Be There When Lightning Strikes

Opinion

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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Balfour's Parent has already won

Five months ago, when he proposed renaming Balfour Education Center, principal Kent Parent said he wanted to make sure that students weren't stigmatized.

What hurts him most, he said, is when he hears about someone asking a Balfour student, What did you do wrong?

Parent and his students are doing plenty right these days. He was named Henderson County schools' principal of the year for his work integrating programs and skills through Blue Ridge Community College, giving students a head start on college or a path to fulltime work. It's a well-deserved award for an aggressive innovator who has made Balfour model for courses that prepare students for real-world work.
Although it is more than an alternative school, Balfour is home to a number of kids who have one or two strikes against them. Last year 20 young moms were enrolled. About one in five students has no stable long-term home. The student body's rate of poverty as measured by free and reduced lunch eligibility is the highest among any county school — 87 percent.
Parent has not been satisfied to just keep the lights on, avoid trouble and stick kids in a classroom until the bell rings. Working with BRCC president Molly Parkhill, dean of technology Chris English and vice president for instruction Alan Stephenson, Parent has instituted a cooperative curriculum at Balfour that gives students community college credit and prepares them for practical work.
The school now has seven academies, including the new firefighting and mechatronics academies. Students who do not quite adapt to traditional school and conventional coursework are doing well at Balfour. Other students are cross-enrolled at Balfour, taking auto mechanics, firefighting, business and other courses.
The number of dropouts fell from 60 two years ago to 35 last year while the graduation rate climbed from 50 percent to 68 percent.
Parent has the background one might draw if trying to create a leader from scratch.
He's been a military policeman, alternative school director, and middle and high school assistant principal and has taught social studies, business and special education. He's even been a park ranger in Wasilla, Alaska — a resume asset even if he did bump into Sarah Palin out hunting grizzly bears and Russians.
Parent has shown that he did not need to change the name of Balfour Education Center to change people's perception of Balfour. It's now a model for the state in the trend of training for jobs. It's his job to worry about a stigma that might negatively his students. We get that.
But we are happy to report that Mr. Parent's campaign to rebrand the school has already succeeded.