SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 2, 2014

Salem's Bentley could become charter school

Vote Monday night could start makeover process

SALEM — Bentley Elementary School may soon become the “new Bentley.”

Although students and parents may not notice the difference, there are big changes in the works for Bentley, a Level 4 school with a history of low MCAS scores and a challenging population: a large percentage of children who are poor or from homes where English is not the first language.

Within a year, the 292-student, K-5 school could go from a traditional public school to a charter school operating within the Salem school district.

The first step in this educational makeover is expected to happen Monday night, when the School Committee votes on a proposal to hire the private, nonprofit Blueprint Schools Network to manage grades 3-5 at Bentley next school year. With such a late start, Blueprint has proposed managing just the upper grades.

The next step could come this summer, when a proposal is filed with the state to convert Bentley to a so-called Horace Mann charter school with an independent board of trustees. If all goes well, that could be in place for the start of the 2015-16 school year.

This is the same step that led to the creation of Salem Community Charter School, a high school for dropouts which the district created three years ago inside Museum Place Mall. While remaining part of the school district, it has its own board and a good deal of autonomy.

The hiring of Blueprint, a nonprofit education management company, and the shift to a charter school are all being proposed to maintain the kind of flexibility Bentley currently has as a Level 4 turnaround school in key areas such as staffing and expanding the school day. That kind of flexibility is needed, school officials say, for an accelerated improvement plan to succeed.

With all this going on, Mayor Kim Driscoll said the transition would be “seamless” for students.

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