By Taylor Stanford
A front view shows the construction that continues at Carrboro High School, located off of Rock Haven Road. The school, with a capacity of 800 students, opens in August 2007. Photo by Taylor Stanford
When school starts on Aug. 27, 2007, almost 600 students will call Carrboro High School home
The new high school, built off Rock Haven Road, cost $35 million to build. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools saw the need to relieve crowding at Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill High Schools and to create a balance in distance among the schools in the district.
“From the beginning, there was strong support for the school,” said Lisa Stuckey, chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board. “There was debate over where it should go, and it took years to secure the site. But it was always understood that the school would be in the south (of Carrboro).”
The location of the school isn’t the only part of planning that got a response from the community. Naming the third high school proved difficult.
The name South Chapel Hill High School garnered a lot of support, even though the school sits within the Carrboro town limits. In a memorandum issued to Superintendent Neil Pedersen on Dec. 5, 2005, proponents for South Chapel Hill High School said, “It preserves the national recognition and strong reputation associated with our other two high schools.”
These two qualities, however, were the two that supporters cited for naming it Carrboro High School.
“Many supporters (of the second name) also contend that community pride is on the line as Carrboro seeks to grow its name recognition and reputation,” the memo reported.
The School Board decided on Carrboro High School in January 2006, but not after a handful of less-than-usual suggestions. Among them were Dean Smith High School, Ronald Reagan High School, Robert E. Lee High School, Carrboro Tie Dye High School and James Brown Funk Spirit High School.
Someone even a suggestion to name it after the superintendent.
“I think it only got one vote,” Pedersen said, laughing.
With the name decided, the next hurdle dealt with the student assignment plan. As with any high school opening, controversy surrounded the rising senior class and the students’ ability to stay at their respective high schools for their last year.
Several plans were suggested, but on Oct. 19 the School Board approved a plan that allows seniors to be graduated from their current high schools. The plan also allows junior siblings of rising seniors to remain at their current high school for both the junior and senior years. Under this plan, there will be no Carrboro High School class of 2008.
“It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for the junior class,” Principal Jeff Thomas said. “They get to be seniors for two years. They can use this time to improve their class standing, attain leadership positions in organizations or start organizations of their own.”
With the building nearing completion and assignments done, a majority of the planning now shifts to Thomas, who served as assistant principal of Chapel Hill High School for five years. He said he is excited about the opportunity.
“I have credibility in the community,” he said. “I have a lot of support from parents and students, and I knew that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
He first assembled a “design team” of seven teachers from various academic departments, students from the existing high schools, parents and a guidance counselor, all of whom will design and help implement programs at the high school.
He also said the school will run two new programs not seen in the other district high schools: an Academy of International Studies and a Freshman Academy.
Thomas based the Academy of International Studies on a program at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Springs, Md. Through the program, students start taking courses in the Academy during their freshman year. They would then take the “Introduction to International Studies” course as sophomores, two related electives as juniors and two more courses as seniors.
“It’s going to be open to all kids,” Thomas said. “It could one day involve international travel, and I hope to have the introductory classes in place next year.”
His main concern, however, is attracting minority students to the program.
“I want to devise courses for African-American and Latino students,” he said. “These students would ideally want to find out about themselves and their heritage.”
The Freshman Academy is also an academic experiment and one that Thomas hopes will make the transition for freshman students much easier. The school will work closely with the middle schools that feed into it in order to make sure students are as successful as possible.
Thomas also said that he wants every student to participate in at least one co-curricular activity.
“This isn’t going to be voluntary,” he said. “Research shows that students do better when they’re involved in their school. It establishes a sense of belonging.”
But the most cutting edge aspect of the school is its size. The school is built to accommodate only 800 students, much fewer than the other schools in the district. He also said that parents want their kids to attend Carrboro High School for the smaller, more personal learning environment.
“Even parents who aren’t in the Carrboro assignment area want their children to go here,” he said. “My guess is that (the School Board) will look favorably on these transfers if space is available. It’s really a win-win-win situation. Parents will have their kids where they want them. The school will benefit from having kids there who want to be there, and there will be fewer students at the other high schools.”
Some parents and students have expressed concerns about athletics, a staple of high school life. According to the school’s Website, Carrboro High School will be part of the 2-A conference. Conference assignment is based on enrollment, according to the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Athletic fields will be available, as well as practice fields at Lincoln Center off Merritt Mill Road. But there won’t be a football stadium, which was part of a compromise reached with the residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the school. Instead, there will be a competitive field with a track and bleachers but no press box. Thomas said that this was done to keep noise levels down, but he does not expect it to detract from the school’s athletic program.
“We’re still going to offer a variety of sports for our students,” he said.
But what are sports teams without a mascot and colors?
Thomas said that this decision is still in the works. He charged each student on his design team to come up with three suggestions for a mascot and colors. The parameters were that the mascot can’t involve warriors, Indians or any mascot used in their conference or the school district. The same goes for the colors.
He said that suggestions have been made to keep the mascot within the feline family – Chapel Hill High School is home to the Tigers, and East Chapel Hill High School is home to the Wildcats.
“I know the name Jaguars has been suggested,” he said. “If you’re for alliteration, we could go for the Carrboro Cougars. But then again, there has been talk of maybe choosing something indigenous to Carrboro.”
But the decision won’t be made for a while. Once all the suggestions have been collected from the design team and from suggestion boxes in the existing schools, the future students and staff of Carrboro High School will vote.
“The mascot and colors are important because it’s the beginning of giving the school its identification and sense of pride,” Thomas said.
This identification and pride, he said, also carries over to the town.
“I’m looking forward to this experience where I can share in the community,” he said. “This is going to be a welcomed addition to the town of Carrboro.”