From the Desk of ACS Supt. David Burleson: Blue Ridge Academy Winning Awards

Published Monday, November 9, 2015 at 9:23 am

Dr. David Burleson, Superintendent Avery County Schools (left); Mr. Matthew Bentley, Principal of Blue Ridge Academy; Mrs. Erin Beretsky, Day Mark Recovery Services; Dr. Gary Childers, High County United Way; Mrs. Karen Tashner, Counselor at Blue Ridge Academy; Mr. Allen Cook, Mayland Community College; Mr. Adrian Tait, High Country Council of Governments

Dear Editor,

The Avery County Schools (ACS) Blue Ridge Academy (BRA) was established in 2012 after a meeting with the High Country Council of Governments (HCCG). The primary focus was and still is to recover recent high school dropouts under the age of 21, to teach lifelong skills and to increase the graduation rate. This partnership aggressively began to take steps to re-enroll students who had dropped out of school or were at risk of dropping out, offering a differentiated diploma with a 22 credit requirement instead of the usual 28. Stakeholders and collaborators joined resources to meet the needs of the students.

At the time of the inception of the Blue Ridge Academy in 2012, the following were the guiding principles that formed the bond for the partnership:

  • In Avery County over 91 dropouts were eligible to return to school.
  • The difference in a lifetime of earnings between a high school dropout and high school graduate is $423,000; college graduate is $1,908,000.
  • Over the next decade dropouts will cost the United States $3 trillion.
  • One year’s class of dropouts costs NC $1.3 billion in corrections and welfare.
  • Three years after leaving school, 70 percent of antisocial youth have been arrested.
  • 82 percent of crimes are committed by people who have dropped out of school.

In three years the staff of Blue Ridge Academy has increased from one certified teacher and an assistant to 4 full-time staff, plus four subject area staff sharing instructional time between Avery High School and BRA. The Blue Ridge Academy staff continues to provide dedicated service to each student in a personalized fashion. A big thank you must go to our current and former staff for making the program the success it has become. The current and former staff includes:

  • Mr. Matthew Bentley, Principal
  • Mrs. Karen Tashner, Counselor and Social Work
  • Mrs. Susan Stelling, Social Studies Teacher
  • Dr. Ken Samuelson, Exceptional Children’s Teacher
  • Mr. Cody Laws, English Teacher
  • Mr. James Condry, Math Teacher
  • Mr. Sherman Andrews, Math Teacher
  • Mr. Hank Williams, Math Teacher
  • Mr. Dewayne Krege, CTE Teacher
  • Mr. John Porter, CTE Teacher
  • Mr. Ricky Ward, First Principal of the Program

These staff members have created a unique culture that provides a more flexible schedule for students, including scheduling some classes with later start times and evening classes for students who would benefit from them. With the help of Allen Cook, the High County Workforce Development, the High County United Way, and several local agencies, work-based internships have been developed for students that provide them with much needed work skills. Also, the faculty and staff have been trained in strategies that assist students who do not excel at “traditional” school. The staff emphasizes the need to build caring relationships with their students.

The Avery County Schools and the partner agencies are committed to sustaining the Blue Ridge Academy through funding, volunteers and in-kind services. The partner agencies that have shown their support to our students are:

  • The High Country Council of Governments
  • Allen Cook – NC Works Career Center
  • Internship Worksites (ACS Bus Garage, Humane Society, YMCA, and others)
  • Williams YMCA of Avery County
  • Rev. Ted Henry and the Methodist Back Pack Program
  • Daymark Recovery Services
  • Mayland Community College
  • Appalachian Regional Health Care
  • High Country United Way Vision Council
  • Kaye’s Kitchen

Because of the excellent staff, committed partners and outstanding students, the Blue Ridge Academy has received recognition and awards from across North Carolina. During the 2014-2015 school year the academy was named the North Carolina School Boards Association Innovative Program of the Year. This was the first time that a program has been unanimously chosen by the committee to receive this prestigious award. Just last month the Blue Ridge Academy and the partnering agencies were awarded the Governor’s NC Works Award of Distinction for Community Partnership. A video concerning this award can be found on the Avery County Schools’ website. The greatest accomplishment, however, of the Blue Ridge Academy has been that sixty students have graduated from the program with a high school diploma. Most of these students are either enrolled at our community college or gainfully employed. Several of our former students are currently attending Mayland Community College on a full scholarship.

We want to thank our entire community for caring about the success of all our students. Blue Ridge Academy is an example of how we can achieve great results by partnering with our community and local agencies.



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