Smithfield: Opinion

School system is making an effort

We’re not saying Johnston school leaders are doing all they can for Smithfield-Selma schoolchildren. But no one can say they’re not trying.

In recent years, the school system has brought the heralded International Baccalaureate program to Smithfield-Selma High School, and it tried to base a career and technical academy there; it’s not the school system’s fault the community said no.

Also, for a number of years, two elementary schools, West Smithfield and Selma, have operated on Johnston County’s version of a year-round calendar. Simply put, after every nine-week grading period, the schools have offered two weeks of extra help to students wanting it. The problem is that the students who needed the extra help most haven’t availed themselves of the voluntary program, so West Smithfield and Selma Elementary will return to the traditional calendar after the 2018-19 school year.

Most recently, school leaders announced plans to launch a “laboratory school” that will serve middle school students along the Interstate 95 corridor. The aim is to expose students to the latest innovations in education, with an emphasis on hands-on learning.

Some Smithfield-Selma school supporters call these efforts gimmicks. For example, they said no to the career and technical academy because they want a better education for all Smithfield-Selma High School students, not simply those headed to the workplace or technical school after graduation.

That’s fair, and we’ll concede the IB program is as much about bringing smart kids to SSS as it is helping individual SSS students. The same might be said of the career and technical academy. But the argument against the likes of the career and technical academy assumes that it’s possible to hit upon one technique, one theme, one innovation that will help all Smithfield-Selma schoolchildren regardless of their aptitude or interests.

Superintendent Ross Renfrew and his deputies are instead catering schools to fit the diverse needs and ambitions of Smithfield-Selma youngsters; they aren’t asking students to fit the traditional public school model. That seems wise to us, and in any event, the traditional public schools found across Johnston County aren’t working for most Smithfield-Selma schoolchildren whether they’re in elementary, middle or high school.

Of course, when it comes to helping our children succeed in the classroom, results matter more than effort, and despite the efforts of Johnston school leaders, Smithfield-Selma students continue to lag behind most of their peers across Johnston.

But it’s also fair to say that school leaders have only recently felt a sense or urgency to make Smithfield-Selma schools markedly better, a sense of urgency owed to the considerable lobbying of community leaders. So while the jury is still out on efforts to improve Smithfield-Selma school, we wish the school system well, and we hope community leaders do too.