North Carolina New Schools

Sailing High School in a New Direction

by Vicky Snyder

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Sailing High School in a New Direction

[Photo: The faculty and staff of Brunswick County Early College High School]

Six years ago, an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream showed up in a vacancy for “Principal.”  Little did I know that this ”Principalship” had powerful sails that captured the winds of change  with a navigator named “NC New Schools Project” that charted a course for ALL students to succeed at college, career and life. The 5 Rs — rigor, relevancy, relationships, respect and responsibility — became the faculty’s mantra and the Firebird Family’s culture. Brunswick County Early College High School has grown from five teachers and 80 students to 12 teachers and 310 students in five years, with a solid reputation in a rural coastal county.

Three decades ago, I started my career in a very different situation. For 25 years, I taught science in a traditional urban high school of 1,200 students. Nine 42-minute periods composed a day — six with students, 28-32 in each class, while duty, lunch and planning rounded out the day. The challenges and rewards of that environment were vastly different than those for my teachers today. We did not have state testing or an emphasis on standards; yet the vast majority of our students attended college, at least for a while.

While working as an assistant principal at a larger inner city school in the same urban district, I spent the precious time disciplining our 2nd or 3rd year freshmen and upperclassmen. The rare opportunity to connect with students was enlightening. After a brief retirement, I took a new assistant principal position at North Brunswick High School where I eventually found that vacancy for “Principal.”

When presented with the opportunity to become a STEM school, our faculty at BCECHS did not ask, “Why?” They asked, “Why not?”

Since that first conversation, our teachers have met each step of training and implementation with great expectancy. BCECHS has an established culture of learning that incorporates modeling, solving real problems, and a wide variety of community outreach opportunities. Teachers also have experience in utilizing interdisciplinary units and team planning. Transitioning to solving student-generated problems that are relevant to our community with full incorporation of the engineering design process brings a renewed focus to our school’s goal of enabling every student to be college ready in a 21st century global economy.

Vicky Snyder is principal of the NCNSP-affiliated Brunswick County Early College High School in Bolivia, NC.