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Cooperative and Innovative High School Planned for WHS: ‘Not a Done Deal Yet’

Editor’s Note: The following was published in the spring edition of the Learning Leader, which is Watauga County Schools’ newsletter that can be viewed in its entirety here.

It’s not a “done deal” yet by any means, but hopes are high and rising that Watauga High School will be named the site of a cooperative and innovative high school starting in the 2015-16 school year. Governor Pat McCrory’s proposed budget includes funds to start the new program at WHS and the local legislative delegation is also backing the plan.

The proposed program would create an additional partnership between the school system and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCCTI) that would “encourage students to complete high school with the skills needed for successful employment or transition to higher education,” as stated in the program application. It would operate as a school within a school at WHS under the name of Watauga Career Academy. WHS would be the first school in NC to use the school within a school model and would be able to offer courses for college credit on the high school campus. For some courses, students would be bused to CCCTI and then returned to the high school.

The Career Academy would have the following objectives:

  • Emphasize integrated development of technical and academic skills as components of the core curriculum
  • Expand cooperative use of facility, personnel, and resources between high school and CCCTI
  • Allow students to obtain college credit while in high school, thus reducing overall college costs
  • Provide individualized career planning for up to 100 academy students per grade (note: the state limits cooperative/innovative high schools to no more than 100 students per grade)
  • Assist students and parents in course selection and decision making

WHS students can currently take some CCCTI courses and earn certain industry credentials, but he cooperative/innovative high school will take this to a whole new level with a greatly expanded range of courses, stronger support services for students pursuing career and technical education, and the ability to serve students in 9th and 10th grades. Only juniors and seniors can currently receive college credit for courses completed in high school.

Cooperative innovative high schools will expand career and higher education opportunities available to students, increase the graduation rate, boost the supply of skilled employees for employers, and greatly reduce the cost of college credit for students and their families.

“My dream for this program,” said WHS Principal Marshall Gasperson, “is that one day at graduation we will be able to hand many of our students a high school diploma in one hand and an associate degree in the other as they leave this campus. That will be a great benefit for them, for their families, and for this whole community.”

If Watauga Career Academy is funded, interested students will need to complete an application and submit at least two teacher recommendations. This information will be reviewed by a selection committee composed of the grade-level counselor, grade-level- administrators, high school principal, and a CCCTI representative.

Prospective students must demonstrate and maintain good attendance and behavior, including adherence to school policies in these areas. Students must also have passed at least 75 percent of all courses during the previous school year and hold a weighted GPA of 3.0 or better. Exceptions may be made only with the approval of the principal or principal’s designee.

To remain eligible for participation in Watauga Career Academy, students will need to maintain steady progress toward high school graduation and keep at least a 2.0 GPA in college coursework.