Officials seek input to modernize DOD schools

by Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON ― Officials in charge of the Defense Department’s school system for military children are seeking input from parents, students and teachers in creating a 21st century learning environment by 2016.

Department of Defense Education Activity officials want people who use the schools to provide their ideas on how to modernize education for the military schools of the future, right down to designing and furnishing them.

DODEA officials recently set up a three-phase plan for “Facilities for 21st Century Learning.” The first phase brought together industry, education and futurist experts.

The second phase is the call for input, and the third will analyze the ideas, officials said.

“We are seeing dramatic changes in how students communicate, interact and learn,” said Marilee Fitzgerald, DODEA’s acting director.

Plans to renovate or build more than 100 schools through 2016 follow President Barack Obama’s “Strengthening Our Military Families” plan, which identifies education as a priority. Creating safe, secure and educationally appropriate school campuses for military children, DODEA officials said, is the primary goal.

“Good teachers can teach anywhere, but if the space they teach in is purposed for education, we can enhance the learning experience,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “The facility shouldn’t be a barrier or a workaround. It’s an intentioned space that is constructed for the benefit of learning. We will eliminate our portables, we will eliminate multiple buildings. We won’t have to take a journey around a base to get to the music room or to the art room.”

The goal is for future DODEA schools to be adaptive, flexible and capable, officials said, and innovative input from parents, teachers and students can help to make the goal a reality.

“You could say that we don’t know what we don’t know,” said Mike Smiley, the chief of facilities for DODEA. “Ten years ago, who expected Wi-Fi, Smartphones and small tablets to be as prevalent as they are now? We do know that our schools of the future will need greater capability for connectivity, and we want to infuse our schools with information access.”

Making education adaptive for 21st century education might mean that wall configurations will be easier to change, or that instructional spaces will have greater variability in size, Mr. Smiley said. Spaces may need to support one-on-one learning or small-group instruction, leaving auditoriums for performances, lectures and presentations.

DODEA officials will take suggestions in education, curriculum delivery, use of technology, and the growing expectations for sustainability and energy conservation into consideration, Mr. Smiley said.

“(People) can submit in many different ways,” he said. “Submissions can be in the form of videos, images, written narratives or audio files.”

Methods of teaching face change too, Mr. Smiley said, with an emphasis on becoming “student-centric,” rather than “teacher-centric.”

“We need to better address individual students’ needs and maximize their potential,” he said. “Our facilities should be designed to aid in this endeavor.”

While DODEA officials will not use a school prototype, Mr. Smiley said, he’d like to see something more challenging in a school setting for military children.

“We are really hoping for new ideas and innovation on how we can best design and build learning environments for our students,” he said.

Once input is gathered from parents, students, teachers and the communities, a process is in place to filter through the suggestions for the most viable ideas.

“We’ve hired an architectural and engineering firm with a lot of experience in school design to review the submissions,” Mr. Smiley said. “They’ll be looking for common or new themes in comparison with results of our earlier symposium that included subject-matter experts in a wide range of educational study.”

Parents and community members are invited to share ideas at DODEA also has an internal site for employees to submit ideas at

All student work, Mr. Smiley added, must be submitted by a teacher, using the Intranet site.