Kumgi, PNG, 21 September 2023 -- In the olden days, schools were characterized by a management style that was each to its own. Those renowned schools which have worked hard to reach the ladder of academic excellence with continuing research and empowerment took the lead, while others, especially small institutions, struggled with their own development. But when the computer was invented, gradually the term “networking” became a byword and a source of enrichment.
The Catholic Church has been practicing synodality for quite some time. Pope Francis highlighted this as a key aspect of his vision for the Church and has been used in recent years to guide important discussions and decision-making processes. SYNODALITY “is the specific modus vivendi et operandi (way of being and doing) of the Church, the People of God, which reveals and gives substance to her being as communion, manifested when all her members journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in her evangelizing mission. This concept refers to the involvement and participation of the whole People of God in the life and mission of the Church (SYNODALITY IN THE LIFE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH, # 6 & 7).
The Salesian Province in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (PGS) actualized the concept of synodality by giving birth to the Don Bosco Educational System (DBES) in 2020, with Fr. Alexander Garces, then President of Don Bosco Technological Institute (DBTI), as its first coordinator. Under his helm, the very first DBES General Assembly successfully transpired in 2021, with the theme, “The only way forward is together.”
The current DBTI president and DBES Coordinator, Fr. Ariel Macatangay, organized this year’s 2nd Principals' Meeting, set on the 30th to 31st of August 2023. The PGS Provincial Council approved changing the name of the event from Principals' Meeting to DBES Leaders' Meeting. The purpose of this change was to widen the membership of the meeting from previously consisting only of the Don Bosco schools in PGS, to extending it to schools managed by other Salesian Family members, like the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians or the Salesian sisters and the Caritas Sisters of Jesus. Following the essence of synodality, this meeting aimed at joint professional upgrading and sharing of common concerns and issues. Besides having additional members, this meeting was quite unique since it was the first time that the PGS educational leaders would meet in a venue out of Port Moresby. Through the proposal and invitation of Fr. Edwin Genovia, Principal of Don Bosco Simbu Technical College (DBSTC), the Salesian Community at Kumgi, headed by Fr. Dominic Kachira, Rector, graciously hosted the two-day meeting, welcoming ten DBES leaders composed of priests, sisters, and lay people of the Salesian Family. Throughout the meeting, all the participants continuously expressed their heartfelt gratitude for the warm reception, comfortable accommodation, and generous treatment that the Kumgi community extended to them.
On the meeting’s first day, after introducing and welcoming the guests at the morning assembly with speeches, songs and flowers, Fr. Genovia toured the guests around DBSTC. He showed them the academic and technical facilities as well as a magnificent building, which was still undergoing construction and which would serve multiple purposes of IT classrooms, business facilities, function rooms, offices, and conference rooms, as DBSTC realizes its dream to offer diploma and bachelor programs, especially in Business and IT.
The theme of synodality continued to be echoed during the two-day meeting. At the conference venue, Fr. Dominic welcomed all with kind words, giving them a historical background of the development of the Salesian mission in Don Bosco Kumgi. He encouraged everyone, “We can synergize our talents and resources…. to move forward together.” Developing the topic about improving school standards, Fr. Genovia presented recent results of the Mean Rating Index (MRI) scores of secondary schools around PNG and posed a challenging question to all leaders present: After 40 years of offering our educational services in the country, why are our schools not included even in the top 20 schools in terms of MRI scores? Fr. Clifford Morais, DBSTC Economer, suggested the enhancement of student leadership and interaction through the establishment of the “house system,” which can assist in the animation of various academic, religious, and social activities of the school. Sr. Cristina, Manageress of the Mary Help of Christians Vocational Education Training and Flexible and Open Distance Education Centre at Port Moresby affirmed the house system as a potent means of youth empowerment, actualizing the ideals of the Salesian Youth Movement. In explaining the provincial animating structures in PGS, Fr. Macatangay spoke about synodality as the principle behind the participation, co-responsibility and communion among the Salesians and lay mission partners in the joint exercise of the Salesian mission. He mentioned four ways of building synodality within the province: 1) building positive relationships, 2) cultivating interpersonal skills especially that of communication, 3) being open to new ideas, and 4) learning from positive and negative feedback. Ms. Delsie Maulangi, DBTI Dean of Studies, expounded on the importance of Staff Development. All participants agreed that a well-planned and coordinated staff development policy can produce the following significant fruits in our educational institutions: improvement of teaching practices, enhancement of student achievement, innovation and creativity as a result of effective collaboration as well as peer and lifelong learning, impactful alignment with school goals, and the retention of teachers because of improved job satisfaction.
On the second day of the meeting, Fr. Macatangay dwelt on Transformational Leadership in contrast to Transactional Leadership. The participants felt challenged to try out a transformational leadership style in their institutions by serving as role models to their teachers and students, who would be inspired to cooperate in the achievement of a common vision mission and make them transformational leaders themselves for the good of the institution and the society. To respond to the perennial problem of lack of funds for staff development, Fr. Macatangay also proposed the establishment of a Trust Fund among all member schools, an initiative that will require much synergy and solidarity.
The meeting concluded with the proposals for common motions and recommendations. After dinner, a surprise farewell night program by the male residents entertained and amused all the school leaders. Each was called and appreciated with tokens of gratitude for their presence and participation. They were all happy for the outcome of the fruitful days of meeting with very rich educational input, in-depth sharing and the camaraderie that was built in the process. Their sincere desire is that the yeast of synodality may rise for better networking and enriching each one’s institution, as well as for a more effective and better coordinated Salesian education of the youths in our institutions.