Regional School Reflects State Board’s Vision for Innovation and Cooperation
A little more than a year ago, the State Board of Education approved the Northeast Regional School of Biotechnology and Agriscience to operate as North Carolina’s first regional school. This school, which is the result of a partnership among N.C. State University (NCSU) and the Beaufort, Martin, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington County school districts, opened in August 2012 and currently serves 58 students in the ninth grade.
This school is unlike any other public school in our state. It operates on the campus of the Vernon G. James Research & Extension Center in Plymouth. Students from five different districts travel up to two hours to benefit from a hands-on learning experience focused on STEM studies and an opportunity to earn college credit. The school is governed by a board of directors comprised of the superintendents and local school board members from each of the five districts it serves. Smoothing out the logistics of transportation, meals and funding is a challenge that has required creativity, flexibility and a team effort. The student population is diverse but they do have one thing in common: they are committed to making the most of their education.
Some students get up at 4 a.m. to catch a bus to one local high school, where they wait to pick up a second bus that will take them to the Vernon James Center. The school day schedule varies since the lunch time and location depends on if there is a tour going on at the Center that day. But the students always have breakfast together and they end each afternoon with a “Process the Day” session in small groups. For many students and parents, the choice to attend this new public school was a leap of faith and a journey into uncharted territory. No one was sure how the school would operate or if it would be successful. Today most will agree that their decision has already paid off.
In this first half of the school year, students have enjoyed learning from NCSU plant and soil scientists. They have used math skills to combat insect infestations and calculate crop yields. A group of students learning about earth science recently traveled to Nags Head to study wind erosion resulting from Tropical Storm Sandy. A humanities class traveled to see Romeo and Juliet at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival in High Point. Another group traveled to the National FFA Organization Convention in Indiana. I have no doubt that the experiences these students are having will prepare them not just for jobs in the STEM fields, but for success in any career they choose to pursue.
The Northeast Regional School is an example of the type of innovation and cooperation the Board refers to in its recently-adopted vision. This school uses a new type of structure, setting, daily schedule and transportation plan to meet the needs of students in rural eastern North Carolina. And thanks to the vision of all who took a risk and worked across district lines to make this school possible, students are enjoying opportunities they would not have had otherwise.
This school also opens up the door to many other possibilities. Just think that if we are able to create this structure for a regional school, what else as a state can we do? It is clear that through collaboration, a strong commitment to our values, and a willingness to consider options for how to deliver education, we can be truly innovative and effective in designing many different types of approaches to meeting the needs of all children in this state.
So what lies ahead for the Northeast Regional School? According to Principal Hal Davis, the school plans on enrolling at least another 60 students next year and he has high hopes for the future. “I have had many of the kids tell me that they need this school to be successful because it has helped them realize that they can succeed beyond high school,” Davis said.
We have high hopes too. Student success is by far the most important goal any school should have and it appears the Northeast Regional School of Biotechnology and Agriscience is well on its way to achieving it.