25 August 2005

'Police Academy' at Junction 21

YESTERDAY I saw the promise of school-based planning fulfilled in the most unexpected place.

At around 2:30 pm, Mayor Jesse Robredo called up from Bulacan (on invitation by Gov. Josie de la Cruz to discuss our Reinventing the School Board program) to tell me that parents at the Leon Mercado High School in Pacol have been waiting for us to show up - when this meeting was supposed to have been rescheduled sometime next week.

Our three-man team (IT education coordinator Bobby Ursua, his man Friday Noel Aban and myself) immediately reverted to "Police Academy"-mode and packed our gears. Before leaving for Pacol, I called Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado, explained to him the situation, and asked him to find time to sub for the mayor.

("Police Academy" is a long-held tradition at Naga City Hall, and our best-kept secret. Like the bumbling police squad in the Steve Guttenberg starrer, things gone wrong eventually turn out right - for reasons I can't fathom. Perhaps an art perfected over time?)

We were an hour late, and I started by apologizing profusely to the 100 or so parents packed in that classroom at the Metro Naga Sports Complex, where the high school is currently headquartered. With an enrolment of just over 100 students from 1st to 3rd year, it is the 21st stop in our ongoing 36-school sortie that started in late July. By December this year, it is moving to its permanent campus some two kilometers further just beside the Green Valley urban poor settlement - thereby immensely improving access by its main clientele.

The School Board report card
In Mayor Robredo's absence, I discussed the progress made by our 4-year old program over the last 3 years, using our standard Powerpoint presentation entitled "Improving education outcomes".

  • It essentially presents a progress report on local efforts to improve the quality of education over the last 3 years, and discusses ways to further push these efforts forward
  • It centers on a new education philosophy that veers away from the traditional mindset of providing public education merely as a parental obligation to their children towards providing “quality public education that will enable them to become better, more competent, more competitive, and more productive citizens.” The city government is involving actively in local education, which is a mandate of the Department of Education, because it will secure the future of Naga City.
  • It demonstrates that improved academic achievement is possible, judging from comparative available results of the National Achievement Test from 1999-2005. Test scores in elementary almost doubled from 32 to 60%, essentially validating the Board's investments on textbooks and workbooks. High school started higher at 37 but ended lower at 55%, underscoring the need for similar investments over the next three years.
  • The city is doing very well by regional standards, placing 2nd in elementary and topping high school among the 13 Bicol schools divisions. But it should not be deluded by this data since Bicol is currently 15th among the 16 administrative regions - reinforcing Mayor Robredo's now classic observation that the Naga is the best among the worse-off (a poor translation of the bitingly funny "pinakamatibay sa maluluya" in the Bicol language).
  • Rather, the city should benchmark itself with the top performers in the regular The International Math and Science Survey (TIMMS) which shows the Philippines languishing near the bottom of the heap. Specifically, Naga City Science High School (the city's best performing high school) should start scoring Singapore-like scores by breaking the 75% threshhold. Leon Mercado, as a newly independent high school, should aspire for the 60% level - the international average - which will enable it to surpass its mother school, the 100-years old Camarines Sur National High School, and pull the division average closer to the three-year target of 75%.
  • This will only be attained if parents (a key element in the tripartite partnership towards quality education) will do their part. They can start by allowing their children a minimum of daily one-hour study time at home after school hours, and regularly attending quarterly homeroom PTA meetings to discuss their children's progress, not the usual school fees and other contributions.
  • For its part, the School Board will use its annual budget of roughly P25 million to "do more with less," including developing and producing workbooks on Math, Science and English similar to what it did for the elementary, and acquiring the needed textbooks on these three subjects to realize the 1:1 textbook-student ratio. It will also allocate additional funds for school-based reading programs apart from their annual P100,000 School Empowerment Fund.
Bob Ursua, on the other hand, discussed ways through which the School Board - through its budget matched by ongoing corporate-sponsored IT programs - will provide Leon Mercado with an initial 10 computer units within the school year and work out ways of providing complementary internet access.

The Leon Mercado High School strategic plan
It was Mariano de Guzman's turn to pleasantly surprise us. This former teacher at the Naga City Science High School is proving himself more than equal to the task of leading the city's youngest high school, Vice Mayor Bordado said in his message.

Patiently, he laid down the school's statistical profile and performance indicators, including its division achievement test results. With these as bases, he presented to parents four priority objectives whose attainment will enable Leon Mercado High School to gradually raise its academic achievement level to 75% by the end of 2008.

These objectives were translated into specific activities logically spread over the next three years, with corresponding budget estimate and funding source, pinpointing as well as the person/s responsible for each activity.

With that plan, the Board now has a clearer idea of what the school's projected needs are over the same period, thereby enabling it to respond accordingly. The community, especially the PTA, also saw they have an important role to play in the shared burden of building a high-performing school for their children.

It was, without doubt, the best school strategic plan out of the five good ones we saw from the 21 schools visited thus far.

But it more than justifies the Board's investment in asking the Ateneo Center for Educational Development to conduct a strategic planning seminar-workshop for local school heads last June 29 and 30. Now we have a certified best practice out of five good ones in school-level strategic planning, and around three good practices in effective school-PTCA collaboration. There is indeed reason to be hopeful amidst the pall of gloom enveloping our land.

Now the harder part begins - which is translating these plans into reality.


