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.
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.