Central Haywood celebrates 20 years
Over the past 20 years, Central Haywood High School has experienced many changes, but one thing has remained the same — its focus on putting the students first.
Though the school has been through four principals, two locations and even a 6-foot-flood, it has managed to keep its student population at a minimum to allow for more individualized teaching.
CHHS is alternative high school, meaning that it helps high school students receive a diploma by focusing on the needs of each individual student and addressing the gaps that have hindered the student’s success.
CHHS is not like other high schools, because the class size is much smaller. A student population of between 75-100 is currently overseen by 10 teachers.
“The key to me is the smaller class size,” said Richard Reeves, who envisioned CHHS decades ago and was principal when the school first opened in 1994. “It’s the individualized instruction. Our teachers have empathy and they want to work with people like this.”
“We’re a regular credited high school. We have to meet the same standards,” added Donna Parris, the current lead teacher who worked at CHHS for the past 20 years.
“The key that resonates through is that these are not just ‘toss away’ kids,” said Jeff Haney, current principal of CHHS. “The principal is not what counts. We’ve got teachers who legitimately care.”
An alternative vision
Richard Reeves always hoped to create an alternative high school for students. It was a dream he held dear to his heart after not finishing high school himself.
Reeves was expelled from high school during most of his senior year after placing a lit cigarette in the jacket pocket of his high school principal. By the time the cigarette was discovered, a hole had been burned through the jacket.
“I thought it was a little much,” Reeves said about being expelled after the incident. “If there had been an alternative school here, I could have gone there.”
After leaving school, Reeves joined the military and served in the Vietnam War. Not long after, he became a longshoreman who unloaded ships.
“It was a great job but my heart was not into it,” Reeves said. “I knew I didn’t want to load and unload ships all my life. I believe I was called to be a teacher. I wanted to make sure students didn’t make all the same mistakes I did.”
Fortunately for Reeves, his mother and father were both teachers and had connections. Even though he never received his diploma, Reeves convinced all the right people he wanted to be a teacher, and was granted enrollment in Mars Hill College. It was there he received a bachelor’s degree in education.
He later received a master’s degree in administration from Western Carolina University and completed the Principals Executive Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” Reeves said about becoming a principal. “If somebody wouldn’t have taken the time to see the potential in me, I wouldn’t have been here (at CHHS).”
Where it all began
Reeves was coordinator at Haywood County’s central office when the county received a Z Smith Reynolds dropout prevention grant about 28 years ago. The grant was used to tour other alternative high schools and secure a school building.
With a goal in mind of inspiring students, Reeves garnered support from other school officials such as Bill Upton, who was then the Haywood County Schools superintendent, to create an alternative high school. Karen Campbell, who was then the superintendent of Asheville City Schools, was also very supportive of the idea.
In 1994, CHHS was opened inside a small building located on Carolina Boulevard, which today is the current location of Clyde Town Hall. The school was made up of students in grades 7-12 and everyone had to work around painters and construction workers. The same building was formerly known as Clyde Savings Bank before CHHS moved in.
Seven years later, CHHS relocated into its current location at 3215 Broad Street, where it serves grades 9-12. Before CHHS moved in, the building was the former home of Clyde Elementary School.
While relocating, CHHS faced many challenges such as where to hold classes during painting, and where to provide lunch. Many nearby churches helped by offering up space, and to this day, many churches still offer food donations.
In 2004, the school was flooded with 6 feet of water when Hurricane Frances and Ivan struck. Students were relocated to the Folkmoot Center in Waynesville for the remainder of the school year.
It wasn’t long after moving to Broad Street that Reeves resigned as principal, and Jim Griffin picked up the position for the next two years. It was under Griffin that students were required to wear khakis and collared shirts.
Phil Pressley ended the dress code while serving as principal for five years and Haney took on the position in 2011.
Reeves said the increasing test standards in addition to the stress of running an alternative school had worn him down after nine years.
“It was just time to go,” he added.
Making a difference
Working at an alternative has its challenges, and Haney, Parris and Reeves can all attest to that. Some students misbehave; others will not show up to class and may have troubling situations at home — or worse, no home at all.
“We have to work harder for the kids to get through to the kids,” Parris said. “They don’t think they can get out of a bad situation at home because they don’t see hope. We work harder to get them out of that situation and they see that.”
Parris is the only CHHS employee to have been on staff since the school's inception. She has worn a number of hats at the school, including teaching yearbook, career management, physical education and language arts.
In addition to boosting students’ self esteem, CHHS teachers encourage students to envision a life outside of high school and reach for it.
“We’re trying to make them see that a diploma has value,” Reeves said. “We’ve never just handed diplomas out so if they want a diploma, they have to earn it.”
In addition, such small classes combined with a small staff have created a type of family environment at the school — something that many CHHS students need.
“If you provide a clean, safe place with good food and a caring environment and get out the way, the education will happen,” Haney said. “Two meals a day, a roof and a feeling of safety is what keeps them coming back.”
CHHS is proud to report nearly 300 graduates from its campus and many more when the number is combined with its annex program at The Alternative Learning Center.
Tonight, 16 high school seniors will be graduating from CHHS, marking the 20th anniversary of the school. Reeves will be attending to deliver the keynote address.
The ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. in the Haywood Community College auditorium.