An overflow crowd packed into a public hearing Thursday night at the Johnston County Board of Education building on Highway 70 in Smithfield.
The school board held a two hour public hearing on the proposed closing of the South Campus Community School in East Smithfield.
A total of 19 people spoke during the public hearing, including current administrators, teachers even former students.
Among those speaking against the closing was District Court Judge Addie Rawls who is also the chairperson of the Johnston County Juvenile Crime Prevention program. Rawls said South Campus had committed teachers already in place helping students succeed.
South Campus teacher Eugene Eckerson, who was also opposed to the closing, said the focus should be on students not taxpayer dollars.
One former student, who is now 21, said he would be dead unless the staff at South Campus took special interest in him and helped turn his life around. Another South Campus graduate said she now has her own catering business thanks to the support of her teachers.
A third former student said a South Campus teacher slapped his desk one day to get his attention while he was nodding asleep and then encouraged him to make something of himself. The former student said the “slap on the desk” got his attention. He enlisted as a medic in the Army for 10 years, and later obtained degrees from NC State, Duke University, and is now on the Heart Transplant Team at Duke.
Mark Wellons told school board members, “You can love more out of people than you can beat out of people.” Wellons said most school board members were raised in good homes and do not understand the circumstances many of the children come from.
Wellons cited a report that students arriving at South Campus School have on average a 5th grade level of comprehension. Wellons said the problem was with other schools that send them to South Campus with such a low education standard.
Wellons then quoted a versus from Matthew 25:40. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Tracy Curtis, a parent of a South Campus student said her child needs attentive, qualified teachers in the classroom. She said the school systems plan replace South Campus with three geographically located hubs offering a computer-based instruction model would not work with special needs students.
The South Campus alternative school costs the district several million dollars each year to operate. Teacher and employee salaries and benefits cost $2,376,585 annually. Transportation costs are $275,968 or about $1,500 per day.
The school only serves an average of 125 students per year at an average cost of $19,000 per student. The average cost per pupil in a traditional school in Johnston County is between $8,000 – $9,000.
Chief Academic Officer Dr. Eddie Price said current enrollment is about 30 students.
School board members met in closed session after the public hearing ended. The board emerged saying they would take all the comments under advisement before making a decision on the fate of South Campus School at their May board meeting.