• "Fort Polk is vital to the area. We hope to unite

    the installation and the surrounding communities

    to care for its soldiers and their families. It's our


    -Michael Reese, Fort Polk Progress President

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    Education Symposium: General Session  

    Approximately 700 people attended the Fort Polk Progress Education Symposium at Fort Polk’s Bayou Theater March 27, 2014, including special guest Stephanie L. Hoehne, director of Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation for Installation Management Command for the United States Army.


    Hoehne acted as representative for Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Ray Odierno.


    The purpose of the symposium was to inform the public about the Fort Polk Progress Education Initiative and to provide useful information to parents about the status of education in Louisiana and Vernon Parish. 


    View the entire General Session on YouTube.


    'Chief of Staff Gen. Odierno has already made it very clear that he's very interested in maintaining quality of life for soldiers and their families,' Hoehne said just before the Symposium began at 9 a.m. 'A part of that is ensuring military children get the education they need to succeed regardless of where their parents are stationed. My presence here is an indication of the importance attached to the issue. I'm excited to see the synergy in the community for both education and support of the military.'


    Hoehne directs and oversees the delivery of Army Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation Programs, supporting soldiers and families in garrisons across the U.S. and overseas. Her span of control includes developing, monitoring, coordinating, and resourcing Army soldier and family programs worldwide. 

    She is responsible for a budget of $2.4 billion and oversees over 28,000 employees.


    'We're very proud to be a part of a school system dedicated to improving every year,' said Brig. Gen. William Hickman, commanding general of Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center and host for the event. 'We're excited about the months and years to come as we partner together in education.'


    Jackie Self, Superintendent of the Vernon Parish School District, concurred, noting the participation of district staff, parents, support personnel and community organizations like Fort Polk Progress in the initiative. 'It takes positive interaction with all these parties to make us successful.'


    'A team does a better job than individuals can do,' said Mike Perkins, president of the Vernon Parish School Board. 'Together we're going to do a better job for the students, providing the best education possible.'


    'It is our goals today to not only educate you about the current achievements of our district but also our plan for working together for continued excellence,' said Michael Reese, Chairman of Fort Polk Progress, which spearheaded the event. Reese also presented the school district's action plan to parents during Parent University, the afternoon sessions which focused on providing age-specific information to parents.


    'The action plan is our road map to achieve greater success,' he told parents, encouraging them to comment on and make suggestions to the plan. 'We hope to be coming back to you often to report the progress of the plan.'


    Presenters for the Symposium included representatives from Louisiana Economic Development, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Rapides Foundation.


    'Louisiana is experiencing a manufacturing renaissance,' said Paul Sawyer, with Louisiana Economic Development. Sawyer emphasized that the state's ability to fill the vast number of jobs on the horizon will be utterly dependent upon the quality of education in the state. 'It all begins with education.'  


    'We do need to take action for a better future, said Kerry Laster, with the Louisiana Department of Education.'We must prepare our children in a rigorous way to be ready to accept these jobs,' she said. 'I assure you we can get where we need to be.'


    Laster also spoke about Common Core State Standards, which she said raises the level of rigor so that children can compete globally.


    At the same time, Laster, and others, complimented the Vernon Parish School District's performance and efforts.


    'If all districts in Louisiana functioned like Vernon Parish, Louisiana would not be 48th or 49th,' said Ben Martindale of the Rapides Foundation.


    Keynote speaker for the event was Jamie Vollmer, who challenged parents and the community to take responsibility for the district.


    'We have to rethink the fundamentals of school,' he said. 'You must own whatever it is you want your kids to know and be able to do. You're gonna have to have a conversation that allows the schools to change...and unfold the intelligence and creativity of every kid. We have one competitive advantage: the children are our most important natural resource.'


    Fort Polk Progress funded and gave away seven 529 College Savings Plans. Justin Schmidt and Lee Turner both won accounts funded with $500, while Carol Bliss, Trinita Owens, Marva Bouie, Karl and Sara Jansen and Linden Jackson all won accounts funded with $250 each. At a later date, Fort Polk Progress will award the school with the most representation at the event with $1,000.


    Parent University, which took place in the afternoon, provided age specific information for parents. Topics included Common Core State Standards in English and Math as well as College and Career Readiness.


    'Having spent many years as a Vernon Parish educator myself, I am confident that the Vernon Parish School District will ensure that their teachers are prepared and their students are successful as they address these new standards,' said Ann Smith, with the Louisiana Department of Education, who presented information about Common Core State Standards in English. 'This school system has always held as its top priority what is best for students.'


    'The Louisiana Standards outline the path for students to be able to collaborate and compete with other problem solvers across the country,' said Melissa Mainiero, with the Louisiana Department of Education, who presented information about Common Core State Standards in math. 'Vernon Parish has a history of high standards in all subjects and is leading the way in providing students with quality math instruction.'


    John Farris, secondary curriculum director for the Vernon Parish School District, informed parents of dual enrollment and advanced placement options in the district.


    'Students successfully completing a dual enrollment course are a step ahead in college level academics,' he said. 'During the 2013-14 school year, Vernon Parish students had the opportunity to earn 36 college hours on school campuses throughout the parish.'


    Other presentations included Industry-Based Certifications, Northwestern State University, and Central Louisiana Technical and Community College.


    The Education Symposium was part of a larger Education Initiative, a partnership among Fort Polk Progress, the Vernon Parish School District and Fort Polk, to acknowledge the achievements of Vernon Parish schools and prepare for future educational challenges. Fort Polk Progress leads the way in the initiative.


    To view photos of the event, please click here and here