Education Coalition Founding Father Steps Down
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2004 "I'm leaving, but I'm not gone," retired Army Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor quipped after resigning recently as chairman of the Military Child Education Coalition's board of directors.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor, a co-founder of the
Military Child Education Coalition, stepped down as the organization's chairman
of the board of directors last month. The organization works to make life
easier for military families whose children transfer from school to school
around the globe. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I don't want to leave the organization; this is my love!" exclaimed Taylor, who, in 1997, became a co-founder of MCEC. He turned over the helm to retired Army Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz, former commander of U.S. Army Forces Command. Schwartz's wife, Sandy, also is a co-founder of MCEC.
"One of the things the military taught me is that when you stay at a place too long, you get the idea that nobody has any good ideas besides you," Taylor said in explaining his resignation. "In an organization like this, it's easy to get into a position where you think, 'I've had all the great ideas. Nobody else can have one.' I don't want that to happen in this organization. There are a lot of tremendous people out there that care just as much about military kids as I do. And I want to support them as they go forward."
Taylor is staying on as a member of the board of directors' executive committee.
Taylor said the kick-off for the coalition came in 1997 when he, Mary Keller and Sandy Schwartz sat down at Schwartz's kitchen table in Killeen, Texas, to discuss the plight of mobile military children who couldn't keep up with other students.
At the time Taylor, a retired former commander of 3rd Corps and Fort Hood, was a volunteer member of the Killeen Independent School District board of trustees. Keller, who has a doctorate in education administration, was an assistant superintendent in the district's system, which supported some 16,000 military children from neighboring Fort Hood. Mrs. Schwartz's husband was then a three-star general, commanding 3rd Corps and Fort Hood. Their son attended school in the district.
The three MCEC co-founders worked closely with educators, military experts and parents to form a coalition to help military children cope with being transferred from school to school around the world.
The idea to form a coalition evolved out of Keller's observation that many military children who had transferred into schools in the district couldn't keep up with the rest of the students. Out of sheer compassion, Keller wanted to find a way to help the military students.
Taylor pointed out that Keller went from volunteer status in the beginning to executive director of the coalition today. He emphasized that MCEC's total existence is about educating mobile military children of all services, including the Coast Guard.
The organization has blossomed into even more than what the founders hoped it would blossom into, Taylor said. "It can go a lot farther," he added, "and it will under General Tom Schwartz's leadership. The Military Child Education Coalition is a tremendous organization, and it has a noble purpose. It's not about any of our egos. It's all for the sake of the children."
In a short six years, MCEC has earned the attention of school superintendents across the nation who have formed partnerships with the organization to make life easier for mobile military students, he noted. And, Taylor continued, state legislators and members of Congress, who know about the sacrifice and commitment of military children, are getting that word out.
However, Taylor said MCEC is still not as well known as the board of directors would like it to be.
"We can only help people if they come to us," Taylor noted. "We try to go to them, but we can't reach them all. A lot of their challenges and problems that occur, they need to bring to us."
Information about MCEC is transmitted via word of mouth, the annual conference, MCEC's Web site and magazine, and, this spring, at the annual First Lady's Congressional Club Luncheon, Taylor said.
At this year's luncheon on April 22, first lady Laura Bush told the gathering of nearly 2,000 people that there are more than a million military children around the world, and 800,000 of them go to public and Department of Defense schools in their neighborhoods.
"A military child may move as many as six to nine times from kindergarten to high school," she noted. "By her senior year, a child will have attended six elementary and middle schools and two or more high schools -- often in different states. This constant change has a huge impact -- academically and socially -- on children. Many school districts are not prepared to help military children transition from one school to another."
The first lady said citizens can show their appreciation for the troops and their families by getting involved in their communities. "The members of the United States military pledge their lives to protect ours, and we can support them by supporting their loved ones," she said. "The Military Child Education Coalition is working to do just that."
Luncheon organizers raised $25,000 for MCEC's coffers, which was presented to the organization during its annual conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., last month.
"That $25,000 check will go a long way, but that wasn't the most important thing," Taylor noted. "The most important thing is 2,000 communicators heard the first lady say she cares about military kids and that they're important. She also talked about the sacrifices of military kids and that our organization is trying to help them."
He said MCEC has made enormous accomplishments in helping mobile military children and has remained financially solvent while doing so.
"The things that I'm the proudest of are that there are a large number of military kids that have been helped," Taylor said. "And that our commitment has remained firm since the beginning."
During that time, about half of the board members have left and gone on to other pursuits, he noted. "Every time we bring in a new group of people, they jump right in and accept this commitment, our vision, our focus," Taylor said.
"The problems military children have aren't going to go away," he continued. "Long after I've had my funeral, people will be working this. The military is a moving train. You're always painting a moving train and these families are moving, too, and changing all the time. Educators are changing."
Wartime is a good time for MCEC to promote its agenda because, Taylor said, "People are giving MCEC the attention now that they may not give at other times."
As an example of the concerns of servicemembers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, Taylor said when he and Keller asked an Air Force colonel in South Carolina how they could help him and his troops, the colonel said, "We don't need socks, cookies, or care packages just take care of our kids."
"And that's what we're trying to do," Taylor said.