Smithfield: Opinion

In Smithfield, it’s time to help our most precious commodity

I see many articles and letters to the editor about schools, especially teacher pay and benefits for our public schools and our university system. But I see very little about our children and where they fit into all this.

Smithfield’s latest population estimate is 10,874, a decline from 10,996 in 2010 and 11,510 in 2000. At the same time, Johnston County showed population growth of 121,965 in 2000 to 173,016 in 2012.

Per-capita income in Smithfield is $18,265, and our unemployment rate, as last reported in 2012, was 16.1 percent.

As an elected town official, I wanted to state some of the above data before discussing what I think Smithfield’s biggest issue is and why we aren’t having any economic growth.

I know you can blame things like high electricity rates, town taxes, too many rental homes and older homes, and I think that all of that is true. But I also know that Smithfield has many great things to offer, and your current town council has worked hard to try to keep costs in check, and it continues to work toward lowering or keeping the cost of living in Smithfield as low as in surrounding communities.

I read almost daily about our public schools, but rarely do I read about the most important people in our public school system, and that is the children attending our schools.

I know that public schools in Smithfield are made up of a majority of minority students, and I also know that a low percentage of graduates from our high school are pursuing a four-year degree from college. What about the children who don’t go to college?

What are we doing for these children other than getting them through school and out on the street with a high school diploma? Are we preparing or training these children for a productive work life, or are we continuing to focus on academics for the low percentage who go to college and earn a degree?

Smithfield currently doesn’t have a workforce of the kind that would attract industry to our town, and unless we as a town address this issue, there will be very few economic-development opportunities in the future for our town.

I know that the subject of our schools is talked about daily around town, but instead of complaining about our test scores and the high minority rate of our schools, I think it is time to look at what we are and what we can do to improve.

So many of our students don’t go to college for various reasons that might include grades, money or desire. It is these students we need to reach out to and try to give them a path to success in life. Doing so would Smithfield build a workforce so that we can start to be attractive for economic-development opportunities.

Why not focus on vocational/technical training starting in high school, and why not work with the Johnston County school board to attain this type of program at SSS? I am sure that not only would this type of program help Smithfield, but I am sure it would help Johnston County too.

I for one think that this is long overdue. This type of program would not only help our children find a higher-paying occupation but also would give Smithfield a chance to have a trained workforce that would help this town prosper in the future.

Moving education in the vocational direction will not be easy or inexpensive. We need to work hand in hand with our Board of Education to figure how we can make this work.

If we want Smithfield to prosper, we need to help our most valuable commodity, our children.

Perry Harris is a member of the Smithfield Town Council.