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Fort Leonard Wood region school districts answer the Army’s challenge on quality education for children

by Erin Kaberline | Feb 11, 2016

Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri – February 10, 2016 – Fort Leonard Wood region school districts are exceeding Missouri’s state education standards and sending a clear message to the Army that military children in the Fort Leonard Wood region are receiving a high-quality education.

The Sustainable Ozarks Partnership (SOP), a Fort Leonard Wood-based, community-installation support organization, recently analyzed educational performance data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for eight school districts in the region that educate a majority of the children who are connected to military members serving at Fort Leonard Wood. 

The district performance data was taken from each district’s Annual Performance Reports (APRs), which are produced for all schools annually by the state. APR’s are based on an analysis of each district’s achievement against state performance standards, which include academic achievement; college and career readiness; subgroup performance; attendance; and graduation rates. Academic achievement is measured by tests that focus on English language arts, math, social studies and science.  

During the 2014-15 school year, the eight school districts within the Fort Leonard Wood region combined to earn an average of 93.4% of the total points possible on the state’s APR’s, which is a 10% increase compared to the 2012-2013 school year. The combined APR scores of the districts exceed the state average. The districts studied include: Crocker R-II; Dixon R-1; Laquey R-V; Lebanon R-III; Plato R-V; Richland R-IV; Rolla 31; and Waynesville R-VI.

The Army’s Education Challenge

Over the last few years, the Army has placed an increasing emphasis on quality education for military children. The Army’s clearest signal about the importance of local schools came from then-Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, who issued a challenge in late 2013.

“I get governors and I get congressmen who ask me all the time what they can do for me, and I’m going to tell them what they can do for me. If they want to keep the military in their communities, they better start paying attention to the schools that are outside and inside our installations. Because as we evaluate and as we make decisions on future force structure, that will be one of the criteria,” said Odierno.

The Army’s challenge was formalized in a study by the Stimson Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank. The study, titled “The Army Goes to School: The Connection Between K-12 Education Standards and the Military-Base Economy,” examined how the quality of education available to Soldiers’ children could be a retention issue for the Army. More than 300,000 school-age children (ages 5-18) of active-duty Army service members are impacted by varying education standards and performance across the states.

State and Regional Response to the Army’s Challenge

State officials, and local government, school and business leaders in the region want to place an added emphasis on increasing education standards and continue to see progress in regional school districts’ APR scores particularly because of the heightened emphasis the Army is placing on the quality of school districts that serve military installations.

According to Dr. Margie Vandeven, Missouri’s commissioner of education, the state is working to ensure that all districts in the state improve their performance and meet the expectations of Missouri residents and employers alike.

“I am happy that schools in the Fort Leonard Wood region that serve so many military children are making good progress in their efforts to meet the high performance standards set by our State Board of Education—and the expectations of Army,” said Vandeven.

Regional leaders also believe that education quality could be a determining factor as the Army prepares for further installation reductions and Congress moves toward a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission round in the next two to three years. 

School leaders in the region, like Dr. Brian Henry, superintendent of the Waynesville R-VI school district, have a keen focus on the Army’s challenge and the effect education quality has on Fort Leonard Wood.

“We understand and appreciate the challenges set forth by our state and the Army. The schools in our area have worked together to share best practices and provide the highest quality of education for the children of our nation's military. The Army invests a great deal in our region, and we take the responsibility educating their children very seriously,” said Henry.

Army leaders at Fort Leonard Wood are also interested in the continued academic improvement of school districts in the Fort Leonard Wood region. Colonel Andy Herbst, the Fort Leonard Wood garrison commander, is in charge of building and maintaining successful partnerships with local schools. 

“Every child should have access to quality education. For military children, their upbringing causes them to attend many different schools due to their parent's occupation. In fact, it is not unusual to hear that a military child has attended four different schools in the past four years. This constant transition is why it's important to have quality schools that offer military children valuable and diverse educational experiences," said Herbst.

The SOP, as well as other local government, business, and education leaders will continue to monitor the Army’s stance on quality education for military families and encourage state education standards that will prepare all students in the Fort Leonard Wood region for a successful future.

The Sustainable Ozarks Partnership is building on the Fort Leonard Wood region’s strong past and preparing the region for a healthy, resilient future. We are a nonprofit organization working to bring all of the region’s stakeholders to the table to drive regional development and advocate for new or expanded military and federal missions, all as part of our efforts to strengthen the Fort Leonard Wood region.

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Strengthening the Fort Leonard Wood region