05 July 2017

The DLSL Academic Glory Years in the Eighties Capped by an NCEE Grand Slam

Foreground in white robe:  DLSL Principal Brother Jaime Dalumpines during a school activity in the eighties.
When I first joined the DLSL teaching force in 1982, I learned from some of my new co-teachers that there were those in the community who referred to the school as Paninsingin High School. Implicit to this unflattering reputation was a perceived decline in academic standards, something generally uncharacteristic of schools owned by the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

That there was, indeed, a decline in standards was arguable; albeit I had senior high school students who were incapable of constructing one grammatically correct sentence, let alone write an intelligible paragraph. Central to the problem was over-enrollment and the failure to weed out students undeserving of promotion to the next level.

That first schoolyear, I had classes with anything from 58 to 60 students. It was not uncommon to run out of rows in a page of the teacher’s record book – a booklet for recording quiz and exam results as well as quarterly grades – to write the names of students in one class in.

Accreditation was almost grudgingly granted by the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU) in 1983 at the end of Brother Gene Tianco’s term as Principal. The accreditation was accompanied by a litany of recommendations – which was really euphemism for “do it or else” – and a provision for an interim visit by a PAASCU team to see that these recommendations were being acted upon.

A balanced curriculum meant that co- and extra-curricular activities flourished as well.
Things started to change for the better when Brother Jaime “Jimmy” Dalumpines arrived to become Principal at the start of schoolyear 1983-84. His management style was not immediately appreciated by a teaching staff accustomed to the previous management’s more laissez faire or non-interfering style. Things came to a head in one emotionally charged faculty meeting when some teachers stood up and told Brother Jimmy in uncompromising language exactly what they thought of him and his management style.

This clearing-the-air meeting, however, allowed Brother Jimmy and the teaching staff to better understand each other and from then on refocus their energies into the attainment of the school’s goals. For Brother Jimmy, this was none other than academic excellence; and his philosophies were remarkably simple.

PAASCU accreditation apart, there was already an existing meter stick to measure academic excellence with: the results of the annual National Collegiate Entrance Examinations or the NCEE. For the benefit of younger readers, the NCEE was an annual national exam administered by the government to graduating high school seniors. Passing it was a prerequisite for college education. The exam was subsequently abolished in 1994.

From a management vantage point, the results of the NCEE allowed schools’ management to gauge their respective schools’ performances against others’ in the entire country. DLSL’s rankings in 1983 were by no means bad; but they were nothing to crow about, either.

For the school to achieve academic excellence and perform better in the NCEE, Brother Jimmy’s strategies were remarkably simple. First, he knew that freshman admission test results were already predictive of how a student would do in the NCEE; and therefore had the admission standard raised.

Next, he needed to coax teachers to raise their own standards inside the classroom and not be afraid to fail students when it was necessary. He used to ask in faculty meetings, which was crueler, to fail students and prevent them from getting to the next level or allow them to go all the way to senior high school knowing they were unprepared.

The immediate class size target was 40; but school financing could initially only allow 45. This was already a great relief for us in the teaching force, who erstwhile invariably had to bring home quizzes to check because there were just way too many students.

Brother Jimmy’s final philosophy was one of sheer common sense and such a contrast to latter years: a balanced curriculum. He argued that students needed time to absorb what they were taught and so made sure that by and large, all classes were dismissed by 3:30 every afternoon. Consequently, co- and extra-curricular activities started to flourish as well.

But then there was the NCEE to reckon with, the meter stick to gauge if the philosophies were at all working. A 100% passing rate for the graduating senior class was the Holy Grail. There were close calls in 1984 and 1985 when there were a few who missed the cut. Then came 1986. When it rains, it pours.

Many among the graduates of the DLSL High School class of 1986 are now successful professionals.
Not only was the high school class of 1986 the first to achieve a 100% passing rate, its passing average was something that succeeding batches of high school seniors could not surpass.

To give everyone an insight as to the numbers involved, my advisory class (the A-section) had 46 students. Of these 24 (more than 50%), were in the 99+ percentile rank; and 30 were in the 99-flat percentile rank. Five were in the 98 percentile rank and just one in the 97 percentile rank, the lowest for the class. This amused me so much because that one student who ranked 97% was almost embarrassed by the ranking; but this was something many seniors would already die for.

The high school classes of 1987 and 1988 also turned in a 100% passing rate each to give Brother Jimmy – and DLSL – a grand slam; and by this time, nobody talked about Paninsingin High School anymore. When Brother Jimmy left in 1988 for Canada to pursue his PhD, he left knowing he had not only turned the school’s fortunes around but also laid the groundwork for a culture of excellence to be enjoyed in the succeeding years.

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