His term as the Public School System’s Teacher of the Year for 2017 has ended but Kagman High School teacher Gerard Van Gils wants to do more for PSS students, foremost of which is to expand the Million Dollar Scholar initiative to the rest of the high schools in the CNMI. That would encourage more CNMI students to pursue a college education.
Speaking before the Board of Education yesterday on Capitol Hill, Van Gils, more popularly known among his students as “Mr. G,” said that one way he could help more PSS students is through the Million Dollar Scholar program.
“I’m not an indigenous person but I find myself deeply rooted here and passionate about developing our children to achieve good education and becoming good members of society… To be honest, I’m a little bit underutilized and I am really good in helping kids go into college,” Van Gils said.
He spearheaded the creation of the college preparation program at Kagman High School to solve the problem of not having enough college-bound students on Saipan and to help students do well in college. In 2016, Million Dollar Scholars raised $2.5 million.
“If I work for you [PSS], how might you use me? I invite you to consider because you have invested in me. Our school system spent a lot of money on this year of my improvement and I take that seriously. That was public money invested in a public employee and I’ m ready,” he said.
During his term as Teacher of the Year, Van Gils represented the islands in various education trips in the U.S. mainland.
“To be with other Teacher of the Year awardees from the mainland, we get to stand on equal terms. I wanted to represent our islands like a big boy, on equal terms with other states in the union,” he said. “I also wanted to represent our people as if we were the biggest state or budgeted state because I believe we have the greatest students.”
As for his plan to expand his college preparation classes, Van Gils said: “We are working hard in preparing our kids for college. We started at Kagman High School where we went from having about three to four college students go off-island per year and we are looking at having this in five other high schools,” he said.
He assured that expanding the initiative wouldn’t need any capital outlay from PSS.
“We did this with no budget, no special job title, just simply started lobbying to principals to select teachers who would give up a period of their day to teach this class as an elective. I prepared the curriculum, syllabus, and lesson plans, as I wanted it to be a turnkey operation where anyone can have college preparation expanded to five high schools,” he added.
Van Gils also understands that the recruitment and retention of teachers in the CNMI have been persistent issues; that’s why he carries a video that promotes the Marianas and presents it in job fairs in the U.S. mainland.
“Last summer, Kagman invited students from other high schools in our summer SAT prep. As a result, some students have garnered 200 percent in their SATS and average rate of 70 points and it cost them nothing. I fundraised, hired professional teachers, brought them to Kagman and the success was due to the massive Kagman High School effort,” he said.
Another project Van Gils started is “Mentor for a Meal” that is now the largest mentorship program in the CNMI.
“It costs zero dollars as it is a fully independent little program where I invited a bunch of my friends who are professionals, entrepreneurs, engineers to have dinner…with a bunch of my kids in a one-on-one dinner at the Hyatt [Regency Saipan] to talk about opportunities and goals,” he said.
Van Gils also wants to expand these projects to Tinian and Rota because the possibilities in the two underserved islands are endless.
Board of Education member Herman Guerrero was impressed with the work and activities that Van Gils has put into in a year.
“For all that you have done, you amaze me. I am glad that you have principles and I am glad you are pushing the kids into college… I’m always a strong advocate of the SAT tests,” he said.
“I am glad that you are also engaging the private sector… It’s high time that we [PSS] utilize the Teacher of the Year awardees so that they have great experiences and be a driving force with PSS and the board in moving ahead. This is my last year as board member and I also want to see our students succeed in our schools,” he added.
BOE chair Marylou Ada congratulated Van Gils and said that after seeing his projects, PSS will be working to realize his vision.
Van Gils finished his presentation by saying that the work must continue. “The work goes on, where our kids go [to college] because when they graduate they will come back in higher percentages. This is my work and my passion,” he said.