Follow Our 25 Years to See the Needs That Inspired Us and the Dynamics that Defined Us.
Consider how different 1996 was compared to today: So many dramatic events and technology developments had not yet occurred. Think back to a time before the iPhone, social media, broadband internet, or 9/11. Email was just beginning to gain traction.
When MCEC was founded, military-connected students faced differences in educational systems, curricula, and opportunities. Parents and educators across the U.S. and overseas could see the strain caused by students’ frequent moves.
“My three children changed schools many times during my 33-year military career. They had no choice in the matter. Most military children move six to nine times during their K-12 years.”
In 1996, two school districts over 1,800 miles apart — in Killeen, TX, and Groton, CT — were acutely aware of challenges created by fluctuating military populations.
Killeen Independent School District serves Fort Cavazos (then Fort Hood), among the world’s largest military posts. Fort Hood’s growth caused severe overcrowding in Killeen’s high schools. This meant clogged hallways, overflowing classrooms, and shortages of teachers and supplies.
1,800 miles away in Groton, home of the U.S. Navy Submarine Base New London, elementary principal David Sayles convened a meeting on issues for schools and military installations. LTG Taylor served as keynote speaker.
The Groton meeting was followed in June 1997 by a “Supporting the Military Child” conference, hosted at Killeen High School by Killeen ISD and Fort Hood. Attendees came from 14 military installations and 15 school districts.
The Killeen and Groton ISDs’ burgeoning alliance had spurred momentum — and defined a concept for an organization focused on military students.
Dr. Mary Keller, a Killeen ISD Assistant Superintendent, was asked to chair a community advisory group to explore solutions to the overcrowding. One approach: shifting Killeen’s two high schools to block scheduling.
While the innovation made things somewhat easier for the schools, the unusual format was a complication for incoming military students. Dr. Keller, LTG Taylor, and others began discussing the transition issues. LTG Taylor, now retired, joined Killeen ISD’s Board to bring in a military perspective.
In 1995, Lieutenant General Thomas Schwartz had taken command of Fort Hood. He and his wife, Sandy, became strong advocates for military-connected students. Sandy Schwartz connected quickly with concerned military parents.
When Mrs. Schwartz called a meeting of military moms at her home, she invited Dr. Keller to attend.
“Mary was so willing to listen. She was not defensive in any way. She just wanted to solve problems.”
COL Paul J. Callen became Fort Hood’s Director of Community Activities in 1995. He established a rapport with Dr. Keller and KISD’s Superintendent, Dr. Charles Patterson. Sandy Schwartz began hosting them at her home on Fort Hood, along with LTG Taylor and Linda Pelton, KISD’s parent/community facilitator.
These “kitchen table” meetings developed a vision beyond KISD and Fort Hood. Educational issues continued to surface at all levels — from installations to the Department of Defense. Yet no existing organization would take on military student transitions.
One night at that kitchen table, Taylor took a check from his wallet: It was for $36 and intended for a magazine subscription. Taylor scratched out the magazine name and announced it was his membership fee for their new non-profit: The Military Child Education Coalition.
MCEC annual memberships remained at $36 for several years. Current annual individual membership is $25.
In 1997, Sandy Schwartz asked the Killeen ISD Board to fund MCEC’s startup. The board approved $90,000 as seed money, and authorized office space. “We can never thank them enough,” said Mrs. Schwartz.
Army COL (Ret.) Glynn Decoteau was named MCEC’s first executive director in June 1998. Dr. James Mitchell, Superintendent of Groton ISD, served on MCEC’s first Executive Board.
MCEC’s charter was signed by Texas Secretary of State Alberto R. Gonzales on August 10, 1998. The Internal Revenue Service issued MCEC’s 501(c)(3) non-profit certificate the same day.
MCEC’s incorporators were Dr. Keller, LTG Taylor, and Killeen ISD assistant superintendent Dr. Larry W. Moehnke. MCEC’s Board included COL Terry A. Wikstrom, CPT H. Scott Dalton, Sandra L. Schwartz, Greg Cook, Linda Pelton, Sandra Erwin, Barbara Adams, Corbett Lawler, Alice Wooten, Ross Caviness, Stephanie Ralston, Vicki Higgins, and Georgia Pullen.
A “Supporting the Military Child” conference was held in Omaha, Nebraska, in June 1999, hosted by Gen. Michael Ryan with Offutt Air Force Base, Mrs. Jane Ryan, Bellevue Public Schools, and the Military Impacted Schools Association (in partnership with MCEC).
Gen. Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff, was keynote speaker. Others included GEN Thomas Schwartz, U. S. Army Forces Command, ADM Richard Mies, U.S. Strategic Command, and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel.
