BEAUFORT — After hearing appeals from a Marine Sciences and Technology Early College High School student, parents and a supporter Tuesday to keep the school open, the Board of Education must now decide whether to close the school in 2023.
Rising MaST senior Emily Thompson said the board’s efforts to close her school has stolen the joy of her high school career.
“For me, my high school experience has been attending school board meetings on Tuesday nights and fighting to keep my school open,” Ms. Thompson, who walked out of the meeting in tears, said.
Citing budget concerns as the main reason, some board members have tried multiple times to close or limit the operation of the school, which opened on the campus of Carteret Community College in August 2018. The school allows students to earn high school and college credits at the same time.
At its April meeting, the board passed a resolution calling for Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson to conduct a study on closing the school after the Class of 2023 graduates. Members also set a public hearing for Tuesday night. The MaST Class of 2022 received diplomas June 2, and there will only be a senior class at the school in 2022-23.
Dr. Jackson plans to present the findings from his study at the board’s Tuesday, Aug. 2, meeting. It will then be up to the board to make a decision on the school’s fate.
Board members did not comment on MaST following the public hearing Tuesday night.
Ms. Thompson’s parents, Eugene and Colleen Thompson of Newport, also appealed to the board Tuesday to reconsider closing the school. They said their two daughters, both rising MaST seniors, have thrived at the school and will both graduate with associate’s degrees and high school diplomas next year.
“Our other daughter didn’t come because she felt you (board members) have already given up on the school,” Mr. Thompson said. “You are doing a disservice to the students of Carteret County by closing this school and it needs to stop. We need to keep it open.”
MaST parent Dana Vinson Mull of Peletier, who is expected to replace John McLean on the County Board of Education in December after running unopposed for the seat in November, agreed that the board was making a mistake by closing the school. She further said that many parents and students decided not to come to the meeting and speak because they felt it was a waste of time.
“Many parents and citizens decided not to come tonight because they feel your minds are already made up,” she said. “I don’t disagree. However, I am here to bring a few things to your attention once again and hopefully make you think really hard before your vote is cast.”
She pointed out that reasons given by the board in the past for closing the school were no longer valid or were “not entirely factual.”
Ms. Mull said the state is now providing recurring funds for the school, so lack of funding was no longer a good reason for the school’s closure.
She continued that the board’s case that students can take college classes through Career and College Promise at their traditional high schools is also not valid.
“Many of the MaST students would not qualify for CCP at their traditional high schools,” she said. “This program is very limited on who can take the classes and has many flaws including transportation and time allowance with other high school classes. MaST did not have this as much because they are on the college campus.”
She further countered claims that MaST would pull “smart kids” from the traditional high schools, pointing out that many students at the school were not academically ranked. She added that having an early college high school was not hurting the traditional high schools.
“Not only did we show that you can have limitations on how many from each district, but 73% of the current MaST students said they would not have gone back to other high schools. They would have either attended private school, transferred counties, home schooled or dropped out. Therefore, you are losing students anyway.”
She countered another claim given by some county commissioners and school board members that MaST should be a trade school.
“Do you realize that many of the certificates earned from MaST were in the trades?” she asked. “Do you realize there are 17 certificates in trades and 21 associate degrees already earned?”
She further added that the board needed to look past trades, given some students were able to get a head start on college credits as they transfer to four-year universities.
“I honestly don’t understand why there is a problem with some of the MaST students transferring to four-year universities, but even if you wanted to limit the students to certain career or degree paths, you could,” she said. “Please look beyond the trades. Do you realize that CCC has a CNA nursing program and our local hospital/doctors’ offices need more employees? You could help that.”
Community member Susan Schurer also called for MaST to remain open.
“I endorse the MaST program for its rightness to the geography, spirit and suitability to scientific pursuits of Carteret County,” she said. “I had the pleasure to meet the graduating seniors briefly last month and they were impressive. They fairly swagger with self-confidence. They’ve had a unique experience and they feel special as individuals and as a group. They are the glowing endorsement for MaST, which deserves to continue on an upward trajectory.”
As for the study being conducted by Dr. Jackson and his staff, it is to include whether similar programs can be offered at the traditional high schools. It’s also to factor in sentiments of county commissioners and Carteret Community College, the impact on students and cost of providing additional school facilities in the event of a closure.
The board’s resolution adopted in April cited several reasons for the possible closure: the state of North Carolina failed to fund its share of the operating costs for the first two years; a question of whether the school fulfilled an expectation of offering primarily vocational and technical courses; and enrollment complications due to the uncertainty of the school’s future.
The N.C. General Assembly began including $180,000 in recurring funds for MaST in its 2021-22 budget.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.