BY BETHANY BRAYSTAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — Retired Sudbury Superintendent John Brackett is working in the Salem Public Schools as a plan manager for the district’s turnaround efforts.
Brackett, who started in July, is being paid by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state sends a part-time plan manager to each school district it designates as Level 4 or 5 “underperforming.”
He will oversee the development and implementation of Salem’s accelerated improvement plan, a necessity after the district was designated Level 4 last year. Brackett will also act as a liaison between the school district and state authorities, reporting regularly on student progress.
“I will kind of be a pebble in their shoe, so this plan doesn’t end up sitting on a shelf,” Brackett said.
Salem schools have focused on districtwide improvement since state education officials declared Bentley Elementary a Level 4 “underperforming” school last fall, based on its history of low test scores. At the same time, four other Salem schools were identified as being one year away from a Level 4 designation.
Brackett, who lives in Marlborough, commutes into Salem two or three days per week.
He’s working with Salem’s improvement plan team, a group of administrators and teachers who are writing the district’s turnaround plan.
The group is roughly 60 percent of the way through developing the plan and hopes to submit a draft to the state by the end of the month, Brackett said.
“The encouraging part of my job, so far, has been that without exception, (staff members in Salem) are committed to turning the district around,” Brackett said. “There’s a lot of agreement over what needs to happen, and willingness to make that happen. ... There’s a high level of hope in the people that I’ve been working with and talking to.”
Brackett also praised Superintendent Stephen Russell, saying he hasn’t taken his eye off improving student performance, despite having a lot on his plate, including hiring numerous staff and several building construction projects.
Brackett has worked in education for decades, starting as a high school math teacher and principal. He has worked as an assistant superintendent in California, was superintendent for a district just outside Detroit and retired as Sudbury superintendent in 2001. Last spring, he worked as interim assistant superintendent in Framingham.
While the turnaround plan spans three to five years, Brackett said he’ll work in Salem as long as he is needed.
Through the process, Brackett will meet monthly with Russell and the district’s plan monitor — another state-funded position that is yet to be filled in Salem.
Quarterly and annual reports on student progress will also have to be submitted to the state and Salem School Committee. Student assessment data will come from the annual MCAS standardized test, as well as interim testing and walk-through observations of classroom practices, Brackett said.
The process is meant to keep an eye on whether the district is making progress, Brackett said, and whether tweaks are needed in the turnaround plan.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ll start to see change in a short amount of time,” Brackett said. “... While we are reporting to the DESE, we’re doing this work for the kids of Salem, and that’s the important thing to understand.”
Brackett said he hasn’t come across anyone in Salem who has said, “This is just the way it is, there’s nothing we can do.”
“I don’t think they can work any harder than what they’ve been working,” he said. “We hope this (turnaround) plan can help them work smarter, and focus their efforts to make a difference.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.