Remarks by Hon. Sharie de Castro at the Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony

Remarks by the Honourable Sharie B. de Castro, Minister for Education, Youth Affairs & Sports

22nd January 2024

Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we gather not merely to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding; we stand on the precipice of a transformative journey that will shape the future of education in the Virgin Islands. This momentous occasion marks the convergence of shared aspirations and collective determination between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Unite BVI to elevate the standards of education and empower our students to be globally competitive.

In the pursuit of progress, we embarked on a journey guided by wisdom gleaned from stakeholder consultations. Challenges loomed large, yet together, we committed to three pillars pivotal to the development of education: Infrastructure, professional development and resources. These became the guiding stars steering us toward a brighter future.

As we set our course, the need for a strategic framework became apparent, akin to a masterful conductor orchestrating a symphony. Through the government’s budget process, we secured funding, laying the foundation for comprehensive change. Little did we know that our journey would be fraught with unforeseen challenges, much like an unpredictable storm on the horizon.

In the midst of our pursuit of educational progress, a visit to the Althea Scatliffe Primary School unveiled a crisis that had been silently brewing beneath the surface for some time. The principal’s urgent alert painted a vivid picture of a school in peril with palpable fear among teachers, a chilling manifestation of the imminent danger that lurked within the failing infrastructure. We painfully recalled when overnight, a classroom roof had succumbed to the relentless decay and collapsed which was revealed to staff when they arrived the following morning. The danger was stark and immediate—a crisis demanding urgent action.

The Ministry mobilised swiftly, exploring multiple avenues to address the imminent threat to the safety of our students and educators. In our quest for a comprehensive solution, a crucial call was placed to Unite BVI, beckoning them to join hands in the face of adversity. The gravity of the situation necessitated a thorough evaluation of the structural integrity of the building, an assessment that Unite BVI facilitated by engaging an engineering firm. A visit to the site ensued. The deterioration of the edifice was painfully visible, akin to witnessing the unraveling of a once-sturdy fortress. The ceilings of the classrooms bore the scars of time, displaying visible signs of distress.

Days later, the Ministry received a report that delivered a sobering verdict—use of the Althea Scatliffe Primary School building should be suspended immediately due to extreme safety concerns. The weight of this decision echoed across the Territory as we grappled with the reality that approximately 330 students plus staff of the largest primary school in the Territory were now dislocated, their learning environment hanging in limbo.

In the face of this crisis, Unite BVI emerged as a beacon of hope, stepping forward to fully fund and execute the significant renovations required at the Francis Lettsome Primary School and the completion of the top floor of the Enis Adams Primary School. This collaboration between the public and private sector became not just a solution but a testament to the extraordinary possibilities that unfold when united in a common cause.

Today, these schools stand as more than just structures of learning. They are living proof of what is achievable when the public and private sectors converge. In the face of adversity, we found strength, and in collaboration, we discovered the power to rebuild not just classrooms but hope for a better, safer, and more inspiring future for the students of the Virgin Islands. The challenges we faced served as a crucible, forging a stronger bond between the Ministry of Education and Unite BVI that will forever be etched in the annals of educational history.

We commend Dr. Sauda Smith and her team at Unite BVI for their unwavering dedication and hard work which significantly contributed to our shared goals and success. Their commitment to education is truly admirable.

The experience with Althea Scatliffe Primary School not only revealed the urgency of addressing our educational infrastructure but also birthed a profound appetite for sustained partnership with Unite BVI in the development of education—laying the foundation for a transformative journey that has unfolded over the past year.

Embarking on this journey was akin to planting a seed; it required meticulous attention, care, and patience. More than a year ago, we set forth on a path of collaboration with Unite BVI, a path that demanded a series of meetings and site visits to build out an education program deck. This deck became our blueprint, outlining the intricacies and scope of each project that would shape the future of education in the Virgin Islands.

Presenting this vision to the Unite BVI Board was a pivotal moment, akin to unfurling a map that charted our course towards a reimagined educational landscape. The deck, laden with the collective hopes and aspirations of educators, students, and communities, was laid before the Board for their careful consideration.

This journey, however, was no leisurely stroll; it was a long and arduous expedition that required resilience, patience, negotiation, and compromise. Like climbers ascending a steep mountain, we faced challenges and hurdles that tested our resolve. Yet, with unwavering persistence and the promise of positive change, we have arrived at this juncture.

Gratitude fills our hearts for the tenacity displayed by all involved—educators, administrators, Unite BVI, and the entire Ministry of Education team. In this intricate dance of collaboration, we have shown that with determination, even the most challenging paths can lead to remarkable destinations.

Today, as we stand on the precipice of a new era for education in the Virgin Islands, let us acknowledge the collective effort that has brought us here. The seeds we planted have taken root, and as we move forward, we carry the promise of transformation—a promise nurtured by the persistent belief that change is not only possible but essential for the flourishing of our students and the prosperity of our community.

Over the course of this transformative year, our commitment to reshaping the landscape of education in the Virgin Islands has materialised into action. Two projects from the comprehensive proposal have already been set in motion, marking tangible progress in the critical areas of professional development and resources.

In a landmark development, supported by Unite BVI, just this month, a cohort of secondary teachers holding content-only degrees embarked on a journey of transformative education themselves. They have begun a Secondary Certificate in Education program at the University of the Virgin Islands, in collaboration with the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. This initiative represents our commitment to providing opportunities to strengthen and enrich the pedagogical and instructional prowess of our educators by ensuring that they are equipped with the skills necessary to nurture the minds of our future leaders.

