AMICUS, school in distress – Is Obunsha friend or foe?

By Edo Heinrich-Sanchez

The Official Description: Okinawa AMICUS International is a special initiative of the Governor of Okinawa in an effort to serve the children of researchers and scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) opened in 2012, children of Japan, and children of the world. (http://www.amicus.ed.jp/en) for more information.

The Pandora’s box has been opened.  I truly hope and pray that the AMICUS school will continue into the future and find a third alternative to its present management situation.  Before that, we need to assess openly what the issues are in order to protect the hopes and dreams of our most valuable asset: our children.

Okinawa AMICUS International opened in April 2011.  In the three years it has had three principals (the first two of whom are top Okinawa educators, the current principal is a retired Japanese Teacher of English new to the experience of running a school.) high turnover of teachers and a multiple juggling of lawsuits. The Okinawa Prefecture Assembly is investigating the school.  Obunsha’s management of the school has been compared to that of a “rogue” company or in Japanese as a “Black Kigyo”.  The video of the hearings with sub-titles will be available by the end of the month.

Obunsha Publishing Co. led by Chairman Fumio Akao, grandson of the founder is a board member yet initially AMICUS was left up to his senior adviser, Mr. Kouichi Matsuda.  He moved to Tokyo after parents “picketed” the school protesting his alleged abusive management style.  It is reported that he is still heavily involved from afar and planning similar projects elsewhere.  There is a steering committee of 6 (Riji) chaired by the present principal and an advisory council of 13 (HyoGiin).

The school was founded on three principles:

1.” First of all:  as an educational publishing company, Obunsha has been seeking a way to be directly involved in the education in schools. In other words, we have been seeking a way to run a school.

2. Second: Okinawa Prefecture needs to establish a school which accommodates the children of OIST staff members, including foreign nationals.

3. Third: A large percentage of residents said it’s needed –  including 60% of public school parents and 80% of OIST staff. http://www.amicus.ed.jp/en/education-principle/background-of-foundation/

At this time, the only founding principle left standing is the desire of the educational publishing company: Obunsha’s desire to run a school.  After Obunsha’s experiment in Gunma, the Gunma Kokusai Academy (Obunsha was removed from operational management) Obunsha wanted to try again to create a school.

They have been successful in running the school to the ground internally while keeping a happy facade which was cracked during hearings at the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly.

I found this comment by a parent in the popular Okinawa HAI website:

“The only admin with experience is an American who was brought here this year (2013) to build a JHS. Word is he has been fighting with the administration for a change since he arrived, and is now locked away in the basement with little to do.” (excerpt).

Why would a professional administrator and educator be isolated from the other teachers and staff?  I had a chance to visit and see for myself.  I was saddened and concerned that this type of bullying has been tolerated by all involved.  This motivates me to work harder to find accurate information and strive for solutions.  We will all benefit if we can successfully separate facts from emotions with the hopes of seeking “amicable” solutions.

How can this situation be remedied?  Who are the board members and advisory council?  Next week’s column will look into who’s who.

I spoke on March 11th with a key administrator (since the Gunma Kokusai Academy experiment and contracted to establish AMICUS in Okinawa) and she mentioned that from April 1st, a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) will be formed.

It is time to look at the facts.  I was given a form to fill out that will allow me to reference the board meeting minutes as long as the permission is approved.  The six and the thirteen “hyogiin”.

She informed me that they have 38 students to start their first Junior High School class, and they plan on training teachers in order to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.  Yet, it was reported to me that three weeks ago at a parent info meeting, they publicly denied any desire to bring in IB citing it was “1) too expensive 2) took too long to implement 3) would take teachers out of their classes in order to be trained 4) since there was no high school planned, the PYP (primary year program) and MYP (middle year program) of IB didn’t really matter much.” They do not have any “IB director” at this time, yet it was acknowledged that the American languishing in the basement – who is well versed in IB and had stated that he has been fighting for IB at the school to no avail – has written some reports for AMICUS.

Who is running the school?  Information is sometimes contradictory, fuzzy, non-committal and screaming for a “60 Minutes” type of investigation.

The more questions I ask, the more questions appear.  Okinawa Prefecture has spent several million yen so far. Help!

