New DoDEA Director Outlines Philosophy, Future Plans
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 31, 2014 Thomas M. Brady, the new director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, has had a lot of challenging jobs.
After retiring from the Army, Brady served as chief operating officer of Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia and the District of Columbia Public Schools. He was also the chief executive officer for the School District of Philadelphia and went on to become the superintendent of Providence, R.I., public schools. But out of all of his jobs in public education, Brady said, one of the hardest was his first -- volunteering as president of the parent-teachers organization at a secondary school in Virginia's Fairfax County.
"But from that, I really came to admire and respect the work that the principals and teachers did every day," he said.
Brady said he wanted to continue serving the community after his Army career and working for public schools seemed like a natural transition. He began as director of facilities for Fairfax County Public Schools, and then went on to serve as its chief operating officer for five years.
During his time with Fairfax County Public Schools, he was selected to attend the Broad Superintendent's Academy. The academy is designed to capitalize on the leadership and career skills of military, business and government leaders by training them to become school superintendents. Graduates are often placed as superintendents of large urban school districts.
"I was fortunate I already had five years of the business side and the educational side,” the director said.
After two years as the chief operating officer of the District of Columbia public school system, he moved to the same job in Philadelphia. Brady then spent 18 months as the interim chief executive officer there before accepting a superintendent's position in Providence, R.I.
In all, Brady said he has about 15 years experience in public education since retiring from the Army after 25 years as a commissioned officer, with 10 of them in “difficult urban situations.”
His most recent work before being named DoDEA director was in consulting and assisting public school districts, he said.
The DoDEA opportunity is “a marvelous match,” Brady said. “I have the Army background in DOD, my wife attended DoDEA schools, my five children attended DoDEA schools, and of my seven grandchildren, five are [military] family members and two attend DoDEA schools.”
Brady took office March 10, and, he notes, though it would be “dangerous to draw any great conclusions after two weeks” as director, he does have a plan for his first 90 days.
“I’m very interested in assessing the organization -- listening, getting as much opinion as I can, visiting as many schools, principals, teachers, classrooms, students as I can, meeting with parents, and then communicating openly and honestly and before any major decision is made,” he said.
There are places where his experience in urban schools will translate easily to DoDEA schools, Brady said.
"In any good educational system it's very important to have standards, and that your curriculum is aligned to the standards, and you're focused on improving student achievement,” he said.
During this transition period, Brady said, DoDEA will be focused on assessing standards and ensuring that the overall objectives are aligned and that there’s a legitimate testing standard in place.
The Defense Department’s support of DoDEA schools has been steadfast, he said, but reductions in the department’s budget do indirectly affect schools.
For example, Brady said, as DOD restructures and adjusts the force structure, DoDEA has to be aware of planning cycles so that schools can be properly staffed and built where they will be needed.
“In other words, we want to be intimately involved [in planning], so that we can do the right thing for students and teachers as we look at posts and installations in the United States. And the same, of course, in the Pacific,” he said.
DoDEA largely has escaped direct impacts from sequestration, Brady said. DoDEA’s teachers were exempted from furlough, he said. But, “in the discussion of the resources being reduced,” he added, “it always has an impact on teachers and principals, and eventually to students.
“It’s an uncertain time,” Brady continued. “Having said that, I marvel at the Department of Defense's commitment to the students of DOD in terms of financing.”
Some of DoDEA’s resources have been reduced, the director said, but overall, the agency is very well resourced.
“Compared to other systems that I've worked in, where there have been draconian cuts for a myriad of reasons, DOD has purposely, and thankfully, not required that of DoDEA,” he noted.
“That's not to say the change and the angst associated with that for our workers isn't there,” Brady added, “but I will say that there's been a commitment at the Department of Defense level to properly resource the school system, so I'm delighted.”
After a facility assessment in 2009 found that a majority of DoDEA’s school buildings were either in “poor” or “failing” condition, the agency undertook a major construction and renovation program. When complete, 70 percent of DoDEA’s 194 schools will have been replaced or renovated.
The Defense Department has dedicated $2.7 billion to DoDEA’s efforts to bring every school up to 21st century learning standards, Brady said.
“It's just a remarkable commitment,” he said, “and so I couldn't be more delighted about the very aggressive and committed building program that we have."
One aspect of the program, he added, is the “enhanced use of technology in the learning environment.” Unless it’s actually implemented, this can become a cliché, the director said.
But, he noted, “I've seen the designs and the education specifications for the new buildings and they do incorporate [information technology].
“And we have an initiative called the virtual school,” he continued, which is another way to communicate with our students worldwide. It appears ... that we're well on the right track.”
At the start of this school year, DoDEA began implementing a new math and science curricula. Development is ongoing, he said, and the agency is committed to getting it done properly by ensuring that students are building on skills from one year to the next.
It’s important that teachers and principals not just understand the new curricula, he said, but also have a role in its development and implementation.
“We need to involve principals and teachers in that process as we build it forward,” Brady said, “rather than saying, 'Here's the product, now execute,' it's 'We're designing the project, what do you think is best?' because they're the people who are in the classroom.”
So far, the process is going well, he said.
“I'm pleased that the work has started,” he added, “and I think we can continue and probably accelerate it as we go.”
Brady said DoDEA has a responsibility not just to Defense Department schools, but to all children of service members. About 1.2 million dependent children attend community schools, he said.
“I think that there’s an opportunity to work with those local districts and improve student performance and, certainly, awareness of what our children go through -- which is completely different, in many cases, than the civilian community,” the director said.
Children are affected when one or both of their parents are deployed, he said, "and I don't think there's an awareness of that in many of [the] school districts that aren't a part of DoDEA. ... I think that's an area we can focus on.”
Brady acknowledged that with force structure changes driving school closures at Fort Knox, Ky., and about 100 DoDEA employees affected by a reduction in force, change management will take a central role in his job.
“It's … a matter of how do you deal with it, how do you deal with it fairly and how do you communicate the facts to people,” he said. The key, the director said, is asking for opinions, "and then making a decision and communicating that decision to everybody.”
Brady said he’s committed to open and honest communication with DODEA employees.
“Regardless of whether the facts are good or bad, nevertheless they're facts,” he said. “In any organization, if you're not communicating regularly and factually, then the rumors start.”
DoDEA’s primary mission is to improve student performance, Brady said.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s a great organization that can only get better.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)