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[Solved] If you are thinking of moving to the Virgin Islands, read this.

(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night

Good Night? Since when is Good Night a greeting? Its something you say when you’re leaving not arriving. Regardless, when you live on the islands you better get used to uttering these salutations whenever you enter someone else’s presence or risk an angry response. “Good Day” is a cheap imitation but it’ll do in a pinch.

I have no problem with friendly greetings if they are given willingly with no expectation of reciprocation. If I say good morning to someone and they respond with a smile, I’m good. I’m not going to snarl if the proper response is not doggedly blurted back at me.

Once while sitting at the Department of Motor Vehicles in a semi-stupor due to the length of time I had been there, I watch a bizarre altercation unfold. A woman approached the one inch thick bulletproof window for license renewals. She said, “Good Morning” and continued with her request for a renewal. There is a small slot under the glass where documents are passed back and forth. Sound doesn’t transmit through the glass well. Sometimes I bend over like an idiot and talk through the slot. However, I don’t blame anyone who refuses to assume this awkward position. I watched a two sided argument while listening to a one sided argument.

Woman inside: You need __ ___ ____ _______

Woman outside: I DID SAY GOOD MORNING!

Woman inside: _ _____ hear you

Woman outside: I SAID IT!

Woman inside: ___ _____ ___ _________

Woman outside: HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY MANNERS!

This went on for a while longer. Eventually the necessary business was transacted by two women glaring at each other. I just shook my head.

Another strange custom involves the quantity of people that you must direct your salutation to. If you enter a large room and there is one person inside you need to say good morning and that person is required to respond in kind and say good morning. If there are two people in the room you say good morning and they each respond with good morning. But what if there are three, four, five, ….. . IT DOESN’T MATTER.

Once I was the first patient in a very large waiting room that served several doctors. Another person entered and said good morning. I responded in kind. I’m sure you can guess where this is going. By the time we got up to five or six, I just stuck my face into my magazine and pretended I was deaf. And to top it all off, once I was at the Great Hall at U.V.I., waiting for a symposium to start. I sat in utter disbelief watching and listening to the interactions that took place while wondering what planet I was on.    Good night.

 
Posted : April 16, 2024 4:15 pm
(@vicanuck)
Posts: 2935
Famed Member
 

Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night...

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It just depends what mood I'm in and where I happen to be. Most often I just nod my head and smile in acknowledgement.

 
Posted : April 17, 2024 10:01 am
(@stjohnjulie)
Posts: 1056
Noble Member
 

I like that custom.  I was visiting my folks with my 4 year old son in Fl in a neighborhood they had lived in for 10 years and within the first week my little guy befriended more of their neighbors than they had with a simple good morning to everyone who walked by.  On STJ this custom is strong. But dropping the ‘good’ part is acceptable.  Mornin.  Aftanoon g’night

 
Posted : April 18, 2024 3:10 am
(@stcmike)
Posts: 332
Reputable Member
 

If I enter a room and there are 3 or more people I just say Good Morning everyone, I think 99.95% of the time they all say Good Morning back to me.

If I enter room that is all women, 2 or more I just say Good Morning Ladies, I think 100% of the time they all say Good Morning back to me.

 
Posted : April 18, 2024 2:06 pm
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

When Corruption Becomes Normalized

Many years ago, when a friend of mine got married, he and his new wife decided to do something that would not be possible after they settled down and perhaps had kids. They decided to travel the world for one full year. They explained to me that they would be “travelers not tourists.” They explained that tourists stay in nice hotels and eat in nice restaurants and then fly between destinations. Whereas travelers stay in youth hostels and eat where the locals eat. They take trains and busses and fly only when necessary. They wanted to see and taste the real world.

One of the stories that they told was of trying to learn how to pay the proper bribes. Not tourists but travelers need this knowledge in less developed countries. Traveling across Africa, they passed through maybe a dozen countries. At the border of some, the customs agent expected a bribe. They had to learn what was the typical bribe; too little and they would be hung up for hours, too much and they would be assumed to be carrying contraband. These countries had normalized corruption. Obviously the agent didn’t get to keep the whole bribe. Portions of it had to travel up the ranks. And you can assume it went a long way up. Image yourself standing in line at the Virgin Islands airport waiting to go through customs. You have a couple of crumpled up bills in your sweaty hand hoping that it’s the right amount. Not fun. Corruption never is.

When my wife and I first started visiting St. Croix, our friends would ask us what is was like. I would say, “They have the cheapest gas in the entire United States. Rum is two dollars a bottle. They drive on the wrong side of the road. And you see a lot of accidents.” Gas on STX was cheap because of HOVENSA. Gas stations would buy their gas wholesale at the refinery for what was called rack rate. HOVENSA pretty much sold gas at the cost of production to be nice to the island. When the price of crude oil went up or down, the rack rate would also go up or down. I scarcely paid attention to the price of gas when we visited. A gallon was so much cheaper than back in Massachusetts, it felt like it was free. Cheap gas continued after we moved to STX. It stayed cheap until 2012 when HOVENSA closed. Suddenly prices and availability were a mess. Gas station owners had to find new supply lines. It took months for things to settle out. When they did, prices were much higher. But we were thrilled that gas was always available. But then, everyone started talking about two oddities; the price at every station on the island was the same and that price never changed. Please correct me if I’m wrong, my old brain sometimes doesn’t work so good. I seem to remember a price of $4.29 that never moved. Even when world oil prices dropped sharply and prices in the states were much lower, we continued to pay the same price. Folks used to grumble about “The Arabs.” They weren’t referring to OPEC, they were referring to some station owners as well as the wholesalers who supplied stations that didn't get their gas off island. My wife and I were friendly with the station owners where we bought gas. When we asked about the price, they would tell us that they had no option. Pressure could be exerted on them for either gas or snack items, a big profit source for stations. I used to stop and chat with the owner of a new station that opened in Frederiksted. His price was a couple of dimes less than everyone else's. He complained of the pressure he felt and after several weeks, he gave in and raised his price to the island price.

I recall that after many months (or was it a year?), when this island price did change, it dropped to a much lower price at every station on the island on the same day. This was a classic example of price fixing. It is illegal. However, since they were able to get away with it, lucky them. I also recall once reading in the Avis that DLCA was going to conduct surveys on the islands looking for price gouging or fixing. Prices on St. Thomas were all different and they fluctuated with time, so no problems were reported. At that time, I was absolutely gleeful knowing that finally someone was going to do something about the scam that was running on STX. When the report came out, DLCA reported there was no price fixing on St. Croix. Obviously, that was normalized corruption. Like the customs bribes my friends paid in Africa, it makes you wonder how far up the chain this money goes. Nevertheless, I’m sure that in the last four years since I moved off island that this problem has been solved. Please tell me that it has.

 
Posted : April 25, 2024 11:20 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

I would like to thank everyone who has attempted to read my blog. It’s veeeery boring; kind of like a high school textbook of a dull subject. So far it has been viewed 79 times by folks clicking on the link from vimovingcenter. And to anyone who sent the link on to someone else, many thanks. My total hit count is now 929.

I recently added to article #6 dealing with the VI Source. I was told to let them know if there were any changes with the Real Estate Commission. There were and I did. To save you a couple of clicks, here’s what I added.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, it has been over two years and she did say to let them know if anything changes. There are changes. The Real Estate Commission has definitely shown their true colors and the public will benefit from knowing what they’re up against. Hopefully, now they might be willing to report on some part of my story.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

David Mattera   Apr 23, 2024, 9:46 AM

 

to Sian, Ananta, Kelsey

Good day Sian, Ananta, Kelsey

It’s been quite a while. In your previous email you asked me to let you know if any changes occur; some have. To encourage the Real Estate Commission to do their job, I enlisted the aid of Senator Carrion and DLCA Commissioner Evangelista. At that time, Mr. Evangelista was Commissioner and Ms. Hodge was Assistant Commissioner; now, Mr. Evangelista works elsewhere in government and Ms. Hodge is Commissioner. Thanks to their pressure, the REC could no longer just ignore me. They were forced to respond to Senator Carrion’s office.

