SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 21, 2012

Column: Salem school questions answered

Kimberley Driscoll and Stephen Russell
The Salem News

---- — At the Community Meeting on the Salem Public Schools held at SSU in September, audience members submitted questions. It was not possible to answer all questions that evening. Below are some more of the unanswered questions with answers.

What is the plan to get teachers’ school day to match the students’ school day at Bentley?

Members of the Salem School Committee bargaining team have continued to meet with members of the Salem Teachers Union bargaining team to address this and related issues — not only for the Bentley School but for all of Salem’s schools.

When will extended hours be expanded to all students?

In light of the nature of the ongoing negotiations, we’re not sure yet. It is our hope to be able to expand the school day to accommodate both additional teacher non-instructional time and student instructional time within the school day/year as soon as possible.

What metrics are used to make evaluations in the educator evaluation system? What steps will you take to bring underperforming teachers up to par?

During the past year, the Massachusetts Legislature passed legislation making significant changes to the evaluation of teachers and administrators that will standardize the process across the state. While we are in the midst of negotiating these changes at the local level, training is now under way to implement this new program during the 2012-13 school year. For those interested, further information may be obtained through the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

How specifically will school and district leadership be held accountable for achievement gains? What are the accountability mechanisms for school and district leaders?

Under the new program, teachers and administrators are responsible for setting annual, measurable goals. They will be held accountable for reaching these goals. There is a mechanism in place for those not reaching them to be put on an improvement plan and subsequently, as circumstances warrant, dismissal.

How do you plan to raise achievement for high-achieving students at all grade levels?

One of the early observations being made after the administration of the first ANet assessment this past month has been how challenging the assessments are. It is our hope that as we’re better able to identify students who are consistently achieving at high levels, we can do a better job of serving and challenging these students as well. One example of this is the current Mass Math and Science Initiative (MMSI) at Salem High School, which has successfully expanded Advanced Placement class enrollment. In addition, we are hoping to introduce a Pre-Advanced Placement Program at Collins and perhaps our other middle schools. This is a program structured in a manner similar to the successful MMSI program you may have read about.

How are Salem public schools responding to the fact that fewer kids are developing interest to pursue further education both at the high school and college level?

It depends on how you view the problem.

The issue of college affordability is currently being discussed at the national level. While our community has been very generous in providing scholarship support for our students, even with this support and the limitations on available jobs, costs can be a real impediment to entry into post-secondary education.

At the state level, we have been encouraged by the possibilities that Governor Patrick has promoted through his view of students’ education being more of a K-16 (or K-14) proposition in which the “line” between high school and college is at least blurred.

This is happening on a relatively small scale now as a result of students who are qualified taking university level courses in their junior/senior year and students who pass their AP exam are eligible for college credits as well. This is a start. Talk of broadening the possibilities and more actively involving our two-year community colleges in this effort is also welcome. While a high school diploma is an accomplishment, in most cases it won’t provide our students with a career in/of itself. We are also pursuing expansion of vocational training programs both at Salem High and at the regional vocational school to help ensure that students are exposed to industries for which there is an employment base.

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This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools. Answers were provided by Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and Superintendent of Schools Stephen Russell.