I was certain that communities were reflections of their schools: Good schools made strong communities with good-paying jobs that allowed workers to provide well for their families.
But as I wrote last week’s editorial about Smithfield-Selma High School, I began to think that maybe I had it backward; that strong communities make good schools.
I don’t know.
But it does seem that SSS, a low-performing school, faces hurdles beyond its immediate control. Most notably, it cannot help that many of its students come from poor families who can’t afford to enrich what their children are learning in school. They cannot afford tutors, technology, museum trips and so on.
But that doesn’t mean SSS has thrown up its hands and surrendered. As we noted earlier this year, the school has launched an initiative to curb its dropout rate, and that effort is helping SSS shed the label of “dropout factory.” Also, SSS is home to the county’s first and only International Baccalaureate program, and while early enrollment in the program is low, IB holds the promise of making SSS a magnet school.
The question is what is the town of Smithfield doing to improve itself? The town has lowered its sky-high electricity rate but only for residential customers, not job-creating businesses. In the meantime, the town remains saddled with ill-advised debt that is keeping Smithfield from making the kind of infrastructure improvements that could aid job creation.
Perhaps worst of all, Smithfield suffers from political inertia, with no one on the council publicly championing the changes needed to make Smithfield a stronger community capable of helping its high school improve.
In a recent interview, John Lampe, who’s running unopposed for mayor of Smithfield, said he will enter office with no agenda. For the betterment of Smithfield and its high school, perhaps he should adopt one.
And for any community that wants to see its schools get better, perhaps it should begin with a little self-reflection.