Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted
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Autumn officially arrives next Tuesday:
nicer weather, but what about COVID-19?

The precise time for this year's Autumnal Equinox is 9:31 a.m. September 22. We're already enjoying milder temperatures, and a few tree leaves here and there are showing signs of color. But Truly Autumn usually doesn't show up here before mid-to-late October, and our fall color usually doesn't peak before November.

So what does the arrival of fall weather mean for the coronavirus pandemic?

Health officials warn that infection counts for COVID-19 (as with the flu) are expected to rise as we move toward colder and shorter days that drive folks indoors. Those numbers --- while recently on a downward trend --- are worth watching more closely in the weeks ahead of us.


Meanwhile, Johnston County's Health Director Marilyn Pearson recommends flu shots now for everyone six months of age and older. "September and October are good times to get the vaccine to minimize waning immunity during the flu season," she advised. And there's a "high-dose vaccine option" for folks 65 and older, Dr. Pearson noted.

Weekly increase in cases has dropped
from 300+ in July to less than 150 now

This past week produced 137 new COVID-19 cases in Johnston County. In July, weekly case numbers jumped more than 300 on two occasions.

Furthermore, the number of active cases in Johnston was down to 468 at mid-week --- from 591 a week ago.

Also, about 6% of tests administered in Johnston are now coming back positive, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. That's down from weekly rates well above 10% in July that alarmed federal as well as state officials.

Here's the County of Johnston's official report as of 5:25 p.m. Wednesday:
4,257 cases, 54
deaths, 14 hospitalized & 454 at home
(a total of 468 active cases, down from 591 a week ago), 3,735 presumed recovered.
2,265 female cases; 1,992 male.
• Cases by age: 643 ages 0-17 (629 last week); 620 18-24 (598 last week);
25-49 (1,710 last week); 791 50-64 (762 last week); 435 age 65+ (421).
• Cases by race: 2,449 white, 554 black, 640 other (614
not known).

• Cases by ethnicity: 1,796 Hispanic,
1,878 non-Hispanic (583 not known).

Confirmed active cases among employees as of Monday of this week:
7 --- 3 at elementary schools, 3 at high schools, 1 in middle school.
Employees quarantined: 65 --- 40 from elementary schools, 18 from high schools, 3 from middle schools, 4 from the Central Office.

VIEW the current list of test sites and testing events in Johnston County>

Case total
since 3-20

(last week)
since 3-20
(last week)
In hospital
this week
(last week)
(last week)
ZIP CODE 27577







Information from County of Johnston as of 5:25 p.m. Sept. 16; N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as of 11:15 a.m. Sept. 16; Johns Hopkins University as of 9:22 a.m. Sept. 17.

212 E. Church Street  •  919-934-1121 

Johnston SAT scores top national average
yet below state's; SSS lowest in the county

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction has released school-by-school average scores on The College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test --- the SAT --- for 2020. This year's national average score is 1030 (down from 1039 in 2019), with North Carolina at 1089 (down from 1091) and Johnston County at 1080 (down from 1084).

Smithfield-Selma High School's average score this year is 1042 --- up from last year's 1032 yet still the lowest among Johnston's high schools, the rest listed in descending order by score: Corinth Holders 1102 (down from 1125), Neuse Charter School 1096 (up from 1078), Cleveland 1093 (down from 1100), West Johnston 1093 (down from 1096), Johnston County Early College 1085 (down from 1202), Princeton 1072 (up from 1044), Clayton 1070 (up from 1046), North Johnston 1059 (up from 1048), South Johnston 1053 (down from 1063).

Results from the math portion of the SAT pulled up the average total score for SSS students this year, rising to 513 from 502 a year ago. Evidence-based Reading & Writing (ERW) scores at SSS averaged 529 this year, 530 last year. Countywide averages: 548 for ERW, 532 for math.

Numbers of students taking the test varied widely from school to school. Clayton High had the highest number at 177 (38.2% of eligible students) followed by Corinth Holders with 172 (40.2%), while 27 took the test at Princeton (24.1%) and that same number at Neuse Charter (60%). SSS had 91 (34% of its eligible students) taking this year's test.

