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NCSSM expansion causes concern

NCSSM is a residential school for high-achieving students entering their junior year of high school in Durham.

The bond allocates money to establish a second campus in Burke County, located in northwestern North Carolina.

“I think the primary benefit is extending educational opportunity to more kids, and how can that be a bad thing?” said Brock Winslow, vice chancellor for institutional advancement at NCSSM.

Matt Ellinwood, policy analyst at the N.C. Justice Center, said the school model has proved successful and benefits students statewide.

“A lot of times you hear the best school serving people just in one neighborhood, but this really does serve people from across the entire state,” he said.

NCSSM uses a quota system for North Carolina’s congressional districts, accepting an equal number of students from each.

But this means most students applying are from the Triangle or surrounding regions.

“There’s a lot less applicants from the congressional district out in the west,” Ellinwood said.

“It’s really going to help students in the western half of the state. Right now, they’re eligible to go but there’s less awareness that this is an option out there.”

Ellinwood said the new campus would assist other schools in the area because NCSSM holds professional development programs for STEM teachers.

He also said the new campus would make it easier for teachers in western North Carolina to attend these programs.

Some NCSSM students don’t see it in such a positive light. UNC junior and NCSSM graduate David Spencer said the geographic location, unequal resources and opportunities and difficulty appealing to teachers were areas of concern.

“The geographic choice impacts the diversity of the school and I think one thing people like about going (to NCSSM) is having people from all over North Carolina,” he said. “I think it might also create problems because it seems like there are fewer resources in Morganton.”

Spencer said without major universities nearby, NCSSM’s research opportunities for students would be severely lacking.

It would also be hard to attract teachers because of fewer opportunities and an overall lack of ability to offer equal resources.

But Winslow said he did not think a lack of resources would be a real concern.

“I don’t think we can necessarily assume that expansion of this nature is going to be detrimental to resources available to this school,” he said.

“In fact, I think it has some potential to be very positive to the community in Morganton, western North Carolina in general and the business community.”

Winslow said the new campus would not only be an important opportunity to grow outreach to students but could also strengthen the school.

“There are a lot of smart students in the state and figuring out a way to serve more of them and meet them where they need to be met based on their individual and academic needs,” Winslow said.

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Spencer said he was concerned with how a new campus would affect the atmosphere for current residential students.

“I think students like it the way it is because everyone is in one place and it’s a special community, and I think having it separated into two sections would be kind of strange for a lot of us,” Spencer said.

“It would be easier to get more students but on the other hand it would be harder to make the campuses equal.”