about us

A Day in the Life of TCEC
Photo Sep 14, 12 17 49 PM
Photo Sep 04, 10 22 45 AM
Photo Sep 14, 9 35 08 AM

Rethinking High School

Our New Approach

The 2018-19 year was a turning point in our school's history. Among our achievements in the 2017-18 year, we had been nominated to be a part of The Global School's Alliance. There are only 14 schools, now including ours, who are members of this group. We were also awarded an "A" grade by the Department of Public Instruction and exceeded growth for the first time in the school's history. Only 4% of North Carolina schools achieved this designation. 

We recently made facilities and personnel changes as well. Joe Thorley, Patricia Matthews and Ben Owens, who were an influential part of our school for years, have left to pursue exciting new opportunities. Mr. Thorley has moved to Panama to work with family members on a world-renowned fishing resort. Meanwhile, Ben Owens has become a consultant, who will be helping ignite innovation in schools around the globe. He went to Cambodia to represent TCEC for the GSA conference in September, which led to our confirmation as a member. Patricia Matthews became the principal of Peachtree Elementary school, which will put her decades of experience to use in a new administrative role. Their places are taken by Justin Bristol, who is teaching American History 1 and 2, Laura Gaines, who is teaching Spanish, and Brian Byrne, who is teaching Math 2, physics and robotics. 


We have also recently moved into a newly renovated space on the TCCC campus that houses a large common room and two new classrooms. 

Moreover, in Spring 2018, TCEC was given $200,000 from the NC legislature to build an Innovation Lab that will allow students to use state-of-the-art equipment to create their projects. To cap a historical year in our school's history off, on October 8th, 2018, we received news that Cherokee County won a $20 million grant to build a multi-purpose Career Academy. It will house the Oaks Academy and Tri-County Early College and give newfound vocational opportunities to Cherokee County Students. It will be built within the next three years. 


We have recently implemented various changes to the school model.  Some of them are described below:

  • We have implemented a new vision for the school where we are trying to connect students to the world beyond the classroom.

  • We have changed our grading to a competency-based model that is flexible enough to allow each student to master the knowledge and skills they need when they are ready.

  • TCEC will now only do one cross-curricular project per quarter.

  • Rather than random and different due dates for various projects, we will hold four Exhibition Days per year to present all student PBL work at the same time, to a public audience of experts and community members.

  • Students will meet on a bi-weekly basis with their Learning Guide Adviser to ensure they are making the progress they need on their projects and their mastery of competencies. This is also a time of structured reflection, analysis, and synthesis of academic skills with TCEC’s survival skills.  Students will do certain activities on each day of the week around a given theme like mindfulness, career exploration, “genius hour,” etc.

  • TCEC is now formally known as an Open Source Learning School and as an XQ Super School Finalist, where we will share what we do and how we do it with other innovative schools across the country – a completely transparent model for helping rethink high school across America and allow us a way to partner with schools and experts across the world.

General Information

Our Mission
TCEC will create a powerful teaching and learning environment through a personalized education that prepares students for college, careers, and life.
Our Vision
The TCEC Learning Community will equip students with the skills, knowledge, and inspiration needed to thrive in a changing world and to accomplish any dream imaginable.
Our Motto

Nothing Less than Success



TCEC was the result of a tireless effort from a dedicated group of visionaries from throughout the community to offer a high school of choice within the Cherokee and Clay County Public Schools.  With start-up support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, TCEC opened its doors in 2006.  Located on the campus of its postsecondary partner, Tri-County Community College, the school is one of over 40 North Carolina early colleges created to carry out then Governor Easley's Learn and Earn Initiative.  Affiliated with North Carolina New Schools Project and accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, TCEC was ranked a school of distinction in state ABC measures and met federal AYP goals in 2006-07 and 2007-08. 


More recently, our school has shown consistently positive results in a variety of measures including End-of-Grade test scores, college staying rates, and much more.  In 2016, we earned the distinction as a School of Innovation and Excellence within the NC New Schools network.  We continue to push the envelope of innovation in public education consistently and our alumni are forging successful futures around the country.


  • We are a school of choice.

  • TCEC is on the Tri-County Community College Campus.

  • All students will have an opportunity to complete an associates / 2-year college degree.

  • We have a non-traditional schedule, with small class sizes offering personalized learning.

  • All students are expected to achieve mastery or better in all courses.

  • Students must meet and maintain minimum academic requirements to enroll and remain in good academic standing with TCCC.

  • Full tutoring support is built-into the program.

  • Students enter formal college classrooms on the community college campus at the age of 14

  • Unlike "Learn & Earn" at a traditional high school, our students experience face-to-face college instruction.

  • We have several intramural sports and club options available through TCCC.

  • See a presentation about our differences in approach.



  • A rigorous and relevant course of study - most high school courses are Honors level and college courses start from day 1.

  • A significant focus on hands-on, project-based, integrated instruction, with built-in tutoring.

  • A strong emphasis on job shadowing / career development throughout their high school career.

  • A unique Global & Community Perspective.

  • Instruction from a highly dedicated group of professional teachers, with strong educational and workplace experience.



  • Only have your child attend TCEC if he/she wants a different kind of education.

  • Parents and students are responsible for expenses related to second attempts on required college classes and non-required college classes.

  • Attend students-led parent/teacher/student conferences on a biannual basis.

  • Support off-campus student immersion activities.

  • Provide transportation when Clay or Cherokee County busses are not running, on "Extended Day" , and when your student needs after school academic support. 

  • Support student fund-raising activities.