Remember the story about three people, all blindfolded and describing parts of an animal they were all holding?
One noted a wide and floppy part – another a narrow flexible part with hair at the end – and yet another a large, round, and tall column-like part. All were describing parts of an elephant – and the story is about how various people can experience the same phenomenon (an elephant) in very different, yet accurate, ways.
The school board discussion on October 7 regarding the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy (VMCCA) was like watching this exercise in real life – but with an awkward twist. Board members described what they believed the VMCCA is – or should be – and they provided very different descriptions. None of the descriptions fit together to accurately describe the new school that actually opened for students just two months ago.
Board members asked about whether the school is an early college or a career and technical school, and recommended that the school pay more attention to attracting first generation college students. Another board member asked about whether or not the school graduated students with associate degrees. Questions were posed about the origin of the ten career focus areas and the decision to require a 3.0 grade point average for applying students.
WCPSS staff calmly answered questions while the conversation bounced about among board members. The ten career focus areas were determined cooperatively with Wake Tech based upon their Career and College Promise (CCP) program content, student demand for particular courses, as well as the labor market demand in the Wake County. Wake Tech’s CCP program was created in 2012 to provide dual enrollment educational options for qualified North Carolina high school students in order to accelerate the completion of college credentials. The program is free to all students who maintain a 3.0 GPA and meet all other eligibility requirements.
VMCCA was on the board’s work session agenda because WCPSS staff was recommending adding the ninth grade to the grade span. It opened this year with students in grades ten through twelve and is under-enrolled. Its program capacity is 640 students, and it currently serves 131 students. Staff presented a full slate of changes to recruitment efforts that will, if approved, include targeting middle school students. These changes will go before the board at the October 21st board meeting for approval.
What became very clear in the discussion is a lack of clarity about the purpose and function of this school. Even further, some questioned the viability of the school despite the school having just opened in August. This cannot be encouraging to district leaders and school staff.
For all involved – current and future students, current and future partners, current and future employees – it is imperative that this new school have the full and unwavering support of the school board and our community. This career and technical high school offers great promise to Wake’s students, our institutions of higher learning and the business community. That promise will only be realized if the discussion is focused more on evaluating the school we have in front of us and how we can constructively address improvements to that model rather than starting over.