ECU, Pitt County cut ribbon on Innovation Early College High School

Next week, East Carolina University will welcome 55 ninth-graders to the Innovation Early College High School, a collaboration between Pitt County Schools and ECU.

IECHS is a new school option in Pitt County Schools, admitting students who are first-generation college applicants, at risk of dropping out, or seeking accelerated studies. Upon completion of the five-year program, students will have earned a high school diploma, up to 60 hours of transferable college credits and digital badges of achievement.

guest listening to speakers before the ribbon cutting

Guests and incoming ninth graders listen to speakers before a ribbon cutting for the new Innovation Early College High School.

Students will attend class in the Brewster building, where officials held a ribbon cutting and tour on Aug. 1.

“Today we celebrate a new partnership and welcome a new generation of students, all of whom will now benefit from similar experiences,” said Dr. Christopher Locklear, vice provost for academic success at ECU.

Student Chrishera Gilliam, 14, of Greenville, who attended the ribbon cutting with her mother and sister, Chariyah, is looking forward to starting high school. “I think it will be an amazing experience and I’m glad to be here,” Gilliam said.

Her mom, Mona Gilliam, is an ECU alumna and said she is “happy we took that plunge,” she said. “The level of support from these two organizations is incredible.”

Discussion about the concept for the school began more than a decade ago. “ECU and Pitt County Schools have a history of successful partnerships and the community benefits from our joint commitment to providing students with access to opportunities,” Locklear said.

“Creating opportunities for kids – that’s really what our job is,” said Dr. Ethan Lenker, superintendent of Pitt County Schools.

The school’s rigorous curriculum will blend high school classes with college coursework to prepare students for a successful transition to an institution of higher education, with a focus on innovation in science, technology, engineering, art and design, and math (STEAM) career pathways.

guests touring classrooms

Students and guests toured the classrooms in Brewster building on ECU’s campus.

“This foundation provides students with an excellent opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree – hopefully at ECU,” Locklear said.

Locklear shared a similar message that he tells incoming ECU freshman during orientation. “The investments we (Pitt County Schools and ECU) make in their success is only half the equation,” he said. “They must fully invest in themselves and in their future. We must challenge all students to make the most of this opportunity.”

Mildred Council, chair of the Pitt County Board of Education, saluted the families and students at the event. “We hope you will make these the best years of your life,” she said. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a great start on your life and a great future ahead.”

Jennifer James, previously the principal of Stokes School, will be the principal of IECHS. James, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration, special education teacher certification and master of school administration from ECU, has 11 years of experience in education, including four as principal at Stokes.

ECU will join 10 other UNC system institutions that have cooperative innovative high schools on their campuses. There are more than 120 early college and innovative high schools in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Students, families, and officials listen to Jennifer James

Jennifer James, principal of the Innovation Early College High School, introduced teachers and school staff during her welcome to families, students and officials at the Aug. 1 ribbon cutting.