Laurent Alfred, the chairman of the Real Estate Commission, reluctantly responded but not according to VI Law or the promise given to me by Ms. Hodge when I started this odyssey years ago.

“The VI Real Estate Commission is the entity that regulates brokers and salespersons and the entity in which you file your complaint. Once you file the complaint to the Commission, the Commission will subsequently give the Respondent a copy and request that they respond to your complaint in writing. The Commission will review both complaints and meet with you both in a Fact-Finding Meeting, deliberate then provide you with a determination.”

After many agonizing months of stalling, Mr. Alfred eventually stated that providing a determination to citizens’ complaints is not the job of the Real Estate Commission. He promised repeatedly to Sonia Andrew, Senator Carrion’s Chief of Staff, that he would instruct DLCA’s attorney to send a letter detailing their position. Clearly, they are not going to put a lie in writing. Repeated phone calls by Ms. Andrew have gotten repeated promises, but no letter. So, we are nowhere.

If you are curious as to why the REC is so dead set on protecting real estate brokers, you may be surprised to learn that contrary to VI law that states that no more than three of the seven commissioners can be real estate brokers, currently four of the commissioners are brokers. And there are not seven members but only six; rather a super-majority that can ram through any course of action that they choose.

You also may be curious as to why I have not approached the Attorney General’s Office with a corruption complaint regarding the Real Estate Commission. I have. You are probably aware of the goings on at the Department of Justice. I was told by my Assistant Attorney General confidant that, “Now is not a good time.”

When the police who are supposed to watch over real estate brokers won’t do their job and the police who are supposed to police the police are preoccupied, what is a citizen to do? I’ve written a blog and turned it loose on social media. It chronicles everything that I’ve been through. Our past correspondence is one of the nine articles; no opinions, just the emails. I want anyone who might think of obtaining a bit of justice from an unscrupulous broker to realize what they will be getting into.

https://usvirealestateproblems.blogspot.com/&source=gmail&ust=1714832045015000&usg=AOvVaw1U2B6cRkdErbrFsWDfIQZ B"> https://usvirealestateproblems.blogspot.com/

 

Previously, you stated that you didn’t want to wade into a civil case between two parties. I respect that decision. However, now you have the option to report on several stories that will be of interest to your readers, plus another intertwined one that I haven’t mentioned yet. I’m not sure if you are aware of the HUGE paradigm shift that will be occurring in the real estate industry this summer. The National Association of Realtors was sued for acting as a monopoly.

https://www.cnn.com/2023/11/06/business/nar-real-estate-fees/index.html&source=gmail&ust=1714832045015000&usg=AOvVaw2TRhWM1jVnnsC2xLdZ72m G"> https://www.cnn.com/2023/11/06/business/nar-real-estate-fees/index.html

Everyone predicted a long and drawn out court battle during an appeal, but the NAR wisely gave in.

https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/15/economy/nar-realtor-commissions-settlement/index.html&source=gmail&ust=1714832045015000&usg=AOvVaw0EfFLD4fHLbV4CbJGq5Yn t"> https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/15/economy/nar-realtor-commissions-settlement/index.html

In the upper 48 the 6% real estate commission will be dead. Like the rest of the civilized world, commissions will probably be in the 1% to 2% range. Unfortunately, a corrupt Real Estate Commission in the Virgin Islands will most likely use their chicanery to maintain commissions at the 6% level. If they are willing to break the law for a single broker, what is going to prevent them from breaking the law to protect all brokers from taking a pay cut at the expense of all the citizens of the USVI?

Please get back to me with your thoughts.

Sincerely,

David Mattera

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David Mattera  May 4, 2024,  1:02 PM

 

,to Sian, Ananta, Kelsey

Good day Sian, Ananta, Kelsey

I’m not sure why I haven’t heard from you regarding my last email. Perhaps you missed it, or haven’t had a chance to read everything, or are not interested. I have a thought of one more option for a story. If I am able to get the Real Estate Commission to actually send me their “promised” letter stating their position as to why they are unwilling to help with a citizen’s complaint, would you be willing to publish it? I will definitely need the assistance of Commissioner Hodge to get it. Seeing that Senator Carrion’s Chief of Staff couldn’t get this letter, it appears it’s going to take more clout to pry it loose.

I don’t want to bother you. So, please let me know if you have any interest.

Sincerely,

David Mattera

 
Posted : May 4, 2024 1:58 pm
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

You gotta love WAPA, or not

I read the other day that St. Croix was having rolling blackouts courtesy of WAPA. That got me thinking. Infrastructure isn’t sexy but then again, neither is losing your power. The small town that I lived in up in Massachusetts used to have regular power losses. We discussed the problem at town meetings. The townspeople voted to invest in upgrading our town’s electrical grid. Afterwards, power outages were very rare, usually caused by an unavoidable accident like a car hitting a pole. Equally as important as the upgrade, the town paid to maintain our system so that it didn’t fall into disrepair. This policy of “Invest and Maintain” is something that WAPA needs to practice.

When we first moved to STX in 2011, we rented a house in Hope and Carton. That’s an estate up in the hills behind Cotton Valley. After about a month, an annoying event kept occurring. Every time that it rained, we would lose power. I would call WAPA. A repair crew would arrive and replace the blown fuse. They didn’t look for the cause of the problem. But instead, they just kept putting in bigger and bigger fuses. Eventually, we had a fuse for our small area that could handle the amperage for half the island. And yet, it would still blow. I was reasonably certain that I knew what the problem was. So, I went looking.

A quick lesson for those who are unfamiliar with electrical power distribution. Electricity is generated by WAPA at their Richmond plant. It is sent out across the island as very high voltage, in the thousands of volts, on the bare wire or wires that are at the very top of the poles. The high voltage gets stepped down to your household 110/220 volts by a transformer; the big trashcan sized thing on the pole. As the high voltage lines branch out, small areas are sectioned off comprising maybe a dozen or so homes. The high voltage for these homes goes through a single fuse and then branches out to the transformers for the homes in the area. If a short circuit occurs somewhere in this area, the fuse blows and only those homes in that area lose power, not the whole island. The fuse is at the top of the pole where the branch for the particular area leaves the main grid. It looks like a white tube, maybe an inch in diameter and ten inches long. A fuse blowing sounds like a gunshot. I got very good as discerning between fuses blowing and actual gunshots – ONLY KIDDING! When the fuse blows, the tube swings down so that you have visual proof that the fuse has blown.

Back to looking for the source of the short circuit. Sure enough, on one of the maybe fifty or so poles in our area, there was a mass of vines growing up the pole, all the way to the top. The vines were hanging on the high voltage line at the top. Dry vines aren’t going to conduct enough electricity to short out a fuse. BUT WET ONES WILL. Every time it rained, BANG – NO POWER. I called WAPA. They sent out an inspector. I showed him the pole. He sent out a maintenance crew. I showed the crew the pole. The youngest member of the crew was sent up in a bucket truck to clear the vine. He started at the top. When he got maybe five or six feet down, the foreman yelled for him to stop. I yelled, “No, it’s going to grow back. Take off more.” The foreman said, “That’s as far as we go.” Fortunately, I moved to my purchased home before the vine grew back. “Invest and Maintain” is not something WAPA does.

If a fuse blows in your own small area, WAPA doesn’t know it. Someone needs to call; else you will NEVER get your power restored. If a large area of the island has lost power, don’t worry about it, they know. In my new area, it seemed I was the designated caller. When our power went out, if I had heard a bang, I would call. If I hadn’t heard the bang, I would get out my binoculars and check the fuse. It was about a thousand feet away but I had line of sight. If it was hanging down, I’d call. Then I’d go looking for the cause. Our area consisted of about two miles of road. Sometimes the problem was quite a walk away.

When the WAPA repair crew arrived, if I couldn’t give directions, I would stand on the sideboard of the truck, hold onto the mirror, and direct them to the offending pole. Once, there was only a single repairman who needed help unscrewing two parts that were corroded together. It was a two man job, so I helped. Most occurrences were for the same reason. The steel support for the high voltage insulator had rusted through and the high voltage line was hanging down. Under the top bare high voltage line is another bare line that is connected to ground. When the top line falls or hangs down, it touches the ground line causing a short that blows the fuse. If the ground line wasn’t there to short out the high voltage line, and the line was hanging low enough, someone could touch the live high voltage line and be electrocuted.

