Despite having to dig the Public School System from a “trench hole” of its own making, Education Commissioner Dr. Rita Sablan said that PSS would still push through with plans to expand the number of middle schools in the Commonwealth.
PSS implemented the concept at Kagman Elementary School and Chaha Oceanview Middle School this school year when the former’s grade 6 students transferred to the latter, which she said benefited the community many fold.
“We started by getting stakeholders’ feedback and we stumbled into a trench hole but we were able to get out of it. This year we’re implementing the middle school concept in Kagman at Chacha Oceanview Middle School and next year we will have phase two and it will have other elementary schools transformed to middle schools that will allow the students to be closer to the community,” Sablan said in last week’s Rotary Club of Saipan meeting at Hyatt Regency Saipan.
She said students at Tanapag and San Roque elementary schools currently have to travel more than 5 miles each day to go up to Kagman for their junior high. “Our plan is to bring those kids down to Tanapag so they can be closer to their community.”
Besides less travel time for students, Sablan said that creating more middle schools will allow students to take part in more competitive interscholastic sports with the introduction of a middle school division, give them more access to after-school programs, and instill in them a sense of personal belonging.
Another bonus, she said, is parents will have to travel less for PTA meetings and other urgent school matters.
Aside from Tanapag Elementary School, PSS is also planning to transform Dandan and San Antonio elementary schools into middle schools next school year.
“We’re tracking Chacha Oceanview right now so if there are any lessons we can learn, perhaps we can work on those so we make sure that our transition into middle schools and phase two will be smooth,” she said.
One tangible benefit from implementing the middle school concept at Chacha Oceanview is that it has allowed Kagman Elementary School to expand its kindergarten program.
“Moving our sixth graders to Chacha Oceanview gave us more classrooms for our kindergarten students. Now we have a total of four kindergarten classrooms at Kagman, unlike last year when we had two.”
That is actually one of PSS’ goals in transforming the islands’ elementary schools into middle schools, Sablan said, as it will give elementary schools more room to bring in more early childhood students.
“Every year we have about 300 students [on] the waiting list to go to Head Start or to go into kindergarten and we really want to just zero that out and make sure that every child who needs to be in school would be given that opportunity.”
The middle school concept will also help PSS finally solve the overcrowding at Hopwood Junior High School.
“Our goal at the end of school year 2015 is that Hopwood Junior High School’s population will be trimmed to 50 percent. Right now we have close to 1,300 students at Hopwood. So our goal is to cut down the number of students there to about 600. It’s more manageable, especially for that age group.”