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Ahead of the Class

Article Published: Aug. 5, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Ahead of the Class

Community members gather for the ribbon-cutting of the new Watauga High School last Friday.

Photo by Lauren K. Ohnesorge

"Students, today is all about you," Watauga County Schools superintendent Marty Hemric said last Friday.

It was the official ribbon cutting of the new Watauga High School, and hundreds gathered to usher in the next phase in education. Leaders had special seats by the podium complete with place cards: Gov. Beverly Perdue, N.C. Sen. Steve Goss, N.C. Rep.Cullie Tarleton.
But they weren't the only guests of honor.

If you looked out at the crowd, you probably saw Daisy Adams. To Adams, or "Miss Daisy," Friday was more than the opening of a building.

Adams, who celebrated her 94th birthday on Aug. 1, taught for 32 years in Watauga County.

Looking at the new structure, the LEED certified Watauga High School, complete with towering features and a turfed football field, it's hard to imagine where it all began.

"See, I taught in one-teacher schools," she said. "The school buildings were built for the community."

That, at least hasn't changed. Even though she'll never touch the smartboard or the overhead projectors, the new facility represents something she's proud to still be a part of: The Watauga County community.

"I was born here and I grew up here," she said. "I got married here ... I am interested in the progress of the county."

And, looking up at the building, it's hard not to feel her excitement.

"I think it's an outstanding building, and I know some of the personnel," she said. "They have wonderful teachers and leadership."

It's that leadership that has not only spearheaded the building itself, but developed its features, like wireless infrastructure that, along with the addition of laptops to the high school, will further help future Wataugans prepare for the 21st century on a global level.

"This is a great day," 5th District Congressional candidate Billy Kennedy said. "It's about the future and not the past."

Kennedy, along with local leaders, community members, students and media were on hand at the ceremony turned celebration, to listen to speakers like Younce talk about the long road to the new school.

"We have said for years that we need to invest wisely in the future of our students," Younce said.

"Our dream was to provide the best education possible to the students of Watauga County," Deal said. "By reaching that potential, we all benefit."

Younce and Deal have been there from the beginning, from when the board was trying to decide whether to renovate or build a new school. After realizing it would cost $35 million to renovate the old high school, the decision was made. And now, thanks in a big way to the crowd gathered, it's time to show off the product.

"The Watauga Board of Education would like to say an enormous thank you to all who have assisted us in this project ... especially the taxpayers and citizens of Watauga County," Younce said.

But it's not about the building itself.

"It's the educational opportunities for students that will be made possible, that's the real value of this facility," Principal Michael Wyant said.

The new WHS, complete with 270 geothermal wells to provide cheap heat and collection systems so storm water can flush toilets, was built with efficiency in mind, and each aspect is state of the art. Not only will the energy efficiency help decrease energy bills, but the features also aim to get students interested in green technologies.

"That will far outpace any monetary benefits we may realize," Miller said.

The wireless infrastructure and laptop element is another way to give students global awareness. It's that aspect that was most lauded by a special visitor to the ceremony: Gov. Beverly Perdue.

"You are not looking a traditional public school in North Carolina," she said. "This is actually the most important thing happening this fall."

By giving Wataugans the technological tools to compete, it benefits the whole state.

"They, indeed, will determine whether or not North Carolina is successful, and I really intend to be successful," Perdue said. "A century ago, 50 years ago, nobody could dream that this would be the best school in North Carolina, one of the best schools in America."

What a decade ago was farmland has become a "tremendous teaching tool for you and North Carolina," she said.

The key?

"You get it," she said. "Watauga County gets it."

Instead of cutting every cost corner, Watauga made an investment, she said, an investment in its children. To leaders like Deal, it was obvious.

"You should expect the best," Deal said. "You should strive for the best. And you should expect that from your leaders. This is not the end. This is only the beginning for what this facility can provide for Watauga County."

Perdue, who told the crowd she initiated her gubernatorial campaign hoping to be the "education governor," said the great part of Watauga was that understanding, the realization of its best resource: Its youth.

"When you look at this building, you can imagine what it will produce," she said. "Education defines the quality of the workforce in the 21st century."

And the new high school bodes well for our future leaders.

It's not, she said, about how much money people have or one's upbringing. "All that matters is that you have faith and you work hard and you get an education," she said.

For Mrs. Daisy Adams, who in her 94 years has done all three, it was about more than a visit from the governor, the opening of a new building and catching up with neighbors.

"It's about the students. Look at what they'll be able to do," she said, smiling.

Perdue, along with 2009-10 WHS student body president Dylan Russell and 2010-11 student body president Jessie Nash and other area leaders, aided by more than a few pair of scissors, cut the ribbon Friday just after 11 a.m., officially initiating the new Watauga High School from dream to reality.

The first day of school is Wednesday, Aug. 11.

Time Line
2001-2003 Board of Education discussed options for a second high school.

2003 The Board of Education developed a five point plan. The plan consisted of five areas of discussion: the construction of a second high school, the construction of two new high schools, extensive renovation of the initial school, removal of the ninth grade from the high school and the development of an off-campus program.

April 4, 2003 A forum brought together educators like Superintendent Dick Jones. The summit, themed "It's time to choose," was, in Chairman Lowell Younce's opinion, "the most important" meeting regarding the future of Watauga students.

July, 2003 Dr. Bobbie Short takes the office of Watauga superintendent and ordered a professional study. Study results dictated a need for a new high school.
2004 Site selection began.

2005 The Watauga County Board of Education and the Watauga County Commission collaborated to form a planning committee for the new high school.

2006 The decision to build a new high school is officially made.

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