Lt. Governor and education specialist make surprise visits to Pohnpei schools

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By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
September 7, 2017
Pohnpei, FSM—This week Lt. Governor Reed Oliver and Richard Clark of the Pohnpei Department of Education (PDOE) made surprise visits to several of Pohnpei’s public schools.
“The visits were surprise visits. This entire week, the Lt. Governor and myself (and at times other staff, including Rickson Higgins and Arwelson Arpona) have been going to Level One schools to informally observe what's going on. Part of the rationale for the visits is so that our elected officials can see the on-the-ground reality as reflected in our Accreditation reports, e.g. every public school has a textbook shortage of some kind (what changes is the degree of the shortage), but what does that mean for Lewetik School vs PICS vs Wone,” Clark wrote.
Clark is an Education Adviser and Acting Quality Assurance Coordinator at PDOE. His role is to assist PDOE in implementing the FSM Accreditation Systems Procedures, introducing additional standards of measuring performance, engaging in reforms in standardized testing and reporting, student/teacher/parent surveys, policy and planning, and data management, among other more minor duties such as document editing.


He said that during the school visits this week included informal classroom observations, facilities' inspections- -including inspections of renovated structures such as at Wone School, and which structures need to be renovated, meetings with principals, and conversations with students. “At PICS on Monday, for example, we ate lunch with students and asked them about their opinions ranging from their textbooks to lesson quality to afterschool activities. Today at MHS, we spoke with various students about school activities, their upcoming Student Body Officer election tomorrow, and to what degree they feel high school is preparing them for college,” Clark wrote.
“These visits add an extra layer of authenticity to our accreditation process. Though these specific visits are informal, the goal is to have them be on-going, i.e. the Lt. Governor, myself, and other key staff (including our new superintendents, per our restructuring plan for the PDOE) visiting schools every quarter,” Clark wrote in an email.
Transparency is enshrined in PDOE’s vision statement adopted on October 16. Without casting any aspersions on any previous administrations, the current administration is very serious about transparency. They’ve recently begun publishing an excellent newsletter that included a lengthy interview with a student. The administration made no effort to “candy coat” the student’s responses and published them even when though some were highly critical. There is nothing to be learned if only positive messages are allowed.
“The FSM has adopted its own accreditation process entitled The FSM Accreditation Systems Procedures. Based on AdvancED, each individual State Department of Education is responsible for observing and evaluating its own schools,” Clark wrote. “However, at the recent JEMCO meeting this August, JEMCO has proposed that a third party conduct these visits. FSM is opposed to this, but Pohnpei State Department of Education and Yap State Department of Education have voiced their desires for our formal accreditation visits to include staff from other FSM states. At the moment, only Pohnpei DOE representatives formally visit and evaluate Pohnpei schools. However, for our next formal round of visits this school year, we'll be inviting staff from other State DOEs, as well as PTA officers and community members to join our evaluation teams,” he explained.
“Accreditation makes a significant impact on how we answer the question: "what does success look like?" It offers a formal, standardized means of assessing what's happening in our schools. In short, it gives us objective data, which allows us to make data-based decisions that positively impact student performance.
“As an example of the above, prior to April 2017 we knew intuitively that we had many dedicated, capable teachers, but also that lesson planning was not consistent across the state. We were able to get data that showed that approximately 1/3 teachers in the state required professional development training on lesson plan development, and that lead to reforms on our standardized lesson plan format in our July Policy & Planning Retreat, and professional development sessions in our schools in late August to mid-September on how to construct a quality lesson plan that includes differentiated instructional activities, including activities that cater to IEP (special needs) students.
“Accreditation has, on the negative side of things, given us accurate information on our weaknesses, such as in data management. Data management- -from the collection of attendance trends to identifying individual student strengths and weaknesses--is our weakest area at most individual schools, in our central office, and system-wide.
“On the positive side of things, accreditation has given us good ideas to replicate system-wide. For example, Awak School implemented an "Open Class" every month, wherein teachers teach their lessons to other teachers, with some folks acting as students and others writing down their observations. This was used as justification to create our Lead Teacher program, where now each school in Pohnpei State has at least one staff member dedicated to assisting with the implementation of professional development and model lesson demonstrations at their schools and across the state,” Clark explained.
The team visited PICS, and Nett Elementary on Monday. They visited Lewetik School on Tuesday, Wone School on Wednesday and Madolenihmw High School on Thursday.
At MHS on Thursday, Clark said that the accreditation process is to be a collaborative effort including the involvement of all stake holders in the process. He was excited to report that at MHS there had been a high level of involvement not just from teachers and administration but also from students, parents, and even bus drivers.