Neil Rochelle: On A Personal Journey
Day 2 on the job

May 12, 2011

      A better day for sure…. The Department of Education sponsored training on consolidated federal grants with all the administrators in the private, parochial and public schools.  It gave me an opportunity to meet more people than I will remember. Everyone is extremely friendly.  Several people said they had heard about me and knew I was a superintendent.  Several asked if I would be applying for the position here.  NO THANK YOU!!  From what I can tell, many people have been waiting for my position to be filled and for me to be on board.  I get the impression that there has been a ‘hole’ and lots of other people have had to fill the gap.  With me on board, a little seems to be off of other people’s plate. 

      From what I have learned, the federal government gives permission for outlying areas such as Guam, Samoa, and Common-Wealth of Micronesian Islands to consolidate all their Title grants into one Consolidated Federal Grant Title V.  Federal Grant reviews conducted the training on what components are grant should have as they presented the district’s approved grant for this year.  The grant has gone through an approval processes including revisions.  A lot of the money has not been spent and it must all be spent before August 30th.  Given the procurement process, that will be a challenge.  In addition, school end May 26th.  So getting input from teachers and administrators will not be easy given how busy everyone is at the end of a school year.  Ballots were given out to all participants.  This group of administrators was the stakeholders by Federal requirement and expected to give the district ‘input’.   The vote indicated everyone but one voter was in favor of consolidating all the Federal Grants.  The afternoon was spent in an exercise to write a grant narrative with all the required components.   

     Right after lunch, the superintendent was called away.  Apparently close to 300 students from 5 schools in the southern portion of the island had become ill after eating lunch.  The Naval Hospital and Guam Memorial Hospital were scrambling checking all of the children.  There’s talk of the food or water being tainted in some way.  I haven’t heard anything else since this afternoon. 

     Tomorrow is another day, Friday and the end of a short first work week for me.  It will be another day of training at the Hilton and an opportunity to network some more and meet new people.  I’m looking forward to it.

Tomorrow Begins Another Step in the Journey!

May 10, 2011

     Well, tomorrow I begin a job!  Yes, after  eight and a half months of not having work to go to every day, I will be a position at the Guam Department of Education:  Program Coordinator for Highly Qualified Teachers, Teacher Retention and Technology.  All I know about the job is that I will be responsible for oversight of the programs and Consolidated Federal Grants for those programs in the school district.  Guam Public Schools is an island-wide school system.  Schools are located through-out the island and the break-up of elementary, middle and high schools are similar to mainland U.S..   When I was called this morning, I was told my drug screening was back and complete and need to fill out paperwork in personnel and then I can start.  I said I could be in this afternoon or in the morning.  Tomorrow morning was chosen because another employee would be coming in and needed to complete the packet as well and we could be seen together.  Apparently, my ‘supervisor’ was hoping I would begin Monday of this week and there is a training for consolidated grants at the Hilton Hotel on Thursday and Friday of this week they want me to attend. 

     The mention of the word “supervisor” actually threw me a minute.  I have not had a supervisor in over 12 years other than a board of education.  It will be different to have someone that tells me what to do on a regular basis.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I wanted to give up “the buck stops with me kind of life” and just have “a job”.  I still maintain, I want to “work to live, not live to work”.  For years I have functioned in the later.  My careers consumed my life.  This is not to say that I will not be a very hard-working, dedicated employee but it will be different. 

      Guam schools are in somewhat of a transition.  The superintendent has given notice that she will step down July 22nd.  There is currently a search for a new superintendent.  The position has been posted and applications have been available.  The posting closes next Monday.  According to the newspaper, seven applications have been picked up but not one person has applied for the position.  It will be very challenging for the person that takes this job.  Dr. Underwood (the current superintendent) has been in the position for just three years.  Prior to that there have been a string of superintendents whose average stay is just over 1 year.  Half of the candidates have stepped down.  The other half have been “asked” to leave.  There are financial issues, over-crowding in the schools, lack of resources, a ‘strong’ board vs. a policy board of education and that all contributes to the challenge.  This is quite different than the New York system.  Each school determines the curriculum and program they wish to use.  There is no island-wide/district-wide consensus.  That is very difficult for me to grasp.  I have had numerous phone calls and e-mails encouraging me to apply.  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  The position is highly visible and highly political.  The same could be said for my former position in New York but it’s different on this island.  There is only one school district and one superintendent.  Criticism comes along with leadership.  Good leadership comes with controversy.  All that controversy almost killed me.  The issue for me is, within the criticism and controversy, it seems to be human nature to confuse that by questioning someone’s integrity.  I spent my entire career working hard and demanding that I conduct myself professionally, with honesty and the utmost integrity.  People can question my integrity but at the end of the day, there is no question.  Due to confidentiality, laws governing open meetings and education laws in New York, when my integrity was questioned, there was nothing anyone could do to prove that my integrity was intact.  Ultimately, it led me to resign from my position.  No job, and no amount of money was ever worth that to me.  My family was affected, my health was seriously impacted and my children had to deal with rumors, lies and the media.  This went on for as long as I could take it.  It was no life and I was losing my zest for life and became completely discouraged with our education system.  Truth of the matter, I am a true ‘educator’ at heart.  Not a manager.  When I saw children hurt by the ‘system’, incompetent teachers protected by unions and contracts and financial resources reduced to the point of dismantling good programs for children, the time had come for me to take a different direction: even if I didn’t know what direction that was. 