Starting this week, I have added to the Kyued Up Design Thinking platform the case study:  Renewal & Reorganization of Okinawa AMICUS International.

Kyued Up by the Pullapproach brings key people together in order to find socially responsible business solutions to “Design the Future of the Ryukyus”.  Please register in order to add your comments, ideas to the two case studies above.  Results will be presented on March 29th. http://pullapproach.com/

Parents, teachers, administrators are welcome to register as local experts and join this case study “Renewal of AMICUS”.

For comments, please e-mail to edo@okinawaocean.org

 

  • Eduardo Heinrich Sanchez

    Dear JU readers,

    I have received a couple of e-mails, some comments and a phone call concerning this weeks I Love Okinawa Campaign column. My goal is to provide analysis, comment, and opinion with a focus on solutions to issues in the news or ongoing problems so identified. I also welcome guest writers that can add to the discussion.

    It has to be made clear that this is an editorial opinion column, which will be stated under the I Love Okinawa Logo.

    Thank you for the comments. I will work to better make my sources of information clear and straightforward. At times, a source might want to have their name omitted or remain anonymous. The analysis has begun based on reports, personal interviews and now motivated by the public and official proceedings of the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly.

    The Official description (outline) I used to open the piece was taken from an on-line recruitment ad on the Japan Research Career and Information Network of the Japan Science and Technology Agency posted 2013.8.21
    http://jrecin.jst.go.jp/seek/SeekJorDetail?fn=2&ln=1&id=D113080814&ln_jor=1

    On the fifth paragraph: The school was founded on 3 principals…

    This information was taken directly from the Okinawa AMICUS International official website. I included the link but left in a fragment on No.3 which is confusing:

    3. Third: A large percentage of residents said it’s needed – including 60% of public school parents and 80% of OIST staff. Only “miscellaneous” available http://www.amicus.ed.jp/en/education-principle/background-of-foundation/

    – Only “miscellaneous” available – needs to be deleted. I needed to make it clear that “according to the AMICUS website, the school was founded on 3 principals…

    Paragraph number eight: I found this comment by a parent in the popular Okinawa HAI website:

    The comment was posted on September 1st 2013 by an alleged OIST researcher signed as Albert. http://okinawahai.com/do-you-know-of/

    Looking at all sources of information, comments on public forums do help to paint a picture of what is happening. Of course, there is never anything completely bad nor good.

    Some key people and members of the board of directors and advisers have stated to me that:
    (I do not have permission to use their names at this time).

    1. there are no problems at AMICUS, that its just a small group of parents who are causing issues. Best for me not to get into a “traffic jam”.

    2. there are some problems and disagreements on how to run the school which also led to picketing for the removal of Mr. Kouichi Matsuda from Obunsha.

    3. there are lawsuits in the works and the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly is investigating the school.

    Those three pieces of information signal to me that something is not right. The search for answers has begun and appreciate everyone’s help in this endeavor.

    Of course, there is no mention in the column of the excellent work that teachers are doing with the situation at hand. Teachers and students would mostly excel if the energies are focused on supporting them instead of lawsuits and official inquiries or audits.

    I did not mention this and will add to the story above to make sure that teachers are given the credit they deserve. It is not clear to me who are all the teachers. I have personally met only a handful. My focus was on the administration of the school. I did meet Mr. Arakawa who is the principal at this time. Introduced to me on March 11, 2014 by a top administrator who requested that her name not me used.

    For the general public who does not know about AMICUS, the mission will be to understand who and how the school is being run (which is subsidized with public funds) and how we can make this experiment succeed.

    The working group portal has been created on the Kyued Up platform listed as:
    AMICUS Reform as a case study using design thinking which originated in Stanform University and presented at OIST by the Pullapproach.com team. Please register and lets meet next Saturday March 22nd at OIST to brain storm on how we can find solutions within this fiscal year, present to the AMICUS board and to the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly for consideration. This will be a pseudo “think tank-emergency task force” in order to resolve the issues at hand.

    Sincerely and respectfully submitted,
    E

  • Eduardo Heinrich Sanchez

    Thank you for the comments. I will work to better and harder to make my sources of information clear and straightforward. At times, a source might want to have their name omitted or remain anonymous. The analysis has begun based on reports, personal interviews and now motivated by the public and official proceedings of the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly.