BY TOM DALTON
---- — At the end of Year 1 of its turnaround effort, the Salem Public Schools got a mixed review from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
While the state found that Salem has put systems in place to improve student achievement, it also found that city schools did not reach goals it set in key areas of classroom instruction and student performance.
The school district, for example, “did not meet the student outcomes in the Accelerated Improvement Plan,” the district turnaround plan put in place after the state designated Salem a low-performing, Level 4 district in 2011.
Salem has been given three years to turn around student performance on the state MCAS exam and to make progress in other areas. This recent progress report was for the last quarter — March through mid-June — of this past school year, the first full year of Salem’s turnaround effort.
The state also pointed to benchmarks Salem failed to reach in attendance and in the percentage of secondary students, especially high-risk students, failing one or more courses in a quarter.
On the positive side, state officials lauded the city for the number of initiatives it has undertaken and for the progress it has made in collecting and using data to track key areas of student performance.
“The district is establishing systems that will move it in the direction of increased student achievement,” the report stated.
The report also highlighted significant progress at some grade levels and schools, and it noted that Salem may have fallen short in some instances because it set “overly ambitious benchmarks.”
Superintendent Stephen Russell called the turnaround plan a “work in progress.”
“What they’re saying is, ‘You’ve got the pieces in place; now you need to raise the level of the results.’”
Russell said he is optimistic that the schools will make significant strides the next two years.
“I really do believe we can accomplish this,” he said.
Mayor Kim Driscoll had a similar assessment.
“We’re laying a good foundation for progress ... but clearly there’s more work to do, especially in the core instructional area,” she said. “That’s where we need to make progress — student outcomes.”
At Monday night’s School Committee meeting, Driscoll also pointed to the need to speed up the accelerated plan.
“We’ve got a lot going on in the district, but we’ve got to pick up the pace.” she said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.