It’s time to help all Johnston students
Recent comments published in the Herald show how easy it is to shoot the messenger and miss the message. Failing to comprehend the data presented by Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools and responding with simplistic offensive rhetoric does no good. CCSS strives to work with county leaders and has offered recommendations.
The course we’re on now continues to allow our schools to re-segregate. Whom does this harm the most? Students attending schools with exceptionally high percentages of poverty are harmed the most. These are also the schools that are the lowest performing and have the highest percentage of minority students.
In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision started the long process of integration to end the masquerading that everything was equal. School leaders believed that if separate facilities were equal, then students would get an equal education. The court didn’t agree with racial segregation.
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A setback came in Johnston County in 1995, when federal supervision was lifted from overseeing desegregation and that responsibility returned to the local school district. In an eye-opening 2007 college honors thesis, Paige O’Hale of Smithfield wrote, “Johnston County Schools Superintendent James Causby [in 1995] instituted a new ‘free choice’ program under which students could transfer to any school as long as they could provide their own transportation and the chosen school was not operating at or above capacity. Schools within the higher-poverty areas of central and eastern Johnston County suffered as more affluent students fled to the newer, wealthier schools and left behind higher concentrations of their minority and impoverished peers.”
Cleveland High and Corinth-Holders High opened in 2010. Today both are over-capacity, and so are most of their feeder schools. Both high school attendance areas have far fewer African-American and Latino students and far fewer impoverished students than the district-wide percentages. (Poverty levels are 75 percent at Smithfield-Selma High, 29 percent at Cleveland and 29 percent at Corinth-Holders.)
Student proficiency rates as a whole, especially among African-American students, reflect the imbalance. In 2014-15, only 29 percent of African-American students were at grade level at Smithfield-Selma High, while 50 percent were proficient at Cleveland High and 54 percent were proficient at Corinth-Holders High.
Johnston County’s problem isn’t unique. The superintendent of New Hanover County Schools has taken a bold step. He’s looked at the performance of African-American students in his schools. His data showed that there are “very few African-American students in the high-performing schools” and “high-poverty schools tend to be the worst performers.” He posed questions to his school board members: “Are we creating low-performing schools by the way we district students?” And, “Is the current concept of neighborhood schools detrimental to student achievement for some of our students?” He believes the answer is yes and “the long-term solution is to redraw attendance lines to help balance the schools based on socioeconomic levels.”
New Hanover County school leaders are asked to have “balancing schools become a guiding principle” because “this kind of effort will help all students in the district.” It’s time for Johnston County leaders to have this attitude too, for the sake of our future.
Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools
What do you think?
Should the Johnston County school system redraw attendance boundaries to balance race and poverty in its schools? Send a letter to the editor to 226 E. Market St., Smithfield, N.C. 27577; or email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.