DODEA leaders hold 1st online forum with parents, students, teachers

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A group from Ramstein Middle School listens in on the live video discussion with Department of Defense Education Activity leaders and five other schools from across DODEA on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. They are, from l-r, Sequinn Lee, RMS 6th grade language arts teacher; parents Air Force Capt. Matthew Streett, Jenny Cline and Suzanne Villella; and RMS Principal Josh Adams. Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes  Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes
From Stripes.com
A group from Ramstein Middle School listens in on the live video discussion with Department of Defense Education Activity leaders and five other schools from across DODEA on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. They are, from l-r, Sequinn Lee, RMS 6th grade language arts teacher; parents Air Force Capt. Matthew Streett, Jenny Cline and Suzanne Villella; and RMS Principal Josh Adams. Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes

DODEA leaders hold 1st online forum with parents, students, teachers

by: Jennifer H. Svan | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: October 21, 2015

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Parents, teachers and students at six schools across the Department of Defense Education Activity spent about an hour Tuesday “hanging out” with the agency’s top two leaders in the first-ever online forum to talk about school issues.

Broadcast via Google’s “Hangout on Air,” the discussion with DODEA Director Tom Brady and Linda Curtis, DODEA’s principal deputy director and associate director of academics, focused on new College and Career Ready Standards, opportunities for more rigorous learning and technology in the schools.

Some sites in Europe and the Pacific experienced technical glitches, making the audio difficult to hear at times. But the video clip of the nearly 60-minute live event, posted to DODEA’s YouTube channel almost immediately afterward, is audible and available at https://www.youtube.com/user/dodeacomms.

Brady said he’d like to have similar discussions more often.

In introductory remarks, he emphasized his No. 1 priority of improving student achievement.

While meeting stakeholders during his first months on the job, Brady, who’s been director for 18 months, said he came away with several thoughts, among them: “We were doing an awful lot.”

“It’s been my experience in public education that sometimes when you’re doing too much, you’re not doing much at all.”

The two big changes happening in DODEA — the implementation of College and Career Ready Standards, modeled largely after the Common Core State Standards, and organizational restructuring — are geared toward improving student achievement, he said.

Raising DODEA’s academic standards is “based on data,” he said. “The standardized tests that we’ve used, it’s pretty clear, particularly in math, we need to improve.”

From Ramstein Middle School, parent Jenny Cline asked whether instruction would still be tailored under the new standards to account for differences in learning styles and ability levels.

Curtis said instruction would still be geared toward student ability — those who excel and those who need more support.

“It’s not cookie-cutter, everybody-does-the-same-thing,” Brady said. The new assessments, which won’t be introduced until next school year, won’t be tied to teacher or administrator evaluations, as they are in some stateside schools, he said.

Other questions dealt with losing some computers at the middle schools and connectivity problems. A parent said classrooms at Vicenza Middle School in Italy often experience “slow connectivity, spending 20, 30 minutes trying to use the computer.”

For broadband width and connectivity, “we rely on services of the installations,” Brady said. “I know it’s a challenge. I don’t have an easy answer.”

But he said DODEA is currently delivering thousands of new computers to schools to replace old ones.

Separately, Brady said, in response to a student question, he would look into whether it made sense to offer honors courses in middle school.

Middle-schoolers can take high school level math and foreign language but not in subjects such as social studies or English, Curtis said.

“Once we implement College and Career Ready Standards, I’d like to think that every course” will be honors level, Brady said.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com