Johnston Superintendent of Schools Ed Croom doesn’t think Smithfield and Selma would benefit from busing in richer students from elsewhere.
Rather, Croom said it will take high-quality teachers, positive community support and continued spending on alternative programs to bring the schools’ performance up to par.
Those things, he said, and a healthy dose of time.
“This is not a problem that just happened over night,” Croom said. “The school board and the administration realize the need, and resources are being put there, but you’re not going to get long-term results in two or three years.”
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Croom’s comments contradict the views of Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools, which formed three years ago in response to drastic drops in test scores and school spirit at Smithfield-Selma High School.
In a speech last month to the Selma Town Council, CCSS chairwoman Susan Lassiter said her group’s research has placed the blame on the high level of poverty at SSS. Last school year, 67 percent of SSS students received free or reduced-priced lunches, while South Johnston High School had the second-highest rate at 49 percent.
Johnston has allowed its schools to become re-segregated, Lassiter said, and if nothing changes, CCSS will work with the UNC School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights to take legal action.
Croom could not see the issue more differently.
“It seems to me that this group sees low-income as a problem; we see it as an opportunity,” he said. “We want all of our children to improve, regardless of where they come from or where they go to school.”
The superintendent took particular issue with Lassiter’s claim that her group’s concerns have fallen on deaf ears. For at least the six years since he took the top job, Croom said, the school board and administration have taken numerous steps to address the needs in Smithfield and Selma schools.
For instance, the school system spends more money on each student in those communities than it does in the rest of the county. On a per-pupil basis, elementary schools in Smithfield and Selma get $745 above the county average, while middle schools get a $1,597 boost, according to numbers compiled by the school system. At SSS, the premium is $895 per student.
Because of their high levels of poverty, those schools also have more teachers and administrators per student than the rest of the county. That comes at a cost of $3.68 million, Croom said, and it provides extra supervision and support for academic growth.
Johnston schools have also placed the district’s alternative education programs in Smithfield and Selma, Croom said. It cost $74,460 to implement a dual-language immersion program at Selma Elementary School and another $46,724 to start an International Baccalaureate diploma program at SSS.
Children in the dual-language program have shown 300-percent gains on test scores, Croom said, and that success should permeate the area over time.
“What will happen over time is, those students will get older and go to the high school,” he said. “And hopefully that positive result will carry right on over to the high school.”
Croom also sees an opportunity to create career and technical programs that will enable the district to better prepare students to join the workforce.
And because the district placed an IB program at SSS, Croom said the Smithfield-Selma area will begin to attract students from other parts of the county without redistricting.
The schools will also need the support of their community and local businesses, Croom said.
For those who care about the schools in Smithfield and Selma, Croom said the best thing they can do is to focus on the positive. People tend to say a lot of negative things about the area’s schools, Croom said, and that pessimism takes an emotional toll on students and teachers.
“If you tell somebody enough how bad they are, sooner or later they’re going to start believing it,” he said.