The availability of counselors in public schools remains uneven, with many having either a high counselor-to-student ratio or no counselors at all, according to Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan.
She also disclosed that more than half of public school enrollees this year have been found reading below their grade levels.
Sablan, guest speaker in last Friday’s special workshop for PSS counselors, revealed these figures as she encouraged counselors and school leaders to seriously take their part in making a difference in the lives of their students.
PSS is home to 10,000-plus students from kindergarten to high school.
At Garapan Elementary School, for instance, Sablan cited the extremely high number of students being served by just one counselor, Derwin Johnson.
“At GES, we have one counselor for all 800 students. That’s really a lot!” she said Friday as she lauded the hard work of school counselors like Johnson—this year’s State Counselor of the Year awardee.
According to Sablan, public schools have only 25 counselors this year.
It was learned that four schools do not have any counseling staff at all.
Sablan disclosed that Koblerville Elementary School, which has over 700 students, along with Tinian elementary, Tanapag elementary, and Dandan elementary schools, just receive counseling assistance from their cluster schools.
“It’s never enough. PSS has 10,000 kids and we need more than 25 counselors. Through the school clusters that we put together, four of our schools are just sharing their [counseling staff] with partner schools,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune, adding that anything beyond 300 students for every counselor is difficult for any school district.
In large campuses like GES, Sablan said that school administrators have been helping counsel students to ensure that students’ needs are met.
Also on Friday, Sablan said the latest PSS report indicates that more than half of students in the system are not reading at their grade levels.
“Of all the things that we do, why is it that we continue to see 51 percent of our students reading below grade level? We need to seriously look at this number and do something!” said Sablan.
PSS conducts a standard based assessment test each year and includes a test that measures the reading level skills of students.
Studies suggest that students who are proficient in reading or writing within their grade level are more likely to complete their education.
In providing a better understanding of the PSS situation, Sablan shared with participants other data that would help the system in planning initiatives, services, and programs.
For example, in the CNMI, six out of 10 students in public schools are at the poverty threshold.
“Just imagine the kind of population we’re working with. I am not trying to paint a grim picture here, but this is the reality,” she said.
She also lamented the over 90 percent of NMC students who are placed in remedial education once they enter NMC. It was learned that about 200 students who graduated from PSS last year enrolled at NMC. This represents 40 percent of the total number of graduates last school year.
“We have a lot of students who remain undecided [to go to college]. Where did they go?” she asked, pointing out that this group is not even in gainful employment. She relates this to the 2010 Census data where it found that there are 10,000 unemployed individuals on the islands.
The PSS report also indicated that there are 3,000 individuals ages 18-35 who don’t have high school diplomas.
Other data presented were PSS’ record of daily students’ attendance where it found that approximately 300 students are out of classes each day in public schools.
Betel-nut chewing remains on top of the list of student infractions. She emphasized the need for PSS to work with the community in addressing this issue.
Next with the highest infraction is “excessive tardiness” while possession of a controlled substance like alcohol or drugs is third. Bullying, harassment, and assault are also on the list.
“What can we do to help them? Let’s think about that,” she told participants.
Despite these challenges, Sablan said that PSS continues to receive positive feedback from the community and that continues to inspire the system.
She told Saipan Tribune it is important to regularly update educators of key data on various areas for better performance outcome.
“Our focus [on Friday] was really sharing our success and best practices as we continue to collaborate,” she said.