Johnston County

Fire academy will open this fall at SSS, Clayton High

Johnston County’s school board and its superintendent, Ross Renfrow, heard an update last week on the Fire Science Academy that will open next year at Smithfield-Selma High School and Clayton High.
Johnston County’s school board and its superintendent, Ross Renfrow, heard an update last week on the Fire Science Academy that will open next year at Smithfield-Selma High School and Clayton High. jdjackson@newsobserver.com

Reading, writing and firefighting. That’s the curriculum for two Johnston County high schools next year.

The inaugural class of the Johnston County Fire Science Academy will start training next year at Clayton and Smithfield-Selma high schools, launching a program school officials say will be unique in the state.

Earlier this month, state officials and local fire departments signed off on the program. Tim Harrell, director of career and technical education for Johnston County Schools, said the curriculum at the two academies will come from the N.C. Office of the State Fire Marshal. The county’s fire departments will offer their resources, expertise and support.

“This program is for every student in Johnston County, not just the two schools chosen to host,” Harrell said. “Every fire department within our district has made a commitment to support (the academy) and help us and provide equipment.”

Eddie Price, the school system’s chief academic officer, hinted that the district had received some criticism about placing the academies at Clayton and SSS. Both schools have fairly full plates, with Clayton hosting the new Career and Technical Leadership Academy and SSS home to the county’s International Baccalaureate program. Price said the school system chose the two sites primarily because of local interest.

“The locations of the fire science program were determined based on a rubric; student interest was an integral factor,” Price said. “Various fire departments in school areas not chosen (have questioned the decision.) There have also been questions from (Johnston Community College) to place fire science at Clayton when they already have Career and Technical Leadership Academy. So I’ll remind all, as we continue to look for innovative programs and additions, we’ll keep student interest at the forefront.”

Johnston’s fire science academy will place a teacher at each site, most likely a working or former firefighter, and total enrollment between the two high schools will be between 60 and 90 students.

While the school will be new to the county next year, it’s not new to the state, though Harrell said Johnston’s will offer students more of a leg-up in the post-graduation job market. New school board member Ronald Johnson asked Harrell to compare what Johnston plans to run with what already exists in Wake County at the Garner Magnet High School Fire Academy.

“The difference between ours and Wake County’s is that our students will have the (career and college promise) courses actually built into their schedule while they’re enrolled in high school, for free,” Harrell said, referencing the CCP program that allows high school students to earn college credit while attending an innovative high school, such as the fire science academy. “So that when our students graduate, with one additional semester at JCC they’ll have their associate of applied fire science, as well as all their credentials to be employable and promotable.”

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