On rare occurrence, the support doesn’t completely break; it just folds over but stays attached. When this happens unfortunately the fuse doesn’t blow, however the high voltage line rests against the pole and lights the pole on fire. This happened twice in our neighborhood. It led to an awkward conversation with the WAPA person who answered the phone.

“What is your problem?”

“Your pole is on fire.”

“Do you have current?”

“Yes, but your pole is on fire.”

“Call the fire department.”

“Spraying water on a live high voltage line is probably not a good idea.”

She hung up.

If you are willing to “invest”, it becomes easier to “maintain”. Our area had maybe forty or so poles. Every pole was topped by the single high voltage line connected to an insulator mounted on a steel support. All the poles were installed at the same time when the HOA was first built about twenty-five years ago. In a salty environment, steel supports for high voltage insulators have a usable lifetime of about twenty-five years before they rust through and fail. Our area lost a few supports a year while I lived there. I used to ask the repair guys, “Wouldn’t it make sense to pull the fuse and then replace all the old supports at once rather than one at a time on an emergency basis? Don’t you guys ever do preventive maintenance?” They would hang their head and shake it at the same time while answering, “We don’t do preventive maintenance.”

There is an old expression, “eating the seed corn.” It is a metaphor for consuming the means of future production for the purpose of present gain. Or in other words, if you’re going to die of starvation today, there’s no sense in worrying about planting tomorrow. It’s a terrible predicament to be in. If WAPA ever decides to sell a recipe book for seed corn, make sure to read it between the rolling blackouts.

 
Posted : May 5, 2024 1:37 pm
Ca. Dreamers reacted
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Normalized Corruption – The DMV

Going to the DMV is practically a euphemism for misery in the United States. In the Virgin Islands it contains an extra dose of misery compared to what I was used to in Massachusetts. The VI DMV conducts auto inspections whereas in Massachusetts and now where I live in Virginia, they are done at private repair shops, which makes more sense. Here in Virginia, if you go for your inspection and have a light out or need new wiper blades, the person doing the inspection can do the repair, finish your inspection, and put on your new sticker. In the VI, if anything is wrong YOU FAIL and will need to leave, get a repair elsewhere, and return to the DMV and start all over again. Why do they keep inspections in the hands of the government?

When I first moved to STX, there were a couple of things about inspections that raised my curiosity. First, how could there be vehicles driving around the island, with new inspection stickers, that obviously couldn’t have passed an inspection. I’m not referring to missing brake lights, I’m referring to missing bumpers. My wife saw a truck driving down the road without a hood and there was a tree growing out of the engine compartment. Secondly, while I was sitting waiting for endless hours at the DMV, I would notice certain individuals in line with the necessary paperwork for an inspection. However, rather than a single set like I had, these individuals had maybe five or six sets. Am I to assume that these individuals drove five cars to the DMV at the same time? That would be quite a trick. And even though I’m not good at remembering faces, over the years I saw some of these individuals enough that I recognized them.

Most people in the VI know that you can pay certain people who will obtain a valid inspection sticker along with all the appropriate paperwork just as if you had driven your car to the DMV and passed your test. Only, these individuals don’t need to take your car to the DMV. Consider it “MAGIC”. You provide them with the paperwork they will need plus the cost collected by the DMV plus an extra fifty bucks; and in a few days voila!

I was encouraged by many friends but never took advantage of this service until I was forced into it. I had bought a used truck from a friend of a friend. There was a small crack in the windshield on the very lower corner that was even hidden by the dashboard. I wasn’t concerned; there were complete junks driving around on the roads of St. Croix. Not to mention, a new windshield would cost me a reasonable percentage of what I paid for the whole truck. For many years I obtained inspections with this out of sight crack, until one year. I always seemed to get the same inspector, an old grumpy guy. Well, that year he decided to make an issue of it even though he had passed it for years. He said, “I’m going to let you get your sticker this year. But next year YOU WILL HAVE A NEW WINDSHIELD. I have the memory of an elephant and I will remember.” I thanked him and promised to get a new windshield very soon.

There are two bays where individuals pull their cars into for their inspection. In the bay next to me was a Jeep Wrangler. The windshield of which was completely spiderwebbed. You could see where the rock hit the middle of the windshield on the passenger side. The cracks went all the way over to the edge on the driver’s side. The inspector gave orders to the individual in the Jeep, “Headlights… high beams… left directional…  right directional…  horn. You pass.” While he was filling out the paperwork for me and this other driver he kept staring at me. He knew and I knew that if I so much as peeped, I wouldn’t be getting an inspection sticker. After this altercation, I took advantage of the “MAGIC” for both of my vehicles for the rest of the time we lived on the island.

Once I read in the Avis about a woman who worked at the DMV. She had been caught providing registrations and inspection stickers illegally to an unnamed individual. I was curious as to what would be her punishment. A few days later there was another article that gave an update. She wasn’t fire and for punishment, she was told not to do it again. Normalized corruption.

 

I would appreciate your help. If you’ve read or even scanned my blog, you are aware that I have an ongoing battle with the Real Estate Commission that has the power to inflict a financial expense for many in the Virgin Islands. I’ve been trying to find a news outlet that would publish parts of my story. Does anyone know a reporter or editor of an outlet that I haven’t approached yet who they could send my way? While my wife and I lived on St Croix, we tried to make the island a better place to live and I’m still trying. I just could use a little help.

 
Posted : May 8, 2024 10:06 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

I probably should stop talking about corruption. Judging by the volume of replies, no one is really interested. But I just can’t resist one more post. I am not the most observant person; my wife will attest to this. However, sometimes I will hear or read about something that sounds like it’s tinged with corruption and I have to shake my head. How do I discern corruption? Like I say in my blog, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Please correct me if you are aware of any mistakes that I have with my memory. And please add any details that you are aware of.

There is a post on vimovingcenter for “William and Punch Resort”; check it out. I recall reading back when the developers for this resort were looking to obtain permits, there was also another developer who was looking to develop a large parcel at Great Pond. I recall reading that getting permits was supposed to cost around a half a million dollars. The developer at Great Pond stated that he absolutely refused to pay any bribes. He put aside a half million for the permits. I also read that the William and Punch developers put aside two million dollars to obtain their permits; no explanation given for the extra one and a half million dollars. Amazingly, the William and Punch developers got their permits. The Great Pond guy did not. Quack, quack.

Please, please correct me if I’m wrong on this one. I recall reading that at the beginning of Covid when the federal government hoped to contain the virus, they gave the USVI seventy thousand dollars to conduct contact tracing; a job that isn’t much more than talking on the phone. I recall reading that the Governor paid that money to his daughter to do the job. Do I remember this correctly? Does anyone know any more details about this? I’m sure either I’m not remembering this correctly or there is some other valid explanation other than what my devious mind comes up with.

Lastly, while working at Rooftops, we were hoping to get a subcontract for the roofing at Arthur Richards, the new school being built on STX. Stacey Plaskett was instrumental in the USVI obtaining the necessary funding for this project to move forward.

https://plaskett.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=4013

I seem to recall reading that she was even able to get the federally appropriated amount of money bumped up. Way to go Stacey. After the hurricanes, there were several large construction companies working in the VI. I was familiar with all of them and generated Rooftops’ roofing estimates for them. Since we had subcontractor estimates in with all of the general contractor, we were virtually guaranteed to get the job. When the winner was announced, we and our generals were baffled by the company that won the bid, MCN Build. Who in the heck are they? Go to this website.

https://www.mcnbuild.com/

Scroll down to the map. Zoom out on the map. There’s lots of projects in Washington DC represented by orange dots. Keep zooming out. Several projects in Baltimore. Keep zooming out and out and out until you see an orange dot in the Caribbean. Zoom in on that dot until the map will let you click on it and you will see that that dot corresponds to, “Arthur A. Richards PreK-8 School.”

