WENDELL East Wake High School will have four valedictorians this year, but this will be the last year of any recognition of the 10 years the school was divided into four high schools with four separate principals.
Their diplomas will carry a seal recognizing the school they were grouped in for the majority of their studies.
The school wanted to honor the three years seniors spent studying in that small-school concept, said principal Stacey Alston, but then it’s time to move on.
“It’s a one-shot deal and then it’s done,” Alston said of the separate valedictorians.
Alston, a former Knightdale High School assistant principal and a resident of Wendell for more than a dozen years, started as the East Wake principal last May after serving the last three years as principal of the STEM Early College at N.C. A&T in Greensboro.
The four principals who led East Wake up to this school year have taken jobs at other schools around the county or with the Wake County Public School System central office.
Interviewing to keep jobs
As part of the transition, all the East Wake teachers had to reapply for their jobs and interview with Alston, a process he just finished at the end of last month.
“It’s was a long process, but it gave me the opportunity to know people on a more personal level,” he said.
Alston said about 15 percent of the faculty decided not to reapply.
“We had some dynamic teachers who said, ‘I really like the separate schools,’ so for a variety of reasons some are choosing to move on, but for the most part they are choosing to stay.”
Alston said he wants to focus on moving ahead as one school, especially with the ninth-graders who come in fresh without any time spent under the small-school concept.
State goals call for 95 percent of current East Wake ninth-graders to graduate. Alston looks at it as only 18 students the school can lose between now and then.
“We have to know one to two weeks in, this child is having some difficulty,” he said.
Ninth grade is when most high school students are lost, Alston said, so he knows every student that makes it past their first year has a good chance of continuing on to graduation.
Open to all
The legacy of the four divisions – health science; arts, education and global studies; engineering systems; and integrated technology – remains in the classes East Wake offers, but the classes that were grouped into separate schools are now open to all students.
Bill Gates had championed the separate schools model and Gates Foundation money was used in part to set up the system at East Wake.
“We have some unique classes that not all high schools in Wake County have,” Alston said.
In the Virtual Enterprise classes, for instance, students create a business and compete with schools from around the nation.
The Certified Nursing Assistant program at East Wake, is the only one on a campus in Wake County, Alston said. Students at other Wake schools can only access the program online.
East Wake was also the first school in the county to offer a weekend Mini-Medical School through Wake Area Health Education Center, affiliated with the UNC School of Medicine.
Alston said the biggest change on campus is teachers and students have to get used to having reduced access to the principal now that there is only one for all 1,400 students.
“The physical space hasn’t changed, but what goes on in the space has,” Alston said. “People tend to hang onto the past, and I try to be sensitive to that.”
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826