Written by Emily Webb, DoDEA strategic writer
As a young woman growing up in Alabama in the 1960s, Dr. Emily Marsh, acting director for Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Schools in the Americas, knew that not every girl at the time was encouraged to attend college. However, with a father and a grandmother who were both educators, she was always expected to go to college and to give back to the community. Dr. Marsh chose to pursue her passion in education and attended Auburn University in 1966 to earn her bachelor’s degree in sociology and history with teaching credentials.
“If I had all the opportunities back then that women have today, I think I would still choose teaching,” said the Auburn native, who will be retiring on Dec. 31 after 46 years as an educator. “It’s been a very rewarding experience for me.”
Dr. Marsh embarked on her first opportunity to serve as a social studies teacher at Willingham High School in 1971. One year later, she traveled overseas as a military wife and taught high school completion courses for soldiers in Wurtzburg, Germany. She would return to Germany 11 years later to teach middle school language arts classes at Heidelburg Middle School.
“I think being a military spouse teaches you to be flexible, to have patience and to learn that the mission comes first,” she noted. “The need for those you serve must always come first.”
Returning to the U.S., Dr. Marsh completed her doctoral studies at Auburn and settled with her family near Fort Bragg in North Carolina. She taught reading at Pope Elementary School, served as an instructional specialist for the Fort Bragg Schools, and then returned to Pope Elementary School as a principal. Three years later, she served as the principal of Devers Elementary School at Fort Bragg, which she opened in 1995 after leading the charge to assemble its faculty and staff.
“The most important part of that process was to bring staff members together who share in a common vision,” she noted. “When we opened Devers, without a doubt, we had one of the greatest groups of individuals to ever come together, but it can also be a challenge to bring such talented and bright people together for a common goal. We worked diligently to ensure that every student had a quality education.”
Dr. Marsh was selected to serve as assistant superintendent of the North Carolina District in 2005 before being named DoDEA Americas Acting Director in 2015.
Looking back on her career, Dr. Marsh credits her accomplishments to the support she received from mentors and colleagues alike, including Dr. Gordon Bond and Dr. Terry Ley, her professors as an undergraduate and doctoral student at Auburn University; Dr. Eldon Ekwall, her graduate professor at University of Texas El Paso; Dr. Frank Cleary, the superintendent at the North Carolina Fort Bragg District; along with numerous DoDEA and military leaders. She is also grateful to have learned from the children that she’s worked with throughout her career.
“Dr. Emily Marsh is an inspirational leader who believes that the student comes first,” said Dr. Linda Curtis, DoDEA’s Principal Deputy Director and Associate Director of Academics. “I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Marsh for the past nine years and I have observed her excellent leadership skills and educational knowledge. Her tireless support of students, teachers, administrators, command and community has enhanced the quality of education for our military-connected students.
“The distinctive accomplishments of Dr. Marsh in a position of great responsibility reflect great credit upon herself, the Mid-Atlantic District and the Department of Defense Education Activity,” Dr. Curtis added.
Over the years, Dr. Marsh has risen to any challenge thrown her way with one priority in mind: Behave with dignity and always take the high road.
“I’ve had many opportunities and I have been asked to assume different responsibilities and I have done that because I felt that was the task that needed to be done at the time,” Dr. Marsh said. “Whether I was in a teaching or leadership position, I understood the responsibility that I was given and worked hard to take care of the task at hand.”
As she prepares to retire later this month, Dr. Marsh said she will miss all of the educators, military personnel, children and families that she has had the honor to work with over the years and looks forward to the unwritten future that lies ahead. With more free time on her hands, she hopes to spend it with her family, including her five children Christy, Laura, Brad, Scott, and Molly, three of which attended DoDEA schools in their early years.
“My husband and I have been very fortunate to travel around the world and enjoy life, but I’m looking forward to not having a schedule and not setting an alarm clock,” she laughed.