Update: ASDOE 100-Day report highlights core mission
The local Department of Education (ASDOE) covered a wide-rage of issues in its 100-day report to the Governor’s Office under the phrase, “Students First”, which it acknowledged may seem to be a political variation of the ‘People First!’ slogan adopted by the new administration.
However, “It is more than that — ‘it is our mission,” according to the report submitted by ASDOE director Dr. Salu Hunkin Finau.
The report also outlines new policies implemented by ASDOE, in order to avoid recurrence of sexual abuse cases regarding teacher’s and student’s inappropriate relations.
In the report’s introduction, ASDOE does not mince words, saying it has “lacked direction for the last three years,” with “management divided in daily operations, existing policies, and future planning that resulted in a communication breakdown throughout the Department. School facilities had fallen into a state of disrepair.”
Additionally, she noted, “teachers lacked the training and materials they needed for the classroom and these problems meant that students were not first — they were last.”
For the first 100-days, Dr. Hunkin-Finau said she and her staff assessed and prioritized the operations, focusing on the work “to fix the most critical issues that affect the health and safety of our students, along with those issues that impair the learning environment.”
The ASDOE director wrote that “in the first 100 days, our goal was to develop a Strategic School Improvement Plan that will address all facets of education in American Samoa.”
She emphasized ASDOE’s stated mission which 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’.”
The report then provided a summary of ASDOE activities in the first 100 Days of this new administration’s Policy and Management, Instruction, Personnel, and Property and Assets.
POLICY & MANAGEMENT ACTION
Under the subheading of OTHER DEPARTMENT POLICIES, Hunkin-Finau said ASDOE has developed and implemented several new policies and one policy deals with cases of sexual abuse.
She says ASDOE “has had to deal with occurring cases of sexual abuse case regarding teacher’s and student’s inappropriate relations.”
“Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened. We took action, and in response, we worked with attorneys from the Attorney General’s office to develop a comprehensive Sexual Harassment and Abuse policy,” she noted. “All teachers and ASDOE staff will be trained on this policy, and it will be enforced.”
Another new policy requires teachers to stay in the classroom during instructional time.
“Even though this seems obvious, the ASDOE has been allowing teachers to leave the class for training and other events. This affects our students the most, as it reduces their contact time with their teachers,” she says. “This has now stopped and teachers are allowed to leave only for emergencies.”
Another new policy is directed at Facility and Ground Use, which addresses the use of ASDOE facilities, and for the first time, sets a fee schedule for facility use.
Since the community uses the ASDOE buildings often, it is fair that the community pays for use, as it is done with all other public facilities. This policy covers gymnasiums, recreational fields, classrooms and other buildings.
“Along with these new policies, we recently completed a draft Teacher Policy Handbook. This will be ready for distribution to all teaching staff at the beginning of the new school year,” she said.
“It provides a summary of all policies and laws that pertain to the classroom, to students, and to teachers. Student Policy Handbooks will be sent home to parents as well,” she said.
COST CONTAINMENT — Under this subheading, Hunkin-Finau outlined steps taken by ASDOE in response to the governor’s January memo implementing a wide range of measures to cut cost in government as the new administration was faced with uncertainly in the status of the budget for the rest of the fiscal year.
As part of cost containment, Hunkin-Finau says the department “drastically cut travel” and this includes both off-island and to Manu’a.
“We’ve found ways to rely on technology such as Video Conferencing, Skype and web-based meetings to continue our work without leaving Tutuila,” she explained.
She did point out the department had to pay for two trips to send an ASDOE team of administrators to the required yearly meeting for the federal Consolidated Grant. Additionally, the director and deputy director of finance travelled to the University of Hawai’i for contract negotiations for the Cohort Program.
ASDOE has also had travel for the federally funded School Lunch program, which was paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for training.
The second cost containment initiative focuses on reducing electricity use in schools and other ASDOE facilities after work hours and on weekends.
“As the largest user of electricity in the American Samoa Government, we do not take this initiative lightly. Staff conduct weekly inspections of all schools during the day, at night and on weekends to check for unnecessary lights or air conditioning left on when not in use. We project a savings of approximately $30,000 during the 2013 fiscal year,” she said.
Regarding the third cost containment, which deals with the use of cars and cellular phones, all ASDOE cars are parked in the evening and on weekends, and only the Education director takes a car home, in accordance with the Governor’s memo.
In addition, ASDOE has turned off several cell phone accounts and only essential employees have phones. Only the director’s and deputy director's phone accounts have long distance and data plans.
Under subheading TEACHER VACANCIES, she said that with support from the governor, ASDOE has been able to emergency hire 24 teachers for vacant positions.
“As of this writing, all teaching positions in the public schools, including the Manu’a schools, are filled. We have also been able to fill six existing Janitor positions as well,” said Hunkin-Finau.
Regarding the FONO, the report notes that in March and April this year, ASDOE leadership teams made presentations to the Fono providing an overview of current projects and needs.
“While we may not be successful in resolving issues immediately, these presentations are very important for our Department as they lay the groundwork for cooperation and support from the Fono for Education,” the report says.
On the HIGH RISK status issue, Hunkin-Finau says ASDOE is assisting the Governor’s office along with other ASG agencies, to remove American Samoa from High Risk Status.
Of the items listed in the High Risk report, ASDOE had only two listed as complete — one was the development of a Longitudinal Data System and the second was the development of a financial system that met Federal guidelines. “Both have been completed,” said Hunkin-Finau.
Samoa News should point out that former director of ASDOE Claire Poumele was removed from this position in April 2011 by then governor Togiola Tulafono, who, while not stating it directly, alluded to the ASDOE’s continued ‘high risk’ status as one of the reasons for the changes he implemented in the department at the time.
Also at that time, Togiola said on his radio program that the credit for the positive impact at ASDOE goes to then lieutenant governor Faoa Aitofele Sunia, who should be thanked for his leading the team making needed improvements at ASDOE, and Faoa, along with others, traveled to Washington D.C. to continue discussions with USDOE to resolve several issues.
One of the main issues, Samoa News was told as the time, was the Consolidated Grant application, which was still in limbo. This federal grant is the source of major financing for ASDOE’s operations, including much of its payroll.
Togiola, also stated, that for two years now (2009- 2011), some of his staff had been working on these issues with ASDOE and he would like to have his staff back, “once the right people are in place at ASDOE”.
Former ASDOE director Poumele is now Director of Port Administration under the new administration of Gov. Lolo M. Moliga and Lt. Governor Lemanu P. Mauga.
More from the 100-Day report in tomorrow’s edition of Samoa News.