This is a response to Rep. Tina Sablan’s outcry and outreach to try and solve or resolve the CNMI Public School System crisis.
Thank you, Rep. Tina Sablan. I hope the entire CNMI will get a chance to read your eloquent plea to remedy the ongoing crisis in our CNMI public schools. Readers can find it online in the Sept. 3, 2019, Saipan Tribune, ‘Students Last: How We Are Failing Our Public Schools.’
Here are some specific comments about the Admiral Herbert J. Hopwood Middle School. The physical site is neither a safe nor practical site for a public school.
I taught for more than 10 years at Hopwood. I was moved to different classrooms each year for more than six of those years. One of the last classrooms I taught in was a converted outdoor stage. After a typhoon part of the ceiling collapsed and was hanging into the classroom. I was told not to touch it and that someone would fix it. The false ceiling remained hanging there into a leaking classroom for more than six months, the rest of the school year! The students sat in the half of the converted stage “classroom” that was not damaged. I bought paint, rollers, brushes with my own money and painted every classroom I was moved into. In many cases the walls and window louvres were collapsing from being eaten by termites. They had been painted over and covered up year after year.
This was all prior to 2005. At that time the entire campus should have been demolished and the students moved into a safe school. In 2005 the school had a crumbling infrastructure. It was antiquated, overcrowded, and needed to be moved from the site. Costly band aid aesthetic cover ups did little to alleviate the overall massive infrastructural problems that the school faced and now faces. Yet here we are 14 years later.
My suggestion for the Hopwood campus is lease it to the highest paying investor from China, Japan, or Korea. They must pay the annual amount agreed upon during the length of time it takes them to build a new school campus elsewhere with separate funds from their own sources. Half a golf course or one of the former (zombie hotel hells) garment factories might be possible locations for a new campus. Perhaps two smaller satellite campuses could be built instead of one large campus? This would allow more students to walk to a neighborhood school. Certainly a demographic study could be made to ascertain a new location and the practical size of a school in the area. The investors could build one of them. Investors could not begin groundbreaking for their new development until students enter a new school, which investors paid for and had built. They may demolish the present Hopwood campus and assemble building supplies there during the interim.
Hopwood is a perfect location for a seaside resort. However, the beach was a nightmare for distracting students from school. Young people used to come down the beach and deliver drugs and alcohol to students during class time, break, and lunchtime. We had students walking around drunk by 10 o’clock in the morning. The dealers, drunkards, and stoned to the boners were there before, during, and after school. They just walked away up or down the beach when security was near. This happened before there was a chain link fence and after. I was there and witnessed it. Typhoons took out the fence year after year. Students dug holes under the fence in soft pine needles within two months of its first appearance. Students and outsiders passed alcohol, drugs and contraband through the fence or over it. Backpacks were stolen inside campus and thrown over the fence to waiting hands. The recipients then calmly walked away. I saw students and outsiders surmount the wall with a running start when they were running from security guards. Anyone on the beach could walk away from security with no need to run since the beach is public. This ease of access is a security breach that will not change as long as the school remains at the beach site.
The geographic locale, proximity to the lagoon and beach, and subsequent damage resultant from tsunamis, typhoons, and wave damage is not going to change with a new school built on the same location. It is neither a wise nor safe location for a school of any kind.
Despite this negative picture and in all fairness to Hopwood Jr. Middle School, it was still a great school. A large majority of the students were learning daily. There were many dedicated hardworking teachers there to help them. It had many devoted and concerned administrators and office staff who did the best they could with an outdated, overcrowded, moldy, termite-ridden, crumbling campus.
Thank you to all my HJHS students (over 1,500), my hardworking teaching colleagues, and our overworked and overburdened with multiple problems principals. Señora Lourdes Mendiola and Dr. David Borja each did a yeoman’s job while they were principals at Hopwood. Kudos to them.
But the Hopwood site on Beach Road should not be rebuilt as a school.
Joey “Pepe Batbon” Connolly is a retired public school teacher who lives on Tinian. He was recently named poet laureate by the Tinian municipal government.