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Originally published: 2013-05-16 09:20:47
Last modified: 2013-05-16 09:21:21

Schools hire JROTC instructors, approve calendar

 Watauga County Schools has offered positions to two former Marines to lead the new JROTC program scheduled to begin this fall at Watauga High School.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to approve the hiring of Lt. Col. Gerald Harper Jr. as the senior marine instructor and Master Sgt. David Hernandez as marine instructor, Human Resources Director Stephen Martin said.

The JROTC program offers courses and extracurricular activities designed to emphasize leadership, character development, physical fitness and other skills to those who may be interested in joining the armed forces.

In addition to serving more than 20 years each in the U.S. Marine Corps, both leaders have previously worked with youth.

"Both come with prior teaching experience. I think that's rather unique," Martin said. "That was something that set these gentlemen apart from other applicants."

Harper currently works as an information management officer for Sciences Applications International Corporation, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Virginia that offers products and services related to national security, health, engineering and cybersecurity.

He also taught from 2006 to 2010 at Hargrave Military Academy, a military boarding school in Virginia, Martin said.

Since August 2011, Hernandez has served as an instructor of the Marine Corps JROTC in Pasadena High School in Texas, Martin said.

Martin said the school system received 10 applications for the positions from across the nation. From that group, they interviewed five.

"We did an extensive reference check, and former employees and colleagues had outstanding things to say about both these gentlemen," Martin said.

Hernandez is tentatively scheduled to begin work in June, with Harper to join him in July, Martin said.

While salaries have not yet been finalized, the school system expects to pay approximately $100,000 for both positions combined, including housing and subsistence allowances.

Martin said the school system expects to reduce its share of the salary payment in about three years once the program is firmly established.

The Marine Corps will provide supplies and materials, uniforms and other equipment.

The program, which has been discussed for many years, was approved in a 3-1 vote in April after newer school board members raised concerns about the unknown costs.

Aside from the JROTC positions, Watauga County Schools is currently seeking applicants for 21 teaching positions, Martin said. The jobs were posted May 8, and Martin said he expects to fill most of them before the school year ends.

The jobs include three music positions, two elementary positions, three middle school positions, eight high school positions and others, he said.

"That's our first wave," Martin said. "We're doing this in bits. ... We wanted to get out in front so that we would have the best candidate pool."

The schools also have 31 positions "on hold" to see what the state budget provides for education.


School calendar

The board also finalized its 2013-14 school calendar, which has an Aug. 19 start date -- the earliest permitted under current state law. Under the approved calendar, the first semester and exams will not be completed until after the winter break.

Watauga County Schools has occasionally pushed the semester's end until after the break due to weather closures, but not by choice.

"The calendar committee has always recommended at least trying to end the semester by the holiday break," said testing coordinator Wayne Eberle. "There's no way to make that happen with a mandatory start date of Aug. 19."

Several bills were introduced in the General Assembly to change the school calendar law or offer waivers, but none have moved out of committee, he said. Eberle said he felt it was necessary to approve a calendar to allow families to make summer plans for next year.

Board member Ron Henries said the calendar change would prevent some seniors who graduate early from starting college in the spring semester.

Eberle said he was hopeful that students entering the local community college early will still be able to do so.

"We still have a good relationship with Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, and I think that -- barring a major weather event first semester -- they may still allow those students to start," he said.

Board members unanimously approved the schedule, with Chairman Lee Warren noting his reluctance.


Other business

At Monday's meeting, the board also:

-- Received information about the EVAAS system, a computer assessment program that ties in to teacher performance evaluations by determining which percentage of instruction each teacher was responsible for in each student.

-- Approved field trip requests, a budget amendment, a bid renewal for school lunch items and a surplus declaration for 49 copiers.

-- Recognized numerous students and school employees for excellence in competitions and work.

-- Gave approval for schools to distribute information about an educational trip to Costa Rica to occur in June 2014. The trip will not be school-sponsored but will be offered to middle school students, who will fundraise and pay their own way.

-- Received a presentation on a recent exchange program with Pakistan that sent 11 local teachers overseas in February.

-- Received an update on school facility repairs.

-- Approved changes to the afterschool program. The program will operate 30 minutes longer next school year -- until 6 p.m. -- and will increase fees from $137 per month to $166.50 per month.