Is Palau Public School Consolidation Working?


by Keizy Shiro

For more than a decade, Palau’s Ministry of Education has tackled school consolidations numerously in hopes of increasing student achievement, improving teaching performances, and saving money on administrative costs. Some public school administrators regard school consolidation as the best pathway to success. Others think that consolidating schools proves formidable as administrators, staff, and students will stand to lose school ownership and face added disadvantages of commuting to and from other schools in other districts. As more and more island states are affected by the school mergers, questions are raised: Is it working? Are we actually saving cost? Although Palau’s Ministry of Education faces hard questions, the ministry continues to maintain a notable stance to ensure that Palau’s students become successful by maximizing the resources available to the Ministry of Education as well as improving student learning environment within the most cost effective means.

The first hint of Palau’s school consolidation began in 1999 under former Palau President Kuniwo Nakamura that came as a result of a careful study of existing school facilities. The examination of the public elementary schools included a review of their physical condition, their proximity to the students they serve, the demands placed on them, and the infrastructure serving them. The plan also took into consideration the school personnel’s expected attrition rates for both educators and administrators. The collected data analyzed both its current and anticipated demand if consolidation of schools would be realized. (Ministry of Education Officials, 1999)

Based on the information collected and analyzed in 1999, the plan suggested consolidating eleven elementary schools into more than six facilities. The resulting schools were hoped to be more efficient and effective in reducing unnecessary duplication of personnel effort while equipment and services are shared to ultimately lead each school to realize cost savings. The 1999 plan included execution capabilities through three phases in hopes of observing effects that cannot be readily predicted. Hence, the degree of community disapproval to change, assessing students to a new learning environment, and identifying unforeseen developments were duly noted within the report. The first phase was to consolidate the schools with ample facilities. Phase two was geared to consolidate schools with minor facility requirements. The third phase was to consolidate schools with major facility requirements. The three phases allowed time to implement the consolidation slowly and to study the effects and impacts prior to each initial phase. (MOEO, 1999)

Some major issues were present and resulted in delays for the implementation of the 1999 school consolidation plan. The report identified some schools that are situated within private lands whose owners demand compensation for their use. Moreover, the same schools proved difficult to renovate or expand its facilities as the landowners did not approve any major school renovations. The report also stated that most of the school facilities are deteriorating as the original structures were built a long time ago and suggested that at least one million dollars was needed to complete the required renovations. (MOEO, 1999)

As Phase I of the 1999 report materialize, Ngatpang Elementary School merged with Aimeliik Elementary School. Ngatpang teachers and staff were given opportunities to assume equivalent duties in Aimeliik. Now, Ngatpang students share classrooms with Aimeliik students and the school enrollment has since doubled in size. Previously, school consolidations in Ngarchelong State ‐ Ollei Elementary School and Ngaraard State ‐ Ngkeklau Elementary School did happen but were done do to administrative decisions and were not part of the 1999 report. Talks resumed after the mergers but were rendered mute until 2009. (MOEO, 1999)

On April 13, 2009, a school consolidation task force committee created by presidential executive order 259 was tasked to study, report, and make recommendations on school consolidation in Palau. The task force took note of the 1999 school consolidation report and moved to adopt its recommendations. However, the committee later determined that meaningful benefit is best obtained if school consolidations were driven by a unified whole education strategic planning. The task force recognized school consolidation based on four main factors. First, the completion of the Babeldaob interstate road that made most schools accessible by school buses. Second, the likelihood for cost savings to be realized by maximization of scarce resources to be shared to consolidated schools. Third, school merging opportunities did exist in places other than Palau’s main island of Babeldaob. The final factor was that cost and efficiency benefits would increase if the whole education system is addressed rather than just concerned areas. (School Consolidation Task Force, 2009)

The committee moved to recommend that policies establish a mode to transition the school system to an elementary/junior‐high/high school. This move did allow the government much flexibility to consolidate schools, relocate students, and/or construct new schools. In addition, the committee did emphasize recommendations to establish school regions (zoning policy) and a transportation unit to oversee student transportation needs. The task force opted to implement their plan in phases similar to the previous 1999 plan as to allow room for each phase to be realized and defined within a ten year education master plan for the Palau’s Ministry of Education. (SCTF, 2009)

Based on the task force report, the committee recommended school reduction in Palau from 10 to 4 schools by establishing the following four regions. 1) Ngarchelong, Ngaraard, and Ngardmau; 2) Ngiwal, Melekeok, and Ngchesar; 3) Ngeremlengui, Ngatpang, and Aimeliik; and 4) Airai. After which, schools within Palau’s most populated area where to be reconfigured into elementary and junior‐high schools while funding was to be realized to build additional high schools. (SCTF, 2009)

On August 8th 2011, Region II, Ngiwal and Ngchesar merged with Melekeok elementary school. The biggest challenge that the ministry of education faced was the transition period during the 1st Quarter of the school year. About 20,000 dollars was spent to prepare Melekeok for the merger. Students and teachers had to experience change; school buses now transport more than 100 students to the school site; students that had few classmates now have full classrooms to consider. As attrition was the taskforce recommendations, Ngiwal and Ngchesar teachers now work jointly together to deliver daily lessons. Melekeok Elementary School has two school principals working to ensure that their school improvement plan is implemented throughout the school year. A total of 18 eight‐graders from Melekeok elementary school attended their promotional day in May 22, 2012 marking a momentous ceremony noting the recent enrollment hike. (Tia Belau News Paper Vol. 21, Issue 26 page 2)

So is Palau school consolidation working? Did we save cost? Based on each consolidation pathway, it still faces notable challenges as Regions I, III, and IV are still to be enacted. However, to date, school consolidation is meeting its expected outcome. Student achievement now has a boosting mechanism as competitions between students have at least doubled in size. Teacher’s performances have improved as the team‐teach concept is fully in force and they now share a wide range of ideals toward their lesson plans. Although the Ministry of Education mandate emphasize on student learning and teaching performances and not on saving administrative cost, the recent school consolidations have accrued several fixed cost as other school facilities have closed. Cost savings will continue to accumulate as each school consolidation region and phase is enacted along with the attrition rates of school personnel.

As school consolidations continue to take form, the following recommendations must be considered. First, conduct several familiarization trips to school sites that will be consolidated. Such trips will allow students and staff to familiarize themselves with school facilities and network amongst peers. Second, employ a school counselor to assist students that face difficulties with the school consolidation. Having a school counselor will ensure that consolidated school continue to provide a conducive learning environment. Finally, provide an incentive plan for teachers and staff that are willing to relocate to other schools. Teachers will be more willing to relocate and fill other school teaching positions if an incentive plan outweighs the difficulties of school consolidation.

In closing, Palau’s school consolidation still faces a long pathway toward its full implementation. From its initial stage through the 1999 school consolidation report to the 2009 taskforce recommendations, we now have a working sample as Ngiwal and Ngchesar have merged with Melekeok Elementary School. Lessons can very well be learned by past consolidation efforts but what remains clear is that the Ministry of Education continues to ensure that Palau’s students become successful in the Palau society and the world.

References

Ministry of Education Management Team and Palau Education Master Plan Steering Committee. (2006). Education Master Plan 2006‐2016. Koror, PW: Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education Officials. (1999). Babeldaob school consolidation plan. Koror, PW

School Consolidation Task Force. (2009). Final Report on school consolidation plan. Koror, PW

Tia Belau News Paper Vol. 21, Issue 26 page 2 (2012). New Consolidated School to hold first promotion
day.

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