Biotech high school under consideration

Published 1:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A regional biotech high school for eastern North Carolina is being considered to become part of the Vernon James Research Center in Plymouth.

The school would follow an early college high school model used throughout the state. Students would attend the school for five years. A student would receive a four-year high-school diploma and finish two years of post-secondary work or higher-education work through N.C. State University. The student would perform two more years of study at N.C. State University to get a four-year college degree.

The North Carolina Agriscience and Biotechnology Regional School Planning Commission submitted a report to the North Carolina JOBS Commission, the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee and the State Board of Education on Jan. 1 outlining plans for the school.

A portion of the report reads:

“Industry-focused regional schools offer an opportunity to educate students in a particular field, in this case the fields of agriscience and biotechnology. The major goal of this and other future regional schools is to give students the foundational knowledge and skills they need and the industry-specific knowledge that will prepare them for challenging opportunities in the industry.”

Marshall Stewart, associate director for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, was involved in drafting the initial report on the proposed school. He offered some background on the issue.

“This would be the first in North Carolina. We have never had a regional school in the state. There is the North Carolina School of Math and Science, but that is governed by the UNC Board of Governors,” he said. “There are other states who do similar things. They are typically in the areas of career technical education. The governance issues about this are very tedious.”

Other people involved with drafting the report included school-system superintendents, members of the business community and representatives from education groups like the North Carolina Association of School Administrators.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, chairman of the Joining Our Business and Schools Commission, which works to establish innovative high schools, commented on the proposal.

“The concept of an agriscience and biotech school was recommended by the Northeast Partnership, and we believe it could become a national model of educational innovation in preparing students for the 21st-century economy,” he said. “The regional collaboration with the Vernon James Research Campus, N.C. State University and area businesses is key to this concept and exactly the type of partnership that the JOBS Commission has encouraged.”

Stewart said a bill to establish the school has been introduced in the General Assembly.

“I know that there is a Senate Bill 125, that I understand has been drafted. I am not sure about the chances of that passing or where it might be,” Stewart said.