Toni Fernandez, 2015
PAHRODF Case Studies
Results Story 10: Leadership and Management in Education
Fighting for DepEd Recognition
As program head of School of the Future (SOF), Toni Fernandez confides that her role is similar to that of a school principal. After three years on the job, she felt that she needed to beef up her leadership skills to help her manage the school more effectively. This prompted her to apply for the Australia Awards Scholarships. After qualifying for a slot, Toni was recommended to the Department of Education (DepEd) for nomination. Toni went to Australia in August 2012 where she took up Master in Education Leadership and Management at the University of Newcastle.
Now, as she tells it, it seems that her main struggle upon her return, lies with DepEd. Though Toni defines her REAP (Re-Entry Action Plan, a plan designed to apply her learnings to organisational gaps) as a ‘curriculum review’, her main advocacy and challenge is to get DepEd to approve the School of the Future as a special program rather than a mere teaching strategy. Although it began as such in 1996, SOF has greatly evolved since then because of its widespread community acceptance. As Toni emphasises, “My objective actually in going to Australia is to prove to them that I can lead the school because that’s what I studied in Australia – that I can lead a program and turn it into something which will contribute to the education of our youth.”
This move to get SOF recognised as a special program, actually caps the thrust of her REAP which actually predates her scholarship. Up until Toni’s designation as program head of SOF in 2011, no review of the computer education curriculum had been done to keep the Iloilo National High School abreast of current developments in information technology. So as soon as she came in, she undertook a review and discovered that indeed, the school curriculum no longer kept pace with modern trends.“I asked experts to review our curriculum and took on their suggestions to have both software and hardware integrated into the curriculum, aside from the basic DepEd curriculum. I then asked the principal to hire personnel who can take care of these enhancement subjects,” she explains.
Toni then sought the support of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) in sustaining the programme and as a result, they were able to buy tools and new computers for the students. Within three months, I submitted a revised curriculum to the regional office of the Department of Education. “Luckily, the regional director approved the revision, and I went off to Australia,” she says.
Since coming back, Toni has continued to supplement her REAP. She has managed to beef up their computer education subjects as well as get an information technology expert onboard to handle the hardware aspect of computer education. Likewise, turning to the PTA once more for assistance, they have been able to buy equipment necessary for their computer hardware servicing section.
Implementing and fulfilling a vision
As Toni admits, her REAP is “peculiar” as it was initiated even before she left for scholarship and was implemented by the other school teachers in her absence. Although it reverses the usual paradigm of REAP resulting from scholarship and/or intervention, Toni feels there was a compelling reason as to why it was allowed. “I think it was probably considered valid because of the K-12 curriculum coming in. It was an innovation that needed to be sustained, and because we sustained it on our own, we were indigenous, we did not get any help from the central office. So the facility probably recognized it as a special program. We also proved that it had become prestigious, as we had graduates who excelled in their chosen fields, or careers…not limited to computer education, but even in medical courses, the marine industry, and other fields,” she proudly declares.
Though SOF was supposed to be in place only for a two-year period, the principal decided to continue it, even when DepEd stopped supporting it financially. As Toni narrates, the push towards converting the School of the Future from just computer-aided instruction with just one section of “star pupils” to a separate program altogether came in 2008 when a new SOF head was appointed. SOF began tapping outside sources like the PTA and other local business establishments for support.
Through their assistance, SOF aims is to have a separate system, set of facilities, equipment, specialised classes and personnel to handle it - somewhat like a small school within the high school. While SOF is operational, Toni’s frustration, as she puts it, is with DepEd’s inability to share SOF’s goals and assist them. According to her, DepEd up to now still insists that SOF is limited to just being a teaching strategy. “They should have monitored its growth, its development. Now that we have developed it into a program, they should have recognised our efforts to sustain it even without their help. So hopefully when I see them, when I talk to them, I would be able to convince them that we have sustained the programme and we should be given due recognition,” she laments.
In fact, SOF’s progress, as it appears to Toni, has caught DepEd pretty much by surprise. Toni explains, “They (DepEd) did not see it evolving into a special programme, because they could not see how we were sustaining it without resources. So they were surprised to learn that we already have 42 units of computer that we got on our own, special facilities, our own audio-visual room, our own library. We’re not using the school library anymore. We have our own science library.”
Even with these measures in place however, support still proved inadequate. In trying to raise funds for their deserving students, Toni was even motivated to solicit funding from possible benefactors in Australia, although regrettably, without much success. While she could have already been content with what SOF had already achieved, she recognises its potential in helping so many more of Iloilo’s youth. Clearly, Toni has taken her REAP beyond just a “curriculum review”, bringing it into the arena of a full-blown advocacy to benefit her students more.
Pressing on, she is emboldened by what she has learned from her studies, especially as they have just recently had another batch of graduates “My degree with the University of Newcastle is on Masters of Leadership and Management in Education and it has taught me that I can do anything I want as long as I set my heart on it. In Australia, the culture is that we are equals. So for my part, that is the best education. I should not fear anybody because they are just my equals,” she explains. And this exactly what Toni has in mind when she meets and makes her case with DepEd officials within the month. “Having that degree from a prestigious university and backed up by the scholarship from Australia, I will be able to convince DepEd central office that SOF is worthy to be a programme, worthy to have its own rules and regulations as a national high school and that we should have our own set of graduates, our own set of honor students. Our parents association should be recognised because they are also stakeholders in this. We have proof that we have sustained the programme and DepEd should…it is their duty to recognise the efforts. I will push for this programme to be recognised,” Toni proclaims.
Looking into the future, Toni is truly in step with SOF. Her aim is to get the School of the Future included in the K-12 educational program. The principal has already agreed, and has committed himself to adopting SOF as part of the technical and vocational strand of the K-12 program in senior high. In addition, apart from information technology, the school will also be including nursing care, to arm the students with practical skills they can use even if they only manage to complete high school. As Toni puts it, “Even if students do not proceed to a bachelor’s degree, they would be able to acquire the skills from this school. I am not well-versed in computers, but as long as the School of the Future lives on, the technology and vocational strand of the senior high school will be there, even if I’m not. And that’s okay with me.”