Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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SSS first-responders-in-training honor 9/11's heroes

Marching into the ceremony held before the start of last Monday's classes are students from the Fire Science Program at Smithfield-Selma High, where the school's Naval Junior ROTC program each year hosts a commemoration of the unforgettable attacks of September 11, 2001 and the heroic bravery of that day's first responders. SSS Principal David Allen said an EMT element has been added to the curriculum this year. "When fully implemented, students will be able to earn both Fire Science and Emergency Medical credentials while in high school," he noted.
(Screenshot from Johnston County Public Schools Facebook video)


Schools' Day 10 enrollment 285 short of last year's

State was expecting increase of almost 1,000 students

The 10th-day enrollment report Johnston County Public Schools must file with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction shows a slight drop in the number of students attending Johnston's schools: from 37,592 last September to 37,307 as of Tuesday.

The state had projected Johnston's enrollment to reach 38,482. Falling short of that mark means the county's school system will see a reduction in its initial allocation of state funding this year. Fewer students than anticipated means fewer teachers and support staff will be required than what was included in the system's 2022-23 budget adopted by Johnston's Board of Education last month.

While enrollment in all Smithfield-area schools accounted for 168 of the county's overall loss of 285 students, Tuesday's report showed a gain in students attending Smithfield-Selma High: from 1,400 last September to 1,498 this week.

All of Johnston's high schools saw enrollment gains:
Corinth Holders, from 2,131 to 2,212; Clayton, from 1,980 to 2,031; Cleveland, from 1,770 to 1,875; West Johnston, from 1,341 to 1,471; South Johnston, from 1,311 to 1,332; Princeton, from 1,013 to 1,025; North Johnston from 759 to 783.

VIEW the 10-day enrollment report for all of Johnston's traditional public schools>

Johnston's newest charter school opens near Smithfield

American Leadership Academy Johnston – the county's third charter school geared up to become the largest in terms of enrollment – began its first year of classes August 30 with grades K-10 housed in separate elementary and high-school buildings (pictured above).

Built and operated by a small but growing chain of charter schools started in Arizona, the brand-new campus is located beside US 70 Business near Saint Ann Catholic Church. It has a Clayton mailing address yet it's situated within the Town of Smithfield's planning and zoning jurisdiction and inside the Wilson's Mills Fire District.

Approving plans for the new school's construction a year ago, the Smithfield Town Council was told enrollment is projected to reach 1,950 after grades 11 and 12 are added for the 2023-24 academic term. (A report on enrollment so far this year has yet to be released.)

ALA Johnston is fielding athletic teams like other traditional high schools. Its Junior Varsity football team began competition last month, with boys soccer and girls volleyball teams also playing during the fall semester. They're competing as the "Patriots."

Neuse Charter School at Smithfield and Johnston Charter Academy at Clayton have been operating for several years now. Enrollment at Neuse Charter remains about 900 students in grades K-12, the school's directors were told at a recent board meeting. Johnston Charter last year reported enrollment of 728 in grades K-8.

Admission to charter schools in North Carolina is determined by lottery without regard to place of residence. No tuition is charged. Charter schools receive a per-pupil allotment of state funding the same as public schools.


School board finalizes two recruitment campaigns

The Johnston County Board of Education approved details of two new incentive efforts for recruiting staff at all levels during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday.

An Employee Referral Program will provide $1,000 to a current employee of the school system who recruits someone to fill a vacancy in a "certified" position, including nurse, social worker, teacher assistant, cafeteria worker, custodian, bus driver, and office support staff. The recruit must remain employed with Johnston's system for a year for the recruitment bonus to be paid.

The board amended a previously approved agreement with the University of Mount Olive to cover tuition costs for presently employed teacher assistants willing to enroll in college courses leading to their certification as full-fledged classroom teachers. Instead of $5,250 per academic year for two years, the new agreement extends the offer to three years. The program's intent is to enable TAs to continue working with Johnston's schools while they pursue their college degrees.


Ronald Johnson's status unresolved as speakers take sides

He was present throughout Tuesday's school-board session but remained silent as both opponents and defenders of his continued service on the board voiced their opinions during the meeting's "Public Comment" segment, which may be watched beginning at the 2:09:30 mark of the YouTube video of Tuesday's session>

The board voted last month to censure Mr. Johnson for violating two of its policies – one barring secret recordings of board proceedings, the other for intervening in a student-assignment issue – and followed that up with a letter asking District Attorney Susan Doyle to investigate whether Mr. Johnson's actions were sufficient grounds for his removal from office.

