Commentary: Sussex Tech: JROTC issue is out of our control

By Stephen Guthrie

Mr. Tim Shaffer’s letter to the editor regarding Sussex Technical High School’s JROTC program (“Sussex Tech learning should involve ROTC,” March 12) contained several errors of fact and misunderstanding. As Sussex Tech’s superintendent, I need to correct the record.

As the State News has reported, Sussex Tech is regretfully ending its U.S. Army JROTC program at the end of this academic year due to a lack of available instructors. We can only hire qualified candidates from a list approved by JROTC Cadet Command, and there are no such candidates who are interested in teaching in Delaware.

Contrary to Mr. Shaffer’s claim, JROTC’s departure has no connection to the highly successful expansion of our Career Capstone program, also known as work-based learning. That program gives every senior the opportunity to work at least part-time in their technical field, providing valuable real-world, hands-on experience. This school year, more than 50 percent of our seniors are participating in work-based learning, up from just a handful two years ago, representing tremendous growth and interest among both our students and local employers.

Mr. Shaffer incorrectly stated that this initiative was the cause of the JROTC shutdown. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the State News reported in the very article he cites, we were able to find a solution to concerns about potential conflicts between work-based learning opportunities and JROTC, working with students on a case-by-case basis. Currently, we have two seniors involved in JROTC who are also completing work-based learning with a very rigorous schedule, working for two weeks and in school for two weeks. The sole reason for the end of the JROTC class is the lack of instructors, which other schools around the country are also struggling with.

Mr. Shaffer also incorrectly stated that all Sussex Tech students are required to participate in work-based learning. That is also inaccurate, as the State News has itself reported. We understand that not every senior will be able to work in the community, whether due to transportation or other issues, and so we are offering multiple capstone options and opportunities to our students.

JROTC has been a valued and important part of life at Sussex Tech for the last 18 years, and we are sorry that a lack of instructors has led to its closure. We have worked nonstop over the last few months to ensure that it would continue, but the instructor shortage is out of our control.

Our mission at Sussex Tech is to prepare students for their future, whether that be career, college, or military service. Work-based learning and professional certifications and licenses available to our students are a vital part of those opportunities. Our students can graduate high school one day and go to work the next, not earning minimum wage but gaining employment in a high-paying career in a growing field.

We are proud of what our students and staff have accomplished over the last two years under our renewed focus on career and technical education. We invite Mr. Shaffer – and anyone who would like to learn more about Sussex Tech’s turnaround and transformation – to visit us and see for themselves. You can find more information at sussexvt.org.

Stephen Guthrie is superintendent of the Sussex Technical School District.