Board members stand by decision amid concerns

Amid the pleas for a special meeting to reverse the decision to discontinue the Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program, members of the Patrick County School board said they made the right call.

Andrew Overby, a former Cadet Battalion Commander at PCHS, said he felt it “is a vital program in our school and I would hate to see it end.”

In an email to school board members on Friday, Trena Anderson stated, in part, “Taxpayers, some school board members and the community at large have been misled. … As per your own policies parents, citizens, students, and taxpayers are to be included in decisions concerning our children’s education.

“We feel the decision to end JROTC should have been taken to an informed community before any such discontinuation of such a valuable program,” she wrote.

The program ended June 30, after operating for 25-years in Patrick County.

“I stand by my decision” to discontinue the program, said Brandon Simmons, who was a cadet in the program when he attended Patrick County High School, now serves as vice chairman of the school board.

The program has suffered from dwindling enrollment, he said, adding that few participants joined the military as a result of participating in the program.

“I know I didn’t,” said Simmons, of the Dan River District.

Simmons said that he feels high school should offer more vocation/trade classes that will prepare youngsters for the future, whether they enter the workforce or pursue higher education.

Simmons also noted that he is excited about the future of programs like the welding class that will be offered in the 2019-2020 school year.

Students successfully completing that class will be certified welders and able to enter the workplace earning a competitive wage, Simmons said. He added he hopes the welding program will be the tip of the iceberg and lead to other similar programs, possibly in plumbing or other trades.

“I feel it would be a big missed opportunity if we” declined to offer the welding program, Simmons said.

Ronnie Terry, chairman of the Patrick County School Board and of the Blue Ridge District, said Friday he also stands by his decision to discontinue the JROTC program.

The division and the federal government shared the cost of the program, officials have said. The local share was $110,000. A portion of the funds earmarked for the JROTC program will be used to pay for facility upgrades to support the new welding program, Terry said.

Walter Scott, of the Smith River District, said “when you look at it, and who it will affect and who it will not affect, and how many people actually use the program, I think a lot more people will be affected by the welding program. If it goes as planned, I think everybody will be happy.”

While he said he understands that “change is hard,” Scott noted the decision to discontinue the JROTC program also “has been a hard decision for the board. I realize a lot of kids take that and it’s a good program for them, however if we can put in a better program that’ll help more kids, I think we should do it,” Scott said.

Schools Superintendent Bill Sroufe said deciding to recommend the board discontinue the program “was a hard decision for me as a veteran.”

The school board had discussed the issue for eight months before agreeing to discontinue the program, Sroufe said, and added “when the population started to decline” and student enrollment dwindled, “it forced our hand in a way.”

“As the (JROTC) class size declined, students took other classes,” Sroufe said, adding enrollment increased in auto tech and other auto related classes.

“I understand why people are unhappy” that the JROTC program ended, Sroufe said. “We have been talking about this for eight months because it was a hard thing to do.”

Annie Hylton, of the Peters Creek District, and Michelle Day, of the Mayo River District, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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