DOE director says minor changes are afoot in the department

fili@samoanews.com

During an hour-long House Education Committee hearing last Thursday, Education director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga told lawmakers about some minor changes she has made since being confirmed last month to the directorship post.

Matagi-Tofiga also reiterated her previous public call for the community — including village mayors and village aumaga — to assist in protecting public schools in their villages.

One of the changes at the ASDOE, says Matagi-Tofiga, is the formation of a three-member “grants team” from within the department to write grants as well as oversee these grants once they are awarded by the federal grantor to ensure that all guidelines are followed.

She says the “grants team” will also ensure that “performance reports” — on how the grant was spent and making sure it’s spent in accordance with federal grantor guidelines — are prepared and submitted in a timely manner.

In the past, someone was brought in to write grants for the department, she told the House committee, and noted that she truly believes that ASDOE employs staff with expertise and knowledge in grant writing, so why not utilize these employees.

She emphasized to lawmakers how important it is that ASDOE comply with all federal grantor requirements, including compiling and submitting reports, as required on how grants are used.

And this is especially very important when it comes to the Consolidated Grant, which provides a large amount of funding for ASDOE’s annual budget. She didn’t identify the “grants team” members by name.

Matagi-Tofiga says the “grants team” is also working with private schools, which are included in the Consolidated Grant. And at a meeting last week Wednesday with private schools, issues of discussions included how money is expanded and the required reports, she said.

She recalled for the committee during her confirmation hearing last month that when she took over the directorship post, employees were working in “isolation” — on their own instead of as a team in order to further improve the public education system.

Now, as part of teamwork, Matagi-Tofiga revealed that there are now two teams — Team Philo, headed by deputy director Philo Jennings and Team Fa’aui, headed by the other deputy, Fa’aui Vaitautolu — that spent two weeks conducting visitations and assessments of all public schools on Tutuila and Aunu’u, while Manu’a school assessments will be carried out soon.

Each team has eleven members from all ASDOE divisions — e,g. Office of Curriculum and Instruction, Testing Office, divisions for secondary, elementary, and student services.

Team Fa’aui completed their visits and assessments — which included A.P. Lutali Elementary School on Aunu’u — last week Wednesday, while Team Philo competed theirs last week Tuesday.

Matagi-Tofiga pointed out that the ASDOE leadership believes that the visits to the schools will provide specific needs of each school in order for the department to address them accordingly.

For example, if the need is teachers, that team’s visit will provide such a recommendation, she said, adding that both teams are compiling reports before submitting them to the ASDOE leadership, which will meet to review, discuss and address needs outlined in the reports.

And the reports are very helpful in addressing the needs of schools in their preparations for upcoming accreditations — such as Nu’uuli Vocational Technical High School and Samoana High School, she said.

Regarding the status of public school buildings, which is an issue raised constantly by lawmakers, Matagi Tofiga says many of them are in good condition, although there are some buildings that require maintenance and contact has been made with the Public Works Department, which has jurisdiction over school repairs or maintenance.

She also said that all ASDOE divisions are doing very well including the main ASDOE office in Utulei, where staff has been dedicated to conducting review of personnel to ensure, for example, if a teacher has attained a higher degree, making sure the paperwork is processed and submitted to Human Resources.

The House committee also wanted to know what’s being done to prevent the break-ins at public schools, following the recent break-ins at Leone High School and Leone Midkiff Elementary School.

Matagi-Tofiga told the committee what was stolen and that damage to the doors has been fixed. She had told Samoa News two weeks ago, that computers and laptops were stolen from Leone High School; and at Leone Midkiff, a television set and computers were stolen, along with food items from the school’s cafeteria.  Additionally, doors that had to be replaced cost ASDOE close to $10,000.

During the committee hearing, the director said many public schools have surveillance cameras that were able to capture those who break-in to school facilities in the past, for example Tafuna High School. (Samoa News notes that an alleged break-in at one of the offices at Tafuna several weeks ago was captured on surveillance camera and the information was turned over to police. A video clip of the alleged suspect circulated on social media.)

“The question now is, what is the department doing following the break-ins at the Leone schools?” she asked and responded that because the schools are located in villages, she believes that village leaders and the community should step up to assist in protecting schools from break-ins.

She said, for example, that at Masefau Elementary School, there is no fence for the school campus, but village leaders and village residents keep a close watch on the school — questioning unfamiliar people or vehicles that enter school grounds.

“If Masefau can do it, other villages can do the same,” she said and thanked Fofo county Rep. Fagaoatua Dorian Salave’a, a former Leone High principal, for supporting her call for the community to put a stop to school vandalism at Leone public schools.

Following the break-ins at the Leone public schools, Matagi-Tofiga issued a public call urging village mayors, and village aumaga to assist ASDOE in securing school premises, through village curfews.

“We are a community that fosters village pride, schools are assets to our community and we should protect our schools as it is fundamental to the future of our children,” she said. (See Samoa News edition Mar. 9 for more information.)

CONTINUED PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN ASDOE AND WORLD TEACH

Education director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga says the US based organization, WorldTeach, has played a key role in filling in teacher shortages in American Samoa, and she is very grateful for their continued support.

WorldTeach has been sending volunteer teachers to teach at public schools in American Samoa for the past few years. Matagi-Tofiga says WorldTeach executive director, Karen Doyle Grossman, was on island last week and held a meeting “on ways to better serve our education needs.”

Of the many issues discussed, Matagi-Tofiga says she has asked for volunteer teachers in the content area — English, Math and Science — which Grossman gladly welcomed, and will work with the local Department of Education (ASDOE) in placing content area teachers in the classroom.

In return ASDOE will continue to assist the WorldTeach volunteers — by classroom mentoring.

“Over the years World Teach volunteer teachers have returned and served as contract teachers, some are serving in other educational capacities,” Matagi-Tofiga said last Thursday afternoon.

Grossman says American Samoa is one of the most desirable places for their volunteers.

Matagi-Tofiga said ASDOE treasures this partnership with WorldTeach volunteer teachers and “with minimal resources, they certainly step in to fill the gap.” Also in attendance at the meeting with Grossman was WorldTeach local-field director Shivan Wolf.

Previous Education director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau had praised WorldTeach teachers for their tremendous support to the local public education system, especially for the fact that they help fill the void of teachers in the hard-to-fill posts in content area.

She also says there are some volunteers who preferred and enjoyed very much teaching in Manu’a, where the teachers became part of the village and family settings.

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