07/20/06 — County will open 7th high school

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County will open 7th high school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 20, 2006 1:53 PM

They don't even have to build it, and the new students will come.

Wayne County Public Schools will add a seventh high school this fall on the campus of Wayne Community College.

Earlier this school year, Board of Education and school officials approved plans to open Wayne Early/Middle College High School, part of a movement to offer new educational approaches for teens.

"The governor is pushing to see one of these types of schools in every county by 2008," said Lee Johnson, principal of the new high school. "We're not the guinea pig. In North Carolina, there are several counties across the state that have had success with these types of schools."

Estimating that more than two dozen prototypes are already in place or being introduced, Ms. Johnson cited Cumberland and Wake counties as well as Rocky Mount as examples, noting that Guilford County has 10 such schools.

"It's really growing," she said.

The early/middle high school idea is unique, she added, and should not be confused with alternative schools.

"I think that the misconception that this is an alternative school is because it's so new and different," she said. "As we go on and open and students experience success, people will understand it better."

Ms. Johnson said Wayne Early/Middle College High School is not "a program." Juniors and seniors will attend high school and college classes, finishing up high school requirements while beginning to develop a college transcript. Seventy students have been accepted the first year.

Since it will be affiliated the college, the school system had to obtain a calendar waiver from the state Department of Public Instruction for a modified schedule. Classes start two weeks earlier than the public schools and allow for the Christmas break to coincide with the end of the college's semester.

Academically, the situation allows students to take four classes, which could break down to two high school classes and two college courses, depending on the students' needs. Some could immediately start working on a technical degree, while others would be in the college transfer program, Ms. Johnson said.

The early/middle college high school is structured like any other high school, she said. Since the school is recognized by the state, students will have a traditional graduation ceremony at the end of the year and receive the same high school diploma as their peers in other schools.

Where the schools differs from its other public high school counterparts is that it caters to a smaller population or only offers some of the traditional secondary school experience.

"We won't have things like athletics, but we may have a yearbook," Ms. Johnson explained. "We'll have National Honor Society and student activities. We'll have a prom and graduation, but a lot of traditional things like football and a pep rally, we won't have."

But when students graduate, they will leave with more than a high school diploma.

"We will have a smaller class size, relationships and college credit," Ms. Johnson said. "Some kids just need a new start."

It is that aspect that most appealed to Ms. Johnson when she began attending workshops toward developing the local program.

"They're really big on student relationships; that's a big piece of it," she said.

While geared to meeting all the high school requirements for end-of-course tests, the school is also banked in the high school reform efforts. Instead of the original "reading, writing and arithmetic," high school reform has introduced its own "3Rs," she said.

They are rigor, relevance and relationships. Rigor translates to raising the bar, offering more honors level courses; relevance means making learning more applicable for students and the world they live in.

The final component, relationships, is key, Ms. Johnson said.

"The old saying, they don't care what you know until they know you care, is what we're going to do. Every teacher and staff member is going to know every student by their first name."

One feature will be "The House," small groups of 8-10 students, teachers and staff meeting three times a week to talk about what is going on in their lives. The smaller version of high school lends itself to having more time to get to know the students, Ms. Johnson said.

"There are students out there that haven't found their place in a traditional high school. This may give them an opportunity to blossom," she said. "We have students that are either disengaged or disenfranchised from the traditional high school, or are unsuccessful or dissatisfied in high school," she said. "These students are smart but for various reasons have not excelled and yet they have the academic ability.

"Cliques and clubs and drama - we're just not going to allow that."

Eighty-seven applied for the 70 openings in the charter class, Ms. Johnson said. By next year, there are plans to expand the school, bringing in ninth-graders who will complete their entire high school years there and graduate as college juniors.

Ms. Johnson said she believes a good group of students has been chosen for the first class -- with a balance of race and gender, representing all six other high schools, as well as from Christian, private and home-school situations, plus a student moving into the district.

The difference in the early/middle school concept and the existing Jump Start program, she said, is that Jump Start students remain at their high school, attend select college classes and receive dual credit for them. While the new high school students will also receive dual credit for the college courses taken, they remain at one location for everything.

"They don't have to pay tuition, buy textbooks. It's a wonderful opportunity for students," she said.

The collaboration with the college has also made it a win-win for the school system, she added.

"It gives us an opportunity to have another innovative high school. We would have to build another brick and mortar building," she said. "They're giving us the building and the facilities and we're bringing the students, the textbooks, the teachers."

First day of classes for students will be Aug. 10. An orientation/open house is planned for the evening of Aug. 7, when parents and students can receive a tour and meet the teachers.