MCEC’s membership was called to order and the first of its annual meetings was held at the historic session. Directors were elected, and LTG Taylor’s proposal, that MCEC’s representation include all the Armed Services, was approved.
The board later established MCEC’s Vision:
“The Military Child Education Coalition will serve as a model of positive leadership and advocacy for ensuring quality educational opportunities for all military children affected by mobility, family separation and transition.”
Naming an organization with a vast, global reach required hitting just the right notes to describe its cause and win support among its various audiences and contributors.
According to Dr. Keller, the word “Coalition” had powerful meaning because MCEC was conceived to inspire partnership between many organizations and people — military installations, school districts, administrators, teachers, military parents, and students — all cooperating to address the challenges faced by the military child.
Balancing the plurality of “Coalition,” using “Child” instead of “Children” had power of its own: Where “Coalition” represented the many, “Child” emphasized concern for the needs of the individual child.
The new organization’s mission statement was established along with its name: The Military Child Education Coalition’s mission is to ensure quality educational experiences for all military children.
MCEC committed to validating its initiatives with research. Two early projects were The Secondary Education Transition Study (SETS) from 1999–2001, and DoD Connects with America in 2000.
SETS was a massive volunteer project. Commanders, superintendents, school boards and field researchers gathered hundreds of stories of students, parents, and staff of 39 high schools in nine school systems.
In DoD Connects with America, MCEC led roundtables for the Department of Defense exploring topics such as graduation requirements, class schedules, K-8 issues, extracurricular activities, and social/emotional issues.
MCEC created a Science Advisory Board in 2008 to enhance its commitment to research and proven practices in serving military-connected children. The board included volunteer professionals in psychiatry, psychology, medicine, mathematics, research, public policy, and grief-and-loss specialties. LTC Rebecca Porter, Ph.D. was a member of MCEC’s first Science Advisory Board.
MCEC held its first national conference in San Diego, California, in 2000, attracting active-duty service members, educators, and military parents. They came from across the United States, and from as far away as Japan, Guam, Korea, Hawaii, and Germany. All had one thought in mind: How to achieve the best possible education for military-connected students.
The conferences attract hundreds each year, and speakers include Generals, Admirals, other leaders from all service branches, experts in education and psychology, bestselling authors, and key Cabinet officials.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin was a featured speaker in 2011. Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence appeared in 2019. First Lady and educator Dr. Jill Biden appeared in 2020 and 2022, and prior as Second Lady.
In 2012, MCEC renamed the events as National Training Seminars to reflect their focus on real-world training for teachers and administrators. Today, MCEC’s annual meeting is known as the Global Training Summit.
In 2013 MCEC launched its online courses for educators, caregivers, family members, and professionals who support military-connected children. The first dealt with a vital area of MCEC’s focus: The reintegration of family members returning from combat.
MCEC has operated other programs to enhance life for military children, such as the Bernard Curtis Brown II Memorial Space Camp Scholarship, which operated from 2002-2014 in memory of Brown, a military-connected 11-year-old passenger on the airliner that crashed at the Pentagon on 9/11. The scholarship gave military-connected children a week-long Space Camp experience.
Another initiative, established in 2006, is the Frances Hesselbein Student Leadership Program. Select students learn leadership, team building, listening skills, patriotism, civic duty, and tolerance during a week at the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Academies in West Point, New York, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In 2019, MCEC co-founder, Mary Keller, Ed.D., retired as MCEC’s President and CEO. A thorough search led MCEC’s Board to select COL Rebecca Porter, Ph.D., as the organization’s future President and CEO. Dr. Porter had first joined MCEC’s Science Advisory Board at its founding in 2008.
Dr. Porter retired from the U.S. Army after an impressive career spanning over 30 years. She is a 1983 Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Washington. She holds an MA in Counseling Psychology from Chapman University, a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Fielding Graduate University, and an MS in National Security and Strategic Studies from the National War College. Dr. Porter is also a board-certified clinical health psychologist, a fellow of the American Psychological Association, and a member of the Order of Military Medical Merit.
As MCEC begins its next 25 years, the nation’s children are in a mental health crisis. MCEC represents hundreds of thousands of military-connected children around the globe. Whether they are part of an Active Duty, National Guard, or Reserve family, they have faced war, deployments, a worldwide public health crisis, and difficult social dynamics.
The children in these families are part of their parents’ support systems — sometimes even as caregivers. These dedicated Americans represent every ethnicity, faith, identification, and situation. It is mission critical for MCEC to support the mental health and well-being of all who serve.
The stresses of military service and of the upheaval faced by family members do not have to lead to loss or heartache. There are systems in place to help, but the most effective tool is likely the loving support of family and friends. And we at MCEC count ourselves as friends to America’s military families.