Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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Schools' enrollment up 782 from last year

The total at the end of the second week of the 2020-21 term last Friday was 37,593 – up 782 students from last year's Day 10 total of 36,811 but not much above pre-pandemic enrollment of 37,411 two years ago.

Smithfield-area schools showed a slight decline in Day 10 enrollment – from 3,458 last year to 3,439 this year. Only Smithfield-Selma High reported a higher number this year: 1,400 – up from 1,370 on Day 10 last year.

SSS is now Johnston's fourth largest high school based on enrollment. The others (including last year's 10th-day count): Corinth Holders 2,131 (2,143); Clayton 1,980 (2,018); Cleveland 1,770 (1,812); West Johnston 1,341 (1,369); South Johnston 1,311 (1,310); Princeton 1,013 (1,079); North Johnston 759 (795). 


Test results document COVID's learning loss

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has released students' end-of-grade and end-of-course testing results for the 2020-21 school year that was largely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. It's not at all surprising that the numbers are down from statewide testing done at the end of the 2018-19 term two years ago (last year's testing was skipped because of the pandemic).

The table below – showing combined results for all subjects tested by DPI at schools in the Smithfield-Selma attendance district – tells the story:

2020-21 2018-19 Change
All North Carolina Public Schools 45.4% 58.8% -13.4
All Johnston County Public Schools 42.7% 52.9% -10.2
Smithfield-Selma High 31.4% 30.3% +1.1
Smithfield Middle 30.0% 44.3% -14.3
Selma Middle 21.1% 26.9% -5.8
South Smithfield Elementary 28.2% 32.0% -3.8
West Smithfield Elementary 17.9% 30.0% -12.1
Wilson's Mills Elementary 27.4% 45.2% -17.8
Selma Elementary 24.6% 36.2% -11.6

Among those numbers is one notable exception: Smithfield-Selma High School actually showed slight improvement despite the pandemic, although percentages at SSS for 2020-21 as well as 2018-19 are below countywide and statewide numbers.

Smithfield-Selma lags behind five of Johnston's eight high schools in test results from 2020-21. The county's best showing was at Corinth Holders High at 49.5% followed by Cleveland High at 48.9%, West Johnston at 38.9%, Princeton at 38.6%, and Clayton at 34.5%. Trailing SSS were North Johnston at 28.3% and South Johnston at 27.6% of students scoring "proficient" in combined testing.

Among students at Smithfield-Selma, 62% of whites, 23.9% of Hispanics, and 20.4% of African-Americans
met the state's "proficient" standards.

DIG DEEPER into the numbers through this portal on the N.C. DPI website>



More folks dying; highest number yet in hospitals

Johnston's County Commissioners got another somber report from County Health Director Marilyn Pearson at the outset of Tuesday's morning session. Dr. Pearson said 10 more Johnstonians had perished from COVID-19 complications in the past week; 32 in the past month.

(Actually, a report issued Tuesday afternoon shows 11 deaths this past week. And the number of Johnstonians hospitalized because of COVID-19 is up to 86 – one more than last January's peak of 85).

Dr. Pearson said Johnston's infection rate is up to 540 cases per 100,000 residents. "We want that down to 10," she told commissioners. Johnston's positivity rate from COVID-19 testing has risen to 15%; "our goal is under 5%," she noted.

Dr. Pearson said the Health Department is working on arrangements to treat infected persons at risk of serious coronavirus complications with infusions of monoclonal antibodies. Meanwhile, she noted that Johnston has seen 420 "breakthrough" cases where vaccinated persons became infected.

A bit of hopeful news from our schools: The number of  students in quarantine has declined from 1,193 a week ago to 1,049, according to the school system's real-time COVID-19 Dashboard this morning (Thursday). The outbreak at Corinth Holders High School has eased somewhat, with student quarantines down from 152 to 41. On the negative side, Cleveland Middle School now has 94 students quarantined, with 45 in quarantine at Glendale-Kenly and West View elementary schools and 41 at Selma Elementary. VIEW the latest report for all schools>

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)
89,542: 43%*
(87,861: 42%)
5,314,240: 51%*
(5,226,936: 50%*)
UNITED STATES 40,311,473
  176,659,496: 54%
(174,121,529: 53%)
WORLDWIDE 222,212,318
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 4:15 p.m. September 7
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:55 a.m. September 8
Johns Hopkins University at 12:21 p.m. September 8

More development headed to West Smithfield

The Smithfield Town Council this week approved several items clearing the way for both residential and industrial growth in West Smithfield:

• Rezoning to allow a 669-unit residential project across US 70 Business from the Amazon distribution center currently under construction.

• Voluntary annexation of the Amazon site and adjacent industrial property.

