As Guam schools grow, net for new teachers will be cast wider
June 29, 2006
U.S. NAVAL HOSPITAL, Guam — Since the Pentagon announced this spring the move of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, politicians, merchants and residents have been holding planning meetings and creating wish lists as they wait to hear how more than $10 billion in military investment will benefit their island.
Military leaders, who have yet to release many details about the buildup here, have assured Guam officials that the local community will share in parts of the largess.
Yet one example of how the local community may not share in long-term benefits is at the military’s elementary and secondary school district, headquartered near the Naval hospital just outside the capital city of Hagatna.
The change will make the military school system’s recruiting pool substantially bigger but also will shrink job opportunities for candidates now on the island.
The change will alter the faculty’s cultural, ethnic and racial makeup and create a teaching staff more representative of its students, according to Michael Diekmann, superintendent of the Department of Defense’s Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools for Guam.
“We want (the teachers) to reflect the student population,” Diekmann said, to include a variety of backgrounds and people more accustomed to moving around the world, watching a family member go off to war and living in unfamiliar environments.
Military schools here opened almost a decade ago in a split with Guam’s public schools over concerns about student safety and learning. Still, the military continued to look to many of Guam’s teachers to fill classrooms.
The arrangement was mutually beneficial, said educators and others: The military saved money by avoiding moving people to the island, and local teachers joined a school district with starting salaries 40 percent higher than at Guam’s public schools. As of this year, about 90 percent of the school’s 250 teachers are from Guam, Diekmann said.
The new hiring policy at the military schools — where the influx of Marine families could almost double the current 2,500 enrollment — will change that.
Now the overall federal military school system, rather than the local Guam district, will pay relocation costs, Diekmann said. It means the superintendent can consider a candidate from a high school on a U.S. military base in Germany, a recent teaching graduate in New York or a public school teacher in Guam for the same position without worrying that one candidate may come with a higher-priced relocation cost than another.
“As we grow, I don’t have to worry about the cost of recruiting teachers,” he said.
It also will give the military a more diverse group of candidates to consider, Diekmann added.
This year, numbers of white students and multi-race students at the island’s four military schools were almost the same, 32 percent and 29 percent respectively, according to data supplied by the school district. Asian/Pacific Islanders represented 19 percent of the enrollment; Hispanics, 10 percent; and blacks, 8 percent.
Among the current teaching staff, 68 percent are white, 23 percent Asian and 4 percent native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Diekmann noted that most of the local Chamorro people who are native to Guam are listed in the Asian category in the teacher data.
Matt Rector, head of the union representing many of Guam’s public workers, including the 1,800 public school teachers, said he felt the new policy would draw further distinctions between the richer military school system and the public schools, which spent much of June in the local newspaper’s headlines as they struggled to pay their bills.
“To me, this sounds like discrimination,” he said Tuesday, adding that the new policy may make people in Guam feel more isolated from the military. “This action will really drive that feeling home.”
Diekmann stressed the change would be more about life experiences than about skin color.
“The relationship we have with students is different,” he said. “We have to deal with deployments, moves, notifications (of conflict-related deaths) during school.”