Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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What better way for parents (and grandparents) to spend a cold Saturday morning in early January than watching little boys play basketball in the warmth of the Recreation & Aquatics Center. This particular league is for beginners 7-8 years of age. That's why the goals are lower and coaches are allowed on the floor to instruct their players. They do keep score, but who cares what it is so long as the youngsters – and their fans – are having fun. (Facebook photo posted by Catherine Brady)


School masks still on as case numbers spike

Once again, the Johnston County Board of Education voted 4-3 this week to continue the mask mandate for school students and staff another month. That was no surprise as COVID case numbers are much higher than they were a month ago.

Even so, board members expressed interest in exploring ways to ease in-school mask restrictions – an idea put forth by Ronald Johnson, one of three board members along with Chairman Todd Sutton and Mike Wooten who have consistently voted against mandatory masking. Mr. Johnson said it was a matter of "protocols and procedures versus practicality and reality," noting that public schools are the only places strictly enforcing rules on masks.

Terri Sessoms – one of four board members voting to continue mask wearing along with Lyn Andrews, Al Byrd, and Kay Carroll – blamed the state's Department of Health and Human Services for mandates on masks and quarantines Johnston's school board is bound to follow. "Flexibility is not in our heads right now," she said.

Mr. Carroll, a pharmacist, said the issue goes beyond masks: "If we can get enough people vaccinated, then the virus doesn't have a place to go."

The state's mid-week report shows that 52% of Johnston's population is fully vaccinated. For all of North Carolina the rate is 59%; across the nation it's 63%.

This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools showed 494 active cases among students and staff (twice as many as last week's 254) with 1,527 students and 159 staff members quarantined (552 students and 115 staff were quarantined a week ago).
READ the school system's revised policy on student and staff quarantines>
Schools with the most students in quarantine: Selma Elementary 68, Riverwood Elementary 62, Princeton Middle/High 57, Princeton Elementary and Meadow with 55 apiece, Four Oaks Elementary 52, Cleveland Elementary 50.

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)
107,823: 52%*
6,212,320: 59%*
UNITED STATES 63,205,421
  208,182,657: 63%*
WORLDWIDE 317,389,048
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 5:05 p.m. January 11
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:55 a.m. January 12
Johns Hopkins University at 9:21 a.m. January 13

School staffs change jobs to keep buses rolling

School Board Chairman Todd Sutton announced at Tuesday's meeting that Johnston County Public Schools so far have avoided shutdowns of school-bus service as experienced elsewhere across the state. "We have been able to cover the transportation needs of our students," he declared.

That has been accomplished by employees at all levels stepping up to drive buses – school principals included, the board was told.

Despite those efforts, the board heard from several citizens at Tuesday's meeting complaining about poor communication with parents about delayed buses in recent weeks. Kevin Donovan, a parent, suggested a "standard notification policy" to make sure parents are fully informed about busing issues.

Assistant Superintendent David Pearce said Johnston's schools are seeing 30-40 absences a day in transportation staffing because of COVID. He said other employees are doing "a miraculous job" filling in for those unable to work.

Meanwhile, the board's approval Tuesday of 17 new hires of "classified" employees included 10 with "bus driver" added to their primary duties as teacher assistants, custodians, cafeteria and clerical workers.

With state funding secured, schools' budget adopted

Halfway through the current fiscal year that began last July 1, Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) at last have a completed budget. The missing piece of the puzzle fell into place this past month when the state confirmed Johnston's allocation for the year based on school appropriations belatedly approved by the N.C. Assembly in November coupled with this year's projected enrollment in Johnston's schools.

Stephen Britt, JCPS chief financial officer, told the county's school board Tuesday that Johnston's enrollment is up about 1,200 students over last year, and that's 683 more students than what the state had projected. As a result, Johnston may be getting additional state funding for 2021-22, he said. (JCPS enrollment on the 10th day of the current school year was reported at 37,411.)

The budget approved by the board this week for operating expenses includes state appropriations of $253,539,777, county appropriations of $80,227,090, and federal allocations of $127,542,341. In addition, another $22,762,688 in local funding is budgeted for capital outlay, including money from the bond issue approved by Johnston's voters in 2018. Budget details are posted on the JCPS website>

Board members to work on upcoming school-bond vote

Chairman Sutton appointed Kay Carroll as chairman along with Lyn Andrews and Mike Wooten to work as a committee collaborating with Johnston's County Commissioners on details of an upcoming school-bond issue, which could go before the county's voters as early as this November.

Dropout report shows slight slippage during COVID year

The board learned that high-school dropouts from Johnston's public schools last year totaled 151 – up slightly from the previous year's 136 yet below the 218 reported for the year before that. Smithfield-Selma High had 44 dropouts last year – the same number as the year before, down from 59 before that.

Of last year's total countywide, by race 93 were Hispanic, 86 white, and 38 black.

Amanda Allen, the school system's director of student services, noted that 67 of last year's dropouts have re-enrolled, including 25 who attended summer school.


The four scholarship contenders: (left to right) Leyla Anthony, Kyra Worth, Mia Calloway, and Michelle Chen. (Story & photo from Smithfield-Selma High School)

SSS IB students semi-finalists for major scholarships

Four Smithfield-Selma High School students are all semi-finalists for the "Big 6" scholarships and much more. They have each worked very hard in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Smithfield-Selma High to earn top grades, explore creative avenues, and serve the community.

