Proposals (RFP) estimates a planning period of 10 months.

The RFP calls for design of a 52,000 square foot school to accommodate 500 students with 19 classrooms and two kindergarten classrooms. The estimated construction cost is $400 per square foot, or more than $20 million.

The bulk of the RFP consists of the study, conducted by the University of the Virgin Islands’ Eastern Caribbean center, for the new school project.

The island of St. John is a “very old” society with a median age of 44 years, according to UVI’s study. The island’s school-age population is expected to grow slowly over the next decade, and St. John is suffering a growing shortage of affordable public housing in conjunction with an increase in real estate and rental prices, the study says.

Although the size of Love City’s population may not lend itself to the construction of a $20 million school, there is more at stake than just a place to learn.

“Because of the extensive commute and students’ inability to actively participate in extracurricular activities, St. Johnians are often treated as members of an out-group and tend to be socially isolated from the St. Thomas students, thus producing an adverse impact on their intellectual and social development,” the study says. “The focus on developing and providing educational opportunities to residents of a rural area has a tendency to reduce poverty and crime and increase the overall well being of a community.”

Additionally, by constructing a K-12 school on St. John, where public education is currently only offered through ninth grade, the V.I. Department of Education will save the more than $50,000 it spends annually to reimburse ferry boat companies for the transportation of St. John students to St. Thomas.

Allowing St. John students to complete their education on their home island will save countless hours they normally spend commuting to St. Thomas, and eradicate the effects the long commute has on students, according to UVI’s study.

“The time resources devoted to commuting and the multiple forms of transportation involved with each and every trip possess hidden price tags in the form of family life; academic performance; tardiness; drop-out rates; extracurricular activity involvement; and lack of parental involvement in school,” the study says.

While high land prices and a shortage of public housing will likely lead to limited growth of the number of school-aged children on St. John, the island’s public schools – with the exception of the Julius E. Sprauve School – are already at greater than 50 percent of their capacities.

The limited growth of the island’s school-aged children population, however, led the study to conclude that a typical comprehensive high school may not be the answer.

“With St. John being considered a ‘very old’ society and the school-age population expected to grow slowly over the next decade, a typical comprehensive high school is impractical,” according to UVI’s study. “Viable options include specialized schools with a thematic focus and/or one that infuses distance learning.”

The structure of the school has not yet been determined, according to Government House spokesperson Jean Greaux.

“No decisions have been made yet as we do not yet know how much land will be made available for the construction of the school,” said Greaux. “You cannot determine approach until we know exactly what we will have to work with.”

The future home of the school – the 55-acre estate of Ethel May Bishop in Catherineberg, which was deeded to the V.I. National Park upon her death in 1968 – has not yet been evaluated regarding where exactly the building will be located, Greaux added.