State

Kestrel Heights High School officially closes its doors

DURHAM - It was a bittersweet day for high school students at Kestrel Heights High School Tuesday as it closed its doors amid a diploma scandal.

With the high school closed, teachers are out of a job next school year. Students must enroll somewhere else.

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That comes with mixed emotions for Kestrel Heights' freshman Spencer Wimbush. This was his first year and it will also be his last.

"Overall, I'm glad that I came here and got to experience this," said Wimbush. "Teachers were great. All the things that were said about Kestrel Heights are not completely true."

The truth is the state shut the school down after school leaders discovered errors in student transcripts.

An investigation found 160 of the high school's 399 graduates since 2008 did not meet the state's graduation requirements.

The scandal leaves dozens of teachers out of a job and looking for work. Students and parents have been abruptly forced find other schools.

Wimbush says he is headed to the School for Creative Studies - a Durham public school - next year. He is on the wait list for his first choice, Research Triangle High School. It's a charter school.

"I'm sixth on the list," he explained.

The setback for students and teachers is a challenge for the charter school's reputation, which administrators hope to improve.

The counselor and principal responsible for the errors are no longer employed Kestrel Heights Executive Director Dr. Mark Tracy said.

"What I've learned is you still have to trust people," said Tracy. "What we've learned as an organization is to make sure that there are appropriate checks and balances and make sure people who are quality are in place."

Moving forward, Tracy says the Kestrel Heights focus is on boosting enrollment in its K-8 program and promoting its coursework, which he says is comprehensive, diverse, and still meets state and national standards.

"Kestrel Heights is still a very good school," Tracy said.

Kestrel Heights has a target goal to enroll 810 students in its K-8 program. Right now, it's hovering around 750.

Kestrel Heights will have to wait three years to apply to get the high school back up and running Tracy said.


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