Garner public schools offer quality education in a tight-knit community

Garner Magnet High School has been a fixture in the community for many decades, and now, the recently built South Garner High School adds a new dimension to this fast-growing town.

Posted Updated
Latisha Catchatoorian
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Garner.

As part of the Wake County Public School System, Garner is home to numerous great elementary and middle schools and, as of 2018, two distinguished high schools.

Garner, which is known for being a tight-knit community, offers a unique environment where students and educators really get to know each other and their families inside and outside of the classroom. However, there's nothing "small town" about the education that its schools provide. Garner Magnet High School has been a fixture in the community for many decades, and now, the recently built South Garner High School adds a new dimension to this fast-growing town.

Garner Magnet High School

Opened in 1968 and formerly called Garner Senior High School, Garner Magnet High School was the only public high school in Garner until 2018 and is one of four high schools in WCPSS that offers an International Baccalaureate Programme of study. Additionally, GMHS offers Advanced Placement courses, Army JROTC, arts education and athletics.

According to the school's website, 30 of its faculty members are nationally certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and 32 percent possess an advanced degree (master's or Ph.D.) in their respective fields.

"Making a shift to officially be Garner Magnet High and identifying as a magnet school has helped us fully define what academics look like here," said Carter Hillman, GMHS principal. The opportunity to lead a school with a magnet program and IB appealed to Hillman, who has served as principal for five years. "Students here realize that no matter their background, IB has a place for them. Anyone can take courses or be part of the diploma program."

The IB Diploma Programme is a rigorous, two-year program of university-level coursework in a variety of subjects that culminates in IB examinations. DP students are also required to write a 4,000-word essay at the end of their coursework, complete a course in theory of knowledge, and complete several creativity, service and action projects.

Juniors and seniors who decide to do the IB program must be enrolled in at least six IB courses (schedules accomodate for eight classes total). GMHS also offers a Middle Years Diploma Programme for ninth- and 10th-graders that "provides a framework of learning that encourages students to become creative, critical and reflective thinkers."

Hillman described the IB program as an opportunity for students to delve deeper into educational topics and make global connections.

"Students start to understand the connections between different courses and different world problems, and how to support improvement in those areas with problem solving and critical thinking. IB is more concerned with students engaging in the learning, rather than trying to get a certain grade," Hillman said.

GMHS also offers a Career and Technical Education program that's dedicated to helping students prepare for careers and professions. Hillman said many of the students enrolled in this program are looking to get into careers in the medical field, technology, engineering, design and architecture.

Hillman explained GMHS can also blend both IB and CTE into a unique educational tract if students have room in their schedules. And as Hillman mentioned, if students prefer not to fully immerse themselves in either program, IB and CTE courses are available to them regardless.

"A student can come in and say, ‘I'm really strong in science — I'd like to take IB physics or chemistry. But I'm not so strong in other areas, and I'm okay with taking non-IB courses for those — kind of like how AP courses are modeled," Hillman explained.

Students can earn an IB certificate for successfully completed IB courses (instead of the program diploma) that can earn them college credit in a similar way that successfully completed AP courses do. Students should first check with universities to see what's accepted and what isn't to determine the best course of action.

The myriad of options and the strong education that students receive at GMHS are superseded only by the camaraderie that's felt in its hallways. Hillman, who has served as a principal at three different schools, said there is a palpable difference when a school bears the same name of the town it's in.

"There's a closer relationship and intimacy," he said. "It has more of a community connection. I think this may be even more true in the Garner area than I've seen anywhere else. We have faculty that have graduated from here. People stay here; I have students here who are third-generation Garner students. Parents have stories about the school. There is a connection to who the community was that we're looking forward to continuing."

South Garner High School

As GMHS started approaching the 3,000-student mark, the county knew it needed to build an additional school to address Garner's population growth. South Garner High School is in its second year of operation and now serves ninth through 11th graders.

All instruction at South Garner High is guided by 10 core practices that include things like greeting students at the door each day to welcome them to class, having a daily agenda that is posted on the board, setting clear expectations and creating optimal learning environments, holding student-teacher conferences every two weeks, and maintaining good parent-teacher communication.

"Our commitment to a tangible outcome is what makes us different," said Roderic Brewington, principal of South Garner High. "All high schools are committed to graduating their students. At South Garner, being that we're a brand-new school, we decided to create an atmosphere and culture that tells our students that graduating is a foregone conclusion. You're going to graduate. Let's focus on post graduation."

It's that focus on what comes after the cap and gown that makes South Garner shine. All around the school you'll see signs that say, "What E are you?" The "E" stands for entrepreneur, employed, enrolled or enlisted.

"We help students figure out where they want to go after high school and begin that journey here," Brewington said. "If a student wants to go to a four-year college, that's awesome — let's end with enrollment. If you want to join our military forces, let's take all the necessary steps to help you become enlisted at the end of your high school career so that when you graduate, you have something to celebrate."

A mission is no doubt important, but it only becomes realized if people are doing the work to achieve it. The faculty and staff at South Garner are actively working day in and day out to be stewards of its mission.

South Garner has a robust business alliance, and students looking to enter the workforce directly after high school are encouraged to apply for internships, job shadow and take any job-related certification courses.

Brewington calls the school's career development coordinator "the best in the county." He assists students with securing internships, resume writing and dressing for success. Through its business alliance, local area businesses advise students on industry standards, educational opportunities and other avenues that students can take to become employable.

"Additionally, all of our classes push rigor because we try to teach up. If you're a student in a standard math class, we're going to try to push you to an honor's class. If you're in an honor's class, we're going to push you to take an AP," Brewington said. "If a student's end goal is to get into a four-year university, we want them to not just get in, but thrive there."

The opportunity to be the first principal at a new high school was exciting to Brewington and having taught in the area years prior, he already had an established attachment to Garner.

"I was in the Garner community before. I really loved the town, the community, the pride and the history, and thought it was an awesome place," he said. "I've taught at several Wake County schools, and Garner is unique in that there's a long, proud history of the town that's different compared to other municipalities in the Wake County school system."

Though South Garner is the "new kid on the block" and is up against Garner Magnet's longstanding history and presence in town, Brewington is excited and open to some "healthy competition" in the arena of sports, academics and more, and believes Garner has room for both schools to flourish.

"We want everyone to know that Garner now has two exceptional high schools and we're growing," he said. "We're a little different, and they do it one way and we do it another. But, in the end, I'm hoping that if you're in the town of Garner when your child reaches high school level, you will have an excellent experience. We're putting our best foot forward to make sure our students have the best opportunity possible at a bright future."

This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Garner.


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