As a member of the MacDill Advisory Education Council, I have been disappointed reading recent articles and editorials in other publications that are not supportive of a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base and that are based to some extent on misinformation or lack of information.
First, and most importantly, there are 10,000 active-duty personnel stationed at MacDill with about 12,000 children, and 25,000 children of veterans in the Tampa Bay area. Education of the children of active-duty military service personnel is a key and major quality-of-life issue for the men and women serving at MacDill Air Force Base.
This issue has been addressed in numerous studies and reports published by the Department of Defense and the U.S. General Accountability Office.
Recently, the focus on the military family was reinforced by Adm. William McRaven, head of the Special Operations Command in Tampa, in his remarks to Congress. He stated that one of his priorities is an effort called “Preservation of the Force and Family,” which is designed to take care of the mental, physical and spiritual needs of the troops and their families before, during and after deployment.
A charter school at MacDill Air Force Base will be able to develop and design programs to address the significant stresses and social issues that our military children experience by virtue of the numerous moves from school to school required by the reassignment and/or deployment of their parents.
The charter school established at MacDill will be able to react quickly, efficiently and decisively to effect changes to address the issues impacting the military students.
The charter school’s ability to create a unique military community culture and flexibility to adapt curriculum to students previously educated around the globe are just two advantages helping to improve the quality of life for our military families.
Some may think that the school district of Hillsborough County’s effort in that regard is adequate. I think we need to do more — much more.
The decision of the leadership of MacDill Air Force Base to establish a charter school on base was made only after a number of years studying various educational alternatives, numerous meetings with the school district and consultation and discussions with a number of charter school operators.
Based on this research with MacDill’s housing privatization partner, Clark Realty LLC, the decision was made to utilize Charter Schools USA, a well-regarded charter school operator, and Florida Charter Educational Foundation, a financially sound organization with great experience working with and directing charter schools.
Hillsborough schools staff’s reaction to the application filed by the foundation is based on their continued focus on grammatical and/or textual errors, notwithstanding the fact that two meetings were held with staff where any ambiguities created by the application were clarified, and by their inappropriate innuendo that an improper relationship exists between the foundation and the charter school operator.
The main issue that should be focused on is the process to commence the immediate development of a charter school at MacDill.
We should not let politics or other issues prevent providing our military families with an alternate choice for educating their children that an on-base charter school can provide.
We trust our military to protect the freedoms that we enjoy. The least we can do is to ensure that their freedom of choice with respect to educational options is available and protected in return.
Clearly, a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base is absolutely necessary to address a major quality-of-life issue pertaining to the education of the children of the men and women on active duty serving at MacDill Air Force Base.
Stephen J. Mitchell of Tampa is a member of the MacDill Advisory Education Council.