GUAM Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez is marking his 100th day at the helm of GDOE this week – a position that has been held by 21 different superintendents in 21 years.
During his short journey through the system so far, Fernandez has encountered many challenges, including resource concerns such as the current budget shortfall the department faces even as public school enrollment climbs up to 1.7 percent.
Despite these challenges, Fernandez considers the GDOE post as the best job he’s ever had.
“I can’t see any other job where you can just go to a school, have lunch with the kids, read to them, listen to them or watch them play. That to me is a huge bonus, a huge perk on the job. It makes you remember why it is so important to keep an eye on what is important for the kids,” Fernandez explained.
For Fernandez, the superintendent position comes with a lot of difficult and complex issues. But at some point, he said whoever is at the helm of the department should make a decision.
“You just need to make decisions so that we can all move forward and not worry about all of the problems in the school system but try to solve them little by little,” Fernandez said.
During the 100-day period, Fernandez visited 40 schools under GDOE’s jurisdiction in his first 24 days. The visits, he said, provided opportunities to visit classrooms and initiate discussions with administrators and teachers about what has been going on at the school level.
One of the critical litmus tests that Fernandez was able to hurdle through was the opening of classes. The smooth opening of schools was made possible, he said, by the development of a management framework for monitoring progress toward school openings.
The framework, Fernandez explained, involved “identification of major activities, using the stoplight report to assess progress, deep diving into problem areas, and validation of completed tasks.” During the opening of classes, GDOE mobilized 40 central staffers and all deputy superintendents to visit the schools. This, Fernandez stressed, “reinforced the importance of being in the front lines.”
He also cited the “Team Up to Clean Up and Adopt a School” effort as part of GDOE’s achievements. The pre-opening of classes project mobilized agencies, parents and community organizations to help prepare schools for the start of the school year.
His first few weeks also saw the rescinding of the 4AB schedule – a hotly contested issue that has gathered support from teachers and staff from the different schools. Withdrawing the implementation of the schedule, Fernandez said, will allow more time for developing a more comprehensive plan to improve graduation rates.
Another important achievement he cited was the granting of $2.8 million worth of Department of Interior funds to support classroom supplies and equipment. These school essentials had been grossly underfunded or neglected in the past.
During his first hundred days, GDOE was also able to facilitate a $54 million investment into the school system – critical funding that went into capital improvement projects such as the restoration of the Southern High School Gym and fine arts theater, installation of fire alarm systems throughout the district, roof repairs throughout the district, and the George Washington High School and Untalan Middle School STEM classrooms.
In addition, the accelerated renovation of GW’s STEM classrooms also highlighted the importance of providing students with the equipment they need to prepare for the future.
During the period, extension of the ARRA funding deadline was granted and moved to Sept. 20, 2013. Moreover, the department also just recently had a successful visit from their federal counterpart at the U.S. Department of Education. The visit has spurred optimism on GDOE’s plan to design and implement a local road map to exit from its current high risk status.
Finally, Fernandez also cited the selection of a GDOE leadership team as part of his achievements. The team, he said, will focus on important elements that should be addressed or improved within the system, including accountability and leadership.