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In addition to an outstanding public school system, Avery County is home to a pair of well-respected institutions of higher education: The 100-plus-year-old Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, and Mayland Community College, just north of the county line above Spruce Pine. Charter schools can also be found at the Academies of Grandfather Home for Children and at Crossnore School, Inc. Appalachian State University is also located less than 15 miles away in the town of Boone.

Avery County Schools

The Central Office for the Avery County School System is located on Highway 194 in the county seat of Newland. The county has one high school located between Newland and Linville, two middle schools (Avery Middle, adjacent to the High School, and Cranberry Middle on Hwy. 19-E), and six elementary schools spread through the countys communities. For more information visit www.averyschools.net

Lees-McRae College

Banner Elk was settled around 1850. By the end of the century, the Presbyterian Church was becoming established in the area and in the summer of 1895 Concord Presbytery sent a young student from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia to organize a church at Banner Elk. In 1897, newly ordained, the Reverend Edgar Tufts returned as pastor of the church and remained to serve the community until his death in 1923.

In the winter of 1899, concerned with the limited offering of the district school which was supplemented only by summer school work conducted by the church, Mr. Tufts took some of the young people of the neighborhood into his study for further instruction. This small group, called the Class of 1900, marks the beginning of Lees-McRae College.

Mr. Tufts saw, however, that this effort was not enough and that there was a need for a boarding school, especially for the girls of the mountain region. A small amount of money was raised at a prayer meeting and the promise of lumber and labor made possible the opening in 1900 of a frame dormitory for fourteen girls and one teacher. One of the summer school teachers was Elizabeth A. McRae, originally of South Carolina, who had been sent to Banner Elk by Fayetteville Presbytery. Knowing the devoted character of her work, Mr. Tufts, named the institute for her. A few years later, after a boys' department had been opened at Plumtree, he added the name of Mrs. McRaes friend, Mrs. S.P. Lees of Kentucky and New York, who had been a generous benefactor. The schools were chartered by the state in 1907 as the Lees-McRae Institute. In 1927 Lees-McRae became coeducational when the boys unit was moved to Banner Elk after the buildings at Plumtree had been destroyed by fire.

Lees-McRae Institute became Lees-McRae College in 1931, gradually eliminating the high school department to form an accredited, coeducational junior college. In 1987 the Board of Trustees of Lees-McRae College voted to seek senior college status. In June of 1990 the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted Lees-McRae status as a senior (four-year) college.

The 1990's were a decade of change as the college expanded course offerings and upgraded facilities. In 1999 Dr. Earl J. Robinson was inaugurated as the twelfth president of Lees-McRae College, marking a new era in the colleges history. In September 2000, the college celebrated its centennial. After a hundred years of steady growth, the college enjoys local, state, and national recognition, and looks forward to its second century of excellence.

Mayland Community College

MCC is chartered to serve Mitchell, Avery and Yancey counties (hence the name Mayland) and has since 1971. MCC serves more than 8000 persons each year through their educational programs, including more than twenty percent of the adult population within their service area. Mayland has recently opened two satellite campuses in Yancey County, 2001 and Avery County in 2002. MCC also houses the Phillips-Gwaltney Child Development Center, which provides space for the care of more than 100 children from birth to age six.

Mayland Community College is a proud member of the Appalachian Alliance, an association of ten institutions of higher learning in Western North Carolina dedicated to increased access to high quality instruction and learning through technology. MCC has been an innovative provider of this education and technology through the North Carolina Information Highway Rooms, which are available at all three campus locations through the contributions made by the Samuel L. Phillips family.

At Mayland Community College it is a goal to give citizens of the community the opportunities they need to improve their lives through high-quality, accessible, education.

Appalachian State University, located in nearby Boone, NC, is part of the 16-campus University of North Carolina system. ASU offers 95 undergraduate majors and 81 graduate majors.

Grandfather Academy (at Grandfather Home for Children)

Grandfather Academy is located on the Banner Elk campus of Grandfather Home for Children on Hickory Nut Gap Road. The mission of Grandfather Academy is to provide special educational opportunities for students who have been estranged by emotional, sexual, or other abuse. The school works in a personalized way to help each child to develop to their fullest potential. This mission is realized through Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for Special Education students and Individual Education Goals (IEGs) for all other students, integration of therapeutic treatment within the educational setting, involvement by all individuals concerned with the child, and through the availability of high quality personnel, equipment, and curriculum needed to meet the needs of the individual child.

The Academy provides each student with a sound basic education within a therapeutic setting. The appropriateness of each instructional activity will depend upon the child's ability, aptitude, achievement, and style of learning. The purpose of each lesson will be to provide a strong foundation in reading, writing, mathematics, and a basic knowledge of social studies, science, fine arts, health and physical education. All students will become competent in learning to explore in speaking, reading, writing, listening, and to be able to communicate through verbal and nonverbal communications. As students feel a sense of safety at Grandfather Academy they develop positive self-concepts, recognize and value their own individuality and accept both their capabilities and limitations. These positive steps allow each student to overcome their past traumas and be successful in living a confident life full of educational opportunities and a desire for lifelong learning.

Crossnore Academy (at Crossnore School, Inc.)

Virtually all Crossnore School residents, plus eighteen students from the community who benefit from the structure and intensive care approach to instruction, attend Crossnore Academy.

Crossnore School, Inc. began as a school in 1913 when there were only one room schoolhouses in Avery County. When public education became available for all children, Crossnore leaders refined their role to care for orphaned, abandoned, abused and neglected children. Those children also attended public schools.

Time and change continued to refine the needs that Crossnore met. Eventually, it became difficult for local schools to meet the needs of Crossnore residents and in 1999, Crossnore founded Crossnore Academy as one of the 100 original charter schools approved with innovative legislation by North Carolina lawmakers. In May 2001 Crossnore dedicated the new Wayne Densch Education Building to house the academy. It is a beautiful state-of-the-art school building and accommodates grades K-12, as well as a day care center used by the community and the youngest Crossnore residents. Its lovely library is the heart of the school. Attendance is open to community students whose special needs can best be served by the specialized teaching faculty.