SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 8, 2012

Column: Continued effort needed to improve Salem's schools

The education challenges that Salem is overcoming with grants won from the federal government and partnerships forged with Salem State and others are a direct result of the Obama administration’s policy of driving change by encouraging school districts to do difficult things.

Salem parents and students can expect further progress toward education reform with Obama’s re-election and the leadership that has emerged in Salem since it was put on notice last fall that it was one step away from a state takeover.

The city garnered significant federal redesign grants that will infuse $1.5 million into Bentley Elementary alone. Students now spend an extra hour a day in school at Bentley, and Mayor Kim Driscoll, who also chairs the School Committee, has vowed to expand that added instruction time to the rest of the district.

Driscoll deserves credit for committing to change and stability. The city has brought in the respected school turnaround expert Dr. Roland Fryer, a Harvard economics professor who helped public schools in New York City and Houston.

Fryer, who spent two years studying public school systems around the country, has identified five ingredients for getting under-performing schools back on track. More common sense than magical, Fryer calls for students to spend more time in school, be tutored in small groups, and to learn in a culture of high expectations. He also says teachers should have plenty of training and development and high quality tools and data-driven instruction.

Since last fall when the state designated Salem’s schools as underperforming, district officials have also secured major grants for Carlton Elementary ($45,000) and forged new partnerships with Salem State for summer programs for students and training for teachers, and added assistant principals to all the elementary schools. There is also a new educator evaluator system in place.

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