Faipule takes opportunity to ask follow-up questions of new DOE director
Rep. Larry Sanitoa has written a letter to Department of Education director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau inquiring about what he calls challenges and issues at DOE.
In his letter dated Feb. 8, Sanitoa congratulated Vaitinasa on her confirmation as Director of Education and said, "As you will recall, a few of the House members were not able to ask our own questions relevant to your plans for DOE. Therefore, I take this opportunity to humbly request your assistance with answers to the following questions for my better understanding of the challenges and issues at DOE."
During Vaitinasa's confirmation hearing, as well as the majority of all confirmation hearings for cabinet appointees, each faipule was instructed prior to the start of the proceedings that they are allotted one minute to ask one question of each witness. The lawmakers were told to hold all additional questions until after the nominees are confirmed and then they can be called back to answer questions in the House of Representatives.
In his letter, Sanitoa wants to know if DOE has a similar plan to the one he says many states and territories have, usually called the National Plan or State Plan which is required by law and guides all decisions in reference to student academics, teacher quality and certification, curriculum standards, teacher compensation/incentives, etc.
He also inquired about the status of the Consolidated Block Grant and wanted to know if DOE is still on 'high risk' status. Furthermore, the Tualauta faipule wants to know if Vaitinasa can provide a status update and timeline on the implementation of the Common Core Standards.
Sanitoa wrote, "The federal government provides approximately 75% of funding for DOE (not including the indirect costs). What are your plans to strengthen the finance department at DOE as far as acquiring personnel that are well versed in grants management and federal regulations?" he asked, adding that he understands Russ Aab has been a great help during the last administration and it would be beneficial for all "if we continue to support his efforts and services."
In a pamphlet that was distributed to House members the day of Vaitinasa's confirmation hearing, DOE outlines its improvement plans, which includes teacher reclassification and certification, incentives, and improvement of school facilities among other things.
Copies of Sanitoa's letter were forwarded to Gov. Lolo M. Moliga, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Scholarships Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli Saena Moliga, and DOE official Russ Aab.
According to information presented to House members, efforts are in progress to work closely with ASCC to develop a strong K-6 teacher education program that not only stresses pedagogy, but provides a strong platform of content area knowledge. Within four years, DOE anticipates to have a cadre of fully qualified prospective teachers.
In addition, the UH College of Education has been requested to design a program with a strong emphasis on content knowledge, while providing the educational methodologies needed for effective teaching for grades 7-12.
Each year, approximately 25 teachers enter the UH Cohort program and currently, there are 100 students in four cohorts working towards their bachelors degrees. The desired outcome is to provide every classroom with a fully qualified teacher.
Work is on the way to reclassify teachers based on course work and completed credentials. DOE will be providing both the governor and Lt. Gov. Lemanu P. Mauga with a new teacher reclassification plan in the coming months.
A teacher incentive program is also proposed, which will reward excellence in the classroom and allow fully qualified teachers to remain there. In addition, a non-teacher incentive program for educational support staff will be proposed to support their return to the classroom. Applying for federal funds to partially cover these efforts is anticipated.
As for facilities, DOE received ARRA funds, which allowed them to renovate many of the school facilities but “these efforts have in no way met our entire needs.” There is a current effort being completed by a cadre of engineers from DOI to assess every educational building. This effort will allow them to build a database of school facility needs and provide the evidence necessary to request additional funds from the appropriate federal agencies.
In her testimony before the Senate Committee on Education last month, Vaitinasa explained that DOE has only two compliance issues left to address to clear itself from “high risk” status under U.S. Department of Education grant funding.
They are: Implementation of an LDS system (Longitudinal Data System) and Expansion of IFAS to school sites (IFAS is the ASG financial computer system).
DOE is looking at addressing these two issues before the end of the year. Vaitinasa reminded lawmakers that the whole ASG is on “high risk” and even if DOE comes into full compliance other agencies or departments must also do the same in order for the “high risk” designation to be lifted. (Other agencies that receive USDOE funding are the Health Department and the American Samoa Community College).
According to information presented to House members, DOE has implemented a comprehensive longitudinal student system that will allow collection of all student data into one system which will allow DOE to serve as the database for student demographics, records, and scores; analyze data as a basis for evaluation of all educational improvement efforts; and evaluate student achievement, program implementation and data over time to see trends and issues in relation to academic achievement, and student population and behavior.
As for common core standards, the US Department of Education has developed standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics that have been adopted by 47 states and all of the territories. Adopting these standards will allow the local Department of Education to provide a compatible and rigorous education expectations.
According to the ASDOE, standards for science and social studies are currently being developed. These models will be the template to develop standards in Samoan Language Arts to ensure the preservation of our native culture and language.
Common core standards also addresses career readiness. To implement these standards, the ASDOE says an intense evaluation of our vocational education program must be performed. This program must be enhanced to better prepare our students for post secondary career paths.
The program design should be a collaborative effort between the ASDOE and the American Samoa Community College.
DOE is the largest department of the American Samoa Government, with a workforce that includes administrators, teachers, school lunch program workers, janitors, maintenance personnel, and school bus drivers.
As of Jan. 18, 2013, DOE had a total enrollment of 15,692 students in ECE, elementary and high school. Over 95.7% of the total student population is Samoan, however, student composition is changing. Recent trends in immigration show an increase in residents from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Philippines, and other Asian countries. The ASDOE employs over 1,906 people who serve in 6 secondary schools, 22 elementary schools, and 54 ECE centers.
The Department has 996 school-level staff including teachers, principals, counselors, librarians, and volunteers from the World Teach organization.
A total of 43% of teachers hold a bachelors degree or higher, and another 26% hold an AA degree. In the past three years, the number of teachers with degrees has increased from 46% to 69%, thanks in part to the ASDOE’s Cohort programs with the American Samoa Community College and the University of Hawaii - Manoa which provides the opportunities for local teachers to gain more education.
Vaitinasa said the vision of DOE is "for all our children to achieve success locally and abroad; to understand the Samoan language and culture, and to be proud of their heritage, while appreciating the cultural diversity of American Samoa."