Former Smoky Mountain assistant principal tapped to lead Catamount School

Jackson County’s Smoky Mountain High School will also be the site of “the Catamount School.”

Robert Dinsdale, former assistant principal at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva, has been appointed to direct the Catamount School, the new “lab school” partnership between Western Carolina University and Jackson County Public Schools.

Dinsdale, currently assistant principal at Asheville High School, will be the chief administrator for the Catamount School, which will serve a maximum of 75 students from grades six through eight in space within Smoky Mountain High School beginning in August.

The initiative, the result of legislation approved last year by the North Carolina General Assembly calling for the establishment of “laboratory schools” at selected institutions of the University of North Carolina system, is designed to help students in grades six through eight successfully transition into high school through a “whole school, whole community, whole child” approach.

Dinsdale’s existing connections with the Jackson County school system made him an especially strong candidate for the position of Catamount School principal, said Kim Winter, associate dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions.

“Having worked as an assistant principal for three years, Bob has knowledge of Jackson County schools and of the North Carolina public school system in general. He understands the vision of the Catamount School and has in-depth knowledge of middle grades curriculum,” said Winter. “It is our belief that Bob Dinsdale will help us articulate the vision of the Catamount School to future students and parents, as he has strong, positive relationships with Jackson County Public School faculty and administrators, making him an effective liaison.”

Assistant principal at Asheville High School for the past year, Dinsdale was assistant principal at Smoky Mountain High School from 2014 until 2016, also serving as testing coordinator at both of those high schools. He worked previously as a teacher at Pisgah Forest and Brevard elementary schools in Transylvania County from 2003 until 2014 and at Northwest Elementary School in Davidson County from 1997 until 2003.

Dinsdale has experience teaching in academically and intellectually gifted classes and coaching Science Olympiad, Battle of the Books and middle school basketball. He is a 1996 graduate of Bowling Green State University and earned his master’s degree in school administration at WCU in 2008.

Dinsdale said his goal for the school is to create a nurturing, family-like environment that will be responsive and flexible in meeting the needs of enrolled students.

“I would like this school to be able to find ways to help improve students no matter what point they are at when they come to us, and I would like this to be a place where children feel like they have somewhere they belong,” he said. “With access to all the resources that WCU has to offer, with our small size and with our partnership with Jackson County Public Schools, I believe we can find the right methods, people and techniques that can help students as they move forward and on to high school.”

The mission of the Catamount School is to provide a learning community in which all students are valued and that promotes health and wellness and a commitment to learning through experience in a caring, collaborative and inclusive environment, said Dale Carpenter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions.

Students attending the Catamount School will benefit from the combined expertise and resources of Jackson County Public Schools and WCU, Carpenter said. The university and public school partners will work toward best practices in an effort to offer students additional attention and support to succeed, Carpenter said. The school will have the capacity to serve 25 students in each of the eligible grade levels (six through eight). All Jackson County students in grades six, seven and eight will be eligible to enroll in the school.

WCU is one of eight UNC system institutions identified as candidates to establish and operate laboratory schools serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade, as required by a provision in the 2016-17 state budget enacted last July.

Under the establishing legislation, the lab schools must be located in public school districts where at least 25 percent of schools have been classified as low-performing, based on student achievement data. They will operate as public schools of choice, with a mission to improve student performance and provide exposure and training for teachers and principals to successfully address challenges existing in high-needs school settings.

The legislation also mandates that the school’s principal and its teachers will be employees of WCU. The university’s Board of Trustees will be the governing body for the school, with responsibility for its operation and outcomes. The school system will provide transportation and lunch for students in the school. University and school system officials are working on a memorandum of understanding that will specify other responsibilities regarding operational issues.