With some buildings that are more than 50 years old, the Public School System’s aging infrastructure has become one of the biggest concerns besetting public education in the Commonwealth, according to Education Commissioner Dr. Rita Sablan.
“There are many, many different challenges but one that I can really say is a major concern is the infrastructure within PSS. Some of our schools were built in 1950s and the 1960s,” she said in an interview after last week’s Education Day proclamation signing and awards recognition at the Board of Education conference room in Susupe.
While PSS has made ends meet by building extensions to these post-World War II buildings, Sablan said it remains of utmost importance that the old buildings be repaired and renovated.
“We hope we can do some renovation to many of our old, old classrooms and buildings in our campuses.”
Fortunately for the CNMI and PSS, help is on the way, albeit in two years, as the Office of Insular Affairs will be giving PSS a total of $11 million in fiscal year 2015, specifically to shore up its aging infrastructure.
In all, PSS administers 19 schools on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
Aside from its ever-shrinking budget and aging facilities, Sablan also pointed to the constant changes in the family dynamics and economic structure of the CNMI as another challenge.
“There’s so much change within the Commonwealth, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s families, whether it’s the neighborhood, those are really some of the big challenges in our community.”
Whatever happens in the community in terms of hardships, it always has a big impact on the local school system, she said.
“We have to go the extra mile to continue to provide the support for our children, not only academically but we also have to get out and work with other agencies such as the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the Judiciary, and the U.S. District Court. We really need to come together and work with them so we can identify the services and programs for children that are being affected by all the different issues out there in our community.”
Sablan said, however, that there are still a lot of silver linings as PSS celebrates its 25th year of becoming autonomous from the central government.
“Despite the challenges there are a lot of great things happening and I’m glad parents and children can endure their hardship and at the end of the day feel good and feel rewarded by making sure that their children stay in school and make sure they continue learning.”