Smithfield Schools Set Example For Collaboration

Susan Pullium, executive director of Neuse Charter School, talks with Stephen Baker, principal of Smithfield-Selma High School. The two schools are located in close proximity on Booker Dairy Rd and now school leaders are looking at ways that the schools can work more collaboratively to benefit both student populations.

By: Shannon Mann

There’s great debate in the education community on schools of choice. Some see it as an issue of “us versus them”, but two schools in the Smithfield Selma community are trailblazing a new mentality…one of “together we all succeed.”

Neuse Charter School Executive Director Susan Pullium said, “Many people don’t understand charter schools, why we exist or how we fit into the broad educational community. They might think we take resources from traditional public institutions, but on the contrary we serve a viable need for parents and our communities at-large.”

As Johnston County’s first, and currently only, brick-and-mortar, public charter school, Neuse Charter shares many of the same state accountability and assessment requirements as their traditional public school partners, but receives less per pupil funding.

“We operate with freedom from many of the regulations that govern traditional schools,” Pullium said, “But we also operate without many of the resources and that can present a multitude of challenges.”

While Neuse Charter is focused on showcasing an unparalleled academic curriculum for its student body, there are many things the school just cannot do that help build school spirit and community pride.

With the help of their neighbors at Smithfield-Selma High School, the two schools are working together to leverage assets that ultimately benefit both schools and showcase a true sense of cooperation to their student bodies.

“Students in Johnston County are all our students as a community, and what benefits one, regardless of attendance boundaries or schools, benefits all,” said Stephen Baker, Smithfield- Selma High School principal.

In the past year, the two schools have demonstrated a strong ability to work across imaginary lines to better their extracurricular programs.

In January, when the K-12 charter school started working on their spring musical, The Wizard of Oz,they found a surprise collaborator in the much larger school across the street.

“Smithfield-Selma High School’s Band performed a Wizard of Oz show a few years ago,” said Leah Williams, NCS music and band teacher. “They offered to help us by loaning us some props.”

Smithfield-Selma also offered to loan Neuse their auditorium for their last week of rehearsals, but the musical’s munchkin population is bigger than the stage so the students will conduct dress rehearsals in their own school gymnasium before going live at Johnston County Community College’s auditorium of April 6.

“I can’t express how grateful we are that Smithfield-Selma High School would help us in this venture,” said Williams.

In the past, the traditional public high school has only shared a street address and some carpool traffic congestion with NCS, but with new leadership at the helm of the schools, administrators are looking at a partnership to benefit all students.

“Successful schools do not build a community of exclusion, but rather walk the walk of collaboration and partnerships, helping us all improve,” Baker said.

“Both schools exist to educate our youth and make them better global citizens,” said Pullium. “As leaders we must demonstrate the qualities we teach. We lead by example so that these students truly understand what it means to work together for a common good.”

In addition to their collaboration in the arts, the two schools are also partnering in a more competitive arena…sports.

The Neuse Charter Cougars are classified as a 1A athletic school while the Smithfield-Selma Spartans are classified as a 3A school. There students may see each other as they pass on Booker Dairy Rd, or as they workout on the practice fields and tracks at Smithfield Community Park, but it’s doubtful they’ll ever meet in a conference match or game.

But that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t play each other, or that mindsets can’t shift.

SSS Volleyball Coach Deanna Moore and NCS Volleyball Coach Gail Browning have a long standing friendship and saw an opportunity for both their teams to practice skills and prepare for the season last August.

“We scrimmaged our JV and varsity teams,” said Browning. “This was the first year we have had the scrimmage. The Neuse girls learned a lot and had a great time.”

Browning said the scrimmage also gave officials a chance to practice and hone their skills before season openers.

Browning hopes the scrimmage between the schools is a good first step in Neuse Charter being invited to join the pre-season Johnston County Jamboree, where the smaller charter school would be able to compete with their larger school counterparts from across the county.

On March 29, 2017 the schools will also showcase their girls’ soccer programs as they play each other for the first time in the Spartans’ stadium.

Baker knows the value of the lessons he’s imparting upon his staff and students by bridging the gap between the traditional public and public charter schools.

“I believe we are on this earth to make a difference in the lives of others,” he said. “When I think about what that means; what does it look and sound like, one of the conclusions involves collaboration and partnerships. We will always be stronger when we work together.  It is all about the future…our students.”