Crowd urges school board to restore Madras HS JROTC program

Board to revisit issue at July 31 meeting

Community packs school board meeting

MADRAS, Ore. - The Jefferson County School board was faced with a packed room and lots of tears Monday night. Their decision to cancel Madras High School’s Junior Reserve Officers Training (JROTC) program has created a lot of backlash.

A few dozen parents, students and community members spoke for nearly two hours, asking the board to reconsider the decision.

One of the men running the program, Sgt. Kyle Yeager, only found out about the cancellation when he read it in the newspaper. The board apologized for its failure to communicate.

The board didn’t make any decisions, but added another discussion of the program to the agenda of the next board meeting on Monday, July 31. 

You can't run a school program without teachers. That's what the superintendent of Jefferson County schools said in a statement about the recently cut JROTC program at Madras High School.

This spring, the district had hired an instructor to replace a retiring one, but he rescinded his acceptance six weeks later.

Requirements for this position are stringent and the applicant pool is small. So, Superintendent Ken Pershall said, there was no choice but to cut the program.

The decision to cut it caused quite a bit of controversy, with reports the principal of the school, as well as the program's instructor, were not notified prior to the school board's decision.

Also taken aback by the move are former members of the program. Over 150 of them created a Facebook page in an effort to get the program back at the high school. They all spoke highly of the program's effect on them and their classmates.

"The program actually pushed me to do better with my grades," former member Thomas Cross said Monday. "People would sit down and help me with my schoolwork. The fact that the program is actually going away is kind of sad."

"I think it has a real big positive impact on individuals because you get to learn teamwork and all those skills that you should know before you enter high school and after," said Savannah Holliday, another former member.

One of the two instructors retired last month, and the remaining one stepped down as a result of the apparent miscommunication. The superintendent said he acknowledges there were communication issues and regrets it.

Asked whether or not the district would be open to reviving the program for the 2018-19 school year, he said they're not looking that far ahead yet.

But in the meantime, former members continue to use the lessons learned in the program.

"I have more respect as a person toward other people," Cross said. "I'm more polite, I've got more manners. It's not just a program. It can help you be a better person."

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