Schweinfurt Middle School students from Christopher Humphrey’s beginning band class listen to Joseph D. Tafoya, director of The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA).

Schweinfurt Middle School students from Christopher Humphrey’s beginning band class listen to Joseph D. Tafoya, director of The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA). (Charlie Coon / S&S)

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — The possible transformation of the U.S. military in Europe could mean big changes for its schools.

Hopefully, the students and their teachers won’t be harmed along the way, the head of the Department of Defense Education Activity said Tuesday.

“We’re looking at ways to draw down if we have to, and do it in a way that doesn’t ruin the program,” said Dr. Joseph D. Tafoya, DODEA director.

An overhaul of the military in Europe is expected to take years. No timeline has been given. Some changes being discussed include closing bases and moving troops to Eastern Europe, Africa and back to the United States.

One issue being looked at is how to keep teachers from bailing out in search of other jobs, Tafoya said.

“If we know a school is going to close in two years, we don’t want to transfer people in there and then have to move them again,” said Tafoya, who on Tuesday met with students and teachers at Schweinfurt Middle School.

“Likewise, we don’t want to have a brain drain from these schools. If Schweinfurt is identified as closing in two years and all these fine teachers want to transfer next year so they can get a good job, then this school would be left for a period of time without an experienced staff who knew the kids and the community.

“So we’ve got to find that balance.”

Tafoya said that might include offering incentives for teachers to stay until a school closed and then giving them first dibs on other jobs in the military school system.

“Obviously it depends on how much we draw down,” he said.

Tafoya, a former math teacher and principal in the United States, said he was touring Europe schools this week as part of his desire to visit each DODEA school.

“We’re trying to anticipate what’s going to happen,” Tafoya said. “We will know at an appropriate time. We’ve been given a preliminary briefing, but I understand what I was given in June has been changed.”

As DODEA director, Tafoya oversees Department of Defense schools worldwide, including 112 schools in Bahrain, Belgium, Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Those schools have about 3,200 teachers who serve 47,000 pupils.

A few eighth-graders at Schweinfurt said Tuesday that small things might help make things better for students.

Benjamin Mikkelson said some of the classrooms are cramped. But he added that students “who want to do well” can succeed.

Hana Hall said “great parents” can motivate their children and help them with their schoolwork.

Tafoya said the deployment of many parents to Iraq and other places has caused teachers and administrators to be extra supportive of their pupils.

On Tuesday, he asked a gathering of children who are running for Schweinfurt’s student government, “How many of you feel there’s an adult here who would help you if you needed it?”

Almost all of the 20 children shot up their hands.

One young boy in the back turned around and looked at principal Dr. Eldrena Durham. His eyes opened wide, then he smiled and raised his hand, too.

Issues facing U.S. military schools

Dr. Joseph D. Tafoya, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, said issues facing schools of U.S. military family members include:

Retirement — Twenty-eight percent of its teachers are eligible to retire within two years.Math scores — “We put a lot of emphasis in reading and literacy the last few years,” Tafoya said. “But our math scores have not gained the way the reading scores have.”Transferring credits — Tafoya said some Bamberg High School students recently told him they were concerned with how their credits would apply at public schools in the United States if their families moved back there.Tracking results — Grades of overseas students who have returned to the States will be monitored to see if overseas schools are in sync.“We’ve never queried six months or a year down the line to ask, ‘What kind of job did we do?’ ” Tafoya said. “If a student is at a new school taking algebra, we’ll ask: ‘Were you behind? Were you ahead? How did we help you? What was the problem?’ ”

— Charlie Coon

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