, Salem, MA

July 12, 2013

Letter: 269 citizens urge city to save extended year at Saltonstall

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

We, the undersigned, write as concerned citizens of Salem to request that the Salem School Committee press pause on taking any vote designed to reduce the Saltonstall school calendar. We respectfully ask that the views of the public on this issue are heard and understood by School Committee members in advance of any decision.

Salem Public Schools are in a new era of education reform. Year one of implementation of major turnaround strategies has just been completed. The foundation for improvement has been laid in the district and across each school. For the first time in many years, each school has set specific goals for academic improvement, and they have a blueprint, supported by a now robust central office, that will guide them toward that improvement over the next two years. At this point, the “right tools” are in place, and since no school has yet demonstrated measurable progress, we ask that the School Committee delay decisions to alter school models and instead prove its commitment to turnaround by demonstrating focus, sustained investment and ongoing measurement in the following ways:

Ensure that School Committee decisions align 100 percent with turnaround plans. By publicly supporting turnaround and by demonstrating patience as new initiatives take root, we ask that School Committee show leadership by keeping the conversation focused on improvement at all times. Set targets for district improvement in a few critical areas, give each school a timeline and provide them with the supports needed to improve. Allow schools time to work internally to implement new tools and then hold them accountable for their progress and their school model. We ask that you refrain from judging the efficacy of existing school models by using old data that doesn’t yet reflect the effects of the turnaround strategies. And please don’t allow long-standing political debates in the community to disrupt the work of school improvement.

Ensure that School Committee sustains the investment in turnaround. The district has just implemented numerous initiatives aimed at improving results for all kids — Achievement Network, Mass Insight Education/MMSI, the State Teacher Evaluation System, new leadership development initiatives for principals, Common Core, among others — all of which require School Committee investment to sustain. We ask that the School Committee support additional investments that are known to get results — like extended learning time and tutoring programs. Leverage schools that already have some of these models in place, by challenging them to meet improvement goals expeditiously. In addition to turnaround tools, invest in other district structures that support success: a successful student assignment plan, a robust parent information center, highly qualified principals and teachers in each school, and a budget that supports the challenging work that is school reform.

Ensure that School Committee has the data it needs to measure schools’ progress and improvement. Just as schools are being asked to use data to drive all of their decision-making, the School Committee has the authority — and responsibility — to set targets, request data regarding school improvement, and to use that data to make, and communicate, decisions. If schools cannot demonstrate improvement in two years using the new turnaround tools, then we respectfully request that you step in before the state does and make the tough choices needed to get the school back on track.

Salem has a long tradition of school choice, offering various program models that appeal to a wide range of parents. The challenge now is to preserve school choice, and variation in school models, while providing each school with a mandate for improvement and a uniform set of turnaround tools. Given that turnaround tools are just starting to take root in every school, we ask that you pause on altering school models and instead allow time for new practices to take root and improvement to be achieved. Please stay focused on turnaround, sustain the investment, hold schools accountable, and measure and report publicly on progress. Only then will we have a cadre of heterogeneous, high-performing schools that reach the goal of educating every child in Salem.

Janine Maritza Mathó

Sarah Morrill

Janine Matho is president of the Salem Education Foundation, and Sarah Morrill is the former president. This letter was also signed by 267 other citizens of Salem, including state Rep. John Keenan, former Mayor Stanley Usovicz, Salem State University President Patricia Meservey, and City Councilor Josh Turiel.