McDowell County Schools has a unique opportunity for rising freshmen students as they have three schools to choose from for their high school career.

On a Friday in January, the eighth-grade community visited McDowell High School (MHS), McDowell Academy of Innovation (MAI) and McDowell Early College (MEC) to learn which school is the best fit for them. All three schools offer high school diplomas, transportation, Titan athletics, breakfast and lunch, Chromebooks, college credit options, driver’s education, PSAT, Pre-ACT, ACT, yearbook, internships, apprenticeships, advisory, clubs and social events, student council, student support programs, AIG support, exception children services and English as a second language.

A universal application for all three high schools must be completed by Feb. 14. The link is posted at and on the sites of all three high schools, or you can use the link MEC and MAI will notify students of their decision on Feb. 28.

Option #1:

MHS, a traditional public school with the largest population, has been a staple of secondary education in McDowell County since the 1970s. Their graduation rate is right at 87.6 percent. In last year’s testing phase, MHS exceeded their expected growth and earned a B for their school performance grade.

Led by Principal Edwin Spivey, MHS has a student body of around 1,700 with approximately 150 staff members. They offer a variety of arts, music, foreign language, ROTC and AP courses. They are also home to highly successful Career and Technical Education (CTE) program offering a long list of student-earned, industry-recognized credentials. MHS has a variety of certificate and credit options through N.C. Career and College Promise. Students can earn up to 35 credit hours of college-transfer or career-ready options.

To learn more about the MHS, visit them at

Option #2

MEC, a cooperative innovative high school, is a partnership between McDowell County Schools and McDowell Technical Community College and housed on the college campus. The program is a five-year commitment for students who will earn their high school diploma and up to two years of college credit. All high school courses are taught at an honors level with some high school credits fulfilled for college courses.

College classes begin in the ninth grade for MEC students and gradually increase each year. Students who attend MEC have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree before graduation and fulfill most college requirements for the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.

MEC earned an A for their school performance grade in the 2017-2018 school year, exceeding growth with a graduation rate over 95 percent. Lisa Robinson has been the principal of MEC since its inception in 2006, and the school offers a smaller student body than traditional schools.

Criteria for admission is the student body must be made up of 80 percent first-generation college student, plus there is an examination of academics, test scores, attendance and behavior, an essay and interview. MEC runs on the community college calendar. For more information, visit them at

Option #3

In its first year, MAI is a cooperative innovative high school replacing the district’s Alternative Education Center (AEC). The student body must be comprised of 30 percent of students who are at risk of dropping out of high school, 30 percent of first-generation college students, 30 percent of students in need of an accelerated curriculum and 10 percent through the lottery and application process.

The curriculum is based on innovation, job shadowing, externships and internship, flexibility scheduling options and skill choices. MAI also partners with the N.C. School of Science and Math, local businesses and organizations. High school courses are offered at honors and standard levels.

They currently 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.

This year MEC enrolled around 90 students. Tracey Widmann is the principal. MEC is located on Lukin Street in Marion. For more information, visit

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