The sun never sets on a US public school -- almost

The conversation in the faculty room sounded lika a geography lesson - Subic Bay, Yokota, Sagamihara, Panama, La Maddalena, Bad Kreuznach, Lakenheath. And in a way it was.

The Department of Defense Office of Dependents Schools held its first worldwide administrators workshop at Boston university this past summer. The discussion I overheard centered on past teaching assignments in what has to be one of the most unusual US school systems; where the students and classrooms are located somewhere in the world, just so long as they aren't in any of the 50 states.

The meteoric rise of American military power after World War II and concomittant US international commitmemts required troops to remain abroad in many parts of the world. This made it necessary to provide schooling for the children of service members assigned to such occupational forces.

In 1946 the military services initiated the education system that 34 years later is today the Office of Dependents Schools.

Some little-known facts about this military school system include the following:

* if it were in the United States instead of the i3 countries worldwide where the US maintains military installations, it would be the 11th largest school system.

* it has a 1981 operating budget of $369,300,000 for its 273 K-12 schools.

* More than 137,000 students will attend opening classes this fall. Dormitory facilities are available at 8 of the 59 secondary schools.

* In 1981 the more than 11,000 peop le of the Office of Dependents Schools will join, under one jurisdiction, the 7,000 employees already working for the new Department of Education.

At present, six regional areas delineate the administrative and organization structure for the Defense Department schools. These regions correspond to specific command structures of US forces. They are: Pacific, Mediterranean, Germany - North and South, Panama, and Atlantic regions.

More than half of all students in these schools are in Germany, underscoring that area's strategic importance to US and NATO forces.

Kay Templeton Garvey spokeswoman for Dependents Schools, says "the objective . . . is to maintain a school system which provides quality educational opportunities through 13 years of schooling. Standards meet or exceed those set by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools."

Anthony Cardinale, director of the Office of Dependents Schools, says that "although the schools are widely dispersed around the world, we must maintain schools overseas in sufficient numbers and types, properly staffed and equipped to serve all eligible Department of defense dependents. The quality of education is consistently high throughout the system."

"The schools are unique in the respect that each one is located in a foreign country," mrs. Garvey states. "This gives the students an opportunity to learn firsthand about traditions, culture, and historical aspects of a foreign country , while their stateside counterparts are learning about such things from a textbook only."

In addition to children of Defense Department personnel, the schools educate eligible dependents of other federal employes stationed overseas on official duty.

Some 11,000 American teachers and other professional and support personnel staff classrooms, regional offices, and dormitory facilities. The pay rates are equal to the average rates for similar positions for a similar level of duties in stateside school systems. The standard teacher contract calls for a two year tour of duty with transportation to and from the teaching assignment provided.

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