Superintendent Ed Croom’s response to my presentation in April to the Selma Town Council as chairman of the Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools appeared in the Smithfield Herald on May 6. It was very disappointing to see the worn-out buzzword “busing” in the article, because this traditionally inflames the public and frightens parents. Some officials have used it in the past to rally uninformed citizens, and I hope that wasn’t the intent here.
Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools has been organized for three years with a purpose of researching Smithfield-Selma High School to find out why student performance had declined so badly, why socioeconomic and racial makeup of students was so imbalanced and why school spirit was so poor. We asked why the school board hadn’t noticed, and we were curious to know why many students were transferring from Smithfield-Selma High to other schools.
Because of our research, we had anticipated the bad grade the school received in February from the N. C. Department of Public Instruction. The grade reflected the state’s evaluation of the high school and its feeder schools based on standardized test scores, end-of-course test scores and whether or not most students made academic growth. Smithfield-Selma High and five of its feeder schools got a grade of “D.” Smithfield-Selma High had not met its expected growth goals in two years, and it was quite alarming that only 39 percent of students were at grade level at the conclusion of the 2013-14 school year. Low benchmark results showed a majority of SSS students were not on track for career or college training.
Smithfield-Selma High and its feeder schools are Title I federally supported schools. Extra federal money goes to Title I schools because of their high numbers of economically-disadvantaged students. None of the schools in the SSS attendance area have fewer than 67 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Some are higher than 90 percent.
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Superintendent Croom reported to the media that these particular schools received more funding than some of the schools elsewhere in the county. Are these the funds coming from the federal government? Title I funds provide for many of the school system’s additional programs and are awarded because of the high levels of poverty and need for extra support. The real issue, though, is that additional dollars being spent on these schools don’t seem to be making great strides in improving student performance. Children can’t wait for improvement to happen “over time” or for new career and technical programs to be instituted sometime down the road. We’ve been hearing such muses for the last three years from the superintendent.
The school district’s attendance boundaries must be addressed to correct the imbalance found in our schools. Although the school board has hired a research laboratory from N.C. State University for years to study student population growth in the county, it never asked for studies of school redistricting to achieve demographic balance in regard to issues such as poverty.
While the new schools in the more affluent areas of the county are out of capacity and school leaders are asking for bond money to build new classrooms, they refuse to consider sending students to schools with available space because this would require a revision of attendance lines. Our county can’t afford to continue this costly practice.
We can’t afford to continue to depress the academic achievement of students who attend the Smithfield and Selma schools. We can’t afford to continue the re-segregation of our schools. It hurts the community, and it cheats the children.
(Note: Members of Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools include Jack O’Hale, Kay Carroll, Dr. Dicky Parrish, Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver, Smithfield Mayor John Lampe, Lloyd Barnes, Dr. Gettys Cohen, Cynthia Pittard, Joyce Alston, Bobby Alston, Lt. Col. (retired) Jonathan Gaskins, Annie Johnson, David Moore and Susan Lassiter.)
The writer is chairwoman of Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools.