Smithfield-Selma snubs Neuse Charter

pseligson@newsobserver.comSeptember 13, 2013 

Tensions have surfaced over how the county’s lone charter school fits in with Johnston’s traditional public schools.

Earlier this month, Neuse Charter School asked to send about 40 of its seniors and juniors to a college fair at nearby Smithfield-Selma High School. (Neuse Charter is too small to host a fair on its own.) But Smithfield-Selma’s principal declined the request.

Two other Johnston high schools – North Johnston and Princeton – will attend the fair, hosted by the Carolinas Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers. That group typically tries to visit multiple schools at a time as it works its way across the state.

Smithfield-Selma High is across Booker Dairy Road from Neuse Charter. But instead of walking across the street, Neuse Charter students are going 30 minutes by bus to Rosewood High School in neighboring Wayne County. That school has invited Neuse Charter to its college fair on Oct. 1.

Michael Taylor, Smithfield-Selma’s principal, said he turned away Neuse Charter because he did not want the college fair to become too crowded. The fair will be in the school’s cafeteria, which can safely hold no more than 513 people, according to its fire-safety capacity, Taylor said.

Smithfield-Selma has 223 seniors, and Johnston schools spokeswoman Tracey Peedin-Jones said all were scheduled to attend the fair. SSS seniors will attend the fair’s first 45-minute session. North Johnston and Princeton seniors will arrive next. Together, those schools have 278 seniors, and again, Peedin-Jones said all were scheduled to attend.

A Smithfield-Selma guidance counselor suggested Neuse Charter students could attend the second half of the fair with students from North Johnston and Princeton. But Taylor said adding more students could bring the cafeteria too close to the fire capacity.

Peedin-Jones said time was also a factor. Taylor wanted to make sure Princeton and North Johnston students had ample time to speak to colleges.

Taylor also said charter schools and traditional public schools are separate. “We don’t share opportunities,” he said. “Our students don’t travel to their school, and they don’t travel here. There’s clear-cut law regarding the interaction. For example, charter school students can’t participate in athletics and JROTC and things of that nature.”

Taylor was referring to school board policy 4400, which says participation in the school system’s extracurricular activities is limited to students enrolled in a Johnston County school.

Peedin-Jones said the fair wasn’t open to other schools outside of SSS, Princeton and North Johnston. “It wasn’t open to the public, and it wasn’t open to all the other high schools,” she said. “Other events are planned at different schools.”

Taylor added that his school’s college fair wasn’t open to other nontraditional students, such as home-schooled students.

Joel Erby, Neuse Charter high school’s principal, said he respects Taylor’s decision but sees it differently. “We’re as much a part of Johnston County as SSS,” he said. “We’re a public school in Johnston County.”

Erby said Neuse Charter has opened its doors to Johnston’s traditional public schools and wants to collaborate with them. Over the summer, he noted, Smithfield-Selma’s cheerleading squad used facilities at Neuse Charter. Also, Neuse Charter students take driver’s education at Smithfield-Selma.

“I just think there’s a little bit of competition going on and that they want to kind of exclude us from participating in something,” Erby said, adding he doesn’t see it as a competition because Neuse Charter is an independent entity. “That being said, you know everything in education should be about the kids, and when it’s about the kids, you make provisions.”

Daniel Casey, a guidance counselor at Neuse Charter, said the school couldn’t hold the college fair on its own. “As this is our first year of having graduating seniors and being so small, it’s very difficult to convince this college fair to actually use our site exclusively,” he said.

Casey said the college fair is an important opportunity for students because it can expose them to colleges they might otherwise not consider. He said going to and from the college fair in Wayne County will take up a lot more class time.

Before telling Neuse Charter no, Taylor checked with Superintendent Ed Croom to make sure it was OK. Croom gave the go-ahead.

The superintendent said said he defers to principals on such matters. “They know what’s best at their schools,” he said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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