Civil Rights Center Study: Redistricting Needed To End Segregated Johnston County Schools

Mark Dorosin with the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights in Carrboro presents finds of a Civil Rights Center Study on Johnston County Public Schools to members of the Smithfield Town Council during their Nov. 6th meeting. The study contends Johnston County Schools, especially Smithfield-Selma High, are segregated and redistricting is needed. Dorosin will the same report to the Johnston County School Board in December. Photo

A study by a Triangle civil rights organization suggests Johnston County public schools are segregated and more needs to be done to address the diversity issue.

Mark Dorosin with the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights in Carrboro presented the findings to the Smithfield Town Council during their November 6th monthly meeting.

Despite gains in interracial contact between African American and white students from 1954 to the late 1980s, since the early 1990s, the report claims a distinct resegregative trend has led to public schools becoming more segregated now than they were in the 1970s.

The study looked at the demographic patterns in Johnston County to assess how the Board of Education could revise high school district boundaries to improve diversity, manage growth, school capacity and facilities use.

The report highlighted and focused on what the civil rights group contend are critical issues at Smithfield-Selma High School.  It strongly recommends new attendance boundaries be drawn for all high schools.

The report said the 7-member Johnston County Board of Education includes 6 whites and 1 African American. None of the board members reside in the Smithfield-Selma area of the county.

The most recent census shows the population of Johnston County is 67.9% white, 16.5% African American, and 13.7% Hispanic.  The population of most school-aged students closely aligns with the population numbers except at Smithfield Selma High and its feeders schools.

Study: Disproportionate Number Of Blacks, Hispanics Attend SSS
The white population at Selma Middle is 12.1%, black population 31.7% and Hispanic 54.2%.  The white population at Smithfield Middle is 21.4%, black population 28.2%, and Hispanic 44.9%.

Smithfield Selma High has only 29% white student enrollment, compared to 70% at Corinth Holders High, 72% at Princeton High, and 67% at West Johnston.   The district wide average is 56.7%.

A disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics attend Smithfield-Selma High than any other school.  27% of the SSS population is black, compared to only 12% at Cleveland High.  Hispanics make up 39% of the SSS student body but only represent 12% at Cleveland and 14% at both Clayton High and Corinth Holders High.

The report said SSS High was “racially isolated” and “segregated socioeconomically.”

47.6% of all students in Johnston County Public Schools are Free And Reduced Lunch (FRL) eligible.  At Smithfield and Selma Middle Schools, over 80% of students qualify for FRL. Less than 30% qualify at Cleveland Middle, Cleveland High, Riverwood Middle and Corinth Holders High.

“This uneven distribution reflects a pattern of concentrated high poverty, racially isolated schools in the Smithfield-Selma area,”  Morosin said in the report.

Student Performance
The Center for Civil Rights report said Smithfield-Selma area schools have among the lowest overall grade level proficiency among students and show significant racial achievement gaps.  At SSS, 72.6% of white students are grade level proficient – on par with the higher performing schools in Johnston County and higher than the district average of 64%. However, only 28% of black students are grade level proficient, which is lower than the district average of 40%.

Based on North Carolina’s School Performance Grade system that measures both student test achievements and academic growth over the year, Smithfield Selma High had the lowest score of any high school in the county, and Selma Middle of any Middle School.

“All Smithfield Selma area schools are Title I schools, a federal designation that identifies high poverty schools and provides them with additional resources to address student outcomes.”

Graduation Rates
The district graduation average is 92 percent but  Smithfield Selma High graduation rates are 87.9%, tied for the lowest of any high school in Johnston County.  (West Johnston High also had a graduate rate of 87.9%).

In the 2016-17 school year, SSS had 44 students drop out before graduation, twice the number of the next highest school.

Teacher Turnover
All schools in the Smithfield-Selma area had a teacher turnover rate higher than the district average of 12 percent, with Smithfield Middle School losing 19% of their teachers in 2017.

The study suggested one factor to turnover and retention is satisfaction with working conditions.

“In schools with a higher percentage of white students and fewer FRL students, like Corinth Holders (which has one of the lowest turnover rates in the district), the teachers expressed dissatisfaction with class sizes and facilities.  This likely reflects the continued overcrowding in this school. In contrast, teachers in segregated schools have low satisfaction rates in areas related to student discipline and professional development opportunities for teachers. Notably, the racially segregated schools in the Smithfield Selma area all have high rates of discipline, with over 20 suspension per 100 students.”

Johnston County Schools is the 9th largest district in the state with approximately 36,000 students.

The district grew by almost 20,000 students from 1994-2014, and 13 new schools were constructed during that period.

The district has 46 schools: 23 elementary, 13 middle, and 10 high schools.

Johnston County was the third fastest-growing county in North Carolina last year, at 2.94%. Its growth outpaced that of Wake County, which was ninth at 2.2 percent. Much of the growth is happening in western Johnston County.

The median list price per square for a home in Johnston County is $114 versus $136 in Wake County. In the Raleigh Metro Area and the City of Raleigh it is $150.

The study suggested the high school attendance areas be redrawn as shown in their map.

Schools Out Of Balance
The study claims Johnston County schools are significantly out-of-balance in relation to racial and socioeconomic demographics, attendance versus capacity, and residential assignment in attendance areas.

Combined, all high schools have an attendance of 11,129 students. That is 105.2% of capacity for the 2017-18 school term.

“While the system is somewhat over-capacity overall, Cleveland and Corinth Holders High are the most over capacity. All 6 other high schools are approaching capacity, ranging from 89 to 99%. While there seems to be a clear correlation between school-age population density and proximity to Raleigh’s employment drivers and the over-capacity at Cleveland and Corinth Holders High Schools, these factors do not explain the anomalies of this relationship to Clayton, Princeton and Smithfield-Selma High Schools, which all have unexpected excess capacity.”

The report was critical of the systems modified open transfer policy allowing students who live in one attendance area to transfer to a school in another attendance district.  High school attendance areas have not been redrawn since 2010.

If all high school age residents attended Smithfield Selma High, the school would be over capacity at 114.3%. Attendance last year was at 83.8%.  SSS is also the school with the highest percentage minority assignment area. Princeton and Corinth Holders were also considered to be out-of-balance schools.

High School District Revisions
The 38 page report suggests that revising the attendance areas for all high schools will help reduce the minority percentage assigned to Smithfield Selma High, which they contend exceeds a “tipping point”.

The Civil Rights Center proposed this new attendance area upon the completion of a 9th high school in Johnston County.

“In Johnston County, the available data shows that school board decisions about sighting and assignment areas have a critical impact. Newer schools in the western part of the county become an additional lure for parents with the means to take advantage of the open transfer policy, leaving behind schools with higher percentages of nonwhite and low wealth students.”

“As this pattern repeats, resegregation – and the adverse educational impacts that follow – worsens.  Also, as those high poverty schools lose students, they become under-enrolled, creating additional challenges to providing adequate resources and opportunities.”

“None of this ‘just happens.’  It is the foreseeable and anticipate result of decisions made by elected officials who fail to prioritize the educational and community benefits of inclusion and diversity in schools – benefits that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized schools board have the authority to pursue,” the report stated.

“The call to action is for the board to adopt policies and goals that recognize the value of racial and socioeconomic diversity as vital elements to ensure that every student in JCS receives the sound base education that our constitution requires.”

The 38-page report was presented to the Smithfield Town Council on Nov. 6th.  The report will be formally presented to the Johnston County School Board during their December meeting.


School Board Member: Students Should Go To A School In Their Community
Ronald Johnson was the only member of the Johnston County Board of Education who attended the Nov. 6th presentation.

Johnson issued this statement to WTSB and JoCoReport:  “During the presentation, several references were made about Wake County Schools and their “diversity” policies. One of those policies consists of busing students to schools outside of their community. If that is where this conversation is headed, let’s just stop right here. I will never support busing students away from their homes, community, and support networks.

