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WASC commends principals, Ministry of Education

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, April 2, 2012) – It was a big week for Majuro high schools, as two United States accreditation teams reviewed their programs and gave positive reviews that are expected to lead to extending their accreditation terms.

Following a visit to Majuro Cooperative High School Thursday, principal Kathy Stratte said the Western Association of Schools and Colleges team was impressed with many facets of the school’s 12th grade program. Coop School is one of three accredited schools in the Marshall Islands, but with this year its first year for a graduating class from its high school, it is seeking WASC accreditation of its 12th grade.

"The visit was very positive, and the team was impressed with the challenging curriculum, the number of extracurricular opportunities we provide for students, and the caring, family like culture of the school," said Stratte. "We expect to get a final word on 12th grade accreditation in May or June."

Earlier in the week, another WASC accreditation team delivered an encouraging report on improvements at Marshall Islands High School, the country’s largest public school, and commended Principal Evelyn Konou for her leadership. Marshall Islands High School is the only public school in the Marshall Islands that is U.S.-accredited.

"We are satisfied with the progress made and have no new recommendations (for action)," said Geraldine Ichimura, who chaired the three-person WASC team that spent two-and-a-half days evaluating Marshall Islands High School.

About 100 people — students, teachers, parents, administrators — turned out to hear the WASC report. They heard Ichimura, Alvin Rho and Gayle Hendricks explain that the school still faces many challenges and problems. But the WASC team said principal Konou, with the backing of Minister Hilda Heine and Secretary Gary Ueno, has moved to address all areas of improvement identified in 2009 when the school first achieved accreditation.

Ichimura said that when WASC approved MIHS’ first accreditation in 2009, "MIHS deserved to be accredited. This visit confirms (the decision)."

Ichimura said the WASC team’s report will go to the commission, which will meet in early June to make a decision about extending MIHS’s accreditation term for an additional three years.

WASC recognized the hiring of Konou last year, her bringing on board a second vice principal and another counselor, the aggressive effort to improve attendance, a "senior rescue" program for struggling students, and parents involvement in the school. The issue was summed up by Ichimura, who said that "rules are enforced" at MIHS.

Rho described attendance and tardiness as "a serious problem" but said the school is "addressing the problem head on."

WASC said the school and the Ministry of Education need more authority over the hiring and firing of personnel, now controlled by the government’s Public Service Commission. The high school was short of teachers late into the first semester of school this year. The team endorsed a proposed amendment to the Education Act that Minister Heine introduced to parliament this week, which would establish an Education Personnel Management System to manage hiring and firing instead of the Public Service Commission. "This will provide timely personnel decisions that will help all schools," said Hendricks, who is based on Guam.

"I want to recognize the courage and dedication of the leadership (of the high school)," said Ichimura. "So much has happened in such a short time."

Konou, responding to the WASC report, said: "We’ll be nervous until June (when the accreditation commission issues its decision), but we have confidence and we like to meet challenges."

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