The Salem School Committee has a chance to take bold action to reverse the fortunes of the failing Bentley Elementary School.
That opportunity comes in the form of the Blueprint Schools Network, a private nonprofit willing to make the kind of aggressive, sweeping changes needed at Bentley, not just to improve test scores and avert a state takeover, but to ensure a generation of city children are getting the education they deserve and desperately need.
Tonight, committee members will vote on whether or not to hire Blueprint. They should vote yes.
By now, Bentley’s problems should be well-known. The K-5 school has a history of low MCAS scores, leading the state to designate it as a Level 4 school. Salem was given three years to show improvement or risk state takeover. We are almost two years into the original turnaround plan, and there has been little to no improvement in test scores.
In 2012, Bentley’s overall performance ranked in the bottom 4 percent of elementary schools across the state, based on scores on the state MCAS exam and other factors, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Last year — one year into the turnaround effort — things got worse, and the school dropped to the bottom 3 percent.
“The Bentley School is not a Level 5 school, and Salem is not a Level 5 city,” Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said in a column on these pages earlier this spring. “We all know and believe this deeply. But simply saying so does not make it true, and unfortunately, even with extra resources and extraordinary efforts by staff, Bentley has not seen substantial student gains. We have to be willing to acknowledge painful truths and be ready to change course when it becomes clear that the status quo is not working.”
That brings us to the Newton-based Blueprint Schools Network, which has partnered with many schools on turnaround plans. It is led by Matthew Spengler, the former head of the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University.