Bentonville School District to explore Junior ROTC program

Posted: November 9, 2017 at 1:06 a.m.

Bentonville School District administration building.

BENTONVILLE -- The School District will evaluate offering a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program for its high school students.

Student interest, the district's finances and willingness of one of the military branches to participate are all factors in determining whether such a program is implemented, officials said.

Arkansas JROTC Programs

Here’s how many JROTC programs there are in Arkansas by military branch.

• Army: 24

• Air Force: 12

• Navy: 8

• Marine Corps: 2

Source: Staff Report

ROTC is a program offered at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide that prepares young adults for a career as an officer in the military.

Junior ROTC, a high school program, emphasizes life skills, leadership and character development. Participating students aren't obligated to military service after high school.

The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have high school programs. There are 46 high school programs in Arkansas, though none are in Northwest Arkansas.

Rebecca Powers, a board member, asked about the program during a review of curricular offerings at Monday's School Board meeting. Jennifer Morrow, the School District's director of secondary education, said she'd done some research on the matter.

The Army and Air Force operate the most Junior ROTC programs of all the military branches. The Army isn't growing its number of high school programs and there's a wait list to get an Army program started, Morrow said.

"There's no known timeline for that wait list," she said. "It could be years."

She also spoke with the Air Force, which has 240 schools on its wait list. The Air Force is opening 16 programs this year, Morrow said.

"If it's the will of the board, we'd be happy to apply, and see at what point any of those agencies might want to do a visit," Morrow said.

The board voted unanimously in favor of having administrators determine the level of student interest in Junior ROTC. High school students likely will see some kind of survey on the topic this school year.

The district must have at least 100 students participating in order to sustain such a program, Morrow said.

"The one thing we'd want to be clear about with the community, and we would try to articulate that appropriately in our survey, is it could be years" before the program comes to Bentonville, Morrow said. "Even if all goes well and there's overwhelming response."

The district would have to provide adequate classroom space, drill space and storage space for the military program. The schools also would have to provide half the salaries for the two Junior ROTC instructors, Morrow said.

Superintendent Debbie Jones said district officials will have to examine the budget before they decide to add something like Junior ROTC.

"It might be part of a third high school when that comes around," Jones said. "And that sounds like a long time down the road, but we need proper planning to stay financially stable, and provide for absolute needs we have to meet."

Springdale High School launched a Marine Corps Junior ROTC program in 2006, but the Marines pulled the program several years ago mainly because of a staffing issue. The Marines required two instructors for the program, including a commissioned officer and a noncommissioned officer, but the school had trouble keeping both positions filled at the same time, according to Principal Pete Joenks.

The University of Arkansas has Army and Air Force ROTC programs. The Army program has 115 students and the Air Force program has 75 students, university spokesman Steve Voorhies said.

Most enrolled in the university's ROTC programs are students there, but others come from Northwest Arkansas Community College; John Brown University; University of Arkansas-Fort Smith; and Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., Voorhies said.

Brent Leas, a Bentonville School Board member, said while campaigning for re-election this year, he heard from several constituents who asked him why the district didn't have Junior ROTC.

"I think it's something we should explore and see if there's interest beyond just what I heard," Leas said.

NW News on 11/09/2017