SALEM — The Junior ROTC program at Salem High School got off to a rocky start this school year, but reinforcements appear on the way.
The popular program, which has been threatened with elimination in the past due to lack of qualified instructors, headed into the school year with 143 students, but only one Marine instructor.
Two are required, according to the contract with the Marine Corps. However, one teacher was let go last spring, and the second and remaining military instructor resigned during the first full week of school.
"He said it was for personal reasons," Superintendent Stephen Russell said.
Faced with a successful ROTC program without a Marine teacher, school officials scrambled to find a replacement. The vacancy has been filled temporarily by a substitute teacher.
"He is a (state) certified teacher, but he's not an ROTC instructor," Salem High Principal Dave Angeramo said.
The new teacher is focusing on the leadership, self-esteem and team-building parts of the program, and not military instruction.
ROTC is an elective course. On the military side, students wear uniforms, drill and get other training.
The school also may get help from a Salem High teacher who is in the Army Reserve.
"We hope to use some of his experience, as well, to sustain the program," the superintendent said.
The School Department has advertised for replacements and has been in contact with a regional Marines official.
Late last week, they got some good news.
"It looks like our luck has taken a turn for the better," Russell said Friday.
The Marine official emailed Russell to say that he has two Marine instructors who will be available in January for the start of the next semester.
Angeramo credited students with providing leadership during this transition period.
"Some student officers in the program have really stepped up and helped out the teacher," he said. "The students have been phenomenal working with a difficult situation."
As of now, despite some opposition on the seven-member School Committee, the superintendent expects this program will keep going with military instructors. School board members Brendan Walsh and Janet Crane support the program, but would like to see the military aspect de-emphasized.
"At this point, the general sense I get from the committee is they would like to see it continuing," Russell said. "It's done a lot of good for students."
In 2009, the Marine Corps put the Junior ROTC program on probation for failing to have the required two military instructors. The school and federal government share expenses.