     Hearing from my friend how much need there was in the education system on Guam, I felt I wanted to give it a go out here.  I have a lot to offer.  I have over 27 years of experience in education.  I don’t know it all but I do believe I know a lot.  There has to be a place for me to help improve the schools.  New York is a big place.  There are so many districts all scrambling to do the same thing.  I’ve always wanted to teach/work on an island.  I love the tropics.  What better place than where I am right now? 

     I look forward to a new opportunity and now that I have a position, I hope that other doors open aligned with my experiences and my passion for providing children with the best education possible.

You always have the ability to resist external stressors,
and to live in inner peace and happiness.
You can choose how you prefer to respond to external events,
and you can train yourself to minimize your stress
and maximize the joy you receive from life.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

~Mother Teresa

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

~Buddha

Invited to experience another culture…..
Good Friday trek

Written by Staff   

Annual pilgrimage offers insight into island beliefs

On an island that is predominantly Catholic, Good Friday is still very much a sacred holiday.

Two decades ago, schools, government offices and stores closed for the day as families stayed at home; even the youngest understood it was time for quiet. Time seemed to stop as families spent Holy Week in solemn prayer until the Easter holiday, a joyous celebration of Christ’s ascension for the faithful and happy egg hunting day for the hundreds of children muted until that morning.

Fast forward 20 years, times have changed. The island is a melting pot of cultures and religions.  While the day still seems a little more muted, business moves about as usual.
For the island’s Catholic faithful, however, Good Friday is still a day of solemn remembrance and cleansing. While many of the traditions have come and gone, there’s still one that has not changed — the trek to the top of Mt. Jumullong Manglo.

For years, more than 1,000 people have made the morning trek, stopping at the Stations of the Cross to pay penance, ask for forgiveness, give thanks or pray. Families have done it, carrying sleeping children on their backs. Adults help their aging parents up the steep inclines. It’s not uncommon to see grown men carrying their moms on their backs to the top of the mountain. Young teenagers turn it into an outing with friends, stifling their youthful enthusiasm to say short prayers at each station.

With the morning sun still asleep, hundreds will have already climbed the rocky, red clay path to the top of the mountain. A rite of passage, a cleansing of the soul, a tradition — the reasons are numerous, but Mt. Jumullong Manglo on Good Friday is an experience everyone should be a part of — at least once in their lives.

Even as the sun peeks into the sky, dozens will be slipping and sliding down the path, smiling, carefree and happy — a contrast to the solemnity that marks the groups ascending the rocky trails, some clutching earmarked bibles and well-worn rosaries.

Bursts of laughter punch the air, and a steady hum of prayer and song weave through the morning breeze. Even for those who aren’t spiritual, the feeling of calm and peace is real.

Depending on the time, a soft candlelit area beckons the pilgrims. There, the grotto — a tribute to the Virgin Mary — pulls in dozens at a time. Quiet and reverent, the mood is reflective, sometimes sad as many drop to their knees, softly crying or praying.

Amazingly, after the grotto, a soft breeze stirs the air. The mood steadily lightens as pilgrims make their way on the path, surrounded by head-high, razor sharp sword grass.

The final station — three 10-foot crosses — sit on the mountaintop. And, for many who make the trek at the right time of the morning, the hike culminates with morning Mass and a feeling that all is right.

Explore Guam staff

Photos: 1) Shrine: Virginia Custodio lights a candle at a shrine along the path toward the summit of Mount Jumullong Manglo. 2) Pilgrimage: Hundreds of Catholic faithful participated in the annual Good Friday pilgrimage. 3) Explore Guam files
At the summit: Joseph Cruz, top, and others secure an 11-foot cross they carried up to Mount Jumullong Manglo for the annual Good Friday hike. Hundreds attend the annual pilgrimage. 4)Prayers: A well-worn prayerbook accompanies one of the faithful up Mount Jumullong Manglo, where residents observe the final walk and death of Jesus.

Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable, than risk being happy.     ~Robert Anthony

An update……………

No permanent job offer yet but some movement- first, the superintendent gave notice that she is done July 22nd- she has been the longest superintendent on the island at just 4 years…for the past 10 years, 1/2 of the others quit or were fired.  The life expectancy averaged 1.4 years.  Are you kidding???  Consequently many of the contacts I have met contacted me to ‘make sure’ I was going to apply….are you friggin kidding me?  Even got an e-mail from one of the assistant superintendents of finance with the job posting-  not going to happen.  Education in Guam has MANY challeges, at this point, I am beyond changing the world now and the board here is governor appointed AND a governing board, not a policy board.  IF i were to ever consider it, not under these circumstance.   I told the people within the education department I would not apply but asked to be kept in mind for other positions and suddenly I was sent a posting that literally was just posted minutes before for a Special Education Program Administrator- that I will apply for.  I did interview for a Program Coordinator to oversee all the Federal Grants at the education department but they have not selected 4 people they intended to hire- a recurrent problem….issues with administrating the grant to fund the positions so put on hold to revise the grant for the Federal Dept of Ed to approve. 
    I had applied for a part-time job to oversee implementation of a grant for a Parent Resource Information Center: a non-profit organization to help parents of kids with disabilities.  I was not offered the position.  But, at the interview talked about the organization applying for another federal grant to start another center elsewhere in the island and if I could write a grant like that.  Never heard anything but received a call from one board member that I know likes me who asked if I would be willing and able to work under a very short time frame to write that grant.  I need the money, love the initiative…said I would.  Deadline?  10 days!!  Sure, have the Haole (pronounced Howlee - Chamorro word for white guy from the mainland) try to prove himself and write a grant with very limited time…..I want and need the work so agreed…The board is made up of 5 woman that each have children with different disabilities that lead parent support groups on the island for parents for each of the disabilities (autism, emotionally handicapped, severe disabilities, learning disabilities, etc);  They want me to write but “with them”…send narratives piece by piece so they can review and edit and make sure it has the “island feel” and addresses the “culture”. Anyway, after a 3 hour meeting before their board meeting, and then being called for “questions” DURING their board meeting, I got a call and they hired me to write the grant.  THEN, while that seemed difficult, out of the blue asked if I could do program evaluations for grants and write quarterly and annual reports to document their work to the Feds….Said yes, told me they use “The University” to do it but don’t want to ask them to do it and immediately said ‘your hired” to do that for the grant I’m writing assuming they get awarded and for a grant they have for the current parent center.
      Lots of hurry up then slow down to a complete stop here.  Lots of it is financial and mismanagement of federal funds, or systems too complicated to get approval to use them. So until they clean things up for the Feds (almost every department in local government is under Federal oversight or review),jobs are posted , people interview and then hiring is delayed because, A) they never had intentions of using the money to hire but went through the motions because “the feds are watching” or, B) want to hire and when time to make the appointments, the feds catch them on something and tell them they can’t hire until they clean it up.  Happened for SEVERAL positions I applied for. 
    The politics locally and how it relates to “the big picture” is very interesting.  Today’s example….the governor is trying to talk the feds and the local legislature to use stimulus money funds intended for the school system to pay government payroll and income tax rebates because they’re broke but PROMISE to pay the money back to the school district.  Of course I wonder if the government will be able to give the money back to the school and the feds will never agree.  Then I’m reminded of the incredible importance of the military presence here and how much this island is needed.. If it keeps the government running so there aren’t issues with the military operations, the feds will gladly approve the request.  Unreal to me.
    Island (especially near me and the bay where I hang out and go to beaches) has been especially busy and seeing even more military and Japanese than you normally see-  Due to all the stuff in Japan, lots of people coming here and to get away from Japan and our military that was based there are being transferred here.  There is a planned “military build-up” over the next 6 or 7 years but that just got sped up because there are somewhere around 8,000 Military families from Japan being relocated here.  Statistically for housing and schools, given there are only 173,000 people on the entire island, that’s a lot of people in a short time.   New families will also mean more children for the schools that are already falling apart and need new facilities due to overcrowding.  That’s becoming a huge problem but they’re working on some solutions supposedly and hope they can get away until August- school year only has 20 school days left (they start early August and end beginning ‘middle of May.  I’m not really getting that whole issue because the military kids go to the military schools not the public schools.  I think they’re talking more about Japanese people relocating and American business men that were in Japan doing business, need to get out of Japan but still want to be close enough to maintain their business connections. 

If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking. ~Buddhist Saying
Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself. ~Harvey Fierstein