“When you get past the statistical terminology of granular data, metrics, and oversubscription, the summation of the report is there are too many African American and Hispanic children in Smithfield-Selma area schools and they should go to school somewhere else in Johnston County. I cannot agree with this line of thinking or logic. I completely agree with limiting transfers from the Smithfield-Selma area and I have done that in my two years as a school board member. I am committed to keeping every school in Johnston County a Community School. Students should go to school in their community.”

“The teachers and staff in Johnston County are working hard every day to make sure each student reaches their maximum potential. However, teachers and the school system are powerless in many situations. A teacher has no control of what goes on in a child’s home. The school system can’t help the amount of low income housing within a municipality and the challenges these students face in an impoverished community. We can educate and give them food twice a day, but what is going on in their community after school? Some of these students see criminal activity daily and live in a single or no parent home. I don’t believe sending children to a different school is the solution to the problem.”

“I believe the solution to improving any school district is a more focused learning environment. School personnel are actively seeking out students who are struggling academically and providing them with targeted instruction. This is actually happening in our school district today. We are finding these struggling students and getting them the help they need now. I have no problem telling the public what I think Johnston County Public Schools is doing wrong, but in this instance, I truly believe we are doing everything we can to help our students who have fallen behind. However, no matter what we do in the classroom it doesn’t improve the living conditions and lack of many opportunities for these students within a community.”

“I graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School in 2001. My sister graduated from SSS in 2016. My youngest brother is graduating from SSS this year. I was a School Resource Officer at Smithfield Middle School for 6 years. My best friend has taught at SSS for almost 10 years. I mentor and play basketball most Sunday nights with a group of students from the area. The bottom line is I believe in our schools. We need to promote a sense of community if we want any improvement. I am sure some people with titles and positions will be upset with me for my comments. I hope they remember I am one of the people on the ground trying my best improve our community, because Smithfield-Selma is my home.”

Town Councilman: Numbers Have Fallen On Deaf Ears For Many Years
Smithfield Town Councilman Emery Ashley told WTSB News, “I have many and strong opinions about the issues which are the subject of the report.   I was on the committee previously and am familiar with the numbers and the issues.  I applaud the report. These numbers (which have been growing for some time) have fallen on deaf ears for many years.   Perhaps The Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights and their attorneys will have greater success at being heard.”

“First of all, in addressing the needs, we have to be careful in how we phrase the issues.   We cannot let these issues translate into the citizenry thinking that our schools, our students, and our teachers are bad.    As a citizen who knows many of the teachers and as father of 4 children who attended and graduated from the Smithfield schools, I can state to the contrary.     We have great teachers who are dedicated and motivated and we have students who want to learn and better themselves.   The students are ours. Our teachers and our students need our help to be most successful and the report shows how and why.”

“Our schools have a high percentage of what are termed “economically disadvantaged” students.   Although not outcome determinative for all individuals, unfortunately school success and performance tracts lower for the “economically disadvantaged” segment of the school population.   When a school has a high percentage of “economically disadvantaged” students, the overall performance of the school which is based upon the State standards is lower.    This is why schools with a smaller percentage of “economically disadvantaged” students score better.   It does not mean that one school is better or that one school is worse, although public perception sees is differently.   To me, the issue is addressing the educational needs of the “economically disadvantaged” students. Studies have shown that ALL students perform better when there is reasonable balance.  We need to use our best efforts to break the cycle of economic disadvantage.”

“I agree with the report in that several factors need to be addressed including transfer policies; school locations; and re-drawing of the school districts.   Just as important, I think we need to address how we can better serve the “economically disadvantaged” population in the classroom (via smaller class sizes, more teacher assistants, tutors, etc.), and thereby improve the opportunity for success.”

“We have not addressed these needs and the failure to do so is hurting our students, our schools, and our communities with the higher percentages of the economically disadvantaged school population.     So once again, I applaud the report and the committee for their work and for getting the Center for Civil Rights involved.”