WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Defense Department now has a roadmap to bring all schools on military bases up to 21st century facility standards, Pentagon officials announced last week.
In a recent interview in advance of the announcement, Jo Ann Rooney, principal undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, spoke about the results of a facilities assessment of 157 of the 160 public schools on military installations — three newly built schools were not assessed — that are operated by local education agencies.
The assessed schools have roughly 80,000 students, Rooney said, and should not be confused with schools run by the department. Though the schools are on military installations, they are staffed, administered and maintained by local school authorities. The assessment looked at the schools’ condition and
The assessment allows the department to direct resources to schools that need it the most, Rooney said. According to the assessment, the public schools on military installations that have the greatest need are: Logan Elementary School at Fort Bliss, Texas; Hillside Elementary School and Carter Lake Elementary School at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Sheridan Road Elementary School at Fort Sill, Okla.; Murray Middle School at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif.; South Polk Elementary School at Fort Polk, La.; Fort Riley Middle School at Fort Riley, Kan.; Forbes Elementary School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; Hale Kula Elementary School at Wheeler/Schofield Army Air Field, Hawaii; and Burroughs High School at China Lake, Calif.
“The Department of Defense is strongly committed to ensuring that the children of military families receive an excellent education that prepares them for successful careers and to be active contributors to their communities and the nation,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a written statement as part of the announcement. “High-quality facilities and instruction are essential, of course, to providing the kind of education they deserve. That’s a top priority.”
In the recent interview, Rooney echoed Panetta’s words. “Our No. 1 priority ... is to make sure that they are providing the best quality of education for the children of our service members,” she said.
Rooney stressed that all the schools are safe. The assessment was to look at all physical aspects of schools to see what was needed to provide a 21st century education. The question comes down to how to create a learning environment, she said.
“Many of us probably remember being in rooms where the desks were lined up,” Rooney said. “That’s not considered a 21st century education. You want modular furniture in a room; you want students grouped around tables; you want portable technology.”
The assessment revealed that nearly half of the schools are in excellent shape, Rooney said. “We found that more than 47 percent of them were absolutely at the highest quality in capacity and highest quality in condition,” she added.
The assessment graded each school as red, yellow or green in both condition and capacity, officials said. The schools then were grouped based on similar condition and capacity ratings, and then the schools were banded based on criteria scoring — three points for red, two points for yellow, and one point for green. Finally, the schools were ranked within each band by the numerical score for condition. Condition carried slightly more weight than capacity, officials added.
About 30 of the 157 schools have issues and need attention, Rooney said. “This says, ‘Here are the schools that need the most attention, and [we’ll] go down the list in addressing the most critical concerns,’” she said.
Congress has appropriated $250 million to repair public schools on military installations. “Our goal is to take this list and apply the funds to as many of the schools as we can,” Rooney said.
DOD officials want to hear from local school officials so they can work together to get projects started. The department is asking local districts to put up 20 percent of the federal government contribution to the projects. However, if the school districts really can’t come up with the money, Rooney said, Defense Department officials will work with them.
“We’re hoping to have shovels in the ground after the first of the year,” she said.
The Defense Department wants all schools at the highest quality rankings, Rooney said.
“This is a concerted effort to make sure we have the facilities in place to provide that 21st century education knowing that we already have — based on test scores and student learning outcomes — terrific work being done in classrooms,” she added.