Last spring, I asked a student who had transferred to Salem High School for his last two years how his experience had been. He replied, “This school is where it’s at.” When I asked him to elaborate, he smiled as he told me about his teachers, his classes, the friends he had met, and the activities he was part of. He went on to explain how Salem High School is the “real world” and that he felt as if he were living in a “bubble” at his last school. “At Salem High, I received a great education and I feel ready for the challenges that I will be faced within college and in my career,” he stressed.
Salem High School truly is a microcosm of the “real world.” Of the 1,200 students that are enrolled, there is much cultural and socio-economic diversity. Over 30 percent of our students speak a language other than English at home, while almost 60 percent of our families qualify for free or reduced lunch. We have students who will graduate having taken six or seven different Advanced Placement courses before heading off to a top college or university (last year’s valedictorian, Jesus Morales, received a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania), while others have disabilities that will forever prevent them from living independently. The same people our students will live and work with across the country and world are right here in their own school.
The Salem High School mission statement stresses that students will build positive relationships while learning to take responsibility. They will graduate being able to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and solve problems. These are skills students will need to succeed in the 21st century world that we live in. We have an incredibly talented and caring staff working with our students. Also, we are fortunate to have a comprehensive public high school here in Salem. Along with strong core academic subjects, Salem High School has a compliment of vocational, technical, and elective classes that compare to any other school. Our music, art, and drama programs have received much recognition for the accomplishments of the students and staff. After school we offer 24 different sports for students along with having 44 extracurricular activities they can get involved in.
Every 10 years, Salem High School has an accreditation evaluation conducted by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Last year, a team of 16 educators spent four days scrutinizing Salem High School. The end result of this intense process was continued accreditation along with a list of recommendations and commendations. Among the areas highlighted in the report were the diverse array of courses available, the authentic and alternative learning opportunities, the school culture, the collaboration among and between staff and students, and the support services that are in place. Also emphasized were the effective smaller learning communities, the renovation project, the available technology, and the partnerships between the school and the community, businesses, and higher education.
In today’s education world, there is a lot of focus on test scores. While achievement and success in schools are not all about test scores, the scores certainly are one of the measures that will continue to be used. This past spring, Salem High School students made great gains in achievement on the MCAS testing. The percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the MCAS increased by 12 percent on both the English and science tests while also increasing in math. Meanwhile, the percentage of students failing those three MCAS tests decreased. We also met or were above the targets that the state set for us overall and for each subgroup on last year’s MCAS.
The last couple of years, Salem High School has also focused on increasing the participation and success in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. We now offer 17 different AP courses and we have seen the number of students enrolled in these courses increase from 107 to 157 over the last two years. In addition, even with a wider range of students taking AP exams, the percentage of qualifying scores continues to increase.
I write this article not only as the principal of Salem High School, but also as a proud graduate of the Salem Public Schools. After gaining a solid foundation at the Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, Middle School West (now Collins Middle School) and Salem High School, I was fortunate to attend Dartmouth College. My education in Salem thoroughly prepared me for the academic and social situations I faced at a diverse and competitive college. After contemplating different career options, I chose to return to Salem High School, where I taught math for 12 years before becoming the principal seven years ago. My wife teaches in Salem and my son and daughter are being educated in the system. Each morning we leave for four different schools across the city and each night we come home to discuss the happenings of our days. Sometimes our dinner conversations feel like a state of the schools summit. Of course there are issues that we help each other with. However, the majority of the talk is about the positive experiences we are all having and how the Salem Public Schools are “where it’s at.”
David Angeramo is principal of Salem High School. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.