On Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made her first visit to a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school since being sworn in.
She came to Kimberly Hampton Primary School in Fort Bragg as part of the Month of the Military Child.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to come here today and highlight the important role that military children have — that we have on behalf of military children, whose lives are often very transient as you all know,” DeVos said. “And we need to pay a special tribute to they and their families and to ensure that they have the best opportunity for a great education.”
Hampton Primary School serves pre-k through first grade and is one of eight schools on the Fort Bragg installation. The DoDEA school system — of which Fort Bragg schools are a part — is one of only two federally-operated school systems.
Altogether, the schools at Fort Bragg serve students of military families through 8th grade. When the students enter high school, they have to leave the base for traditional high schools in the area. This transition can be a problematic one, DeVos said.
“I’ve also heard a bit more about the challenge that, particularly students at this base, experience when they go into high school and they go into a variety of area high schools — that not necessarily all of them work for every child,” she said.
DeVos added that she and the administration of President Donald Trump would be concentrating on policies that could give military parents more school choice for their children.
The challenge military families at Fort Bragg face when their children go to high school was one seconded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas De La Garza, who has a daughter at Hampton and a son who attended last year. He also has two older sons who went to Fort Bragg schools.
“It’s almost like they get scattered to the four winds,” he said of military children entering high school. He added that he would like to see a high school on the base. “To us, that’s huge. That will keep the cohorts together.”
DeVos also said that she and the administration support the DoDEA curriculum, which is transferrable from base to base and school to school. That way, children who have to leave one base or school for another are still being taught similarly.
Another challenge DeVos said she saw facing military children is the constant moving around.
“The reality that young children have to make new friends so frequently,” she said. “I’m not sure that that’s something a school building or any one educator can help to solve, or parents for that matter. I think it really does take a community.”
DeVos was also asked about an invitation from the state Republican Party to come to North Carolina and discuss school choice. She said she would be interested.
“If they’ve invited me, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do it,” she said. “I’m not part of the conversation with scheduling it, but that would be a wonderful opportunity. I would look forward to it.”
DeVos said that traditional public schools have some things to learn from DoDEA schools, and she suggested traditional schools look at the curriculum used by DoDEA schools. She also said that as states get ready to submit their plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act, they might think about looking at how the DoDEA system is working.
Millard Lamm, a kindergarten teacher at Hampton, also spoke about the quality of DoDEA schools and Hampton in particular. He has also worked in traditional public schools.
“Coming from a traditional setting in the state system and having been there for many years, coming into this open concept and project-based learning has just been amazing,” he said. “And the growth that we see in our students, even at kindergarten and pre-k level is phenomenal. Their ability to work collaboratively in small groups, to problem solve, is so much more than what I saw on a regular basis in the state system.”
During her visit, DeVos read to kindergarteners, toured the school, and participated in a roundtable discussion with parents and teachers.
Watch a video of the press conference with Secretary DeVos below. Below that you can see a Storify of our tweets from the event.