Changes afoot as DODEA schools open, director says
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2014 – Today marks the first day back to class for most of the students in the Department of Defense Education Activity school system.
DoDEA schools across the southern states began opening earlier this month, but the majority of schools opened today, said Tom Brady, director of DoDEA.
“I'm very pleased to say that the openings have gone exceedingly well,” Brady said.
About 78,000 students will be returning to 181 DoDEA schools around the world, he said. That's a slight decrease from last year's 80,000, Brady noted, adding that the decline was expected given the reductions in overall force structure.
Students will be seeing new instructional materials and more technology this year, he said. DoDEA has invested in new social studies, science, arts, and physical education materials in addition to building five new schools and undertaking an extensive repair and maintenance program.
And, Brady said, DoDEA’s “remarkably dedicated” teachers received additional professional development over the summer.
The introduction of new technology into DoDEA's classrooms is progressing well, he said.
"We've invested another at least $7 million in school-level [technology],” Brady said. DoDEA’s computer replenishment program, in which the oldest computers are the first to be replaced, is showing good progress, he noted.
“We're also monitoring our one-on-one computer program and we're looking at some tablets. We're trying to get the right mix for the right schools,” Brady said.
In addition, DoDEA is expanding online education programs, he said.
"The more I travel, the more it was clear to me that we have great schools that don't have the capacity -- they aren't large enough to put [in] all the programs that we'd like to do, and I don't want any student to miss an opportunity,” Brady said. “And although it’s difficult, we can do online schools and if the child is really motivated, why should they be denied the opportunity?” he added. “So we're expanding the catalog and I'm very pleased with the performance of the online curriculum and online education.”
First 100 days
Brady became DoDEA director in March so this will be his first full school year as director. He said he's particularly excited about DoDEA’s future.
During his first 100 days in office, Brady said he made it a priority to see schools in operation and meet with parents, teachers and administrators around the world. Brady traveled more than 27,800 miles, visiting eight of DoDEA's 14 districts and 79 schools in Korea, Japan, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia.
"The whole purpose was to listen," he said. "I got an opportunity to hear first-hand from students -- and that was the best part, to talk to students -- the teachers, parents, commanders ... on what was right and what could be improved in DoDEA, and I thought it was very, very worthwhile."
Two priorities became clear during his travels, he said.
First, the critical need to establish an aligned curriculum -- college and career ready standards that will be implemented throughout the DoDEA system. This includes professional development for teachers to prepare them for the new standards and an assessment to measure progress. This will ease the process of transitioning to new schools for DoDEA's highly mobile student population, not just within the DoDEA system, but also into schools in the 46 states that have adopted the common core curricula.
"We have standards, we can improve the standards," Brady said. DoDEA must execute those standards so that students are prepared to make choices that are most advantageous to them, he added.
"And to do that is to make sure that they're prepared through the use of the standards ... when they get to the junior and senior year, they're ready to go out and make choices based on their wants and not be driven to choices that they're not prepared to make because of inadequate preparation," Brady said.
Parental involvement is essential to this effort, he said. Research has shown that student performance improves at least 5 points by a parent simply entering a school building, Brady said.
"So, if we're going to influence positively student performance, then we need partners and we need parents to be partners," he said.
The second priority is to execute some behind-the-scenes changes, he said, to include reorganizing the educational directorate to better align with DoDEA's responsibilities and to ensure the human resources department is attracting the most talented teachers and administrators. This is aimed squarely at the problem of raising student achievement across the board and improving school operations.
"We'll begin that work almost immediately," Brady said.
The DoD mission
DoDEA’s schools play an important role in maintaining readiness, he said.
“As we look at a combat-ready force, we all know intuitively that we want our armed forces members to be looking at that mission and accomplishing it,” Brady said. “... We would be a distractor if they're worried about their family and they're worried about their children's education.”
DoD families can entrust their children to an outstanding school system, he said, and know they're going to get a top-notch education.
“That's one less worry for that parent, or parents, who are facing very demanding jobs. So, I think we add to readiness, obviously,” Brady said.
DoDEA schools are blessed, the director said, because the Defense Department is unswerving in its dedication to adequately funding education.
“I'm always concerned about resourcing. I'm always concerned that we're putting the resources where they need to be, and that's with the classroom and to the teacher and child,” he said.
“Unlike many of the public school superintendents who face yearly budget cuts -- draconian budget cuts -- DoD is committed to our students,” Brady said. “And so I'm very concerned that we spend resources well, but right now I am not in a position, thankfully, to have to look at which education programs to cut and what teachers to cut. So we are doing very, very well.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)