“Board votes to consider turning Bentley over to private firm.”
— Salem News, March 18, 2014
I cringe every time I read that headline from a story that ran last week about the Bentley Elementary School.
As many in Salem know by now, the Bentley School has had more than three years of flat or declining standardized test scores. The school is currently midway through its second year of a state mandated three-year turnaround plan intended to improve student achievement. More than half way through this plan, the improvements we hoped to see have not taken hold.
Rather than risk another year of underperformance at Bentley, which would more than likely also risk a Level 5 designation — and essentially a state takeover of the school — the School Committee voted 6-1 to begin negotiations with Empower Schools and Blueprint Schools, a nonprofit education management organization, to partner on a more aggressive turnaround plan at Bentley.
Some have been critical of this approach and described it as turning our school over to an outside private contracting firm. This could not be further from the truth. We are not walking away from the school or outsourcing public education at Bentley. In fact, I see our efforts as just the opposite. Despite the Herculean efforts of the teachers and staff at Bentley we have been unable to achieve substantial improvements in test results at the school. I think that underscores just how hard a challenge it is to close the achievement gap on an accelerated timeline. I also hope our actions last Monday night underscore just how committed our school district is to the community mission of improving public education for all students in Salem.
The School Committee has voted to work with Blueprint and Empower Schools because of the record of success that they bring to the table. Good dance partners make for better dancing and we believe working with a good educational partner will make for better teaching and learning. This is a new model for Salem and, naturally, anything new is wrought with fear, anxiety, and — sometimes — misinformation.