FORT HOOD, Texas – Representatives of school districts within the Central Texas region met with installation leaders to discuss how the districts are serving military-affiliated students during the annual Schools Council Meeting in the Fort Hood Community Events Center here Sept. 16.
Col. Chad R. Foster, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood, updated the school districts about the progress at Fort Hood. He said most of the units on the installation would actually be in Central Texas, instead of deployed, for the next 12-18 months.
Discussing Fort Hood’s Adopt-a-School program, the garrison commander said he sees that time as an opportunity for the units and their adopted schools to complete a lot of great projects together. Foster credited the districts for all their hard work while being faced with all the COVID-19 issues, including the strong partnership he has witnessed between units and schools over last few weeks during Adopt-a-School meet and greet events.
“The Soldiers give a lot and they will continue because they understand, we understand, that none of it would be successful without all of you guys, without the leaders, without the educators,” Foster added. “You are making it happen. You are making it happen well and making it happen safely and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Matt Smith, superintendent of Belton Independent School District in Belton, Texas, opened the school district discussion by letting the Fort Hood officials know how rapidly the district is growing. He said the district currently has 700 students more than October of 2020.
The BISD superintendent said the district believes learning goes beyond the four walls of the classroom – it takes place on the football field, in the band room and anywhere a teacher can make a difference in a student’s life.
The district recently received a grant from the Army National Guard to set up an e-sports lab for Lake Belton High School. The purpose of e-sports labs are for students to possibly pursue careers in science, technology, engineer and mathematics.
“Our core purpose at Belton ISD is to make sure our students have an exceptional learning experience each and every day. That means, when a student walks in our doors, we want to make sure we’re meeting their needs right where they are,” Smith said. “We make sure we hear them, we see them and we meet their needs as a family.”
Amanda Crawley, deputy superintendent of instructional services at Copperas Cove ISD in Copperas Cove, Texas, discussed the district’s robust Adopt-a-School program. Martin Walker Elementary School and the 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division received the 2021 Partnership of the Year award, the Adopt-a-School program’s top award. The school and unit also both earned Outstanding School Point of Contact of the Year and Outstanding Unit Point of Contact of the Year.
Despite the challenges faced during COVID, Crawley said the students performed well during the state standardized tests, exceeding both state and region averages for the 2020-2021 school year.
CCISD has partnered with Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas to provide telepsychology and telepsychiatry services to children with TCHATT (Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine).
“If our students have any needs in the mental health side of things, and we know right now it’s a difficult time for everyone, we just want to make sure we’re addressing the whole child,” Crawley explained.
Paul Michalewicz, superintendent of Florence ISD in Florence, Texas, said they have also started using TCHATT, with excellent results.
“This is something that has been very well-received,” he added.
While the superintendent of Jarrell ISD in Jarrell, Texas, could not attend the meeting, Laura Buckley, Jarrell ISD director of state and federal programs, updated Fort Hood officials on the district’s growth. The small school district has expanded to nearly 3,000 students and has hired an additional 28 teachers.
John Craft, Killeen ISD superintendent from Killeen, Texas, said the district is now the largest military-connected district in the United States, with 44,000 students and growing. Because of the student increase, the district will be adding a sixth high school for the 2022-2023 school year.
“Chaparral High School will be one of the largest high schools in the state of Texas,” Craft said.
Due to the expansion, the district will be rezoning, which will impact approximately 2,800 families. Craft said they will be working with families of current sophomores and juniors, who would like to remain at their current high school. Due to the rezoning, students living on Fort Hood will be rezoned to Shoemaker High School.
Chane Rascoe, Lampasas ISD superintendent from Lampasas, Texas, said the small district has increased to 3,900 students.
Rascoe was excited to share that the district has partnered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a program created by the famous country superstar to provide free age-appropriate books to students. Since its creation in 1995, the program has expanded to include five countries and gift more than one million books monthly.
Representing Salado ISD in Salado, Texas, Ted Smith, principal of Salado Middle School, discussed the district’s partnership with BISD, which allows Salado High School students to use the swimming pools at Belton High School.
Smith said Salado ISD has won Academic University Interscholastic League at the reading level for the past 20 years, an impressive feat for the small district.
Smith said the district also plans to increase its partnership with its Adopt-a-School program units this year.
“We challenge Copperas Cove ISD to have the most robust Adopt-a-School program,” he said.
Following the school district discussions, two Adopt-a-School program unit representatives spoke about how the districts can expand the partnership with their units.
Maj. Brent Beadle, 1st Medical Brigade, suggested units and schools know their partner organization. While 1st Med. Bde. cannot provide tanks or helicopters for static displays, which kids enjoy, they can go into schools and talk to them about things like medical and dental health.
Beadle also recommended units and schools remain in communication. During the winter storm in February, the unit supported the students from the school who did not have access to fresh water, by delivering water to the homes of the students without water.
1st Lt. Conner Steele, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, said the students view Soldiers as superheroes. He recommends Soldiers actively engage the students to keep their interest, while also incorporating questions to keep their minds active.
“You would be surprised about how much energy these kids have … and I was not ready for it my first time,” Steele said, as the crowd laughed.
He said the Soldiers have the opportunity to impact the students’ lives in more ways than one. He said as soon as he walks through the doors of Garcia Elementary School in Temple, Texas, the students start screaming with excitement, “The troopers are here! The troopers are here!”
“They set a standard for you,” Steele concluded. “I challenge you to step up and be what they see you as – a superhero.”