There is another middle school option in the city — the Level 1 Salem Academy Charter School. Although a grade six to 12 public school, the charter school is independent and not part of the district school system. In another possible sign of dissatisfaction with the district schools, however, nearly 40 percent of fifth-graders applied to the charter school last year, according to statistics from the charter school and state.
Russell said he wants the task force to review research on successful middle school models in communities with demographics similar to Salem’s, which has relatively high numbers of students from low-income families and with limited English proficiency.
The school boss said he would expect the task force to conduct community surveys, interview parents and students, and hold focus groups. He said he wants the task force to recommend a “clear vision” for a more successful middle school program by March.
Russell said he expects to name a task force soon and welcomes suggestions and recommendations. He said it will have representatives from each of the schools with middle school grades.
In a subcommittee meeting prior to the regular school board meeting, Walsh and Mayor Kim Driscoll argued over whether the superintendent had bypassed the school board in deciding to name a middle school task force. Tentative plans for a task force were announced by the mayor and superintendent at a community meeting last week.
Walsh said the school board should approve recommendations like that by the superintendent before they are announced to the public.
“I don’t think he should have to come in here for every idea” to improve the school system ,“given where we’re at ...” Driscoll said.
Looking at Walsh, Driscoll said: “So, this is a process issue?”
“Yes, it’s a process issue,” Walsh said. “The process is extremely important.”
Later, when Russell made his recommendation during the regular school board meeting, he used terms like “proposed” and “suggested.” The board approved the task force unanimously.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.