Meeting to reconsider JROTC

Monday’s school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the district’s support services building, 445 SE Buff St., Madras. The school district may change the location of the meeting to the Madras Performing Arts Center, located at 412 SE Buff St., if the superintendent expects a large crowd. That decision will not be solidified until Monday. To clarify the meeting’s location, call the school district at 541-475-6192, or check back at bendbulletin.com for updates.

Emotions were high at a last-minute public forum at Madras High School on Thursday, called to discuss the school board’s recent decision to cancel the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program there.

Jefferson County School District’s new superintendent, Ken Parshall, who started July 1, asked Madras High Principal Mark Neffendorf and Vice Principal H.D. Weddel to hold the meeting in the high school’s gym to address concerns about the school board’s decision to shut down the longstanding program affiliated with the U.S. Army. Parshall is currently in Vietnam, according to Weddel.

Based on a recommendation from the superintendent, the school board had earlier voted to cancel the Madras High program, unbeknownst to its administration or teacher, according to Neffendorf.

At its meeting on Monday, the school board will consider reversing that decision, but the program’s sole remaining teacher has said he will quit at the end of the summer due to a lack of communication.

In front of a crowd of about 50 community members, including many veterans, a few current JROTC Madras High students and the high school’s JROTC teacher, Neffendorf shared that he and Weddel were not aware the school board was deciding whether to cancel the program at its June 26 meeting.

The JROTC program at Madras High has had two full-time teachers for the past several years: retired Lt. Col. Larry Renfro and retired Staff Sgt. Kyle Yeager. Renfro, who started teaching JROTC at Madras High School 15 years ago, retired last month.

Madras High offered the position to someone from North Carolina, but he backed out in late May. Since then, the school hasn’t tracked down another worthy applicant.

Yeager could run the program alone for the 2017-18 school year as long as the posting is kept open for the second position, Neffendorf said. At the end of the school year, that was Neffendorf’s plan, he said. The Army would consider the program “on probation” next school year, as it requires a teacher of a certain rank. Yeager also thought the program would continue and he’d run it alone, he said.

Then Neffendorf received an email from Yeager.

Yeager read an article in the Madras newspaper that reported the high school’s JROTC program had been cut, which, in effect, would leave him without a job. As is common for JROTC instructors, Yeager has a teaching license specific to JROTC. He can’t teach other classes with the license.

Neffendorf understood Yeager’s frustration, but he and Weddel also felt out of the loop, he said.

While the school board will reconsider its decision at its Monday meeting, Yeager said it’s too late. He plans to resign at the end of the summer, because he can’t continue to work for a district that would leave him without a job without telling him.

“I’d be lying to myself if I stayed,” Yeager said.

Attendees Thursday pleaded with Yeager to stay on at Madras High for the students’ sake, but as of Thursday, Yeager said he plans to quit.

Renfro, reached by phone Thursday afternoon before the meeting took place, said he was “totally surprised” to hear about the program being cut and would be “terribly sorry” to see it go. Renfro said similar to career and technical classes such as welding or construction, which research shows encourage students to stay in high school, JROTC can keep kids in school who otherwise may have given up, in his experience.

During the course of the meeting, a number of attendees shared their positive experiences with the program and their support of its continuance: Johnathan Courtney, junior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Elliott Palmer Post No. 4217 in Warm Springs, said joining JROTC at Madras High School as a sophomore in the late ‘90s turned his life around. Courtney, a tribal member from Warm Springs, said many of his peers didn’t go to college, but after his service in the Army, he graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Science in sociology. That path started for him with JROTC, he said. Through tears, Kira Povis, 17, also shared how the program had improved her character in many ways. Kira will be a senior in the fall and would have been a battalion commander, had the program not been canceled.

Laurie Danzuka, the school board’s vice chair, also attended the community forum and took a turn speaking before the crowd. JROTC is near and dear to her, too, she said: Her son is in the program. But because the superintendent recommended the program be cut, the board followed through with that decision, she said.

“It’s our mistake; we made a mistake,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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