Salem High School has launched a redesign process intended to transform student experiences across the school. Through its redesign efforts, Salem High School seeks to improve academic performance and equip students for success in the 21st century workforce and in college. New initiatives and fresh approaches are being developed in a comprehensive turnaround plan that will be submitted in late June to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for feedback.

The school turnaround plan, currently in draft form, focuses on four key areas: school leadership, teaching and learning, student supports and school culture. Each area includes specific strategies for school improvement that will start being implemented in the 2019-2020 academic year. The school change effort includes increased opportunities for relevant learning experiences, stronger relationships between students and adults, and greater equity and access for all students.

Salem High School’s redesign efforts build on a number of successes from this spring. For example, 13 students earned the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy (12 in Spanish and one in Arabic) for their competency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in English and their partner language. This year’s musical, “Mama Mia” showcased many impressive student performances, and the high school concert band was recently invited to perform at Carnegie Hall during next school year. Fifty students participated in an early college program within which they will earn 12 college credits, and another 40 students completed internships across a variety of professions in the local community. Hundreds of other students participated in Advanced Placement testing and an off-site “Reality Fair” simulating real-world life experiences of career and family. These important student accomplishments provide a strong foundation upon which the redesign efforts will build and enhance.

With much good work underway, a number of persistent challenges remain to be addressed at Salem High School. These include chronic absenteeism, lagging student academic performance, and a school climate where many students are disengaged and do not feel a sense of belonging. In the 2017-18 school year, more than 40% of students missed more than 10 days of school, and 23% missed more than 18 days in the year. Academic performance is not on target in mathematics or science, and in English Language Arts, performance is on target but not keeping pace with expected growth. Lagging academic performance is seen across student groups but is most pronounced for high need students.

The turnaround plan currently being developed details steps to initiate positive change at Salem High School while capitalizing on current strengths. The plan includes input from a yearlong process of engagement with students, teachers, school staff, parents and community members. The initial phase of the redesign process is being funded by a $150,000 grant from Mass Ideas and a small turnaround grant from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In the next article, specific details from the turnaround plan will be shared including a full description of the Discovery Pathways.

Barbara Crock is the Salem High School redesign and leadership coach. This is one in a monthly series of columns from the Salem Partnership’s Community Advisory Board for the Salem Public Schools.

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