How in the heck did this company beat out all of the large contractors working in the Virgin Islands. When MCN Build won this contract, the company only had 89 employees. Like I said, we were all baffled. But then my Spidey sense kicked in and I started Googling. It didn’t take long.

http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/island_life/plasketts-son-assists-with-school-renovations/article_01a7fc63-6ebd-5ad1-a78e-a0dda3865736.html

When my wife and I were still in our visitation stage before moving to the island, we wanted to talk to a real estate broker about property. We met Joe San Martin. He told us one of those stories that is funny because it’s not true but you tell it like it is, hence, the joke. He said, “Up in Washington every year, they get a really big cardboard box and stuff it full of large denomination bills. Then they write on the top, “To the US Virgin Islands” and on the side in really big letters they write, “DO NOT WASTE”.”

 
Posted : May 10, 2024 1:30 pm
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

DO NOT WASTE       unless that’s the goal

I’m not sure who the following statement is attributed to; I read it many years ago. It explains why the US Virgin Islands Government will always be broke.

“In the continental United States, people look to the government as a source of services. In the Virgin Islands, people look to the government as a source of employment.”

In other words, in the states, governments can end up with excess cash if they can provide all the necessary services in an efficient manner. In the Virgin Islands, no matter how much cash is on hand, it will all be spent to hire as many people as possible. The more people hired, the better job the government feels it is doing.

I remember early one morning I was driving to Pueblo. I had on talk radio. The host was talking to Darryl Smalls about the poor state of the territory’s roads. Mr. Smalls explained that he had large paving crews available, unfortunately his budget for asphalt was, I recall he said, around fifty thousand dollars for the fiscal year. He said that a crew could use five thousand dollars’ worth in a day. He was obviously implying, if he had fewer guys and more asphalt money, there would be a better outcome. But that wasn’t going to happen; more asphalt at the expense of fewer jobs – NO WAY.

Midland Road, out near the pig farm in Jealosy, had a particularly nasty stretch. The road was nothing more than an endless mass of potholes. The paving crews used to fill the potholes with DIRT because they had no asphalt. Everything was fine until it rained. Then you got the potholes back, plus a large supply of mud. I think this eventually got fixed when federal money showed up.

I lived off of Scenic Drive East. It was a beautiful road paid for and specified by the federal government. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough money to do the whole road. I would drive on this beautiful road that would suddenly switch to a typical awful island road. Residents used to attempt repairs on the awful part. One idiot had a bunch of unused floor tiles and thought to fill some of the potholes with them. When cars drove over them, the tiles broke up into razor-sharp shards; BRILLIANT. A year or two before I left, more federal money showed up and the road was finished. Thank you, Uncle Sam.

Occasionally, I would be treated to an amazing sight. On the east end of the Melvin Evans Highway, the two sides of the road were separated by a Jersey Barrier. Weeds used to grow from under the barrier. When this happened, the Public Works Department would set up maybe a mile of cones on one side of the highway on the painted stripe between the fast and slow lanes. Traffic was confined to the slow lane. Working in safety in the fast lane would be an old guy with a shovel. He would chop the weeds growing out from under the Jersey Barrier. They would be left to dry up and blow away. There would be only one guy chopping but there would be several trucks with other guys sitting in them. Their job was only to set up and then remove the cones; so, they watched the old guy work. This form of job specialization requires hiring the most people.

When I was working at Rooftops, if I didn’t have any estimates to do, sometimes I would sit at the counter out in our retail store to wait on customers. Who knows, maybe some of you met me there. I was the friendly helpful guy, Erik … not so much. One day a Chevy Suburban pulled up. A heavy guy and a thin guy got out and came into the store. The heavy guy, who did all the talking, told me that he worked at the Department of Agriculture and there was a metal awning that butted up against a concrete building. Rainwater was able to get between the two and they needed a solution. I’m aware he's putting all the weight on my shoulders. In other words, if something goes wrong, he’ll blame the idiot salesman at Rooftops. The pressure is really on; I’m sweating bullets (just kidding). Any water that goes between the awning and building is still outside the building; who really cares? I tell him to use caulking. He, wisely never willing to take on any blame asks, “Which one?”

I put a tube of our best caulk, Quad-clear, on the counter and say, “This one.”

He asks, “How much?”

I reply, “Ten dollars and ninety-five cents.”

He asks, “Can you write me an estimate?”

My mouth hangs open for a moment. My brain screams, ”Gimme the freaking money AND GO!” Fortunately, my mouth answers, “Sure” and I had the computer print out a held receipt for one tube of Quad at $10.95. They leave. Good riddance.

Three hours later, they’re back. The heavy guy hands me a check written out to Rooftops for $10.95. I give him the tube of Quad and a printed real receipt for $10.95. They leave. Good riddance. My brain seethes with the knowledge that a handy man on the government payroll can:

  1. Spend an entire day acquiring a tube of caulking to do a job that should take at most an hour. Understand - He didn’t but a caulking gun. He knows all about caulking. He already has a gun and probably has many unfinished tubes laying around. This is all about killing time.
  2. Burn more gas than the freaking tube of caulk was worth.
  3. Waste the time of however many supervisors and clerical staff that were necessary to approve this fiasco and get the check printed.
  4. And then, worst of all, while this guy was wasting all of our money, HE NEEDED TO HAVE AN ASSISTANT WITH HIM. BEST TO HAVE TWO GUYS DO THE WORK OF ONE.

My first new friend that I made when we moved to St. Croix was Dan McIntosh, my boss at Education Complex. For those of you who actually suffered through my blog, you might have seen a copy and paste of my resume while on STX. It’s halfway down in the last article. Dan told me a story that beats anything I got. He had been appointed the chairman of the V.I. Career and Technical Education Board because he was a staunch advocate for vocational training. The VI Government has bunches of nonpaid boards for everything under the sun, so willing volunteers get spread pretty thin. I think Dan was the only person on this board.

On to Dan’s story. He had been in this position for a couple of years when to his amazement he discovered that the position included an office. It was in the strip mall just east of Sunny Isle. It was located on an alleyway between two sections of the strip mall. The office was not visible from the street and had no discernable markings. Oh, and the office came with two employees. Two women worked for Dan and he didn’t even know they existed; no one told him – including his two employees. You’d think they might have sought him out and introduced themselves. Dan didn’t need the office. He already had two, one at Education Complex and one at Pinnacle Services, the contract company that we worked for. And he absolutely had no need for two employees. When he looked into having them terminated he discovered that they actually weren’t employees because they didn’t pay taxes. Every week they would report to a pay window, hand in an invoice for their forty hours and receive a check for the full amount of their pay – no taxes, no FICA, nothing withheld. Dan was informed in no uncertain terms that these women could not be terminated. So, Dan tried to at least have them pay taxes and receive a W2 form. No to that also. He was eventually told that they would receive a 1099 – maybe. He took this as a victory and moved on.

Dan was only my boss for a year. When the refinery closed, the program ended. We stayed in touch. He asked me to attend a meeting at his “office” once. It turned out that this so-called office was huge, maybe a thousand square feet. And there were two women wandering around in it. After all, they had nothing to do.

We were meeting with a group from the University of Illinois, if I recall correctly. They wanted to learn about vocational training in the Virgin Islands and to offer their assistance. There wasn’t much overlap. It was a pleasant meeting but nothing really came of it.

Dan had his two “employees” order lunch for our group. There were eight or nine of us. The two women ordered enough food for forty or fifty people. The food was great. We ate our fill and I even took a plate home for my wife. After we left, since they ordered too much, the two women were going to have to make all the remaining food “go away”. Oh, and by the way, Dan also had an office and two more employees on St. Thomas.

 

When I Googled Dan just to get the correct name for the board he was on, I was shocked to find his obituary. Dan passed away on March 13, 2024, at the age of 69. Dan was a great guy who wanted to make the islands a better place. That’s probably why we got along so well.

 
Posted : May 13, 2024 1:58 pm
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Dan McIntosh was a good friend.

He was my boss AND he was my friend. We shared a desire to make the islands a better place. We both felt that the best way to start improving the islands was with the children. Kids represent potential and hope, adults not so much.

