03/23/09 — Duplin considers new early college offering

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Duplin considers new early college offering

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 23, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The James Kenan School of Engineering could move to the James Sprunt Community College campus as an early college high school if the Duplin County Board of Education approves.

The school board met recently with a packed house in the cafeteria at Kenansville Elementary School to gauge the community's feelings about the proposal.

Assistant Superintendent Cary Powers said the school would be similar to the early college high school at Wayne Community College. The Wayne County Public School system has partnered with the college to create an early college high school on campus so the students can earn an associate degree while finishing high school.

James Kenan's engineering school has been started under the state's STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), designed to create schools that provide accelerated courses in those subjects.

If James Kenan becomes an early college high school, the school will keep its STEM school approach and branch out to include the technology, math and science courses as well.

The state has 70 early college high schools, and the program is well-established, Powers said.

Students have to apply to attend an early college high school. They choose whether to graduate on time or to stay a fifth year and work toward an associate degree.

The 50 students currently attending classes at the engineering school would be given the option of staying or returning to their old high school. The teachers there now will stay and more will be added as the school grows. Enrollment would be open to students throughout the county.

Initially, the school would have 200 students with a maximum of 50 at each of the four grade levels.

"Our (engineering) school is successful now, but this opens it up to give an opportunity to more students," Powers said. "The students could get the best of both worlds -- graduate on time and have the option of continuing another year for an associate degree."

The crowd appeared to like the idea, and the speakers hailed the new venture as a wonderful idea.

Student body president Tasha Hester said the engineering school is a family -- and when the school becomes an early college high school, she said, the students are going to do well.

"If you guys work with us, we will work with you," she said.

Parent Lisa Bland said she fully supports the early college high school.

"And I am excited the students outside the James Kenan school district will have an opportunity to attend a STEM school, too," she said.

Another parent, Chris Heath, said the early college high school is the greatest opportunity he has ever seen in his life. He said he and other parents fought hard last year to keep the school open.

School board member Willie Gillespie said in an interview that the new engineering school started running out of space last year, and the board had to do something -- modify the school or close it. He said the school had open enrollment for the entire county its first year, but last year, the board ended up having to limit enrollment to the James Kenan district to keep from running out of room.

"We were not really thinking about closing the school, but that option was on the table," he said. "This year, we had to limit it to the James Kenan district for the freshman class, but we kept the sophomore class so they could finish at the same school."

And if the school becomes an early college high school, space will not be a problem, and the school can have open enrollment again.

School Superintendent Wiley Doby said the next step is going to be a vote by the school board in April.

If the board approves the early high school, administrators will go out to the schools and tell prospective students about the early college high school.

Students can start applying in April for the next school year, which starts in August.

"We're looking forward to it," he said. "This is going to be a positive step giving the students across the county a taste of college while they are in high school. It's a great opportunity for the kids and for Duplin County. We feel enthusiastic about it."