, Salem, MA

Local News

August 5, 2013

School crisis spurs race

Interest high for Salem School Committee seats

SALEM — Rick Johnson, a candidate for School Committee, wrote a blog on his campaign website last week under the headline: “Should We Stay Or Should We Go?”

It described an encounter with a neighbor who was undecided about whether to enroll a young child in the Salem public schools or move to another community.

“He wasn’t aware that I’m running for School Committee when he asked me what school my kids attended and what I thought about it,” Johnson wrote. “We talked for a little bit about my family’s experience. Then, he said to me with a shrug, ‘We’re like everyone else. We’re trying to figure out whether we should stay or go.’”

Since the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education relegated the Salem public schools to Level 4 status nearly two years ago due to low scores on the statewide MCAS exam and gave Salem three years to turn the schools around, the level of concern among parents has spiked. It’s hard to measure how much since most accounts, like Johnson’s, are anecdotal.

One possible indicator came this winter when the parents of more than one-third of Salem fifth-graders applied for admission to the Salem Academy Charter School, the independent grade 6-12 public school in Shetland Park. That could be a positive sign about the charter school, a negative sign about the public schools or a combination of both.

Another indicator came last week when four school parents were officially certified as candidates for three open seats on the School Committee. That’s a lot of people running for elective seats that, in recent years, have gone begging for occupants. The interest this year appears to have been sparked by the high level of concern about the school system and, to some extent, the performance of the School Committee.

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