16 August 2005

Federalism and the electric power industry

OVER the past two weeks, on top of time spent on 13 school visitations (as of yesterday, out of 36 consultations scheduled for the rest of August), I put some hours reconstructing my 10-year old masteral thesis at the Bicol University Graduate School.

Its rather imposing title: "The NPC and REC Pricing Policies as they relate to Regional Development efforts in Bicol: A Policy Evaluation."

This was impelled by a gentle reminder that turned into a stiff deadline from the regional office of the Civil Service Commission. Under my contract as a pioneering grantee of the Local Scholarship Program of the CSC, I was supposed to submit certified copies of my diploma, transcript of records and two copies of my thesis. Which I never did, in all those 10 years that went by after I graduated in 1995.

(I went home to Sagrada, Pili, Camarines Sur right after receiving my diploma during the graduation ceremony at the Bicol University sometime in March 1995. I only realized that diploma was worthless without the university seal in 2002 when I was applying for admission as a fellow-elect under the International Fellowship Program.)

The LSP program came into being in 1993 when Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas was then CSC chair. The late Sen. Blas F. Ople put his weight and funding behind the LSP. As of June 2002, it has benefited 11,444 public sector employees, 8,870 of which finished their course.

Yesterday, I finished the task of reproducing two copies of my thesis, which tried to evaluate the pricing policies of the National Power Corporation and the Bicol rural electric cooperatives (RECs).

Then as now, advocacy for a better deal from the national government in regard to utilization of natural resources in the regions is an unending saga. This is fueled by the inequitous situation of higher power rates for residential, commercial and industrial end-users in regions such as Bicol and Samar-Leyte that provide baseline supply to the Luzon Grid through geothermal power plants they host.

Can the promise of federalism correct this inequity? Lost in the din of the ongoing debate is this question, a gut issue for locals like myself and the Bikolano people of which I am one. While still lying below their radar screen, I hope our academics and pundits will soon weigh in on this issue.

Meanwhile, the following links will enable you to access what I had been laboring on for the last two weeks. Enjoy!


10 August 2005

"Here was a great man. Whence comes another?"

A pupil hurries towards the Ateneo de Naga chapel, where the late Senator lies in state, to join her classmates.

TODAY, I paid my final respects to Sen. Raul Sagarbarria Roco, the fallen "apostle of hope," Bikolandia's favorite son and a great Nagueño.

His remains had been lying in state since last Monday evening at the Ateneo de Naga University chapel, where the young Raul finished high school. At 9 pm tonight, necrological services to honor his memory will be held. Tomorrow, he will be buried beside his father Sulpicio, Sr. at the Sto. Nino Memorial Park.

At the gates of the Ateneo de Naga, a banner asks: "Here was a great man. Whence comes another?"

Last Saturday, a day after he died at St. Luke's, we were at Rosario V. Maramba Elementary School, the 7th stop in our ongoing 36-school sortie for the whole of August that seeks to push local education reforms at the community level.

In that meeting with the Maramba Parents Teacher Community Association (PTCA) officials, Mayor Jesse Robredo, Naga City School Board chair, seems to have provided the answer: they are in our midst, and quality basic education will prepare them for the task.

Mayor Robredo recalled last Saturday's Inquirer tribute to Senator Roco. Among others, the article pointed to his love of reading as a vital ingredient in his early childhood development, nurtured in him very early on by his teacher-mother Rosario.

His unexpected death last Saturday has truly diminished us as a nation, especially in these times when our national leaders have lost their moorings. But it inspired us to recommit ourselves to the task of producing more Raul Rocos in this part of our benighted land.


A requiem for Raul Roco (1941-2005)

NOTE: kimosabe27 posted this moving requiem for the the late Raul Sagarbarria Roco, a great Nagueño, at the PCIJ blogsite last August 9, 2005. I have taken the liberty to post it here, as it captures the grief of the Bikolano people for whom he served as an enduring icon and source of inspiration.

A requiem for you Raul

A mournful prayer

Set aloft

The gossamer wings

Of a fading Amihan

Black as spade

The future forebodes


A lull before the storm

The horizon beckoning thunderclouds

Pillars of despair

The balinsasayaw heralding the evil tempest

In a country where legends and war cries

Erode from collective memory

And greatness

Drain in rivulets

Like fading bloodstains

Of fallen warriors

We cry for solace

From this constant deluge

Of wanton wickedness

We wish you were here Raul
Your presence is Isarog

Solitary in a plain of green

Yet lofty and formidable

Forever sheltering fair Naga

From the terrible, terrible claws

Of shredding Habagat

It will be missed…

That keen mind of yours

As sharp as a newly forged Sundang

That penchant for justice

Like Magayon’s slopes

Everything should be equal, proportionate

That bravura, yes that bravura

When everyone else cowered

In the fusillade of lies and deception

You stood up in the defense of Truth

Like the victors of Tancong Vaca

You are relentless

Even though you are outnumbered and outgunned

Still you will be missed…

While the halls of Gugurang

Will rejoice in your presence

And the heroes of Ibalon:

Handiong, Baltog, Bantong

Ola, Vinzons, Escandor

Will welcome you as brethren

We who are left behind
Can only wail in despair

A requiem for you Raul

A mournful prayer

Set aloft

The gossamer wings

Of a dying Amihan