School started at eight. The instructors had to be there by then. As the manager, Dan opened the office at around seven. I, being a morning person, arrived shortly thereafter. We would sit in his office, enjoy the quiet, and talk about anything and everything. I was new to the islands and had a lot to learn.

Our program was paid for by HOVENSA to educate kids that hopefully would work in the refinery after graduating high school and then a two year stint at the University of Texas at Waco, where they would get an associate degree in their field courtesy of HOVENSA. Dan explained that previously HOVENSA had tried having technical classes for adults on the island who might then be able to work at the refinery. It went badly. So, HOVENSA decided to try with kids. The results were better but not good. The problem was what we were starting with.

Dan clued me in to the cause of a large VI problem. The problem that we were both aware of was that the kids aren’t very bright. The cause is that the teachers aren’t very bright either. He explained, there’s a revolving door provided by UVI that takes not bright kids and graduates them as not bright teachers that then go on to produce more not bright kids. HOVENSA had to bring most of their technical workers in from the states. We were trying to change that but it was an uphill battle.

Dan moved to St. Croix with his dad from Trinidad. Like many people, his dad came to work at the refinery. Dan taught me that people from various islands can tell what island someone else is from by just listening to them. And a form of prejudice can arise from that. I think he was implying that people who came to work at the refinery were not treated well by the locals. He didn’t elaborate much on this.

The town where I grew up in Massachusetts had no black people, none. I was fascinated to think that Dan could tell what island someone was from the same way I could tell what part of the country someone was from by listening to their accent. I didn’t consider Dan to have any unusual way of talking. To me, he just spoke normal English.

I started my job before school opened for the year. Dan and I were pretty much hanging around in an empty school for a couple of weeks. One day while walking around we came across one of the janitors. The janitor started talking to Dan in what to me was completely indecipherable Cruzan. I was floored when Dan answered back in the same indecipherable Cruzan. This conversation went on for five minutes. I had no clue what they were talking about but I pretended that I did. Dan had many hidden talents.

HOVENSA announced that they would be closing in February of that first year I was teaching. In April, Dan was asked to participate in a Generation Now! economic forum. Dan and the other speakers were supposed to offer suggestions to help with the economic problems caused by the refinery’s closing.

https://stjohnsource.com/2012/04/04/economic-forum-timely-generation-now/

Dan asked me and my wife to attend to help fill up the room. When it was Dan’s turn to speak he said,

"Why can’t we attract an automobile company to come here to manufacture a part or parts here? If we can attract a company to make even a little part, it could make a major difference economically."

I didn’t say anything to him that night but I couldn’t help it the next day. The logistics of what he was proposing was completely illogical for an auto company to even consider. I asked him if he thought what he had proposed was really a good idea. “Not at all” he answered. He explained that he was told what to talk about and even though he didn’t agree, he would do as he was asked. The community needed hope and he wanted to provide it. Dan was a good man and my friend.

 
Posted : May 15, 2024 11:49 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Education can be a scary thing  

I have never been a fan of the American educational system. Growing up in Massachusetts, I attended a small town public school that I did not enjoy. Not surprisingly, I was a mediocre student with a C+ average. Being born in January, I was one of the older kids in my class and turned eighteen before I graduated. And as an “adult” with an attitude, I marched down to the main office and told the principal that I wanted to see all my records. She resisted but finally let me look at them in her office. I was most interested in my teachers’ comments throughout the years. Without exception, every one of them said the same thing, “Does not apply himself.”

My only salvation came with standardized tests. In eighth grade we had to take the Iowa Tests or something like that. When the results were posted, my slew of ninety-ninth percentiles drew a repeated question from my teachers, “How in the heck did you do that?”

As a senior, I challenged our soon to be valedictorian to see who could get the highest IQ on the non-required GATB (General Aptitude Test Battery). It was a test for kids with poor job prospects to see what they might be capable of.  I didn’t take it seriously and the career counselor who administer the test was not happy with my attitude. After the results came in, I was scheduled to meet with him to go over my career prospects. He was in a foul mood and loudly growled, “Mattera, we’ve been offering this test for ten years and you just got the highest score that anyone has ever gotten. You have an IQ of one hundred forty-four. As for careers, you can do anything you damn well please. Now get the hell out of my office.”

I hated college and needed two colleges and six years to finally graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. I skipped going to my graduation because I was working that day, having been hired by the company that I had been co-oping with. Being done with school was a relief; work was much better. I worked for a couple of decades as a hardware/software engineer at several different companies and in my early forties decided to try something completely different. While at my last engineering job, I was writing computerized expert systems. These were AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems before most people even knew what AI meant.

As much as I had hated school, what should I try doing after engineering but to become a teacher. A high school a couple of towns away from mine had an ad in the paper for a chemistry teacher. Strangely, school had already started the previous week. I mailed in a resume, got a phone call in a couple of days for an interview the next day, had my interview with the science department chairman during which he offered me the job, and I started teaching the next day.

After my first day, the department chairman said, “I only have one question for you. Are you coming back tomorrow?” He repeated this question for my first five days. For good reason; new teachers get the worst kids. My darling students told me that they drove their first permanent teacher out after only one day. They then successfully drove out substitute teachers until I arrived. They gleefully informed me that they would drive me out also. I wished them luck.

Teaching is a brutal job. Plus, as a new teacher, I had a second job; that of creating lesson plans and then writing test and quizzes for them. Experienced teachers can simply use the previous year’s lesson plans and tests, maybe with a few tweaks. I needed to create everything from scratch. I wrote lesson plans on weekends and then hoped I had enough to last for the following week. Occasionally on Friday I needed to either talk slowly or give ‘em a “surprise quiz”. It was a surprise to me also seeing as I had to invent it on the spot.

Teachers in Massachusetts are required to be certified. I was given a provisional certification that was effective as long as I was enrolled in a master’s degree program working to obtain my certification. So, I was also going to school full time at night to get my MS in secondary education for chemistry. I didn’t need to study for the math or English parts of the certification tests but chemistry needed some brushing up. I passed all three when I took them in the spring. Fortunately, standardized tests are my forte.

The following paragraph is information that I didn’t know when I applied to be a teacher. I learned it as I went along. Massachusetts is a closed union shop for teachers. I had to be in the union. Dues were taken out of my paycheck. Teachers are either tenured or nontenured. If a school system tries to fire a tenured teacher, the union will go to war. If the school system wants to fire a nontenured teacher, the union will simply wave goodbye. Teachers in the town I was teaching in achieved tenure by simply being employed for three years in the town. All schools maintained a small number of nontenured teachers in case they needed to get rid of a teacher or two because of budget problem. My school kept a buffer of four nontenured teachers. Therefore, every year the school would hire four new teachers to fill the four vacancies. If no tenured teachers retired or died, those four nontenured teachers would be fired at the end of the year to maintain the four vacancies. The year I taught, no tenured teachers retired or died. I was fired. The administration was so please with the work I had done that they promised to write glowing recommendations to help me get my next job in some other town. I declined because I decided I didn’t want to be a teacher in Massachusetts.

I was told in April that I would be fired at the end of the school year in June. Probably in April so that I could start my job search. They told me not to tell my students. Unlike many teachers, I always treat my students with respect. So, when they guessed what happened, I answered truthfully. Some gloated, others told me how sorry they felt because I had made a difference to them. I think my first year of teaching can best be summed up by one of my seniors. He told me in confidence that in the twelve years he had attended school, I was the best teacher he had ever had. This was comforting but not surprising. Looking back at what I had just gone through reminded me why I have never been a fan of the American educational system.

After being battle-hardened in Massachusetts, I felt I was ready to teach in St. Croix.

 
Posted : May 18, 2024 3:50 pm
(@stjohnjulie)
Posts: 1056
Noble Member
 

Did you teach in STX? In the public schools?

 
Posted : May 19, 2024 2:37 am
(@stcmike)
Posts: 332
Reputable Member
 

That was a long message just to say you taught in STX.

 
Posted : May 19, 2024 8:30 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

To stjohnjulie

I intend to write about my time teaching on the island. But to answer your question – yes. If you look back a couple of messages to “DO NOT WASTE”. In it is

“My first new friend that I made when we moved to St. Croix was Dan McIntosh, my boss at Education Complex. For those of you who actually suffered through my blog, you might have seen a copy and paste of my resume while on STX. It’s halfway down in the last article.”

