SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 22, 2013

Bryant: Saltonstall money could be better used elsewhere

Nate Bryant
The Salem News

---- — The test scores at Saltonstall indicate that there is no proof that the extended year program is effective. While many people have argued that test scores are not everything (and I agree, by the way), our governing body, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), does. To simply ignore DESE and how they view the importance of MCAS would not be wise. They have the authority to come in and take over our schools and then they would decide what programs will be offered in our district.

When the district is in a period of limited resources, and given that there is no proof that the extended year program is effective, I believe that the money spent on an extended year would be better served by helping needier students. I get the argument that it is not clear that the other schools want it. My position has never been to force an extended year on our schools (although sometimes I wish we could). My position is to look at what we are currently doing with the Bell program, that is, have the principals and staff identify students at their respective schools who through using the data, would benefit the most from extended year/summer programming and recommend that they attend. Yes, I know there are students at Saltonstall who fall in this category and we would encourage Principal Carter to recommend students to the program.

People have asked me why I have changed my mind. I even had a parent identify a quote that I gave to The Salem News last year that said, “I could not in good conscience vote to discontinue something (Saltonstall calendar) that is clearly working.” I made that decision solely looking at MCAS scores because as many of you so clearly articulated, the district did not have good data. We have since taken major steps to remedy that problem and the data show that the MCAS scores at Saltonstall are not significantly better than the other schools in the district. The data also show the Saltonstall has the second-lowest population of free and reduced lunch students.

As I have said time and time again, a relationship exists between socio-economic status and educational attainment. There are two schools in the district that are out-testing others and we are kidding ourselves if we do not admit that socio-economics has an impact on this. Simply put, the majority of families at these two schools have the capacity to more rigidly monitor their child’s education. That’s a very good thing and I wish that all of our students had that kind of support. While I know that all parents/guardians want their children to do well academically, many, for a variety of reasons, do not have the capacity to do so, and that is where we as a school committee must do our best to support them.

I have spoke with, and responded via email, to many parents of Saltonstall. I have applauded them all for their tenacity. Quite frankly, I wish all of our parents had the same fervor. But unfortunately, many of our students have single parents, grandparents, and in some cases, no parents to advocate on their behalf. As a school committee member, I feel compelled to make sure that we are addressing all students’ needs and with limited resources, I feel that the money spent on the extended year program would be better served helping needier students. Saltonstall offers some unique and effective programs (e.g, multiple intelligences and multi-age classrooms). I am not looking to change any of the programmatic elements of the school. Those are unique and from all indication, are effective programs. I am just not convinced that the elimination of the extended year program at Saltonstall will have a significant decline in student academic achievement and for these reasons, I re-affirm my belief that the money allocated to the extended year program at Saltonstall would be better served helping needier students.