SALEM — The transformation of Salem from middling municipality to the epicenter of the North Shore began under Mayor Neil Harrington, continued under Stanley Usovicz and has peaked under Kim Driscoll, who will be sworn in today to begin her third term.
Driscoll, the city’s first woman mayor, has been hailed for putting Salem’s financial house in order, negotiating more fiscally responsible union contracts, revitalizing the waterfront, and spearheading projects ranging from renovated parks and playing fields to a new commuter rail station.
But she enters 2014 with major pieces of unfinished business that may, as much as past triumphs, define her years as mayor.
First and foremost is the public schools, which are in the second year of a turnaround effort that began when Bentley Elementary School was given Level 4 status by the state for consistently poor scores on the MCAS exams.
This is a huge undertaking that involves much more than Bentley School, only one of several poor-performing schools, and Driscoll, chairman of the School Committee, plays an important but limited role.
Year Two is when new programs should be in place and results — positive results — should start to be seen.
“It’s not only an important year, but it’s the most important issue because it’s the most important thing (we) deliver to our residents — our quality public schools,” Driscoll said. “We have set high expectations, and we are working hard to achieve them.”
With several principals stepping down, Driscoll sees the selection of new leadership as a key part of the turnaround effort. With that in mind, the city has sought outside help from UMass-Boston to recruit new school leaders and has stepped up efforts to develop administrators from within the public schools.
“Attracting quality leadership is so critical for school improvement,” she said. There is a connection, Driscoll said, between strong schools and strong leaders.