PUBLISHED ONLINE OCTOBER 14, 2021   •   VOL. 3, NO. 41

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)

Every member of the Johnston County Board of Education wore face masks during Tuesday's meeting – a noticeable change from previous sessions. (Screenshot from the school system's YouTube broadcast of this week's meeting.)

Teacher supplements raised as vacancies mount

Release of that $7.9-million appropriation from Johnston's County Commissioners last week cleared the way for the county's Board of Education this week to put a chunk of that new money to work for an increase in supplements paid to Johnston's school teachers – raising their extra pay a percentage point across the board: to 11.5% of state-paid salaries for beginning teachers, up to 14.5% for classroom veterans.

School leaders are hoping the higher pay will help reduce a larger-than-usual number of vacant teaching positions as the 2021-22 school term unfolds. Chief of Human Resources Brian Vetrano told the school board Tuesday that Johnston currently has about 90 teaching vacancies – almost double the number at this point over the past couple of years.

"Not only are we faced with challenges of the pandemic (and) a global shortage of employees," Mr. Vetrano said, but "we are a growing school system." With more than 38,000 students currently enrolled, Johnston is now the state's seventh largest school system, he noted.

In his employment update to the board, Mr. Vetrano said Johnston this week had 78 vacancies for teacher assistants, 46 for custodians, and 32 for cafeteria workers – even though the system is offering higher pay and other incentives for support staff.

Making things even tougher is an increase in resignations and retirements. That number, for all categories of school jobs, is up to 691 just now, Mr. Vetrano reported. Last year the number as the school year began was 553.

In recommending the board's approval of an increase in local pay supplements for teachers, Chief of Finance Stephen Britt pointed out that this action is "an increase on top of an increase" – that is, if the N.C. General Assembly and the Governor agree on a new state budget that raises base pay for all of North Carolina's teachers.


School masks retained; "Test to Stay" plan added

Following a repeat of last month's 4-3 vote to continue mandatory wearing of face masks by students and staff in Johnston's public schools, the county's Board of Education voted 7-0 on Tuesday to accept a new plan offered by the state that will enable COVID-exposed students to avoid 10-day quarantines if their parents allow testing that shows them clear of infection.

That second vote couldn't have come without the first since eligibility for the state's "Test to Stay" program is being offered to school systems that make face masks mandatory rather than optional.

Voting to retain Johnston's face-mask requirement for at least another month were board members Lyn Andrews, Al Byrd, Kay Carroll, and Terri Sessoms. Voting once again to make masks optional were Ronald Johnson, Todd Sutton, and Mike Wooten.

Assistant Superintendent David Pearce told the board that Test to Stay could be in place here before the end of October. The tests will be administered by school staff free of charge, and they will be "rapid tests" done with "a slight nasal swab" producing results in just 10 minutes, he noted.

Dr. Pearce said the number of students in quarantine could have been reduced from 366 (as of Tuesday) to 62 "or fewer" if Test to Stay were already in place.




Johnston hospitalizations still below recent peak

The number of Johnstonians hospitalized by COVID didn't change much this past week but it does include two persons under 18 years of age, reports the county's Health Department.

No one under age 24 is among the 330 Johnstonians who have perished from COVID over the past 19 months. Of that total, 249 were at least 65 years of age.

Institutional outbreaks continue to include small numbers infected at several rehab and nursing centers while the Johnston County Jail reports 123 inmates and 6 staff carrying COVID infections earlier this week.

This week's report from the school system (posted Thursday morning) shows 73 active cases among students and staff (down from 110 last week) with 326 students and 16 staff members quarantined (502 students and 22 staff were quarantined a week ago).

Schools with the most students in quarantine (Thursday morning): Polenta Elementary 22 (39 last week), West View Elementary 22, West Smithfield Elementary 19, River Dell Elementary 18.

VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data 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)
98,398: 47%*
(97,217: 46%)
5,682,740: 54%*
(5,627,084: 54%*)
UNITED STATES 44,685,145
  187,937,559: 57%
(186,385,751: 57%)
WORLDWIDE 239,290,763
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 5:10 p.m. October 12
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:55 a.m. October 13
Johns Hopkins University at 8:21 a.m. October 14


Bicyclists were heading for the Tar Heel coast

This was the scene on Downtown Smithfield's Third Street first thing Friday morning as hundreds of bicyclists headed out of town on the sixth day of their seven-day trek from the mountain town of Sparta to North Topsail Beach. Friday's destination was Wallace. Smithfield Community Park was their base Thursday night. It's an annual event organized by North Carolina Amateur Sports.

