This fall will mark the first time in more than four decades that there won’t be students going to an American school in the city of Romeo and Juliet.

The Department of Defense Dependents Schools said Wednesday that it will close its facility in Verona when this school year finishes in June.

“Verona school is definitely closing,” said Thomas Ellinger, superintendent of Mediterranean District for DODDS-Europe.

He’s set to talk to parents in both Verona and Ghedi Air Base on Jan. 20, confirming what most of them already know.

“This is not a surprise,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham, who commands the American contingent at Ghedi — 45 minutes west of Verona off the A-4 autostrada. “We’ve had about six months leeway to work this.

“The obvious issue is that it’s a long way from our community to Vicenza.”

But that’s where the nearest DODDS facility will be. Ellinger says it will take students at least an hour and a half to commute to school each way.

So DODDS and officials in Verona and Ghedi are working on potential fixes. One is temporarily stationing a teacher at Ghedi Air Base — an Italian-run facility where the 130 or so U.S. airmen are a minority — for pupils from kindergarten through second grade. “We’re trying to make the best of a not-so-great situation,” Ellinger said.

Depending on enrollment, it might be possible to have another teacher assigned to the base as well, he said.

Verona, a K-7 school with a current enrollment of 47 pupils, has been targeted for closure several times over the years.

Opened in 1956, it lost a good portion of its population when the headquarters for the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) moved to Vicenza in 1967.

A few years ago, the enrollment hovered around 90. But a recent decision to shut down the Joint Command South operation in Verona sealed its fate.

Col. Don Greiman, the senior American officer in Verona, said it’s still not clear how many Americans will be left in the city when the current operation leaves and a smaller NATO communications unit takes its place.

But he said he expects about a dozen Americans to finish their tours in Verona. That amounts to just a few children who would attend the school.

“We just couldn’t have a school for that,” Ellinger said. “I don’t like closing. It’s been an excellent school. The problem is Ghedi.”

Cunningham, who has children attending the school, said military parents would have several options. Italian schools are a possibility. An international school in Verona exists, but not all its curriculum is in English. Or younger pupils could join junior high and high school students who have already been making the daily trips to Vicenza.

Ellinger said a positive aspect is that pupils will have access to programs in Vicenza that Verona couldn’t provide because of its size.

But Greiman said the Verona school, located on one of the smallest American compounds in Europe, will be missed. “The school is, without a doubt, the center of our community,” he said. “When the school closes, a good part of who we are goes with it.”

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now