Public schools in Smithfield and Selma earned low grades on the state’s latest report cards. On average, the schools received a D.
So community members came together last week to talk about how they could help improve the schools.
The Greater Smithfield-Selma Area Chamber of Commerce held the brainstorming session at the Johnston Medical Mall for parents, teachers, local officials and other community members with ideas for helping the schools. It was a packed house, with attendees looking over school administrators’ and teachers’ suggestions for how the community could get involved.
Incoming superintendent of Johnston County schools Ross Renfrow applauded the chamber for holding the forum.
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“None of us is as smart as all of us,” he said. “I don’t think there is any problem that you could set before this group of people, that if we could harness the mental capacity of everyone that’s here tonight, that we could not solve that problem.”
“Johnston County Schools wants to be a willing participant in helping eradicate this,” he added.
Chamber president Rick Childrey called himself a proud graduate of the Smithfield-Selma schools, and he said he still believes the schools are great. He said he was impressed by the number of people who showed up to talk about how to make the schools better.
Crystal Roberts, chairwoman of the chamber board, said: “Our ultimate objective is to bring the community together to work on this rather than complaining about what’s wrong with the system.”
Roberts said she two children who graduated from SSS and one who is still in school there.
Johnston County school board member Donna White of Clayton, who is running for the state House, said she thinks these community meetings are just what the schools need to improve.
“When the school system lost $62 million during the recession from local, state and federal cuts, the only way we were able to survive was to have kitchen table meetings and pull people from the community who wanted to volunteer to talk about issues and what we need to cut and save,” she said.
“Doing those kitchen table meetings, we survived the recession, kept our classrooms in tact and didn’t lose employees,” White said. “I think that’s what is beginning to happen here tonight. Instead of the community blaming the school system or the school system saying we’ve done all we can do, I think tonight is just the beginning of a great collaboration.”
Parents like Antoan Whidbee, a Clayton resident and lawyer in Smithfield, said he’s undecided about where to send his 4-year-old daughter to school next year. He said the Smithfield schools need to work on selling the good things about them. During the brainstorming session, he heard about programs he didn’t know existed in Smithfield-Selma schools.
“You have to control how your school is viewed,” Whidbee said. “If the kids feel like they are in a bad school and the parents think they are in a bad school, the school is probably going to continue to be bad.” he said.
Newly elected Smithfield mayor Andy Moore said the participation and interest in making the schools better was encouraging to him.
“If we are going to have great schools, it’s going to require community involvement from the parents, retirees, the children themselves and the businesses,” he said.
“That’s what’s needed if we are going to grow from a population standpoint, residents and businesses, we have to have great schools,” Moore said.
At the start of the forum, the audience watched a video in which students, faculty and community members said what they liked about their school system.
“What I saw from the video is so many of the kids have pride in the Smithfield schools,” Moore said. “We have to do a better job as a community having pride in our schools so it resonates throughout our county.
“As mayor, I want to help publicize the good things that are going on in our schools to help change that perception. There are issues to deal with, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it in a negative spotlight.”
Latest state report cards
Selma Elementary: D
Selma Middle: F
Smithfield Middle: D
Smithfield-Selma High: D
South Smithfield Elementary: D
West Smithfield Elementary: D
Wilson’s Mills Elementary: B