Thomas Brady, the new director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, says his experience as a soldier with children in DoDEA schools — as well as his experience as a base commander communicating with the local school district on behalf of parents — will help inform his decision-making. (Tara Parekh/Defense Department)
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As a retired Army colonel, Thomas Brady brings a unique perspective to his new role as director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, which operates 191 schools for military children around the world.
Eight of his family members have attended DoD schools: his wife, Lisa, his five children and two of his seven grandchildren. Of his six grandkids now in school, all are in public schools. “That’s an important focus of mine ... not only the 82,000 students we have in DoDEA, but to be keenly aware of the 1.2 million sons and daughters in local schools and what we can do to help them,” he said.
Brady has been an education administrator since retiring as commander of Fort Belvoir, Va., in 1997: serving in top-level positions in public school districts in Providence, R.I., Philadelphia, the District of Columbia and Fairfax County, Va. He’s handled budget problems, managed capital improvements, and led efforts to improve student achievement.
He plans to visit every DoDEA region in his first few months, starting with Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, Ky., the week of April 7.
Brady has a degree in education, but involvement and volunteering as a parent brought him into education administration as a second career. It started with being the public address announcer for his daughter’s soccer team, then expanded to the PTA, where he wound up as president. “I got to know the principals and the teachers and spent far too much time in my kids’ high school. Just ask ’em,” he said. “So from that I got an appreciation for public education, more so than I had before. ....
Q. What do you bring to DoDEA through your military experience?
A. As a dad, it meant I was entrusting my children to a school system that was professional, had standards, and would communicate with me as a parent on what’s best to do for and with my children. That’s a sacred bond and I thought DoDEA did that very well. The second part as a commander of an installation with a lot of moms and dads in similar circumstances is to provide that same kind of environment, but it happened to be through Fairfax County public schools as opposed to DoDEA. ... As a parent, you remember the third-grade teacher and how great she was, but you also remember how she communicated, how she interacted, how she influenced your son or your daughter. It’s an important piece that I bring to being the director —not forgetting those lessons.
Q. What about your experience as an administrator?
A. That’s a critical piece, because just having been an Army guy and a dad isn’t really going to do much in a school system. [Having been an administrator in urban school districts that had unique challenges] shapes ... how you approach things. [The DoDEA director position] can bring both sides of my life together. The education piece, 15 years as an administrator in exceedingly difficult school systems, in different ways; my military experience, not only as a father and grandfather, but also as a post commander, and [having] been around the world.
Q. What are your priorities for DoDEA?
A. I don’t have all the answers. I put out an entrance plan on the three things I’ll be doing in the next 90 to 100 days, which is to listen, assess and ask for feedback on key issues, and reach out to constituencies — from parents to students to teachers to administrators, and start getting out and around to actually visit classrooms. ...
We’re facing a great many challenges [but] we’re not going to make any wholesale decisions in the short term; I think that brings a certain comfort to administrators and teachers and the workforce.
. You’ve said your priorities are to listen, assess and get feedback initially, but do you have overarching goals?
A. We’re focused on student achievement and how to improve student achievement. That’s our singular focus. .... Some of the districts I’ve worked in, there have been 60 to 70 initiatives ... to move the needle forward. We need to focus on the few things that we need to do in the short term to impact student achievement. We’ve got a college and career readiness curriculum that needs to be implemented within the system. That takes a great deal of effort.
Q. How do you plan to get feedback from parents?
A. I’ll give you an example on this Fort Campbell and Fort Knox visit [the week of April 7]. I’ll visit the schools and meet with principals, go to classrooms and talk to teachers, have an all-hands meeting afterward with teachers. And in each community, I’ll meet with parents. There are advisory groups, we have school boards — they go by many different titles, but groups of involved parents.
The beauty of the Internet is that anybody can send me an email and I [will] actually read it. It is email@example.com.