Education Officials Seek Feedback to Shape Way Ahead

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2011 - Defense Department officials are inviting military and community members to share their thoughts on the quality and continuity of education in DOD schools and their suggestions for improvements.

This feedback will be used in the development of a new Department of Defense Education Activity Community Strategic Plan, a document that will help to shape the activity's way ahead -- including mission, vision, guiding principles, goals and initiatives -- through 2016. The current plan expires at the end of this year.

"We hope through this effort that we demonstrate the value we place on the input of our community," Marilee Fitzgerald, the education activity's acting director, said. "We want to be sure we hear the voices of those we serve."

Officials would like to hear from parents, students, principals, staff members, teachers, military leaders, students and any community member who interacts with the school system, such as child care or health care providers, Fitzgerald explained. Topics of interest include consistency of communication from schools, strategies to improve support for students and families through transitions, and feedback on curriculum, instruction and assessment in DOD schools.

People can provide feedback online at

Fitzgerald said she'd also like to hear from people involved with non-DOD schools. "We're interested in knowing how we can, as a school system, help provide a continuity of education to our children," she said.

This continuity often comes into play for military kids who switch schools, on average, six to eight times over the course of a parent's military career. The department would like to minimize education disruptions for students in transition between DOD and public schools, Fitzgerald explained.

For example, military students who take Japanese while living overseas may return to a public school without that offering. However, it's possible that the education activity's virtual courses can help to fill that gap for students, even if they're enrolled in a public school.

"We're interested in knowing from parents what they might like to see from the DoDEA school system, and DOD generally, to help students continue, for example, with a language when they come back," she said. "Can they stay connected in some way to the DoDEA virtual learning program so their educational plan and aspirations are not interrupted by that move back?"

Other useful feedback centers around standards between DOD and public schools, Fitzgerald noted. After a stint overseas, for example, "were [students] ahead when they went back, catching up or behind?"

They'd also like to hear people's thoughts on how to improve the social and emotional support provided to students and their families during deployments or assignments that leave one parent running a household, she said, whether it's related to a DOD or public school.

"We want our students that come into DoDEA to receive a top-notch education and return to public school systems with not only the academic competencies, but the social and emotional competencies," Fitzgerald said.

Students often cite a sense of community and acceptance in DOD schools that's unmatched anywhere else, she noted. Officials would like to see that carry through to a public school, she added, "so that when a student arrives, they feel welcome, they feel appreciated" and their military challenges are understood.

All feedback will be combined with the information officials already have gathered during more than 75 interviews with teachers, principals, counselors, administrators, teacher association representatives, headquarters staff and nonprofit partners, Fitzgerald explained, along with data combed from numerous customer and climate surveys, and reports to Congress.

Officials also will look externally -- to the U.S. Department of Education and school systems similar to the DOD's -- to see what they're doing in terms of mission, vision and goals, she said.

A steering committee comprising representatives from the education activity, the services, the Pentagon's office of military community and family policy, and the U.S. Department of Education will meet later this month to develop the plan.

Once complete, the plan will serve as a roadmap of sorts, Fitzgerald said, as well as a performance agreement with stakeholders. Education officials will take on a set of goals and then publicly report their progress against these goals.

"It's a very transparent way of communicating what our plan will be for driving reform in the Department of Defense Education Activity," she said, and "a major movement on our part to reach out to our community so our students can have the best education we can provide."

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