By Molly Hayden, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs November 19, 2012
ESCHENBACH, Germany -- Rumors whispered throughout the Netzaberg Multipurpose Room as teachers and school employees filtered in for the first teacher town hall meeting, conducted by Col. James E. Saenz, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr commander.
"Maybe he's here to tell us the school is closing," said one teacher in passing.
"Maybe we're all getting raises," joked another.
The intent, however, was simply to allow the educators a definitive voice, while Saenz lent a humble ear.
"One of the things we do in the garrison is hold monthly town hall meetings," said Saenz to the crowd. "This allows community members to ask the garrison questions, give input so we can sustain things that are good and improve things that are not."
"Today is more focused, we are bringing this opportunity to you," he added. "We want to hear from you."
The more than 50 educational pundits in attendance seized this unique opportunity, engaging the commander in various conversations about restructuring, fiscal realities and educational needs.
Tonya Weight, fifth-grade teacher at Netzaberg Elementary School, asked the commander what teachers could do to stress the importance of parental involvement.
"I have some parents who do not show up to parent-teacher conferences," said Weight, adding that as an educator, it's important to have that open line to their students' guardians.
Saenz agreed: "As a parent, I understand how important it to be involved in my children's education, and as a commander, it's my job to inform the community of that importance, as well."
With the upcoming Army drawdown and numerous garrisons in Germany closing within the next few years, teachers also raised concerns about restructuring and consolidating services.
"You will see a shift in numbers," said Saenz candidly. He projected a low population within USAG Grafenwoehr next year, adding that the population would fluctuate during the course of the next two years. "But in the end, you will see a population that may exceed the numbers we have now."
"We are the largest garrison OCONUS and we are an enduring garrison," stressed Saenz. "We're not going anywhere."
With restructuring and changing population came the talk of the ever-decreasing budget and the realities that come from fiscal restraints.
"We are working with (fiscal year 2010) level budgets and it's still decreasing," said Saenz. "We may not be able to provide all services we once did, but we will provide the services you need."
Alina Rozanski, a choir teacher at Netzaberg Middle School, felt the meeting exceeded expectations.
"If you give any group the chance to be heard, that means they are of value to the community," said Rozanski. "We are an intricate part of this community. When the military shifts, we shift; so it's important that we keep that line of communication open."
"When you hear firsthand the concerns of the community, you can begin to understand them," said Saenz. "And once you understand them, you can focus on improving them."