School Committee, your focus is simply in the wrong place. We’ve spoken often here about a “Salem model” for the school turnaround. Well, other cities have turned around their schools. They have methods that are known to work — and as far as I know we’re not using them or talking about them. Instead we argue about Saltonstall year after year.
This is an easy problem to solve. The Saltonstall program has been around for nearly 20 years. Over that time, it’s resulted in Salts’ being typically a better school than most — despite significant changes, administrative turnover, a two-year facility move, and annual uncertainty that has been driving families into the Salem Academy and school choice.
So to solve this problem for now, it’s simple. Leave it alone. The Saltonstall extended year is a program that’s immensely popular within the school, and has self-selected a population (with the support of the school department) that wants an extended year. It serves over 360 students at a lower cost than this year’s pilot program costs to serve half as many. It keeps committed families in the district, and helps keep them in Salem, at a cost per pupil that compares from the most recent numbers I’ve seen right in the middle of our schools. Fix the biggest problems. Fix the structure. Raise all our other schools up to a high standard. That’s when you start making changes elsewhere.
The failure of the School Committee to see this, and their continuous fixation on extended year is a failure of the highest order. Fix the failing schools. Get real data about what works and what doesn’t — not just anecdotes. When you have that mission accomplished, then it’s time to put everything on the table. And yes, that can include extended year. But there’s a lot more to do in this job than change the bedsheets while the house burns down around you — and that’s what this School Committee seems to want to do.
Josh Turiel is the Ward 5 councilor for the city of Salem.