Union Academy transforms to Bartram Academy

Union Academy transforms to Bartram Academy

Union Academy, an alternative high school in Macon County, will henceforth be known as Bartram Academy, home of the Explorers.

The change in name and mascot signifies a much deeper transformation taking place at the school. 

“I feel that we find ourselves at a junction point in the education of our students in the alternative learning program in our alternative school and it’s something I’m calling the era of adventure,” said Brian Moffitt, new principal at Bartram Academy.

The new name honors the legacy of naturalist and explorer William Bartram, whose contributions to the fields of botany, exploration and environmental conservation align with the school’s mission to inspire, explore, innovate and lead.

“Our team felt that we were at a point where Union Academy needed a fresh start,” said Moffitt. “We want to shed any negative connotations that may be attached to our school and begin a new adventure. Just as William Bartram’s exploration through Macon County shaped the world of science and discovery in our area, we want to encourage our students to be curious and to explore the world around them.”

The school is changing leadership with the departure of outgoing Principal Diane Cotton after nine years. Moffitt is looking to improve student outcomes at the school, including participation and graduation rates. While Franklin High School maintains a roughly 98% graduation rate, Union Academy had a 50% graduation rate for the 2021-22 school year and graduated about 60% of seniors last school year.

Related Items

During the Aug. 21 Macon County School Board meeting, Moffitt outlined the major influences on this era of transition, the first being the leadership change. There is also the upcoming consolidation with Franklin High School , staffing challenges at the school and perhaps most significantly, the $1,020,000 Innovative Partnership Grant (IPG) awarded through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The grant is intended to provide additional fiscal resources, technical support and regular school visits to CSI/ Tier II schools to improve student achievement.

Due to staff shortages, teachers are responsible for eight classes with no dedicated planning period and little time for staff training or development. The Innovative Partnership Grant requires staff training with outside partners to address areas of need.

“We know that staffing across the district is tough right now,” said Moffitt. “We have two big vacancies; we are without an English teacher, and we are without a math teacher. I could say that in a different way; we’re without a math department and we are without an English department.”

To address these shortfalls, Moffitt requested that the board allow the school to transition to a four-day schedule like public schools used during the return to in-person classes during the pandemic.

“So our social studies teacher is now teaching English, and our science teacher is also now teaching math just for that schedule to work,” said Moffitt. “It is like a college schedule or community college schedule. With that, our two core teachers are teaching eight classes with no planning period that is dedicated to them because we have to staff how we can. So they have pre-school planning and post-school planning.”

The schedule would allow teachers time for planning and training. It would also benefit support staff like the custodial team, who have limited cleaning capabilities while students are in the classroom. The fifth day would also provide an opportunity for remediation for students who can come in and a remote learning day for those that can work remotely.

“I don’t want to lose my people, we’re doing everything we can to support them. It is a team effort,” Moffitt said. “So myself, I’m going to be in the classroom quite a bit, I’m going to get out of that office as much as I can.” 

Chairman Jim Breedlove noted that a four-day schedule is common among other alternative high schools.

Moffitt is also looking to revise the school’s in-school suspension policy from an all-day suspension to a period-long suspension.

“I don’t want kids in ISS, that’s one of the reasons I gave you this as well,” said Moffitt. “ISS incidents through April of last year we had 329 ISS incidents. We had 25 outside of school suspensions and an attendance rate of 81%. I want kids at school and I want kids in class.” 

Board member Diedre Breeden asked Moffitt if his students had what they needed in order to be successful during a weekly remote learning day.

“A lot of our kids have to work out of necessity so we’re going to ask them, if we can, to provide a work grade for them,” said Moffitt.

The new identity will be accompanied by a revamped curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning, critical thinking and interdisciplinary studies. The school’s campus will undergo a transformation that reflects the spirit of exploration and adventure.

“Our new logo, a compass, is already on our walls,” said Moffitt. “Rooms have been transformed with our students and adventure in mind. Our whole theme is driven by our vision to create meaningful opportunities for student success every day. We want to engage our students, empower them to explore their interests, leading to excellence.” 

The Macon County School board approved Moffitt’s proposal unanimously. 

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.