, Salem, MA

August 19, 2013

Salem principals go back to school


---- — SALEM — As seagulls screeched outside and boats bobbed on the water, Salem public school administrators went back to school last week.

Principals, department directors and other administrators convened at Winter Island — and for one day at Salem High — under the watchful eye of Superintendent Stephen Russell for a four-day “Administrators’ Institute.”

The intensive, all-day programs focused on initiatives the School Department has undertaken as it heads into the second year of a turnaround plan. After being designated a Level 4 district by the state due to low scores in the statewide MCAS exams, the public schools have been given three years to show significant improvement.

Seated around tables in the Winter Island function hall, more than two dozen administrators listened to presentations on the district’s “accelerated improvement plan,” the reasons for basing classroom instruction on data from student testing and changes in the curriculum, teacher evaluations and other academic programs.

Although every school system deals with change, Salem is undergoing a major overhaul that has sparked new initiatives aimed at improving student learning. In one change this fall, for example, every school will have “lab classrooms” in which new teaching ideas will be introduced to teachers.

It’s important, the superintendent said, for administrators to have a grasp of all the initiatives underway. It made sense, he said, to conduct this institute during the summer, rather than the more hectic school year.

“We’re trying to press the pause button,” Russell said before Thursday morning’s session, “so I can get the principals more directly involved in the actual training...

“Our principals and administrators play an integral role as leaders, and the more we can build their capacity and knowledge the better off everybody will be.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at