The good news is that a lot of people in the Smithfield and Selma communities want to improve academic performance at their high school, where test scores have long been among the county’s worst. The bad news is that they seem intent on doing so by busing black and Hispanic students elsewhere.
That plan, favored by Smithfield Mayor John Lampe, among others, is flawed because it would only give the appearance of raising academic performance at Smithfield-Selma High School. Then again, that might be the goal of the idea’s proponents.
Let us take a moment to explain: It’s no secret that lower-income students – many of them black and Hispanic – perform below their wealthier peers on state-mandated tests. Take those kids out of Smithfield-Selma High and the school’s test scores will undoubtedly climb. But the test scores will only appear better because the low test scores will have simply migrated to another school.
Put another way, poor blacks and Hispanics who now perform poorly at Smithfield-Selma will perform poorly at, say, Cleveland High School, unless the argument is that Cleveland High teachers are fundamentally better than their Smithfield-Selma counterparts. No one is making that argument, and we don’t believe it either, so let’s concede that some of those now lobbying to make SSS better just want to take the easy route to supposedly higher test scores. If you haven’t figured it out by now, those people care more about the image of Smithfield-Selma High School than they do about Smithfield-Selma High School students.
We have a different idea. To attract students from outside of Smithfield and Selma, SSS now offers the International Baccalaureate program, and we have no qualms with that rigorous academic effort. But what if SSS became a magnet school for students pursuing careers in health care? Smithfield is home to a full-service hospital and numerous medical practices that are here because they want to be close to that hospital. What if SSS offered a general high school education for two or three years and then gave students a head start on jobs the county’s health-care employers need to fill?
We don’t pretend to know how all that might or could work. But it seems to us that offering young people training in a health-care field, of which there are many of varying skill levels, is better than busing them to another school where they will do no better than they do now at SSS.
It’s easy to say no
The good news is that the state’s Division of Non-Public Education encourages nontraditional students – those in home schools, charter schools and private schools – to take the occasional public school class when needed. The bad news is that the Johnston County Board of Education appears ready to formalize its practice of barring nontraditional students from traditional classrooms.
We certainly get where the schools are coming from. When a student enrolls part-time in a public school, the state allots no additional money to teach that child. Given that, we’d be cautious too about opening the gates to a flood of part-time students.
We’d be cautious but not uncompromising.
The fact of the matter is that any number of students transfer into the public schools after the state sets the final teacher allotment 10 days into the school year. The schools receive no additional dollars for those students either, but we see no move to keep them from enrolling. Indeed, because the schools find a way to teach those students, we’re confident they could find a way to accommodate part-time students, perhaps through a cap on the total number in any given semester.
It’s always easier to say no to a request than to grant it and then figure out how to make it work. But we’d feel better about a public school system that welcomed challenges instead of adopting policies to avoid them.
Differences of opinion
The good news is that people read our editorials. The even better news is that not everyone agrees with them.
A recent editorial called on county commissioners to roll the cost of recycling into the property-tax rate instead of levying a $5 fee on every household and business. A caller said that was a bad idea.
His argument: Because a property owner might own a house in Smithfield, a small farm near Princeton and rental houses in Selma and Wilson’s Mills, he would pay more than his fair share for recycling if the cost were rolled into the property-tax rate. And shouldn’t renters, who pay no property taxes, contribute to the cost of recycling?
Our guess is that landlords would roll the cost of recycling into the rents they charge; any smart landlord would. As for the caller’s other point, we’ve never seen any reason to pity people who own a lot of land.
Still, the caller raises worthy points that county commissioners should consider as they debate how to pay for recycling. While we certainly have our thoughts on how things ought to be, we appreciate other points of view, and we suspect commissioners do too.