The group Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools is wrong in its call for busing to make Smithfield-Selma schools better. But the group’s leader, Susan Lassiter, is right about this: Far too many children in Johnston County are not performing at grade level.
This past year, not a single Johnston County school saw 80 or more percent of its students performing at grade level at year’s end. Even worse, at 25 schools, more than 4 in 10 children were performing below grade level, and at three schools, the percentage of students at grade level was in the 30s.
Mrs. Lassiter did find encouragement in seeing so many Johnston schools meeting or exceeding the state’s expectations for student success. But frankly, that’s a low bar to clear, because the state has such low expectations. Take, for just one example, West Smithfield Elementary School. This past year, just 34.5 percent of West Smithfield students performed at grade level on year-end tests, and yet the school’s performance exceeded state expectations. Just as discouraging, at 26 Johnston schools that met or exceeded state expectations, at least three in 10 students were performing below grade level. Mrs. Lassiter and Johnston school leaders might find that encouraging, but we doubt parents do.
No one is laying the blame for poor performance solely at the feet of the county’s schools. Many Johnston youngsters enter kindergarten poorly prepared to learn, and many more young people go home to parents either unable or unwilling to help their children learn.
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Johnston school leaders often say all they need to turn the corner is more resources, meaning money, and yet the evidence suggests they’re wrong. In responding to criticism from Mrs. Lassiter’s group, Superintendent Ed Croom notes that Johnston taxpayers have for years now been pouring extra money into Smithfield-Selma schools. And yet this past year, among Smithfield-Selma area schools, only Wilson’s Mills Elementary raised its letter grade, from a C to be B. Meanwhile, one school, Selma Middle, saw its grade fall, from D to F, and every other Smithfield-Selma school earned a D, the same as the year before.
Obviously, more of the same, including more money spent the same way, isn’t getting the job done. What’s needed, we suspect, is for the schools to use the resources they have in new ways. We don’t pretend to know what those new ways are; what we do know is that the status quo isn’t working. The proof is in the numbers.