School Board Chairman Responds To Selma Town Council Resolution Critical Of Board Of Education

(Left to right) Selma town councilwoman Jacy Lacy discusses a resolution concerning Smithfield and Selma area schools with Mayor Cheryl Oliver prior to a 4-1 vote to approve the resolution Tuesday night. WTSB Photo
(Left to right) Selma town councilwoman Jacy Lacy discusses a resolution concerning Smithfield and Selma area schools with Mayor Cheryl Oliver prior to a 4-1 vote to approve the resolution Tuesday night. WTSB Photo

The chairman of the Johnston County Board of Education has responded to a resolution adopted by the Selma Town Council on Tuesday night concerning Smithfield-Selma area schools.

The resolution, adopted by a 4-to-1 vote, placed the Town of Selma on record in opposition of the Board of Education’s existing district boundaries and “general lack of proper funding for the schools contained in the Smithfield and Selma Area Schools, which would continue the segregation of a disproportionately high number of minority and economically disadvantaged students at these schools…”

The resolution asked the school board to stop maintaining the status quo as “the status quo is not acceptable as the de facto segregation of the Smithfield and Selma Area Schools is in violation of both the North Carolina and United States Constitutions.”

The two page resolution said the school boards action are resulting in lower test scores and impairing the Towns of Smithfield and Selma from recruiting new business and industry and the creation of jobs.

Selma Town Councilman Tommy Holmes, who has grandchildren attending Smithfield Selma High, was the only council member to vote in opposition of the resolution.

School Board Chairman Responds
Larry C. Strickland, Chairman of the Johnston County Board of Education released a statement Thursday saying:

The current Johnston County Board of Education members have been working together for more than six years. During this time period, we have seen an accelerated growth in population, increase in academic expectations plus growth in academic achievement.

The Board of Education and the school system recognize the need for improvement in all of the schools, including the Smithfield Selma area schools. We have added programs, resources and faculty in order to enhance education. We believe in our staff and students, and we are dedicated to making every child successful. The faculty and staff in the Smithfield-Selma area and across Johnston County work diligently to grow each and every child from their current level to levels beyond even their own expectations. A child’s success reaches beyond test scores.

We are saddened that segments of our community are more interested in working through legal avenues rather than working together for the good of our children. Since the mid 1990’s the JCS Board(s) of Education have worked to change and improve the academic climate in the Smithfield area schools. During that time many Smithfield Selma area students have spoken before the board thanking them for the commitment to the schools. Unfortunately, The Johnston County Board of Education can not do it alone. The current board does not remember anyone from the Selma Council asking any board member to sit down and discuss how we, collectively, can improve the schools. Each school is a reflection of the community and we, the Johnston County Board of Education, have and continue to believe in community schools. If the council has a concern, then perhaps decisions to improve their community would be more beneficial than the threatening posturing currently taking place.

The JCS board members do not see redistricting or satellite busing as the solution to addressing the concerns of the citizens group or the town council. We do believe in positive communication and a collaborative working relationship. We do appreciate those members of both the Smithfield and Selma Council who have reached out to us with positive comments. We also appreciate the members of the Smithfield and Selma communities who have asked how they can help improve our schools and the community rather than seeking to place blame on the board.

Today, as board chairman, I speak for all of the Johnston County Board of Education members in saying we are proud of the work our employees do each day. Our commitment is to make all of Johnston County Schools the pride of EVERY community.

Town Of Smithfield May Consider Similar Resolution In June

The Town of Smithfield postponed a vote on May 5th to adopt a similarly worded resolution placed on the agenda by Mayor John Lampe.

Smithfield Town Manager Paul Sabiston said the resolution was removed because two council members were absent from the meeting and wanted everyone to be present for the vote.

Mayor Lampe told WTSB News Thursday afternoon some council members wanted some of the wording of the resolution changed. He expects it could be brought before a vote in July.  

Smithfield officials also postponed a vote on giving $20,000 to the UNC Center for Civil Rights to study the problem. 

Sabiston said the funds are currently included in the 2014-15 budget.

Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools Worried About Low Test Scores, Graduation Rates
In April, Susan Lassiter, Chairperson of Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools, said the group is concerned about low test scores and graduation rates at Smithfield Selma High School has now turned to the UNC Center for Civil Rights to do a preliminary investigation of potential legal remedies.

The group issued a report indicating Smithfield Selma High did not meet expected growth standards for two consecutive years, and only 39% of the students were at grade level. The school was given a D grade.  No other high school in the county received a D grade.  And the majority of SSS students never reach grade level proficiency meaning they don’t graduate on tract for college or career training.

”Folks, we’re cheating these students out of sound educations. We’re cheating them out of opportunities for viable employment, especially when you think about their competition beyond our county’s borders for good-paying jobs,” Lassiter said.

Lassiter said she doesn’t believe this form of segregation is willingly going to change.  She said the Citizens Study Commission has started working with the UNC Center for Civil Rights to look at legal options “to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in Johnston County Schools.