VIEW a table with complete 2020 SAT results for Johnston County's schools>

School board forum produces varying
views on inequities and district elections








The eight remaining candidates for four seats on the Johnston County Board of Education up for election in November took part in the online forum Tuesday evening hosted by the Junior Women's League of Smithfield and the Johnston County alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

They seemed to agree more than disagree on what's taking place and what should be taking place in Johnston County's public schools:

• They praised the system's efforts to deliver online instruction as well as weekday meals to students throughout Johnston.
• They praised the county's teachers and principals for their extra efforts to work through difficulties with remote learning.
• They rated improved academic achievement as Priority No. 1.
• And they agreed the county needs to push forward with building more schools to serve a growing population.

Where differences did emerge came in responses to questions about school inequities and district election of school-board members.

To address inequities, Lyn Andrews cited staff development (with an emphasis on "understanding poverty"), reductions in class size, making reading "a focal point" of education, providing mental-health services, and balanced funding of athletic departments.

Kay Carroll said the board should consider "some tweaking of boundaries" for school attendance districts "to bring our demographics in line." He said research shows that "at-risk children will learn more when they're put in classrooms" with a wider range of students.

Teresa Grant, an incumbent board member, advocated incentives for teachers willing to work at lower-performing schools. More enrollment in pre-K and vocational-ed courses would also help, she said.

Ronald Johnson, another incumbent, declared: "I will never move a child based on the color of their skin. What you should do is make the schools better, and what we have done is make the schools better."

Rick Mercier noted nearly half of Johnston's students, yet only 20% of teachers, are persons of color --- a situation to be addressed by staff recruitment. He also said more economically disadvantaged students should be assigned to Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Terry Tippett favored assigning the county's most experienced teachers to low-performing schools while "keeping our community-school approach."

Chuck Williams prescribed recruitment of "dynamic leaders that are able to turn things around."

Mike Wooten said recruiting teachers to "mirror our student population, especially along the I-95 corridor," is a key to addressing the inequity issue.

Regarding a recent proposal for election of school-board members by districts --- perhaps based on high-school attendance lines --- the candidates generally supported the idea but diverged on exactly how the change should be done.

"The most important thing is that people should vote only for their district seat," Mr. Mercier said. (The current set-up has all board members running at large with all the county's voters making all the choices.)

Mr. Wooten suggested "town meetings" throughout Johnston to get more feedback from citizens before settling on a particular plan for election by district. (Whatever plan is proposed must by adopted by the state's legislature, not the school board.)

Ms. Andrews also opposed countywide voting on candidates running from districts, and she questioned the idea of basing the number of board seats on high-school districts, especially with the prospect of additional high schools in the near future.

Mr. Carrroll said the Board of Education "shouldn't decide it," leaving the task up to a committee made up of parents, elected officials, and others who feel they aren't represented under the current system.

Ms. Grant said she's not sure the entire county wants district elections and therefore would favor putting the idea before voters in a referendum. She said the current school board (of which she is a member) "does a good job" of representing the county as a whole.

Mr. Johnson advocated "a blended model" with a combination of some school-board seats filled by district voting and others filled by candidates running at large countywide.

Addressing a question about "food security" and recent efforts to get packaged breakfast and lunch meals to students while schools remain closed, the candidates encouraged more community involvement through programs like Back Pack Buddies that rely on volunteers to procure the meals and help with the logistics of delivery to children of needy families.

A couple of candidates --- Mr. Carroll and Mr. Mercier --- chided the N.C. General Assembly for not increasing state appropriations for public schools as neighboring states have been doing. That shortfall is especially impacting Johnston County's services for children with special needs, several candidates pointed out. Mr. Wooten, a board incumbent, put that cost at $10 million annually for Johnston's taxpayers.

REWIND Tuesday night's forum on the Junior Women's League Facebook page>

VIEW the school-board candidates' profiles in an archived edition of the Sun>

real-estate broker


The panelists (left to right):  in front --- Dennis Gaddy, a Raleigh-based mentor to those transitioning from prison; moderator Twyla Casey Wells; District Court Judge Addie Rawls; in back --- James Chapman, professor of criminal justice technology at Wake Tech; Walter Martin, a Princeton town commissioner and former Smithfield police officer; and Jack O'Hale, a Smithfield-based criminal-defense attorney.

Panelists offer proposals for combatting
racism in our system of criminal justice

Calls for reforming the bail-bond system, more funding for public defenders of the indigent, higher pay for law-enforcement officers, and training police as "guardians" rather than "warriors" highlighted prescriptions for combatting racism in the criminal-justice system during an online Heritage Center forum last Thursday.

"Often systemic problems begin before the arrest; they begin with the criminalization of the activity." said Mr. Chapman. "Wage theft dwarfs all other larcenies... and yet we don't criminalize the employer who steals from the employee when he doesn't pay him for overtime.... What we criminalize and then how we punish it --- that's where you're going to find the roots of systemic racism."

