The May 17 column, “Smithfield, Selma can’t wait” by Susan Lassiter, stated that Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools had worked for the past three years to make a difference in the Smithfield and Selma schools and that the group had found disappointing Superintendent Ed Croom’s response to a presentation Mrs. Lassiter made to the Selma Town Council.
The superintendent’s response, published in an article on May 6, might have been a response with correct information. But it simply was not the right response, nor did it contribute to finding a solution to the number of students not achieving their potential.
We have known for a number of years that a significant number of students in some of our schools are not performing at grade level; most of the causal factors are identifiable. If the impact of Title I funding alone has not been sufficient to provide what our children need in order to improve academic performance in three years, then it is time for our elected Johnston County Board of Education members to consider other performance-focused options, including those being proposed by Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools. New ideas need to be entertained, and our school board needs to look at other successful schools that have made strides in performance; look primarily at rural schools that are also receiving Title I funding.
Voters elect the school board to do what is best for the children in our schools. We need an active and vocal school board that will listen to all the stakeholders in this district. Our school board needs to review how Title I funds are used and look for incentives to keep our great teachers. The board needs to look at how we can recruit administrative leaders, principals and teachers who have experienced what we are experiencing and who have succeeded in improving student performance. We need parents who are involved; yet it is those parents who enroll their children in a private or charter or other public school because they are disturbed by the lack of progress in the assigned school.
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We are sure that this is not the first time these kind of changes or other possibilities have been proposed, as the people of this community have been searching for some time for solutions to this very complex problem. Given this, we wonder how many new ideas have been dismissed that could have made a real difference in the academic performance and lives of our students. A recent example is the “Speak Up Be Safe” program. The school board approved incorporating this anti-abuse program in the Johnston schools based on a presentation to the board in May 2014. ChildHelp’s “Speak Up Be Safe” program was selected because it is specifically designed for children in grades 1-6 and has been researched as to its effectiveness in preventing child abuse.
The “Speak Up Be Safe” program was offered at no cost to our schools by a corporate sponsor who provided funding in excess of $80,000 to cover the $5 cost per child to implement the program in grades 1-6. Volunteers were available to make presentations to classes should the counselors and school social workers need help. In January, implementation was put on hold so the school administration could review the program – again. In March, the administration pulled the program without explanation.
The impact on an abused child’s school performance includes lower grades, increased absences, disciplinary problems and a higher school-dropout rate. Our children are our future parents, workers and leaders. Of the six primary connections in a child’s life – family, friends, teachers, counselors, coaches and faith leaders – four are found within their school. Other than the police, educational personnel are the largest source of child-abuse reports as they recognize the impact of abuse on a child’s ability to learn.
There is no single solution to low-performing schools nor to the problems of abuse that our children encounter at school or at home. Our school board members are elected to lead, thus they are charged with protecting our children from being deprived of an education because of where they live, and they are charged with making our schools safe. We have to take multiple steps, all at the same time. We need a school board that believes that all children can learn, and we need our teachers involved in changes. The community and the administration need to support whatever is needed to keep committed teachers and principals and to recruit those with experience at high-performing schools in high-poverty areas.
So our question is, what has actually changed in regards to supporting student performance in Smithfield-Selma schools? We cannot afford to ignore the Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools or other stakeholders just because an idea has not been tried or is a fresh new approach. The definition of dysfunction is to keep doing what you have always done and expect a different result. We need effective and experienced leadership, communication and a collaborative environment to move our students forward.
Karen Lauer, of Clayton, has a master’s degree in education with a concentration in early childhood. She has worked with children and families in crisis for more than 30 years. Donna Johnson, who lives near Smithfield, has been a Guardian ad Litem volunteer in Johnston County since January 2010. She holds a degree in sociology.