SMITHFIELD — The mayor wants residents to confront the Johnston County school board about the low performance of the town’s high school.
In an interview Monday with radio station WTSB, Mayor John Lampe said residents should “show up at every school board meeting with a bag of rotten tomatoes and start throwing them at people and raise bloody hell about everything that’s wrong” at Smithfield-Selma High School, which consistently performs lower than other Johnston high schools. Lampe said the school system is failing students at Smithfield-Selma High by not spending more time and resources at the school.
No one showed up with tomatoes at the board’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, where Superintendent Ed Croom said the district is already devoting $5 million more annually in per-pupil spending to Smithfield-area schools. School system leaders said the town needs to get more involved if it wants to see improvement.
“We are doing the best we can do with the resources that we have,” said school board member Donna White. “But until we get parents, till we get community leaders that don’t just tell us what the problem is” but offer solutions and help, the school system can’t fix all of the problems.
Wednesday’s meeting coincided with a report about Smithfield-Selma High School that was years in the making. The study, done by a group of citizens, examined the school’s problems and made recommendations on how to fix them.
Few of the board’s members directly addressed Lampe’s comments, but all had something to say about the report, which outlined the school’s many problems, including the lowest average SAT scores in the county at 1356 out of 2400 in 2013. Students also consistently score low on statewide benchmarks.
Susan Lassiter, chairwoman of the citizens’ group that made the report, asked the school board to spend more time and resources on the school.
“During our study, we’ve learned that successful school districts make every effort to help their weakest schools with additional resources, strong leadership and strong teachers,” Lassiter said. “Our community can’t accept this plight. It hurts our very well being, socially and economically.”
Croom said he plans to work with the group.
At 66 percent, Smithfield-Selma High has one of the highest percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. In an interview Wednesday, Lampe said the school system needs to stop blaming the high percentage of disadvantaged youth.
“My answer is, I don’t blame the victims,” he said. “And I think it’s unjust for them to do so also.”
Lampe said the school system needs to change the way it looks at helping students.
“From the top down, they’re comfortable with the way things are and how they’ve dispersed money and efforts,” he said. “And I’m telling them, what worked for the last 10 years, I don’t think it’s going to work for the next five years, and I’m unhappy with it, and I’m asking for change.”
Lampe said he spoke with Croom last month and largely blames the county’s rapid growth, which outpaces the school system’s ability to help students.
Six of Lampe’s eight children attended Smithfield-Selma High School. The youngest two are at Neuse Charter School, the county’s lone charter school. He said he enrolled them in Neuse Charter because of scheduling conflicts with county schools.
School board members stressed involving the whole community and finding volunteers to help free up teacher time. The graduation rate at the high school has climbed, and its first class of International Baccalaureate students began this year. Teachers are also receiving more professional development.
Principal Michael Taylor said in an interview Wednesday that he understands Lampe’s frustration but cautioned against assigning blame.
“It’s important that we continue to work collaboratively to refrain from being divisive, against one anther,” he said. “Because the reality is our school is part of the community, and as a community, we must own and then move together in solving our concerns.”