by Speaker Judi Won Pat
Buenas yan Hafa Adai!
Ensuring a high-quality education for all of Guam's children is fundamental to securing the prosperity of our community. It is important that our children are assured the right to an adequate education from the moment they enter kindergarten to when they walk the stage as successful graduates. That is our government's constitutional obligation to our youth. And it is our civic responsibility to children: to ensure that they have a safe, healthful, and sanitary learning environment. Over the years the Guam Legislature passed into law measures that mandate certified teachers in every classroom, functional and clean restrooms, and adequate textbooks, to name a few.
However, over the years we've seen a fluctuation in school enrollment as a result of new students coming into the system and as existing ones progress on to higher grades or simply relocate with their families for various reasons. When there is overcrowding, it becomes more and more difficult for our teachers, administrators and support staff to provide the kind of environment and classroom experience our children deserve. Recently, much concern has been raised about the overcrowding situation at George Washington High School that may require students to participate in a double-session, perhaps an extended school day, and redistricting.
I share this with all of you, the People of Guam, because it serves as a fine example when addressing other concerns facing our community: albeit a single school district or the entire island as a whole. Yesterday's roundtable on overcrowding at GW was a fine display of active leadership as demonstrated by students, teachers, and parents. The student body association responded to the crisis, and worked to get over a thousand signatures on a petition-- showing their united stance in opposition to double-sessions and in demanding that addressing the issue of overcrowding be a priority for their administrators and senators. The SBA advisers stood by their student leaders in addition to offering public testimony as educational practitioners. And, equally as encouraging, was the active participation of the school's Parent, Teacher, and Student Association president who identified the problem for what it was: the need for better planning and, more importantly, action.
I am happy to share with all of you that the efforts of our students, teachers and parents has been very helpful in helping the DOE and Committee on Education work to solve this important issue. To the satisfaction of lawmakers, DOE officials and our students at GW…double-session is no longer on the table. Traditional options such as building new schools, constructing temporary classrooms, redistricting, double sessions, having students go to schools in their home district, and year-round schooling were on the table. However, after discussing the costs, benefits, and limitations surrounding those traditional options, it became increasingly apparent to all those present at the roundtable that we needed to think "outside the box."
And members of our community did just that. Teachers, students, and other stakeholders provided a variety of non-traditional solutions that, when taken together, may offer the least disruption. Some of these options include:
- Extending the opportunity for our public school students to take courses at the University of Guam;
- Allowing students to take courses online;
- Scheduling courses in the summer and winter breaks;
- Rethinking Eskuelen Puengi to also be extended to students who are half-day or on a school-to-work internship program during the school day.
Each of these options have merit and a combination of a few of these options hold the promise of providing the least disruption or impact on the government's budget. In the moments of our greatest adversity we have the opportunity to rise to our greatest potential. My dear people of Guam, I believe that we are all, at every level, committed to working together to find solutions for any and all problems we face at our Department of Education. The potential crisis situation due to overcrowding brought the administration, your senators, school officials, parents, and students around the same table to understand the problem and offer solutions.
I want to thank the People of Guam. Si Yu'os Ma'ase for coming together in the spirit of Inafa'maolek to act in the best interest of our most precious resource, the children of Guam.