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North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Motto Maius Opus Moveo
("Accept the Greater Challenge")
Established 1980
Type Public boarding school
Chancellor Dr. Gerald Boarman
Students 660 (approx)
Grades 11-12
Location Durham, North Carolina, United States
Colors Blue/Gray
Mascot Unicorns ("Unis")
Yearbook Odyssey
Newspaper The Stentorian

Coordinates: 36°1′8″N 78°55′14″W / 36.01889°N 78.92056°W / 36.01889; -78.92056

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) is a two-year, public residential high school located in Durham, North Carolina, that focuses on the intensive study of science, mathematics and technology. The school accepts rising juniors from across North Carolina and enrolls them through senior year. Though NCSSM is a public school, enrollment is limited, and applicants undergo a highly competitive review process prior to admission. NCSSM is a founding member of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology (NCSSSMST) and a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system.




The brainchild of former North Carolina Governors Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford, film producer Borden Mace, and well known author and academic John Ehle, NCSSM opened its doors in 1980 as the first school of its kind in the United States.

NCSSM is located on the site of the former Watts Hospital, which operated there from to 1909 to 1976. The hospital's former administrative building, built in 1908, is still known as Watts and houses NCSSM's math department, many administrative offices, and the office of the registrar. During the 1993-94 school year, the front of Watts was transformed into a 1920s-era "Virginia State Colony for the Epileptic and Feeble-minded" to serve as the backdrop for scenes from the made-for-TV movie Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story, starring Marlee Matlin. NCSSM's campus is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is home to a refurbished lunch counter from an F.W. Woolworth's in Durham, at which a sit-in took place on February 7, 1960, in response to the first nationally publicized sit-in of the American civil rights movement at a similar lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, on February 1, 1960.

Since its inception, NCSSM has been fully funded by the state, meaning no student is required to pay any tuition, room, board, or other student fees. This funding is supplemented by the NCSSM Foundation's private funding, which supports NCSSM's academic, residential, and outreach programs as well as providing funds for some capital improvements. In the past 25 years, the Foundation has raised in excess of $25 million in private support from corporations, foundations, alumni, parents and friends of NCSSM. A tuition fee was considered for the 2002-03 school year in the midst of a state budgetary crisis, but it was never implemented. In 2003, the NC Legislature approved a bill granting tuition costs for any university in the University of North Carolina System to all graduates of NCSSM, starting with the class of 2004, as an incentive to encourage NCSSM's talented students to stay in North Carolina. That bill was amended in 2005 to allow students to use additional tuition monies awarded to cover “costs of attendance.” However, the tuition waiver is in the process of being phased out in the Appropriations Act of 2009 in the North Carolina Senate in order to balance the budget. The bill states that "No new recipients shall be funded after June 30, 2009." [1]

NCSSM has served as a model for 18 similar schools, many of which are now members of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology (NCSSSMST).


Cupola atop the 1908 Watts building.

Designed with a strong focus on science and math, all students are required to take two trimesters each of physics, chemistry, and biology during their two-year stay, and are required to complete at least five math credits. In addition to courses in Precalculus and Calculus, the math department offers classes such as "Game Theory and Combinatorics," "Vector Functions and Partial Derivatives,", "Mathematical Modeling", and other post-calculus mathematics courses. NCSSM's budding computer science department offers both introductory programming classes and upper-level classes that combine advanced algorithms with discrete mathematics.

NCSSM also maintains strong humanities programs. Many humanities offerings are more innovative than those at traditional public high schools, with courses ranging from interdisciplinary combination of history and literature to studies of contemporary culture in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. NCSSM also requires that each student take six trimesters of a single foreign language, or complete through the intermediate level in a language. These languages include but are not limited to Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, and Latin.

A unique aspect of academics at NCSSM is the existence of a one and a half week (seven academic days plus one weekend) "Miniterm" in the spring where students are able to design their own independent project or study with staff support, travel abroad in a faculty designed study, or participate in one of a wide range of small classes designed by faculty including: A Short History of Nuclear Weapons, Blues People: The African American Oral Tradition, The Human Genome Project and Disease, and Shakespeare. Until 1999 this was called "Special Projects Week" or SPW and the focus was on individual projects and academic exploration. Beginning with the 2000-01 school year, this was renamed "Miniterm" and the guidelines were changed to encourage more group projects and trips, and fewer individual projects. Students also have the option of designing trimester-long seminars in topics of their choice for partial academic credit.

