ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — June 25, 2008 — After nine years, Dr. Joe Tafoya, the Director of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), is retiring from his work in federal service. Dr. Tafoya began his career with DoDEA in October 1999 when he was selected as Deputy Director of DoDEA for the Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS). Dr. Tafoya was selected as DoDEA's director in 2000.
When he first started as director, Dr. Tafoya had to submit a report to the Pentagon indicating how the first day of school went. That requirement ended after his first year as director.
"I like to think that after that first year, communication between commanders and our agency and our leaders at the Pentagon greatly improved," he said.
As director Dr. Tafoya has visited schools and military bases around the globe, but his most memorable trip was to Lajes, Azores.
"Because of the earthquake of 1984 there were still a lot of rocks and debris where homes and fields used to be. If you go into the buildings there and some of the old churches you feel like you're back in the 16th or 17th century and then you turn the corner and there's a brand new house with a satellite dish. It really assaults the senses," Dr. Tafoya said. "Traveling has really been an eye opener to me as a poor boy from San Diego who never thought that he'd ever leave the country much less travel this much."
Looking ahead, DoDEA's continued focus on assessment and budget responsibilities are two factors that are important for the organization to "tie everything that we do to our number one goal in our strategic plan, which is to increase student achievement," he said.
"In the past we focused a great deal of our energies on how we evaluate what we do. Dr. Miles is continuing that focus and that's a plus to us. Mr. Kelly's new budget issue of putting priorities on funding and looking at funding different ways is really going to serve DoDEA well in the future," he said.
Dr. Tafoya believes that some of the challenges DoDEA will face are increasing and improving student achievement; Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC); and the budget.
"There are a lot of unique challenges and opportunities that are going to face us as an agency but I think the leadership, both at headquarters and throughout our system is strong and leaves us well-positioned for the way ahead," Dr. Tafoya said.
Dr. Tafoya said that what he will miss the most is the sense of mission.
"I'll miss the sense of mission that people have. I think the staff at headquarters is very committed to serving the needs of the kids that we have. I have a great staff here at headquarters," he said. "There's a satisfaction in providing leadership to such a great system. A lot of honors have come to me and a lot of things that are not directly related to me; so when I receive those honors it's on behalf of the agency and the people who are doing the work in schools and here at headquarters."
Although he is retiring from federal service Dr. Tafoya has no intention of taking it easy.
"I've had 31 years of education experience in California, mostly in urban education and I've had the opportunity to work with schools that need improvement. My nine years of service to DoDEA have afforded me to be a part of an excellent school system. The melding of these two gives me a chance to continue to provide services to schools and districts in California and on the west coast to help them improve student achievement," he said.
Dr. Tafoya has already been looking at opportunities to work as a school consultant. Although he isn't entirely sure what he is going to do yet he said he is looking forward to taking the summer off to reflect, play some golf and spend some time with his wife, children and grandchildren. He is particularly looking forward to watching his granddaughter compete in her softball games.
"My granddaughter's team won their semi-final game. I thought, 'If I was there in the California where my wife is right now, I would be getting up early Saturday morning and driving to San Diego to see my granddaughter in her county championship game.' That further reinforces in my mind that I'm doing the right thing," he said.
Dr. Tafoya's wife has remained on the west coast during his tenure. It was a decision he made mutually with his family. He emphasized that what he and his family have endured as a result of their distance apart in no way compares to the sacrifices that military families make.
"What has made the separation and personal sacrifice meaningful to me is that I was able to be a part of the high quality education that DoDEA provides as a school system and the quality instruction that our educators, teachers and administrators provide to military families," he said.
We wish you the very best, Dr. Tafoya! Thank you for your leadership, your dedication to the mission of DoDEA and the many students and families that we serve.