If you look at the blog, you will see

EDUCATION

2002-2003        Salem State College, Salem MA, Master of Education
1979-1982        Northeastern University, Boston MA, Bachelor of Science Electrical Engineering
1976-1978        Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY, Physics Major

EXPERIENCE

2015 - present  CONSTRUCTION ESTIMATOR, Rooftops, St Croix USVI

Calculate bid prices for various construction projects.

 

2015 - 2018      NCCER Instructor, Tanghow Brothers, St Croix USVI

Taught NCCER safety and welding courses.

 

2013 - 2018      MATH INSTRUCTOR, UVICell, St Croix USVI

Taught SAT math prep to high school students and PRAXIS certification prep to VI teachers.

 

2013 – 2014      CONSTRUCTION ESTIMATOR, Vivot Construction, St Croix USVI

Calculated bid prices for various construction projects.

 

2013 – 2014      MATH and COMPUTER PROGRAMMING TEACHER, AZ Academy, St Croix USVI

Taught Elementary Math, Algebra II, and BASIC Computer Programming.

 

2012 – 2013      MATH and SCIENCE TEACHER, Manor School, St Croix USVI

Taught Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, SAT Math Review, Computer Programming, and Chemistry. Classes ranged from seventh grade to twelfth grade, were varied in size and diverse in talent, however, all required various amounts of remedial work.

 

2012 – 2013      SCIENCE PROJECT MENTOR, St Croix Curriculum Center, USVI

Mentored twenty-plus students at the University of the Virgin Islands, Saturday High School S.T.E.M. program.

 

2011 – 2012      CERTIFIED ELECTRONIC INSTRUMENTATION INSTRUCTOR, St. Croix Education Complex, USVI

Taught the N.C.C.E.R. (National Center for Construction Education and Research) Core Curriculum and Instrumentation programs at the St. Croix Education Complex.  Used competency-based training coupled with performance testing provided by a standardized national program of accredited craft training. Subjects covered included: Analyzers, monitors, and recorders.  Programmable logic controllers.  Grounding and shielding systems.  Control valves, actuators, and positioners.  Tubing and piping systems.  Detectors, transducers, and transmitters.  The program was sponsored by HOVENSA, the island’s refinery, to train high school students for future employment as technicians. Also provided remedial lessons in mathematics and English composition and supplemental classes in electronics and computer programming.

 

 

I have lots of stories to tell. Some are pleasantly informative but some will curl your toes. I feel that the biggest problem with the Virgin Islands is education. Because that problem breeds more problems. I spent years trying to understand why the educational system in the VI is so bad and at the same time I tried to think of ways to fix it. I am comfortable that I can answer both of those questions.

To stcmike

As I just said, “I intend to write about my time teaching on the island.” That previous message was background. Think of it as a boring introduction. Sorry.

 
Posted : May 19, 2024 9:59 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Teaching in STX1

A quote that I will always remember came from a friend, Joneb Cohen, who when we had just arrived on island said referring to jobs, “Dave, talent here is in such short supply that you can do just about anything you want to do.” He was right.

We moved to St. Croix in May of 2011. In August there was an ad in the Avis for a teaching position at Education Complex for an Electronic Instrumentation Instructor. The job was through the contract company Pinnacle and was funded by HOVENSA. Electronic instrumentation is equipment for testing and measuring. At the refinery they need to measure absolutely everything: flow rates, pressures, forces, weights, etc., etc. Technicians use and maintain the equipment. This job was to train those technicians.

I applied and was contacted for an interview. Remember the quote about talent. It was a very short interview. The Human Resources interviewer who had a copy of my resume in front of her but was probably quite baffled started by asking, “So, what do you know about Electronic Instrumentation?” I replied, “I used to design it.” She tried deciphering my resume again, gave up and said, “Well I guess you’re hired.” Elapsed time, less than sixty seconds.

Our Pinnacle group, managed by Dan McIntosh, had six instructors teaching three courses using resources from NCCER which is nationally recognized in the construction industries. The other two courses were millwright which deals with the handling of huge pieces of mechanical equipment and electrical which deals with wiring and connections for high voltage, high current equipment. The program had been in operation at Complex for five years. The first group had done their four years at Complex and completed their first of two years at Univ of Texas in Waco. The second bunch would be starting in Waco, as every group progressed ahead a year at a time.

I was new to the island and always learning and analyzing, being the engineer that I am. I started with the other instructors. There were four current instructors. Another new instructor, Nigel Cupid, was starting as a millwright instructor. Nigel and I were their first instructors with college degrees. You ask, “How is it possible that instructors teaching technical trades don’t have college degrees?” It’s that thing about a shortage of talent compounded by a problem that I noticed over the years that became all too common, “Good intentions – Bad results”. They thought that by hiring individuals who had spent a lot of years at the refinery that they would be getting good teachers. Not so much.

A few days before school started, two of the current instructors got me and Nigel together to give us their advice on the best way to teach. I’m not making this up. Their advice was, “On the first day of class, pick the biggest kid in the class, take him outside and beat him up.” They explained that this was the only way to get the respect that would be required to teach the class. Nigel and I thanked them and left. We talked briefly. We were both shocked and curious. Shocked is obvious but curious because we wondered, “What do they know that we don’t?” We then agreed never to tell Dan about this.

 
Posted : May 20, 2024 9:30 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Teaching in STX2

 

“I’m gonna mess you up.” These words came out of the mouth of a nineth grader who was standing toe to toe with me. I’m six feet tall, two hundred pounds. This “kid” was at least four inches taller plus an extra forty pounds of muscle. He said it very quietly as he clenched his fists. All while the rest of the class looked on.

I don’t remember how we got to this. I seem to recall that students were doing math problems at the board. That explains why everybody was standing up. Maybe he was frustrated with a problem and thought that I wasn’t responding correctly. I honestly don’t remember. However , the fact that I don’t remember clues me into the severity of the cause. Fortunately, he was only making me a solemn promise, not predicting the future that was about to happen in the next few seconds. I was able to escape.

My wife never wanted me to teach in the public schools. So, obviously I never told her about this until years later. I didn’t tell Dan either. I just crossed my fingers and hoped to avoid upsetting this kid in the future.

Violence is very prevalent in the Virgin Islands. I remember reading about a murder at the Water Gut bus shanty. Folks used to gather there in the evenings to socialize and hope to catch a breeze. Dominoes was the game of choice. The murder was committed for a very explainable reason. One guy cheated, so the other guy shot him.

I used to wonder about the causes for all the violence in the VI, both in my classes and society in general. I came up with two connected reasons. First, children get most of their morals and values from their parents. A classic phase to hear on the islands is, “If someone knock you, you knock him back.” Children in the VI learn violence to be an acceptable method to solve problems. However, this attitude is common throughout the world. It’s not enough to explain the level of violence in the VI.

One of my favorite movies is A Christmas Story. There’s a great scene where one kid is daring another kid to touch his tongue to a frozen flagpole to see if it will stick. The scene describes the escalation that’s involved. First the kid double-dares his friend. Then he double-dog-dares him. Then instead of triple-daring him, he creates a slight breach of etiquette by going directly to a triple-dog-dare. It’s hilarious.

I offer my second reason for the prevalence of violence in the VI as the major cause. In observing my students, I realized that they are clueless about the etiquette of escalation. Violence is supposed to be an endpoint not a starting point. During my years of teaching, particularly with younger children, if one child did something that disturbed another child, fists started flying and I would have to wade in and pull them apart. The instantaneous speed of this escalation was amazing. I could be walking from the back of the class to the front. And before I got there, I had to turn around and separate two kids wrestling on the floor. With one of them shouting, “He knocked my pencil on the floor.”

The VI needs to conduct PSAs trying to teach everyone, “If someone knock you, try discussion and negotiation before you knock him back.” For now, teaching in the VI is not for the fainthearted.

