SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll has made a longer school day, and possibly a longer school year, priorities in the effort to turn around a low-performing school system.
Accomplishing that goal quickly, however, has proven difficult.
When negotiations between the city and the Salem Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement last summer, the mayor and Superintendent Stephen Russell set their sights on finding one or two schools to host pilot programs starting this September. That goal, too, did not materialize.
Still, nobody is giving up.
In fact, Salem has applied for planning grants through the National Center on Time & Learning with the hope of launching extended day or year programs at four schools: Bates Elementary School; Nathaniel Bowditch and Saltonstall, K-8 schools; and Collins Middle School.
If they get the grants, they will work on it next school year with the goal of having longer school days starting in September 2014.
Both Driscoll and Russell say they have learned through experience that negotiations with the union should not be the starting point in this effort. It is important at first, they said, to build support among parents, staff and students and to initiate this effort school by school.
“As we’ve looked at other models, this seems to be the most effective way to provide a base of support and a longer-lasting plan,” Russell said.
With that grass-roots model in mind, parents and staff at every school were surveyed this spring to determine their level of interest. Although results varied, there was support at several schools for a longer day. The idea of going to school into the summer was not popular, according to the survey results.
The survey indicated at least a willingness “to look under the hood,” the mayor said recently,
The four schools applying for grants were selected, in part, because their principals are willing to take on the issues of a longer school day or year, Russell said.