, Salem, MA

June 20, 2013

Our view: A step backward at Saltonstall School

The Salem News

---- — The Salem School Committee came close to dismantling the Saltonstall School’s extended-year program this week, and it is expected to do so when it comes up for another vote in July.

We can only hope the delay gives some members a chance to rethink their decision.

The innovative K-8 school has 10 extra days in the school year and an unusual calendar that extends classes through July — meaning its 360 students lose only one month, August, to summer vacation. This kind of schedule is exactly what many educators are promoting today, as a way of preventing kids from losing much of what they’ve learned over a long summer break.

Now the School Committee, which has been unsuccessful in negotiating with the teachers union for extended learning time at other schools, wants to kill it at Saltonstall. Why? The only reason seems to be that if all schools can’t have it, then none of them will.

Originally, this came up in the context of starting a new summer enrichment program for children at other schools, to accomplish exactly what Saltonstall’s extended year aims to do — prevent learning loss. If the schools could not afford to do both, then it would only be fair to take the $150,000 spent on Saltonstall’s program and use it to create a program open to kids from all the schools.

But now the administration has found a way to fund a voluntary summer program for 160 kids, in addition to several special programs for English language learners, AND continue the Saltonstall’s extended year.

And it doesn’t seem to matter.

A majority of the School Committee still wants to dismantle Saltonstall’s program, although doing so won’t help anyone and will certainly hurt hundreds of families who love this school.

The result: Fewer children, not more, will get extended learning time — the exact opposite of what the schools are trying to achieve.

This is a hit that could reverberate beyond Saltonstall’s walls. The school is a major draw in this city, as the School Committee recognized some years back when they voted to extend it from a K-5 to a K-8 school — in part as a way to keep families (and state education dollars) in the school system and out of charter schools. Indeed, one of the real selling points of Salem’s elementary schools has been their diversity of offerings, including not only Saltonstall, but the Bowditch School’s two-way language program and Carlton’s small-school focus.

The two-way program has fallen by the wayside over the years, however, and several other schools are in trouble because of low MCAS scores. Dismantling a key — and popular — element of the Saltonstall vision will add a black mark to the Salem schools’ image, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see many families drift to the charter school or others outside the system.

We urge the School Committee to keep this program in place — and to keep working to extend time on learning at other schools, too.