No word on that request has come from the DA's office, and no decision has been announced regarding a Town of Smithfield investigation into an undisclosed matter related to his service as a police detective. He remains on unpaid leave from his job with the town pending the outcome of the investigation.


There's good reason
you continue to see
this sign in many yards
around Smithfield.

and you'll find out why.



My Kid's Club Executive Director Sarah Sheraski (left) alongside volunteer tutors Trudy Farnell and Meg Scoville encourage youngsters solving a word puzzle.

After-school extra learning at South Smithfield

My Kid's Club – a non-profit organization started in 2019 as successor to Selma's Boys and Girls Club – is operating an after-school day-care service at South Smithfield Elementary School that includes tutoring and other learning opportunities for any child whose parents want it. And the fee is just $10 for the entire school year.

This is the second year My Kid's Club has stepped up to run the program at South Smithfield under the direction of Sarah Sheraski, who took over last August as executive director of the organization that relies primarily on donations to support the work it does in Smithfield as well as Selma.

South Smithfield's school day ends at 3:55. Soon thereafter the kids start arriving in the school's spacious cafeteria where they get a snack, individual tutoring if they need it, and a time to have fun playing games both academic and physical. They stay there until their parents pick them up (as late as 6:30).

Ms. Sheraski, who came to Johnston County from Wisconsin where she was a United Way administrator, said her hope is to expand the after-school program to other schools in the county as resources allow.

Participation in the South Smithfield program has been building since the first day of school August 29. Beverly Watson, the organization's director of clubs, expects enrollment to grow to as many as 50 youngsters.

Part-time employed counselors Angela Cole and Joshua Jackson work with a table of energetic students during a session last week at South Smithfield Elementary School.

Leading the after-school team at South Smithfield: (left to right) volunteer Meg Scoville, Director of Clubs Beverly Watson, Executive Director Sarah Sheraski, and volunteer Trudy Farnell.

To learn more about the organization, visit the My Kid's Club website>



2.4-acre vacant lot at 1558 W. Market Street, US 70 Business. Mostly level with 323-foot road frontage. Less than 3 miles from Johnston Regional Airport, about 5 miles from I-95: $525,000 (MLS#2447472)


Johnston Health Foundation names its new director

From UNC Health Johnston

The Johnston Health Foundation is pleased to announce that Kyle Gray is its new director. He's responsible for leading all aspects of the foundation, including fund-raising and revenue generation, financial stewardship, organizational and programmatic leadership, community engagement, and strategic growth and operational goals.

"As we expand our services and community outreach, the foundation is becoming an increasingly valuable partner in helping our organization meet its mission and the needs of our growing region," said Tom Williams, CEO and president of UNC Health Johnston. "We are delighted to have Kyle at the helm."

Mr. Gray brings 26 years of experience in higher-education development, marketing, and communications. During his recent five-year tenure at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, he raised $32 million to advance the school’s mission.

Previously at the UNC School of Medicine from 2006 to 2017, he demonstrated the ability to increase development activity by tripling the Department of Health Sciences donor base and increasing cumulative donations to more than $12 million.

From 2001 to 2005 he served as the assistant dean for development and communications at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government, where he launched and managed the Friends of the Institute of Government Program to increase public and private financial support for the school.

He holds a master’s degree in public administration from UNC Chapel Hill and a bachelor's degree in political science from The Colorado College.



Neuse Charter's teams maintain winning records

The Cougars' girls volleyball team has a record of 9-3 after defeating North Duplin on Tuesday in its first Carolina 1-A Conference match of the season. Finishing up the non-conference schedule, Neuse Charter beat Franklin Academy last Friday, then lost to West Johnston on Monday. Earlier last week, the Cougars defeated intra-county rival Princeton High for a second time this season.

Neuse Charter's boys soccer team is 4-1 after closing out its non-conference schedule with a win over Roxboro Community School last Friday. Next up is the conference opener for the Cougars – at North Duplin next Monday.

Smithfield-Selma's soccer, volleyball teams: just 4 wins

The SSS boys soccer team opened Quad County 3-A Conference play with a 6-3 win at South Johnston on Tuesday followed by a 2-0 loss at Wilson County's Hunt High School on Wednesday. The leaves the Spartans' overall season record at 1-6-2.