SSS upends conference foe West Johnston, 33-21

It was another upset victory by the football Spartans in a game delayed by threatening weather to Monday night at Charles Tucker Stadium here. The win raises Smithfield-Selma High's record for the season to 4-3 overall, 2-2 in Quad County 3-A Conference games.

Highlighted by a 72-yard touchdown run by Clevonte Watson and a 62-yard TD pass and run from Dashawn McCullough to Daniel Dawson, the Spartans gained 438 yards during Monday's game: 291 rushing, 147 passing. Brandon Perry ran for three of the Spartan's five touchdowns.

Next up is Friday's intra-conference contest at Southern Wayne High School near Dudley. The Saints are 1-5 overall, 0-2 in conference play.

MORE about SSS football on the MaxPreps website>


Spartans' soccer team producing a winning season

SSS started the week with a 3-1 victory over James B. Hunt High on Monday followed by Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Fike High (undefeated in league play). The Spartans overwhelmed South Johnston 10-1 in a match played last week.

SSS is 10-6-1 overall, 6-4 in conference play. Leading scorers so far this season are seniors Jesus Vazquez with 16 goals and Adrian Garcia with 12.

MORE about SSS soccer on the MaxPreps website>




New Downtown "pampering" shop's Grand Opening Friday

Huckleberry & Co. owners Adriana Peedin and Ashley Gurley stand at the entrance to their new shop, located on the Fourth Street side of the former Roses' building. Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation says the business is "for all your pampering needs: facials, waxing, lash extensions, event makeup, and much more." Its Grand Opening will be celebrated from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. (DSDC Facebook photo

County Commissioners to consider development incentive

The highlight of the agenda for Monday's 6 p.m. meeting of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners is a public hearing on a proposed "economic development incentive grant" to an unnamed company that "proposes to develop, build, and equip a Class A Office Complex in the Clayton area" that will "create no fewer than 100 new, permanent full-time jobs." Monday's meeting will be held in the Commissioners Meeting Room at the Courthouse.
VIEW the complete agenda posted on the county's website>


Land Use Committee seeks public input next Thursday

A drop-in forum to give the public an opportunity to share ideas and concerns about a pending re-write of the County of Johnston's Comprehensive Land Use Plan is set for 4-7 p.m. next Thursday (October 21) in the auditorium of the Agricultural Center at 2736 NC 210 west of Smithfield. It will be hosted by a steering committee charged with the crafting of a new plan to be submitted to the County Commissioners.


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

CARL WALLACE SPRAGINS, 71 – died October 11

MARGARET STANLEY LEE, 93 – died October 10

FRANCES STEVENS HALL, 94 – died October 9

HUGO MARK AUMEN, 65 – died October 8

(MARY) LOUISE BROWN CREECH, 95 – died October 7



Former Jewel Box store on its own lot at 1699 East Booker Dairy Road, Smithfield with more than 30 parking spaces. Price reduced to $569,000.

Fonville Morisey Realty   •   919-669-9235   •


What's the fallout from Johnston's handling of CRT?

Following last week's unanimous vote by the County Commissioners to release school funding now that Johnston County Public Schools has a policy directed against an educational concept known as Critical Race Theory, Commissioner Ted Godwin summed up the board's position with a personal anecdote:

"When I was in seventh grade here in Johnston County, our teacher read to us every day after lunch. She read to us Uncle Tom's Cabin, the whole book, and it (had) a profound effect on us. We understood the history of what had gone on and the terrible aspects of it (slavery). I think everybody understood how wrong and how difficult and bad it was.

"I hope we're teaching our kids now, today, the same things. I just hope we're not teaching – I think that was the reason for this whole discussion – we're not teaching 'em that my grandson is responsible for those actions. That was the crux of it. I hope we teach the history as it happened, bad and good."

Hard to take issue with Mr. Godwin's statements.

Even so, the handling of the CRT controversy here has been the proverbial "making a mountain out of a mole hill." Is there a cadre of history teachers chomping at the bit to teach Johnston County school children to hold personal guilt for the enslavement of African-Americans a century and a half ago? I don't think so.

If anything, the CRT controversy should strengthen our resolve to make the teaching of American history a complete and honest assessment of our nation's quest for "a more perfect union." In Mr. Godwin's words: "as it happened, good and bad." That surely ought to include lessons in how racism has tarnished American history.

Let's hope the schools' new policy won't run the best and brightest teachers out of Johnston's classrooms, or discourage them from coming here to begin with. The wording in that policy makes things dicey for conscientious history teachers tasked with educating our youth.

In case you missed reading it last week, here's another link to that policy>


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