Former Educator Concerned About Smithfield-Selma Area Schools

A retired educator has raised concerns about student achievement levels in Smithfield Selma area schools.

Mary Nell Ferguson of Smithfield, the retired principal at Cleveland Elementary School, addressed the Johnston County Board of Education on Tuesday expressing concerns about the direction of some local schools.

“When I was a principal in both Wake and Johnston County, I had one overriding goal. I must make sure that I had the best school for my children and for my parents who counted on me to have the best for their child. Each day as I walked from classroom to classroom, I would ask myself this question, “Would I want my child or grandchild to be in this classroom?” If my answer was no, and believe you me, I had some no’s, my job was to change that answer to a yes.”

“Now I ask a bigger question when I visit or work in the schools. Would I want my grandchild in this school? I would like for you, as School Board members, to ask the same question concerning those you dearly love and then talk frankly with each other about your answer.”

Former Cleveland Elementary School Principal Mary Nell Ferguson of Smithfield addresses the Johnston County Board of Education on May 9th. Ferguson said she is concerned about the fate of Smithfield-Selma area schools and believes the school board should consider magnet schools as an option. Photo

Ferguson said her concern was on the elementary schools in the I-95 corridor.

“Before I retired, I knew our school system had concerns about the I-95 corridor schools, When looking at the data today, I am alarmed.”

Ferguson provided statistics showing the majority of students who attend 4 area elementary schools are economically disadvantaged students.  92% of students at Selma Elementary, 78% at South Smithfield Elementary, 93% at West Smithfield and 75% at Wilson’s Mills Elementary are classified as Economically Disadvantaged.

In comparison, 14% of students at Powhatan Elementary, 20% at Riverwood Elementary, and 29% at Cleveland Elementary are economically disadvantaged.

“I want it to be heard loud and clear that my concerns are not our principals, not the teachers, not the facilities, but the inequities of the Smithfield schools as compared to Cleveland-Clayton schools.  It is just not right for these sweet children in the Smithfield-Selma schools to be denied the educational experiences that children have in the Cleveland-Claytons schools.  Ferguson then cited the story of a Smithfield family who transferred their children to a Cleveland-Clayton school because they felt they would receive a better education.

Ferguson suggested school leaders consider magnet schools as an option to improve Smithfield area schools.

“Magnet schools are a magnet – they pull in parents who want a choice for their child. This may not be the magic solution, but research has shown success for many years.”

“You have tried year round schools in Smithfield. Since the late 1980’s research has never said that year round schools would increase student achievement,” she told board members. “Now that there is going to be a change, put your time, money and effort into things that will work.”

“Please examine each school and plan a unique, proven solution for it,” Ferguson stated. “Take time to answer the “Why” question. Why, through the years, have parents transferred their children out of the Smithfield-Selma area schools?”

“Please don’t forget about the elementary schools where school learning begins. And don’t forget to ask these same questions about our Smithfield Selma Middle Schools and our High School. I would love to see Cleveland-Clayton parents asking to transfer their child or children to a Smithfield-Selma school.”

“…One of the most precious things a parent gives a child is his or her opportunity for the best education possible. What schools would you choose for your child or grandchild or someone you love dearly, and why or why not? Know the problem – then you can find a solution.”

“The time is now! Change is hard work. It may not be popular. It takes time. But these children don’t have the time to wait. They count on you.”

**Percentage Of Economically Disadvantaged Students In Local Elementary Schools (Fall 2016):

Smithfield-Selma Area
Selma                           92%
South Smithfield          78%
West Smithfield            93%
Wilson’s Mills               75%

I-95 Corridor
Benson                         69%
Four Oaks                    64%
Glendale Kenly            61%
Micro-Pine Level                   66%
Princeton                      56%
Meadow                        55%

Cleveland/Clayton Area
Cleveland                     29%
East Clayton                27%
McGee’s                       46%
Polenta                         40%
Powhatan                     14%
River Dell                      21%
Riverwood                    20%
West Clayton               45%
West View                    26%

**Statistics provided by Mary Nell Ferguson


  1. Educators do a disservice to students when they continuously harp on how “economically disadvantaged” students can’t learn unless they are in a classroom with composed of at least 50% “economically advantaged” students.
    Old timers who lived in Johnston County and attended school in the 1950’s and 1960’s would be surprised to discover that poor children can’t learn. Lots of those classrooms were filled with students who didn’t even have indoor plumbing. Most of those folks were able to take advantage of their educational opportunities and become successful. Wanting to succeed is much more important than how fancy the house is that you go home to at night.

    • Charter Schools are not the same thing as magnet schools. Charter Schools require private investment.

      • Yes I am aware of this. But she only offered magnet schools as an option. Seems she has limited herself. Also, inner city magnet schools… Pfft. Good place to get shot.

  2. What should be of more concern is the move towards more and more of the discipline issues being pushed under the rug at some of these schools. This is especially true for the SSS Strong situation. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. This isn’t just about “poor” kids, this is about kids that have true emotional and lack of support for their needs at home. The school system can’t FIX all these problems. Study after study has shown that we CAN”T make up for what is not being done at home. These kids are being kept in classrooms and as long as we continue to cater to them and put them above the kids that want to learn, and are kept in classrooms with constant disruptions, that aren’t being handled, because of lack of support from administration and our county. The “scare” of being put on the news, lawsuits and people in the higher positions, trying to save their jobs, by making sure it all falls on the teachers are the problem. Teachers ARE NOT being supported. If they think they are, I promise you, it is a false sense of security, that comes from lack of realizing how Human Resources works and thinking they are on their side. Human Resources and our higher ups, will not take the hit, even for those who think they are being supported, when the system is threatened. How many people do you know being paid over 70K will take the hit for you, if something goes wrong? They will trap you and I promise the teacher will lose almost every time!

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