Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology is finding its legs.
The 6-year-old information technology, medical and engineering magnet school near Freedom Drive will open this year with its largest freshman class ever.
Freshman enrollment is expected to reach at least 425 and could climb to 450, compared with 400 last year and 250 the year before that.
In fact, enrollment is growing throughout the high school: Officials expect 1,200 students, compared with about 1,000 last year.
And the student body, which is predominantly African American – about 80percent of those enrolled – is becoming more diverse.
Students are commuting from north- and south-side communities such as Myers Park and Mint Hill.
Now the goal is to manage the growing pains.
“The atmosphere is really energetic,” said Principal Donald Fennoy II. “We are ready to go.”
That's a shift from last year, when the big jump in enrollment left the faculty short by three teachers.
The first-year principal scrambled to fill the positions, but two algebra classes were without an instructor until January.
He'll start this year with nine more teachers than last year.
Growth is due in part to students who have been encouraged to take ownership of the school, Fennoy said. They lead prospective students and their families on tours and share their excitement about programs.
“Students are more powerful at selling the programs than I am,” he said.
The faculty and staff also encourage students to take rigorous classes and get involved in the community. Students in information technology and engineering academies must complete internships. Students in the medical academy must participate in clinical work.
Achievements by students such as 2008 valedictorian Marlin Holmes also give the school prestige among students and parents.
Holmes graduated with a 4.53 grade-point average (on a weighted four-point scale) and received more than $1million in scholarships. He and another student, Arcena Todd, will have their college expenses paid through the Gates Millennium Scholars Program.
Holmes plans to study aerospace engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. Another student, Tranashea Hyman, earned a place in Duke's University Scholars Program.
“Our last graduating class did an amazing job,” said Fennoy, adding that he and his staff also have worked harder to publicize successes.
Fennoy spent last week working with new and returning teachers and preparing for an open house Thursday evening and for classes, which start Aug. 25.
With a capacity of 1,600, the school still has empty seats. Fennoy is hopeful they will be filled as more students learn about the programs.
The curriculum includes college-level courses designed to build a student's comfort level with principles of medicine, engineering and information technology.
These programs might help students make a smoother transition into college work.
“If you think about some of the areas where America is lagging behind – in medicine, in engineering – exposing students to that early hopefully will help fill the pipeline (with) great talent to participate in programs at the university level or community college level,” Fennoy said. “These are North Carolina students who could become leaders in one of these areas.”