State support remains at Bertie School

Published 9:01 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

WINDSOR – The Bertie Early College High School/School of Agri-Science and a proposed regional Agri-Science and Biotechnology school in Washington County are not mutually exclusive.

Tony Habit of the New Schools Project said in a telephone interview Monday that his organization has a five-year agreement to support the Early College High School in Bertie County. He added that support is not affected by a regional school of a similar design near Plymouth.

“We’re partners with Bertie County in two schools,” Habit said. “We’ve partnered with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) School and the Early College High School.”

Habit said the commitment to the Early College High School would not be affected, but that the New Schools Project was working with the North Carolina Board of Education to place a regional school for agri-science and biotechnology at the Vernon James Center.

“The question comes up about the Bertie Early College,” he said. “The question the community is asking is do we want to grow a separate school in Bertie County or do we want to be part of the regional effort based on the campus of the Vernon James Center.

“Those are decisions to be made in Bertie County,” he said. “Those are decisions to be made by the superintendent and board of education. Whatever they decide, the New Schools Project will be supportive, because that’s not our decision.”

Habit did say the New Schools Project believed the Bertie County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger had much to consider as they weighed their options.

First, he said, is that most of the Early College High Schools in North Carolina were located on the campuses of colleges or universities. He said there were not many colleges or universities in eastern North Carolina, but that the Vernon James Agriculture Research Center provided much of the same opportunity.

“We see the Vernon James Agriculture Research Center, which is connected to North Carolina State University, as a future home of an early college focusing on biotechnology and agriculture,” Habit said. “There are research scientists employed at that location. While it is not a college or university campus, it has some of the same expertise you would find on one.”

Habit also said there was the need for high-quality laboratories necessary to make students successful in an agri-science and biotechnology school.

“The (Bertie) board will have to make those types of decisions,” Habit said. “They will have to consider the relationship with a college or research center and the high quality labs that will be necessary.

“If the goal is how to provide what is best for your students, access to labs at the Vernon James Center might be an important consideration,” he added. “Still, that is a decision for the school board and superintendent.”

Habit did say the New Schools Project will move forward working with the NC School Board to develop a school at the Vernon James Center because it was important to provide an institution that will reach a regional base of students.

As for the current location of the school being outgrown in Bertie County, Habit said that was not an issue for the New Schools Project.

“That is an issue for the (Bertie) school board to decide,” he said. “Longer term, I think the bigger question is if the district can afford high quality labs for students that will allow them to do the research needed in a school of this design.”

Habit said the concern of the New Schools Project was simply to see as many high-quality options for students as possible.

“We want to support the work in Bertie County and we’re continuing to work towards the effort in Washington County at the Vernon James Center,” he said. “One doesn’t mean the other can’t happen.”

Either way, Habit said the citizens of Bertie County should be pleased with the leadership provided by the school board and Dr. Zullinger.

“The community should be proud of what the school board and superintendent have done,” he said. “We see bold leadership with the STEM and Early College.”

The Bertie County Commissioners have officially opposed the Ag School leaving the county and Dr. Zullinger said he believed the majority of the school board would also be in opposition to joining the regional school in Washington County.