Starting with the 2004-05 school year, NCSSM switched from the semester system to the trimester system. Each class has an average size of 20 to 25 students, with about 12 students for every teacher.

NCSSM's educational staff are highly qualified and knowledgeable in their fields, with many faculty active in national organizations. Every NCSSM teacher has at least a Master's degree, and one third of teachers also have a doctoral degree.

NCSSM students are not given a class rank and are encouraged to strive for their best rather than competing against other students. Although students previously were not given grade point averages (GPAs), the school currently provides GPAs on transcripts to simplify the college application process. NCSSM students have consistently done extremely well in national academic competitions, and NCSSM has historically had the highest SAT score in the state of North Carolina. In 2008, the average score was 1975.[2]

Student life

Although originally founded to provide students with a unique academic opportunity, NCSSM's student life serves an equally important role in the NCSSM experience. In addition to structured programs like residential living, community and work service, physical activities and sports, counseling, and academic and social clubs, student life also encompasses intangibles such as new friends and life experiences.


Residential Living

NCSSM students are housed in six dormitories (Beall, Bryan, Hill, Hunt, Reynolds, and Royall), which are further subdivided into 20 residence halls each housing 20-40 students. Each of the residence halls is headed by a Student Life Instructor (SLI) who is assisted by two or three senior student Residential Life Assistants (RLAs, formerly Dorm Assistants), who serve as peer counselors. Each SLI has a college degree or higher and lives (along with the SLI's family) in an apartment connected to the residence hall, oversees all of the hall's activities, and serves in the place of students' parents. Most of NCSSM's fully furnished student rooms are double occupancy, but there are a few triples and some singles, which are reserved for seniors and allotted through an application process and lottery. Residence halls have common bathrooms and lounges, and students are responsible for cleaning their own and shared living spaces.

Beall Pavilion

Beall Pavilion

Following its 1929 opening, the Valinda Beall Watts Pavilion housed 50 of the Watts Hospital's most luxurious patient rooms. The four-story building now houses members of the the humanities department and the computer science program its ground floor as well as three all-female residence halls: First Beall, Second Beall, and Third Beall. The Beall rooms are among the smallest in the school as Beall rooms designed for one hospital patient now house 2 or 3 female students.

The name "Beall" is pronounced /ˈbɛl/, like the word "bell".

Hill House

Built in 1945, Hill House was the Watts Hospital's nurses' dormitory and classrooms. The building was named after John Sprunt Hill, the son-in-law of George Watts and the founder of the Watts Hospital. Of all the buildings on the NCSSM campus left over from the Watts Hospital, Hill House has remained the least changed and is still very much the same as it was when it opened. Over the years, Hill House has been both all-male and all-female. It has been an all-male dormitory since the fall of 1995. Hill House contains two residence halls, First Hill and Second Hill, the latter of which is (administratively) split into "North" and "East" sub-halls. On the ground floor of Hill are several classrooms, the foreign language department, and a tunnel connecting Hill House to the original Watts Hospital Building. The foreign language floor is equipped with a state-of-the art language laboratory.

Bryan Center

Bryan Center

This building was a brick addition to the Watts Hospital that was completed in 1953. This annex served as the main hospital entrance and housed operating rooms, x-ray facilities, over 100 patient beds and a kitchen. When the school opened in 1980, it was known simply as "the main building" and contained several unused, off-limits areas. Extensive renovations began in 1981 and it was renamed the Joseph M. and Kathleen P. Bryan Living and Learning Center during the 1981-82 school year. The five-story building houses NCSSM's cafeteria, library, science departments, and offices related to student life. There are also three residence halls: Second Bryan, Third Bryan, and Fourth Bryan. As of the 2008-09 school year, the three residence halls are all-female, but before Fall 1995 the floors housed male students.

