Stanly schools re-open to students

Community members and staff at Albemarle High School welcome students back. Picture provided by Albemarle High.

ALBEMARLE — On Aug. 26, traditional schools across Stanly County opened their doors to students for another year of classes, sports and extracurricular activities.

Superintendent of Stanly County Schools Dr. Jeff James said it’s a custom for central office staff to attend opening day welcoming ceremonies at schools around the district, and the schools he attended this year were Albemarle High School and Central Elementary School.

At Albemarle High School, James said there was great community involvement, with elected officials, volunteers and local business leaders in attendance. Staff was lined up in the hallway clapping and cheering to welcome the students as they entered.

“Things like that make a huge difference for kids,” James said. “Every student was happy to be back, and there was a lot of energy in the air.”

Emily Shaw, the principal of Albemarle High School, who James said is a “phenomenal principal,” arranged for the welcoming event. The high school is up 20 students now to 428.

County wide, enrolment is at around 8,400 students. James said home schooling is experiencing a boom across the country, and in places like Stanly, this has put some downward pressure on the number of students enrolling at traditional public schools. Charter schools and early colleges are also seeing growth.

Stanly County Schools is responding to this trend with a unique program they call “SCOVE,” or Stanly County Virtual Education, which allows students to dually enroll in both home school and at a public school. If they take three classes at the public school, they are then allowed to participate in sports, attend prom and otherwise take advantage of school resources.

James said what worked 40 years ago, “absolutely doesn’t work today,” and it will take innovative ideas like SCOVE, early college, vocational training and virtual education to replace a dying model of “stand and deliver” teaching. Instead, he says, “every child needs personalized learning.”

Personalized learning, which has been the norm in special education for years, is being used for all students in order to compete with home schooling and other options.

College and Career Promise, a program that allows students to receive their associates degree while they are getting their high school diploma, is one such path that is gaining momentum. Another is advanced manufacturing courses that prepare students for careers in hi-tech jobs of the future. These will be held at Albemarle High and North Stanly High this year, with classes teaching pneumatics, electronics and hydraulics.

All of the high schools now operate as magnet schools, offering different specialties for the district’s students. “If you can’t get it in Stanly County, you can’t get it anywhere,” James said.

With only around 20% of students from Stanly County high schools going on to get a four-year degree, James says it’s important to create pathways to success for the other 80%, and these vocational programs are making that possible.

“For the career technical programs, you can walk out with a two-year degree and make more than those with a four-year degree can. So the whole world has flipped” from the time when it seemed the right thing to do was to tell everyone to go to college.

Busing is one issue that many parents were concerned about, but Dr. James was happy to report that so far, there haven’t been any issues with the new staggered schedule. A bus driver shortage across the state pushed the county to make more efficient use of the bus drivers they had. This was done by starting schools at different times, with four of the elementary schools at early start times and six at later start times.

A couple buses were 10 minutes late, but overall, the district is confident that the new schedule seems on track. “It seemed to run flawlessly this morning,” James said.

Some early college and other non-traditional schools in Stanly County have been open for a week or more.