In the second week of her visit to public schools, Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ph.D., witnessed firsthand the critical condition of many schools, with classes that have as high as 55 students-an unacceptable ratio for classrooms designed to accommodate only up to more than 20 students.
As a stopgap measure, Sablan allowed beginning this week the enforcement of multi-aged combination classes and authorized the modification of some schools' schedules. She also extended the double session to the Tinian Elementary School to cope with the alarming class sizes and lack of teachers.
Kagman Elementary School is already implementing a double session. KagES has only four teachers for its 88 sixth graders and 90 fifth graders. It was the first campus that was allowed the double session since last week.
Tinian Elementary, for its part, has only three teachers for its second and third graders, which are now combined to address the teacher shortage and lessen the number of students in classrooms. The school's kindergarten and first grade classes are also in double session this school year.
Because of the multi-aged combination, Sablan said that Tinian Elementary is now able to accommodate 27 students per classroom per teacher. Without the multi-aged combination classes, Tinian will be short of five teachers.
Sablan explained that in “multi-aged class,” PSS allows two different grade levels to attend the same classes such as for second and third graders where instructions and assignments are modified by the teacher.
“I should have done it [modifying the schedule and multi-aged classes] on the opening week, but I don't want to create chaos. But now that our teachers and administrators are back, I want to discuss it with them. I need to work with them and let them see the benefit of small class sizes, which is a far better learning school environment and more effective,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
Among the schools that are enforcing multi-aged combination classes are Tinian Elementary, Kagman Elementary, and Tanapag Elementary, among others. Sablan revealed that many elementary schools are also conducting double sessions in their kindergarten classes due to the lack of teachers.
When asked if these approaches are the best that PSS can do at this time, Sablan said: “We're looking at other school districts and they're doing it also. And for me, it is the only solution right now because we don't have the money to hire [the needed teachers].”
She pointed out that PSS tested the multi-aged class approach last school year but they have yet to determine its effectiveness in the CNMI, pending analysis of the data collected.
PSS has only a little over 400 classroom teachers for nearly 11,000 students; it is short of 87 teachers. The system used to employ over 500 teachers.
Sablan is considering the same “modification” approach for junior and high schools, which are also experiencing large class sizes.
As of this week, Marianas High School has an enrollment of 1,472 versus only 36 teachers. In its performing arts class alone, 55 students are enrolled with only one teacher.
“Yes, we have a big theater for them. But I wonder what it's going to look like. They said it's OK, but I am worried. I'd rather see that we do the modified schedule and work with small classes than fill the classrooms with 37 or more students. We cannot compromise safety and learning,” said Sablan.
Although PSS has a policy in place for distance education, Sablan said the MHS enrollment of 1,472 is still very high with only 36 teachers. “So I am looking at making some adjustments,” she said.
Sablan will propose that MHS divide the students into four groups where one group will be allowed to take online classes or part-time classes to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio.
She described the Senate-approved $33 million allocation for PSS as a “bare-bones budget” for public schools, which means it covers only the basic services to students, nothing extra. That budget bill is still pending at the House of Representatives.