Forums set for Catamount School

This story was written by Austin McDowell, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

Parents interested in enrolling their children in an innovative, new school through Western Carolina University can ask questions in an upcoming forum.

The event is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, March 16, in the University Commons Catamount Room on WCU’s campus.

A second forum is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, in the University Commons Cardinal Room.

Leaders from WCU and Jackson County Schools say they want to explain the dynamics and goals of this first-of-a-kind, General Assembly-mandated school.

“Our next step is communicating, getting out there to talk to community members and others to say what this program is and is not,” Jackson County Schools Superintendent Mike Murray said.

Catamount School is for sixth through eighth grade students, with three classrooms planned for each grade. A maximum of 75 students will be allowed into the program. Catamount School’s future home is destined for Smoky Mountain High School.

The new legislation states that the new lab schools must be located in public-school districts where at least 25 percent of schools have been labeled low-performing. The data is based on school test results and student GPA. The lab schools will operate on a voluntary basis.

Catamount School will operate differently from lab schools before it, Murray said. Camp Lab School, which operated on WCU’s campus starting in 1964, housed K-12 students until 1988 and K-8 students until Cullowhee Valley Elementary opened in 1994.

Camp Lab School was operated by Jackson County Schools.

Catamount School should open new opportunities for teacher programming, permitting student teachers and staff to be rotated into the program to see if new ideas will work, Murray said. Because Jackson County does not have a designated middle school, Catamount School represents the first program designed around middle-school grades.

The legislation states that four schools must open in August of 2017, with another four opening in August of 2018.

Other universities involved in the legislation are: Appalachian State, East Carolina, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, UNC Pembroke, UNC Wilmington, and N.C. Central.

“We were tapped for the first wave because we have a history of getting things done,” said Dale Carpenter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions. “Catamount School is another option for middle-level students in Jackson County, and WCU is excited about our role in this new venture.”

WCU is one of only two schools working directly with the county’s public school systems. East Carolina is working with Pitt County Schools, Carpenter said. The other six universities are using independent programs.

The mission of Catamount School is to focus on the health and wellness of students, Carpenter said.

Through combined resources of Jackson County Schools and WCU, the program is expected to allow for more one-on-one time between students and teachers and foster a collaborative environment.

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