Classroom space is tough to come by in Loudoun County, still home to one of the fastest growing school divisions in the nation.
But soon space will open up at Dominion High School in Sterling, as the Academy of Science moves out in 2018 and in to the new Academies of Loudoun. School system staff recommended to the School Board on Tuesday opening a National Defense Cadet Corps (JROTC) in that space.
Right now, the county operates a Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program out of Loudoun County High School in Leesburg. The program is open to any high schooler in the county. It’s at capacity, with 206 students enrolled, and hundreds of students are turned away each year.
“We really see this as an opportunity to provide more students access to this program,” Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Cynthia Ambrose told the School Board.
Loudoun has relatively few offerings for young people interested in military careers. Loudoun has 78,348 public school students and just the one Navy JROTC program, while Prince William County has 89,000 students and nine programs (four Air Force, two Army, two Navy and one Marine); Chesterfield County has 60,000 students and five programs; Fairfax County has 187,467 students and eight programs; and Virginia Beach has 69,345 students and five programs, all Navy.
It would cost about $400,000 to renovate the nine classrooms at Dominion into space for a JROTC program, and another $400,000 in annual instructional costs. But most School Board members sounded open to the idea.
Beth Huck (At Large) credited the Navy JROTC program with providing her husband exceptional education and career opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise. “I support providing the same opportunities to more students,” she said.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), who served in the U.S. Navy and retired as commander in 2006, and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) also said they liked the idea. “We have a lot of students who wish they could get into that program,” Turgeon said. “It’s one of those rare programs that can really have an immediate effect straight out of high school.”
She also suggested that the board consider providing transportation for JROTC students. Right now, JROTC students who live outside of the Loudoun County High School attendance zone must find their own transportation to school.
Ambrose presented two other options for that space. One is to give the space back to Dominion High School, and the other is to house a welcome center for English Language Learner students, something school system leaders have said for years that they need. The center would be a one stop shop for screening and identifying students who need ELL services and connecting families with community resources.
Ambrose is recommending the School Board hold off on opening an ELL welcome center at Dominion because of the hefty construction costs to renovate the space for that use, estimated at $925,000. Plus, the ELL program would outgrow that facility in just a few years, she added.
Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) suggested the board consider renting space in eastern Loudoun for an ELL welcome center, where more families who receive the services could access it. Most of the ELL services now are housed at the school system administration building in Broadlands.
Any decision about the Dominion space needs to be made quickly, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Kevin Lewis told board members. In order to have a JROTC program—or any other program for that matter—up and running by fall of 2018, the board needs to decide what it wants by this summer. The design work would need to happen this fall, followed by the bid process. “So we can start construction the minute Academy of Science moves out and have it ready to go by next fall,” Lewis said.
The School Board is expected to make a decision next month.