HONOURABLE SHARIE B. DE CASTRO
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, YOUTH AFFAIRS AND SPORTS
OPENING CEREMONY FOR THE ELMORE STOUTT HIGH SCHOOL
3 JANUARY, 2023
In 2017, the August floods and the Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September completely devastated the Elmore Stoutt High School Campus. Administration, teachers and students were displaced and dislocated. What should have been a temporary location at the CTL building seemed to had become a permanent one for far too long. Justifiable complaints about the sufficiency and safety of the space echoed loudly. Though not as immediately as expected, action had to be taken.
Thus in 2019, the reconstruction of the L. Adorothy Turnbull building was crucial to the resumption of school after the devastation of 2017. And at the end of 2022, the completion of this project, signifies a major investment in the infrastructure that supports education in the Virgin Islands. Let me level with you, this institution, the Elmore Stoutt High School, is the largest secondary school in the territory that facilitates teaching and learning for about 150 educators and just over 1400 students. Our educators and students have been desperately awaiting the rebuild and reconstruction of this facility.
Facilities make a difference. The overall building conditions of schools, including thermal comfort, indoor air quality, lighting, noise and internal design elements impact student outcomes and achievements. Naturally, as buildings age, the individual building elements, vary in life expectancy and levels of maintenance. Added to that the impact of the floods and hurricanes of 2017 on school infrastructure across the territory, especially here at ESHS was unimaginable.
Let me elaborate. For some students their entire high school journey has been impacted by dislocation, isolation, lockdowns, virtual learning and shift and hybrid schedules. Let me hammer it home. The time has come! After 5 school years and one term, tomorrow the full complement of staff and students of the Elmore Stoutt High School will teach and learn on the same campus, for full day school for the first time since the storms of 2017. In this moment, at this time, the gratitude and pride that I feel as an alumna, former teacher, now Minister, is unexplainable.
I take this opportunity to thank the Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. the Honourable Natalio Wheatley, Financial Secretary Mr. Jeremiah Frett and the entire team at the Ministry of Finance for ensuring that the funding was available to bring this project to fruition. This investment is one that will stand the test of time as education ultimately fuels the economy.
I would like to also thank the Recovery and Development Agency for their relentless dedication and profound leadership of this project. Chairman Ronnie Skelton and the board of directors, CEO Anthony McMaster and the entire team at the RDA, especially Project Manager Floyd Stoutt, we express our immense gratitude.
To the Contractors: Quality Construction, Autland Heavy Equipment Ltd., Metro Construction, Northam and SunLeaf Construction and No Limit Construction, thank you for your unwavering commitment to executing this project in a timely and cost-effective manner. You clearly understood and appreciated the purpose of this project and you rallied around the mission in support of the educational advancement of our children and the legacy of this institution.
Students, the Virgin Islands needs every ounce of knowledge you learn here; every skill you develop and all of your passion and energy.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, an excellent education is vital to individual prosperity, the health of our democracy and the strength of our territory.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Principal Mrs. Vanessa Garraway, Deputy Principal Ms. Deann Parsons and Assistant Principals Mr. Cecil Hodge, Mrs. Letetia Penn-Rogers and Ms. Marsha Penn along with the Heads of Departments, Instructional Leaders, Year Heads, Teachers, Counsellors and Staff of the Elmore Stoutt High School.
Educators, as a government we still have much work to do. But your work in education will continue to help our territory to fully realize its promise and potential. You work touches every child in the Virgin Islands, regardless of their background or circumstance, and petitions them to swim outside of their comfort zones to catch the waves that’ll change their lives. Principals, Teachers, Counsellors and staff, the work that you do here at ESHS, truly makes a difference.
Indeed, when we bear witness to events like the floods and storms of 2017 and the pandemic, within a five-year period, we are reminded that things happen that are completely outside of our control, yet we must remain resilient. When we recall the increase in shooting deaths of fathers and sons, we are reminded of the justice that families still yearn for. When we observe the immediate need for school maintenance and rehabilitation and even demolition, we are reminded of the work that still needs to be done, of the investments that must be made to foster healthier and safer learning environments for teachers and students. When we consider that under-resourced schools can lead to unchallenged potential, failure, drop out, over-crowded street corners and prisons, we are reminded that we must prioritize educational resources and manipulatives as the potential risk of not having them, of not engaging children the way that they learn, is not cheap. Through education, lives can be uplifted, transformed, and even saved.
Today, a large portion of our population, our youngest citizens, spend the majority of their days in school buildings. Our schools have been heavily scrutinized, as many of the schools across the territory are in disrepair or have been inadequately maintained. And though over the years the budget has grown increasingly limited, funding allocation for school construction and renovation must be carefully weighed. That is why about $8,250,000.00 has been allocated in the 2023 budget under capital and recurrent expenditure to assist with the construction and maintenance of schools across the territory.
In order for change to take place in our education system, there are areas that we must reimagine, adjust and introduce. As the world changes, so must education, to ensure our society remains relevant. The reality is that educators have and continue to give more. They are always asked to go above and beyond, day in and day out. Yet most recently, the floods and hurricanes of 2017 and the COVID-19 Pandemic, has demanded even more of teachers, more flexibility, more collaboration, more innovation.
I understand that a lot of the change that is needed is not only in teachers’ hands. There are systematic changes that are necessary, changes in policy, changes in legislation, changes in curriculum, changes in the funding allocation for education. That is why in the 2023 budget, we committed to that change.
It Standing Finance Committee PS Potter said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” That is why in the 2023 budget this government committed to giving more funding to education to address the specific areas that have been identified, especially over the last few months during stakeholder consultations. My team and I met with educators in order to understand what they consider to be some of the most pressing matters in education. We collectively came up with some top priorities that we believed to be manageable and crucial to effectively transform education in this territory. During the budget process some of these priorities were highlighted in an effort to seek additional funding to facilitate them and funding was granted.
This is because as a government we strongly believe that we cannot just build infrastructure but we must also ensure that our schools are equipped with the necessary resources and curriculum to facilitate teaching and learning. Hence, funding is now available to provide modern and effective resources for all subject areas. Thus, whether kinesthetic, visual, auditory, social, solitary, verbal or logical, our teachers will be equipped with much needed resources to diversify their delivery of instruction to achieve optimal learning.
This year funding is also available to review the existing curriculum to ensure it aligns with the tenets of S.T.E.A.M. education. This includes what subjects are offered, what topics are covered and at what developmental stage, which strategies are used and a shift in focus from content knowledge to the application of twenty first century skills. The last curriculum review was done in 2007. Therefore, we are long overdue for a review which will commence this year.
In line with the aforementioned, our immediate plans include the roll out of Innovation Hour here at ESHS. This initiative will allow students to be exposed to elements of S.T.E.A.M. such as Robotics, Coding, Artificial Intelligence, Engineering, Technology and the Arts through practical, hands-on activities that promote critical -thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and effective communication. To make this possible, the procurement of much needed S.T.E.A.M. resources as well as the training of educators is required and funding is available to facilitate this.
The record of the Standing Finance Committee Report will reflect that the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports petitioned the Committee for an additional $1,125,000.00 to meet the needs of our school system. I remember the Deputy CEO, Mrs. Crabbe clearly articulating that the figure of $1,125,000.00 works out to $228.00 per child for the year and that she believed our children are worth it. This government concurred with that statement. Our children are worth it and I am happy to say the Ministry has been granted the additional funding requested plus a little more in the 20223 budget.
In August, at the start of the 2022 – 2023 school year at the Professional Day for Educators in the Virgin Islands, I stood in front of about 600 educators and I said, “You can’t get CHANGE if you give EXACT. But if you give MORE you get CHANGE.”
Thus, as a government we have committed to giving more. Therefore, educators $1,250,000.00 has been allocated in the 2023 budget to address the areas outlined above in addition to the other critical matters that you expressed were in need of urgent attention.
To bring this home to the Elmore Stoutt High School, Principals and Middle Managers, you submitted a very modest budget of about $100,000.00 to support all subject areas, inclusive of funding for initiatives such as counselling, Student Support, Rams Media, as well as the purchase of equipment for the ESHS Steel Orchestra and the ESHS Drum Corps. I am pleased to inform you that the $100,000.00 plus more has been allocated to assist in making your 2023 wish list a reality.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we build educational facilities we are also building community, building curriculum and building the character of generations! Let me end by acknowledging the man who this school is named after, Mr. Elmore Stoutt, an honourable man on whose shoulder I stand, a legend in the field of Education, a father figure and mentor to generations, a disciplinarian and a visionary who taught us all to “Can as much as you can, while you can.” Mr. Stoutt, may your legacy remind us as leaders and citizens to always lead with our legacy in mind as we move Virgin Islands Education: Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead!