Staff begins work on Whale Branch High 'early college' details

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Staff begins work on Whale Branch High 'early college' details

By KATE CERVE kcerve@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8177
Published Saturday, September 19, 2009 in The Island Packet  |  787 Words  |  news

Administrators with the Beaufort County School District and the Technical College of the Lowcountry spent months developing a concept for an "early college" magnet program for Whale Branch High School, scheduled to open next fall in Seabrook.
Now, it's time for school staff to nail down exactly what it will take to start the program that will be open to students countywide.
The boards for the college and district gave initial approval to the proposal last week, allowing staff to move forward with a model that will compress the time it takes students to earn a high school diploma and complete the first two years of college. The plan would allow students to graduate from high school with a diploma and an associate's degree or college certificate from TCL after four years.
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said she hopes to present details of the plan to the school board in December and hire a principal for Whale Branch by January.
Meanwhile, the staff will do the following to prepare for the school opening:

  • Survey all the district's eighth-graders and their parents to gauge interest in the program.
  • Choose which subjects to emphasize and which courses to offer.
  • Develop transportation options that would allow the school to draw students from across the county.
  • Produce a cost estimate for the program.
  • Establish standards for faculty, which must meet the state Department of Education's criteria for teachers and TCL requirements.
  • Gauge student interest in athletics. Only freshmen will attend Whale Branch High during its first year, so the school probably won't offer varsity sports right away, Truesdale said.
    The timeline for hiring a principal to open Whale Branch High School is shorter than the model used when the district opened Bluffton High School in 2004.
    Aretha Rhone-Bush was hired as the school's full-time principal in July 2003, more than a year before classes started. She led a committee of residents who helped develop the school's design and focus before she was officially named principal.
    Truesdale doesn't expect the district to hire a principal for Whale Branch High until January. She hopes the principal will be able to help out with the school on at least a part-time basis during the winter and spring. But depending on the district's finances, the principal might not be able to start full-time until June, she said.
    Rhone-Bush said she was busy every day preparing to open Bluffton High. She developed curriculum, hired teachers, ordered textbooks, answered questions from the construction team and created policies for student activities.
    "In the life of an adult, it may not be important what day the homecoming pep rally falls on or when spirit days are," she said. "In the lives of teenagers, that's very important. ... There's a lot of work to do on a day-to-day basis."
    Truesdale said it is standard in some school districts to hire principals a full year ahead of a school's opening but is confident Whale Branch will open on schedule if she hires a principal this winter. Kathleen Corley, the principal for Red Cedar Elementary, which opened this fall in Bluffton, was not hired until January.
    "Budget constraints are different now than they were in 2003," Truesdale said.
    Until a principal is hired, Truesdale said, she will draw on the expertise of other district administrators to keep the school on track.
    "It's a team effort," she said.
    Whale Branch High will be much smaller than Bluffton High was when it opened.
    Only about 137 students -- all freshmen -- are projected to attend classes next fall in the building designed to accommodate 650. A grade will be added each year until 2013.
    Bluffton High School opened with about 1,000 students spread across all four grades.
    Sean Alford, the district's chief of instructional services, said preparing for one grade level instead of four will make opening the school more manageable.
    The district's recent efforts to streamline policies across all district schools has reduced the number of decisions left up to individual schools, said Jacqueline Rosswurm, district human resources officer. As an example, a standardized academic calendar and districtwide student-uniform policy went into effect this year.
    At the time Bluffton High opened, more decisions were left up to principals at individual schools, Rosswurm said. "Now, we really have more uniformity as to what's going on throughout our schools."
    Rosswurm said a principal brought on in January still will be involved in hiring teachers and have plenty of time to plan student activities and develop school policies.
    "In that time frame, it should not be an issue," she said.