To the editor:
I am writing because I am very concerned about the proposal to make Collins Middle School a 7-8 school and transform all the elementary schools in Salem to K-6.
I am a parent of two school-age children, one in third grade and the other in seventh grade. For the past month, I have also been serving as a parent member of the Collins Stakeholders Committee.
Professionally, I am an assistant professor at Salem State University in the history department. Because of my connection to the university and my personal interests, I have assisted the stakeholders committee with some research into educational literature on various topics.
From my research, I have been interested to learn that there is a lively conversation about school achievement and grade-span configuration. A common issue in the literature for school achievement in the middle school age group is the impact of transitions on students' academic achievement as measured by standardized tests. This literature argues that fewer transitions and longer periods of time in the same school prior to eighth grade best support high academic achievement. Two grade configurations are supported — middle school (either 5-8 or 6-8) or "elemiddle" school (K-8).
My concern is that our School Committee is proposing a radical restructuring of Collins Middle School that does not promise to raise student achievement, which is the very issue that has brought the district to this crisis point. I would like to call on the district to study this issue carefully before making such an important decision about which there has been little, if any, substantive public discussion.
Further, while academic achievement is critical and I very much hope to see the district's turnaround plan raise all students' scores, education is more than a test score. The middle school model (though a bit under fire in the literature these days by those who advocate a return to K-8) was designed to address the social and emotional needs of students in this age group, as well.
I think we are all fortunate in Salem to have a middle school that has been exemplary in fostering genuine community among a very diverse student population, and that has also presented this student population with a rich educational experience that includes not only math/science, English/language arts, but also French, Spanish, tech education, music, band, art, physical education, etc.
I fear the plan to move Collins to a 7-8 grade span will turn the school into what is effectively a "bus depot" — in one year and out the other, nothing but transition — the very factor that educational researchers tell us is most likely to hurt students' academic achievement.