Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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What a colorful time of transition this past week turned out to be. Trees have given us an extended period of fall foliage while many folks have already set up their outdoor Christmas decorations. The Triangle East Chamber of Commerce headquarters on Outlet Center Drive offered us both last weekend with a stunning red maple beside the decorated historic Lee House, which, by the way, was moved from its original location in Downtown Smithfield to its present site in 1988.

New charter school takes $8.5-million of state's funding

Based on the latest enrollment numbers, American Leadership Academy-Johnston will receive $8,587,849 of the state's per-pupil allotment for Johnston County's public schools (including three charters). That news was delivered to Johnston's Board of Education last week by Chief of Finance Stephen Britt.

Termed a "reversion," the allocation for the new charter school impacts the budget for Johnston County Public Schools, but was not unexpected, Mr. Britt told the board. The same thing happened in 2018 when $3.5 million was diverted with the opening of Johnston Charter Academy in Clayton, he noted. That school enrolls about 670 students in grades K-8. ALA Johnston, located between Smithfield and Clayton, has grades K-10 now and plans to add grades 11 and 12 next year.

According to Mr. Britt, ALA Johnston reported an enrollment of 1,590 students at the end of its second month of operation (in late October). Enrollment in Johnston's traditional public schools was 37,079 at that point, he noted. Neuse Charter at Smithfield is Johnston's third charter school that gets per-pupil funding from the state. It enrolls about 900 students in grades K-12.

Johnston County Public Schools ended the 2021-22 fiscal year June 30 with an audited fund balance of $31,345,361. That has been reduced considerably by a recent drawdown of $8 million for pressing facility repairs and improvements plus $10,961,151 added last week to the schools' 2022-23 budget to cover the cost of charter-school funding reversions and other expenditures beyond the budget adopted by the Board of Education before schools opened in August.

Funding provided for police officers in every Johnston school
Included in previously unbudgeted appropriations is a $250,000 local match for a state grant of $1,693,500 to ensure that an SRO (School Resource Officer) can be employed at every public-school campus in the county. Currently, there's an SRO stationed at every high school and middle school. The grant plus the local match will ensure that all of the county's 25 elementary schools have SROs on duty.

New teaching scholarships directed toward SSS district

The board committed funding for five scholarships each year over the next three years for prospective teachers who meet collegiate academic requirements and commit to returning to teach in the Smithfield-Selma school district, classified as a federal Title I district because of above-average poverty levels.

The JoCo TEACH Scholarship will provide $10,000 annually for college students who attend an accredited teacher-preparation program at "a university of their choice," maintain a 3.0 grade-point average, and volunteer for 20 hours of community service "in an educational setting," explained Chief Academic Officer Nicholas King.

Local funding will provide $50,000 the first year, $100,000 the second year, and $150,000 the third for a total of 15 scholarships to be awarded. JoCo TEACH (Teaching Education Assistance for College and Higher education) is a program initially launched at Smithfield-Selma High School for recruiting future teachers and putting them on an academic path into the profession.

Dropouts increased this past year; SSS had the most

The Board of Education learned that Johnston's high-school dropouts numbered 265 for the 2021-22 academic year – up from 236 in 2020-21. Smithfield-Selma had the most dropouts of any high school in Johnston this past year with 75 – up from 55 the year before.

Asked what caused the spike in the number at SSS, Amanda Allen, the school system's director of social and emotional learning, pointed to students' "choice to work rather than graduate" as the top reason for those dropouts.

On a brighter note, Ms. Allen noted that 19 of 23 dropouts who re-enrolled through the system's Summer Learning Program were able to graduate after all.


South Smithfield has "Employee of Month"

Charlene Spruill, a fifth-grade teacher at South Smithfield Elementary School, was honored as "Employee of the Month" at last week's meeting of the Board of Education. She started out as a teaching assistant at South Smithfield and now serves as a mentor for new teachers there. She's especially involved with helping international teachers who join the faculty, the board was told.

West Smithfield Advisory Council appointment
The board confirmed the appointment of De'Lyncia Pegues to a three-year term on the West Smithfield Elementary School Advisory Council. She was recommended for approval by Principal Darrick McNeill and current members of the council.

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Rainfall better in November, but it's still a dry year

November brought us 3.12 inches of rainfall, including 0.56 inches on the last day of the month, according to Cornell Cox's Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield. That brings our year-to-date total to 38.7 inches, which is well below our annual average of just under 48 inches, with one month to go. (October's 0.88 of an inch set us back quite a bit from normalcy.)

Why have Smithfield's stately oaks shown brighter fall colors than usual, so it seems. Is it a result of our abnormally dry year? These magnificent specimen were photographed earlier this week above Hancock Street.



Smithfield-Selma Spartan teams: no wins so far

Both the boys and girls basketball teams are 0-2 after losses at home on Tuesday. The boys were defeated 80-57 by Harnett County's Triton High. Senior Elijah Mays led the SSS scoring with 18 points; junior Elijah Bailey added 10. The girls team was beaten by an unlikely score of 87-0, according to MaxPreps (the source of all game results reported by the Weekly Sun).

