The meeting of Catholic educators on Pohnpei last week was like a postponed class reunion. The bonhomie and eagerness to share with one another was very much in the air. It had been three years since the last meeting of the Catholic school administrators, and the diocesan association that once linked them had been dissolved. It was at their request that the Catholic Schools Administrators Conference was held, with the 19 participants representing not just Xavier High School, Mindszenty High School and the other schools in the Caroline Islands, but the schools in the Marshalls as well.
The veterans were there in full force: Biram Stege and Sr. Dorothy Nook from the Marshalls, along with Sr. Isabel Seman now on Pohnpei, Sr. Mertxe Sierra (who has been just about everywhere), Tim Moon from Yap, Wayne Olap of Saramen Chuuk, and Fr. Rich McAuliff (now in Palau, but before then in the Marshalls and then Xavier). With them were the newly appointed heads of schools: Fr. Dennis Baker at Xavier, Fr. Jack Mattimore and Michael Wiencek from Yap Catholic High School, and Bernie Helstrom from Pohnpei Catholic School.
The conference, which lasted the entire week, produced no big decisions. There were no magic solutions to the perennial problems of finding the funding and teachers to enable the schools to continue their work. As participants shared information on their schools, it was clear that recruiting and retaining teachers was perhaps the biggest challenge they face. Local teachers are scarce in our high schools–much more so than they have been in years past. Moreover, overseas volunteers are also increasingly difficult to come by. (If any of you reading this post are interested in helping out, give us a shout.)
The conference was a look backward and forwards. It was a celebration of what church schools have meant to the islands then and now. The churches, Catholic and Protestant, introduced formal education to Micronesia a century or two ago, long before there ever was a public education system. According to the test scores reviewed at the conference, our Catholic schools are mostly still at the head of the pack, even in those places where public education has shown notable improvement.
Good education is a legacy of the church to the islands. We may not have a formula for resolving the challenges we face, but we came away from the conference determined to honor this legacy and to continue our proud tradition.