SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 24, 2013

Josh Turiel: Groundhog Day at Saltonstall

Josh Turiel
The Salem News

---- — Once again, we’re fighting over the Saltonstall schedule, ever since some of our School Committee members decided that the 20-year-old Saltonstall year-round schooling model was something that could and should be jettisoned in the interest of “equity.”

The fact that with the model in place Saltonstall has typically been one of the better-scoring schools in the district for years (including through the massive disruption of a facility move covering the last two years) doesn’t seem to make much of an impact with some of our members.

Ultimately, the extended year is something that is wildly popular with the Saltonstall community itself, and school choice has let them self-select for it. We’ve got survey results that show that while most schools favor some form of extended-time learning (whether extended year or extended day), Saltonstall parents are strongly in favor of both.

And yes, Saltonstall doesn’t currently conform to the equal-for-all demographics that the school system would like to have. But it is what it is. Our school department has made mistakes in the past that have created imbalances at many of our schools, and they’ve created policies to address them (hopefully). Short of rebooting the entire system and starting over, that will take years to address fully. In fact, due to errors in testing last spring, even Saltonstall is a Level 3 school right now.

Ultimately, if you could tell me that sacrificing Saltonstall’s extended year would allow more schools to have extended-day added, and added now, I’d begrudgingly go along with it. Helping the entire system by giving something up at this school — we’d be selfish to oppose that. And I’m not speaking on behalf of the other parents here, but I will admit there are times that I’d personally love to be able to take vacations during July when all the other kids are on vacation — while my son is still in school learning. And to help other schools by doing so would be justifiable.

This isn’t what’s on the table, though. What the School Committee wants to do (and would have done this week had Janet Crane been present) is ax Saltonstall’s extended day just because they want it gone. No other reason. Just to make it go away. They don’t like it, never have, and never will. The performance targets are a moving target — like Lucy and the football. There is no alternative; there is nothing that is proposed to do this coming school year with the money, and there are no results from the pilot summer program proposed for this year to compare to.

To be clear: This is not happening because another school is being hurt by the Saltonstall extended year. This is not to make a hard sacrifice in order to save or enhance programs at another school. This is entirely because some members of the School Committee want the extended year gone, and they’ve worn down the opposition at last. When the next school program is as unpopular with the School Committee (K-8 at Salts and Bowditch?), what will happen then?

Meanwhile now, in July, they will probably get their wish. To keep with the Groundhog Day theme, all the Salts parents will show up again to protest, and the School Committee will at last succeed in taking their antiquated ideas and make all of Salem’s schools the same height — by trimming back the legs of the taller person. I hope their victory makes them proud.

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Josh Turiel is a Ward 5 city councillor and a Saltonstall parent.