, Salem, MA

May 26, 2014

Letter: Alternatives for Bentley School weren’t considered

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

It is unfortunate that Mayor Driscoll and the Salem School Committee, with the exception of Mr. Walsh and Mr. Fleming, haven’t come to the realization that collaboration always trumps conflict. Their lack of support regarding the takeover of the Bentley School by Blueprint Schools Network is a perfect example of their unwillingness (stubbornness?) to explore all avenues to improve student achievement in Salem.

Their actions, instead of addressing the inequalities, diversity and language barriers of the Bentley population, sent a loud and clear message to all Salem families and teachers. Mayor Driscoll and her supporters on the committee are not interested in solving the real issues impeding progress at the Bentley. They would rather hand over the reins to a private company with no track record of success and no vested interest in the community or its students.

It appears Mayor Driscoll has completely changed her views on her city’s educational system since her reply to Lisa Peterson explaining the district’s test scores. This article, “43 Questions to Ask Before Picking a New Town,” appeared on May 3, 2014, in the New York Times. The mayor responded to that question with the explanation that “average scores were not likely to rise much because of the community’s commitment to diversity and to teaching students for whom English is a second language. Any individual child’s education, however, wasn’t necessarily reflected in averages,” wrote the mayor. Her recent actions certainly do not echo those sentiments.

Their actions and lack of support for the Bentley staff is part of the current social movement led by the likes of Mitchell Chester, Arnie Duncan, the Koch brothers, ALECC and other millionaires who feel they have a greater understanding of the educational needs of public school children across the country. These groups purposely exclude the educators who work with our students on a daily basis. The experts, the teachers, have no input as to curriculum or the other issues both inside and outside the classroom that impede the academic advancement of today’s children.

If Mayor Driscoll was truly looking for a way to improve student achievement, she would have explored all avenues and encouraged input from many sources. In fact, if she had wanted to be a part of the solution, she would have looked at Murkland School in Lowell. Murkland jumped from a Level 4 to a Level 1 in four years. This was not due to a takeover, but due to the collaboration of the superintendent, School Committee and the union. Their teamwork and their unwillingness to demonize the teachers turned a failing school into a model one.

Had the mayor invited more than one presenter, Jeff Riley, state-appointed receiver of Lawrence Public Schools, there would have been an awareness of other available alternatives. Perhaps, Mayor Driscoll should have invited members of the Lowell contingency who have already proved how to effectively turn around a failing school without costing teachers their careers.

I have spent 32 years teaching elementary school in Peabody. I am an activist in my union and a supporter of the movement “Reclaim Our Schools.” I am a Peabody resident and proud to say that our city’s namesake, George Peabody, had a full understanding of the value and importance of public education. Mr. Peabody proclaimed, “Education is a debt owed from one generation to another.”

Educating our children is not an issue that can be solved by privatizing public schools, which is basically what Mayor Driscoll and her supporters on the School Committee have done to Bentley. Kudos to Mr. Walsh and Mr. Fleming for their support of public education, its teachers, the unions and for representing the citizens who elected them.

Patricia Nizwantowski