, Salem, MA

October 30, 2013

Letter: Vote for change in Salem schools

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

On Nov. 5, six candidates will be on the ballot for three open seats on the Salem School Committee. After several forums and other campaign events, it is now up to us, the Salem voters, to decide which are best for both our students and our community. Successful public schools not only prepare students for adulthood, but they also contribute to local economic stability, housing values and public safety.

Salem has all the ingredients for academic success: a historic emphasis on public education, diversity in both culture and commerce, and engaged institutions of higher education. In addition, with the oversight provided through the Accelerated Improvement Plan, Salem public schools have developed numerous professional supports aimed at advancing academic outcomes for all our students.

Given the introduction of Common Core, the new teacher evaluation system and the possible move from MCAS to PARCC, we are at a critical juncture. As stated by Superintendent Russell, no individual school in Salem is making the grade. Merely matching the statewide average should not even be considered “good enough” for our kids. What’s more, a recent report from Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education states that, “by 2018, 68 percent of all jobs in Massachusetts will require a post-secondary education.” In 2012, only 56.8 percent of Salem High’s graduates completed the Mass Core, the program of studies recommended by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to best prepare students for post-secondary success. Some of our neighbors, Revere and Chelsea to be specific, are doing better than this at 100 percent and 87.3 percent respectfully. Other districts that are more similar to Salem are also achieving higher success, Fitchburg (68.7 percent) and Waltham (66.7 percent). We can do this, but to meet these challenges, Salem must not just improve its current offerings but also leapfrog ahead.

Given this landscape, predicated upon the district’s decline from Level 3 to Level 4 last year, it is clear that the School Committee would benefit from a fresh perspective from candidates who can lead the district in the multi-layered improvement plan that will best serve all Salem students and, more broadly, the city of Salem.

We do not have another moment to lose on issues that do not align directly with the current turnaround plan. We must increase our focus on college readiness and real-life career opportunities as goals for all our students. We urge you to vote, and vote for change.

Betsy Lahikainen

Sarah Morrill

Founding and former presidents, Salem Education Foundation