The Carteret County Board of Education should reverse course on its recent decision to begin the process of shuttering the Marine Science and Technology Early College High School (MaST) located on the Carteret Community College campus. The county schools should reinstate freshmen enrollment to keep the program alive. Otherwise this decision could be costly in both student/parent participation and in financial support.
As school systems across the state respond to pandemic fears and Governor Cooper’s mandate restricting school operations parents are now opting for either virtual classroom participation or alternatives such as homeschooling and private schools. The result is reduced enrollment in the county schools and a subsequent reduction in future support of the public school system.
Cheryl Burke’s front page story in today’s News-Times notes that a growing number of local parents, frustrated by the constant changes in the educational system due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, are looking for and finding alternative educational services such as private schools and home schools. Last school year 2019-20, prior to the pandemic, the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education (the state department overseeing home schools) showed there were 1,032 home schools registered in the county, representing 1,456 students. Figures for the 2020-21 school year are not available but representatives of North Carolinians for Home Educators note that registration is up significantly as are applications at local private schools.
These alternatives, along with a lawsuit filed last week to stop the closure of MaST by the board of education, is an indication that there is a growing frustration with the lack of innovation in the school system. These two events can also injure the school system’s pending $42 million bond referendum due for consideration in the November election.
In June the county’s school board voted 6-1 to discontinue MaST, which is part of the state’s Cooperative Innovative High School program that matches high schools with either public or private colleges, with the expressed purpose of promoting interest in both higher education and advanced technical degrees. The decision to begin shuttering the school after only one year in operation was based on fears that the state funding for the program is short lived and that the county will have to pick up the additional $200,000 in expenses to support the program.
In addition to the funding challenges for MaST, several school board members expressed fears that the program will reduce attendance at the county’s three high schools, thereby reducing funding based on Average Daily Membership (ADM). One school board member, Travis Day, has complained that the program, limited to only 200 students, creates a special group. That argument totally ignores the other programs in place providing special services designated for academically gifted students that is likewise limited in participation.
Regardless of the complaints, the pandemic is forcing major changes in how education is being delivered. These changes have all the indications of being permanent and have opened the eyes of parents about educational alternatives. County school board members and the school administrators should not consider these changes as temporary and that once the pandemic is past, schooling will revert to historic operations. That hubristic thinking will only facilitate distrust in the system.
MaST is part of the Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) program which has proven to be very successful statewide. There are 131 such programs, MaST being one of most recent additions, spread out in 97 of the 115 state school districts. Guilford county has 11 early college programs and nearby Craven county has two. A recent article by early childhood reporter Liz Bell noted that in the 2017-18 school year, CIHS students outperformed their peers in a variety of metrics including retention and completion rates and individual assessment. In the process the program facilitates technical professions through the community college system and college credits for students seeking four-year college degree.
There is no question that Carteret County Schools are successful. The school system has consistently ranked in the top 10 in the state with several local schools being ranked among the best nationally by US News. But parents and students want more choices and the current situation is opening the door to the options heretofore not fully understood.
While the school board is concerned about the financial resources for the future funding of MaST, that may be a moot concern as parents, frustrated by the lack of innovative opportunities which they are now seeking, decide that the public schools are not providing the education they’re now experiencing with alternatives.
If the school board will continue this popular and very successful program they will infuse faith in the system and subsequently gain support for the proposed $42 million school bond referendum.