WCU among 8 UNC institutions identified as potential lab school sites

UNC President Margaret Spellings

UNC President Margaret Spellings

Western Carolina University is one of eight University of North Carolina system institutions identified as potential 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 in July.

UNC President Margaret Spellings submitted the system’s plan to the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations and announced the potential candidates Tuesday, Nov. 1.

The UNC system includes 15 institutions that offer educator-preparation programs. After initial consultations, eight were identified as candidates to establish and operate lab schools. In addition to WCU, the other institutions included on the list of potential lab school sites are Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of North Carolina at Pembroke and University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Under the 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 in eligible school districts and provide exposure and training for teachers and principals to successfully address challenges existing in high-needs school settings.

“I view this project as an opportunity to redefine how universities partner with public schools to improve student outcomes and provide high quality teacher and principal training. Through these lab schools, we’ll be able to partner directly with local school districts to promote evidence-based teaching and school leadership, all while offering real-world experience for the next generation of teachers and principals,” Spellings said.

“These schools will meld every part of our mission — teaching, research and public service,” she said. “We look forward to working with the General Assembly, local school districts, community members and other stakeholders to expand opportunities for educational success.”

Western Carolina was founded in 1889 as a teacher’s college and for decades was home to laboratory schools that provided training opportunities to students who were studying to become school teachers.

“The university has a long history of strong partnerships with the schools of Western North Carolina,” said Dale Carpenter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions. “We welcome the opportunity to continue as partners with our school system colleagues in the development of plans for a laboratory school that will benefit the children of the region and that will provide additional education, training and outreach opportunities for our faculty and students.”

Last month, representatives from UNC, the State Board of Education, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and local school districts participated in a daylong meeting to identify and discuss the significant operational, programmatic and policy issues that must be addressed in creating successful lab schools.

Some of the schools are expected to begin operations in the 2017-18 academic year. An initial review of local school districts identified 36 that are eligible locations for lab schools, many of which are in reasonable proximity to a designated UNC institution. Subject to further consultations, UNC aims to solidify the precise districts in which the first schools will be located by early 2017, UNC officials said. Spellings and her staff will support efforts by participating UNC institutions to identify and collaborate with partnering school districts, the officials said.