SSS will dedicate the naming of its basketball court in memory of long-time Coach and Athletic Director Carl Spragins between games December 9.

Neuse Charter boys and girls win by large margins

The Cougars' boys basketball team trounced Mintz Christian Academy 103-54 at home on Tuesday to remain undefeated with a season's record of 6-0. Senior Sire Holmes led the Neuse Charter scorers with 26 points; junior Jayvin Bradley scored 19, senior Darian Murray 17, senior Blane Barefoot 13.

The Cougar girls improved their season's record to 5-1 with a 63-29 triumph over Mintz Christian. Sophomore Cayley Cochran led the Cougars with 14 points; senior Lyndsy Parrish had 13, freshman Layla Johnson 11.

Princeton football team finishes season at 12-2

Eliminated from the state 2-A playoffs by Wallace-Rose Hill High 48-14 last Friday at Princeton, the Bulldogs are done after 12 victories and just two losses, the first against Smithfield-Selma in the season opener. Princeton was the last Johnston County team remaining in competition entering Round 4 of the playoffs.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Wallace Rose-Hill was a conference rival of Smithfield High School's Red Devils in the 1950s, and in 1959 SHS beat Wallace Rose-Hill 7-6 in the playoffs en route to a state 2-A football championship.)



Downtown tree-lighting festivities start at 6 this evening

The Town of Smithfield's Christmas Tree Lighting starts at 6 o'clock today (Thursday) with "Candy Cane Lane" activities along the 100 block of South Third Street, including dessert food trucks, ornament making, "reindeer food making," free books, free face painting and balloon animals, "train rides" and inflatables. The tree in the Public Library courtyard at Market and Third streets will be lit with the help of "a special guest from the North Pole" at 7 p.m. Entertainment by Artistry in Motion, South Smithfield School children, and the Johnston County Community Choir will follow. Santa, meanwhile, will head over to his workshop at Town Hall Park to greet youngsters. For more about upcoming Town of Smithfield Yuletide events, visit>

County Commissioners consider grants to towns Monday

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners will get a recommended list of municipal infrastructure grants during Monday's 10 a.m. session. Included on that list is a grant of $500,000 to the Town of Smithfield for improvements to its water-treatment plant. VIEW the complete agenda for the morning session>
At Monday's 6 p.m. session, commissioners will reconsider a request from the N.C. Department of Transportation for an easement to allow replacement of the NC 210 bridge over Middle Creek. The board deferred action on the matter last month because of concerns about a lengthy detour associated with the project.
VIEW the complete agenda for the evening session>

Town Council's December meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday

The Smithfield Town Council will conduct public hearings on two rezoning petitions during its regular monthly meeting at Town Hall:
(1) Bobby Huskey is requesting a special-use permit to construct and operate a "private bar" in a portion of a commercial building at 447 Venture Drive.
(2) Sanderson Engineering is requesting rezoning of a nine-acre tract at the end of Gulfstream Court off US 70 Business West from Light Industrial to Heavy Industrial to permit "food (protein) manufacturing."
A third public hearing will be held on staff's recommendation to increase recreation and park fees charged by the town for approval of major subdivisions.
VIEW the complete agenda for Tuesday night's council session>



Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

ROMA BROOKS WINBORNE, 85 – died November 26

JOAN KAYE STRICKLAND PARKER, 81  – died November 25

NANCY POUNDS TROGDON, 87 – died November 25

GARY ALLEN PHILLIPS, 54 – died November 23



Police Chief Powell helped bridge racial gaps

Wednesday was the last day on the job for Smithfield's Chief of Police Keith Powell, whose retirement after 30 years of service with the town's Police Department took effect with November's end. Appropriately, he was honored with an afternoon reception at Town Hall that was well attended by colleagues, friends, and family.

Chief Powell (left) stands with Town Manager Mike Scott behind a memory box presented as a retirement gift from fellow policemen during Wednesday's reception. Mr. Powell succeeded Mr. Scott as chief of police in 2016 after Mr. Scott was promoted to town manager.

Chief Powell impressed me with his professionalism and calm demeanor during the past four years of my publishing the Weekly Sun. What stands out the most was his commitment (without fanfare) to "community policing" – an effort to bridge the perceived gap between law enforcement and minority neighborhoods especially.

Working alongside Town Councilman Marlon Lee and other African-American leaders, Chief Powell and his staff made Smithfield's National Night Out event an annual staple in conjunction with a nationwide community-policing campaign.

And I'll never forget his participation in Councilman Lee's "100 Men In Suits" rally and march in the wake of the George Floyd killing by police in Minneapolis in 2020. That was a bringing together of civic leaders black and white who stood shoulder to shoulder to denounce racial discrimination in this place we call home. (It was fitting that event culminated with a walk across the Neuse River bridge to the site of that infamous Ku Klux Klan sign, which stood beside US 70 Business from 1967 till 1976 yet continues to haunt the town half a century after its removal.)

Chief Powell was a product of a Police Department environment that stressed exemplary professional service. We trust his successor, once chosen, will maintain that lofty standard.


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