Fountain-Fort Carson programs for military students praised
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 community sent two messages to Washington, D.C.:
• Don’t let the looming $1.2 trillion in mandatory “sequestration” federal budget cuts go through. It will wreak havoc on education.
• Do help military families nationwide by adopting programs similar to what D-8 uses to help military students more easily transitions to new schools.
Their messenger is Eric Waldo, U.S. Department of Education deputy chief, who spent Tuesday at Fountain-Fort Carson High School as part of a nationwide DOE bus tour to highlight what is working and how to translate those things to nationwide reforms.
District 8 was chosen because of its unique makeup — more than 70 percent of students are from military families and some schools are on the Army base.
The common belief was that what is good for military students is good for all students.
“Military kids are the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to education reform, Waldo told administrators, teachers, students and parents. He praised D-8 because of the ease in which military dependents transfer in and are integrated into studies and school culture. “We are seeing the opportunity to highlight your success and bring it to scale.”
The district has a wealth of programs to help kids, and federal grants help pay for them.
Superintendent Cheryl Serrano told Waldo, “Sequestration could be devastating. In the short term, we could lose $6 million due to us in impact aid” that addresses military student needs.
She said that even if most cuts were rolled back, they could still lose $1.5 million. She noted that her district had 15 percent growth in enrollment, and that it has many special needs children who transition in and out, making it challenging to have enough special education teachers on hand.
Waldo told her that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others are lobbying to save the education budget. He said that they are sensitive to the needs of military families, and would continue with priority grants.
He also mentioned that there has been discussion of making military students a subgroup to be tracked, not for accountability, but for receiving aid, much like minorities and special needs children are.
Principal Burnie Hibbard said that pushing more states to adopt common core standards of curriculum “would help military students a lot.” The standards provide a consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn. Colorado adopted them, but what students are expected to learn varies widely from state to state.
Waldo said that the DOE is encouraging that through grant making, and that it doesn’t mean all students would read “Catcher in the Rye” at the same time. “It just means we need more alignment.”
Most at the meeting agreed that not all schools are military friendly, particularly those with only a small number of students from military families. Special programs that address their educational and emotional needs often are lacking.
Parents and students told him that District 8 had a great formula for helping military students transition, and are “credit friendly.” For example they are allowed to take needed classes and join sports teams whenever in the school year they arrive.
“We’ve been places where all the needed classes are full and it was disturbing,” said parent Jackie Place. When you are only at that school for two years, you just can’t wait. It was different here. The classes were open to them.”
Cindy McLaughlin, a military parent, noted that at schools in other states, teachers had not noticed that one of her children, who had attended four elementary schools, wasn’t testing well. “Here they immediately noticed it and addressed it. Now he just blows out his scores.”
Another mother, Marion Davis said her daughter had attended five elementary schools, and when she got to Texas, had to a lengthy wait to get tested and then another six months to get in the gifted program. “By that time, we were on our way again,” she said. In D-8, she said, “it took no time at all to get settled.”