From the halls of Montezuma to the classrooms of Las Vegas.
The first Clark County School District high school entirely dedicated to a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps may be started by the U.S. Marines. Tonight, School Board members are scheduled to review a memorandum of understanding between the district and the Marine Corps.
If approved, the military-style academy would be the second of its kind in the United States, modeled after the first Marine JROTC high school in Chicago, said Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Edward Goldman.
Proponents of military-themed schools say they provide students with discipline and more academic opportunities. The proposed Marine school, for example, would emphasize a math and science curriculum and require four years of leadership training.
According to the district Web site, 16 high schools now have JROTC programs. Basic High School in Henderson and Desert Pines High School in eastern Las Vegas have Marine JROTC programs.
But military-themed schools and programs are not without controversy.
Anti-war activists in Chicago have criticized the "militarization" of its public schools since more than 11,000 students are enrolled in JROTC programs, according to media reports. Critics say the military academies are located in distressed neighborhoods and unfairly target underprivileged and minority students for military service.
Clark County’s proposed Marine Corps Institute for Math and Science would be located near Cashman Field, in the current Biltmore Continuation High School at 801 Veterans Memorial Drive.
The facility now serves students who have been expelled from other schools. Last year, Biltmore’s enrollment was about 40 percent Hispanic and 39 percent black.
Next year, Biltmore students would be transferred to Washington Continuation School in North Las Vegas to make way for the Marine Institute.
The Marine institute would start with 150 students in ninth grade. The school would add an additional grade each year.
Students would wear uniforms five days a week and have Marine instructors, but the school’s purpose is not to recruit students for military service, Goldman said.
"This is not forced boot camp," Goldman said.
The goal is to teach leadership and prepare students for college. Enrollment is voluntary, Goldman said.
A senior retired Marine officer would supervise the school. Each grade level would have at least one Marine instructor who is retired from the service. The school district would select the Marine instructors from a list of candidates provided by the Marine Corps.
The Department of Defense would reimburse the district for 50 percent of the Marine instructors’ salaries and benefits. Federal grants could also be obtained to refurbish the school, Goldman said.
Steffon Bledsoe, 17, a senior at Desert Pines, said he gained self-confidence and self-direction after four years in his school’s JROTC Marines program. His dream is to study anesthesiology at Penn State.
Bledsoe said he was "ecstatic" about the possibility of a new school dedicated entirely to Marines JROTC.
"This is something that really needs to be developed to help other students," he said.
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.