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School board juggles possible early college expansion

By Rebecca Rider
rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan County could soon have two early colleges, if a proposal from the school district is approved by the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and the state.

Director of Secondary Education Dr. Eisa Cox spoke to the board Thursday during a planning retreat about launching a new early college or expanding the current one, which sits on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

“We’d like to expand the opportunity to more students in our district,” Cox said.

Cox and other district administrators hoped to move forward with one of two options for potential early college students.

The first is to increase the current school’s class cap from 65 students per grade to 100 students per grade. But to expand, the district would have to purchase and set up another pod, as the current facilities are at capacity.

“The other option is to apply for a new early college to be housed on the campus of North Rowan High School,” Cox said.

But a new school would not necessarily follow the same pattern as the current early college, Cox said. It could be a traditional early college, or it could have a career and technical education focus. Rowan County Early College would remain open, and on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

If approved, the new early college and North Rowan High School would share the building, but would be separate schools.

North Rowan High was chosen as a possible location because the school is under capacity, and, by the start of the 2018-19 school year, will have the highest number of high school students enrolled in college courses in the county.

Board member Dr. Richard Miller, who represents the North district, said he thought the move would be a positive one for the area by bolstering spirits and bringing needed skills into the community.

“What that would do for the community I think would speak volumes,” he said.

While other board members were in favor of one or both of the options, many disagreed about the proposed location of a new school.

Board member Travis Allen pointed out that in a 2016 facilities study, North Rowan was ranked as being in bad condition, and would likely need to be replaced in coming years.

Furthermore, he added, one of the things that set the early colleges apart and made them attractive to parents and students was that they were their own separate schools — not attached to another.

“It’s like parking a Mercedes in a barn that leaks,” he said. “…Nothing against North Rowan. I wouldn’t put it at West or South or anywhere else.”

Board member Dean Hunter jumped in.

“In fairness to the current early college, they’re in mobile units,” he said.

“Even though it’s mobile units, it’s theirs. It’s only theirs,” Allen responded.

Instead, Allen suggested a bold move.

“If we could close Koontz as an elementary school …and disperse that population outward, that gives us a brand new building,” he said.

Koontz is just over 10 years old, he said, and the student population has difficulties that may be better served at another school. It would also go towards solving the district’s declining student enrollment.

“We’re gonna have to do that at some point to some schools anyways — we’ve got to fill those empty seats,” Allen said.

Board member Jean Kennedy, however, opposed the idea, reminding Allen that students were shuffled about during the creation of Koontz.

“We’ve already uprooted these children,” she said. “We’ve already redistricted them.”

The board, she said, should not move away from or forget its primary purpose: the education of children.

But Allen said he thought redistricting might be inevitable.

“Redistricting children is stressful on them and stressful on families. …But redistricting must be a massive part of our future,” he said.

Hunter brought the conversation back to the topic at hand, and asked if it would be possible to visit a CTE-focused early college in Cabarrus County.

Staff were instructed to see what would need to be done to add an extra mobile pod at Rowan County Early College before school started in July. The information will be presented at the board’s April 23 business meeting.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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