Defense Schools’ Director Pleased With Year’s Accomplishments
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 18, 2009 For the Department of Defense Education Activity, the 2008-2009 school year was all about improving education for military children, the agency’s director said as she reflected on the accomplishments of what she’s dubbed “Team DoDEA.”
“The whole year involved continuous improvement and that whole philosophy of taking some small steps [and] to really focus in on what we needed to improve,” Shirley Miles said. “We are -- I’ve said many times -- a very good organization, and we can be great. We just have to look at what we do, review it, and then plan for that greatness.”
Miles said she holds no opinion that the organization needs to make any sharp turns in its operations. It simply needs to “right the rudder,” to borrow a Navy term, and focus on student achievement, she said.
In the past school year, the agency conducted its regular customer satisfaction survey, as well as listening to employees’ opinions and suggestions through its first employee-satisfaction survey. Miles said those responses, combined with input from other sources including the combatant commands and the Dependent Education Council, helped to guide her decisions.
The budget was prioritized, she said, so in the event of a budget cut, the “have tos” are crystal clear.
“If we have to make cuts, we can say, ‘Here’s the cut line, and if you cut us by 10 percent, 15 percent, we can’t do all of these things,” Miles said. “Of course, in our $1.8 billion budget, if we’re cut [by] 10 percent, that’s $180 million, and $180 million dollars [less] means you can’t do a lot of things.”
In addition, all of the school buildings in all 15 districts were evaluated and given a quality rating based on their state of repair. Taking the ratings and the need for a new school complex -- elementary, middle school and high school -- in Kaiserslautern, Germany, into account, Miles raised the organization’s military construction budget request from $35 million to $100 million.
The bill for the Kaiserslautern complex alone comes in at $75 million.
“If we don’t get the $100 million, we’re going to have to piecemeal [the complex],” Miles said. “Obviously, we will do the remodeling and the repairs that we always do, [but] the [military construction] issue is a big issue, because we have old schools.”
A program aimed at providing students who may miss classes for a deployed parent’s rest and recuperation visit or who live in remote locations takes learning to the Internet.
“The virtual school, I think, is going to be fabulous,” Miles said. “The virtual school really is going to help our home-schooled students, our children in remote locations [and] our children [who are absent] for two or three weeks at a time.”
The virtual classroom will provide face-to-face instruction 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staffs of teachers around the globe in different time zones will keep the “school” staffed. “Hubs” will help keep teachers from having to come in and teach on a second shift schedule.
“We’re establishing a hub already in Europe, [and] we have a hub that’s going to start in the fall in the Pacific, and then we’ll have a hub in [the United States],” Miles said.
The school will provide students with the opportunity to retake classes they’ve failed or classes not offered at their schools -- including advanced placement classes -- and to keep up with class work during an extended absence.
Miles wants each of the classes offered accredited through the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement so that students using the virtual school will have a diploma when they graduate.
Perhaps the largest undertaking of the school year was a reorganization of administrative personnel. No school can run without administrators, but staffing needs to be done wisely, Miles said.
“My goal is always to focus resources as close to the school as possible,” she said. “So we evaluated, particularly our [curriculum content] coordinators. Those coordinators were at the area offices, but they were doing, in my opinion, a lot of paperwork, and they needed to get out to the schools.”
All of the coordinators for each curriculum area are being moved to the district levels so they are better able to help the teachers and the students. In the past, each of the organization’s 15 school districts had two assistant superintendents. That number has been reduced.
“We were, in my opinion, a little too top heavy,” Miles said. “I have eliminated one assistant superintendent per school district, and have moved those folks into different positions. Some of them are principals. Some of them are coordinators.”
Because the turnover of the education activity’s 16,000 employees is relatively high due to factors such as retirements and relocations, none of the organization’s administrative personnel lost jobs in the shuffle.
“Only two teachers lost their jobs because they didn’t have any other certification,” Miles said. “They were certified in cosmetology, and we don’t offer that any more.”
Miles said she’s amazed at what her team has accomplished in the past year.
“It’s been a great year of thoughtful and purposeful effort, and I’m proud of that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the staff across the world.”