 
Posted : May 21, 2024 9:46 am
(@stxdreamer)
Posts: 165
Estimable Member
 

Tree Cat, just finished reading your entire section of posts.  Enjoyed them all.  For a long time I had wanted to relocate to STX after my initial retirement.  My spouse didn't want to go (although she always loves visiting) so we never made the permanent move.  I'm in my 70's now, and grew up in rural Kentucky.  A lot of what you describe is not too different than what I experienced growing up. although interestingly there was a significant black population where I lived and we all hung out, got along, went to school together, and no one thought anything about it.  Despite all its warts I'd still love to spend my final years in STX.

 
Posted : May 21, 2024 10:11 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Thanks stxdreamer for the feedback. When I write these things, I feel like I’m speaking in a large room and the lighting is such that I can’t see if there’s anybody in the audience. You will be able to find a lot of useful information on this website about the wisdom of moving to the VI. Being in your 70’s you need to pay attention to the healthcare situation in the VI. Maybe someday I’ll write about my five day stay in the hospital, but for now, I’ll sum it up with one word – scary.

You had a significant black population where you grew up. My town in Massachusetts had none. But what we did have was lots of different ethnicities and religions. In my area here in Virginia, the population is about a quarter black with lots of Protestants of English descent. None of this matters to me and for a good reason. Growing up I clearly remember being turned off by what can only be called bigotry. I recall adults who thought they could completely sum up a person by saying something like, “He’s Greek” or “He’s a Jew”. I was bewildered, what difference does that make? When I was nine, my third grade class would be practically deserted on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At that tender age, I thought that most people in the world were Jewish. It didn’t bother me. My family moved to a new house in the same town where I started fourth grade. Here there were hardly any Jewish kids, no matter. I had friends who were, Jewish, Chinese, Greek, whatever, it didn’t matter.

St. Croix might be culture shock for some. I didn’t care. In my first job at Complex, my students were mostly black with a few Latinos. My boss was black, one instructor was Indian, the others were black. None of it mattered to me. And I’m sure that I stood out like a sore thumb. As I walked around the building, I got a lot of double takes. Once I saw a white student. I did a double take.

Living on STX we had to get used to a form of reverse discrimination. I could say it’s bad because all discrimination is bad. Or I could say it’s good because it taught me a little humility. I think it’s both. In the message I wrote “Normalized Corruption - The DMV”, I didn’t say it, I left it up to the reader’s assumption, but yes the inspector was black as was the guy with the spiderwebbed windshield. Coincidence? Maybe. But I always had a fear about my windshield because I saw this same inspector fail a little old white lady with a tiny chip in her windshield. It was the size of a dime and not in her field of vision. The inspector had to lean over to point at it. The woman was also leaning over and squinting. I hope a friend clued her into a guy who could magically get her a sticker.

Our daughter told us of this event. She was driving home. She was stopped at the traffic light just west of Christiansted. A police car was on the side road. The officer in the car turned on his P.A. system and loudly announced to everybody within a hundred yards, “HEY BLONDIE, PUT ON YOUR SEATBELT.” She was rattled for two reasons. First, nobody wants a cop yelling at them. Second, there was a small pickup truck, also stopped, directly in front of her. In the back of the truck were six little kids.

We had only been on the island a couple of months. The Avis was printing a bunch of “Man in the Street” interviews. One guy was complaining about the current leadership in the territory, particularly about the governor. He finished with, “We should get a guy from the states to run this place. And I don’t even care if he’s white.”

 
Posted : May 22, 2024 12:02 pm
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Blog update

To everyone who has read or even just attempted to read my blog, thanks. I recently passed the one thousand click mark. If anyone has a question or would like to pass along some information and would like to do it privately, my blog comes with a gmail account.

usvirealestateproblems@gmail.com

When I look at my blog statistics, I’m able to see which of the nine articles gets read the most. The first and last get the most hits and that’s logical since they deal with the Real Estate Commission. But two other articles are equally important, #4 Dual Agency and #3 Actions vs Expectations. The likelihood that one of you will ever have need of the Real Estate Commission is slim, however the likelihood that you or someone you know could have a problem with a dual agent is large. This is an issue you should learn about. And if you ever have the opportunity to suggest a new law to a Senator, tell him or her to outlaw dual agency. All my real estate problems would never have happened if dual agency was illegal.

 

Teaching stories

I spent several years studying students and teachers. I want to give you a firsthand view of teaching in the VI.  However, I’m concerned that some of you will find my stories to be too cynical. For those of you who do, I will remind you of the words of author George Bernard Shaw.

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."

 
Posted : May 23, 2024 9:16 am
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Teaching in STX3

In Massachusetts, I taught five classes of twenty-five students each. They were packed in like sardines. The school district had instituted a new policy that year, adding one more year of science into their graduation requirement. This news had been sprung on them in September. So, most didn’t want to be there and their attitudes showed it. Their goal was to destroy my class. Other than my worst class, I could usually maintain discipline. If all else failed, I could keep minor perpetrators after school or send the major ones to the main office who would be dealt with by the assistant principal.

On STX, my only public school experience at Complex, any class over ten students could easily turn into bedlam. I will credit this achievement to teamwork. In Massachusetts my students generally behaved as individuals; occasionally pairing up. At Complex it was a group effort. I would have sworn that they had practiced this. If one kid started acting up and I walked toward him, another one on the other side of the room would chime in even louder. I would stop and turn toward the new commotion but then another one would erupt somewhere else in the room and within seconds chaos ensued. I asked Dan for help but didn’t get any. He said I couldn’t keep kids after school because they took buses. I couldn’t send them to the main office of the school because while they were in our classrooms our program was responsible for them not the public school. And I couldn’t send them to our program office because Dan opened and closed for us but was usually not there during the day. I had no options.

My wife had a clever suggestion. She told me to have them copy dictionary pages. I got an old, tattered dictionary. When a kid acted up or was late for class, I ripped out a page, sat him or rarely her in the corner of the room and had them copy the page. They had never seen punishment like this and they actually did it. It was a couple of months before they figured out that if they simply refused to do it I had no plan B and was back to no options. However, several of my students might now have better vocabularies of words that start with the letter A.

None of it really mattered. When HOVENSA announced their closing in February, our program was told that we would finish out the year. It would have been better if they shut us down too. Any hope for discipline was out the window. Our students had been in our classes to get a free college education when they graduated high school and then receive a good job after that. They were upset and had no one to take it out on other than me. I’m left to wonder; I don’t believe that the two instructors that told me and Nigel to beat a kid up had discipline problems. This is a disturbing thought.

There was a classroom next to our Pinnacle office at Complex that I would walk by a couple of times a day. I think the teacher was trying to teach history or social studies. He stood at the front of the room where I couldn’t see, only hear him. At the beginning of the year when I walked by, the teacher would be shouting his lesson over the general din in the class. By the end of the year, the teacher had the lights off and played videos very, very loudly. All the students had their heads down on their desks. I never did see the teacher who had obviously thrown in the towel. Teaching in the VI public schools is not for the fainthearted

Discipline at the two private schools that I taught at was easier; not easy, only easier. These kids’ parents were paying for them to be there. So, at least there was the assumption that they were supposed to try to learn something. I had some class clowns but I could prevent bedlam.

 
Posted : May 24, 2024 1:10 pm
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
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Teaching in STX4

Remember, I said that our program’s students were not very bright. One day I was walking the class through a problem at the board that contained some math and I asked out loud, “What is seven times eight?” I waited. I turned and looked at the class and asked again. Again nothing. I am astounded. Is this possible?

During some free time I printed four worksheets off the internet. A hundred random problems each with ten rows by ten columns. One for addition problems like 3+4, subtraction 15-6, multiplication 7x8, and division 56/7. These are the same worksheets I did in fifth grade. We would get three minutes for addition, four minutes for subtraction, five minutes for multiplication, and six minutes for division. We were quizzed on these once a day. When a student got a one hundred percent on any quiz, he or she never had to do that quiz again and would automatically receive a grade of 100 every time the rest of the class retook that quiz. It took me a while to ace all four quizzes; I always make a silly mistake or two. But ever since fifth grade I’ve never had to wonder what seven times eight is.

