The 10th anniversary celebration this week of the founding of Lenoir County Early College High School will draw attention to the students, faculty and community partners who contributed to the school’s success, says the current principal.
“We wanted to invite everyone who has had a part in making this happen – everyone from past and present boards of education, boards of trustees from Lenoir Community College, the president and vice-presidents from the college, our school superintendents, and the principals, students and parents who had any connection to our school,” principal Diane Heath said.
The celebration, at 4 p.m. Thursday in Briley Auditorium at LCC, will feature a video that showcases the achievement of Early College graduates, a review of the school’s history by LCC vice president Dr. Deborah Grimes and a keynote address by Wynn Whittington, the school’s first principal.
A partnership between LCPS and LCC, Lenoir County Early College High School is the most non-traditional of the district’s schools. It operates on a schedule unique in LCPS. It’s housed at Lenoir Community College. And most graduates leave with an associate degree as well as a high school diploma. Two members of the Class of 2016 went directly from Early College to graduate school in pharmacy.
Early College typically posts the highest graduation rate among LCPS high schools and leads the district in academic achievement. Last year, it was listed among the nation’s best high schools by U.S. News & World Report.
Its opening in August 2007 enhanced opportunities for LCPS students entering high school, but it also established an alternative setting that still very much appeals to some teenagers, according to Heath.
“We see such success from students who typically might not fit in at a traditional high school,” the principal said.
A smaller student body – less than a third the size of a traditional high school in the district – and small classes sizes contribute to a more intimate atmosphere and closer relationships among students and between students and faculty, Heath thinks.
“They build their social skills and begin to take leadership roles they wouldn’t take at traditional schools,” she said. “Students are very close and hold each other accountable for the expectations we have. We have very few discipline problems. There’s a difference in way kids respond to the expectations and rise to the challenges here.”
A long-time principal, Heath has led elementary and middle schools for the district and moved from the district’s other non-traditional school, Lenoir County Learning Academy, to Early College in 2016. This year, she is presiding over the culmination of dramatic scheduling changes instituted four years ago that, for this year’s class, puts a diploma and two-year college degree within easier reach in four years instead of the usual five.
“This is the year that affects students now,” she said. “In the spring we tried to wrap everybody up so that no one beyond our ninth and 10th graders would need to attend a high school course. By the time they are in their third year, they all taking college courses.”
It’s a model of accelerated learning with obvious advantages for students looking to get ahead and for parents hoping to avoid two years of high college tuition. It’s also a model that’s proved so successful at Early College over the past 10 years that it’s been instituted at the district’s three traditional high schools.
But some aspects of Early College don’t translate, and those continue to make the school “a great place,” Heath said. “It truly is a great fit for giving voice and giving opportunity to students who may not have had that opportunity in traditional school. Here they can find their element.”