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NewsCommunityMilpitas High School's NJROTC program potentially at risk of fading away

Milpitas High School’s NJROTC program potentially at risk of fading away

The Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) program at Milpitas High School (MHS) has been in existence since the mid-1970s. 

As a program that is sponsored by the Navy in high schools across the United States, NJROTC has shaped countless lives at MHS, with a focus on cultivating character and positive life skills among youth. 

However, at Milpitas High, this decades-old program is struggling. Currently, enrollment in the program is at 52 – down by nearly half the amount that The Beat reported back in 2022. When Covid happened, the program’s momentum came to a halt – and it hasn’t managed to recover. 

At Milpitas Unified School District’s (MUSD) Board of Education meeting on February 13, another blow was nearly delivered to the NJROTC program. 

MUSD staff had prepared a proposal for cost reduction opportunities, one of which included letting go of an employee who was recently brought on to be a teacher for MHS’s NJORTOC program. 

The employee is known as Master Chief James Whitney, who retired from the Navy in January of 2019, after serving for over 24 years. He was hired just a few months ago to support Lieutenant Margie Jackson, who has been running the NJROTC program on her own at MHS for the last several years. 

“I was very surprised and disappointed that the district [wanted to cut his position],” said Lieutenant Jackson in an interview with The Beat. “He hasn’t even been here six weeks, and they’re talking about getting rid of him. How could that happen? They had to have known about their budget before. How could the school district overlook that?” 

At the school board meeting, a handful of cadets from MHS’ NJROTC program came out to Public Comment to plead to the board, asking them not to cut their new Master Chief’s position. 

“I can very confidently say that our unit would be much worse off without his presence. He has inspired, led, and taught all of our cadets,” said Cadet/Petty Officer Madden Tran during Public Comment. 

Every year, the military provides half of a Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) salary for the NJROTC program at Milpitas High School. However, their funding is contingent on enrollment. If enrollment numbers are below 100 students (which they currently are at MHS), the military will not continue to provide funding. At present, the cost for two instructors teaching the NJROTC program is $192,321, including statutory benefits.  

“We received a letter from the navy stating that because they are below the 100-student threshold, the military wouldn’t continue to fund,” said MUSD Superintendent Cheryl Jordan at the meeting. 

In the letter to the district – dated November 16, 2023 – the Navy stated that MHS’ NJROTC program is on probation due to low enrollment numbers. They also stated that they would evaluate the NJROTC program in Spring 2024, and if they see that the enrollment numbers aren’t up, they may recommend closure of the NJROTC program on June 30, 2024. 

The Navy further recommended that if the NJROTC program did close down, MUSD should consider transferring to a different Navy-sponsored program known as the Navy National Defense Cadet Corps, which has a minimum enrollment of 50 cadets.  

At present, Milpitas High School has the last remaining NJROTC program in the region. The closest NJROTC programs can be found in San Francisco and Vallejo. 

Across high schools all over the country, NJROTC programs are closing down due to lack of leadership or low enrollment numbers

Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee, a retired Navy Commander, wrote a letter to Superintendent Jordan and the Board, urging them to work to preserve the NJROTC program at MHS. He also noted that in 2021, Silver Creek High School in San Jose lost their second NJROTC instructor, which led to the eventual ending of the entire program. 

“Please preserve the Milpitas High School NJROTC funding and I will commit to do my utmost to provide whatever assistance necessary to ensure its continued success,” wrote Supervisor Lee.     

At the end of the board meeting’s discussion on cost reduction, Vice President Kelly Yip-Chuan asked that the proposed cutting of the NJROTC instructor be removed from the list. 

“I understand we need to do a budget reduction. However, I would like to pull NJROTC from that list. It’s not fair to Lieutenant Jackson, who has been there the last 7 years running this program by herself. It’s a pathway for our students,” said Chuan. 

Trustee Rob Jung proposed that they defer action on deciding about NJROTC for another year, to give both instructors an opportunity to raise their enrollment numbers and give the district a chance to explore other options for funding the program. 

The board was in agreement on deferring the action, and voted to approve other cost reduction measures, which included cutting other positions such as Health Clerks (who were added a few years ago due to Covid), and also reducing their EducatEverywhere staff, which is tasked with carrying out their online program. With all the proposed cuts, the district stated it would save $2.1 million per year.  

Trustee Chris Norwood, who attended Milpitas High School, served briefly in NJROTC during his freshman year. He has never forgotten his experience as a cadet and feels strongly about preserving the program. 

“Milpitas has a long history of military service,” shared Norwood with The Beat. “I believe the community, school district, board of trustees, Veterans Commission, and Navy need to strengthen relationships and responsibilities quickly. Otherwise, we will slowly lose this historic, life-affirming program forever in Milpitas.”

Paid for by Evelyn Chua for Milpitas City Council FPPC#1470209spot_img
Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro is the winner of a 2022 Golden Quill Award for her Education journalism. She works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works mostly with nonprofit organizations and educational entities to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also the author of “Fierce Woman: Wake up your Badass Self” and “Magic Within: Womb-Centered Wisdom to Realize the Power of Your Sacred Feminine Self.” Her YouTube channel features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief.


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