, Salem, MA


July 13, 2013

Letter: Cutting school year at Saltonstall ‘a big step backwards’


The summer weeks gave students more opportunities for outdoor science study, hands-on field trips, portfolio development, and integrated projects. The staff was able to plan amazing, intensive on-site experiences throughout the year, such as a senses fair, a Salem exploration, and an Egypt Day (planned by fifth- and sixth-graders) that were creative, effective, memorable learning experiences that benefited students of all grades and ability levels.

Second, Saltonstall has undergone several challenges in the past few years. Expanding from K-5 to K-8 took a great deal of energy and attention, which may have unintentionally lessened the rate of improvement. Just as the new grade configuration has settled and solidified into a strong program, renovations forced Saltonstall into a crowded building for two years. Of course, strong instruction continues even in a poor building, but challenging logistics and fewer resources (such as no computer lab) take time to manage and may cause pressures that lessen optimal learning conditions.

Third, why not give Saltonstall, along with all other Salem schools, a chance to fully implement the initiatives recommended as part of Salem’s school turnaround effort before making such a major change in its structure? Challenge staff to take a renewed look at what Saltonstall can do better to utilize its summer weeks in even more productive ways. Teachers are sure to have great ideas, especially now that students will have the opportunity to work in a more comfortable, air-conditioned environment in the summer. The improved environment will make it easier for many children to concentrate and focus in the hot summer weeks, as the school, like all Salem schools, simultaneously progresses in ways recommended by the system-wide turnaround plan.

Finally, one of the major selling points of many charter schools is the offer of additional time. Why would Salem want to take away a popular district option that families want and that keeps some of them in the local district? Controlled school choice with variation in school models has been a key part of Salem’s system for many years.

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