By JEAN CLAVETTE GRAVESPublic affairs specialistFORT POLK, La. — The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk hosted an education summit with local, state and Department of the Army stakeholders at the Warrior Center on Tuesday. Representatives from the Vernon Parish School Board and Chamber of Commerce attended in person. Representatives from Installation Management Command, Forces Command, Louisiana State Department of Education, Louisiana State Legislature and Department of the Army participants joined the summit virtually through Microsoft Office Teams.The summit focused on improving the quality of education in Vernon Parish for military children through the continued refinement of communication between students, teachers, parents, administrators, the school board and Army leadership.Brig. Gen. Patrick Frank provided opening remarks for the summit about strides made in 2020 to improve quality of education in Vernon Parish. He discussed the North Polk Elementary School lease extension and a Louisiana Economic development grant earmarked to fix the school’s air conditioning. He applauded the work completed by the installation and community partners to secure the Defense Community Infrastructure funding for use throughout the school district. Frank said housing and education are the biggest factors for attracting high quality officers and noncommissioned officers to JRTC and Fort Polk. He lauded the participants for their attendance in pursuit of improved educational opportunities and to address parent concerns brought up at the education town hall in March.Col. Ryan Roseberry, garrison commander said, “the biggest educational challenge faced by military children is that the educational rigor remains demanding and consistent throughout a child's academic journey. Our goal is to ensure students are well prepared and postured for higher learning at the university level.” Roseberry, an active participant on the Vernon Parish School Board, said the primary goal of the summit was to address educational challenges and find resolutions to ensure children receive the best education possible.The summit focused on 17 topics in three distinct areas: Student welfare, parental challenges and financial constraints. Each topic area was presented as a problem statement, allowing participants to discuss challenges, gaps and brainstorm ideas to meet student, parent and stakeholder expectations.Participants examined Advanced Placement offerings, instructional rigor, availability of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education, textbooks, the gifted program and special education.Tiffany Koch, school liaison officer, said Fort Polk and the VPSB recognize a deficit in STEM curriculum and activities. "We have begun the procurement process for a Department of Defense STARBASE facility on the installation," she said.DoD STARBASE is a premier educational program, sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. At DoD STARBASE, students participate in challenging "hands-on, minds-on" activities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. They interact with military personnel to explore careers and observe STEM applications in the real world. DoD STARBASE's primary focus is the program for fifth graders. The goal is to motivate them to explore STEM opportunities as they continue their education.Teachers teaching out of field are another concern for Army Families and military leadership that directly affects the quality of AP, STEM and gifted program offerings. The group deliberated on different certification pathways for teachers in Louisiana and agreed the school district and installation would work together to recruit qualified educators.The curriculum discussion also explored the Louisiana graduation standards, college versus vocational tract diplomas and the Jump Start Technical or the University Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. Alleviating parental frustration through the development of a streamline transcript audit process was also examined.Koch said guidance counselors and their effective communication with incoming military Families is a priority for student welfare. She said the records transfer of special education documents, high school transcripts and accommodation plans are challenges faced by military connected students. Koch said every school district is different and each state has different requirements.“Without clear communication to parents about these differences, our military Families are often frustrated. The Military Interstate Child's Compact Commission helps address these transitional issues,” she said.She also addressed the lack of scholarship information and transparency of raw student data in the school district. A multidisciplinary team has been established to identify methods to increase quality and quantity of scholarship dissemination and to create an information-sharing agreement with the school board.Behavioral specialists, extracurricular activities and educational specialists are also important to student welfare. Finding qualified personnel to fill critical positions is challenging. Logan Morris, president, Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce, discussed an initiative for military spouses and the chamber’s commitment to build networks and make critical introductions. He said they often receive inquiries from spouses about job opportunities and will work with VPSB to put qualified individuals in touch with the human resources department.Morris said, “The Vernon Parish Chamber of commerce has been a committed partner with the Vernon Parish School Board for a number of years. In addition to supporting military spouse employment, we are also actively seeking other opportunities to improve and expand the horizons for all students.” He said the chamber understands the importance of quality education not only for making Fort Polk a station of choice for military personnel, but also for economic development and their ability to attract business and industry to the area.Other key areas considered during the summit was parental challenges, the lack of parent-involvement programs, information dissemination disparities and spousal employment opportunities. Military parents want increased communication and transparency with the schools and opportunities to be more involved with their children’s education.Stacey Delgado, employment readiness program manager, has been working closely with the school board to assist military spouses with employment opportunities. She said “a new state law goes into effect January 2021 that will expedite military spouses’ state credentialing.Additionally, the Department of Defense has a program that will reimburse military spouses for licensure and credentialing costs. She said this should make it easier for the school board to hire qualified military spouses to fill critical shortages in all areas.Budgeting and financial concerns were the final key area of discussion during the summit. The group focused on impact aid, budget transparency and grants. The participants discussed finance opportunities available to the Vernon Parish School Board during the 2020-2021 school year. Takeaways from the summit will be used to apply for an out-of-cycle grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity to bridge identified capability gaps.Roseberry said the event was highly successful and began the dialog necessary to resolve identified concerns and improve the educational experience of military-connected children. “The Education Summit was a great exchange of information and ideas among stakeholders from the Pentagon to Vernon Parish. This summit was the catalyst required to generate resources, support and resolution to many of our challenges,” he said.