AMICUS ready for fresh start!

By E. Heinrich-Sanchez

As students and teachers prepare to start the new school year on Apr. 1st and the beginning of the new Junior High School class at AMICUS, those involved are moving towards exchanging information in order to solve the issues at hand as the hopes and dreams of the children take priority over adult agendas.  Transparency will eventually help this fantastic experiment fullfill its mandates.  A third alternative to the present situation is possible to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

On Monday March 24th the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly General Affairs and Planning Committee chaired by Ms. Sueko Yamauchi addressed petitions/proposals concerning the management of Okinawa AMICUS International.

The committee was quite stern with the Okinawa Prefecture Government (OPG) representatives of the General Affairs and Planning Division as when the AMICUS issues were first brought up roughly six months ago, no improvements have been noted.  In the meeting, committee member Akio Maejima, reminded OPG staff that above and beyond the school and Obunsha administration, the ultimate responsibility lies with Okinawa Prefecture.

When Kiichiro Jahana, the Chief of the OPG General Affairs and Planning Department, asked about AMICUS’s founding principals, the following reasons were given:

1. In support of OIST researchers and staff.

2. As part of the Asia Gateway Initiative and incentive to attract IT companies to Okinawa.

3. International education related human resource development.

More information about the Asia Gateway Initiative is at

http://japan.kantei.go.jp/gateway/index_e.html

The issue about the high monthly and yearly fees for students was touched upon.  The committee agreed that the price is quite expensive.  Parents are making an incredible effort towards providing their children with the best education. Maejima also added that these issues brought up by the concerned parents were passed on to the AMICUS Board of Directors and Board of Councilors (advisers) for their Mar. 5th board meeting.

He feels that the school has taken a departure from its founding principals.  Maejima asked OPG staff, Who are the board members?  Who is responsible for the school?  With that question, OPG staff led by Jahana asked for a time-out.  They were not able to produce an updated version of the board members, only a reference to the founding board members.  No names were given.  It was not sure how or who chose the present board members.

Public funds over ¥700,000,000 have been used for the school so far with another large budget of over ¥100 million planned, of which a portion would be available to AMICUS.  This is a great responsibility for the Okinawa Prefecture Government.

Jahana has visited the school several times and met with the principal and board members but not with parents.

Maejima mentioned that initially there was great opposition in Uruma City as it was predicted that problems like this would arise.

The committee asked if Obunsha has any “know how” in running a school, and what kind of company is it?  OPG staff replied that Obunsha is a publishing company and it was reported that Obunsha was involved in the Gunma Kokusai Academy in Gunma prefecture and the school’s curriculum.

To this reply Maejima said he knows that Obunsha was removed from the management side.  OPG staff replied that Obunsha still has two seats on their advisory board (HyoGiin).   Maejima replied that he is aware of this and those two seats are in “name” only.

Maejima questioned the need for horses at AMICUS and asked how many are there now.  OPG staff answered that there are 10 horses at this time. Maejima further wondered the cost involved in this endeavor explaining that a company must be making a profit to maintain that many. “This is no joking matter,” he said.

The committee agreed that it is time to question the Board of Directors and advisory board (Hyogiin) and will move to call in those responsible from the chairman, principal, vice principal and others.

These issues needed to have been addressed by the AMICUS Board members and advisory council before getting to this point.  Maejima added that perhaps it is time to remove Obunsha management.  There is enough local talented educators with the knowhow to run a school.

Maejima finalized the session stating that the OPG needs to listen to all parties involved, and requested that an information exchange session (ikken kokan) be planned in order to address the issues at hand between parents, teachers, administration and the OPG.

According to a Mar. 25 article in the Okinawa Times newspaper coverage of the Monday session, an excerpt of that article is provided below in its entirety for the sake of clarity.  Parents at the Okinawa Amicus school have asked to form an emergency committee to look into alleged problems between teachers and school administrators. In the article Okinawa Times writes:

At the So-mu kikaku iinkai (General Affairs and Planning Committee) (Sueko Yamauchi, Committee Chairperson), questions focused on the petition submitted by the parents on reforming the business administration and management of Amicus International (Uruma-city), which was built with the support money from Okinawa prefecture, to support the education of OIST children. The parents claim that there are discrepancies on what the school side is saying about the treatment of the teachers and education policy to what is really happening at the school. Furthermore, they are asking to set an emergency committee. To respond to this concern, Okinawa Prefecture General Affairs Division did not go any further than to say that they are looking into the Board of directors (Rijikai) and the board of counselors (Hyogiinkai), who have the responsibilities of managing a private school. On the other hand the committee members continued to point out that, “we need to focus on children’s future rather than the ego of adults.” They suggested to call in both the parents and school management sides to the committee (sankounin-shouchi). They will decide the details during the committee meeting on the 25th. (excerpt of Assembly coverage by Okinawa Times)

It needs to be made clear how much of a public subsidy AMICUS is receiving or not receiving for each student.  According to parent leaders, the amount comes out to about ¥300,000 per student per year.  One board member (name withheld by request) said “AMICUS is receiving zero subsidies and is being supported with funding from Obunsha,” it was added that the horses at AMICUS have been purchased with Obunsha Chairman Fumio Akao’s own funds.  The horses are being taken care of by the son of former Executive Director Kouichi Matsuda who was forced out by parents demands. Matsuda retired from AMICUS due to health reasons but is still listed as an AMICUS board member, advisor to Obunsha and board member of the EIKEN Foundation of Japan.

I spoke with Tsuneo Yokosuka, the Deputy Director of the Office and Vice Principal Eng Hai Tan.  Although they do not have any comments at this time, they are aware of the Okinawa Times article and will be sharing information with their staff concerning the issues at hand.  Managing Director (Jimukyoku-cho) Keiko Kamei is on a one-month leave of absence due to personal reasons.  Today Principal Tomokiyo Arakawa was not available for comments as he was off for personal reasons.  I expect to interview him soon to share his thoughts on the future of AMICUS.

Comments welcome to edo@okinawaocean.org