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Military families prepare for school year
New school planned, curriculum changes coming
web Fort Stewart school fair 016
A young boy examines recycling robot Curby while his mother speaks to Johnny Davis with the post recycling department during Fort Stewarts back-to-school fair this week. - photo by Denise Etheridge

Fort Stewart parents whose children attend Department of Defense Education Activity schools on post can expect curriculum changes this school year as well as see construction begin on a new elementary school, according to DoDEA officials.

The additional school will have a total capacity of 450 students and its estimated completion date is January 2013, said Dr. Samantha Ingram, superintendent of the South Carolina/Fort Stewart/DoD Dependents Schools-Cuba District.

The additional school will “lighten the load” of the populations at Fort Stewart’s existing elementary schools — Brittin, Kessler and Diamond — and address the need for a school in the Southern Oaks housing area, according to Ingram and district facilities manager Bob Heffley.

The construction contract for the additional school was awarded in March, but a June groundbreaking was delayed, said Keith Maxwell, district logistics management supervisor.

Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson explained the groundbreaking was put on hold because any formal protests by contractors bidding on the project first must be resolved. The money to build the new school already has been allocated, Larson said. Heffley said Congress approves these funds.

The new school will be located between Murray Avenue and Austin Road, according to Lindsey Cottingham, facility engineer with the Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary School Area Service Center. She said construction could begin this fall.

There also are plans to eventually replace Diamond and Brittin elementary schools with new buildings at an estimated cost of $34 million-$38 million, Cottingham said. She said DoDEA intends to award a contract to build a replacement school for Brittin in fiscal year 2014, and fiscal year 2016 for Diamond, but the two could be switched as Diamond is an older structure. “Nothing has been approved,” she stressed.

The condition of Diamond’s building currently is rated by the Pentagon as Q 3, meaning under-maintained or poor. 

The Stars and Stripes reported in June that the DoDEA received $397 million in funding for school upgrades. According to the report, 39 percent of the defense department’s 194 schools were considered as failing, and 37 percent were graded as poor.

“Technology has changed so much; you can build a new school cheaper than you can renovate an old one,” Heffley said.

Cottingham said Diamond was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s and underwent a major renovation in the mid-1990s.

She said about $1 million in upgrades and repairs have been made to the school in the past year alone, including replacing the school’s HVAC system and patching a leaky roof. Air-quality testing also was conducted last fall to ensure mold is not an issue, Cottingham said.

“We can still provide a quality education in those environments,” Ingram said of Diamond and Brittin.

The superintendent also outlined various initiatives being implemented this year at Fort Stewart schools.

Ingram said DoDEA will implement the Benchmark Assessment System in reading for kindergarten through third grade. The new assessment uses a series of tests to assess students on a more regular basis so they can get immediate support when needed, she explained.

Ingram said the district also will focus on problem solving through a new mathematics curriculum for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade this year. As students tend to learn better when they’re having fun, this curriculum incorporates games and informal learning activities, she said.

Ingram said extensive staff development also will be conducted during the 2011-12 school year. District teachers will be trained in the new curricula and updated in several recent programs, such as Reading Street and social studies.

Schools will be dismissed at 1:30 p.m. every Thursday so teachers can receive the training, she said.

“It’s all about preparedness,” Ingram said. “We want our teachers to be successful.”

She added that the district school board has advised “differentiated learning” and small group instruction this year and is working to increase volunteer participation at Fort Stewart schools. Enrichment activities, like a district-wide spelling bee and science fair, also is on tap this school year, Ingram said.

The superintendent said Army leaders recently have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring military children receive a quality education.

3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Abe Abrams has mandated the soldier parents of children who attend school on Fort Stewart are required to attend parent-teacher conferences.

“That’s going to be really important for us,” Ingram said.

She said Abrams also is encouraging 3rd ID soldiers to take their children to school Monday, Aug. 8, the first day of school on Fort Stewart.

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