Facts win for education

COLUMBUS AFB, Miss. -- My number one priority since taking command has been to improve education for our children. Since then, the entire wing pulled together to host an Education Summit, attend town hall and school board meetings, volunteer in classrooms and speak up in church and civic forums. But the results of last December's education census spoke the loudest. 

Since then, the City of Columbus and Lowndes County worked hard to earn unitary status, provide base families with school choice and introduce magnet programs to this area. These are history-making steps, and the base supported them every step of the way. How did we do it? 

Nothing makes a case better than cold, hard facts. We made our case for improving local schools not just for military children, but for all children in the city and county. The base education and economic census we conducted last December was the turning point in making this case. With an 83 percent response rate among all employees, and more than 90 percent among Columbus military, the census provided our argument with credibility. You spoke with a clear voice that no one could refute. The community cares deeply about you, and your voice made an impact in the city and county, in Jackson, Miss., with the Governor and State Superintendent and in the halls of Congress. Hard facts gave unprecedented credibility to the arguments I made on behalf of wing, and this message is what drove the hard work and history made during the past 18 months.
But our work is far from complete. The trends are positive, but we must not relax until we see top quality education and outstanding opportunities delivered to our children. To keep up the momentum and maintain credibility, the wing will perform another census during the next two weeks. 

Unchanged from last year is the format. The census will be anonymous, filled out on paper only, one per household and will take a minute or two to complete. We reworked some questions to refine the information we can gain, and in light of school choice, we will ask your plans for the 2008-2009 school year to help the local schools plan. Like last year, we will ask your top concern for education and any specific questions you want me to work on your behalf. Every group and squadron has a point of contact that will be in touch with you soon. 

I request from you the same dedicated commitment you showed last year: Complete the census and encourage everyone in your squadron or work group - military, civilian and contractors - to do the same. Make sure no one is left out, especially those who are deployed or traveling. Everyone who earns a paycheck from Columbus AFB, whether or not they have children in school, should complete the census. This is crucially important because thoughtful inputs and a more than 90 percent response rate allow me to represent you in the most credible manner. And I hope you agree that credibility has won the day for education in Columbus.