Simon Sanchez (1895 – 1975) was a pioneer in education and a key player in the establishment and formalization of Guam’s public school system during the turbulent pre-war and post-war eras. In addition to his roles as a public school educator and administrator, Sanchez served as a member and secretary of the First and Second Guam Congress. As a Congressman, Sanchez was responsible for introducing a resolution that formally recognized the Territorial Flag of Guam, which is currently in use today.

Sanchez was born in the San Antonio District of Hagåtña, Guam, to Elautera Rodriguez De Los Angeles (1866 – 1942) and Candido Agbay Sanchez (1856 – 1940). Sanchez’s father was a successful attorney while Guam was under Spanish government rule. When Sanchez and his four siblings were growing up, only wealthy, upper-class families could afford to send their children to Spanish schools, which were operated solely by the Roman Catholic Church.

Under the American Naval administration, the CHamoru language was banned and English was taught in schools. The Naval government struggled to staff classrooms with school teachers and military personnel and their dependents were used as school teachers to fill the need. The Guam Normal School was established in Hagåtña as teacher training program geared toward locals. Graduates of the Normal School were tested upon completion of the program and in 1919 Sanchez, as well as Jose Roberto, Francisco Taitano, Jose V. Cruz, Pedro Martinez, and Agueda Iglesias Johnston ranked among a group of 50 trained teachers.

Early Superintendent of Public Schools

In 1927, Sanchez was appointed to serve as the Superintendent of Public Schools. Sanchez’s steady leadership was integral to ensuring that the school system’s programs remained consistent. Sanchez’s ability to bring stability to the system was a departure from Naval Administration leadership as administrative roles frequently changed when military tours ended. Under Sanchez’s tenure as the Superintendent, Guam public school enrollment rose from 323 in 1904 to 5,084 in 1941 when World War II reached Guam’s shores.

Sanchez, alongside Nieves M. Flores, Maria Leon Guerrero, and Remedios Leon Guerrero Perez, went on to successfully complete a two-year teacher’s program which offered college-level courses. After completing the teacher’s program, Sanchez taught in the school system and served as a principle of schools in Dededo, Sumai and the Almacen Intermediate School.

Prior to the outbreak of war, Sanchez also helped to establish the Guam Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts programs. In 1944, Sanchez played a key role in post-war reconstruction under General Henry Larsen following the American seizure of the island.

Focused on teacher training

Between 1946 and 1950, Sanchez was elected to serve in the First and Second Guam Congress. In the post-war reconstruction era, Sanchez focused on reopening schools that were forced to close under the Japanese occupation. Sanchez saw the need to provide a reliable resource that could train local teachers. He requested that the University of Hawai’i School of Education send instructors to Guam to help support and train the island’s teachers.

By 1948, 44 local residents were enrolled in the teacher in-service training program. The program provided an immediate solution the need for teachers, but Sanchez ultimately wanted to establish a degree-granting teacher training institution that could foster teachers for the island’s schools. In 1952, the Territorial College of Guam, which offered two-year college programs, was founded through an institutional arrangement with Ohio State University. The Territorial College became a four-year institution that was renamed College of Guam in 1960, and finally became a fully fledged university – the University of Guam – in 1968.

“Mr. Education”

Sanchez retired from education in 1959, although he continued to serve as Chairman and member of the Territorial Board of Education throughout the 1960s. Sanchez was commended by many community leaders for his lifetime commitment to education, and particularly for his role in re-establishing the education system and public school programs in post-war Guam. Sanchez was nicknamed “Mr. Education.”

Sanchez died in 1975 – leaving behind a legacy of educational growth and children who followed in his footsteps through their work in the public and private sectors. Sanchez’s sons Adrian and Pedro served in the Guam Legislature (the forerunner to the Guam Congress). Pedro continued his father’s work by serving as the president of the Territorial College of Guam from 1970 to 1974. Sanchez’s grandson, Simon Jr., was also a senator and a lieutenant governor candidate.

By Samantha Marley Barnett

For further reading

I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 1. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, 1995.