Defense Department to Partner With Local School Systems

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2007 - The Defense Department will work with local schools to try to ensure that military children receive quality education no matter where they attend classes, said the director of the Department of Defense Education Activity.

To this end, the department is creating an Educational Partnerships Directorate within DoDEA. The directorate is scheduled to be fully functional by October and will benefit school-age children of servicemembers stationed worldwide, Joseph Tafoya said during an interview last week.

"The quality of education for all military dependents is our new mission within the Defense Department," Tafoya said. "We want to ensure the quality that we believe we have in DoDEA is also there in the schools outside the gate and in the local communities."

The Department of Defense Education Activity educates nearly 91,000 of the 1.2 million school-age students within the military, defense officials said. The rest of the students are educated in public, private and home-based schools.

The number of students being educated outside of the defense system is expected to increase due to the Base Realignment and Closure process, as well as global rebasing of the military. By working with local education agencies, directorate officials said they plan to assist military-connected communities to ensure the best possible educational experience for military students.

The creation of the directorate is a collaboration between DoDEA and the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, which will work closely with the Department of Education, individual states and school districts to support the best practices for schools that educate military students.

By focusing on high-quality teaching, professional development, program improvement, high school initiatives, curriculum consistency and foreign language, Tafoya said the partnership with local schools will have a direct effect on students.

"We're obviously focusing on communities most impacted by BRAC," he said. According to Tafoya, there have been several times in the last few years when BRAC-impacted communities have asked for assistance from the Defense Department, but DoDEA was unable to assist.

Following the most recent Defense Appropriation Act, Congress has now allowed DoDEA to work cooperatively with local school districts to ease the transition of students from military to public schools.

Tafoya said the focus of the program is primarily on curricular transition issues. He said he wants to ensure that what is being taught within DoDEA is transferable to schools outside the military.

"We're doing a lot of things internally to assure parents that when they leave us and go to the next location, that their kid is ready for the next curriculum and whatever program is available to them in the local schools," he said. "Becoming a better partner with the local schools will help us understand that process a little better."

The ability to be an educator and serve military kids is a special calling, Tafoya said. Between parent's deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and frequent moves from school to school, he said teachers help military kids who experience a lot of transition in their lives.

"I can't think of a better opportunity to be an educator and also serve the need of the kids we have in DoDEA," he said. "Our ability to give them a great program is the highlight of my career."

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