Friday, September 20, 2019, our school system bid a warm farewell to Dr. Linda L. Curtis, an educator and leader who has had a lasting impact on the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). Dr. Curtis has served military-connected students and the Department of Defense for the last 33 years. For more than three decades, she has served as a classroom teacher, administrator, Curriculum Chief, Superintendent, Regional Director, and finally as the Principal Deputy Director and Associate Director of Academics at DoDEA HQ in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a member of the Senior Executive Service.
Her story, and love of education, began in her home state of Indiana, where she grew up in Fort Wayne with her twin sister, Cinda, and older brother, Dan. Her parents were both working people. “My mother was a keypunch operator, which most people don't even know what that is now. And my father was a tool and die maker with General Electric, and very active in the union.”
Dr. Curtis was influenced greatly by her elementary school years. “I had wonderful teachers, and I knew by second grade that I wanted to be a teacher because I just loved school. I can name every teacher I had in elementary school to this day. In fact I still correspond with one, my kindergarten teacher.” She remembers her principal, Mr. Dugood, who helped her and others grow and become more aware of the world. “Every year was a great experience.”
Like most people, Linda Curtis has great appreciation for a special teacher who really stood out in her school career.
"My seventh grade English teacher, who now lives in Hawaii, was that teacher for me. She was a wonderful English teacher. She was tough but she was very caring about her students. And I was so looking forward to her the following year in eighth grade, but she went on a visit to Hawaii, loved it, got a job offer, and so she never came back. It was very disappointing. Middle school years are tough and students go through many different things. She was always there, was such a good listener, and we connected so well. We still correspond. I know about her grandkids. I visit her in Hawaii so we still see each other every three or four years.”
Curtis was the first in her family to go to college.
“I went to Indiana University (IU) at Fort Wayne for the first two years and then I went down to Bloomington on campus and after graduation in 1975. After college, from IU, I had job offers from Australia and Indianapolis. I chose Australia, went there for four years, and had a marvelous time.”
She returned to pursue a Master's Degree, a required step to maintain a teaching license in Indiana. She subsequently earned her Master's in Elementary Education with the reading endorsement at IU.
Finding a teaching position proved to be a difficult challenge. She started as a substitute teacher in the Fort Wayne community schools. That led to a long-term subbing job there; however, substitutes were hired on an annual basis and then rehired for the next year. Her desire for a full-time teaching position brought her to Huntertown, Indiana where she was hired and stayed for six years.
While teaching in Huntertown, she traveled whenever she had the chance. One of her colleagues, a former Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) teacher who had taught in Turkey, asked her why she hadn’t applied to DoDDS.
“Ann, said to me – ‘why don't you apply for DoDDS?’ I said, ‘what's DoDDS?’ I had never heard of it. My father served in the military for four years during World War II but he didn't talk about it much and, of course, he didn't know about the schools because he didn't have kids.”
At the same time, while working on her second Master's Degree in Administration, one of her professors and another former DoDDS teacher, Gerry Rodriguez, encouraged her to apply.
“So I applied and on March 17, 1986, I had my interview in Chicago with the Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. And I got hired. Lucky day. So that started my career.”
Her first offer and assignment with DoDDS was at Smith Elementary School in Baumholder, Germany.
“When I told my Huntertown colleague that I had received an offer for Baumholder, her facial expression changed. She said, ‘Oh that should be interesting.’ She hesitated and said, ‘well, when I was in DoDDS -- if they wanted to get rid of you, they would send you to Baumholder!’”
But as fate would have it, the rumors were wrong and Baumholder was a great place.
“It was wonderful. The Army was wonderful. The people were great. The parents were great. There was an active PTSA. It was the beginning of a wonderful career.”
The experience in Baumholder, along with a lifelong passion for quality education and the unique mission of educating military connected children started a journey with DoDEA that took her to Spangdahlem, SHAPE, Brussels, Wiesbaden, Peachtree City (GA), Okinawa, and Alexandria (VA) over her many years of service.
Among those many places, SHAPE Elementary School (Belgium) holds many special memories for Dr. Curtis.
"It was my first principalship. They were a caring staff, willing to try new things, and excited about technology at a time when the importance of technology in schools was increasing. We applied for the National Blue Ribbon recognition. We didn't make it the first time and got an honorable mention. I thanked the staff for working so hard and all. They looked at me and said, ‘we're going to work harder, look at the suggestions, get better, and reapply.’ They were a staff that really came together and worked on a common goal. Two years later, we were happy to receive the honor of the National Blue Ribbon!”
