To the editor:
Something truly amazing happened at last week's Salem School Committee meeting. Did you see it? A major step of our school turnaround happened that night — intense community engagement.
A solid crowd of approximately 100 people — representing the diversity of our community — attended the meeting to learn about, contribute to and support the future of our schools.
Even a few months ago, after the Level 4 designation, attendance at School Committee meetings remained low, and the number of people utilizing the public comment time was minimal. While many have stepped up to participate as stakeholders, last Monday's meeting was unique: A vision for change was stated, public comments representing a wide range of perspectives on our schools were delivered, and together we took our first real turnaround steps as a community.
What a contrast there was that night between the beautiful Carlton School gymnasium where we were gathered, and the stagnant MCAS scores up on the screen. And how fitting that the vision for turnaround and the largest community gathering on turnaround took place in our Innovation School.
For those of you who were not there that evening, the mayor, the superintendent and the School Committee clearly communicated the state of our schools and their initial vision for school improvement. Further, folks from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education were on hand to bring increased clarity and transparency to the turnaround process.
Their message was clear: Salem schools are changing for the better.
This is Salem as we move into the future. A Salem with a community full of people — parents, concerned citizens and leaders — who show up to learn and participate, and who are invested in the success of our schools; a Salem that is brave enough to present the facts, engage in respectful dialogue or debate, and problem-solve with the sole shared goal of improving our schools.
Through honest public discussion and rigorous debate, education in Salem has finally moved to the forefront of community conversations. That's a proud sign of turnaround.
Regardless of your opinion on the details of the work — like school choice, for example — there's no doubt that turnaround issues have increased community interest in, and involvement with, our schools. The public comment period of last week's meeting revealed important questions, differing opinions, and a wide range of suggestions on everything from the need for additional data to support recommendations to the actual implementation of a turnaround plan.
I applaud the mayor, the superintendent and our School Committee for their patience, good listening skills and commitment to identify solutions that are truly best for Salem. (And for sticking with us until very late in the evening!) And I congratulate our community for coming together to support education — which is one of the most important elements of a successful city like Salem.
The turnaround process will be a marathon, not a sprint, so we encourage our community to reserve that energy and find ways to sustain it over time so that your voice can continue to be part of the reshaping of our schools. In the meantime, we should all celebrate the fact that we've embarked on a historic shift to improve our schools.
The Salem Education Foundation is pleased to invite everyone in our community to attend the 17th annual auction, a benefit for the Salem public schools, at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at the Hawthorne Hotel. The auction is free and open to the public.
We plan to rock the house with School Committee member Nate Bryant as our MC and give a big thank-you to everyone who is working so hard to improve our schools.
Janine M. Matho
For the Salem Education Foundation