By MIRANDA BAINES
The Daily Southerner
A large crowd gathered in the parking lot outside North East Carolina Prep School (NECP)’s middle school building last Friday morning for a building dedication ceremony.
“We’ve gone from zero students to 900 students and all this,” Brownie Eidson, chair of NECP’s board of directors told the audience, marveling at the growth of the second-year charter school. Eidson looked up at the two-story, 51,000-square-foot middle school building that was nonexistent just months earlier. The building is now part of a bustling school campus of 900 students. Just a year ago, the property located on a road now called “Husky Trail” just off Howard Avenue Extension boasted only vacant buildings, the remnants of a rehabilitation center known as the Mary Frances Center.
“This is a special moment for us, and hopefully there will be another one when we dedicate our high school building,” said NECP Executive Director John D. Westberg, looking forward to the future growth of the school. NECP first opened its doors to about 400 students in August 2012.
“If you turn around and look at those smiling faces behind you, that shows that we’re headed in the right direction,” Westberg said, gesturing toward the students assembled behind the crowd.
Westberg talked about the two definitions of the term “dedication,” the first of which is “setting aside for a particular purpose.” ”We feel that our school provides the type of environment, both culturally and educationally, that benefits our region,” he said.
Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe) applauded Westberg for establishing a connection with the Global China Alliance to provide students with an “international” education.
“Our young people will be living and working in a global economy. Your school will be preparing students for that,” Tolson said.
The second definition of dedication is “self-sacrificing devotion,” Westberg said, and he talked about the devotion of the teachers and staff at the school to provide a quality education for the students.
Eddie Goodall, executive director of the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association, said that investment that comes with choice is what makes charter schools different.
“All of you made a decision, had a choice when this school opened,” Goodall said. “That decision creates a sense of ownership…That changes behavior and that enhances performance.”
Goodall also applauded Westberg and the board of directors for opening a charter school in a rural area with high unemployment rates. He said 128 charter schools are operating in North Carolina right now, but most of those are in metropolitan areas.
“Children in Edgecombe County count, too. Children in rural areas count, too,” Goodall said.
He compared NECP to a “laboratory” mixing up elixirs that are successful, and encouraged the school to share its successes with the public school system.
“When the public schools come to you and ask you for that formula, give it to them,” Goodall said.
After the dedication ceremony, Westberg invited the guests to tour the middle school building and observe the students’ learning.
“It’s not about the bricks and the mortar. It’s about what’s going on in the classroom,” he said.