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Early College High School program revisited

AHOSKIE – The resurrection of Early College High School is in the hands of local boards.

After a meeting Wednesday morning, an agreement was reached to have the Hertford County Commissioners, Hertford County Board of Education and Roanoke-Chowan Community College Trustees take up the matter before proceeding.

Wednesday morning Carolyn White from the North Carolina New Schools Project made a presentation to the three groups and their representatives concerning Early College High School.

That program is one of two initiatives by Governor Mike Easley to change high schools in North Carolina and provide innovative schools for students in the state. In fact, Easley had indicated he wants 100 Early College High Schools in North Carolina before he leaves office in 2008.

An Early College High School is located on a college campus, but is an antonymous high school. It has a diverse student body of no more than 400 students who will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate college degree.

“We are asking for changes in the way we think about students and the way we think about curriculum,” White said.

There is a six-year grant available for the program from the Gates Foundation that will provide a $40,000 planning grant in year one and an implementation grant of $300,000 per year for the next five years.

Included in that grant is money for a college liaison, a work-based experience person and a counselor because a school of that size would not receive state funding for those positions.

Some of the major differences for the Early College High School include shifting from a mind-set of:

* all students can learn to all students being college ready;

* teaching subjects to teaching students;

* readiness is the student’s job to readiness is the teacher’s job;

* students benefit from choices to students benefit from focus;

* management and order to learning;

* data being used to evaluate students to date being used to improve instruction;

* teachers delivering knowledge to teachers facilitating; and

* building relationships incidentally to building relationships intentionally.

Community College Trustee Chairman Wendy Ruffin-Barnes asked White how the group would go about funding the high school without harming an “already under-funded” school district.

White said the ADM (Average Daily Membership) funds from the students attending the school would provide the teachers.

Ruffin-Barnes said the district was already short on teachers and she was afraid it would place a greater financial burden on the system.

White said how the funding was derived exactly would be up to the group before her.

Board of Education member David L. Shields asked if the school would still be the responsibility of Hertford County Public Schools as far as Annual Yearly Progress and was told it would.

Shields then stressed that the reason Early College High School failed in the previous attempt to begin the school was the problem of who was responsible for it.

“The real issue was the school being on the community college campus, but being part of Hertford County Schools,” he said. “We couldn’t get past that before. We need to discuss that.

“Let’s try to get beyond the points we stumbled over last time,” he said. “All of the funding can’t come from Roanoke-Chowan Community College and all of it can’t come from Hertford County Schools.”

Dr. Michael G. Basham, superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools, asked if it were true that the district would get ADM dollars and the community college receiving FTE (Full Time Earnings) credit for the students. White said they would.

Hertford County School Board member J. Wendell Hall said he understood the concerns that were raised, but believed all of them could be addressed.

“All of that is real, but we have to change our thinking of how we do it,” he said of the funding issues. “We have to be smart enough to think about how our money is being spent.

“The bottom line is what’s best for children,” he said.

Fellow board of education member Dennis M. Deloatch said he knew the group that was gathered to discuss Early College High School knew it was important.

“Kids are learning differently than when we were in school,” he said. “The traditional high school is not working for some of our children. This is a good opportunity for us.

“The question in my mind is not if we intend to make it work, but how to make it work for our children,” he added.

He said he knew it was the second time around for Hertford County and there were many issues to address.

“There are many reasons, if we think about it, not to do this,” he said. “The greatest reason to do it is what we need to think about. Mr. Hall made a profound statement a few minutes ago. We are smart enough to make it happen.”

County Manager Loria D. Williams said she wanted to address the previous attempt to start the project from the point of view of the Hertford County Commissioners.

“As it was presented to the governing body, there was no lead agency, no governance and no specific information on funding after the five-year cycle,” she said. “The commissioners were not sure what they were signing on to.”

She said if the group could come up with answers to those questions, she was sure the county commissioners would be in favor of the initiative.

“What are we all going to do after five years to make it successful,” she said. “Whatever we do, is going to be done on the backs of the citizens.”

Hall said he didn’t think the five-year cycle would matter because he didn’t believe high schools would be the same in five years.

“I don’t know what high schools will look like in five years,” he said. “Will we have a traditional high school sitting in Ahoskie? I don’t know.”

He said the group should prepare for the future, but the future was changing at every interval.

White said that even if the program only last five years, it would be something that would benefit the entire county and that should be considered.

Dr. Ralph Soney, president of RCCC, asked how the group wanted to proceed. It was decided by unanimous consent to have all three boards discuss the matter before applying for the planning grant.

This is the second time the Hertford County Schools and RCCC have discussed the Early College High School program. After discussions between the two entities, the program was cancelled at the last minute when Dr. Soney’s office made several changes to the grant proposal and the Hertford County Board of Education withdrew their support.

Soney subsequently sent a letter to Shields, who then served as School Board Chairman, saying a deadline extension had been received. The school board said they did not want to reconsider the proposal unless it was in its original form and the proposal died in January of 2006.

It gained new life at a recent meeting between Dr. Soney, Dr. Basham and state officials. That was the catalyst for Wednesday’s joint gathering.