By Alyssa Schnugg
Oxford High School is in danger of losing its Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
Since 2014, the number of students enrolling in the program has been declining. The Memorandum of Agreement between the Oxford School District and the U.S. Marines says a high school’s program must have at least 100 students or 10 percent of the student population, whichever is lower.
The program started in Oxford about 26 years ago. The Marine Corps pays for two instructors who are both retired Marines – Capt. G.S. Baxter, USMC (Ret) and Sgt. Major Y.J. English, USMC (Ret).
The first drop below 100 students was in the 2014/2015 school year when enrollment fell to 95. It was a minimal drop, Baxter said. Enrollment increased at the start of the 2015 school year back to 109; however, by the start of the 2016 school year, it had dropped to 60.
“It was a very significant drop,” Baxter said. “That was the first probation letter from the Marine Corps to the school district. We never recovered from that drop.”
Generally, a school district is given three probation letters if numbers continue to remain under 100 each school year, which occurred at the OSD. The third probation letter was sent to the OSD in January 2020.
Then COVID-19 hit later in 2020 which put off any final action taken by the Marine Corps, to give the program chance to rebound.
At the start of this school year, the OHS MC JROTC program still had just 67 students enrolled.
After several years of the OSD being in violation of the agreement, the Marine Corps has now placed an October deadline on the school district to have more than 100 students enrolled in the MC JROTC program.
To help increase enrollment, Oxford High’s principal Dana Bullard came up with an idea to allow an MC JROTC class to occur during the school’s “zero period’ hour which will allow students to enroll in the program and not have scheduling conflicts. The period is held before the school day officially begins, from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m.
“There are no conflicts with after-school sports practice or during the school day with other classes,” said Chris Maroney, a parent who has a child in the JROTC program. “They made one announcement during school and that generated 19 students to enroll during that zero period.”
Maroney said he and other parents have approached the school district administration about the program and the risk of losing it; however, he said they have consistently received the same response – kids just don’t want to be in the program.
However, Maroney said the fact that 19 students signed up for the zero period on the first day it was announced, proves otherwise.
“It’s frustrating for us as parents and as supporters of the program,” Maroney said. “There’s no downside to having this program here. All it needs is a little bit of support and visibility to turn it around and to let people know what it is about.”
If the OSD loses the JROTC program, it can never be reinstated again. The only option would be a National Defense Cadet Corps program that is funded by local taxpayers.
Baxter said he believes the student interest is there but feels that the program needs more support from the administration.
“Our school district needs to communicate with the Marine Corps that the OSD wants the JROTC program in Oxford,” Baxter said. “I am recommending that the district drafts a new Memorandum of Agreement with the Marine Corp, signed by the current administration to show a new commitment, a new beginning. That will show more than anything that we’re united and want to keep this program here.”
Superintendent Bradley Roberson said the OHS and OSD administrators have worked with the JROTC program to encourage participation in several ways, including constructing a dedicated space for JROTC with a shooting range; requiring a leadership class for freshmen that could be fulfilled by enrollment in JROTC; awarded academic credits for participation; installed a veteran’s memorial display board in the high school and dedicated space on the OHS campus for a JROTC obstacle training course.
Roberson said the district has worked to promote the program as well, by inviting OHS cadets and Marine instructors to speak to eighth-grade classes; having direct counselor conversations with students and families; sending emails to parents of middle schoolers about MJROTC and having conversations with students in group settings through the Exploring Pathways course.
The Oxford School District supports JRTOC as it does with all of its elective programs and activities such as CTE courses, band, football, etc.,” Roberson said. “We believe JROTC is a reputable program that brings value to those you choose to take it; however, all programs are built and sustained on their own merit. As a district, we pride ourselves in providing students with a plethora of diverse educational opportunities.
“We, as a district, rarely set enrollment limitations on our courses. The JRTOC program operates under national guidelines that require a minimum enrollment of 100 students. Meeting this enrollment benchmark for the OHS JROTC program has been a problem for many years. We feel it would be a loss for our school district and students if the Marine Corp JROTC were to remove JROTC from the Oxford School District.”