JROTC programs soldier on in San Francisco 

click to enlarge JROTC programs, like this Lowell High class, have survived school officials’ many attempts to take them out of schools. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • JROTC programs, like this Lowell High class, have survived school officials’ many attempts to take them out of schools.

In 2008, the fight over whether to allow students in San Francisco public schools to have the option of joining the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps was in full swing. Arguments broke out at public meetings and sent Board of Education sessions late into the night. Ultimately voters endorsed the JROTC program with a non-binding resolution. So what has happened to JROTC?
Remember that in 2006, over the pleas of students, members of the board voted to eliminate the JROTC classes starting with the 2008-09 school year. On the board of the San Francisco Unified School District at the time were current supervisors Eric Mar, who voted in favor, and Norman Yee, who voted against the move.
At the same time, the board created a task force (groan) “to develop alternative, creative, career-driven programs with the elements of the existing JROTC program.” The deadline to shut down the JROTC programs was extended until the 2009-10 school year because finding a replacement leadership program was taking too long.
The task force eventually disbanded without ever finding a meaningful alternative. I spoke with Lt. Col. Douglas Bullard, who heads up the JROTC program at Lowell High School and was one of two JROTC representatives on the 12-member task force. He explained that the other programs they reviewed were cost-prohibitive and not equipped to deal with the size of the student population. The student-teacher ratio for JROTC is 75:1, and the other contenders were 15:1 or 7:1.
“We brought agencies in and without exception they all said, ‘You want us to do what? You’ve got to be kidding me,’” he said.
Ultimately, they realized that if you look at what JROTC provides, with its federal subsidy, “It’s a pretty darn good deal.” One that apparently could not be beat.
In the meantime, voters were asked in November 2008 to weigh in on Proposition V, a policy statement in support of JROTC. It was the issue of the day. Every candidate, regardless of what office he or she was running for, had to weigh in on Prop V. This was especially true for folks running to be members of the Board of Education, who even today are regularly asked to state their positions on JROTC. The proposition was a litmus test for people who didn’t follow local politics that closely, but for whom this epitomized the embarrassing nonsense our local officials regularly provide. Prop. V passed with 55 percent of the vote.
But because Prop. V was merely a policy statement, it had no official effect (sound familiar?). There are still hurdles in front of the retired military personnel who spend their time teaching our students things such as study skills, life skills, decision-making and physical fitness.
Historically, students in JROTC get physical education credit toward the two years of PE classes required to graduate. When the Board of Education voted to reinstate JROTC in 2009, it required that instructors get a PE teaching credential in order for their students to get the PE credit. As any teacher can tell you, this is a serious process that takes at least two years. And as any seasoned JROTC instructor can tell you, it is totally unnecessary.
Instructors are already credentialed by the state and federal government to teach JROTC, and some, like Maj. Gerry Paratore, who leads the program at Balboa High School, have been doing this for 15 years or more. “Now I have to study ‘classroom management,’” Paratore said. “Man, if I don’t know how to manage a classroom after 18 years, I shouldn’t even be here.”
Paratore added that new instructors could benefit from the credentialing requirement, although Bullard pointed out that it has created a recruitment problem. “If I’m a retired military person and I want to teach JROTC, and I can go to San Jose where they don’t require a teaching certification, guess where I’m going.”
Indeed, no other jurisdiction in the state so strictly construes state law to require teaching credentials for PE credits. State law requires a credentialed teacher for any credits and makes no exceptions for a JROTC instructor. According to JROTC supporter and Board of Education President Rachel Norton, the reason other places can get away with awarding PE credit without having instructors go through the teaching credential process is because no one challenges it in those places.
“You need someone to file a suit and complain about it,” Norton said. “That won’t happen in San Diego. It will happen here.”
The dedicated retirees soldier on. By the end of the 2014 school year, at least one instructor at each school has to be certified or supervised by another staff person at the school who is certified. Going forward, all new JROTC hires will have to get a teaching certification. Currently, of seven schools with the program, four are overseen by third parties and three have instructors who are in the process of certification, using a combination of personal funds and veteran’s benefits to pay the hefty price tag — some $8,000-$10,000, according to Paratore, who is getting his certification while working full time.
Despite the recent history of resistance in San Francisco, the instructors I spoke to remain as dedicated as ever to doing what it takes. “I don’t want to sound negative,” Bullard said. “I think things are beginning to work.” All of the local JROTC programs have enrollments of 100 students or more.
“It’s a great program,” added Paratore
Now there’s a lesson in perseverance and dedication.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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