School Readiness Task Force begins immense cleanup/repair initiative

by Marissa Borja, KUAM News
Monday, May 23, 2005

As the school year winds down for Department of Education students, such marks the beginning of a massive cleanup and repair effort by the agency's School Readiness Task Force. The organization was created by Governor Felix Camacho more than a year ago to address issues in schools that presented immediate threats to the health and safety of students.

From broken ceiling panels and leaky sinks to termites and rodents, it looks like the issues plaguing DOE campuses just don't seem to change. While the island's campuses need all the help they can get, it appears the problems at one school have gotten even worse with just a few weeks left of classes.

It's hard to miss the big red "D" that's posted on the bulletin board as you step into the main office of Agana Heights Elementary School. The letter grade indicates that the campus received more than 41 demerits during a recent public health building inspection. According to the building inspection report, the school was cited for violations including termite infestation, a foul smell from the water outlet in the nurse's office, no hot water at the nurse's station, and inspectors specifically noted that rodent control is essential along with a strong sanitation program.

The last page of the report contains a list of repeat violations. And while Agana Heights Elementary principal Dr. Marjorie Raess declined to comment on the letter grade, DOE spokesperson Gerry Cruz tells KUAM News that issues like these, if deemed as an immediate threat to the health and safety of students - are slated for correction by the school readiness task force. Otherwise, taking priority are the school cafeterias.

"What's immediate at this point and what's going to prevent us from opening or serving in the cafeterias that has to be taken care of right away," said Dr. Raess. "For those other safety hazards, surely those are going to be at the top of the list, but the cafeterias right now, the goal is whatever letter grade below 'A' to an 'A'."

You may recall that the rodent issue within DOE isn't anything new, as signs at Agueda Johnston Middle School clearly indicate that it's an issue they continue to contend with. Cruz says that the lack of funding to buy materials and supplies is what prevents the Department from being able to maintain the campuses. However, with the help of the Task Force and the Adopt-A-School Program, they're aiming to spruce up the schools during the summer months so that students and teachers return to cleaner campuses.

In the meantime, with the Legislature's recent thumbs-up on Bill 1, a measure that ensures every student receives an adequate education, Senator Bob Klitzkie is hoping to put an end to ailments like these within the Guam public educational system. Said the Republican senator, "I haven't had a chance to speak with the Governor since the Bill passed at 11pm Friday night. But I believe the Governor will be returning to the island shortly, I'm very optimistic that the Governor will sign this bill."

If signed into law, the legislation would put the pressure on the Department of Education to cleanup its act not only by ensuring facilities are clean and sanitary, but also that there are certified teachers in the classroom, libraries are being run by certified librarians, and that each student has a textbook if DOE fails to do, students and parents would have the opportunity to file legal action through an injunction that would force the Government of Guam to provide an adequate public education.

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