JROTC plans proceed without county schools

Published 6:38 pm Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Franklin City School Board, with a funding boost from the Camp foundations, has decided to forge ahead with bringing a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or JROTC, program to the city for the 2009-10 school year.

Franklin-Southampton Futures originally pitched the idea to the Franklin and Southampton County school boards as a joint initiative between the two, but the county schools have opted to not participate.

The two school boards discussed the possibility at a recent meeting in Williamsburg.

“The Southampton County School Board has concluded that in view of the negative economic situation and the severe impending cuts in State revenue, the Board is not in a position to pursue the JROTC program or any new program at this time,” Superintendent Charles Turner said in a written statement.

Bobby Worrell, executive director of the Camp foundations that are putting up most of the $100,000-plus needed to get the JROTC program off the ground, said Southampton’s refusal to participate would not affect the foundations’ funding decision. Neither Worrell nor representatives of Futures, which made the funding request, would reveal the exact amount of funding.

Futures officials said they were disappointed with the county school board’s decision.

“Futures was formed to support projects and initiatives that promote cooperation between Franklin and Southampton County,” said board member Chuck Lilley. “We believed it was worth a try to see if we couldn’t help the two school systems in any way. So we were very disappointed with Southampton’s decision, but I understand their position.”

Still, Lilley said Franklin was planning to offer the program by next fall.

“Franklin is moving ahead. Right now, it’s just a matter of working it into their curriculum.”

Earlier this school year, students at Franklin High School were surveyed to gauge interest in a JROTC program. According to Lilley, more than 100 students said they would interested in learning more about the program.

Franklin High Principal Sam Jones said there is still much work to do, including completing an application to the Army and ensuring that facilities are up to the Army’s standards, before the program will come to fruition.

However, Jones believes it would have a positive impact on students.

“A JROTC program will do a lot to build morale and character in the students,” he said. “The traits and tenants that are stressed in a program such as JROTC usually result in better students. All school districts need that.”

Before pursuing the idea locally, Futures representatives visited Smithfield High School, where officials credit the school’s JROTC program with improved student discipline and achievement.

Although the Army is still approving new JROTC programs, there is a freeze on federal funding nationwide. Any new programs, known also the National Defense Cadet Corps, must be funded by local school districts or private donors.

Armed with this knowledge, Futures representatives applied for the foundation funding.

“We are really interested in the program, and the Futures members really made us see this as a worthwhile cause,” Worrell said.

Lilley said that while the Camp foundations’ grant is significant, more funding is needed to successfully run the program.

“We are hopeful that we can raise the funding needed to cover the rest during the first quarter next year,” said Lilley. “We will be approaching Franklin and Southampton County charities, businesses, civic organizations and private individuals.”

Lilley said it is imperative that the program start soon because the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it will revive funding for programs started during its freeze for the 2010-11 school year.

“If we can get the program going, then it will be in a strong position to receive funds,” Lilley said. “That would alleviate the need for any additional outside funds. However, the window of opportunity is short, and we have to grab the brass ring while we can.”