Smithfield: Opinion

Chamber’s forum on education fell short

So I wasn’t the only one.

After reading our report about the chamber’s forum on Smithfield-Selma schools, I wondered if I was alone in thinking the discussion was short on substance. But then someone else who read our report said the forum participants seemed to do little more than congratulate themselves on holding the event.

But neither of us attended the forum, so maybe we weren’t being fair.

But then Susan Lassiter, head of a group pushing for improvement in Smithfield-Selma schools, delivered her critique of the forum, which you can read elsewhere on this page. In her opinion, the forum, which she did attend, accomplished so little that the chamber needs to hold another one soon.

It’s easy to see how the forum went wrong. The people of Smithfield and Selma are understandably reluctant to say aloud that their schools struggle to teach most children. And it’s uncomfortable to do so when school system people are sitting in the same room.

But this much is true too: Saying aloud that our schools struggle will not surprise the first family or industry considering coming to Johnston County. They can learn that with a click of a mouse, and I suspect most prospective businesses and family do just that.

Just as important, no community can help improve its schools until it admits, openly and honestly, that its schools need improving.

No one is saying that individual students cannot succeed at Smithfield-Selma High School; I have long thought that for most students, high school is what they make of it. So the chamber didn’t need to show the school-produced video in which SSS students talked about how well they were doing in their good school. Just as important, after seeing that video, who was ready and willing to stand up and critique Smithfield-Selma schools, only one of which earned better than a D on the state’s latest report card?

I’m not surprised the school system produced the video, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the schools prodded the chamber to show it. But this was a chamber-sponsored forum on the community’s schools, not a promotional video for the Johnston County schools. And the chamber should have declined to show it.

As much as we all want to think our schools are better than the numbers show, they’re not. Ignoring that fact is bad for our children and bad, literally, for business. We suspect chamber leaders believe this also. Too bad their forum did little to advance the cause of making Smithfield-Selma schools better.

Scott Bolejack: 919-836-5747, @ScottBolejack