SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 7, 2014

Driscoll to focus on improving schools

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — It was not by chance that yesterday’s inaugural ceremony was held at Collins Middle School.

Mayor Kim Driscoll moved it there for the first time to show off the recently renovated school building. But she also wanted to leave no doubt that the biggest challenge facing the city heading into 2014 is the struggling public schools.

“We are gathered here ... in this place for a reason — to signify to all, with unmistakable clarity, that our primary focus in the years to come will be fixed with unwavering commitment upon Salem’s public schools,” Driscoll told an audience that included School Superintendent Stephen Russell, community activists and city officials.

“And this charge is not simply for our School Committee and school leaders. We must all together devote ourselves to this end. This is a community mission.”

Driscoll, as mayor, chairwoman of the school board and a school parent, knows there is a lot at stake.

In 2011, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education designated Salem a Level 4, under-performing district and gave the city three years to show significant progress. This is the second year of the turnaround effort.

In a call to action, Driscoll said: “We must be serious about reform and continue being positive, pressing leaders for our school district.

“That means we don’t wait for things to improve on their own. We don’t chance that we’ll be able to close the achievement gap and improve test scores. We don’t watch idly if plans don’t deliver results. We don’t pretend things are getting better if they’re not. We don’t forget that our work is not about the adults — it’s about the kids.”

The speech drew a standing ovation from a nearly packed auditorium.

In anticipated votes taken during the ceremony, the City Council elected Ward 1 Councilor Robert McCarthy president for 2014. The School Committee voted Nate Bryant its vice chairman, the officer who presides at meetings whenever the mayor is absent.

McCarthy, who survived a tough election fight against a former councilor, made surprisingly emotional remarks after being named to his second term as council president. He takes over a council with four new members and the first women councilors in more than a year.

Without mentioning last January’s City Council debacle, a seven-hour, 300-ballot deadlock over a council vacancy, an event that came to symbolize the elected body’s dysfunction and polarization and helped fuel sweeping changes in the fall election, McCarthy read an excerpt from an essay by his son about what inspired him to want to major in political science in college.

“Well, it was me,” said McCarthy, drawing a laugh, “and if I tried to read the whole thing, I would probably be in tears by the end. So, I will just read a few paragraphs.”

In his essay, Salem High senior Will McCarthy wrote: “As ward councilor, my dad had to work alongside councilors that he didn’t always agree with, but in order to improve our city, he always tried to compromise and reach common ground to achieve a shared goal.

“He showed me that leaders in our society accomplish more and work more efficiently when they work together.”

The changing face of the City Council was symbolized yesterday by the seating arrangement on the stage of the middle school auditorium. The four new councilors, several of whom rode the wave of change into office, sat side by side — Beth Gerard (Ward 6), Heather Famico (Ward 2), David Eppley (Ward 4), and Elaine Milo (at-large).

Rachel Hunt and Patrick Schultz, the two new members of the School Committee, were sworn in yesterday with the rest of the board.

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.

""We must be serious about reform and continue being positive, pressing leaders for our school district." Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll