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Local News

March 18, 2014

Board votes to consider turning Bentley over to private firm

SALEM — The School Committee voted 6-1 last night to explore hiring a private school management firm to take over the struggling Bentley School.

If that happens, it will be a first for the city and region.

The board directed school officials to hammer out an agreement with Blueprint Schools Network, a nonprofit that has worked with the Denver and St. Louis public schools, and bring it back for a final vote. That step is expected to take a month or more.

The dramatic vote was met with silence by a standing-room-only crowd in the School Committee meeting room at Collins Middle School that included many Bentley teachers and parents.

A proposal to consider an alternative plan from the Bentley staff was rejected.

Mayor Kim Driscoll and Superintendent Stephen Russell both supported hiring an outside school management firm.

“We need to hold up the mirror, and we need to recognize that more help is needed,” Russell said.

The school boss said he believes Blueprint “can bring us to a higher level.”

With a possible Level 5 designation looming next year, which could mean a state takeover of Bentley, Driscoll said the situation is urgent. She recited some of the low scores of Bentley students in the state MCAS exams to underscore her point.

“I’m accountable to the people who elected me and to the hundreds of kids whose statistics I just read off,” she said. “We haven’t had the success we hoped for. We need to get serious. It’s not a rush to judgment...

“I’m really proud of the effort everybody’s put forth, but I really feel we need to take a fresh start,” Driscoll said.

“For us to think about not doing anything, taking another year, that would be irresponsible ... I know we can do this, but I also know we need help...”

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