Today, at the beginning of a new semester in the public education system, the Education Department leadership has the crucial task of providing quality education that will lead Puerto Rican children to the positive transformation of our island.
This new semester brings the usual challenges: ensuring adequate transportation for students and completing teacher appointments, among others. However, it also brings an important additional challenge: implementing measures to ensure the proper use of federal funds for vital programs subordinated to an external fiduciary agent. Both issues need to be addressed with maximum responsibility.
The trustee will be responsible for administering $650 million in federal funds including Title I and other Special Education Programs funds. The U.S Department of Education (ED) Inspector General determined that the local agency did not have the necessary controls to properly handle those funds. A team from that office will monitor the process of appointing the trustee this week in San Juan.
Federal oversight comes in response to local agency deficiencies in handling federal funds and misconduct by past education administrators.
856 public schools will receive at least 295,851 students this week. The current government's program contemplates administrative and operational changes that must be framed in transparency. Clear objectives are crucial for a better student academic performance by enriching their educational experience.
In this stage, innovative educational reform programs must have indicators to measure their results. This includes educational vouchers as well as charter schools.
The agency must adopt an agile, dynamic structure to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of programs or measures implemented for years or new ones. The success of any initiative is based on transparency and accountability.
It is also important that the ED makes schools safe and stimulating spaces for students and teachers. In this sense, 45 agreements reached with municipal governments that will provide support to school maintenance in 64 towns seem a wise step. In addition, investment to provide 856 schools with electronic monitoring systems and other technological equipment that benefit all school communities is commendable.
At the beginning of the school year and during the semester, the ED leadership has to be open to legitimate complaints or questions from students, parents, and teachers about the needs of schools. Each school's requests and fair proposals must be heard.
It is also important for the agency to work on measures to improve the working conditions of teachers and their support resources. It is positive that a group of 2,558 teachers was recently granted permanence. However, action must be taken to encourage the retention of valuable teachers who in productive stages opted to work abroad, discouraged by instability in the island's education system.
Experts in pedagogy stress that it is urgent to speed up innovation in teaching practices further integrating technological resources and curriculums related to students' reality. This is essential from an early age, but especially at high school levels, where there school desertion rates are high.
With the new governance that Puerto Ricans demand, a transformed public education system, focused on high-quality education and administrative transparency-will become the main driver for Puerto Rico's reconstruction and development.