Leyla Anthony is an aspiring fashion designer. She is a semi-finalist for the N.C. A&T Cheatham White Scholarship, which is a full-ride scholarship. She also received the Meredith Impact Scholarship, which offers $23,000 annually if she decides to attend. Leyla has been accepted into High Point University, UNC- Greensboro, Meredith, and A&T. Leyla is submitting her art portfolio to Drexel University, Moore College of Art and Design, and Parsons School of Design.

Kyra Worth is an aspiring social worker. She is a semi-finalist for the Park Scholarship, which offers a full ride to N.C. State as well as money for international travel, support systems, and special housing. She has been accepted to N.C. State, UNC-Charlotte, and UNC-Greensboro.

Mia Calloway is an aspiring lawyer who will major in sociology. She is a semi-finalist for the N.C. A&T Cheatham White Scholarship and the UNC-Charlotte Levine Scholarship. She has been accepted to Hofstra University with the Chancellor's Scholarship worth $32,000 annually, Pace University with the Presidential Scholarship worth $28,000 annually, and to N.C. A&T, UNC-Charlotte, and Appalachian State.

Michelle Chen is an aspiring clinical manager working to eliminate ethical dilemmas for patients from marginalized backgrounds. She is a semi-finalist for the UNC Morehead-Cain Scholarship. Shortly after receiving this recognition, Michelle received notice that she was accepted by early decision into the University of Pennsylvania, one of the nation's Ivy League schools. She is one of 7% of students accepted into Penn's prestigious Wharton School of Business. While Michelle will no longer continue in the Morehead-Cain process since she is bound to attend Penn, she remains a semi-finalist for the National Coca-Cola Scholarship, as it is not a university-specific scholarship. In addition to Penn, Michelle has been accepted to Clemson, Wingate, and Arizona State University. Additionally, Michelle was chosen as the Johnston County Presidential Scholar representative.

The "Big 6" are full-ride scholarships at six North Carolina institutions: Morehead-Cain at UNC-Chapel Hill, Park at N.C. State, Levine at UNC-Charlotte, Belk & Bryan at Davidson College, and Cheatham-White at N.C. A&T and N.C. Central.



real-estate broker


Monday is Martin Luther King holiday for all public services

The full federal holiday is also observed by the State of North Carolina and its county and municipal governments as well as Johnston's public schools – every year on the third Monday in January (the late Dr. King's birthday is actually January 15). By an act of Congress, MLK Day has been observed as a federal holiday since 1986, and by all 50 states since 2000.

County Commissioners to meet Tuesday because of holiday

Because of the MLK holiday, Johnston's Board of County Commissioners has postponed its regular third-Monday session till next Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse. On the agenda is a resolution asking the state to "accelerate" an Interstate-standard upgrade to US 70 at Princeton to address "severe flooding" as well as a recent spike in motor-vehicle accidents (Johnston's Board of Education adopted the resolution at its monthly meeting this week). The complete agenda for Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting is posted on the county's website>

Smithfield Council begins budget planning next Tuesday

The council has scheduled a special session for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall to consider how to spend federal American Rescue Plan funds allotted the town and to begin discussions about the town's 2022-23 budget to be adopted by July 1.

Public meeting on town's Pedestrian Plan next Thursday

The second in a series of public meetings on a Pedestrian Plan in the making by the Town of Smithfield is scheduled for 6-7 p.m. next Thursday (Jan. 20) at Town Hall.


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

SERGIO SAMANO-ESPINOZA, 65 – died January 10

PEARLINA SMITH JACKSON, 95 – died January 6

GEORGIA LEWIS LANGLEY, 102 – died January 5


There's good reason
you've seen this sign
in many yards around
Smithfield lately....



How hot was it last month? For USA, a new record

An Associated Press story published this week said last month was the hottest December on record for the contiguous United States, averaging 39.3 degrees – 6.7 degrees above the month's average over the past 127 years for which national records have been compiled.

That report reinforces Cornell Cox's observation published here last week that December's spell of unusually warm days was "a period of weather unlike any I've observed in my eight decades' memory."

Sun reader Bob Dixon recalled another warm December, pointing to records for Raleigh-Durham showing a run over 22 days starting in mid-month 1984 when temperatures for 15 days registered "right at 70 degrees or better."

No matter. The AP's report, published Tuesday, began with this statement: "The United States staggered through a steady onslaught of deadly billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in an extra-hot 2021, while the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions last year jumped 6%" – following a COVID-induced pause in pollution.

"What was dismaying was that emissions bounced back even faster than the economy as a whole,” observed Kate Larsen, co-author of an emissions report compiled by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm.

Why aren't more of us alarmed about the long-term prognosis for our wasteful ways?


I-95's traffic is illuminated by the setting sun at Brogden Road shortly after 5 o'clock this past Monday – minutes before the sun went down at 5:19, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. Monday's sunrise came at 7:22, putting the day's length at nine hours, 56 minutes – 11 minutes longer than the season's shortest days last month.
To get today's sunrise and sunset for Smithfield, follow this link>


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