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DoD Education Activity Reinforces Open Door Policy

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 1998 – The doors to Department of Defense Dependents Schools are open wide -- to students and parents, said Lillian Gonzalez, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity.

In response to recent concerns voiced by parents, Gonzalez said, the education activity is re-emphasizing the importance of the school-home partnership -- cooperation between parents and educators.

Parents say they don't feel they have enough information, Gonzalez said. "One of the major thrusts this year is to make sure that they are fully informed."

Increasing parental involvement has been an ongoing DoD education goal for three years. "I think we've made progress. We have opened up more avenues to our parents than we ever had," she said. While attending recent parents meetings in Europe, however, Gonzalez was disheartened to learn that DoD schools were not as open with information as she wants them to be.

"My focus, commitment, to parents is that we will open up every single door, and they will have access to everything necessary for them to make the kinds of decisions we want them to make about the education of our children," she emphasized.

The first doors to open are those to the schools themselves. "We are asking our principals to conduct meetings so [parents] can see information used to make decisions about staffing, budget and resources in schools," she said.

Parents in Europe recently raised concerns about teacher to student ratios and the number of teachers in subjects such as music and art -- why they might have a teacher for one subject but not the other.

Part of the parent involvement process is sharing information such as how positions are allocated, Gonzalez said. Unfortunately, she said, some information wasn't communicated to the broader community -- for instance, parents sometimes weren't told how school faculties were assigned.

Gonzalez also wants to make sure concerned parents know the communications channels. There was a feeling, she said, that no one was around at local levels to hear their concerns.

Parents with an issue related to a child's education should start with the teacher, she explained. If the issue cannot be resolved at the classroom level, then it should be raised with the principal. The next step is the district superintendent.

"DoDDS has 12 district superintendents -- eight in Europe. They have the authority to make some decisions for that district," Gonzalez said. "If it's an area issue, there is an area superintendent that deals with all the Europe issues, for example."

Gonzalez promised that the names and phone numbers of these individuals will be made available to all parents. "We have to make sure our parents understand where they can go for assistance."

There will always be issues that can't be resolved, she admitted, but the point is to start raising them at the local level. "If parents think they have nowhere to go past the classroom except to [DoD Dependents Schools] headquarters, just the time involved can be frustrating," she said. "We want them to get the response as quickly as possible.

"We believe very strongly that without our parents we aren't going to be successful with the education of our children," Gonzalez added. "We want to make sure they are involved in their children's education and involved with us in the decision-making process.

She encouraged parents to visit the schools and participate in the school advisory committee. "We want them to help us teach our children. We do want them to come and help us learn about our children. We value their input," she said.

More information on the DoD Education Activity and DoD Dependents Schools can be found on the Internet at http://www.odedodea.edu/.

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