Board members voted to accept the proposed McDowell Academy of Innovation to replace the Alternative Education Center on Lukin Street.

Chief Academic Officer Laura Davis gave an overview of the new Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) that will be funded by a recurring $275,000 grant.

“The idea of the school stems from one size does not fit all. We know that our students have a variety of needs, and they come from a variety of backgrounds,” she said at the meeting.

North Carolina has 160 CIHS in the state, and the idea has been around for about 13 years, Davis said. She has previously worked with two innovative schools in her career. McDowell Early College is considered a CIHS, and has excelled greatly since its inception in 2006.

“The mission will be different than the Early College. With this innovative high school, it is cooperating with a community college, but the focus is on terminal degrees,” said Davis. “These students will look at completing associate degrees without transferring. The curriculum will be based on innovation with kids creating and designing. We want to focus a lot on job shadows, externships and internships, flexibly scheduling options and having choices in their skill acquisition.”

Davis advised that 30 percent of the school population would be students who are at risk of dropping out of high school, 30 percent would be first-generation college students and 30 percent would be students who need accelerated curriculum.

“The other 10 percent is flexible. We will do a lottery and an application process by which all students have the same opportunity of being accepted,” she said.

There were talks last year of McDowell Academy of Innovation to be housed at the Universal Building, but AEC seemed like the more logical decision, said Davis. AEC once had a reputation of being a school where students with disciplinary issues were sent, but Davis informed the board and the public that only one student currently at AEC is there because of a disciplinary deferral out of close to 100 students.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to open the school up on the AEC campus. There is a lot of space amongst the three buildings and it will not require a lot of renovation or construction,” said Davis.

MAI would also partner with the North Carolina School of Science and Math, local businesses and civic organizations, she added. AEC students not at the school for disciplinary reasons would be allowed to continue as students at MAI, which AEC Principal Tracy Widmann said would benefit those students greatly.

“We have a very individualized approach to our student population and that’s why we have been so successful. I’m really excited about it,” said Widmann. “We have very few students that decide to go on to pursue a traditional university track. Most of our students choose to go to Tech and learn a trade.”

MAI would offer degrees, diplomas and certificates in HVAC, landscaping, business administration operations management, computer integrated manufacturing, electrical systems, engineering, health information technology, IT network management and IT software/web development.

MHS Principal Edwin Spivey said the school is a tremendous idea.

Interested students will be asked to fill out an application. A lottery will determine who is chosen.

To read Davis’s approved proposal, visit

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily newsletter.

Recommended for you