A Comparison Between Public & Private Schools on the International Seminar

This year’s AASA International Seminar took our group of superintendents to Ecuador. This was not our first journey to South America and we found education in Ecuador to be very similar to what we have seen in Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Chile.

AASA President Chris Gaines and Executive Director Dan Domenech with children from the Milenio School in Guano, Ecuador.

Like their neighbors, Ecuador’s public schools serve primarily the poor while the middle class and up tend to send their children to private schools. We visited two such schools, the American International School in Quito and the Vigotsky School in Riobamba.

The International school is truly a model of outstanding education. Catering to the children of American diplomats and those that can afford the $18,000 per-year tuition, the school offers programs to infants through high school. We were very impressed by the college-like campus and the quality of the teachers and administrators.

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A Visit to Unidad Educativa del Milenio GUANO during the AASA International Seminar

A guest blog post by Amy Sichel and Gladys Cruz

Today, we began our school visits at the Unidad Educativa del Milenio GUANO, a Pre-K to high school, housed in a four-and-a-half year-old government-built facility. The school has an enrollment of 630 students who previously attended seven different smaller schools now consolidated into one new building.

The children attend school from September 4 through July 10 and live in the area of Guano. Some children are bused to school.

As superintendents from across the U.S., we appreciate the opportunity to see the value placed on education in other countries. Clearly, other countries often aspire to provide a mandatory education for all, as we do.

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Next Stop on the 2018 AASA International Seminar: A School on San Cristobal Island in Galapagos

A guest post by Gladys Cruz

I ventured to visit schools on a hot sunny morning on the island. Not knowing if I would be given entrance to the schools, I decided to take the risk and was joined by David Woolly, the superintendent of the Alma School District in Alma, Ark.

Given the lure around Charles Darwin on the Galápagos Islands, I was immediately attracted to visiting the Carlos Darwin School. Upon arrival, a native from Ecuador greeted us.

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First Stop on the 2018 AASA International Seminar: Academia Cotopaxi

A guest post by AASA Past President Amy Sichel

The AASA International Seminar is always a meaningful experience for superintendents. During this year’s trip, we are learning about the culture and history of Ecuador, which includes the opportunity to visit schools. The value added is traveling with fellow superintendents from across our country, making connections and learning from each other.

Superintendents on the AASA International Seminar listen to a presentation at the American International School in Quito, Ecuador.

Our first school visit was to Academia Cotopaxi, an American International School, educating children from 12-months-old to high school. This school has a beautiful campus and is located in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. The Academia is a private, English-based international school. The parents of many of the children who attend are stationed in Quito either through the embassy or are U.S. government officials. The children come from 38 different countries with a total enrollment of 850. Fifty-eight percent of the students are international, 42 percent are from Ecuador and 22 percent are from North America. The tuition is $18,000 per student.

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A Visit to the Alegre School

AASA Executive Director, Dan Domenech, with Principal Gretta Mendez at the Cerro Alegre school.

AASA Executive Director, Dan Domenech, with Principal Gretta Mendez at the Cerro Alegre school.

La Fortuna, Costa Rica – Gretta Mendez was assigned to become the principal teacher of the one-room Alegre (Happy Hill) School three years ago. Unless you know where you are going, you would never find it. First of all, it’s not a school building. It’s a small Catholic Church in the mountains of Chachagua. The local priest allows Gretta to use the church as a school. There is an empty lot next to the church that the government purchased to build a school but that seems to be years away.

Most of the children who attend Cerro Alegre come from Nicaraguan families that are in Costa Rica illegally. There is an existing school that the children could attend but it’s so far from their homes that most of them would not go to school at all. While visiting Cerro Alegre the children regaled their AASA visitors with native dances and songs and then invited their guests to do the Hokey Pokey.

Typical of Costa Rican schools, the children are divided into morning and afternoon sessions each lasting about four hours. Gretta teaches both sessions.

The school is very much in need of resources and the AASA guests were eager to help out with donations and promises to send pencils, notebooks and furniture.

It’s a tough assignment and Gretta confesses that many a day she considers leaving Cerro Alegre to go teach in a conventional school, but then she looks at the faces of her children and she knows she will never abandon them. She knows that they would never travel the distance it would take to go to the school in town. She knows that many of the undocumented parents would not risk sending their kids to the regular school.

So Gretta stays and makes the most of it with the contributions she receives, the borrowed space from the local priest and the most beautiful smiles from the children she loves and teaches.

Dan is blogging throughout the AASA International Seminar, which is taking place in Costa Rica.

A Strong Educational Leader in Costa Rica

NSBA President-Elect Kevin Ciak with students at the Leon Cortes Castro School in Costa Rica.

NSBA President-Elect Kevin Ciak with students at the Leon Cortes Castro School in Costa Rica.

Alajuela, Costa Rica – Marisel Solera is the spunky principal of the Leon Cortes Castro School in this Costa Rican mountain town. Solera has been running the school for nine years, and she leaves no doubt that she is in charge and ready to get her students the best education that she can offer to them.

Almost half of her school budget goes toward feeding her kids. Every one of them gets a free lunch every day.

There is nothing modern about the facility but it is clean and well maintained. Solera is big on discipline and has little tolerance for misbehavior from her students or her staff.  But her commitment to her students and her school is firm. When teachers are absent, she is the sub. When everyone else is on vacation, she’s recruiting teachers to make sure she has her full complement of staff.

The school has an enthusiastic core of volunteers that greatly respect the principal and engage in fund raising to meet whatever needs are not met by government funding. Solera is not reluctant to take on the bureaucracy and admits to having been called on the carpet after objecting too strenuously to not receiving what her children need.

I suspected that among our group of visiting educators from the U.S., many were dreaming about having Solera heading up one of their elementary schools.

AASA Leadership Visits Costa Rica

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AASA President Alton Frailey with students in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Alajuela, Costa Rica – In 1869, Costa Rica made education both free and mandatory for all its citizens. Lore has it that the country was experiencing economic hard times and could not afford to maintain both an army and a public education system. They chose education and today Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world without a standing army. They even boast of having more teachers than police officers.

We visited the Carrizal elementary school in the mountain town of Alajuela. The school of 600 accommodates pre-school through grade six as well as special education students who attend one of two five hour shifts, a morning and afternoon session. Teachers are only allowed to teach one shift.

Based on achievement, the school is level 4, with level 5 being the highest performing schools. The school year runs 200 days from mid-February to mid-December. Class size averages about 32 students per class.

Instruction is very traditional with students in desks facing the blackboard in the front of the room where the teacher delivers the lesson. Even so, Costa Rica boasts a 95 percent literacy rate among residents age 15 and older.

Alajuela is a coffee bean growing region surrounded by dense foliage and beautiful streams. It typifies the tranquility that Costa Rica is so famous for.

The children are happy to see us and look forward to practicing their mandatory English language skills with us. To a resounding cheer, I tell them that they are doing so well that I might take them all back to the U.S. with me.