Thursday, August 26, 2021
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter (unless otherwise noted)

Johnston schools' enrollment trailing last year's

Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) reported enrollment on the third day of the new school year was 35,752, down 43 from last year's 35,795 on the same day. Wednesday's total included 1,294 students enrolled online in the JCPS Virtual Academy.

Enrollment has been climbing since Monday's opening day total of 34,540 but remains more than a thousand students below last year's 10th-day number of 36,811 – the benchmark that determines the amount of state funding initially allocated for Johnston's schools (subject to adjustment mid-year).

Earlier this week the JCPS Human Resources Department reported 277 positions yet to be filled systemwide, including slots for 87 teachers. (The other vacancies include teacher assistants, cafeteria workers, custodians, and office support staff.)

Meanwhile, despite a bus-driver shortage affecting public schools nationwide, Johnston's administrators report "enough staff members to cover all of our bus routes and buses," Caitlin Furr, the schools' director of communication, told the Sun on Tuesday. That situation, she noted, is helped by "dual-role employees" who drive buses in addition to their primary jobs at school.


School system closely monitors coronavirus infections

Its COVID-19 online dashboard reported these numbers for Smithfield-area schools Thursday morning:

ACTIVE CASES, STUDENTS & STAFF – Smithfield-Selma High 3, Smithfield Middle 1, South Smithfield Elementary 5, West Smithfield Elementary 1, Wilson's Mills Elementary 0.

Total active cases in Johnston County's public schools: 156 students, 33 staff.

QUARANTINES – Smithfield-Selma High: 5 students, 0 staff; Smithfield Middle: 1 student, 0 staff; South Smithfield Elementary: 9 students, 1 staff; West Smithfield Elementary: 3 students, 0 staff; Wilson's Mills Elementary: 6 students, 0 staff.

Countywide, the larger concentrations of student quarantines included 41 at Corinth Holders High, 29 at Cleveland High, 28 at West Clayton Elementary, 21 at West View Elementary, 19 at North Johnston High and Swift Creek Middle....

Total active student quarantines for all schools: 485; total staff quarantines: 53.

VIEW the schools' latest report, updated as soon as new numbers come in>


The four sponsors of last Saturday's Back to School Giveway at Smith-Collins Park were Renee Best of Anew Coaching and Consulting, Ken Milden of Milden Pressure Washing, Eric Edwards of Champion Realty, and Shabere Dorsett of To The Top Tires & Service. Students of all ages got free backpacks, notebooks, and other school supplies free of charge. It's the fourth time the Town of Smithfield has arranged the event.

SSS drops football opener at powerful Princeton

Smithfield-Selma High School's athletic teams are in the state's 3A classification (based on enrollment), while Princeton High's teams have moved up from 1A to 2A. But Princeton's Bulldogs are ranked among the state's best in its ranks while the SSS Spartans are rebuilding after several years of dismal football seasons.

Therefore, Princeton's 42-20 victory over SSS last Friday wasn't unexpected.

Even so, the Spartans posted some impressive offensive statistics as senior quarterback Dashawn McCullough completed 21 of 32 passes for 203 yards while senior Clevonte Watson rushed for 68 yards on eight carries and caught five passes for another 64 yards. Senior Daniel Dawson had a 101-yard kickoff return for a TD. Both Watson and Dawson caught touchdown passes.

On defense, Michael Thompson had 14 tackles, Brandon Perry 11 plus one assist.

Next up for the Spartans: a non-conference game at 7 p.m. Friday at Nash Central High School near Rocky Mount. Here's the complete schedule for SSS football> 

Here's a screenshot of Daniel Dawson's 101-yard kickoff return from a Maxpreps highlights video of last Friday's game, played on Princeton's new synthetic-turf field:



Hospitalizations climbing back to alarming levels

COVID-related hospitalizations have been rising for Johnstonians. After a peak of 85 recorded by the Health Department in mid-January, the number dropped to 15 by April and stayed near that level into June. This week's report shows 73.

As a result, 
Johnston Health announced late last week that its hospitals at Smithfield and Clayton have put a hold on elective surgeries that require an overnight stay.

Statewide, 3,503 North Carolinians were hospitalized because of COVID-19 as of Wednesday – up 573 in the past week. Various reports confirm that more than 90% of those currently hospitalized had not been vaccinated.

