, Salem, MA

August 1, 2013

Letter: 'A story of joy and promise'

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

“Ten Salem students reach their impossible dream!!’

“Community Charter School graduates 10 against all odds!”

Either of these could have been the banner headline on the front page of the Salem News of Monday, July 22. Could have been is the operative phrase because they were not.

Oh no!! The editors chose instead:

“State takes action against city’s charter school.”

It’s not simply that the “could have been” headlines are more positive than the one chosen. Oh, no. No Pollyannaism here. They would also have been more accurate. One assumes here that the News has some interest in accuracy.

The fact is that the Salem Community Charter School graduated 10 young people on Friday, July 19. The fact is that, without the “last chance” provided by the Salem Community Charter School, none of these young people would have achieved a high school diploma. Lack of this document shuts almost every door in a tight employment market and generally precludes the option of military service. What occurred on Friday night was the beginning of a hopeful world for 10 young people who previously had no educational hopes or dreams. It was an awesome occurrence that went virtually unnoticed.

The fact is that when you finally get to paragraph 10 of the News story, those still reading discover that the school “has made significant progress toward addressing each of the conditions placed on its Charter.” Ten paragraphs to find out that the headline was bogus! Amazing!

The public should be aware of a few things that have affected life at this entity:

1. It was through the district’s recognition of a serious dropout problem and the coordinated efforts of Salem Public School administrators, Mayor Driscoll, social service agencies, the juvenile courts, the Salem Police Department and many individuals, all of whom worked tirelessly during the 2010-2011 school year to seek a charter and develop the plans that allowed the new school to open in September 2011. It is to the credit of the Salem School Committee members that they stood firm in the conviction that this was the right thing to do; that the circumstance that led to the situations faced by these young adults could, with a lot of help, be overcome.

2. While it might be lost on the omniscient state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the present location of the school in a less than ideal setting and the physical limitations on its growth are not the “fault” of Principal Yurwitz, her staff or the school’s trustees. It is due to a lease dispute between the mall operator and the city of Salem.

3. The curriculum issue could have been avoided. When Dr. Cameron and consultant Robert Gass were working on gaining approval and principal Yurwitz was beginning to implement curriculum from the already functioning Boston Day & Evening Academy, DESE was very favorably impressed. It is likely that curriculum changes were warranted, as is so often the case in replications. But if these changes diverged substantially from the charter, that should have been noted at the DESE Charter School Office. It was reported that the DESE believes that “tough love” is the answer to our problems. This certainly sounds like our shoot-from-the-hip commissioner. The school needs ongoing, well-informed support both from DESE, the Salem Public Schools and the city of Salem, not “tough love,” which is, at best, a meaningless term.

4. The attendance issue has to be seen in context. This school, unlike “Commonwealth” charter schools, is not cherry-picking students from a lottery of highly involved parents. It is picking up the pieces of often fractured lives. Some of its students have families. Some have job responsibilities. Some probably have rehab time commitments, etc. Its attendance cannot be directly compared to “normal” high schools but should be put into perspective.

The larger issue here is the approach of The Salem News. Perhaps it’s simply a fact that bad news sells more papers than good news. I hope that circulation concern is indeed the explanation, because this paper intentionally printed a headline and story start that emphasized doom and gloom when it could just as easily, and more accurately, reported what it really was: a story of joy and promise.

Brendan Walsh


Editor’s note: Brendan Walsh is a member of the Salem School Committee.