Salem  Education  Foundation  Requests  2  Year  Delay  on  Limited  Choice     &  Middle  School  Restructuring  Proposals     To  the  Editor

:     The  Salem  Education  Foundation  (SEF),  which  is  composed  of  a  diverse  group  of  community  and  non-­‐ profit  leaders,  parents  representing  almost  every  Salem  school,  and  business  owners,  has  been  a  key   stakeholder  and  partner  in  the  school  district’s  Level  4  turnaround  process  since  November.     Representatives  from  SEF  have  served  in  every  aspect  of  the  turnaround  including  the  Bentley  School   turnaround  planning  group  and  school  redesign  team,  the  Community  Stakeholder  groups  and  on   several  of  the  individual  school  improvement  workgroups.    In  addition,  we  have  held  community   meetings  with  many  groups  including  parents  of  current  and  incoming  school  children  –  Latino  and  non-­‐ Latino,  retired  teachers,  empty-­‐nesters,  business  owners  and  leaders  of  community  agencies  caring  for   kids  and  families.    Over  the  past  two  months  we  witnessed  our  community  unite  to  study  our  school   district  and  develop  thoughtful,  and  often  well-­‐researched,  recommendations  for  improvement.    Like   many  who  have  been  part  of  this  process,  the  Salem  Education  Foundation  has  been  excited  about   change.    However,  we  are  disappointed  with  what  was  presented  at  last  Monday  night’s  School   Committee  meeting  because  the  recommendations  lack  an  emphasis  on  improving  student  achievement   –  which  is  the  single  way  that  Salem  will  move  out  of  Level  4  status.     Although  we  applaud  the  district  and  the  School  Committee  for  including  recommendations  such  as   placing  Assistant  Principals  in  every  building,  creating  a  K-­‐12  scope  &  sequence,  adding  a  Lead  Nurse   Administrator  and  extending  the  school  day  for  an  hour,  these  are  common  practices  already  in  place  in   most  public  school  districts  in  2012  and  do  not  represent  the  “bold  change”  that  was  promised.    Instead,   the  recommendations  present  two  major  structural  changes  to  our  school  system  –  limited  choice   attendance  zones  at  the  elementary  school  level  and  the  shift  to  K-­‐6  schools  with  one  central  middle   school  –  both  of  which  effectively  limit  school  choice  for  all  Salem  families.         SEF  opposes  the  models  of  reduced  school  choice  presented  in  these  recommendations.    We  have  spoken   with  parents  throughout  our  community  –  from  Vinnin  Square  to  the  Point  to  Highland  Avenue  to   downtown  Salem  and  the  Willows  –  and  parents  from  all  walks  of  life  are  frustrated  and  angered  by  these   recommendations.    Through  our  community  outreach  efforts  we’ve  learned  that  issues  like  school  choice   is  one  point  that  parents  –  regardless  of  race,  ethnicity  or  socio-­‐economic  status  –  feel  strongly  about.    At   a  time  when  families  are  struggling  to  retain  faith  in  a  failing  district,  eliminating  choice  seems   counterintuitive.    Parents  in  Salem  are  already  struggling  with  decisions  about  their  children’s  education.     Many  tell  us  that  they  are  considering  movement  from  one  school  to  another;  others  are  considering  local   charter  school  options,  parochial  or  private  school  options,  and  out-­‐of-­‐district  placements  like  Hamilton-­‐ Wenham.    Still  others  told  us  they  plan  to  try  to  sell  their  homes  and  move  out  of  Salem.  The  lottery  at   Salem  Academy  last  week  yielded  more  applications  for  6th  grade  than  ever  before,  and  the  wait  list  for   next  year  is  larger  than  in  years  past.    It  seems  inconceivable  that  the  school  system  would  choose  this   time  to  ask  parent  to  give  up  the  little  choice  that  remains.       Although  it  is  clear  that  the  current  balance  of  our  schools  is  skewed,  it  seems  equally  clear  that  the   current  controlled  choice  policy  has  not  been  implemented  properly.    Why  not  strengthen  the   implementation  of  the  current  policy  and  hold  the  system  accountable  for  its  implementation?  Surely   this  is  something  a  well-­‐staffed,  robust  Parent  Information  Center  could  handle.    What  evidence   suggests  that  “limited  choice  attendance  zones”  will  lead  to  any  improvement?    Has  any  formal   assessment  been  completed  to  determine  whether  the  new  choice  system  may  result  in  a  racially  and  

socio-­‐economically  segregated  school  system?  Where  is  the  evidence  that  supports  the  effectiveness  of   any  of  these  limited  choice  models?  If  there  isn’t  any,  then  let’s  fix  the  system  first  and  discuss  limiting   choice  later.     The  Salem  Education  Foundation  requests  that  the  Mayor,  the  Superintendent  and  the  School   Committee  reconsider  the  current  list  of  key  recommendations,  and  agree  to  suspend  any  actions  that   would  limit  parental  choice  for  a  period  of  two  years.    Instead,  we  ask  that  they  focus  on  providing  our   schools  with  turnaround  recommendations  that  are  proven  solutions  to  the  primary  problem  we  face:   stagnant  student  achievement.    We  need  bold  change  that  is  focused  on  improving  instruction  and   providing  teachers  and  students  with  appropriate  supports  to  enhance  teaching  and  learning.    We  need   to  gather  data  at  every  turn  and  evaluate  any  changes  to  determine  what  is  working  and  for  whom.    This   has  not  been  the  practice  of  Salem  Public  Schools  in  the  past,  but  must  be  adopted  for  the  future.    Give   our  schools  two  years  of  well-­‐designed  and  well-­‐funded  turnaround  strategies  focused  on  enhanced   instruction  and  show  parents  that  our  schools  can  be  improved.    If  schools  demonstrate  uniform   success,  then  school  choice  is  no  longer  an  issue.     There  is  a  clear  consensus  in  the  field  about  what  works  for  school  turnaround  –  and  that’s  a  laser-­‐like   focus  on  instruction.    What  are  the  key  ingredients  to  improving  student  achievement?    Frequent   feedback  to  teachers  about  their  teaching,  frequent  assessment  of  students’  progress  and  using  that   data  to  guide  instruction,  effective  tutoring  to  support  kids  outside  of  the  classroom,  increased   instructional  time,  and  maintaining  high  expectations.  Our  schools  will  not  achieve  sustained   improvement  without  a  clear  plan  to  improving  teaching,  assessment  and  learning.  These  are  the  kinds   of  turnaround  recommendations  the  Salem  Education  Foundation  expects  and  will  support,  and  we   believe  that  Salem  schools  are  capable  of  such  improvements.             -­‐Board  of  Directors,  Salem  Education  Foundation     Janine  M.  Matho,  President   Patrick  Schultz,  Vice-­‐President   Alex  Munevar,  Clerk   Rick  Wyke,  Treasurer   Ben  Arlander   Darek  Barcikowski   Marcie  Clawson   David  Greenway   Sarah  Morrill   Alexa  Ogno   Katherine  Palmer   Leanne  Schild   Louise  Swiniarski   Maryann  Zujewski,  Ex-­‐Officio                

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