In our relentless pursuit of excellence, Unite BVI is further propelling us forward by assisting in Moving Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead. The procurement of much-needed S.T.E.A.M. resources for schools is more than an acquisition of materials; it is an infusion of energy into the veins of our educational system. These resources, spanning robotics, coding, engineering, and artificial intelligence, are the tools that will cultivate skills, spark curiosity, and ignite the creative flames within our students.

As we witness the unfolding of these initiatives, let us acknowledge the profound impact they carry. The sails have been set, and the engines of progress are in motion. These endeavors not only signify change but embody a commitment to nurturing a generation of thinkers, innovators, and problem solvers—the architects of a brighter future for the Virgin Islands. Together, we are not just shaping classrooms; we are sculpting the minds that will shape our world.

In the rich tapestry of our collaborative journey with Unite BVI, we recognised the paramount importance of formalising our partnership—a step that transcends the ordinary, marking a historic juncture in the growth of education in the Virgin Islands. It became evident that to nurture this relationship and align our visions for the development of education, we needed more than verbal agreements. Thus, ink was put to paper, birthing not only a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) but also crafting a pioneering document—the first-of-its-kind in government- a Donation Policy for the Ministry of Education.

These documents symbolise our commitment to the growth of education. The MOU stands as a compass, pointing the way forward, while the Donations Policy represents a key that unlocks the potential for unprecedented support from partners like Unite BVI. They are not just paperwork; they are historic tools that will carve the path toward a brighter future for our students, educators, and the Virgin Islands at large.

This MOU, a testament to our shared commitment, shall remain in force for five years—an enduring pledge to collaborative development. It will be the guiding force behind a myriad of projects that will unfold over this timeframe. Today, with great zeal and enthusiasm, I am delighted to announce the projects for Year One.

Firstly, in Year One, we embark on the Reconstruction of the Althea Scatliffe Primary School. This project has come full circle, echoing the time when our strong relationship with Unite BVI was forged during the school’s relocation. In a sense, it is only fitting that Unite BVI now has a stake in the rebuild of the Mighty Mighty Scatliffe—a symbol of resilience and the unwavering spirit of collaboration. I extend my gratitude to Principal King and her staff for leadership and honesty that catapulted us to this point. It took time and effort, but we stand here today, ready to restore and uplift.

Secondly, as Minister for Education, one of my steadfast commitments has been to actively engage with our educational institutions, to witness firsthand the state of our schools, and earnestly seek solutions to address the challenges they face. It has been my business to step into classrooms, walk the halls, and listen to the concerns of educators, students, and administrators.

This dedication took me on a journey across all islands, visiting each school to gain a detailed understanding of their infrastructural challenges. It became clear that a comprehensive approach was necessary to remedy these challenges, prompting a crucial collaboration with Unite BVI. Recognising the urgency of the situation, Unite BVI agreed to fund structural assessments for all public schools in the territory.

These assessments became the cornerstone of our strategic infrastructural plan, enabling us to prioritise Project Two of Year One—the Renovation of the Willard Wheatley Primary School (WWPS). While the Ministry has already initiated some works on the school over the last few months, the generous support of Unite BVI ensures that critical additional works will be undertaken. This collaborative effort is poised to create a learning environment at WWPS that is not only safe but also conducive to the growth and development of both educators and students.

During one of my visits to WWPS, a poignant moment etched itself into my memory. In a heartfelt exchange with Principal Penn-Charles, I uttered the words, “What I see, I can’t unsee.” This statement became a rallying cry for my team at the Ministry. To Principal Penn-Charles, I extend my sincere gratitude for your patience and that of your dedicated staff. The journey to this point has not been without its challenges, but your unwavering commitment and understanding have been instrumental in reaching this juncture. Additional works on other public schools will be prioritised upon completion of the assessments.

Thirdly, in Year One, we aim to enhance the joy of learning with the Purchase of playground equipment for five Primary Schools. Recognising the integral role of play in educational development, these playgrounds will not only be a source of joy but a valuable asset to the school environment.

Let us view these three initial projects as the building blocks of a brighter educational future. The historic documents we have crafted, coupled with the unwavering support of Unite BVI, are the tools that will chisel away the barriers to progress in education.

To the dedicated team at the Ministry of Education, your diligence and hard work in strategising, crafting the vision, and meticulously preparing the plans and proposals have been the silent force propelling us forward. Your efforts are akin to the intricate work of architects designing a grand edifice, where every detail matters, and precision is paramount. It has indeed been a long journey, laying the foundation for the transformative initiatives we have announced today. We’ve toiled in silence, and now, it is time to speak of the good works we have accomplished together.

Gratitude is also extended to the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Ministry of Finance for their invaluable assistance and support in finalising the Ministry of Education’s Donation Policy and the MOU. These documents now stand as the guardians of a gateway to support that is critical for the continued growth and development of the education sector.

In conclusion, let us recognise the importance of this MOU. It is not merely ink on paper; it is a blueprint for the metamorphosis of education in our Territory. I express deepest gratitude to Branson Family, Virgin Group and Unite BVI for their stewardship and leadership, for recognising the immense value of substantially investing in education. Together, we embark on a journey that will echo through generations—a legacy of enlightenment and empowerment.

Together, let us embark on this transformative journey, armed with vision, dedication, and the steadfast belief that education is the cornerstone of progress. With immense gratitude, we embrace this moment as a pledge to a future where Virgin Islands Education continues to Move Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead. Thank you.

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British Virgin Islands London Office