When strong-willed, bright, and talented people join together to create a shared vision of the future, they are oftentimes able to overcome daunting obstacles and achieve great success.
At last night’s School Committee meeting, five of our seven committee members agreed to a shared vision in which all of Salem students would enjoy the benefits of extending the availability of invaluable learning time into the summer.
I will admit that at first the ambiguity of the proposal offered by committee member James Fleming confused me. He submitted the proposal as a compromise to the debate about reducing Saltonstall School’s balanced calendar. The proposal approves the 2012-13 Saltonstall calendar, but then advocates extending summer programs to all schools in future years.
On Twitter, Committee Chair Mayor Kim Driscoll described last night’s events as a “marathon School Committee meeting.” I agree. With tired eyes, I read Fleming’s one-page, hand-written proposal a few times and had the nagging feeling that the committee was punting a hard decision only to have to deal with it later.
As I went to bed much later than I typically do on a Monday night, I thought about all the different opinions that were voiced by parents, administrators, and committee members, and I wondered whether we would have to suffer through this debate all over again in a year.
Then, in the light of the morning and with fresh eyes, I could see that this was perhaps the most thoughtful outcome we could have hoped for considering how the polarizing debate began. Over the next year, the committee can attempt to analyze Saltonstall’s program to determine which elements influence its culture of academic success. They can then combine what they have learned from Saltonstall with the best practices in summer programming from other districts to develop a solution that acts as a bridge over the long summer break for all students.
Dr. Brendan Walsh, who instigated the debate with his unexpected amendment at the May 7 meeting, voted against this proposal even though it is clear that its intent is to advance equality and fairness by improving educational opportunities for all students. He seemed stuck on the issue of how the district might fund the proposal, and he said that if the funding did not materialize, then he wouldn’t want to continue with the status quo of two separate calendars—one for Saltonstall and one for the other schools. Typically, I’m also a stickler for knowing important details in advance, but it isn’t realistic to expect the committee to solve all questions that the proposal might raise in one evening.
In the end, Driscoll hit the right tone to close out the discussion. She described some in this debate as falling into a “Robin Hood mentality” and seeking to take funds from an existing school program without much serious thought about how much actually would be saved or how best to spend it. She extolled the common-sense benefits of extended learning time and encouraged the committee to adopt the proposal as part of its ongoing turnaround efforts.
For now, I choose to be cautiously optimistic that the committee will be true to its word and will proactively work towards a solution to extend the learning time for all of our students without unnecessarily disrupting a program that effectively engages students and families.
Now it’s time for all to turn away from this distraction and get back to the important work of turning around our schools.