MATTHEWS – Butler High School Principal Will Leach will play double duty as the end of the third quarter draws near.
While students buckle down for end-of course testing later this spring and final details are ironed out for the opening of the district’s first early college high school, Leach said his focus will remain on the most important task at hand – producing successful Butler High School graduates.
This semester will mark the end of Leach’s term as Butler principal, as he was recently named by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ officials to lead the way as principal for the district’s new early college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which is scheduled to open this fall.
It’s been Leach’s long-time dream to one day help start or open a new program or school, he said. And with nearly four years of leading a high school under his belt, and more than 17 years in middle school leadership, Leach said he’s ready to launch a totally new program offered to CMS high school students. Called the UNCC Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) Early College, the new school will be a first for the district after recently launching several middle colleges with Central Piedmont Community College.
“I think it’s the first one to be offered in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. This is the first try at the early college high school (in CMS),” Leach said. “This will be a game-changing opportunity for these kids to get college credit while in high school, and it’s always been a goal of mine to open up a new program or new school.”
The new school will be a partnership between CMS and UNCC. The early college will be based on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, and eventually will serve students in ninth through 12th grade and an additional 13th grade for students wishing to complete their associate degree. The school will start with just 100 ninth-grade students its first year. CMS middle colleges, a partnership with CPCC, serve 11th through 13th grade.
All STEM courses that will be offered at UNCC early college will be honors, advanced placement or college-level courses. Students will take courses required for high school graduation while also taking UNCC college courses leading to two years of college transfer credit. The college courses will be at no charge to early college students.
But there is still a lot of work to do before the doors can open this fall, Leach said. He’s thankful to have retired CMS principal Pamela Espinosa to lend a helping hand at Butler to ensure Leach isn’t overwhelmed and so the school can finish the 2013-14 school year strong.
“There are a lot of things to do to open a new school… the building, some curriculum things we are working on and in the next two months, we’ll be hiring a staff,” Leach said. “Instead of leaving (Butler) right away, I’ve committed to stay through the end of the year. I have a tremendous team that I can rely on when I’m not (at Butler), but I want to still be involved in the day-to-day operations.”
Leach also is committed to seeing this year’s Butler senior class walk across the stage for graduation on June 12. Those students started as freshman when Leach first started as principal at Butler. It’s only fitting the class and Leach leave the school at the same time, he said.
Making the move to UNCC won’t be easy for Leach. Butler has a strong track record in athletics and other extracurricular activities, Leach said, and once at UNCC, the early college will mostly focus on academics and will have very few extracurricular opportunities.
“Certainly Butler has built a strong reputation being very strong in academics and extracurricular (activities). I’m going to miss all the buzz. It will be a different focus at the new school,” Leach said. “But I’ll also miss the staff, administrative team and students.”
Leach’s position at Butler has been a big job, he said, but he hopes to leave the school in better shape then when he got there.
“I really appreciated the scope of this job. The demographics changed the year I got there, but we’ve maintained a great reputation in the community. We’ve seen some growth in a lot of different areas, and I want to see that success continue.”
Leach said CMS plans to post the Butler principal position after spring break, and interviews likely will be held in early May so a new principal can be hired in early June. Leach will work with the new principal through June before officially making the transition to UNCC early college on