What it takes to have a culture of change


Leila Haveia F. Staffler

From 2010 to 2020, I had the distinct privilege to lead at Kagman High in many capacities. From teacher leader, to adviser, to coach, to shelter manager, to administrator, I did my best to serve my school and community with compassion and fairness. Investing in people was part of the continuous improvement process that eventually helped change the culture of that school. Changing a school culture is not easy, but is necessary to make positive and lasting change. This is true of our CNMI government culture as well. It will not be easy, but it is necessary to make positive and lasting change.

Fairness is the foundation on which perception is built. As soon as a person thinks you are being unfair, you have lost their trust and any decision you make is tainted. This is true in school as it is in our government. One of the things I always told students and parents when I had to say no to a request was, “What I do for one I must do for all.” This went for my Precinct 5 constituents too. It is never easy to say no, but to be fair, you sometimes must. I always tried to help in other ways when I could, especially when it came to investing in people to help them find their paths. This is key to changing any culture.

How we invest in people depends on their situation and interests. For our college-bound students, to ensure they had the support they needed to meet their big goals, we invested in programs like the Million Dollar Scholars and PSAT Cohort to help them improve their test scores and apply for scholarships and high-tier colleges. For our students interested in the trades, we invested in aligning our school with NMTech and AHLEI hospitality programs to earn certifications that would give them an advantage and a path to financial independence. For my students who aged out or stopped coming to school, we invested time and effort to meet them at their homes, and get them engaged in GED or Adult Education options. Once they completed those, I encouraged them to keep going further, follow their interests, and earn more certifications. It’s these kinds of opportunities that break the poverty cycle and change the course of families forever.

We also invested in our employees by connecting them with opportunities for training and certifications. For example, one of our support staff had an interest in air-conditioning repair, also known as HVAC. We invested in his courses at NMTech and, once he was certified, he got promoted by the district and began servicing HVAC units in the whole system. He also got a salary increase because of the certifications. This is an example that can and must be replicated across the government to increase efficiency and productivity. There are many agencies and programs that could invest in more training and certification for their staff to broaden their professional skill sets, making them more productive in the work they do. This also improves their opportunities wherever they decide to work in the future.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” My former students and staff may not know or remember all the things that were said and done behind the scenes to invest in their success, but I believe they will forever remember how amazing it felt when life’s opportunities opened up for them.

All of our efforts at KHS were investments in the greater community. One of the things I was most proud of after 13 years of service at KHS was the transformation of the school culture, and how it rippled beyond the school to positively impact our families and community. This transformation took time and effort. But it was possible because we invested in people—students, staff and community. That is how we made change happen. In a similar way, through the process of continuous improvement and caring for the people we work with and the people we serve, we can begin to transform the culture of our government, in a Sablan-Staffler administration.

Rep. Leila Haveai Staffler (D-Saipan) is a member of the CNMI House of Representatives of the 22nd Legislature and is the lieutenant governor candidate of the Democratic Party of the NMI.


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