Looking back, moving forward
By this afternoon, Lee County's private schools will finish the 2012-13 school year, and the public schools will follow suit Friday.
The public schools especially saw many changes in the past year, including the implementation of a new K-12 curriculum and the election of two new school board members. And although the next school year is still a few months away — except for year-round Tramway Elementary School, which starts back in July — a number of changes and additions are already on the docket.
Potentially the most significant of all is new leadership for the 10,000-student public school system. On July 1, Andy Bryan will become superintendent of Lee County Schools, replacing his boss Jeff Moss. Moss ended his final year on a high note, having recently been named superintendent of the year in the Sandhills region for the second time in his five-year Lee County career.
Moss said he found it especially significant that his peers gave him the award although he's moving to South Carolina, and thus won't be eligible to win the statewide award: "I think they recognize the good work we're doing here in Lee County, and I see that as less of an honor for me and more of a recognition of the county as a whole."
He also said he wanted to thank Harold Gillis for helping start his education career in 1983, when he hired Moss as a construction teacher in Hoke County. Moss said he later took over Gillis' job in administration and used that experience as a stepping stone to the rest of his career.
"I usually don't do this, but I wanted to recognize Harold," he said. "He allowed me some unique opportunities that really set the stage for me to become a superintendent. ... He's certainly a very, very dear friend of mine."
Bryan, who has been the district's second-highest-ranking official for the past five years, said he's "still in the listening stage" but will release a transition plan in July outlining his vision for the next year and beyond.
Technology focus grows
Moss' tenure in Lee County coincided with a greater focus on technological programs, such as making laptops and Rosetta Stone language software available to every student free of charge. This past year saw that focus expand, with the introduction of digital science "techbooks" to replace traditional textbooks, as well as a ground-breaking network — the first of its kind in the United States — that lets students without Internet at home log onto a wireless internal network filled with educational material.
The Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department has also been adding many new certification programs, including ones for various software programs, and the district added several new high school classes with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus.
New ways of teaching
In addition to the new classes, the entire way school is taught in Lee County has begun changing, from kindergarten to 12th grade. The introduction of the Common Core Curriculum this year is a driving force, putting a stronger focus on reading and writing while also increasing emphasis on standardized testing. Lee County High School will also use next year to plan an International Baccalaureate program — a curriculum even more difficult than advanced placement classes — and an academy-style program in finance. Both are scheduled to begin in the 2014-15 school year.
Southern Lee High School will start its own academy program next year, in hospitality and tourism, and will begin planning an engineering academy for the year after, said CTE Director Aaron Fleming. He also said he and other school officials plan to spend next year working more closely with local businesses to determine how to best tailor graduates for modern jobs.
More choices all around
At a time when public schools are facing increased scrutiny and decreased funding, they're also facing more competition for students.
A charter school in Lee County was proposed earlier this year, but plans fell through. However, Chatham Charter School — which several Lee County students attend — will open a high school next year, and homeschooling has also become an increasingly popular choice locally.
Both Lee Christian School Administrator Stephen Coble and Grace Christian School Headmaster Bill Carver said their schools' enrollment is up significantly. Both schools are preparing for big changes next year, too. Grace will move to a block schedule while also welcoming exchange students from Asia, Europe and Latin America, and Lee Christian will move into the final stretch of accreditation proceedings from an international group of Christian schools.
Athletics bring changes, high expectations
Next year will be the first year the two biggest high schools in town compete in the same athletic conference. Lee County High, fresh off a second-place conference finish in football this year, will move down from the 4A Tri-Nine Conference to 3A, joining Southern Lee in the Cape Fear Valley Conference.
As for the Cavaliers, Southern Lee men's soccer won its fourth consecutive conference championship this year, and all but three players on that team were underclassmen. Also coming back with veterans and high playoff achievements next year will be the Grace Christian women's basketball team, which lost narrowly in the state finals this year and returns record-breaking scorer and All-American Anna Murr. Lee Christian will begin its second year in the Carolina Christian Conference and the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association.
Last days of school
Lee County public schools all get out on Friday. Elementary schools release at noon, middle schools at 12:15 p.m., and high schools at 12:30 p.m.
Grace Christian School had its last day on Wednesday.
Lee Christian School's last day is today.