The UNC Board of Governors on Friday approved the establishment of the Innovation Early College High School, a collaboration that has been underway between East Carolina University and Pitt County Schools, the university announced.

The program will be a new school option within the public school system, admitting students who are first-generation college applicants, at risk of dropping out, or seeking accelerated studies. It is on track to admit its first class of 55 ninth-graders on Aug. 8. A similar program has been established at Pitt Community College.

The five-year program begins in ninth grade, and upon completion, students will have earned a high school diploma, up to 60 hours of transferable college credits and digital badges of achievement.

“The Innovation Early College High School is the result of a strong ongoing collaboration between Pitt County Schools and East Carolina University,” said Pitt County School Superintendent Ethan Lenker. “Innovation High is yet another way in which Pitt County Schools continues to grow opportunities for students. We look forward to welcoming our first class of freshmen this fall.”

Students will attend class in the Brewster building on ECU’s campus and will enroll in university classes beginning in the first year of the program. The school’s rigorous curriculum will develop individual talent and prepare students for a successful transition to an institution of higher education, with a focus on innovation in science, technology, engineering, art and design, and math (STEAM) career pathways.

“ECU is so very pleased to expand its partnership with Pitt County Schools with an early college high school. We are particularly excited with the school’s theme of innovation, which fits so well with our own emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Ron Mitchelson, ECU provost. “In addition, I appreciate the attention that the school provides to prospective first-generation college students.”

Jennifer James, previously the principal of Stokes School, has been selected as principal of new school. James, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration, special education teacher certification and master of school administration from ECU, has 11 years of experience in education, including four as principal at Stokes.

"The opportunity to lead Pitt County School’s Innovation Early College High School and work in partnership with ECU is very exciting,” James said. “As partners we are committed to student success and we will work together to provide every student with a high quality education."

Innovation Early College High School already been approved by the Pitt County Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.