REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Forging a strong working relationship between the Garrison, local schools and the parents of school-age children was the goal of an Education Town Hall meeting Jan. 25 at Heiser Hall.

That working relationship is essential to ensure a high quality education for military-connected school-age children, said Garrison commander Col. Bob Pastorelli.

But it will become even more essential as more Department of the Army civilian and contractor families move to North Alabama due to employee transfers to Redstone Arsenal as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations, he said.

"This was our first-ever Education Town Hall," Pastorelli said. "Our intent was to bring the local educational leadership as well as Garrison leaders and parents together to share information and to give military families the opportunity to ask questions on any topic related to education."

Sharing the podium with Pastorelli was Barbara Williams, the Garrison's Youth Education Support Services director (school liaison officer); Natalie Taylor of the Army Community Service Exceptional Family Member Program; Dr. Ann Roy Moore, superintendent of Huntsville City Schools; Dr. Avis Williams, principal at Williams Middle School; and Dr. Jennifer Garrett, principal of Columbia High School.

"It's good to come together and discuss the area's continued growth and the challenges that exist because of things like proration," Pastorelli told the estimated 40 to 50 parents in attendance. "We need to talk about how we can team together to give a high quality product in education."

Recent figures show a 12 percent growth in student population in the three local school systems since BRAC was announced in 2005. There are now 5,000 more students in those systems. Those numbers are expected to rise.

The Garrison is mandated to forge working relationships with education leaders as well as other community leaders through the Army Community Covenant, which requires the Garrison to work with local communities to improve the quality of life. The Garrison is also committed to implementing Army Family Covenant initiatives to provide services that benefit Soldier families.

"We need to be engaging with the school systems so that we can respond when assistance is needed," Pastorelli said. "Education and child welfare is paramount to taking care of Soldiers and their families."

During the meeting, Pastorelli reviewed math and reading test scores, and enrollment increases in local schools, Moore discussed Huntsville City Schools' relationship with the Army, and Avis Williams and Garrett highlighted the unique offerings of their schools.

"Dr. Garrett talked about Columbia's International Baccalaureate Program and the extracurricular courses the high school offers," Williams said. "They also have classes for new students coming in that can help them with the transition."

Avis Williams discussed the implementation of uniforms at Williams Middle School, which are optional this semester and required next year. Parents can obtain a $50 uniform voucher provided by Breland Homes that will help offset the cost of new uniforms.

"Breland Homes is a very large builder of homes in the Williams area. So it is natural for them to partner with the school," Williams said. "It is important for schools to partner with businesses and industries that have some type of natural connection to them."

Avis Williams also told parents about the school's new facility, which opened in early January, its innovative-type classes and the steps school officials are taking to address bullying.

Williams told parents that she is "available to assist them with transition concerns or the needs of their children. I spend a lot of time at Williams Middle School and Columbia High School, and with schools throughout our three local school districts because our Soldiers live everywhere off post."
Williams said the Education Town Hall meetings will probably be held twice a year for parents and students.

"It is so important for families to know that the school district and Garrison leaders really care," she said. "We are in a partnership with one another and the quality of education depends on us working together.

"The bottom line is we want the best education possible for our children. We can't do that if we don't work with one another through collaboration."
Williams said the Garrison's efforts to be connected with the school systems and with Arsenal parents - both military and civilian - will give the Arsenal community a more significant voice on education matters.

"I think it's great to have a commander who recognizes the need for a partnership with school systems. Ultimately, that partnership will have a positive effect on our children and families," she said.

Parents did express some concerns during the meeting, including better communication of dismissal policies during bad weather and transportation for special needs students.

"I was very pleased with the outcome," Pastorelli said. "We received very positive feedback. The meeting was well received. I've received a couple of e-mails from parents thanking us for doing the town hall. That made it all worth it."