The SSS girls volleyball team is 3-7 overall but 0-5 in Quad County 3-A Conference matches following a defeat at West Johnston High last Thursday and a loss at home against Southern Wayne on Tuesday.

No football last weekend for SSS and six other schools

Of Johnston County's eight high schools that field varsity football teams, only North Johnston played a game last Friday night. Nash Central defeated the Panthers 35-6.

Smithfield-Selma's Spartans open Quad County 3-A Conference play this Friday at intra-county rival South Johnston.



Neuse Little Theatre launches 46th season this weekend

The new season's first offering is Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced, with performances at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, and the following Friday and Saturday (September 23-24) at The Hut on the corner of Front and Market streets. To reserve tickets at a discounted price, call 919-934-1873.
VIEW brochure with the full lineup of shows coming up in NLT's new season>

SSS hosting countywide Band Expo Saturday evening

The Spartan Regiment at Smithfield-Selma High School will host its Band Expo this Saturday. Gates open at 6 p.m. Admission is $8. All Johnston County high-school bands will perform, with the Spartan Regiment scheduled at 8:30. "There will be plenty of food to go around," announced SSS Principal David Allen. "Bring the whole family for a great evening of music and fun."

County Commissioners get draft of land-use plan Monday
The board will have a chance to react to the latest draft of the long-awaited Comprehensive Land Use Plan update during its regular third-Monday session at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse. Commissioners will also be asked to adopt the Neuse River Trail Study presented to the board last week and hear an update on GoTriangle's commuter-rail study.

New art exhibition opens next week at JCCollege gallery

It will feature the works of artists William Strickland, Yana Slutskaya, Sue Avera, and Frank Grubbs. An opening reception hosted by the Johnston County Arts Council is set for 5:30-7 p.m. next Thursday (September 22) in the Frank Creech Art Gallery inside the STEAM Building on the back side of the JCC campus. The exhibit will be open to the public Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5 September 25 through October 23.

Autumnal Equinox next week but it's too soon to be Fall

It's considered the astronomical arrival of a new season – the Autumnal Equinox at 9:04 p.m. next Thursday the 22nd – but it's certainly not the beginning of Fall in this part of the world as summer-like temperatures will continue a few more weeks and big bunches of leaves won't fall around here till well beyond the first of October, considered the meteorological beginning of Autumn.


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

BETTY MURPHY BROWN, 83 – died September 12

MARGARET (PEGGY) LOUISE CASEY, 70 – died September 10

MIRIAM LASSITER LORE, 91 – died September 9

JAMES HOWARD O'NEAL, 77 – died September 9

CAROLYN KILLETTE TORRES, 91 – died September 6



Are we counting our chickens before they hatch?

Let's hope that's not the case. But this news from the Business North Carolina Daily Digest, received on Tuesday of this week, fires a warning shot:

Developer of 2,000-home Smithfield project files for bankruptcy

Chapel Hill-based NRP Ventures filed for Chapter 11 restructuring. The company is behind one of the largest housing developments in Johnston County, which is slated to include a total of 2,005 new residential units. The company president and sole shareholder, Ray Perkins Jr., describes the filing as a “pause” in development at the site. (From a report in the Triangle Business Journal)

Meanwhile, only one of half a dozen residential projects approved this past year for sites in West Smithfield is under construction so far – a 134-unit townhouse development at the intersection of Wilson's Mills Road and Durwood Stephenson Parkway (pictured below).

What about Amazon's future plans for us?

Beyond the current snail's pace of new residential projects in and around Smithfield is Amazon's announcement that its West Smithfield distribution center, although apparently finished, won't go into service before next spring, citing "equipment supply issues" coupled with "the recent slowdown in the economy."

What's more, in reporting Amazon's closing of a distribution warehouse in Durham that once employed 400, The News & Observer included this ominous paragraph:

In the past few months, Amazon has shuttered dozens of delivery warehouses and delayed plans for new facilities across the country. According to MWPVL International, a consulting firm that measures Amazon’s real-estate holdings, Amazon has closed or canceled 44 facilities in the United States this year while delaying the opening of 25 others. This shift comes as more customers resume traditional in-person shopping since the height of the pandemic.

We'll keep our fingers crossed.

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