, Salem, MA

Local News

November 18, 2013

Salem Academy turns 10

Charter school embraces culture where 'it's cool to be smart'


“Our goal is every student will be accepted to a four-year college,” Hunt said.

When a grade or class does especially well on the high-stakes MCAS exam, the school holds a pep rally — like the kind most schools hold for athletic teams.

“That’s an example of a conscious, defined effort to build a school culture that celebrates learning,” said Sean O’Neil, the executive director of Salem Academy.

The charter school has worked to make Advanced Placement, or AP courses — the most rigorous offered at public schools — the rule rather than the exception. This year, a whopping 70 percent of students in grades 11 and 12 are enrolled in at least one AP course.

The charter school’s unflinching focus on academics has not gone unnoticed. It has been ranked among the top schools in the state and nation by Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

In 10 years, the city’s independent charter school has earned a reputation as a place where standards are high and achievement is honored.

“We work at that,” O’Neil said. “What I tell kids is, ‘You need to understand — if you’re a student here, it’s cool to be smart.’”

Tom Dalton can be reached at

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