Early College Principal Wins Awards – and Hearts
“Supportive.” “Encouraging.” “The best principal I have ever worked with.”
These words are from the nomination which earned accolades for Brunswick Early College High School (BECHS) Principal Cheri Skaggs. In May, she was named North Carolina Association for Scholastic Activities (NCASA) 2018 Principal of the Year. NCASA’s executive director, Leon Pfeiffer, said she was chosen for “outstanding support of scholastic activities at Brunswick Early College High School.”
Skaggs explained that a wide range of scholastic activities is offered and encouraged at BECHS in lieu of athletics usually found at traditional public schools.
In support of the scholastic activities, the school is one of 300 or so middle and high schools that belong to the non-profit North Carolina Association for Scholastic Activities. The association provides “a really phenomenal opportunity for our students to participate in multiple competitions,” said Skaggs. These range from the fine arts to academics with such activities as quiz bowl, creative writing, Science Olympiad, history, economic challenge, chess, and choir.
Several teachers sponsor different groups, and clubs have grown out of the competitions. For example, Skaggs herself leads the 10-member show choir.
Staff member Angela Jordan learned of the association at a conference and presented it to Skaggs and others. “When she brought back the idea, I said ‘Let’s get involved,'” Skaggs recalled. “That was my first year as principal. Over the years, we’ve participated in more and more.”
In addition to practical training that will be invaluable in the future, and a creative extracurricular outlet, the NCASA Scholastic Cup provides scholarship opportunities for the students, she said. “It’s key to building relationships. These students become so vested in the competition group, regardless of the team. They’re vested in the team. It’s a huge relationship builder for students and adults.”
What is Brunswick Early College High School?
“We’re an innovative high school,” Skaggs explained. Funded by the NC legislature, the school allows students to earn an associate’s degree or up to two years of transferable college credit while they are earning their high school diploma. Designed to be a five-year program, there are students who complete the course load in four years. Students enter as freshmen and take only high school courses the first two semesters. In their sophomore year, they complete most of their high school courses while taking one college course each semester.
“Beginning the junior year, they are predominantly in college classes. Those are for dual credit, so a college class counts for the college degree and as a high school credit, often times as an elective,” said Skaggs. There are students who will earn both the Associate’s in science and the Associate’s in arts. “We see that more often with the student who stays five years than a four-year student for obvious reasons; it’s because of time. “
Skaggs said this type of school is designed to target students who are the first in their family to go on to higher education, students who would benefit from accelerated learning opportunities or students who are at risk for not continuing their education.
There is a huge cost benefit as well. The two years of college at a university would be valued at $20,000 and up, she said. Through BECHS, there is no cost to the student – just as in a traditional high school.
The school has fifteen faculty teachers and student support personnel for a student body of 392.
Being part of the NCASA “has truly provided us an opportunity to knit faculty and students together outside of the classroom,” Skaggs said. “It’s become an integral part of our clubs; several are competition clubs. For a school that does not have athletics, it becomes that extracurricular piece that gives us that contributes to our Firebird pride.”
Who is Cheri Skaggs?
Skaggs came to the principal’s position by way of a teaching career in music. A native of West Virginia, she earned a Bachelor’s in music education from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Two years after her parents and siblings moved to Brunswick County, she and her husband and children followed. Her siblings and children graduated from West Brunswick High School. She taught music and chorus at West Brunswick High School for three years, and kindergarten through 8th grade music at Waccamaw School for eighteen years. She taught band for seven years of that stint. “I was nicknamed Miss Music at Waccamaw.”
From 2004 to 2007, she tackled the arduous drive to UNC Pembroke for night classes, earning a Master’s in school administration. The drive paid off in 2008 when she became assistant principal at Waccamaw. She moved to the BECHS as the Assistant Principal in the 2009-2010 school year and became Principal in 2013.
“I was very blessed to be at Waccamaw School for eighteen years. I feel what I learned there as a teacher and how I was mentored there was a critical piece to what I became as an administrator. Being here for nine years has been an equal blessing in my life…I’m blessed to be in an environment where nurturing young people is so integral to our daily work.”
The BECHS Relationship with Brunswick Community College
Brunswick Early College High School opened the 2006-2007 school year on the campus of Brunswick Community College. Classes moved around the campus for four years, and a few activities were conducted at nearby Brunswick County Academy. In its fourth year, BECHS moved into dedicated space in Building C, where it has remained. A banner announcing its selection as a 2017 Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School hangs beside the entrance door.
Being on the campus in a dedicated space is a “very positive partnership,” Skaggs said. “Students who are on the college campus respond as more mature young men and women than if they were taking these classes online. They’re mixed with traditional college-age students in their courses, and they rise to the occasion. They are highly motivated. They take very seriously how fortunate they are to have this opportunity to be on the college campus. Our students hold themselves to high standards,” she said.
Learn more about Brunswick Early College High School at www.bcswan.net/ECHS.