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Fernandez confident about school opening
WITH new Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez at the helm of the department, one of the litmus tests for his first month at GDOE is the timely opening of classes. In preparation for school year 2012-2013, all 40 schools under GDOE’s purview have been submitting their school readiness checklist on a weekly basis to be reviewed by the department.
Fernandez, together with his school readiness team, has been reviewing these checklists, which include components such as teacher vacancies, facility maintenance concerns, student schedules, teacher workdays, and items outlined in a 14-point checklist.
Over the past month, Fernandez told Variety meetings have been held with GDOE division heads in attendance to go over the critical factors related to the school opening. By using the school readiness checklist, components were flagged using the so-called “stoplight method” to track progress, with green flags indicating progress and yellow and red for components still in need of monitoring.
Early in the review process, the team identified facilities and maintenance as red flags since a lot of work orders are currently in the pipeline.
“Having visited some of the facilities, I can understand why those work orders are so high. Some of them range from light bulbs that needed to be changed. Some are extensive like a broken air conditioner. So what we have done along the way, is we said ... let’s look at the critical ones that we think are very important to ensure that our schools are going to be open,” Fernandez said.
So far, according to documents from GDOE, as of July 27 this year, there are around 2,400 work orders. These work orders include electrical, carpentry, roofing, and plumbing repairs.
Fernandez said he has been working with GDOE maintenance to get the work orders down by Aug. 20. The principals, he added, have been requested to validate the tracking of the maintenance work and to “sound the alarm” on projects that require prioritization.
“So hopefully, between those two processes we are really focused on attacking the main issue that we need to address,” Fernandez said.
In terms of school transportation, according to Department of Public Works Deputy Director Carl Dominguez, there are at least 115 buses that are operational and ready to transport students by the start of classes. The current fleet will service 39 out of 40 public schools, excluding George Washington High School.
Fernandez said federal funding has already been identified to support the costs of addressing GWHS bussing – currently pegged at $150,000 – covering expenditures such as fuel, overtime, and the leasing of private buses for 29 school days.
“We are still coming up to deadline. We have identified funding to support the buses. We have worked with DPW to develop procurement. The invitation to bid is out on the street. The process will be closed by this week and a selection will be made for a vendor to provide those buses,” Fernandez explained.
He said he feels confident the bussing situation at GWHS will be addressed before school opens on Aug. 20
A July 24, 2012 teacher data report from GDOE indicated a total of 26 personnel vacancies for the public school system. The numbers are spread out to nine vacancies in the elementary school, four in high school, and 13 in middle school.
During an interview with GDOE Deputy Superintendent Robert Malay, he said as of Aug. 7, the number of vacancies totaled 31 spread throughout the schools.
“No need to push the panic button for the teacher vacancies at this stage,” Malay said.
A contingency plan for teacher vacancy is also in place, according to Malay. GDOE, he said, has been recruiting substitute teachers who will be deployed during appropriate situations.
Last school year, the opening of classes was delayed for at least a week due to cafeteria issues. The delay was announced by GDOE after safety inspections were conducted by the Department of Public Health and Social Services and questions arose over compliance with food safety standards.
Opening of classes for John F. Kennedy High School were also pushed back several times last year due to delays in the issuance of occupancy permits for the school.
But Fernandez said he’s pretty confident that classes will open in time this year. “And I’m confident from the perspective of the superintendent having conversations with our leadership here in the central offices and with our principals. In the event that schools don’t open in time, we will have to have those conversations about who has been doing their jobs. But I have been assured by our staff and our principals that they are focused and they have been working really hard. I’ve seen them in action. I’m pretty confident that we’ll get the job done,” Fernandez concluded.