The “concept” high school on Moore County Schools’ [MCS] Master Facilities Plan has caught the im-agination of the local business community.
“If we can pull this off, we open up a new day for our kids, in terms of their competence and competitiveness — and our ability to attract companies because we have the talent here,” Partners in Progress CEO Pat Corso told the Moore County Board of Commissioner in a recent meeting.
But the concept high school is also the least well-defined project on the Board of Education’s ten-year facilities wish list.
Increasing capacity at a high school, or building a new elementary school, are ideas easy to grasp. But what’s a “concept high school?”
During the school board’s, Monday, October 6 work session, MCS administrators began to flesh out the “concept.”
Associate Superintendents Dr. Kathy Kennedy and Dr. Eric Porter, along with Career and Technical Educational Specialist Amy Garner, presented the rough draft of a proposal for the school that would divide it into four separate, career-focused academies: life and health sciences; agriculture; design and production; and hospitality and culinary arts.
Introducing the presentation, Superintendent Robert Grimesey told the Board that it was “a fluid design that is still a work in progress.”
The design aims to give students the training they need to graduate from high school with marketable skills — or credits that can be transferred to a community college or four-year university. A close partnership with Sandhills Community College — and community colleges in surrounding counties — is an integral part of the plan.
Providing high school graduates with marketable skills was a key objective that surfaced in conversations with local business leaders, as well as conversations with parents led by former superintendent, Dr. Aaron Spence, Kennedy said.
Though no location has been chosen for the new school, the idea of placing it on the SCC campus has been much talked about in public discussions of the idea.
Each of the four academies involve multiple pathways, many leading to specific certifications that would qualify the graduate to enter the work force immediately.
The pathways associated with the Life & Health Sciences Academy include Emergency Medical Technician, Public Safety, and Life and Health Sciences.
Career-ready certifications associated with those fields include a Certified Nursing Assistant or Emergency Medical Technician. Other associated careers that may require additional training after high school are pharmacist, physical therapist, nurse, or police officer. In each case, during the presentation, Garner provided examples of the national average salaries for those positions.
Because the concept high school will function as a magnet high school, rather than one with its own district, it will be necessary to recruit students to attend. Talking about possible careers and average salaries will likely be a key part of the recruiting message.
Within the Academy of Agriculture, pathways include Animal Science, where students could earn a veterinary technician certification, and Horticulture, which might include golf course management and turf grass management.
The Academy of Hospitality and Culinary Arts includes the career pathways of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts, with associated certifications.
The broadest of all the proposed academies is the Academy of Design and Production, which could include a half dozen pathways, including Commercial Arts, Engineering and Mathematics, Architectural Technology, Digital Media Technology, Civil Engineering Technology, and Aeronautics Engineering Technology.
Again, students in some of these pathways could receive certifications qualifying them to enter the workforce upon graduation, while others would receive college credit, giving them a head start and an opportunity to save on college tuition.
Kennedy said that students who take six SCC courses while in high school can save $1,287 per year on college tuition. A high school student who amasses enough college credits to enter college as a second semester sophomore could save $28,141.
“That could make college accessible for many of our Moore County students,” Kennedy said. “I think that could be a selling point for many of our parents who really want their children to go to a four-year college, but they have no means to provide that for them.”
Tying the new high school closely to SCC — and locating it on or adjacent to the SCC campus — could present an accessibility challenge for students attending North Moore High School, Kennedy noted. A possible solution is to partner with community colleges in other counties — Montgomery, Randolph, or Lee — that may be nearer students who live in the northern part of Moore County.
Porter noted that some nearby North Carolina counties have established concept high schools and then fallen short of attracting students. Wake County’s new technical high school attracted only 131 students to fill its 705 seats.
“We have to make sure that parents are excited about the new school,” he said.
Porter described a recent field trip that some MCS staffers made to Winston-Salem to visit that district’s Career Center High School, which has been in operation for thirty-six years. Unlike the new Wake County school, the Career Center draws students from their “home” school for only part of the day. Porter recalled seeing students in football jerseys and cheerleading outfits of rival schools sitting next to each other at the Career Center.
In addition to technical education, the Winston-Salem school offers a wide range of specialty Advanced Placement classes, including Chinese, Calculus, and Music Theory. Porter noted that MCS may need to consider adding AP classes in order to attract students to its concept high school.
Board Member Bruce Cunningham cautioned against overemphasizing “early college” rather than technical training and career preparedness, suggesting that Wake County might have made that error.
“There is a lot of support in the business community in Moore County that we could provide skills on graduation that would allow students to immediately go into the work force,” he added.
If you build it, will they come?
The outline presented by Kennedy, Porter, and Garner was a first draft. Kennedy noted that the next step is to gather information from a wide range of sources: parents and students, as well as high school and middle school principals and counselors.
Porter said “a key piece is branding and marketing. We need to make sure we do a good job so that people are excited and really want to go to this school.” Kennedy said even the architectural design of the school comes into play in that regard and recommended “a burst of color” and “lots of natural light.”
And if the end result is the disappointing enrollment experienced by Wake County?
“We have about 1300 students we need to find places for by 2023,” Superintendent Grimesey said. “This particular program involves a degree of risk . . . For every child that doesn’t participate in this program between [an enrollment of ] 600 and 800, that’s a child that stays back in the home school. And our Master Facilities Plan does not accommodate them, if they choose to stay.”
“Ultimately, there is going to be the need to take an attractive program out of one of our home schools and put it here,” he added.
“With those 1300 students, that is about enough to build a fourth comprehensive high school. But we have chosen to go this route, and, in so doing, we have accepted some degree of risk to make sure that this works properly.”
“This is the most exciting project I have been involved in during my ten years of dealing with school facilities issues in Moore County,” Cunningham said. “Previously we’ve been talking about number of seats and number of students . . . . Now we are talking about filling voids in the economy . . . we’re talking about how do you attract students and keep them involved in education. I think it’s very exciting.”