Building an Education Community: The Lambunao Experience

26 January 2022

As a public servant and Mayor of Lambunao, I work to upgrade the quality of education in our public school through personally implementing teacher training program and as a member of the school board, to support the funding of similar programs aimed at improving teaching quality. My aim is to create the best municipal public school system in the province of Iloilo.” –   Mayor Jason  Rivera Gonzales

A promising young and brilliant leader, Jason Gonzales, Iloilo’s councilor, was tapped by Ma’am Nene to join Synergeia’s poll of mentors in 2014.  Paired with Tonton Toralba, Synergeia’s Vice Chair in his maiden role as a mentor, the duo was an instant hit.  They mesmerized their audience composed of school heads as they deftly facilitated the discussions on problem tree analysis, listening exercise, SWOT analysis, building alliances and many more topics. Mr. Gonzales worked smoothly with seasoned Synergeia mentors in various activities in Iloilo. It was in one of Synergeia’s regional workshops that Mr. Gonzales announced his plan to run for mayor in his hometown, Lambunao.  He won handily in the 2016 national elections.

Upon assumption into office, Mayor Jason Gonzales immediately buckled down to work.  Serving the largest municipality in the Province of Iloilo in terms of land area, it was quite a challenge to create a sustainable program for education with only P2.1 million Special Education Fund to budget for the needs of 55 public elementary and 4 high schools.  When he went over the school data, he was aghast to see that out of 9,300 elementary pupils, almost 50 percent were frustrated readers and 600 were non-readers.  He convened his Local School Board and proposed to realign some budget originally intended for sports but he was opposed by the DepEd.

Unfazed by the initial opposition by education officials, Mayor Gonzales put into action his plan to build an education community.  He created a Project Management Team for Education. He personally recruited young, dynamic, creative and committed staff who were willing to go the extra mile to learn the ins and outs of government bureaucracy.  With substantial knowledge he learned from Synergeia as a mentor, Mayor Gonzales painstakingly reached out to various education stakeholders.  He dialogue with school heads, parent leaders, business sector, civic clubs and other foundations presenting his priority development agenda.

Tapping the assistance of Synergeia, he planned the holding of the First Municipal Education Summit in February 2017.  Facilitators for the summit workshop were trained while Deped prepared the assessment survey on the state of public education in Lambunao in simple and easy to understand language and presentation.  Mayor Gonzales considered the summit the launching pad of his education program where he would challenge the whole community of Lambunao to join hands to help solve the education crisis.  

To impress upon his constituents the seriousness of his purpose, Mayor Gonzales chose the Iloilo Convention Plaza as the venue for the event, an iconic hall which was one of the venues of the 2015 APEC Summit.  Close to a thousand participants trooped to the Iloilo Convention Plaza composed of parents, teachers, businessmen, farmers, religious leaders and government officials.  They  were excited to step into the convention hall and took selfies before the start of the summit.  Former DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro was the guest of honor. 

Using the “shock and awe” presentation technique, summit participants learned how children performed in school.  Around 16 high school students remained non-readers.   This shocked many of the parents and other stakeholders.   During the workshops, the participants expressed their views on important issues such as training of teachers, active participation of parents in school activities and how to spend public funds judiciously.   The output of the summit was an Agenda for Action that identified the following priorities:  (1) teachers training, (2) organizing of the School Governing Council(SGC) in every school to assist in the implementation of the School Improvement Plan, and (3) developing coalitions and partnership to improve school governance. 

The summit gave birth to the Teachers for Lambunao (TFL), a movement of teachers that champions the principles of effective education.  Mayor Gonzales impressed upon his teachers that to be a champion teacher, one must possess 7 characteristics: be a creative thinker, be a critical thinker, reflective, communicative, collaborative and caring.  He provided training to all the teachers with the help of Synergeia and another foundation, Mentoring the Mentors.  He lobbied with the provincial government for assistance and in 2017, the Iloilo Provincial School Board (PSB) in partnership with Synergeia provided workbooks for pupils and handbooks for teachers as part of the Provincial School Board Reading Proficiency Program.  Mayor Gonzales together with his Local School Board appropriated additional funds to reproduce the workbooks given by the PSB to ensure that all the public school children in Lambunao from Grades 1 to 3 have copies of the workbooks.   Since then, the Lambunao LSB took the driver’s seat in pushing for the improvement in basic education.  In 2018, it was assessed by Synergeia to be fully functional with a rating of 5 from a baseline of 2.9 in 2016.

Latest Phil-Iri test results in one district showed that out of 955 pupils from Grades 4 to 6 classified under frustration level during the pretest showed promising results after the posttest.  Only 181 pupils remained in the frustration level while instructional readers increased to 438 and independent readers jumped to 336 pupils.   The primary reasons were the presence of highly motivated teachers and the active involvement of the School Governing Council.  Actual assessment of all the schools in Lambunao showed that their SGS are organized and actively helping the schools especially in the drafting of the School Improvement Plan.   Parents’ training also helped.  Parent leaders from every school were provided with Nanay-Tatay Parents Training. 

Moreover, Mayor Jason personally pushed for the Meditation in School Project (MISP). It’s a two-minute breathing exercise for the pupils before the start of classes in order to improve the pupils’ attention and participation.  A study conducted among 493 pupils in 6 schools in Lambunao showed that MISP attained this objective.  The study further showed that impulsiveness of behavior was drastically reduced by meditation.  Homeroom teachers who are practicing MISP have these to say,

“It sets the mind of every pupil to be attentive in the class discussion.”

“A particular pupil used to be very talkative inside the classroom but now he participates and is more attentive in class”

“It lessens the stress of teachers and as I practice it myself, I can fell that my patience had become longer compared before”

Mayor Gonzales recalled how difficult the task of pushing education reform and improving education governance was at the start.  But with enough dedication and patience and involving all the stakeholders along the way, the challenges become less difficult.  Mayor Gonzales said that everything becomes a beautiful challenge.  For striving to do their best for the education of Lambunao children, the LGU has been a consistent recipient of the much coveted Seal of Good Education Governance Award.  

Mayor Gonzales, who is now a Board Member of the Iloilo Provincial Government, lends his leadership, passion and commitment to education governance reform to the Visayas Regional Education Council which he chairs.   BM Gonzales has initiated a mental health care program for the youth to help them cope with the stress of the pandemic and the new normal way of living and studying.

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