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October 8, 2013

Salem looks to improve middle schools

SALEM — The academic programs and configuration of the city’s middle school grades could look dramatically different next school year.

The School Committee last night approved a proposal by Superintendent Stephen Russell to name a task force to study a “Middle School Success Initiative.”

Russell said he wants to explore different middle school models to try to raise the consistently low MCAS scores by students in grades six to eight and to stem the flow of students in that age group who are leaving the district.

The superintendent said he wants the task force to submit recommendations by March for “potential implementation” by next September.

This middle school initiative is the latest in a series of moves by school officials to try to turn around a school district given a Level 4 designation by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education almost two years ago due, in large part, to low scores on the state MCAS exam.

This is the second time at a school board meeting that Russell has mentioned concerns about students leaving the school system, presumably over the Level 4 ranking.

Last night, he called the continuing low MCAS scores at three schools with middle school programs a “troubling trend” and said the system “continues to lose students” going from grade five to six and from grade eight to nine. He did not provide statistics.

School Committee member Brendan Walsh noted that students traditionally leave school systems in those grades for parochial or private schools and questioned whether there has been a “precipitous falloff.”

Salem has one middle school, Collins, which had 628 students, according to the 2012-13 school district profile on a state education website. Nathaniel Bowditch, a K-8 school, had about 150 students in grades six to eight last school year, while Saltonstall, also a K-8 school, had 110 students in those grades.

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