I timed quizzes for all my classes and was floored by the results. A one hundred percent is nice but silly mistakes happen. Any grade in the upper nineties is fine. Remember, these were high school students not fifth graders. A couple of students did fine but then the rest of the scores dropped into the cellar. Some were in the twenties and thirties. I showed these quizzes to Dan. There wasn’t much we could do.

I was determined to figure out why most of my students were such underachievers. I had my classes do the addition quiz first and I was treated to a bizarre sight. The majority of the students were using their fingers to add two single digit numbers. I had never seen anything like this before. And the fact that the majority of them were doing it can only mean one thing. THEY WERE TAUGHT TO DO THIS. How can a school system so abandon a child’s math education that they teach them to add numbers with their fingers?

 
Posted : May 26, 2024 1:46 pm
(@tree-cat)
Posts: 31
Eminent Member
Topic starter
 

Teaching in STX5

Cheating is universal. That’s my opinion based on my students in Massachusetts and St. Croix. As a teacher, I have always tried to prevent cheating and I always felt the challenge of catching the cheaters. Back in Massachusetts, right after school started, I wanted to give my kids an easy quiz that was pretty much based on following directions.. They were allowed to use calculators on some tests, but not cellphones. I told the kids to bring in their calculators the next day for an easy quiz. One kid forgot. I told him to take the quiz anyway and do as many of the problems he could, longhand. There were only five questions. Things like adding up a couple of big numbers, multiplying a couple of two digit numbers, all things that could be done longhand with a bit of effort. Except the last question. That asked for the square root of six to three decimal places. When I returned the quizzes the next day, the whole class got a 100 including the calculator forgetter. I was amused. I accused him of cheating and said that I was going to give him a zero. He insisted that he hadn’t cheated. I told him that if he could repeat all five questions in front of me and the class that I would gladly give him his 100. He got down to business with us all watching. He got the first four questions right with considerable effort. Then he looked at the square root problem and asked me if you could do a square root without a calculator. I told him and the class that I could but he couldn’t. He threw the quiz back at me and told me to give him the zero.

That year, I planned on having the students write a few papers. I assumed that there would be plagiarizing. To cover my bases, during the first week of school, for homework, I told all my one hundred and twenty-five students to write a one page paper titled, “What Chemistry means to me.” It was only homework, not a test or quiz. They weren’t going to waste time cheating. They just slapped out a few sentences and called it done. This is what I was counting on. The results were pretty bad. My students were the low groups, not the smart kids that go to the teacher with seniority. I discovered that my eleventh and twelfth graders were writing on a seventh grade level. No problem, I expected this. I graded the papers liberally, passed them out so they could see their grades and collected them to keep, just in case. I wanted a writing sample in case I was ever challenged when I accused a student of plagiarizing.

I assigned a five page paper in November that was due mid-December. They could write on anything that had to do with chemistry, like a famous chemist or the discovery of certain elements, whatever. When I collected the papers, I glanced through them and realized I had a problem. THEY WERE ALL WRITTEN BY PROFESSORS AND PEOPLE WITH DOCTORATES.

I spent Christmas break Googling. I would find a sentence in their report with two big words. Then Google in quotes the part of the sentence that started with the first big word and ended with the second big word. Invariably, I would get one hit, the website that they had plagiarized. Some plagiarized a couple of websites and did copy and paste, other just stole the whole paper from a single website. I wrote their bibliographies for them with a thick red marker on their papers right through the offending paragraphs. Of my 125 students, the number that cheated was 125.

Now it got really concerning. The punishment for plagiarizing, per the student handbook, is failing the course. When I returned to school after the break, I showed my results to my boss, the department chairman. He didn’t want to touch this problem with a ten foot pole. He told me to show everything to the English department chairwoman. When I did, she ran for the hills. Rather than approach the administration, I made an executive decision. I returned the papers to the students with their red bibliographies and a big red zero on the top. I told them they could either have the zero or rewrite their papers without cheating. It was very painful that some of the students were angry, insisting that what they had done on these papers is how they do all their other papers for all their other classes.

St. Croix kids also cheat a lot. With all my students, I always took the time to educate them on a very important rule about cheating, “If you’re going to cheat, make sure the answer is right.” Two students with identical, correct answers means they both did well. But two identical, incorrect answers raises a red flag. At AZ Academy, once a couple of students handed in a homework assignment that had identical and mostly incorrect answers. I decided to have some fun and to provide a learning opportunity. After I returned the assignment, I reminded them about the rule for cheating and right answers. Then I told them that I was going to calculate the odds that two of their classmates could have the same incorrect answers. I stood at the whiteboard and wrote as I explained. Some of the questions were true or false, so the odds are one out of two. Multiple choice were one out of four. Getting these both wrong and identical is now one out of eight. Other problems were number answers that had much higher number probabilities. By the time I was done, the odds were over one in a trillion that these many identical, incorrect answers could have happened. Both cheaters had red faces, and the rest of the class was in stiches. This was a success. They learned a smattering about probability and that my goal was to teach all of them to be better students; just don’t screw with me.

The other instrumentation instructor at Complex was Mr. Sutton. He was in his early seventies. He had previously worked at the refinery for decades. For the first semester, he taught the upper grades, eleventh and twelfth. I had nothing to do while he was teaching these classes, so I sat in. The twelfth grade class had two students, a boy and a girl, who were not dumb and seemed to care. The rest of the class got my thumbs down. The grades on tests in this class were ridiculous. The smart two kids got scores in the nineties and the rest of the class always got 100’s. Obviously they were cheating but I couldn’t figure out how. Finally, I asked the smart girl. She hesitated for a long moment but she disliked the cheaters as much as I did and she finally answered, “Cellphones.”

I thought I was clever and had immediately deciphered the entire plot and said, “Oh, they’re texting answers to each other.” She got an annoyed look on her face and said, “No, when Mr. Sutton has the answer sheet on his desk, one of them distracts him and the other one takes a picture.” Well, knock me over with a feather. I HAD SEEN THIS AND DIDN’T KNOW IT AT THE TIME.

I said the rest of the class got my thumbs down. Well, there were two kids, a boy and a girl, who didn’t get one star, they got negative stars. They were street smart and taunted Mr. Sutton incessantly. I felt bad for him and hated them. I recalled one class where for maybe two minutes all hell broke loose. Mr. Sutton would, against all rules, take a copy of a test and an answer sheet to class. He would read them the questions and answers to the next test. The two smart kids would copy down the questions and answers to be memorized before the next test. The rest of the riffraff, not so much.

On that day, Negative Star Girl jumps up out of her seat and yells, “Mr. Sutton, I don’t know if I want to go to college.” She runs out of the room into our lab next door where all of our practical tests were done. Mr. Sutton follows her. I stand in the doorway between the two connected rooms trying to see both rooms but primarily focusing on Mr. Sutton and Negative Star Girl. She’s sobbing and everyone in the classroom stands up and mills about. Suddenly, in a matter of moments, Negative Star Girl says that there’s no problem. Mr. Sutton thinking that he’s alleviated some catastrophe heads back to the classroom. And I ask myself, “What in the hell just happened?” NEGATIVE STAR BOY HAD JUST WALKED PASSED MR. SUTTON’S DESK, SNAPPED A PICTURE OF THE ANSWER SHEET AND TEXTED IT TO THE RIFFRAFF.

I never returned the homework assignments, “What chemistry means to me”. They ended up in a cardboard box in my attic. Several years after my single year of teaching in Massachusetts, one of my wife’s coworkers had a tragedy in her life. One of her sons died in his sleep of an aneurysm. Her sons were twins, Lou and Matt. They were both students of mine. Lou was a jerk who tried to get me fired on multiple occasions. Matt, who died, was a good kid. Since they were in my class, neither one of them was likely college material. For the memorial service that my wife and I attended, I fished out Matt’s paper. We framed it and presented it to Matt’s mother. It was likely the only piece of Matt’s high school work that she owned; it brought tears. I had graded liberally in red pen. I had given Matt a B- and said, “Well written.” Before we framed the page, with a small vertical line from a red pen, I posthumously changed the B- to a B+.

 
Posted : May 28, 2024 9:09 am
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