Johnston County

Johnston schools eye SSS for technical academy

In this 2013 file photo, Smithfield-Selma High School students head to their buses. The campus could soon become home to a career and technical academy that would welcome students from across Johnston County,
In this 2013 file photo, Smithfield-Selma High School students head to their buses. The campus could soon become home to a career and technical academy that would welcome students from across Johnston County, FILE PHOTO

At Johnston County’s next high school, the first bell of the day would ring in the afternoon, with students receiving the training needed for jobs in health care and computer engineering.

The Johnston County school system is seeking a Cooperative Innovative High School grant, hoping to open a technical-school equivalent of its successful and popular Early College Academy and Middle College High School. The latter schools are housed on the campus of Johnston Community College. The Johnston County Career and Technical Academy would make its home on the campus of Smithfield-Selma High School.

Earlier this month, the Johnston school system learned that its grant application had cleared its first hurdle. Next up, the State Board of Education will consider the application in January, and the General Assembly could then provide funding.

“This is tremendous news for all Johnston County students,” Superintendent Ed Croom said of Johnston’s grant application making to the State Board of Education.

Community leaders in Smithfield and Selma have been lobbying school leaders to raise academic achievement in the communities’ schools, among the worst performers in Johnston County. With the Career and Technical Academy, the school system has responded, Croom said.

“The focus will be on career and technical education, and the school would be a big opportunity for all students,” he said. “This is the kind of thing we’ve talked to the town councils and others about boosting the SSS area.”

A committee that advises the state Board of Education and the N.C. Community College System recommended they back Johnston’s application. Those boards will consider the application separately in January. Beyond that, the Johnston school system is asking the General Assembly for $898,833 to operate the school in its first year.

The school would mix teachers from Johnston Community College and SSS and focus on training in medical assistance, nursing and computer engineering.

Rodney Peterson is the Johnston County Schools’ chief academic officer. “There will be an application and interview process that will be very similar to Early College, because the grant was written with the Early College focus,” he said. Early College caters to first-generation college students, especially those from lower-income families.

If the General Assembly OKs funding, the Career and Technical Academy would be a separate entity with its own administration. If not, the school would be a part of SSS, with funding coming from current state and local outlays for the county’s public school.

“Just because it’s not approved doesn’t mean it’s dead in the water,” Croom said of the possibility that Johnston could fall short of state approval and funding. “We’re just hoping funding is approved.”

The school would have room for 85 students and would use the SSS campus from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. Back in September, at the time of the application, Peterson said the “second shift” structure is aimed at students working jobs or internships.

“The research speaks to the idea that some kids do better with a late-day entry to school,” Peterson said. “This offers a morning time to go into the business world and explore what that’s all about.”

Similar to Early College and Middle College, the Career and Technical Academy would bus students in from across the county. Peterson said the school system chose SSS because of the existing bus lines to nearby JCC.

Beyond the first five years, the proposed academy’s curriculum could expand to other areas.

“I see South Johnston doing the (agriculture) cluster, I see SSS doing a broader kind of cluster that would draw maybe future auto mechanics or some other high-demand career,” said school board member Peggy Smith said.

Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson