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DoD schools face unique challenges

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POSTED: September 13, 2010 9:42 a.m.
Multiple deployments and frequent school transitions are just a few of the issues on Marilee Fitzgerald’s plate this school year.
As acting director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, Fitzgerald oversees more than 84,000 students; all who have been impacted by nearly a decade of war, attending nearly 200 Defense Department schools scattered around the globe.
Her job is to focus on the big-picture administrative issues, although she’s determined not to let even one student slip through the cracks.
“As our parents move from place to place and they serve our nation and they make sacrifices, we don’t want them to believe they’re sacrificing the education of their children,” Fitzgerald said. “That is just not one of the sacrifices they’re going to have to make.”
Fitzgerald assumed her leadership role at the activity in June, but already is clear about her goals for the upcoming school year, and the initiatives she believes will help the education activity achieve them.
The activity’s No. 1 priority, she said, is to help students reach their fullest potential through a focus on high student achievement and a rich and varied curriculum.
Initiatives such as the virtual high school and language arts curriculum will make major inroads toward that goal, she predicted.
The activity’s virtual high school, new this school year, is an accredited distance-learning program for military students, whether they’re geographically separated, transitioning between schools or just dealing with a scheduling conflict. The virtual school offers students 48 online courses in a wide range of disciplinary areas, including foreign language, math, science, social studies, language arts and physical education, as well as 15 advanced placement courses.
The activity also has developed new standards of learning for its language arts program, based upon best practices in the United States. This has resulted in new instructional materials for students in all grades.
“This is an important step,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to ensure that what we’re teaching is relevant.”
Fitzgerald also praised the reconstruction and renovation program that kicked off with the school year. The Defense Department has provided the education activity $3.7 billion to address its reconstruction and renovation needs over the next six years, she explained.
Improvements will include new heating and air conditioning systems, plumbing, ventilation, electrical and structural repairs. Some schools will be replaced entirely, with new facilities constructed in their place.
“We opened this school year with a shovel in the ground,” Fitzgerald said, adding that she hopes parents will be patient while construction is under way.
Along with their physical environment, Fitzgerald also noted the importance of meeting military children’s emotional needs. The education activity has an obligation to ease transitions for military families, Fitzgerald said, with schools acting as a place of support for children as they deal with the consequences of frequent moves and deployments.
 

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