Information sessions set for parents to learn about new Catamount School

Western Carolina University has announced the first in a series of public information sessions for parents interested in enrolling their children in the Catamount School, the new laboratory school being established for children in grades six, seven and eight at Smoky Mountain High School.

Sessions are set for 5:30 until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, at Smokey Mountain Elementary; 5:30 until 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at Fairview School; and 5:30 until 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 10, at Blue Ridge School.

Two additional sessions will be scheduled this spring at other Jackson County school sites, with another forum in the planning stages for a non-school system venue.

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. WCU is slated to open the school in August.

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.

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 apply for enrollment.

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.

WCU recently appointed Robert Dinsdale, former assistant principal at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva, to serve as director of the Catamount School.

For more information, contact the dean’s office in the College of Education and Allied Professions at 828-227-7311.