GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez Describes GDOE’s Improvement: Stable, United and Moving Forward

The implementation of the State Strategic Plan, school facility improvements, the transition plan to get GDOE out of high risk, new programs such as the pilot Pre-K, and student test results from the ACT Aspire assessment. These were just some of the topics GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez included in his State of Public Education address last night.

Guam – “Welcome to the 2015 Annual State of Public Education address here at Southern High School,” says GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez. 

Fernandez’s third and potentially last State of Public Education address focused on this theme: “We’re here today to talk about a different but critical subject: our student, our island, our future. I estudiante-ta, i isla-ta, i lina’la-ta,” he says. 
Fernandez explains that since he took over as the Guam Department of Education Superintendent in 2012, a lot has changed. The Department he says went from unstable to now “stable, united and moving forward”. 
He says, “I realized how fragile our organization was at that time, under high-risk, bombarded with bad news, completing an extended and difficult superintendent search. People described the climate in the department, whether it’s true or false, as a climate of fear. Even with now Senator Underwood’s service in her 3 years as superintendent, the department had still seen 21 superintendents in 21 years with the average term being only 14 months. That’s not a formula for success. You can’t determine or sustain any direction under those terms. When I came on board, I wanted to calm those waters and get our ship slowly turned around in a steady direction.”
Fernandez talked about the many accomplishments and changes that took place over the years. One of the most important, he said, was putting forth a strategic road map to improve education for students and setting higher standards of learning. Fernandez explains with a new curriculum, the department is pushing forward with college and career readiness efforts and hosting Advanced Placement classes and English and Math camps. The curriculum also includes a pilot Pre-Kindergarten program and the new ACT Aspire assessment. In fact, he spoke about the students’ tests results. Fernandez explains although students need a lot of work in Reading and Math, the scores in English improved dramatically. 
He explains, “Let’s talk about how our students did. In English, our students performed pretty well. We saw jumps to 41% of our third graders who are the ready level in English. This performance was consistent for every grade level from 3rd grade to 10th grade. Several schools had more than 50% of their students scoring in the ‘ready’ category. Remember this is a nationally recognized test that is aligned to college readiness standards.”
Fernandez also spoke about facility improvements at various schools that have happened since 2012. He mentioned the expasion of Okkodo High, the renovation of Untalan Middle, and the opening of Tiyan High. Fernandez explains that there are more projects underway. He explains, “As we go forward, I want to see that we complete that work by making sure we have modern facilities for all of our students. Over the coming year, I want to see the procurement for the $100-million dollar for facilities and the $5 million for the health and safety projects move forward. I want to see a rebuilt Simon Sanchez High School. I want to see a plan for all our facilities and to be able to use funds to address the schools. I want 2016 to be the year we get going.”
Fernandez said they’re one step closer to getting off high-risk grantee status. “Over the past 15 years and we had the discussion with US DOE last week, we’ve gone from an un-auditable agency with double digit findings and over $2 million dollars in questioned costs to where we are today. When US DOE came last week, they validated that progress. These guys are conservatives and they don’t have to say anything if they don’t have to so I was very glad. They said we built momentum and we put the right training in place and that’s something we’re going to continue to do,” he says. 
Ending his speech, Fernandez says now that the department is stabilized, his focus now is keeping the momentum going. Fernandez says, “Every time I had a hard day I find time to go out to a school. I go to be rejuvenated and it never fails. Whenever I’m out there, whether they’re playing, eating lunch or complaining about rules in high school, I look at their faces and see the future of our island. They remind me why we work so hard. Our students, our island, our future.”