Arts and science high school on track

Sallie B. Howard plans to break ground on new project in March

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Lauryn Zhane Knight, a seventh-grader at Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education, hopes to continue her passion for dance education at the planned Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Science, which is slaed to open in the fall of 2019. Drew C. Wilson | Times
Lauryn Zhane Knight, a seventh-grader at Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education, hopes to continue her passion for dance education at the planned Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Science, which is slaed to open in the fall of 2019. Drew C. Wilson | Times
Drew C. Wilson | Times

Lauryn Zhane Knight has a mission.

The seventh-grader wants to be one of the first students at the Sallie B. Howard High School for the Arts and Science, which opens in the fall of 2019.

“I think the high school is a really great opportunity for kids who want to pursue their dreams like dance, music and art and all that kind of stuff,” Lauryn said. “It helps us prepare for the world ahead of us and really helps us perform better in what we want to do.”

Knight, who has been at Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education since fifth grade, wants to attend as a dance major and study dance forms like hip hop, contemporary jazz and acro.

“Dance is more like a passion, a feeling to me,” Lauren said. “It’s something that I care and love about and it’s just a way that I can express myself. It makes me happy and brings me joy.”

JoAnne Woodard, the school’s founder and executive director, said the new high school will be themed.

“You might call it a magnet-type school,” Woodard said.

Students will have two academic tracks, biotechnology and the visual and performing arts.

The school will start with ninth and 10th grades with 50 students per grade level for a total of 100 students.

“The children who want to come to our high school have plenty of time to make themselves eligible. They just have to be serious about what they are doing in the arts as well as in the science fields. They have to have a good GPA in the science field and they have to show talent and potential in the arts area and that kind of thing,” Woodard said. “GPA is not the end-all and the be-all. It’s not the deal-breaker.”

A student’s passion, interest, excitement and talent are going to be big factors considered in the selection process.

The new $3-to-$4-million school will be built behind the existing facility located on Herring Avenue in Wilson.

“We hope to have the ribbon-cutting and breaking ground in March this year, so we want to have about 16 or 18 months to get it all done,” Woodard said.

The Dunn and Dalton firm, architects who have been used at the school since 2002, are preparing the high school’s design.

“The board has agreed and approved the design. So that has been laid to rest as to what we are going to do,” Woodard said.

“We are going to visit a couple of schools just to see the layouts of the gymnasium and the auditorium to design the highest quality facility that is possible,” said Sandeep Aggarwal, dean of cultural affairs and business at the school.

Woodard said Sallie B. Howard High School planning includes collaborating with Wilson Community College, which plans to begin offering new associate degrees in biotechnology and in fine arts in the near future.

“We clearly will have high school kids getting involved with Wilson Community College classes. That is an ongoing conversation,” Woodard said.

“They have their own biotechnology program independent from us, but how fortuitous it is for us,” Woodard said. “They are starting their biotech in the fall of this year, so they are going to have faculty. They are going to have equipment. They are going to have programs. They are going to have probably industry sponsors. It is a booming market because it has been emerging for 20 years or more and we are right there in the throes of it with RTP and our own pharmaceutical companies.”

Woodard said school officials are meeting with WCC administrators on Jan. 22 to discuss allowing 11th- and 12th-grade biotechnology students to qualify if they have the prerequisites to get college credits for classes that they would be taking in biotechnology at the community college.

“So that’s exciting too,” Woodard said. “We don’t even have to have a bus to get them there,” referring to the close proximity of WCC.

Woodard said students at the new high school will be serious about their careers.

“They don’t have to be an A honor roll student, but if they are passionate and serious and dedicated to their own ambition to go into the biotech field or to become a principal ballerina somewhere or to be on Broadway, if they are dedicated and passionate they have a good chance of getting into the Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Science,” Woodard said.

Zavian Watford, a seventh-grader from Greenville, hopes he can get in.

“I feel like it will offer way more than the middle school does, so in high school they will teach you way more about the dramatic arts and stuff like that,” said Zavian, who wants to be an actor. “I have been in drama for four years and I would like to propel into the high school years so I can keep going and pursue this career.”

Darrin Taylor, a seventh-grade student, also wants to attend the high school.

“I think it will expand my knowledge and my future career choice,” said Darrin, who wants to help people and likes the idea of possibly becoming a doctor. “It just offers me so much information. I can build on what I have learned here in the middle school.”

It is his third year at Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education.

“I like the diversity of it,” said Darrin, a trombonist. “I am in band, which is another career choice if I don’t make it as a doctor.”

Woodard said planning for the high school includes “a lot of good solid research and homework in these fields.”

“We have some great consultation going on with ECU in the arts, particularly their theater, their dance, their music and all of those programs. We have been meeting with them to make sure that we are offering what, at the end of those four years, the student should need to qualify to get into some of the best colleges and programs to continue their pursuit,” Woodard said. “We are not doing this in isolation. We know that where we are headed, there are people who are not just professionals but experts in their field and they can help us by helping to guide us as we talk about selection of students, as we talk about skills that we need to be providing in the high school so that they will be extremely competitive anywhere in the nation and not just in North Carolina.”