Finding A Home For Isaac Bear High School

Feb 28, 2019

Isaac Bear is not an ordinary high school in the New Hanover County school system. It’s on UNCW property, its juniors and seniors take university classes, and earn university credit. Almost all will then go on to college. But Isaac Bear has a problem.

Isaac Bear Early College High School is nestled between the UNCW campus and the former Kmart parking lot off College Avenue.

For the last six years, it has boasted a 100 percent graduation rate. The school reports that 96 percent of its students are college-bound. By all appearances, it’s an academic success story. In addition, it needs a place to call home.

“Yes, they've been in the trailer since 2006 on MacMillan.”

Melissa Story is an Isaac Bear parent. Her daughter is a sophomore there. Her class has about 60 students. The school as a whole has about 240. Story is leading the charge for a permanent location, instead of the trailers that currently house the school.

“They have been in there since 2006. It doesn't reflect the rigor of the work that they're doing. It's disrespectful of the rigor of the work they're doing. And also it doesn't meet their basic needs. For example, there is no auditorium. The lunchroom holds I would say 20 out of those 60 students, which left 40 students displaced on Tuesday, which was what, 30 degrees.”

Seeing kids having to either go outside to eat or find a corner somewhere kick-started Story into action.

Isaac Bear opened in 2006 in its modular home at UNCW. The Watson College of Education manages the school, while New Hanover County Schools pays student fees and reimburses the university for staff costs.

“And so Isaac Bear operates in the collaborative relationship while we've worked across the university is, connected to the Watson College of Education.”

That’s Van Dempsey, Dean of the Watson College of Education.

“Isaac Bear is a New Hanover County school, but it works in a partnership and a memorandum of understanding with the university. So the students who were in the high school can in their second two years take coursework through the university. And that's the early college part.”

Dempsey says they intend to establish a future teacher career academy. Staff from Isaac Bear, New Hanover County, and Watson College are working with students who've come through Isaac bear, who aspire to be teachers.

So with all the success of the school, its 100 percent graduation rate, and teacher academy plans, why is it still in temporary buildings?

It’s complicated. Republican Rep. Holly Grange, and the rest of the delegation from the region, have been working to secure funding.

“What it will take is it will take a priority from the UNC Board of Governors because the way that these schools are set up, these early college situations, they call them cooperative and innovative programs. It's the responsibility of the university or the community college. It's their responsibility to provide the facility, not New Hanover County schools.”

What that means is this: The General Assembly decides the funding for the UNC school system. Then the UNC system decides where the money goes. Currently, with millions of dollars needed to repair UNCW from Hurricane Florence, there is no money for Isaac Bear.

“Now UNCW has identified a location for a permanent, new building and they they would love for it to be state of the art, to set an example for other cooperative and innovative schools in the state. But there it's just a matter of priorities, that you know, that they need funding for other things and that Isaac Bear is lower on the totem pole.”

Parents like Melissa Story, and legislators like Holly Grange say they will keep the pressure on, to build a new Isaac Bear school … sometime in the future.

Vince Winkel, WHQR News