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>

Case total
since 3-20 

(last week)
since 3-20 

(last week)

(last week) 

(last week)
85,273: 41%*
(83,712: 40%)
5,113,704: 49%*
(5,040,257: 48%*)
UNITED STATES 38,142,172
  171,367,657: 52%
(168,897,604: 51%)
WORLDWIDE 213,551,736
total doses given
Information from: County of Johnston at 4:50 p.m. August 24
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:25 p.m. August 25
Johns Hopkins University at 2:21 p.m. August 25
* Percentage of total population (all ages)

Johnston to offer $13 million in rental assistance

And that's the first installment from federal COVID-19 relief funding. Another $10 million will be available to the County of Johnston after the first of the year.

During a brief special session Monday evening, the County Commissioners approved a contract with Yardi Systems, Inc. (headquartered in California with an office in Raleigh) to provide software and case-management services for the local component of the nationwide Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Yardi will be paid  $136,500 over the next 12 months plus a $25,000 setup fee.

County Attorney Jennifer Slusser told commissioners the local program's goal is to have 65% of the initial $13 million in aid committed by the end of September to Johnston households in need of help in paying their rent and utility bills.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the aid is mostly for households where one or more persons "has qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 outbreak."

"There are citizens in desperate need of this help," declared Commissioner Patrick Harris, who serves on the county's Board of Social Services.

Commissioner Fred Smith abstained from voting on the contract with Yardi to avoid a potential conflict of interest as a landlord with tenants who may receive assistance.



Personal memories of growing up here in the '40s and '50s


Mary Nell Lee Ferguson was born and raised here, then went on to raise her own family in Raleigh while pursuing a career in public education that eventually led her back to Johnston County as the first principal of today's Cleveland Elementary School, where she worked until her retirement in 2005. She and husband Jerry moved to Smithfield in 2014.

This summer she published her first book, Mirrors of a Southern Girl. "The only research I have done for this book is to search my own memory from my birth to my high-school graduation, 1941 to 1959," she writes in the book's Preface. "I have found that memories are funny things. Some have only part of the story and you never know the end. Some may not be accurate. Whatever they are, they are mine...."

Her book is now on sale at the Johnston County Heritage Center, where she will hold a book signing on Saturday, Sept. 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All proceeds from the book will go to the Heritage Center, established half a century ago as the Public Library's Johnston County Room in large part by her mother, the late Margaret McLemore Lee.

READ EXCERPTS from Mary Nell's memories on the FEATURE PAGE>


Heritage Center plans Literary and Historical Journal

From the Heritage Center

The Johnston County Heritage Center is looking for writers to contribute to its first Literary and Historical Journal, scheduled for publication later this year.
"We are looking for fascinating short stories, essays, and poems that tell about the rich family histories and traditions of our county’s people, past and present,” explained Todd Johnson, the center’s director.
Writers from within and outside the county are encouraged to contribute, but entries should have a connection to Johnston County people, places, and events. "We would especially encourage recent immigrants and other newcomers to submit entries that reflect impressions of their life before and after coming to Johnston County," Mr. Johnson said.
Dot La Motta of the Johnston County Writers Group will be editor for the project, which is funded in part by the Cynthia DeFord Adams Literary Fund.

It will include Adult and Junior (High School) Divisions. Submissions will be accepted electronically between September 1 and October 10. For more information or to receive submission guidelines, prospective writers should call Mr. Johnson at 919-934-2836 or send an email to



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

DENNIS WAYNE JONES, 72 – died August 24

CHARLES JACKSON, 75 – died August 23

KATINA (TINA) LOUISE LILES, 48 – died August 22

ANSELMA AUTUNEZ NUNEZ, 61 – died August 21

JEANETTE HAYWOOD ROPER, 85 – died August 21



A heavenly work of art over West Smithfield

I came across this dramatic photograph on the front page of the Smithfield Appearance Commission's annual report presented to the Town Council earlier this month. Obviously, it's a drone shot, taken above Market Street looking westward across the river along US 70 Business into West Smithfield. Although it's an often overused adjective, permit me to call this scene "awesome."

Johnston County Visitors Bureau photo

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