, Salem, MA

April 16, 2013

Letter: Keep extended-year program at Saltonstall

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

I am writing to express my concerns about the proposal to eliminate the 190-day calendar from Saltonstall School in order to offer districtwide summer enrichment programming. My thoughts are as such:

The 10 days are not stand-alone. They are intricately woven into the curriculum and offer more flexibility to the teachers for planning and collaboration. It also allows teachers the opportunity to teach things that they normally would not have time for, guided by the needs and interests of the students.

An independent summer enrichment program is not a substitute for the extended year. The additional 10 days, which afford the last session, offer continuity in learning to the students into the summer months with the same teachers in the same environment. To some students, breaking up this routine can be detrimental to learning, as well as overall health and wellness. Even with the best curriculum planning, it will be impossible to provide this same level of continuity in a districtwide summer program.

The extra time at Saltonstall will be useful as the number of students with higher needs increases. The SEI and LLD students, who will attend Saltonstall this coming fall, can benefit from the continuity that the extended year provides. The demographic of the student population will also change as a result of the current student assignment policy. Taking time away, when faced with these substantial shifts in student population, is very troubling.

I believe that few would argue that there is room for improvement at Saltonstall. Perhaps the extended year could be used more effectively or the school can be equally effective within 180 days. ... This could be a great opportunity to thoughtfully approach educational philosophy and practice — and for the district to offer support in determining where meaningful changes can be made.

I question how exchanging the extended year at Saltonstall for a summer enrichment program will achieve greater equity. Enrollment numbers suggest that the summer program will be equally or more exclusive. ... (Saltonstall currently enrolls approximately 360 students, while the proposed enrichment program will enroll 100 students each at two or three locations, as cited in The Salem News on Feb. 28).

I feel that summer enrichment can offer meaningful learning experiences and/or remediation. However, I am not yet convinced that there has been adequate thought and planning for this. What is the interest level for utilization among families in the community? What is the proposed curriculum? Will there be opportunities to continue these programs (such as foreign language) during the academic year for optimal learning and mastery?

While the extended year is part of the broader picture, it supports fundamental concepts that Dr. Russell and Mayor Driscoll value and wish to incorporate on a larger scale. If the School Committee truly supports this, and wants to offer summer learning opportunities to more students in the district, there should be effort to maintain the current model at Saltonstall (with extended year and day) and offer summer enrichment to those who desire it.

Katie Casiglia

Saltonstall kindergarten parent