SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 21, 2013

Stephen Russell: A reason to believe

Stephen Russell
The Salem News

---- — Why should you send your child(ren) to the Salem Public Schools?

During the past several weeks, I have been asked this question by our City Councilors during their review of the FY14 budget and again by a parent concerned over what kind of a future their child will have if she attends Collins Middle School. My response was, “Let me tell you the Salem story.”

I tell them about . . .

The diverse and dynamic nature of this city. I tell them about the 39 different languages spoken in our schools. I tell them about the mayor and council’s leadership, the new courthouse, the planned MBTA station, the arrival of Footprint Power, plans for a deep water port, downtown beautification efforts, the city’s rich history, our national park and the ferry to Boston, and I tell them about the many other wonderful advantages that Salem offers.

I tell them about the partnerships that we’ve established with Salem Cyberspace, the Business Partners’ Group, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Education Foundation, Salem State University, the 20-year involvement of the Read Trust in promoting science education in our schools, and the Salem Rotary Club’s scholarship and literacy support, to name a few.

I tell them about the coordinated efforts underway to support students through the Latino Outreach Initiative, the work of the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, the House of the Seven Gables, the Parks & Recreation Department’s programs, and youth athletics and activities.

I tell them about Salem’s natural beauty, our neighborhood parks, the Common, the Willows, the Point neighborhood’s murals and the many opportunities to engage in a wide variety of activities available in the city and throughout Essex County.

I tell them about what a great place this is to live and bring up children.

And I ask them . . .

How many cities do you know of that set a full day aside to celebrate Hats Off to Education day, involving over 100 venues located throughout the city? How many cities have recently hosted Gov. Patrick in visits to the Carlton School Innovation Program, the Early Childhood Center, the celebration of bullying prevention with students at our middle school or participated in a high school “town meeting”? How many school systems have had the new Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matt Malone visit the Bowditch and Bentley schools during his first several months on the job, or high schools play host to State Treasurer Steven Grossman in awarding one of only 11 statewide Financial Literacy Grants to Salem High School’s staff and students?

I ask them how many school systems offer school choice among their elementary and middle schools? How many have comprehensive high schools engaged in expanding their vocational programs to include “green” facilities management, medical assistant and early childhood training — all planned to complement their existing automotive and culinary arts programs?

I ask them how many School Committees partner with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in committing to participate in an accelerated improvement process to improve their schools and successfully obtain $1.5 million dollars in three-year school redesign grants? How many school systems support an independent Horace Mann Charter School, the successful Bridge Program or Salem Prep alternative high school for nontraditional (and successful) learners?

And I tell them about our future . . .

I tell them about our application to the National Center for Time on Learning for a grant to tackle the challenges of increased learning time. I tell them about the implementation of a grade 2-8 system of regular assessments designed to improve instruction, with plans to extend it to grades 9-12 during the upcoming school year. I tell them about the efforts underway to pilot a summer program designed to address students’ summer learning loss, and about our plans to assess the grade configuration of our schools as a means of making the best use of available tax dollars and program consistency.

I tell them about the work still to be done in raising the academic bar, in helping all of our students to experience success, and I tell them about the commitment that we all share in helping them to get there.

I tell them the Salem story.

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Stephen Russell is superintendent of the Salem Public Schools.