Although it faced great challenges in its financials, the Public School System will end the year with a lot of inspiration that it could carry forward for a better year ahead, according to Board of Education chair Herman T. Guerrero.
He described 2013 as both challenging and inspiring for all education officials, staff, and students on three islands.
“Overall, we did well in 2013. We have worked very hard in terms of addressing the audit findings, we have complied with the Head Start requirements, and we did a good job in our accreditation considering that’s the first time we’ve done it,” Guerrero said.
He said these were among the major issues that PSS and the Board of Education successfully completed on time.
Early this year, a team from the federal Head Start office conducted its tri-annual review of the program, the results of which would determine if PSS will continue to handle the federal program. During the weeklong comprehensive assessment, the visiting team identified only two minor issues. Corrective action plans for these two deficiencies were submitted to the federal agency last month and a decision is expected early next year.
Due to several concerns cited in its audit, most of which pertain to travel and reimbursements, the board—in coordination with the PSS management—adopted related policies to address the auditor’s concerns. The audit report is reportedly in the final stages.
In October, teams from the North Central Association, the accrediting commission for the CNMI-PSS, were on island for their inspection and review. The group, in its exit report, lauded the public schools and highly recommended the institution’s five-year accreditation with the organization.
In terms of student achievement, Guerrero lauded the steady increase in the number of CNMI students participating and actually bagging national honors for the Commonwealth. He cited the outstanding performances of local students in STEM Fair competitions, forensic leagues, spelling bee, and other national contests.
Most notable, Guerrero said, was the overwhelming performance of the “Aeronautical Dolphins” of Marianas High School, which won the top prize in the Real World Design Challenge, a nationally recognized science and engineering competition for high school students throughout the nation.
Also in 2013, PSS successfully hosted the historic Pacific Education Conference that saw the participation of educators around the Pacific region. PSS also posted a record-breaking performance of students in all grade levels in the yearly Stanford Assessment Test, or SAT-10.
When asked how Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan performed in 2013, Guerrero gave positive comments. “I think overall the commissioner’s performance is more than satisfactory. She’s an aggressive leader and I think it shows in our schools,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Sablan, who serves at the pleasure of the board, has a four-year contract as chief executive officer of PSS.
If there’s one major issue that continues to challenge the system, Guerrero said, it is the limited funding for public education. However, because of the creativity, resourcefulness and commitment to serve students’ first, this did not hamper the good performance of students and the system during the 12-month period, he added.