, Salem, MA


March 21, 2014

Letter: The urgent need for change

To the editor:

From my vantage point, widespread community engagement in our schools is the best byproduct of our recent turnaround efforts. But last week, our community turned a corner and entered a very scary discussion, the kind of discussion that few communities in Massachusetts have had: What happens when data suggests that turnaround efforts aren’t working, at least by metrics that the state has set? The public meeting at Bentley last week was truly heartbreaking for our community, and yet, it also represents an urgent cry for change.

Over the past five years, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has ramped up its accountability efforts such that there is very specific criteria about what “counts” as academic progress and what doesn’t. The good thing about the new state accountability system is that districts, and elected officials leading them, now know exactly where the bar is set. And since student achievement is primarily defined by performance on MCAS (along with a myriad of other factors like attendance and dropout rates), there are clear tools to measure progress. Whether or not you agree, the state’s criteria for success is the measuring stick for our schools. At this moment, a number of our schools don’t quite measure up, but it is Bentley School, and the students there, that is truly at risk.

Last week, our community heard from an outside group that could partner with our schools. The leaders of this group highlighted their experience at helping to accelerate student learning. Whatever your thoughts about that group, the promise of rapidly increasing student achievement in Salem is an amazing thought. The idea that all of our students could be achieving at higher levels is appealing for so many reasons, especially for the future of our city. We should all be able to agree that rapidly increasing student achievement is an opportunity worthy of serious consideration — a ray of hope amidst what has been a very rough two years for education in Salem. It is unfortunate that this opportunity comes at such a heartbreaking moment for Bentley School, a moment when its teachers have been working diligently on their turnaround efforts only to be told by the state last week that their efforts are not yet resulting in success (nor are they likely to). But this is not a teacher problem; it is a community problem.

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