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Schools near Fort Riley, other Army posts facing review

Updated: 2013-11-02T16:39:56Z

By JOHN MILBURN

The Associated Press

— Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno is putting states and school districts on notice that the schools near Army posts, including those in Kansas, will be evaluated to determine how well they are meeting student needs.

The findings will be used as the Army considers where to station soldiers and their families. Odierno made the announcement at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting on Oct. 21 during a discussion about meeting soldiers’ needs.

“We have to identify those schools that are underperforming, whether it be elementary schools, middle schools or high schools,” Odierno said “I’ve actually asked for an evaluation of every school outside of every Army installation.”

That review includes the Geary County school district that serves Fort Riley in northeast Kansas. The post is home to the Army’s 1st Infantry Division and nearly 18,000 soldiers and their families.

Ron Walker, superintendent of schools, said about 70 percent of the district’s more than 8,000 students are military dependents. The district operates six elementary schools and a middle school on Fort Riley. He said the district had to be cognizant over the past decade that the majority of students didn’t get up, have breakfast and talk to their parents.

“Their question was: `Will my parent be alive tomorrow?“’ Walker said. “That’s a significant thing you have to look at. That was a huge concern.”

Laurie Dette, spokeswoman for the Army’s Installation Management Command, said the agency was looking at how schools are performing on state standards and national benchmarks, rather than the broader topic of school quality.

“The results will be used to start conversations about how states, school districts and the Army can work together to help ensure Army children and youth have quality education opportunities,” she said. “We are still in the early stages of this project, the schools that will be included and the data we will collect have not yet been determined.”

Walker said he was confident that the Geary County district was on the right track, pointing to several initiatives taken since before the 1st Infantry Division returned to Fort Riley in 2006, leading to a boom in student enrollment.

The district has used resources to begin all-day kindergarten, expand technology and train the staff to meet the needs associated with military families. Many teachers and staff members are married to soldiers and officers.

“We started our journey almost 11 years ago. We started with the idea that performance was important,” Walker said. “If they came in and said they wanted to do an assessment tomorrow, we are extremely prepared.”

Odierno said the results of the assessment would be one of the criteria the Army would consider when making decisions about where to station soldiers. He said governors and members of Congress “better start paying attention” to those schools.

“The assessments are important so we can start putting pressure on them to do what’s right for our young people. They should be doing it for all the young kids in their state, but I’m worried about the military kids,” Odierno said.

Kansas allows districts to have a second enrollment count date during the spring semester of each year to adjust state funding. Walker said it took a lot of convincing of legislators that the policy was worth the approximately $5 million to ensure the military’s $7 billion investment remains in Kansas.

“It makes the state standout,” he said.

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