Unexpected windfall

Published 4:47 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

WINDSOR – Bertie County Schools got a big surprise during a visit on Feb. 7 from State Senator Bobby Hanig and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt.

The duo presented school officials with a $15 million check from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund (NBPSCF) to be used to add a Career and Technical Education (CTE) wing to Bertie High School.

The NBPSCF program was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017 to help address critical school facility needs. It is funded through state lottery revenues, and since 2021 there is no required match from the local government when districts receive these grant awards.

Superintendent Truitt said the NC Department of Public Instruction has received over one billion dollars’ worth of requests from districts across the state, but they only have around $250 million allotted to dole out.

“I have no doubt that this was where one of those grants needed to go,” she said. “I couldn’t be more excited to give Bertie County Schools $15 million of that money because Career and Technical Education is all about making sure that our students have a pathway when they graduate from high school.”

“We’re so proud of all the work that’s being done in Bertie County Schools. We knew that there was such a need here,” Truitt continued. “We’re excited that [Bertie Schools Superintendent] Dr. [Otis] Smallwood was at the forefront of this application and really excited about prioritizing Career and Technical Education. I think he’s doing a great job leading Bertie County Schools.”

Dr. Smallwood said he was excited that their application was approved, and that the grant money means these upgrades won’t come as a cost to the local taxpayers.

Currently, students in the CTE program at Bertie High School must travel across the highway to classrooms at the old high school campus which have been retrofitted for the CTE courses. Smallwood said this grant will give them the opportunity to keep all the students under one roof and to build the new classrooms to industry standard regulations.

“It’ll be top-notch and up-to-date,” he emphasized.

The new CTE wing will house classrooms for auto mechanics, carpentry, cosmetology, and agriculture.

He also noted that they plan to demolish the old buildings once they’re no longer being used.

Dr. Smallwood said that when he was first hired in 2019, the Bertie Board of Education tasked him with building up the CTE program, and this is one of the ways he’s following through on those instructions.

“We’re just ecstatic that we were able to secure this grant. We know what it means for our children and the future of Bertie County Schools,” Smallwood said.

Senator Hanig, who represents 10 counties in the northeastern part of the state, said there’s a strong need to support CTE programs in school districts.

“Too many of our kids are leaving [the area]. We’ve got to find ways to stop that from happening, and get them ready to have a job when they get out of high school without college debt,” he stated.

A good CTE program, Hanig said, helps provide more opportunities for local students, especially those that aren’t interested in pursuing a four-year college degree.

“What’s most important to me is helping people that need the most help,” Hanig concluded.

Bertie County Commissioner Ron Wesson also emphasized the importance of encouraging more young people to stay in the area instead of moving elsewhere for education. This program helps them get the skills they need early on. He said the grant money for the new CTE wing will have a positive impact on student education.

“It’s going to provide more and more jobs and more and more opportunities,” Wesson explained. “Our kids deserve it too.”

Bertie School Board Chair Rickey Freeman he was thankful for the grant.

“With this building and the technology we’ll be able to put in it, I see great things for our students in the future. It’s just going to open so many opportunities for our students,” Freeman explained.

Freeman noted that many jobs taught through the CTE program are already in high demand locally, which can help graduates get hired quickly. Students who learn these skills even have the chance to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses in the future.

“It’s not only going to help our students, but it’s going to help our citizens too. Because they’re going to have these workers that can come to do these things for us,” he said.

Since its inception, the NBPSCF program has provided funding to many districts throughout North Carolina, including the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Gates County Schools received $2.5 million in 2017 to make upgrades to Central Middle School. In 2022, they also received $1.7 million for Gatesville Elementary renovations and $9.8 million to renovate and add on to Gates County High School.

In 2019, Hertford County Schools received $15 million to construct the new Ahoskie Elementary School. That school opened in 2021.

Northampton County Schools received $50 million in 2022 for construction of a new centrally-located high school. Construction has not yet started on that project.