Polytech’s Air Force JROTC program to end after this year

WOODSIDE — The Air Force JROTC program at Polytech High School will be deactivated at the end of this academic year.

The program, which was deactivated by the national director of the AFJROTC, will end due to low enrollment. The end of the program was formally announced during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“As a district we worked aggressively with our congressional delegation to ask the Air Force to reconsider; however, our attempts were unsuccessful given the statutory minimum enrollment requirement of 100,” Nick Johnson, director of operations for the district, said in an email.

This year, 85 students were enrolled in the program, which is relatively consistent with the enrollment of past years. The number of cadets has floated just below 100 for the last five years. Last year, the program saw 87 cadets, 78 the year before, 97 in 2016-2017, 99 in 2015-2016 and 94 in 2014-2015, Mr. Johnson said.

Despite not hitting the enrollment minimum, in the last two years, Polytech High School principal Ryan Fuller has seen two JROTC students selected as principal nominees by Sen. Chris Coons.

Dr. Fuller said that it’s a valuable program because of the leadership and service skills it hones in the cadets.

“Being a close connection to the [Dover Air Force Base] and being a military community, our cadets were involved in that community,” he said. “Our cadets ran fundraising efforts; they assisted the school in an unprecedented way. And we’re just sad to know that that program won’t be with us.”

Since the fall, the program has had a substitute, Mr. Johnson said. While the substitute was in place, the district sought to hire another full time instructor. 

“Unfortunately, that process is handled and managed at the federal level through the national AFJROTC program and a full-time instructor candidate was not identified prior to the program being deactivated,” Mr. Johnson said. 

After receiving notification in February that the program would conclude at the end of this year, Polytech did request reconsideration, with congressional support. In April, that request was denied, Polytech School District Superintendent Amelia Hodges said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Once the decision was final, Polytech began to notify the school community, Dr. Fuller said. 

“I directed our high school administrative and counseling team to begin working on alternative programming options to minimize, to the best of our ability, the impact the elimination of the JROTC program will have on our families,” Dr. Hodges said.

Through the rest of the school year, all of the materials will be inventoried and shipped back to the Air Force or, for most of the materials, distributed to other AFJROTC programs in the state, Dr. Fuller said.

 For the past two months, the program has continued remotely. The district supplied students with Chromebook computers and has been utilizing the platform Schoology for school materials. The remote curriculum for cadets was pulled from the Air Force’s Wings system, Dr. Fuller said.

“We basically set up our program to run on a weekly focus,” he said. “Every week, the students receive all the assignments and the goals for that week, and then the students work on that through the week and turn in those assignments.”

The students then meet with instructors to review the work and discuss the goals, he said. 

He added that the school is looking at “alternative arrangements” for students currently enrolled in the program, so they can continue a JROTC education, albeit in a non-traditional manner. Dr. Fuller described plans for additional programming as preliminary. 

“The cadets that were in the program were amazing and they gave their heart and soul to the program,” Dr. Fuller said. “It was an amazing asset to the school for the things that they did, and the character and leadership they developed in the cadets.”

Meanwhile, Sussex Tech also announced in March the deactivation of its JROTC program at the end of the academic year. While the school met the minimum number of enrolled cadets, it was struggling to find instructors— a commissioned instructor and a non-commissioned instructor — for its Army JROTC program.