, Salem, MA

March 15, 2014

Letter: Don't act in haste at Bentley

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

The Salem School Committee is faced with a major decision this year. What to do regarding the Bentley School’s poor MCAS performance in recent years? The pressure from City Hall to turn the school over to an outside agent recommended/represented in presentations by millionaire venture capitalist Chris Gabrieli has been intense.

I believe that there is, indeed, a rush to judgment on this issue. I believe that the adage “act in haste — repent at leisure” is appropriate here. I believe that several steps/events must occur before any sensible decision can be made:

The State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education engaged the services of a group called School Works to monitor Bentley’s progress through the “turnaround” process. School Works’ 2013 report was essentially negative. The 2014 report is due in a couple of weeks. Early indications are that it is much more positive. I want to see that report and hear from the authors.

The Bentley faculty has put together a proposal. I would like that proposal to receive the same hearing that the Gabrieli proposal was given: a public presentation before the Committee of the Whole at the Bentley School, involving a detailed description of what is planned followed by a question-and-answer period. Anyone who has not closed their mind would have to agree to this; fair is fair.

I want to see this year’s MCAS scores. This year, despite the “principal gap” of the first half-year, has been one of much hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Let us see what it has wrought before taking any action.

What is the worst that could happen? A state takeover? I believe that with our mayor’s highly developed contacts at the highest levels of state government and the clout provided by Mr. Gabrieli’s resources, Blueprint or some other such outfit could move right in in 2015.

What are some of the unintended consequences of the mayor’s proposed action? Here are two. I’m sure that there are more:

If I am a talented young teacher, I am not considering Salem. Why take the chance of working in a city that will likely turn another school over in a couple of years? By working in Salem, I am already taking less money as a new teacher than I would get in many surrounding communities. Now you want me to take a job that I could be bumped from because of a problem at another school? No thanks.

If I am a skilled principal, do I want to try to help a struggling school with the Sword of Takeover hanging over me? Do I want, for less reward than in most other communities, to be the principal of a school in a community where the effects of systemic shortcomings are laid at the feet of an individual school? No thanks.

Act in haste — repent at leisure.

Brendan Walsh


Salem School Committee