West Brunswick High’s JROTC instructor named North Carolina School Hero

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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The success of the JROTC program at West Brunswick High School in Shallotte rests on the shoulders of its leader, retired 82nd Airborne Ranger Jeff Clendenin.

“It’s kind of a change to go from warrior to teacher,” said Col. Joseph Calisto, a colleague at the school. “He’s got quite the legacy. He’s genuine and he has the ability to innovate and create a learning environment that is second to none.”

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Clendenin, who retired as a first sergeant after 23 years in the U.S. Army, helps his students find scholarship opportunities, mentors them, provides guidance on enlisting, and stays current on certifications like “high ropes course instructor” just to keep things interesting for the kids.

His daughter, Jennifer Hatley, says that he defines the word “hero” because “he’s always willing to give you the shirt off his back and he continually pushes and strives for excellence in every avenue of his life.”

“Our program would pale in comparison without him,” added Calisto. “He has made the difference between success and mediocrity. He truly is a role model for all of us.”

Clendenin’s dedication to excellence for his JROTC students led to his selection as one of the 10 winners of the North Carolina Education Lottery’s School Heroes program. He said he doesn’t just want to watch his students graduate, he wants to see them reach their full potential.

The Education Lottery created the NC School Heroes program to showcase the positive impacts teachers, principals, and other school workers have in public schools every day. Parents, teachers, and community members submitted more than 4,900 nominations of individuals making a difference in their schools.

Both the School Hero and their school receive a $10,000 award.

Clendenin said he plans to take a trip to Hawaii to visit a former student. Jonathan Pascal, principal at the school, said that the school plans on using the money to enhance the JROTC program.

“Teachers and school staff have all stepped up for our children during these unprecedented times,” Mark Michalko, executive director of the N.C. Education Lottery, said. “The 10 School Heroes selected this year provide a glimpse into the world of these everyday heroes and we are glad to shine a spotlight on their great work.”

Money raised by the lottery assists many of those School Heroes, including $386 million this school year that supports the work of school support staff such as office assistants and custodians. Additional money will help build and repair schools, support the N.C. Pre-K program for “at-risk” four-year-olds, provide college scholarships and grants based on financial need, and help meet school transportation needs.