RCS makes plans for $800,000 grant

Apr. 08, 2014 @ 04:30 AM

Rutherford County Schools (RCS) plans to use an $800,000 grant from the state, to transform its three traditional high schools by adding early college design principles and creating more college classes.

In March, Governor Pat McCrory announced that RCS was among several other systems to receive Education and Workforce grants from North Carolina. The grant will be used over five years and is aimed at strengthening successful, innovative education programs that combine academic rigor and skills development with the goal of graduating every student both college and career ready.

“On the grant application we talked about the idea of bringing a greater level of innovation to our traditional high schools so that we can transfer some of the principles we’ve learned at the early college into the traditional environment,” Dr. David Sutton, assistant superintendent of RCS, said. “The great thing about the Education Workforce Education grant to me is that the intended outcomes of the grant substantially and directly align to the things we want to do here anyway. When we came across the grant we saw it as a mechanism to channel our efforts and accelerate us toward this broader mission.”

Sutton said the school system has a four-part plan to put the grant money to use and begin with the innovations for East Rutherford, Chase and R-S Central high schools. The first step is translating early college design principles like the ones at Rutherford Early College High School (REaCH) into the traditional high school setting. The second step is enhancing the level of rigor in the core instructional programs like reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

“We know that there are students that we serve that don’t want to go on to a four-year university and we want to make sure they have those opportunities to prepare for whatever career or vocation they’re going to choose,” Superintendent Dr. Janet Mason, said. “The reality is all students in North Carolina are not going to be educated for high school on a college campus. So my commitment is how do we take the lessons we’ve learned at REaCH and the results we’ve seen and transfer those to our traditional campuses and make those opportunities available there.”

Part of the enhancement will come from instructional coaching. The schools already have some coaching in place through a North Carolina Investing in Rural Innovative Schools (NCiris) grant from North Carolina New Schools but this new grant will allow the expansion of that coaching to more schools and more grade levels.

For the third part of the plan the system hopes to begin reorganizing programs in the traditional high schools. Sutton said they are looking at curriculum concentration pathways that would allow students to choose a career pathway to pursue. The students can receive college credit or certificates for those classes.

“I’ve described them like a major you might get in college. There will be a real specific focus and the student could choose specific course sequences that prepare them for future careers or what they are going to study in college,” Sutton said. “We have limitless possibilities. There are lots of things that are interesting and exciting that we could do in the high schools.”

The last part of the plan is to work with Isothermal Community College (ICC), the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce and other industry partners to determine the needs of the community and what kinds of classes should be offered through the pathways.

“Education plays a huge role in the economic development for a community,” Sutton said. “We want to support that in the community but we also want to make sure our students are ready to capitalize on the opportunities that are going to come out of economic development efforts when they graduate.”

Mason said the system’s vision is to offer all students the opportunity to take advantage of college and career preparatory classes while in high school. She said she doesn’t want to limit that to only the students attending REaCH.

“With my work designing the early college and being principal of a traditional high school, it became very clear to me that some students want that opportunity to earn those credits but they want to be in a traditional high school setting,” Mason said.

Mason said in the past students took classes through a program called Learn and Earn which allowed any high school student to gain college credit. Today they can earn credits through Career and College Promise with ICC and NCiris but Mason wants to expand that even more.

“I’ve worked for a long time with dropout prevention and one of the things I saw as principal and heard from other principals as our students were taking Learn and Earn and even the Career and College Promise classes is, sometimes for students that we are having to fight a battle to get them to stay motivated and stay in school, once they take a community college class and earn a credit, we aren’t fighting that battle anymore,” Mason said. “The focus is on helping them obtain a college degree when before the focus was on helping them graduate from high school ready for college.”

Both Mason and Sutton are also very enthusiastic about using some of the money for student transportation.

“We want to create and make more available for students and part of that is helping get them from point A to point B. We can easily give a student permission to take classes at another school but if the student doesn’t have the means to get there, they really don’t have that opportunity,” Sutton said. “We built money into this grant and envision something like a shuttle system where we can actually make transportation available among our high schools and ICC campus.”

Sutton said parts of the work will begin at different points of the five-year cycle of the grant. The first year will be planning and looking at outcomes. He hopes by year two they can complete the concentration pathways and make them available for students. Mason said she would also love to create internship opportunities in the future.

“High school innovation is the way to describe what we want to do,” Sutton said.