No instructors available
The U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is an elective course that’s been offered at Sussex Technical High School for 18 years. About 110 students are enrolled.
The Sussex Technical School District Board of Education may discontinue the program March 9.
In January, Superintendent Stephen Guthrie began hearing rumors that both JROTC instructors planned on leaving at the end of the school year. He met with instructors Maj. Ben Jester and 1st Sgt. Timothy Spence Jan. 27.
Jester confirmed he will retire at the end of the year. Spence confirmed he would be leaving, though at the time Guthrie was unaware that it would be within two weeks. Spence resigned and is “looking for other job opportunities,” according to Guthrie.
Both recommended closing JROTC due to the district’s new work-based learning schedule.
“The focus we’ve had since I came on board last year is to increase workplace learning experience for students. We only had a handful participating two years ago, now we have about 190,” Guthrie said. “The expectation is that by the time the current sophomore class are seniors every one of them will have workplace learning experience.”
Sussex Tech’s workplace learning involves two weeks spent completely outside of school. Guthrie said he first learned at the January meeting with Jester and Spence that, by not having day-to-day contact with students, they would not be able to meet the requirements of the JROTC program.
Guthrie and the board of education scrambled to come up with a Delaware Department of Education-approved alternative. They eventually came to a solution, allowing JROTC participants to complete their workplace learning after regular school hours.
Now there’s a bigger problem.
With Spence gone and Jester retiring, the district needs instructors approved by the U.S. Army Cadet Command in order to continue the JROTC program.
“There just aren’t enough qualified instructors who want to come to Delaware,” Guthrie said. “We checked to see if there were any applicants in the works, even if they haven’t been approved, just in the works, and they’ve got nothing.”
Sussex Tech and Appoquinimink High School are listed on the JROTC website with openings for instructors.
If instructors aren’t found by March 9, Guthrie and the board of education will close the program.
“The students need to be informed as soon as possible, so they can go back to their home schools, which may have a JROTC program,” Guthrie said. “And students coming in as freshmen need to know JROTC won’t be available.”
Closing down also requires returning military equipment.
“We have $100,000-plus of military equipment here that has to go through an apparently very cumbersome process to transfer it back to the federal government,” Guthrie said. “We don’t have the skills or knowledge or ability to do that, it has to be done by someone who understands it, so I want to make sure I give Jester enough time to process it.”
The district is required to post a meeting agenda online a week before the March 9 meeting. The agenda will indicate whether or not the JROTC program will continue, with the provision that any new information received prior to the meeting may change that decision.
“We just don’t have control over this one,” Guthrie said.