Dalton promotes biotech high school

Published 1:55 am Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (center) is flanked by Jean Woolard, a member of the State Board of Education (left), and John Farrelly, Washington County Schools superintendent. (WDN Photo/Jurgen Boerema)

ROPER — Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton visited the Vernon James Center on Friday to inspect facilities for a proposed regional biotech high school.
Other public officials from the area joined him as center staff conducted Dalton on a tour of offices and laboratories.
Dalton stressed the importance of the school in an interview after the tour.
“This is the first time I have toured the facility and been through it. I have been through this area when I was campaigning. I came to Plymouth and spent some time in Plymouth,” he said. “Agriculture is our number economy in North Carolina by a long shot. It accounts for $74 billion dollars in the economy each and every year. We think North Carolina has a great upside potential with our agriculture economy. This type of research that is done here makes us more efficient.  As our farms sometimes shrink, we have to be smarter and better. This type of facility can be very important.”
The expected starting date for the school is August 2012.
“The building is shared by North Carolina State University and North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services because of its partnership,” said Benjie Forrest at one point during the tour.
Forrest serves as the Eastern Region agricultural education coordinator and is responsible for serving the needs of agriculture teachers in 31 counties in eastern North Carolina. He also serves as the liaison for the Vernon G. James Research and Extension Center, which is based near Roper in Washington County. Having the new school at the center important to him.
Forrest talked about what the center has been doing to get ready to host the school.
“A transition committee for the school has been established and has met twice since the legislation has passed. This committee is currently being chaired by Marshall Stewart, who is an associate director with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and head state program leader for the department of 4-H youth development and family and consumer sciences at N.C. State University, college of agriculture and life sciences,” he said.
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 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 State Board of Education voted on degree requirements Oct. 6. The 11 board members at that meeting unanimously approved the requirements.
Jean Woolard, a Plymouth resident and board members, attended the meeting.
She provided details on what the board discussed and approved.
“The Northeast Economic Development Commission has been a big part in moving this forward. State universities will be a big partner in moving this forward,” she said. “Now that the State of Board of Education has approved the school, we can move forward and form our board of directors. The legislation speaks directly to who will be on the board of directors.
“Five counties are involved in this. They are Washington, Beaufort, Tyrell, Martin and Pitt County. Each county will send one county member to the regional school board. The Economic Development Commission of the Northeast will elect three. Our expectation is to have our board in place during the early part of November.
“It is our hope of all parties involved in this that we can be in the position to hire a principal for our school by the beginning of 2012. It is our hope that we will have the school up and running for at least one grade by the fall of 2012.”
Woolard explained the need for the school.
“In the next few years, we are going to have to feed the world on less and less production. It is important for us to do research in biotechnology so we can make our land more productive. The school is in a good location to do this,” she said.