By Mr. Kevin B Jackson (IMCOM)August 25, 2010
CASEY GARRISON, South Korea -- When the Casey Elementary School warning bell rings for the very first time at 7:55 a.m. Monday, Principal Shelly Kennedy will have already met her students at the entrance of the new building, and a new era will have begun in Warrior Country.
"I'm going to be thinking this is my school and these are my children," Kennedy said May 20 after a visit to the Casey school construction site with Department of Defense Education Activity Pacific officials. "I'm just really excited. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for everybody: for the children to be able to open a school, for the teachers to be able to open a school, for the base to be able to open a school. It's not many times in your life that you get to do this. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity in a unique location."
On the frontline of the demilitarized zone, Warrior Country had traditionally been considered a dependent restricted tour of duty. That changed Dec. 10, 2008, when U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp announced that 2,100 Soldiers at Red Cloud Garrison could get two-year command sponsored positions - a step in what the military calls "tour normalization."
The intent to build a school at Casey Garrison was announced the following August and ground was broken in February 2010. Brent Abare, deputy to the Casey Garrison commander, said the challenge to opening the school for pre-kindergarten four-year-olds through eighth grade students for the coming year was finding a contractor in Korea who could meet the short suspense.
While the new school was under construction, Kennedy began attending family readiness group and community meetings to talk to families. During a town hall meeting at Casey Garrison May 7, the former assistant principal from Nile C. Kinnick High School in Yokosuka, Japan, told families that their children will decide the colors and mascot for the first-ever Department of Defense school in Warrior Country.
"We are going to start new traditions...," Kennedy said. "We're not going to have any old ideas that are already there. We're going to have fresh ideas. We're going to have a clean slate."
The 'clean slate' began with hiring 29 teachers, 14 of which came from DODEA schools in Germany, Guam, Italy, Japan and Korea, and five are local hires. Kennedy said she's already talked to some teachers about the need to be "flexible" the first year and while she's keeping an open mind, there are some things she's not willing to compromise.
"[Teachers] need to know the standards are high here and we are going to meet those and get the children ready for whatever school they will attend in ninth and 10th grade," the Ponca City, Okla. native said.
To do that, Kennedy advocates strong parental involvement, which she said is "vital" to the education process.
"Parents are the ultimate role models for their children so the emphasis placed at home on education will be followed through at school," she said. "By the same token we need it to go the other way, too.... It's a partnership."
At the core of the matter is Kennedy's intent to provide students an enriching educational experience at the new school that will open a second wing and more than double its capacity in August 2011.
"What I really want people to know is I have their child's best educational interests at heart. The education of every child is what's going to drive every decision of the school," said the career educator who taught in Bahrain, Germany and England for DoDEA before becoming an assistant principal.
Kennedy anticipated an enrollment of about 250 students when the doors opened but it's increased to slightly more than 300. She likes the "small town" environment, which she fondly refers to as Mayberry - a small fictional community in North Carolina made popular by the sitcom, "The Andy Griffith Show," that aired between 1960 and 1968.
The Oklahoma State University and University of Cincinnati alumnae also recognizes the school built on the installation, home to many elements of the 2nd Infantry Division, will make a significant contribution to tour normalization for families. She has high hopes for the school.
"If we all work together we can make this the best school in DoDDS," Kennedy said with an air of confidence.