Dr. Curtis was a teacher’s teacher. Forefront in her efforts, as a teacher and an administrator/leader was meeting the needs of all students. She learned early on that teachers and schools could not deliver the mission alone. Quality education required a community effort.
“That was really important. I had lots of parents in my classroom. I think it was important to include them and not necessarily the parents from your kids, but parents/volunteers in general. I think they can make your job a little bit easier. I was very active in the schools. I was vice president of the school advisory committee. I was on the PTSA board. I jumped in because I really like to be involved in the community and the school. It is so important in making sure that the students’ needs were taken care of.”
Linda Curtis believes that the DoDEA experience is unique for our educators and our support personnel.
“The resources that we have are unbelievable. Outside the gate, you don't have that. When I was in Indiana I didn't nearly have the opportunities and the resources and the professional development than we can offer in DoDEA.”
Dr. Curtis believes that the biggest difference is the support for our schools from the military, something that schools outside the gate don’t always enjoy.
“We have excellent support from our parents in our military communities. Our kids have a place to live, eat well, have dental and medical care -- all those important things not to have to worry about. Now they do have additional worries -- about their moms or dads going into war or unsafe areas in harm’s way somewhere – and they are often away for long periods in training. But our teachers and counselors do a great job of caring about our kids and we've had studies that have underscored just how much our educators really care about kids.”
For students, Dr. Curtis believes that the experience is just as unique.
“Well, hands down it's the opportunities that they have, and that's what the kids talk about when you see them years later. They talk about the model United Nations, or their field trip to Paris, or the World War II events in Normandy. It's always the extracurricular things, sports, honors music, that are meaningful for our students and enrich them and provide real-life opportunities for them to grow.”
Linda Curtis learned that DoDEA students have a wider vision of the world, of diversity, of other cultures, because of their experience in our schools.
“Definitely diversity because our military is so diverse. It is an added bonus for our students to be able to experience. We need to work on hiring a more diverse cadre of teachers in the future.”
2006, Dr. Curtis earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Argosy University. Combined with her 10 years of teaching in Australia and diana, Dr. Curtis has devoted 43 years of her life to public education. A passionate advocate for high student achievement, she is actively involved in strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities across the curriculum. She has extensive experience building partnerships between DoD schools and the military, as well as universities.
She maintains close professional relationships that helped her to develop as a leader. She is an active member of Phi Delta Kappa (PDK), the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). She also served as president and treasurer of the PDK overseas chapters. Her distinguished career includes her selection as an ASCD Outstanding Educational Leader, Phi Delta Kappa Educational Leader, and European Congress of American Parents, Teachers, and Students Principal of the Year.
“I like to get up every day and go to work. It's a fun place to be. You make lifelong friends. I still hear from students that I've taught, and it's a family. And so it's something you want to do and you're serving the Nation so it's a way of serving without being in the military. It's giving back to your country. I think that's important also.”
Of the many programs or initiatives Linda Curtis has lead over her tenure, two points of pride will always remain with her.
“My work in teacher collaborations and the professional learning communities because it's helped teachers have time to collaborate. That work is so important and interesting. You know, we kept talking about it and we finally did it -- I finally just said I'm putting it in writing and we're going to do it!”
Equally important was her work to establish a student teacher program.
“Promoting student teachers is something I've been really big on. It's important that we continue to have student teachers in our schools because we learn a lot from them. I was very involved with starting the Ball State University program. We are now in our 17th year. Last year I was invited to Ball State for the 100-year anniversary and I spoke to them. In fact, one of the attendees who had student taught for us later got hired!”
When asked what she would treasure most in retirement about her DoDEA experience, Dr. Curtis reflected on the wisdom of great leaders taking care of their people first and then the mission.
“Well, you know, it's the people that make the job. I’ll always appreciate the people that delivered excellence each and every day in our schools around the world.”
Thinking ahead to life after DoDEA, Dr. Curtis has some priorities.
“I'm going to get some sleep. I'm going to start an exercise program. I'm still doing some crafting. I already have four or five trips planned, including a trip to Manitoba in Canada to see the polar bears.”
All of us at DoDEA congratulate Dr. Curtis on her long and faithful service. The Department of Defense, DoDEA and indeed the Nation are truly in her debt. It has been an honor working with her.