The success of Lenoir County Early College High School since its founding 10 years ago this month is testimony to the commitment of educators to the school’s students and the commitment of those students to earning a life-changing education, speakers at Early College’s anniversary celebration said Thursday.
“What has made this school a success is the commitment by every student who has walked through the door, every teacher, administrator, counselor, support person, college leader and school system leader to ensure this program continues to change lives every day,” said keynote speaker Wynn Whittington, the school’s first principal and part of the team that laid the groundwork for its opening on Aug. 7, 2007.
A partnership between Lenoir County Public Schools and Lenoir Community College, Early College is LCPS’s most non-traditional school, operating on the LCC campus and on the college’s calendar. Students follow a course of study that accelerates learning with the aim of completing high school requirements within the first two years and moving into college-level work. After four or five years, most students graduate with a two-year degree or career-ready certification in a trade skill as well as a diploma – all free of the cost of college tuition.
In 10 years, Early College’s enrollment has grown from its initial class of 50 to more than 200, the school has graduated 206 students and of those graduates 123 have earned a college certificate or an associates degree in addition to securing a high school diploma.
Early College regularly leads LCPS in academic achievement and twice has been listed among the nation’s best high schools by U.S. News & World Report.
“What I’ve always admired about Early College students is that at 13, 14, 15 years of age, they already have an idea what they want to do,” Whittington said after recalling his overly-long college career. “These students are different. They’re focused, they’re driven, they’re committed to making their dreams come true. They have earned my upmost respect.”
Dubbed “Celebrating 10 years of Excellence,” the observance held in LCC’s Briley Auditorium drew past and present Early College students, faculty and principals; past and present LCC faculty; past and present LCPS and LCC leaders; and past and present representatives of the
two institutions’ governing boards. All received praise for taking a role in the success of Early College.
“Simply put, the philosophy from Day One of Lenoir County Early College High School is and always has been, we do whatever it takes to make students succeed. And we’ve done just that. Our success is their success, both past and present,” said Dr. Deborah Grimes, LCC vice president, and a member with Whittington of the committee formed in 2006 to bring Early College into existence.
For two students in that inaugural class, Xavier Woods and Leona Harris Woods, their experience at the school was literally life-changing, as they recalled in a video that featured past students.
As members of the Class of 2012, both graduated with associate degrees. “Early College really helped me excel,” said Xavier Woods, who earned a four-year degree at Chowan University, finishing in the top 5 percent of his class.
Being an Early College “guinea pig,” as Leona Woods put me, “definitely changed my life,” she said. “I met my husband there in the ninth grade.” She and Xavier have been married three years and have two children, ages 18 months and three months.
“We built this ship as we sailed,” Whittington said, recalling the earliest effort to recruit students and explain to their
parents an educational model that was new to the area and, to many parents, “foreign.”
“Fifty families took a chance on the unknown and seized the opportunity to change their lives forever. I interviewed 72 applicants that year and we took 50. They trusted us to get this right,” Whittington said.
“As I took the helm, I envisioned a school where every student who entered felt loved, cared for and was looking to change their lives forever,” he said. “Every student who entered was a vital part of our family.”
Whittington moved from Early College to the principalship at Kinston High School and, after a stint with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, helped Pitt County get an early college off the ground in 2015. He is now principal there.
Lenoir County Early College High School owes its existence to Whittington and Grimes and educators like them, but it measures its success by its students, LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams said.
“All those promises that Wynn Whittington made and subsequent principals have made to parents have been realized in the lives of young people, in the skills they possess, in the degrees they have earned, in the contributions they are making in their communities,” Williams said.
“We are so proud of our Early College partnership with Lenoir County Public Schools, but even more proud of our students and all the accomplishments they have made,” Dr. Rusty Hunt, LCC president, told the audience. “It is an amazing opportunity.”
And at the age of 10, an opportunity that has its best years ahead of it, Early College principal Diane Heath said. “We are looking forward to many more wonderful and successful years as we continue to lead and guide students to attain their dreams and goals of earning that college degree.”
See the video from the ’10 Years of Excellence’ program here.