Commissioners support plans to move forward with regional vocational high school

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A map showing the proposed career and technical education high school (light gray) next to to Wilmington Early College (dark gray) on the CFCC North Campus.
A map showing the proposed career and technical education high school (light gray) next to to Wilmington Early College (dark gray) on the CFCC North Campus.

Concept plans for a new regional career and technical education (CTE) high school were praised and unanimously supported by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Monday morning.

Though no action was required, the board voted to formally record their endorsement of the school, which would provide vocational training for high school students looking to go into trades such as auto mechanics, welding and construction. It will also provide opportunities for internships, apprenticeships and job shadowing. It differs from early college high schools in that it will focus on preparing students for the workforce, rather than to get a four-year college degree.

“To make this happen will require a very creative curriculum with a lot of blended courses,” said New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Tim Markley, who noted not every student wants to go to a four-year college. “It helps to address the employment needs in this community … It provides a missing component to our current curriculum.”

The school will be run in partnership with Cape Fear Community College and Pender County Schools, whose students will also be able to attend the new school.

It will be located on CFCC’s north campus, which is already home to Wilmington Early College. The program space will be a total of 43,826 square feet, and the high school will make use of CFCC’s labs. According to Markley, once the school is fully up and running, it will serve 400 to 500 students.

“We’re looking at best practices not just in North Carolina, but across the country,” said CFCC President Amanda Lee. “We need to know that conceptually you feel that a CTE high school is necessary to our community.”

While there was broad support from all the commissioners, there were some questions about money. As it will be a public school run by a joint oversight board with representatives from two county school districts, the money allotted to each student to attend their home school will follow them to the CTE high school to help fund programs.

“Most of the cost of operations will flow through normal state dollars,” Markley said, adding that the only additional cost to CFCC would be for janitorial and general maintenance services.

The cost of building the classrooms (which will be used by CFCC for night classes and other times when the high school isn’t in session), however, would fall to the county. Commissioner Woody White said the school districts and other parties involved should work to find every means available to help fund the project.

“I wholeheartedly support this concept and think we should move forward with it today, but we should exhaust every [way to support it],” said White. “It is incumbent upon us, at least in the short term, to get this started without worrying about [building a new building].”

There was also a question about transportation. Markley said they would make use of buses that already service the area, such as those that bring students to Wilmington Early College. As for those wanting to play sports, Markley said opportunities would be provided at the four traditional high schools in the county.

“We can accommodate them by allowing them to return in the afternoon to their districted school,” said Markley, noting that Laney High School was not that far away, and another option would be for students to be sent there.

The concept has already gone before the boards of education in both New Hanover and Pender counties and been approved. It has yet to go before the Pender County Board of Commissioners.