"It's not that black people are more criminalistic," Mr. Gaddy added. "Whites commit crimes at about the same rate." Yet African-Americans charged with crimes are more likely to spend time behind bars, he continued. "If you can afford a lawyer, you don't go to jail.... If you can't afford a bond, then you stay in jail... and you've lost your job."
Mr. O'Hale said the coronavirus pandemic has prompted judicial officials to release more defendants from crowded jails on unsecured bonds that require no payment --- "and it's working." He urged citizens to lobby the district attorney and judges to continue that practice and thereby
"do away" with the current bail-bond system. Defendants, he said, "live here, they work here, they are going to show up (for trial), they're not going anywhere."

Speaking of court-appointed attorneys for indigent defendants, Mr. O'Hale said "our legislature has vastly underfunded representation for the poor," even as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that every defendant is entitled to a lawyer. "An attorney who does two or three speeding tickets in a day makes more profit than someone who represents an indigent on a very serious felony charge," he said.

In light of recent national events involving police, the panelists were asked if they see police officers as "guardians" or "warriors."

"An occupying army is not a police force," Mr. Chapman responded. With that approach, "you can maintain a degree of order, but you can't maintain justice," he continued. Mr. Chapman said "the idealized version of the police officer" used to be that "he is your friend." A new emphasis on "the community policing model" for training "might be something on our horizon," he predicted.

"We don't pay our law-enforcement officers a lot of money," Mr. O'Hale added. "Give 'em great training and pay 'em what they're worth."

"It is our hope that a person gets into law enforcement because he cares about the community," stated Mr. Martin, a former police officer who said he's "not familiar with the idea of police as warriors."

On a broader issue, the panelists were asked what should be done to combat "unconscious racial bias" in American society.

"Missing from conversation is the regular citizen," said Mr. Martin. "Most change is going to be done on the local level."

Mr. O'Hale agreed. "It's the function of all of us, not the criminal-justice system, to solve this problem." To start with, "we should respect one another," he said.

Mr. Chapman said more students should study literature and read books and plays to gain an understanding of different communities and different peoples at different times. "It's the open mind that can challenge racism," he said.

"Everybody wants to go home... and mind their own business," Judge Rawls said. "We're going to have to put demands on those of us who are elected, we've got to place demands on our local governments and our law-enforcement agencies... and we need to be engaged in intentional conversations."

Advocating "inclusiveness" of young people in those conversations, Judge Rawls concluded: "Education is the key; building authentic relationships is more key."

The hour-long discussion is archived on the Heritage Center's Facebook page>

Johnston's Education Foundation awards
scholarships to 15 Smithfield-Selma grads

The Johnston County Education Foundation has presented college scholarships totaling $16,000 to 15 graduates of Smithfield-Selma High School.

Joshua Williams received the largest grant: $5,000 from the Central Johnston Rotary Club to attend The Ohio State University.

Scholarships of $1,000 went to:
• Fiona Kincaid and Maisy Miller, both awards from Chick Fil-A to attend UNC-Chapel Hill.
• Brandy Powell, to UNC-Wilmington, and Christina Martinez-Mata, to N.C. State University, both awards from Life Long Learning (L3) funds.
• Maisy Miller, from the Smithfield Junior Women's League to attend UNC-Chapel Hill.

Olivia Clark received $700 from United Community Bank to attend UNC-Chapel Hill.

Scholarships of $500 went to:
• Dannys Ayala-Terrones, from Carlton Daughtery Memorial for UNC-Chapel Hill.
• Kaitlyn Williams, from First Citizens Bank for East Carolina University.
• Christina Cox, from Gallery Furniture for Campbell University.
• Anna Makey, from John & Sharon Parrish for Appalachian State University.
• Jasmine Barbour, from The Salvation Army for Winston-Salem State University.
• Madeline Grimes, from the Selma Woman's Club for East Carolina University.
• Fiona Kincaid, from Smithfield Manor Nursing & Rehab for UNC-Chapel Hill.
• Lindsay Johnson, from Sound Station & Security for Meredith College.
• Judah Jenkins, from Sysco Raleigh for Wake Technical Community College.

Makenna Turnage received $300 from the Kim Beam Cox Memorial to attend N.C. State University.

The Education Foundation presented scholarships totaling $79,700 at all of Johnston's high schools, with the largest amount distributed at Smithfield-Selma.