SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --
Scott Air Force Base welcomed 36 school superintendents, administrators, school support staff, and college representatives to the base Sept. 14 to discuss school quality and teacher licensing issues that affect military families.
Col. Leslie Maher, 375th Air Mobility Wing commander, started the day by sharing that her oldest son has been to six different schools since starting kindergarten.
“He’s a great kid and has adapted well to all the moves. But, it isn’t always such a smooth transition for military children. Sometimes military kids have to play catch up when they transfer to a new school that is at a different level in the course work,” Maher said.
“Or, like for my boys who love to play sports, they might have missed tryouts while they were moving over the summer. These things matter to children and can deeply affect not only their performance in school but also their happiness.”
Frequent moves also affect spouses who must navigate and update their professional licenses, an issue in which the Department of Defense has high on their radar.
In February, the Air Force, Army, and Navy secretaries sent a memo to the National Governors Association about the reciprocity of professional licenses for military spouses and the quality of education of military children that impact military assignments and retention.
The memo reads in part, “…while focus on the mission is always our priority, the factors military families cite most frequently as drawbacks to military service include military dependent’s difficulty assimilating into local school systems following a duty station transfer, the quality of schools available for their children, and the ability of spouses to obtain jobs and sustain careers.”
During the summer, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law reciprocity of professional educators’ licenses, which allows teachers with valid, out-of-state professional certifications to apply for and obtain teaching jobs in Illinois.
“This is a great step in the right direction. We are also pushing the discussion forward with state and local officials regarding reciprocity for other professions as well,” said Maher. “We know it may take some time but we are optimistic Illinois can continue the progress it has already made by making the transfer of licenses and certificates for other professions a reality as well.”
She and other base leaders have met with U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Representative Mike Bost, the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and State Rep. LaToya Greenwood to discuss both the challenges of license transfer for military spouses and the unique circumstances military children often face in schools.
Educators Day also focused on how military deployments add another unique layer of stress for military families.
Brandy Meyer, a teacher and military spouse, explained, “It’s the whole cycle of deployment … It’s the first phase of we know dad is getting ready to deploy so we are spending as much time together as we can. Then, it’s the ‘he’s gone phase’—we miss him and are trying hard not to worry about him. Now, he’s back—we’re happy but we know he will have to go again.
“It’s this constant cycle our military children go through that can make it very difficult for them to focus at school. Sometimes we as military parents do a good job letting teachers know when deployments are coming up, but sometimes for operational or personal security reasons it can be challenging for us to communicate the timeline.
“This is why it is important for us to be connected with you as educators. If you as a teacher or educator know a student is a military child and notice something different in his behavior, then you can ask us if anything has changed at home.”
For this reason, and to help children during deployments, Rauner signed into law a bill allowing five days of excused absence from school for military children to be with their military parents prior to or upon their return from deployment.
In addition, Educators Day showcased the global missions of Scott Air Force Base, the variety of military and civilian career opportunities, and the base’s current Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math outreach to surrounding schools. The event included demonstrations by the Air Force’s 345th Recruiting Squadron, a performance by the Air Force Band of Mid-America’s Liberty Winds, a tour of the air traffic control tower, and a viewing of a C-21 Learjet and a C-17 aircraft.
“I have been to Scott before for an airshow,” said Danielle Koeneman, a counselor with Belleville High School District 201. “I’ve come onto the base, walked from the parking lot to the flight line, and looked at the planes. But, you don’t get the full experience of all that goes on here from coming to an airshow. Everyone should come out to Scott to learn about how important its role is in the military.”
Her colleague Josh Lane, the principal at Belleville East High School, said, “I didn’t realize how many job opportunities there were. When you think of an Air Force base, you picture all the jobs related to aircraft but you don’t consider all the other jobs you need to make the whole operation of the base work.”
Maher’s message to the group throughout the day was that educators are “absolutely a part of our military mission.”
“Whether they are taking care of our kids in the classroom, helping them during the difficult times when their military mom or dad is away, or they out there sharing our story and inspiring students to consider a military or civil service career, educators are on the front line, and we want to help them continue to share those messages,” she said.