DoD Schools Director Reflects on Accomplishments
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2000 The interim director of DoD schools is finishing up his one-year term and said it's been a year he's proud of.
Since September 1999, Ray Tolleson has been working to decentralize the Department of Defense Education Activity here. He believes his efforts are paying off.
"We've assigned people who were previously reporting directly to Washington as close to the areas and the districts as we could," he said in a recent American Forces Information Service interview. "The resources will be more readily available for people to solve their problems in a much quicker fashion."
Tolleson is convinced decentralizing can only help the more than 112,000 students in the DoD system, both in the United States and abroad. "If you take the resources that you currently have in the headquarters and move them closer to the schools, you're going to end up with more people to meet the needs of kids," he said. "You could increase reading specialists; you could add additional counselors and psychologists; or you could increase the number of offerings in a high school."
A former public school administrator in California, Tolleson was named interim director in September 1999. He'll step down in September or October, after officials have named a successor.
Other efforts Tolleson has spearheaded include a spousal hiring provision. A rule change in April 2000 allowed for spouses of military members to have "first priority for employment in positions for which they're qualified," he said.
He's also proud of "opening up the system" to make it more accountable. "For the first time we have a budget book that is understandable to the public," Tolleson said. Officials have also developed a video explaining the budget that local schools can show parents, and they have placed more information about the budget on the system's Internet homepage.
Tolleson's greatest challenge has been dealing with a worldwide system. "Coming from a school district that is fairly compact, 75 square miles, you can communicate fairly quickly with your customers," he said. But within DoDEA, time and distance are barriers. "It's a 14- to 16-hour time difference from here to the Pacific, and six to eight hours to Europe. Communication is a lot more difficult."
A student body that turns over every two to three years poses another problem. "You can't just say something one time and assume everybody knows," he said. "You have to make a conscious effort to say things over and over to make sure the newcomers have the same information as people who have been here a while."
Tolleson said he will ask his successor to concentrate on the system's facilities. "Someone is going to have to address the facilities that we have, because they're beginning to deteriorate much like schools in the rest of the country," he said. "Many schools are in the same boat."
The outgoing director said he's most appreciated the support from parents throughout the system. "We have a great system. I'm particularly appreciative of the parents' involvement and the military's involvement in helping us reach our goal of providing quality education for military children. Without them we couldn't do it," he said. "I think if you look at what it takes to educate a child, we couldn't do it ourselves. And parents have really stepped up and made that happen."
The DoD schools Web site is at http://www.odedodea.edu/.