March 7, 2012. BOONE — Dr. June Atkinson, superintendent of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and Dr. R. Scott Ralls, president of the state’s Community College System, came to Watauga High School Tuesday to tour the school and to discuss prospects for increased collaboration between the high school and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI). The two state leaders met with a group that included Superintendent Dr. Richard Jones and several other top officials of the Watauga County Schools; Watauga Board of Education Chair Deborah Miller and Vice-Chair Dr. Lee Warren; Mark Poach, executive vice-president at CCC&TI; and Margaret Hampson, vice president of college transfer and technical programs at CCC&TI.
Dr. Jones said the discussions were very useful and helped to lay the groundwork for a request to begin a state-approved Innovative High School project at Watauga High School next year. If approved, the request would allow more of the high school’s students to take college courses at the high school and would also make the classes available to high school freshmen and sophomores, who currently cannot take CCC&TI courses on campus. Students that successfully complete community college courses would receive both high school and college credit for their work without paying tuition for the classes.
“This would be an important first step toward the possibility of offering a middle college or early college program at Watauga High School,” said Dr. Jones. “Those programs require a larger scale effort that can be addressed in the future at the discretion of the next superintendent, the Board of Education, and CCC&TI, but we want to start increasing college credit options for our students next fall.”
The focus of the additional course offerings will be to help students develop expertise in highly skilled technical fields, such as automotive technology and welding that offer the prospects of immediate employment at good wages after graduation from high school and the opportunity for continued education and career development thereafter. If a middle college program is established at the high school, the course offerings would be greatly expanded and students could work toward achieving their high school diploma and a two year college degree at the same time.
A cornerstone of the expanded opportunities for students at Watauga High School will be increased collaboration between the school system and the community college system, backed by the support of the Department of Public Instruction. In closing remarks, Marshall Gasperson, director of human resources and auxiliary services for the Watauga County Schools, thanked Dr. Atkinson and Dr. Ralls for coming to the high school and then praised the quality of the high school’s career and technical education program and the relationship between the school system and CCC&TI. “I don’t believe there is a better career and technical education program at any comprehensive high school in the state, and I don’t think there is a stronger relationship between a school system and a community college than the one that we have with CCC&TI,” he stated. “We look forward to continuing to work with them to further expand opportunities for the students and communities we serve.”
The Watauga County Schools system serves approximately 4,600 students in nine schools. CCC&TI has campuses in Caldwell County and Watauga County and serves a total of approximately 16,000 students.