BY BETHANY BRAY, STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — Bentley Elementary will receive nearly $500,000 a year for the next three years to fund turnaround efforts to improve student achievement.
The Memorial Drive school is one of nine in Massachusetts selected yesterday for federal redesign grants.
Salem schools have focused on districtwide improvement since Bentley was declared a Level 4 “underperforming” school by state education officials last fall, based on its history of scores on the MCAS exam. Salem High School, Collins Middle School, Nathaniel Bowditch School and Carlton Elementary School were also identified as being one year away from a Level 4 designation.
Mayor Kim Driscoll called yesterday’s announcement “great news.”
“This definitely will help us as we want to go as quickly as we can in implementing turnaround programs,” said Driscoll, who chairs the School Committee. “I think (the state) is impressed with the plan we have for Bentley and is willing to invest in it. ... We’re crafting a lot of what we’re doing, districtwide.”
Salem submitted its final grant application to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in April, opting for the state’s “transformation” turnaround model, which will allow Principal Renata McFarland, who was just named principal in August 2011, to remain in charge at Bentley. The transformation model also requires increased learning time for students and new evaluation systems for teachers and principals.
Through the spring, Salem school administrators made numerous trips to the state education offices in Malden for interviews, and Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester toured the district in February.
Salem will receive a total of nearly $1.5 million in federal grant money over three years, or $499,853 each year.
The federal grant money will fund a slate of initiatives at Bentley School, from an extended school day and professional development for teachers to extra supplies and new staff positions, including an assistant principal, math and language arts coaches, and library and technology positions.
These are all improvements that were planned whether or not the school received the grant, McFarland said yesterday. Yesterday’s announcement, which lightens the burden on the city budget, is simply icing on the cake, she said.
“We have been doing hard work all year. ... It was a delicious chocolate cake without icing, and now that icing makes it all the better,” she said. “I am just elated that my team has done such a phenomenal job. We’ve worked together as a family and I’m so proud of them.”
In the fall, Bentley students will attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., which includes an extra hour to focus on language arts and math — two key areas on the MCAS exam. Bentley staff will work on a staggered schedule next year to cover the extra hour in the school day.
Professional development for teachers starts Monday, McFarland said, and an intensive English as a Second Language program for at-risk students, developed with Salem State University, starts July 9 at Bentley.
“Nothing has slowed down (with the end of the school year),” McFarland said. “... My staff is working their tails off. I’m thrilled and very proud of them.”
The grant money will also beef up after-school programming and support services for special education and English as a Second Language students.
“With or without grant money, it has to be done,” McFarland said. “... There is an obligation to educate these kids in the right way, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Other Massachusetts districts receiving redesign grants include Brockton, Lawrence, Lynn, Springfield and Worcester. According to the state education department, 86 Level 3 and 4 schools were eligible to apply, and 10 schools in seven districts submitted applications in the final round, nine of which were awarded funding yesterday.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.