TOKYO — Academic and career prospects for Department of Defense Education Activity students beyond high school remain boundless, despite shrinking annual budgets and a fight to upgrade aging facilities worldwide, two top leaders say.

Shirley Miles, DODEA’s principal deputy director, and Charlie Toth, the assistant associate director for education, say there is no concern about students being handcuffed by the military school system.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes last week, they cited a range of test scores that exceed the national average, a 98 percent graduation rate, service academy appointments, and students who generate millions of dollars in scholarships each year.

“We are competitive, and we’ll continue to be more competitive as our programs develop,” said Miles. “I would pick DODEA over any of the school systems I’ve ever worked with.”

Earlier this month, Army Gen. John Craddock, who heads U.S. European Command, praised DODEA teachers but told a House Appropriations subcommittee that soldiers are starting to leave their spouses and children in the States because EUCOM schools lack proper funding.

He said families with children in middle or high school are worried about old facilities and limited Advanced Placement classes and extracurricular activities that will place their children at a competitive disadvantage when applying to college.

Craddock didn’t offer statistics to back up his claims but said he was “pretty sure, anecdotally, it’s happening.”

“Gen. Craddock has always been a big supporter of DODEA,” Miles told Stripes. “We’re reviewing the budget now … but we do have facilities that are old and need updating. We must prioritize with limited dollars, and the pie gets smaller every year.”

She said priorities, as always, start with school safety and classroom space.

Toth said DODEA maintains equity worldwide and there has been no shortchanging of instructional materials, extracurricular activities, course offerings or AP classes.

“The DOD dollar is getting stretched further and further,” Toth said. “We must look at how to do business wiser and smarter. Every agency does that.”

Miles and Toth also addressed several DODEA initiatives in the works.

‘Grade Speed’This could be a kid’s worst nightmare.

Parents — including those deployed downrange — soon will be able to log on to a program called “Grade Speed” through an Internet portal.

The program gives parents and students access to grades, attendance and tardy reports. Teachers also can post assignments and projects, allowing parents to track their progress.

“It relieves some of their stress so they can focus on their mission with the military,” Miles said. “It keeps them focused, and frankly, it keeps the child focused on what they need to do.”

Officials plan to make it mandatory this fall.

‘Virtual School’Officials are building a “Virtual School” that will deliver an online accredited curriculum for students in kindergarten through 12th grade and result in a DODEA diploma, Miles said.

The launch is set for fall via a small hub in Mainz-Kastel, Germany.

Initially, it will be available to high school students only. The goal is have courses for every grade level sometime between 2015 and 2020.

DODEA offers online courses now, but they require hubs for each area. Miles said the new program is distinct because it provides a “synchronized instructor” available to students anywhere in the world 24 hours a day.

“It helps in remote parts of the world and assists non-DOD personnel who want a DODEA curriculum, such as home-schoolers and kids with parents in the State Department,” she said.

Technicians must address bandwidth and security barriers before the “Virtual School” can open everywhere, she said.

Shifting focusParents and students want high school counselors to spend more time discussing career options and developing modern job skills, Miles said, citing results in DODEA’s latest customer satisfaction survey, taken every two years.

About 20 counselors from around the world took part in meetings with key DODEA leaders last week.

“They do a fabulous job in crisis counseling and deployment issues. They just get bogged down in administrative duties sometimes,” Miles said. “We want them to focus more on career paths and talk about children’s options in college, the military, technical jobs.

“They’re skilled at it. They just need more time to work in that area. … Counselors have a tough job keeping up in a very competitive world. It’s so much more competitive today than it was years ago.”

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