After Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno warned governors in October 2013 that school performance would affect the service’s future stationing decisions, Fort Polk Progress responded by forming, leading and integrating a broad and ambitious initiative to improve public school outside the Louisiana post.
Fort Polk Progress, a regional community organization that supports Fort Polk’s continued presence in Vernon Parish, used its experience in collaborating with local, state and federal partners to acquire funding for its education initiative and to bring its many partners into the fold. The partnership includes the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, the Vernon Parish School District, and a variety of state agencies, educational institutions and businesses. In addition to improving school performance, the Education Initiative aims to inform parents about the state’s core educational standards and how they can support their children’s academic achievement.
Fort Polk Progress first gathered local residents and education experts together to identify the school system’s strengths and challenges. The partners then held an education symposium at Fort Polk to discuss the challenges and identify goals and the steps to help achieve those goals. The symposium attracted about 700 educators, soldiers and family members, as well as a senior official from the Army’s Installation Management Command.
Initiative partners provided funding for near-term projects and to meet priorities parents had proposed during the symposium. These included holding summer enrichment camps, improving communication between schools and parents, hosting a back-to-school resource fair and establishing committees of parents, teachers, higher education partners and local business representatives to complete the initiative’s strategic plan, which was presented to the Vernon Parish School Board in May. The group established a governance board to monitor the plan’s implementation and assess its effectiveness.
The initiative already has yielded some notable results. Odierno visited Fort Polk last April and praised the installation for the progress it had made in its stated goal of moving Vernon Parish schools “from good to great.”
For bringing together base families, Fort Polk leadership, the state Department of Education, local school districts, higher education institutions, the business community and education experts in a collaborative effort to promote the local schools, Fort Polk Progress earned ADC’s Community Excellence Award. The organization was recognized along with the other Defense Community Awards winners at the ADC Awards Breakfast this week on Capitol Hill.