, Salem, MA

Local News

March 19, 2014

Bentley headed into uncharted waters

Vote to lead to a month or more of 'due diligence'


“It’s a partnership with autonomies,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Stephen Russell bristled at the word “takeover.” He repeated those concerns during an interview yesterday.

“If it’s a matter of a takeover, then, frankly, I’m not interested, because I think all it’s going to do is fragment the district and create a situation where people are working at cross purposes,” Russell said.

He wants Bentley’s co-principals and staff, who have been working under a turnaround plan for the past two school years, involved in the planning for this new or revised turnaround proposal.

“There’s too much that has been accomplished in the last several years to simply throw it away and start completely new,” he said.

Sitting at the table along with the city and Blueprint will be officials from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who must approve any changes to Salem’s plan for Bentley — with a $500,000 federal redesign grant hanging in the balance.

Also at the table will be Empower Schools, private consultants who help school districts work out agreements with nonprofit management firms. One of the group’s co-founders, Chris Gabrieli, founder of a healthcare software company and a former Democratic candidate for Congress and lieutenant governor, has been working closely with Driscoll and other city officials.

Blueprint also has a principal in mind — Justin Vernon, a Salem resident who just announced plans to step down at the end of the school year as principal of Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester.

With Monday’s vote, an already busy school system has set off on another quest — trying to jump-start Bentley with the help of a nonprofit management firm.

“This is uncharted territory for us,” said Bryant, vice chairman of the board. “I’m just as curious to see what transpires over the next 35 to 40 days as everybody else.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at



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