Ensuring Airmen and Guardians have access to quality public education for their children is essential to maintaining readiness and quality of life. Service members and spouses volunteer for the military life, but our children are drafted into it. They reap many rewards as a result, but also face numerous challenges: changing schools an average of six to nine times, leaving their friends every few years, and regularly navigating new communities, just to name a few.
We must do everything possible to address these concerns, so Airmen and Guardians can focus on their missions. Doing so will also help us retain our most valuable resource: personnel and their families. This is why the Department of the Air Force now considers the quality of public education when making strategic basing decisions. Our country was built and prospered on the foundational pillars of education and defense. We need to ensure both are strong to overcome the challenges of the twenty-first century.
Success will require command teams to identify their people’s concerns about local public education and to address them head-on. Progress will take time, transcending changes of command. It will also require collaboration with stakeholders at the local and state levels. Most of all, this will require leadership. This Toolkit provides a flexible approach, numerous resources, and examples from across the services to help you accelerate this change.
Air University is pleased to provide the A+ Toolkit to command teams and spouses seeking to enhance the quality of public education at their installations. This publication began as a local initiative, but has grown to reflect the Total and Joint Force.
Every installation starts this journey in a different place, but the Toolkit can be employed whether local schools are a concern or a strength. Every installation and command also has distinct challenges and strengths, yet the Toolkit highlights a number of proven techniques from across the armed forces.
Please help ensure future editions of the A+ Toolkit capture innovations and successes by providing the authors your feedback and new examples. Together, we can improve readiness and quality of life by enhancing the quality of public education for military-connected children.
Contact Us: APlusToolkit@au.af.edu
We are glad you visited the A+ Toolkit website. We developed this publication to support Command Teams – commanders, senior enlisted leaders, and spouses – who want (or need) to enhance public education options for their personnel. It provides an approach, resources, and examples to help you address the most common K-12 challenges affecting military installations.
Pressures for access to high-quality public education are rising in the services. Initiatives like Support of Military Families and individual states’ annual “school report cards” highlight strengths as well as weaknesses. In addition, today’s Airmen, Guardians, and their spouses are the most educated in our country’s history. They place great emphasis on their children’s education. The proliferation of social media has further complicated things, allowing individuals to share their experiences with vast audiences in real-time.
Military parents work hard to help their children navigate educational challenges that result from frequent transitions. Command teams have a different but equally difficult task: addressing systemic barriers to quality K-12 education for all military-connected students in their organizations. This includes the children of active duty Airmen, Guardians, and members of the joint force. It may also involve the children of Reserve, National Guard, and civilian employees. School liaisons and other force support professionals are valuable resources for our families and command teams. All of these groups must work together to change educational policies and improve the quality of local schools.
This Toolkit focuses on public schools, which educate 81% of military-connected children. Public education systems are diverse, including traditional, virtual, charter, magnet, vocational, DoDEA, and other types of schools. Furthermore, governance of public education is decentralized, ensuring schools reflect the needs and preferences of local residents. The military, as part of the community, can be both a beneficiary and a catalyst of change. This is a slow process though, often measured in decades, not assignments.
Finally, relationships are essential to strengthen public education. On base, we are most effective when we work as a team and leverage our diversity. Off base, we must establish trust, build coalitions, and identify common priorities. Finally, collaborating with military and civilian stakeholders requires effective communication. This entails aligning messages and priorities, listening, and negotiation.
We hope the A+ Toolkit helps you succeed with these challenging yet essential tasks.
Dr. Brian R. Selmeski and
Lt Col Christina D. Karvwnaris
Download the A+ Toolkit
The heart of the A+ Toolkit is the change model, which provides a guide or framework. The model has three phases: 1. Identify Issues, 2. Initial Efforts, and 3. Gain/Sustain Momentum. The approach is flexible though. A command team may choose to start in any phase, depending on strengths they can draw on, the challenges they face, their vision, and leadership style.
Each of the three phases has four elements. In the Identify Issues phase, these consist of military and civilian resources and data. In the Initial Efforts and Gain/Sustain Momentum phases, they are actions: analysis, relationships, planning, and implementation. While all are essential to improving public K-12 education, again a command team can start with any of the elements.
The approach is not linear. Phases and elements form a series of feedback loops. Progress from one will inform the others. Lastly, leaders may engage in several phases or elements simultaneously.
Command teams cannot enhance public K-12 education alone. It is essential to work closely with local school districts and boards of education. In addition, they can draw on many other organizations and initiatives.
The military has an array of experts and programs that can help. Numerous nonprofits also support military children and families. Likewise, some corporations have foundations or offices dedicated to enhancing education. Finally, state and local organizations and officials can provide critical assistance.
Many of these resources are included in the pages that follow and are listed at the back of the Toolkit.
Finally, the A+ Toolkit provides examples of success you can adopt or adapt. Short descriptions are included to illustrate each element of the change model. These are followed by four longer case studies to provide greater detail. The examples are drawn from the Air Force and Space Force, as well as Army, Navy, joint, and National Guard installations. While some of these initiatives were military-led, local school districts took the lead in others. All of them highlight the importance of relationships and communication to enhancing public K-12 education.