• Rezoning to allow future industrial development of properties on both sides of 70 Business between the Amazon site and Johnston Regional Airport.

What's more, the council received plans for a 143-unit residential project on NC 210 just west of Skyland Drive.

READ MORE about those items and other matters addressed by the council>


Smithfield's new fire chief coming from Wilson

Town Manager Michael Scott has named Mike Brown of Wilson as the town's new fire chief, effective September 22. He succeeds John Blanton, who retired June 1.

Chief Brown recently served as the Deputy Fire Chief for the City of Wilson Fire Department after moving up through the ranks from firefighter to Battalion Chief. He has more than 35 years of municipal and volunteer fire service.

Chief Brown’s starting salary is $99,507. He's scheduled to receive a 5% increase next July, following his probationary period.



County Commissioners' sessions were shorter than usual

The board's regular first-Monday morning and evening sessions were held Tuesday because of the Labor Day holiday. READ the Sun's summary of what transpired>









Smithfield-Selma overwhelms N. Johnston, 49-0

The visiting Panthers were no match for the rejuvenated Spartans, who scored seven touchdowns with a mixture of long runs and passes at Charles Tucker Stadium last Thursday evening.

SSS running back Devonte Watson scored four touchdowns, rushing for three and catching a TD pass from quarterback Dashawn McCullough, who threw three touchdown strikes and ran it in himself for another score. Also catching TD passes were George Brewer and Daniel Dawson.

The balanced Spartan attack produced 247 yards rushing and 196 passing. Watson gained 182 yards on the ground with just seven carries. McCullough completed 11 of 15 passing attempts.

The Spartans have an open date this week. They'll host 3A conference rival South Johnston High on Friday, September 16. Here's the full SSS schedule>

Smithfield-Selma High's cheerleading coach Bridget Rose had her hands full as she directed her squad on the sidelines of last Thursday's football home opener
. "She’s a rock star and nothing stops her!" exclaimed SSS Principal David Allen. Baby Luke took it all in stride as his mother stayed on task the entire game.



Third StrEATery outdoor dining event returns this Friday

Downtown Smithfield's "Socially Distanced Outside Dining Room and Live Entertainment Venue" will be open again this Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. along the 100 block of South Third Street. The Arbor Strings trio will entertain. Patrons are invited to purchase meals from nearby restaurants to eat at tables on the street.

Mirrors of a Southern Girl author to sign books Saturday

Mary Nell Lee Ferguson will be stationed inside the Johnston County Heritage Center from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. this Saturday to autograph copies of her memories of growing up in Smithfield in the 1940s and '50s. The Heritage Center is located at the corner of Market and Third streets Downtown.

Land Use Plan Steering Committee meets next Tuesday

A meeting of the Johnston County Comprehensive Land Use Plan Steering Committee will be open to the public at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Johnston County Agricultural Center on NC 210 west of Smithfield.

Johnston school board's monthly meeting next Tuesday

The agenda is usually not made public till the Friday beforehand. Once it's posted it can be accessed from this page on the school system's website>


"Trusted by families since 1977"

  840 S. Bright Leaf Blvd. • 919-934-7164 •


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

HOYT MORRIS LOCK, 92 – died September 8

EDWARD CANTERBURY JR., 74 – died September 7

LINZEY GRAY TOOLE SR., 84 – died September 7

EULA JEAN DAUGHTRY JOHNSON, 92 – died September 4

JOHN ARTHUR WALLACE JR., 83 – died September 3

BRANDON LEE NARRON, 36 – died September 2


How do we beat COVID? With caution, not defiance

County Commissioner Larry Wood expressed the frustration that has infected many Johnstonians as the battle against COVID-19 continues to rage, dashing our earlier hopes of beating back the pandemic by now.

"Explain this to me: Why does a three-year-old have to wear a mask, up until they eat lunch" while "a 16-year-old can stand across the line from somebody snarling at 'em in a football game and don't have to wear a mask?" he asked during Tuesday morning's coronavirus update by the county's health director.

He was pointing out inconsistencies in mandates and advisories from health-care authorities that go back to the onset of the pandemic a year and a half ago – things like the state's edict that shut down most small retailers while the "big boys" like Wal-Mart and Lowe's were allowed to remain open.

Despite all that, Commissioners' Chairman Chad Stewart said the advice from medical experts about wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding close contact with folks we don't know is still worth heeding:

"None of it's foolproof and nobody's expected to do all of it. But every little bit you can do when you can do it has got to be a help," he said. "Try to wear it (mask) as much as possible. Try to social distance. Try not to be in large crowds. Just try to do as best we can." Acknowledging Mr. Wood's frustration, Mr. Stewart concluded: "I know some of it doesn't make sense, but try to do a little bit of all of it (and) let's get these numbers down."


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