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Col. David Maxwell, commander of Marine Corps Base Quantico, talks with parents at a town hall meeting in the Religious and Family Services Annex on Dec. 2.

Photo by Mike DiCicco

With schools study coming, command asks to hear from parents

3 Dec 2013 | Mike DiCicco

Before giving his input regarding Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools to the National Defense Research Institute, Col. David Maxwell, commander of Marine Corps Base Quantico, wanted to hear from the base’s parents.

“So when I have that interview, it’s not just David Maxwell talking about David Maxwell’s point of view,” he told the 20 or so parents who came to the command town hall meeting Dec. 2 at the Religious and Family Services Center.

In the next couple of months, the NDRI, of RAND Corporation, will conduct a study of DDESS schools, which are the Department of Defense Education Activity’s schools in the continental United States. The study, formally known as CONUS Education Options Assessment, will focus on 16 schools aboard the 15 installations where DDESS operates and is scheduled to be completed in summer of 2014. It’s the fourth study of its kind since the first was conducted in the 1980s.

The assessment, which was commissioned by DoDEA, will analyze the effectiveness and quality of education the schools provide, through onsite visits, focus groups, research, and interviews with personnel at DDESS schools and at the nearby schools in town, as well as commanders.

“As we go through this, I want to have a better appreciation of what influences, informs and is important to you,” Maxwell told parents.

One major theme that emerged from the discussion is the challenge that military schools face in the upper grades, as the student population drops off while student needs become more individualized. Generally, only the more senior enlisted and officer ranks of any service are old enough to have teenagers, and it becomes difficult for a school to provide a wide variety of electives, advanced courses and extracurricular activities to a class of 25, which is the size of Quantico Middle High School’s graduating class this year.

Especially when teens are coming to a new school in a new area, continuing with favorite extracurricular activities is vital, said Amy Stout, who has a student in Quantico Middle/High School. “For a lot of them, it’s their identity,” she said.

“Our kids probably would have withered and died if they weren’t in a lacrosse program,” said Tami Patton, noting that this was a factor in deciding on Stafford County schools.

Laura Brown noted that no talent scouts come to the middle/high school, where her daughter plays sports, and there also aren’t a lot of options for advanced-placement classes. She said she doesn’t think online courses are a viable option for her daughter.

Parents were understanding of the dilemma.

“We appreciate the challenge,” said John Smith, whose children attend the middle/high school. However, he added, “We still want to try to figure out how to make it better.”

On the other hand, he said, schools on the base provide a sense of community and easy access to school officials, as well as security regarding the character of the student body. “It was kind of the interpersonal piece that was the deciding factor for us.”

Parents of elementary school students, meanwhile, had fewer concerns.

Denise Cornwell, whose children attend Russell and Burrows elementary schools, said she had only heard positive feedback about the base schools when she was making her decision and was “highly impressed” with the schools’ quality.

Schools off base can present other challenges.

Patton said military families moving into a new school district might be told to register for classes in August and then, when the time comes, find that many classes are closed. Students also sometimes have to take classes below their grade levels to meet different state requirements, she said.

School liaisons at the meeting said the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, of which 45 states are members, encourages civilian schools to work with military families but doesn’t include a lot of mandates. It does, however, allow families to apply for a waiver so students don’t have to retake the Standards of Learning tests when moving between member states.

Patton also advocated for continued small class sizes at the elementary schools. “When you think of elementary school, you want a size of classroom you think a teacher can manage and teach well,” she said. “I hope if anyone asks you about increasing class sizes, you tell them no. And heck no,” she told Maxwell.

— Writer: mdicicco@quanticosentryonline.com


Marine Corps Base Quantico