We’ve heard it said that fear is a great motivator. So perhaps Johnston school leaders are afraid the state will take over two struggling schools here if they continue to perform poorly on year-end tests.
Certainly, Johnston school leaders would be embarrassed publicly if the state seized control of Cooper Elementary School in Clayton and North Johnston Middle School in Micro. More important, such action by the state could taint the reputation of all Johnston County schools, making it hard for Superintendent Ross Renfrow and his school principals to recruit teachers.
We hope too that schools leaders were thinking about the county as a whole when they proposed last month to let Cooper Elementary and North Johnston Middle operate much like charter schools next year. Just as state action would taint the schools, it would send the wrong message about Johnston County as a place to live and work.
But no matter the motivation, Johnston school leaders are continuing their devolution of the school system from one-size-fits-all to a more-tailored approach to educating young people.
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It wasn’t that long ago that all Johnston schools were essentially the same. The high school model was the first to evolve with the launch of Johnston County Middle College High School. Designed for juniors and seniors who care little about the traditional trappings of high school, Middle College offers a high school diploma and associate’s degree through classes on the campus of Johnston Community College.
The county’s Early College Academy, for high school freshmen on a five-year track, soon followed. And since then, the school system has added a college-level agriculture curriculum at South Johnston High School and a career and technical academy at Clayton High School. Coming soon are firefighting academies at Clayton and Smithfield-Selma high schools.
Compared to Johnston high schools, the county’s elementary and middle schools have seen less change, though individuals schools have embraced innovation. Witness the Spanish-language-immersion programs at Selma and Cooper elementary schools. But now, assuming state officials give the green light, Johnston school leaders are about to give wholesale change at try at one elementary and one middle school.
Change has many instigators. With Middle College and Early College, the school system was trying to find a successful setting for students who felt uncomfortable in traditional high schools, with their social cliques and sports teams. With agriculture at South Johnston and the career and technical academy at Clayton High, school leaders were acknowledging that not every high school students want a four-year liberal arts education. The same can be said of the students who will enroll in the firefighting program.
Some might not see the Cooper and North Middle changes in the same positive light. And it’s true that change is coming largely because many Cooper and North Middle students struggle mightily in the classroom. But if the change makes those schools better and opens the door to further innovation in grades K-8, then it won’t have come too soon, or too late, for the county’s young people.