The CNMI Public School System ushered in school year 2012-2013 by making history with a deluge of students, resulting in a record-breaking student-to-teacher ratio.
Public schools, including Head Start and Early Intervention programs, opened regular classes yesterday on a good note, despite the heavy downpour and expected larger class sizes in almost all grade levels.
The total number of public school students enrolled this year will be determined after two weeks at the end of registration.
Education Commissioner Rita Sablan, Ph.D., toured several schools yesterday, including at Kagman Elementary School, where she checked the first day of the implementation of double-sessions for fifth and sixth graders.
“[The opening of classes was] impressive because of the sense of readiness from our teachers, to students, to parents. Despite the double-session at KagES, the first day of classes went very smoothly and we thank the parents for being at the school today to show their support,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.
KagES' double session was due to the lack of classroom teachers. Sablan said the school's students-to-teacher ratio as of yesterday is 30 students per teacher, mostly in upper grade levels. KagEs, she said, has only about 20 teachers and needs four more classroom teachers in order to reduce the extra-large class sizes.
In a visit to Hopwood Junior High School, principal Jonas Barcinas was seen walking around the campus to ensure the smooth opening of classes.
As of yesterday, Hopwood had 1,177 students but that number may increase in coming days following the disclosure that there are about 60 more incoming seventh graders who have yet to register at PSS.
“With only 34 teachers, I can say this is the biggest ratio ever recorded here at Hopwood (as far as my administration is concerned). Because we have more seventh graders this year than eight graders, our ratio is up to 35 students or more,” he told Saipan Tribune, adding that large class sizes will only be addressed when school are allowed to hire more teachers.
Hopwood needs at least 10 more teachers to accommodate the increased number of enrollees this year. Last year, Hopwood had 45 teachers and 1,300 students at the opening of the school year.
According to Barcinas, three teacher-volunteers-all of them highly qualified-are helping out temporarily.
“Even cluster schools are suffering because we all need additional teachers, so I am glad that there are community members who are willing to help us,” said Barcinas, adding that these volunteers could save school counselors and administrators from handling certain classes because the school employs no substitutes this year.
Commissioner Sablan told Saipan Tribune that she has to consult the Board of Education first on this issue of schools having volunteer-teachers. The commissioner is expected to visit Hopwood today.
At Chacha Oceanview Junior High School, principal Vince Dela Cruz also described this year's ratio as the biggest in the history of the school with 35 students per teacher as of yesterday.
Chacha has a total of 390 enrollees as of yesterday, an increase from last years 364. Due to funding constraints, Chacha was also barred from hiring two teachers to add to its staff of only nine classroom teachers. Large classes are in seventh grade with 35:1, while most classes in eighth grade are at 30:1.
“In this situation of the public schools, we need additional funding to continue to provide quality education so I hope our lawmakers are listening to us.because they can help,” said Dela Cruz.
At Garapan Elementary School, a total of 867 students are being handled by 34 classroom teachers, including those for special education and the Chamorro Carolinian Language Heritage Studies programs.
GES principal Paulette Sablan said the biggest classes as of yesterday were in the fourth and second grades with up to 34 students per teacher. The rest have 27 students per class.
In order to reduce large class sizes, GES needs three to four more teachers to be assigned to fourth and second grades, principal Sablan said. Because GES has no substitute teachers, its counselors and vice principal are taking over some of the classes when needed.
In spite of the larger class sizes this year, Paulette Sablan said the opening went efficiently because of the positive attitude of teachers and the cooperation and support of parents and the students.
Another school that had a smooth opening yesterday was Marianas High School, the largest public high school on island, which has about 1,400 enrollees this year.
Commissioner Sablan told Saipan Tribune that Kagman High School also saw an organized opening yesterday. She even joined the students in their orientation.
Today, Sablan intends to check the Tinian and Rota schools and how the online courses went through on the two islands yesterday.
PSS opened classes yesterday with only a little over 400 teachers.