SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

October 31, 2013

Our view: Voting for change in Salem

Partners HealthCare, which recently announced plans to expand its North Shore Medical Center campus on Highland Avenue, is only the latest of several prestigious institutions to have made major investments in Salem. Others include Peabody Essex Museum, the National Park Service, Salem State University and the Massachusetts court system, which have put and continue to put money into major projects within the city limits.

That is due in no small measure to the quality of leadership provided over the last eight years by Mayor Kim Driscoll, who takes justifiable pride in the vitality of Salem’s central business district and the potential of its waterfront and who deserves to be returned to office by the city’s voters.

If there has been one black mark on the Driscoll era, it has been the state of the city’s public schools. In 2011, Salem was named a Level 4, underperforming school district and was given three years to show significant improvement or risk state takeover. Two years have gone by, and results have been mixed, at best. Salem remains a Level 4 district.

Rather than throw up her hands and ask the state to intervene, as has happened in some other urban districts, Driscoll continues to advocate a locally driven reform effort that includes upgrades to school buildings and improved teaching methods.

While that effort has the backing of a wide range of civic and business leaders, not to mention parents, it has run afoul of a School Committee that has too often been unable or unwilling to be a partner in progress. Too much time has been wasted debating the merits of standardized testing, blaming the state for the city’s woes or getting caught up arguing about silly side issues, such as school uniforms. Things need to change, and fast.

The school board could greatly benefit from the new ideas and fresh approaches advocated by first-time candidates. Rachel Hunt instituted the impressive academic program offered by the Salem Academy Charter School. Rick Johnson, a writer and editor for the federal government, has been active in turnaround meetings and promises to make the district more responsive to his fellow parents. And Patrick Schultz is a former Salem high school history teacher and Chelsea High assistant principal with a background in education reform; he also led Salem’s District Turnaround Committee.

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