The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk has had a long-standing, cooperative relationship with the Vernon Parish School system for many years. Education continues to be a priority of the command, as evidenced by a meeting between U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander, JRTC and Fort Polk, Col. David Sage, garrison commander, and state school Superintendent Paul Pastorek, held Jan. 10 at Leesville High School.

During the meeting, attended by Leesville Mayor Betty Westerchil, state representative John Ford and other state and community leaders, the importance of improving school infrastructure and educational opportunities for military and civilian children was discussed.

"While Vernon Parish schools are at the top of Louisiana ranking, which is most certainly commendable, we must reach for international excellence," said Landrieu.
"There are a handful of parishes that have a dual obligation to educate children and serve the military to keep the strongest force in the world going. We are committed to create a top quality, international level school, and we want to raise the hope that this is the direction we are moving in."

One of the possibilities discussed for such improvements was the construction of new high school in Leesville.

"We want to consider a new school for the students ... whether they be civilian or military," said Jackie Self, Vernon Parish Superintendent of Schools. "(Pastorek) has some suggestions on some options of different types of schools that we'd be glad to look at and explore and come back with recommendations on what we feel would be best for the Leesville district."

Self added that a site for the school has not yet been selected, but options would be reviewed at the proper time.

Pastorek said that funding is another consideration. With a price tag of $40-60 million, and the school board's bonding capability of $28 million (which would have to passed by parish voters), financing is a hurdle that would have to be overcome.

"The State Department of Education does not typically fund facilities, but we plan to look into it," said Pastorek.

Some financing may come in the form of federal funds. The number of military children enrolled in Vernon Parish schools affects the amount of impact aid given to the board by the federal government annually. Currently, about 10 percent of the board's budget ($6 million) comes from impact aid, according to Landrieu.

Yarbrough said bringing this issue to light, with the help of Landrieu, Pastorek, Self and others, will result in world-class educational opportunities for military and civilian children alike.