BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — The state’s top education official came to Salem yesterday to announce $3.4 million in grants aimed at closing the achievement gap for largely poor and immigrant children in “gateway cities” across Massachusetts.
The Salem School Department was awarded $128,000 for a summer program for high school students that will focus on work and career readiness while boosting English language skills. It will be run at Salem State University.
Secretary of Education Matthew Malone made the announcements yesterday morning at Nathaniel Bowditch School.
Although Salem is a Level 4, underperforming district based on statewide test scores, Malone said he came here to announce grants for the governor’s Gateway Cities Education Agenda because of the number of innovative programs and community collaborations under way.
“It was fitting to pick Salem because of your success ... because of the innovation,” he told a small gathering that included Mayor Kim Driscoll, Superintendent Stephen Russell, Salem State University President Patricia Meservey and Salem Teachers Union President Joyce Harrington.
“Salem is a place that folks compare themselves to. ... You’ve got cool stuff happening here,” Malone said.
This Gateway Cities grant for Salem comes on the heels of a $168,000 grant for free, after-school programs beginning next month at Collins Middle School.
Bentley Elementary School, which received the Level 4 designation, is in the first year of a three-year, $500,000 federal grant to help with the turnaround effort. Last summer, Bentley teamed with Salem State on a summer program for elementary students.
“We look across the commonwealth for places that are doing it right, and Salem is on that list,” Malone said.
Salem school officials said they will use the Gateway Cities grant to enroll 40 students about to enter grades nine to 11 in a four-week summer program. It will target English-language learners, who typically are new students from other countries who need extra help in English.
Salem has 581 ELL students, or about 13 percent of the school system. Most come from homes where Spanish is the first language, many from the Dominican Republic.
The summer program will focus on the history of employment in Salem up to the present to give students a sense of current job and education opportunities. Because it targets teenagers who could be working and making money in the summer, students will be paid weekly stipends, an official said.
The summer program showcases Salem State’s increasing involvement in the public schools and the turnaround effort. University faculty will work with Salem High teachers.
“It is a wonderful partnership,” Meservey said. “It’s an opportunity for our faculty to be engaged in the (public) schools and to bring knowledge back to our campus.”
Other grant partners include the Northeast Regional Readiness Center, the North Shore Workforce Investment Board and the Essex National Heritage Commission.
Gateway Cities grants were awarded yesterday to 19 urban school systems for a variety of initiatives, including career academies, summer schools and enrichment programs aimed at boosting literacy, math and science skills.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.