DDG Companion News | May 30, 2019

Educational Improvement Efforts
In the Dominican Episcopal Schools 
Take a Great Leap Forward
Educational workshop in the diocesan office
conference room in Santo Domingo. At the podium: Melvina Dinsey. 

During May 5-11, 2019, our education team once again visited the Dominican Republic as part of a continuing project to improve the quality of education in the Episcopal School System. We met with leadership teams from 8 schools across the 4 regions of the Diocese, offering ideas and methods for change. This trip seemed in many ways like our previous visits; but instead, it marked an important shift in direction that seems likely to yield significant progress over the next two years.
The team featured familiar faces and a newcomer to our ranks. Dr. Joe Gaston (University of South Alabama) brought his considerable expertise in educational technology; "Almost Dr." Cindy Linzell (doctoral student, University of Nebraska-Lincoln) worked with participants regarding Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL); Elizabeth Hutchinson (a bilingual social worker with expertise in school-community relations and language instruction) spoke with small groups about how they could enlist parents in change efforts and served as translator when needed. Dorthy Thew (retired teacher and first-time member who has worked extensively in the area of early childhood special education) was available for questions and comments as she became more familiar with Dominican language and culture. My contributions came in the area of civic education and professional development. Our Dominican team members, Florencia Melvina Dinsey and Miguelina Jorge Corporan, provided context for our meetings and a structure for planning/evaluation that was hugely important.
How was this visit a "great leap forward"? For one thing, we are now working with an energized "school system" rather than a loosely connected group of Dominican Episcopal Schools. Bishop Moises Quezada has established a Departamento de Educacion Diocesana (with an office, even) and appointed Miguelina Jorge as Cordinadora. Melvina Dinsey continues as Presidenta, La Junta de Educacion (essentially, President of the Board of Education), but the Junta has expanded in membership and assumed greater authority for record keeping, assessment and long-range planning. On its own initiative, La Junta holds professional development activities at locations in the "far reaches" of the Diocese (e.g., Jimani); the Bishop presides over informational meetings for school leaders at the beginning and ending of the school year (e.g., a review of procedures to be accomplished to close school for the summer months which I was able to attend). Our team may provide regular infusions of expertise and motivational activities; the "push" for school improvement now comes from Dominican school leaders - exactly where the energy for improvement initiatives should originate.

Miquelina Jorge speaking to teachers during a workshop.

For a second thing, we took a real step forward (in my mind) regarding the nature of our meetings this month. Over the past 6-8 months, I've been involved with Miguelina and Melvina in planning a Phase Two for our workshops. We identified 4 "pilot schools" (Colegio San Andrés, Santo Domingo; Colegio La Anunciación, Santiago; Colegio Todos los Santos, La Romana; and Colegio San Marcos, Haina), representing the 4 geographic regions (arcedianatos) in which the Diocese is organized. Each pilot school has a partner (in order: Colegio San José, Andres/Boca Chica; Colegio Jesús Nazareno, San Francisco de Macorís; Colegio La Encarnación, La Romana; Colegio San Matías, Santana Baní) that joined with them at our sessions. Both schools brought their leadership teams and lead teachers; total attendance at each meeting was roughly 25 educators.
In conversations with the Bishop, Miguelina and Melvina (dare I call them "the M & Ms"? Likely not) also identified curriculum areas of excellence that would distinguish our colegios from other public and private schools in the DR. So, keeping in mind that every Episcopal school must advance the knowledges, skills and values that a Christian citizen must demonstrate, the colegios would feature both educational technology as a teaching methodology (not an end of itself) and TESOL programs across the curriculum. So, our presentations focused on promoting these 3 areas (citizenship, technology education and English language learning). 
Another difference from past workshop series involved the transformation of our methodology from "sit, listen and take notes" to a much more interactive process. La Junta de Educacion decided that it was time to move school leadership teams from learning/thinking about change to actively planning the ways and means for making it happen. So, our team began the morning with short sessions that engaged attendees and shifted the initiative from presenter to participant. After these interactive activities, we followed lunch with work sessions in which each school generated targets for professional development, plans for reaching these goals and outcomes that will be assessed at the end of a 2-year period. 
Our team will return in December 2019, not to give workshops, but to spend time at each of the 8 schools, working with teachers and administrators to help ensure that their improvement plans are on track. Even more important, we will establish an electronic network so that Dominican educators can communicate questions and comments to their partners in the United States. Miguelina is planning monthly charlas electronicas(electronic chats) in which the leadership of each participating colegio "meets" with us to discuss what has happened and where the school is headed. Joe Gaston is already considering what electronic platforms would be most appropriate. As a team, we can hardly wait for the 2019-2020 school year to begin!
At the podium: Miquelina Jorge in Iglesia Episcopal San Andrés in Santo Domingo. Seated, light blue shirt: Dr. Tom McGowan. 

One last comment before closing. I am told that our team has provided the spark that enabled many of the school improvement activities in the Dominican Diocese to happen. Diocesan educational leaders talked for years about these changes; our appearance in the DR provided the inspiration and resources to transform dreams into realities. I am not so sure that we have played such a role, but am honored that my Dominican colleagues and friends think so. In fact, I was recognized by Colegio San Andres before my return home as the "Man of the Year" in front of more than 500 parents, faculty members and students. I got downright "mushy" as I received the plaque.
Our work receives such huge support from Bishop Quezada, his administrative team and our companeros Melvina and Miguelina. We could not do much without them.
Gracias y Bendiciones.

-- Dr. Tom McGowan 
Retired, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
DDG Board Member

Editor's note: To learn more about Tom's work as an educational missionary in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, follow his lively blog posts here: <https://mcgowandr.wordpress.com>.

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Contact the DDG:
Office: (813) 400-2722 | Fax: (813) 983-5082
Executive Director: Bill Kunkle | bkunkle@dominicandevelopmentgroup.org
PO Box 272261 | Tampa Florida 33688-2261

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