Even as they make preparations for the end of this school year, Salem educators and public officials face a busy spring and summer as they work to reverse the fortunes of the embattled school district and meet the needs of the more than 4,000 students counting on them for a top-notch, 21st-century education.
It is clear that one of the keys to a turnaround — of individual schools and of the entire district — will be more instructional time. Educators, School Committee members and parents must keep this in mind as they weigh what at times can seem to be a dizzying array of proposed changes and plans.
Much of the recent attention has been focused on the proposal to turn over management of Bentley Elementary School to Blueprint Schools Network, a Massachusetts nonprofit that has partnered with school districts in Denver, St. Louis, Houston and Boston. Bentley has been identified as a Level 4, underperforming school in danger of state takeover. The School Committee will vote on that proposal early next month.
The need for improvement, however, extends beyond Bentley. Four other schools — Carlton Elementary, Nathaniel Bowditch, Collins Middle School and Salem High School — are designated Level 3, meaning they have generally poor MCAS scores.
Instructional time needs to be increased for all students through longer school days, longer school years or both. School officials understand this.
Collins Middle School, for example, is in the running for a grant that would allow it to add 300 hours, nearly two hours a day, to the school year.
Just how that time would be allotted, assuming the district is able to secure the grant to defray the cost of a longer day, has yet to be determined. Parents have balked at some proposals, including one that would end the school day end at 4:20 p.m.