Smithfield and Selma meet with school board

pseligson@newsobserver.comJune 27, 2014 

Smithfield and Selma leaders are sitting down with Johnston school officials to talk about how to improve academic performance at Smithfield-Selma High School.

Late last month, elected leaders from the two towns met with Johnston school board members and Superintendent Ed Croom.

Smithfield Councilman Emery Ashley said he was encouraged by the talks. “I’m very pleased with how things are transpiring,” he said. “I do believe the school board is very sincere and interested in working with us. I believe the administration is as well.”

None of the parties invited the public to the meeting, and the meeting was not public under North Carolina law because no quorum from any board attended.

Earlier this year, Smithfield Mayor John Lampe called on citizens to lob rotten tomatoes at the school board because of chronically low test scores at SSS. Lampe has since threatened to sue the school board, claiming that Smithfield and Selma students are not receiving the equal education required by North Carolina law.

Those who attended the recent sit-down said they did not meet in response to Lampe’s criticism. Instead, they said they met to talk about a report a citizens’ group prepared about SSS. That report highlighted the school’s many challenges and called on school leaders to take action.

In addition to Ashley, the meeting drew Smithfield Councilman Andy Moore, Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver, school board members Keith Branch and Mike Wooten, and Croom, the superintendent.

In a roundtable format, each person talked about his or her concerns, including low test scores, the school’s high poverty rate, the effects of negative attention on SSS and whether redrawing attendance boundaries could help.

Croom said his staff was working on efforts to help Smithfield and Selma schools, though he declined to say what those efforts were. The superintendent said he would make a report at the group’s next meeting.

Ashley said he asked Croom for data how how many young people live in Smithfield and Selma but go to school elsewhere, including Neuse Charter School and high school programs based at Johnston Community College.

Oliver, the Selma mayor, said she looked forward to the group continuing to meet. “I think it will be the first of a series of meetings where we get together, compare notes (about ) the needs we see and what things are in the works ... to address those needs,” she said.

Moore, the Smithfield councilman, said Lampe could threaten to sue if he wanted. “But I can say that is not the official response from the Smithfield Town Council,” he said,

Citizens’ commission

A group of about 30 people worked for about two years to compile its report on SSS. Oliver and Ashley were part of the group.

“Our students aren’t successfully mastering the subjects in large enough numbers as these bottom scores show,” the report said.

Susan Lassiter, who led the commission, said the focus of the study was to highlight the state of SSS, including its failings. Figuring out solutions is up to the experts in the school system, she said.

The group is still meeting monthly to probe more data and, now, talk about possible solutions. The school system isn’t working directly with the group, though school board members have said they are thankful for the data.

Lassiter said the group came together as concerned citizens. “I care about the community, and I care about that school because both my children graduated from SSS, and it was a stronger school when they were there,” she said.

Lassiter said she hopes the report changes the school board’s focus.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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