Johnston County Board
of Education

report from Sept. 10 session

Board members present: Chairman Mike Wooten, Ronald Johnson, Terri Sessoms, Peggy Smith, Todd Sutton, Tracie Zukowski
Teresa Grant

Mixed results on "report card" for county schools prod staff to set "rigorous" goals


10th-day student enrollment in Johnston County's public schools totaled 37,411 --- a gain of just under 1% over last year's 37,077.

That's the official school census for the year --- used by North Carolina for apportioning state-paid teachers and other funds.

Schools with the largest gains:
the Innovation Academy at South Campus (+96), Archer Lodge Middle (+87), River Dell Elementary (+68), Polenta Elementary (+59), Clayton HIgh (+56), and East Clayton Elementary (+54).

The biggest declines: West Johnston HIgh (-86), Selma Elementary (-69), and Smithfield-Selma High (-50).

Here's the complete list>
The Board of Education at its monthly meeting Tuesday got several reports from staff on the latest results of state-mandated performance tests for Johnston County Public Schools.

Deputy Superintendent Paula Coates called the doubling of schools that either "met" or "exceeded" expected growth in student performance was "a great accomplishment."

For school year 2017-18, that number was 13. For 2018-19 it was 26, including 10 schools that "exceeded" expectations: Cleveland Elementary, Four Oaks Elementary, Four Oaks Middle, McGee's Crossroads Elementary, Pine Level Elementary, River Dell Elementary, Riverwood Elementary, Riverwood Middle, Selma Elementary, and the Career & Technical Leadership Academy.

It was pointed out, however, that performance growth makes up just 20% of the score that produces a letter grade for each school. The other 80% of the grade is based on the percentage of each school's students who prove to be "proficient" when tested on basic subjects. Those results keep Johnston's schools as a whole from getting higher "report card" grades.

For instance, the latest report shows that Johnston's students in grades 3-8 tested 50.7% proficient in reading this past year --- down from 53.3% the previous year --- and 52.1% proficient in math, a gain from 47.8% in 2018. Science-test results for fifth and eighth graders looked better, with 72.2% proficient in 2019 --- a slight gain from 71.6% the year before.

End-of-course testing of high-school students also produced a mixed bag of results. While 60.6% of students countywide were graded proficient in English II --- up from 54.8% in 2018 --- Math I results showed a decline from 60.3% in 2018 to just 48.8% in 2019; and Biology results slumped from 52.3% to 51.2%.

Kristy Stephenson, the school system's director of improvement and accountability, acknowledged that the math results showed "a significant decrease," but attributed part of that to a new math test administered this past year.

Challenged by the lagging numbers, the system's staff is working on a "strategic plan" to reach some ambitious goals, Ms. Stephenson told the board:
• 80% of Johnston's schools graded A,B, or C by 2022.
• 100% by 2024.
To reach the 80% mark will require six schools to move up from D or F grades in the next two years, she noted.

"it's a rigorous goal, but we can do it," Ms. Stephenson declared.

READ MORE statistical data reported to the school board this week>


The board applauded news that the school system has increased the number of school-bus "driver-only" positions from 66 last year to 96 at the start of school this year. That gain will make the system less dependent on custodians and teacher assistants to fill slots lacking regular drivers, noted Chase Ferrell, the schools' auxiliary services and safety officer. Dolores Gill, chief of staff and communication, reported that Johnston presently has 309 school buses making 1,250 "runs." Almost 23,000 of the system's 37,000-plus students rode buses this past week, she added.


The board got a report that 50 teaching vacancies remained unfilled at the beginning of this week. Brian Vetrano, chief of human resources and financial services, said that number is "a little higher than last year" yet less than 2% of the 2,800 or so teaching positions available in Johnston County Public Schools. "It's becoming more and more challenging to find teachers who are licensed already or willing to be licensed," Mr. Vetrano told the board.


Kim Winslow, speaking "on behalf of the students and parents" of Clayton High School, asked the board to change its personnel-grievance procedures in the wake of the unexplained removal of the school's popular principal, Bennett Jones, just prior to the opening of school last month. She said the superintendent's office "appears to have unlimited power" regarding such matters, with "checks and balances lacking." The public uproar following Principal Bennett's removal led to the "retirement" of Superintendent Ross Renfrow, who has been replaced by Interim Superintendent Jim Causby, a former Johnston County school chief.

READ the full text of Kim Winslow's prepared remarks>


April Jones Lee, a veteran school teacher who's president of the Johnston County Association of Educators, made a plea for increased funding of public schools by the N.C. General Assembly as well as the Johnston County Board of Commissioners. "Public schools across our state are being starved," she said, adding a plea for better pay for school custodians and secretaries and other "classified" personnel, not just school teachers. Johnston's schools, as all others across North Carolina, are awaiting approval of state funding for 2019-20 that has been delayed by a budget impasse between the General Assembly and the Governor's Office. The County of Johnston's appropriation for schools this fiscal year was approved in June with an increase considerably less than what the school board had requested.

READ the full text of April Lee's prepared remarks>


The board will consider adopting at its October meeting revised sign-up rules for persons who want to address the board during the "Public Comments" spot on its monthly agenda. Current policy requires speakers to sign up 48 "business hours" prior to regular meetings held on the second Tuesday of the month (in effect, by the middle of the week before a meeting). The proposed revision would allow speakers to sign up by 2 p.m. the day of the meeting. Comments would continue to be limited to five minutes, and speakers would be required to "furnish statements, written information, or provide the topic at the time of sign-up." Comments would "be limited to matters relating to the school system," with complaints regarding the performance of school personnel or student issues remaining off-limits. "Neither complimentary comments or critical comments (regarding personnel) will be entertained by the board," the proposed policy states.


As part of its "consent agenda" requiring no discussion, the board approved and denied numerous requests for reassignment of students to schools outside the attendance districts where they reside. This month's list includes a large number of students assigned to the Innovation Academy at South Campus and the Johnston County Career & Technical Leadership Academy for the 2019-20 academic year.
View this month's list of APPROVALS>
View the list of DENIALS>


The board appointed Stephanie Worley to the Parent Advisory Council at West Smithfield Elementary School. She fills a vacancy for a term expiring in 2022.


Board member Ronald Johnson, a Smithfield Police officer, surprised Miguel Renteria, one of his co-workers, with an impromptu tribute to his work as a volunteer assisting school students. "He helps people who sometimes no one else will help," said Mr. Johnson, who embraced an emotional Officer Renteria following his remarks. Mr. Renteria was in attendance to witness presentation of "Character Education" recognition to his brother, Eduardo, a 12th grader at Cleveland High School. Others recognized as "Cross Culturally Proficient" at their schools were Ava Wilson of Cleveland Elementary, Ariel Reyes-Mondragon of Cleveland Middle, Mia Cavallaro of Polenta Elementary, Cooper Van Roekel of Swift Creek Middle, and Brandon Brown of West View Elementary.


Crystal Roberts --- the school system's newly named Chief of Equity, Information, and Student Services --- gave the board an update on her office that began work with the start of the new fiscal year July 1. The office, she said, "is responsible for the district's programs and initiatives related to cultural proficiency, diversity awareness, student wraparound services, and student records and data information systems." A committee is being formed to oversee that task, she noted, and will eventually include community representatives in addition to school personnel. Superintendent Jim Causby remarked that "there can be no more important issue... not just saying we're doing something, but really looking at how we're treating the children, how we're educating them, how we're dealing with discipline issues," and also how the system is handling employment opportunities.