Hunt Hall

James B. Hunt, Jr. Residence Hall

The James B. Hunt, Jr. Residence Hall is the only one of the dormitory buildings that was not part of the Watts Hospital. Completed in 1986, the building was named for Jim Hunt, the governor of North Carolina when the school was founded. The building was built behind Hill House on land that included the hospital's original tennis court. During construction, the Hill House swimming pool (which had been located inside the eastern "corner" defined by the front and rear wings of Hill House) was filled in. The four-story building is divided into two sides, east and west, and houses the health center (on the east side of the first floor) and up to 220 students in its seven all-male residence halls: First Hunt, Second West, Second East, Third West, Third East, Fourth West, and Fourth East. An addition to the First Hunt male resident hall was made before the start of the 2009-2010 school year on the east side of the first floor of Hunt. This addition is referred to by students as "the annex." From its construction through the mid-1990s, many NCSSM students referred to Hunt as "New Dorm."

Hunt is the only building on campus that was specifically built to house NCSSM students; the other dormitories were left over from the old Watts Hospital, where most of the rooms were originally intended to house a single patient or nursing student. This distinction means that Hunt dorm rooms are generally the largest at NCSSM.

Reynolds Pavilion

Reynolds Pavilion

The Reynolds Pavilion comprises three of the Watts Hospital's buildings, which are connected by a two-story breezeway and a ground-level hallway: the C-section of Reynolds was the hospital's women's pavilion, built in 1909; the D-section was the x-ray pavilion and emergency room; and the E-section was the men's pavilion, built in 1911. The remodeling of these buildings into a dormitory was funded by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and was therefore named the R.J. Reynolds Industries Pavilion. Reynolds is divided into three all-female residence halls: Ground Reynolds; Reynolds 1C, 2C & 1D; and Reynolds 1E, 2E & 2D. The first floor houses NCSSM's art studio, while the ground floor contains the campus radio broadcasting room, a security office, and laundry facilities.

Royall Center

Royall Center

The Royall Outreach Center was known as Wyche House prior to its renovation in 2003, and was renamed for Senator Kenneth Claiborne Royall, Jr., the son of Kenneth Claiborne Royall and long-time friend and advocate of the school. Built in 1911 and originally named for head nurse Mary Wyche, this building served as a living and learning center for the hospital's nurses. In the early days of NCSSM, Wyche served as a dormitory, but was closed before the 1989-90 school year and remained dark and locked until its renovation. While the building was closed, the lower floor of Wyche functioned as a weight room. Currently, Royall houses the chancellor's office, the counseling center and two all-female residence halls: Ground Royall and First Royall.

Community and Work Service

As a graduation requirement, all students are required to contribute 60 hours of volunteer community service in North Carolina either the summer before or after the Junior year. This requirement is designed to encourage volunteerism while giving back to each student's home community throughout North Carolina. In addition, each student is required to work on campus for three hours per week in one of the many departments or programs. With a few exceptions, juniors are required to serve some of their work hours in either the cafeteria (serving food or washing dishes) or on the housekeeping/grounds crew. Opportunities for work service during the senior year include work as an RLA (or any other leadership position) or as an academic tutor.[3]

Physical Activities and Sports

Charles R. Eilber Physical Education Center
The NCSSM Unicorn

The NCSSM Unicorns are competitive in many major high school sports, and the school attracts many of the state's top student athletes. The Charles R. Eilber Physical Education Center showcases an expansive trophy case depicting a student body as rich in athletic tradition as any high school in North Carolina. NCSSM offers many sports including: volleyball, soccer, tennis, cross country, basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, swimming, baseball, softball, golf, and track and field. NCSSM's "football team" is often jokingly cited as being "undefeated since 1980," as there has never been an official team.

NCSSM is a member of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) and also a member of Mid-State 1A/2A Conference as a 1A school.

In the 2007-08 school year, NCSSM won the state championship in 1A men's soccer. NCSSM also won state championships in 1A men's and women's tennis. In the 2006-07 school year, NCSSM won state championships in men's cross country, men's track and field, and women's tennis doubles. The men's swim team also placed fourth in the 1A/2A state championship meet and was the top 1A team in the state.

Along with varsity sports, NCSSM also has multiple seasons of intramural (IM) sports where residence halls play against one another. In the 2006-07 school year, the school held IM soccer, ultimate Frisbee, volleyball and basketball games. In 2005-06, ultimate frisbee was a co-ed IM sport with male and female halls paired to field teams, but usually sports are not co-ed. Since 2nd Bryan was turned into a female hall, 1st and 2nd Royall combined to make one IM team and the NCSSM staff represented the 10th team in the male brackets. 97% of students are reported to participate in at least one IM sport.


NCSSM houses approximately 660 students[4], currently with more females than males due to the larger number of female dormitory spaces. About 50% are Caucasian, 33% are Asian American, 12% are African American, 3% are Hispanic, and 1% are Native American. The student population of NCSSM is designed to be a demographic reflection of the population of North Carolina as a whole; additionally, a certain number of slots are reserved for each congressional district.

Notable Alumni

Adam Falk '83, President of Williams College[5][6]
Maya Ajmera '85, Founder and President of The Global Fund for Children
B. Scott '99, Internet Celebrity and blogger.

External Programs

NCSSM also offers a variety of external programs focused on educating teachers and students outside of the school across North Carolina. The school offers workshops for strengthening K-12 math and science education. The programs focus on "teaching the teacher."[7] These workshops focus particularly in science and mathematics education.

NCSSM administers Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics, a state-funded summer program for rising 11th and 12th grade students in North Carolina. The program is held during the summer at six campuses of the UNC system over a period of few weeks. The programs focus on science and mathematics concepts and applications such as experimental design, mathematical modeling, exploratory data analysis, and computer applications. Such topics and courses are offered extend and supplement the courses taught in high schools. The program is cost free and entrance into the program is decided by an admissions process.

NCSSM also offers a distance learning program dedicated to teaching a wide variety of classes across North Carolina. An entire level of the technology building on campus is dedicated to NCSSM distance learning. It has a full time staff and teachers as well as teachers who teach both NCSSM classes and classes for distance learning. The program reaches out mostly to schools in rural areas of the state. Courses are taught through live interactive video conferencing (IVC) between NCSSM and the school site(s) via the North Carolina Information Highway. Some of the courses offered include Advanced Functions and Modeling, Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus (AB), Advanced Placement (AP) Statistics, Forensics, Genetics and Biotechnology, Psychology, Physics, Introduction to Programming, AP U.S. History, and Latin.

As of the 2008-09 school year, NCSSM hosts an online high school, named NCSSM Online, designed to supplement courses taken at the student's home high school. The courses cover several AP classes such as Calculus (BC), Chemistry, and Physics. NCSSM Online also offers many college level courses such as Medicinal Chemistry, Computational Chemistry, Genetics and Biotechnology, and International Relations. Applications are accepted in January only from current North Carolina sophomores, and students can apply to this program independently of, or in conjunction with, the NCSSM's traditional boarding school admissions.


Although NCSSM has been lauded for its academic programs, it has also been the source of significant controversy; disputes over residential, hiring, and academic policies have garnered media attention over time. In 2006, it was revealed that administrator Gerald Boarman has a yearly salary of $650,000 [8]. This generated heated discussion about what an appropriate payscale is for a high-school administrator. Another example was the change from a semester schedule to a trimester schedule; this was a source of hostility between administration and staff. Staff claimed that it would reduce instruction time and negatively impact academic rigor. The administration continues to maintain that trimesters allow for more diverse courses. Several faculty members departed in frustration, including ones that had been at the school since its founding, noting the heavy-handed approach of key administration figures. Finally, residential policies continue to be a point of contention between administration and students. As students live on campus during the school year, they resent further restrictions on personal liberties. Past flare-ups included when the Hunt dormitory was partitioned with coded security doors, and widespread vandalism of the locks led to installation of security cameras.

In 2007, the construction of new lights for the soccer field angered residents of the Watts Hospital–Hillandale Neighborhood (WHN). This issue has not yet been resolved.

See also


External links


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