05/20/12 — School of Engineering to add classes

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School of Engineering to add classes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 20, 2012 1:50 AM

The specialized STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- high school introduced in Wayne County Public Schools five years ago could be even more successful if students are recruited in younger grades, school officials say.

Gary Hales, principal at Wayne School of Engineering, has been given the go-ahead to do just that, pending an official vote by the Board of Education at its June meeting.

He presented a proposal this week to two committees of the board and to Wayne County Public Schools' superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor.

"We're excited about the opportunity to possibly expand," Hales said. "What we want to do is reach students at an earlier age."

The administrator said it is important to harness student potential early on and suggested that the addition of a middle school component would enhance the rigorous program already in place at the School of Engineering.

Board member Rick Pridgen agreed, likening it to musicians who begin playing an instrument when they are younger.

"I'm convinced we will have bigger and better, brighter students if we start sooner," he said.

The school was introduced to the district in 2007, as part of a New Schools Project initiative. Attracting younger students would build on what the school was designed to accomplish, Hales said.

"At the school right now, our focus is collaborative learning," he said. "We have looked at the level of, this is what we want our kids to be able to start thinking of, problem-solving at an earlier age. When we get them as ninth-graders, it takes them a good two years to train them."

Hales proposed being able to recruit students at the fifth- and eighth-grade levels, then capping enrollment at 400.

"That's what New Schools (Project) recommends but we want to add more grade levels," he explained. That would mean imposing a capacity of 57 students per grade level -- or 172 for the middle grades and 228 for high school.

Currently, enrollment at the school is 327.

"How would you determine the kids (chosen)?" board member Len Henderson said.

"Lottery pick, just like we do now," Hales replied.

The number of incoming ninth-graders, which had been 100, would be reduced to 57. Younger grade levels will be added one at a time, starting with sixth grade, building "from the bottom up," Hales said.

"The following year they'll move up to seventh (grade) and we'll recruit a new sixth grade," he explained. "Once we fill sixth, seventh and eighth, we would stop recruiting at eighth grade for high school."

Some additional staff and space at Goldsboro High School will also be required in the future, Hales added. STEM grant money will be sought to aid in the transition.

Transportation will be provided, as students ride buses already serving WSE and Wayne Early/Middle College High School, which both operate on the Wayne Community College calendar.

The possibility of expanded recruitment efforts will only serve to strengthen the STEM program, Hales said.

"We're looking toward more of an aerospace focus," he said. "I want the kids talking, I want them up and moving."

Since its inception, the school has enjoyed a good reputation, in large part, Pridgen said, because "students sell it."

Hales believes that will hold true at the middle school level.

"I think recruiting will take care of itself for the most part," he said. "It's gone up every year. We had 200 (applications) this year."

The move will also help the district, the superintendent said.

"We're trying to offer a variety of programs in Wayne County," Taylor said. "We feel like the time is right to do this. I want other people coming here to see what we're doing. We will be one of three (STEM schools) in the state that has middle and high school.

"I like doing something different. I think it's a great opportunity and we have got the right man in place to do this."