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Saltonstall Schedule Survives Despite Heated Debate

School Committee heatedly debates what programs work and how to get them in every school.

Before a rare packed house that remained until after 10 p.m., the School Committee voted five to two to allow the to continue its popular, but controversial extended day and year programming for at least one more year.

Saltonstall, for much of its 17-year existence, has operated one hour longer each day and 10 days longer into the summer. The teachers are paid 16 percent more and do 22 percent more work, according to Saltonstall Principal Julie Carter.

Estimates were that Saltonstall's extended calendar costs the district an extra $100,000. That number, however, was challenged.

"The extended time makes a difference. It has a positive impact," Carter said.

The school committee agreed that extended time to learn was a laudable goal and as part of the compromise, offered by Committee Vice Chairman Jim Fleming, the committee voted to develop a plan to offer the extended summer enrichment programs at all schools, including Saltonstall.

Dr. Brendan Walsh, one of those opposing the compromise, said he did not believe the school district could afford to expand the after-school and summer enrichment programs that Saltonstall enjoys to all schools.

Dr. Janet Crane, who also voted against the compromise, said she wanted to end the Saltonstall extended calendar immediately. She said it was a question of treating all students equally.

Mayor Deplores Divisive Debate

Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, who disclosed that she is the parent of two Saltonstall students, backed the compromise on Saltonstall's schedule after two weeks of heated debate over the issue with critics saying Saltonstall gets a more enriched academic program than other schools do not get.

"We know we want more time on learning. We want to get everybody up to one more hour per day," she said.

The mayor, frustrated over the "divisiveness of the debate," conceded that the extended schedule at Saltonstall is more expensive. But the issues Salem faces will not be solved by money alone, she said.

"We are generous to our schools," she said. The per-pupil expenditures in Salem are far higher than in many similar cities, she said.

Improving education for all students will require more innovative programs, said Dr. Stephen Russell, the superintendent, after the meeting. He cited new research studies that suggest just extending the day for students does not improve learning.

The programs that were effective involved "hands-on experimental learning programs," he said. Many of those programs were offered by community partners, rather than the schools themselves.

Members of the public seemed almost evenly divided on the issue of Saltonstall's extended schedule.

Committee member Nate Bryant said, "It is clear that Saltonstall is succeeding." He said he was not sure if the success was the result of a higher socio-economic student population or the extended calendar. "I don't know the answer. Something is working," he said.

Walsh said he wanted to take the $100,000 for the extended calendar and apply it to other programs that cannot grow for lack of funds. He said underfunded early childhood developments programs would be a better use of the funds.

The debate continued so long that Bryant jokingly asked if the committee could send out for pizza.

Not a New Issue

 Principal Mary Manning said the Saltonstall extended calendar "is not a new issue." She said it has long been creating anger toward Saltonstall. "It has been festering behind the scenes for years," Manning said.

Some speakers called the $100,000 "a drop in the bucket" in a district that is proposing a budget next year of more than $50 million.

Manning said she would be happy to have $100,000 dropped in her school's budget. With that money she could hire more tutors that were dropped from the budget several years ago.

She said she had hoped that this was the year the extended day would be addressed by the school committee for all schools. "It has been a long time coming. It's time has come," she said.

Several speakers said they doubted that Saltonstall's $100,000, divided by nine schools, would accomplish much.

Arthur Sullivan asked, "If it is working, why take it away?" He and others joined in supporting extended calendars for all schools. 

The mayor and several speakers worried that the issue is pitting one school against the others. Calling the debate on this issue "disheartening," the mayor said the issue had polarized the community. 

"We need to be working together cooperatively," she said after the meeting. 

Budget Hearing Set for June 4

The school committee has scheduled a public hearing on June 4 at on next year's budget.

The proposed budget would see an increase of 3.8 percent from $48,856,000 to $50,694,000.

Increases would come from adding assistant principals at the elementary schools, hiring a human resource director for the almost 1,000 employees of the district, hiring a lead nurse coordinator, hiring more teachers at the Bowditch, Witchcraft and Carlton schools and increasing the staff at the Parent Information Center.

The district plans to save some money on lower natural gas bills for the next three years and keeping more special education students at the district instead of sending them to more expensive out-of-district program. About 20 senior teachers are also expected to retire.

ds May 23, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I think that it is more the motivation of the parents at Salts that make the true difference. I believe my daughter would strive in any school in Salem because of my active parenting. I read to her every night, take time on the weekends to seek educational opportunities, etc. I choose Salts because I went to the Magnet Program (another innovative school which is now the Pheonix School) in Salem and Salts aligned with that method of teaching and because it was in my district. My older daughter goes to the high school and is top of her class because I always make sure that she does her work and goes to school. I am switching her to a private school because Salem High is just not challenging enough for her. So, I will now spend $32,000/yr. Now, that is quality education! So parents, spend time with your kids, get involved and you too can have a smart kid! Learning starts at home. We cannot rely on teachers to solely teach our children. Children need reinforcement to what the teacher teaches in the classroom. Find out what is being taught and do the work at home too. And yes, I work full-time and have many other responsibilities but none as important as helping to educate my child! And if you don't like the school that your child is currently in let the officials know. Come out to elections and vote for your school committee. There is a lot more you could be doing, don't deny it.
ds May 23, 2012 at 05:21 PM
The Salts is successful because of so much more than extended day/extended year. I mean we are really fighting over 10 days!! What about their educational philosophy, dedicated parents and teachers, multi-age classrooms, etc. Trust me, you could take away the 10 days and the school would still out-perform the others. Then what would people have to say? This is just an excuse by the school board to side track us from the real issues. If the Salts and Charter school are working why don't we incorporate all the other things they do that don't cost money and see what happens. I bet there would be an increase in scores all around. But lets just focus on the $100,000 so that we don't have to do all the other REAL work that is involved in turning the schools around.
Erica May 23, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I'm new to this topic and conversation so this may be a silly question; is it possible to have assistant principles be a shared resource across the schools? In addition to saving money, maybe this could inspire the sharing of ideas, successes, and more of a team environment across the schools.
Ed Payne May 24, 2012 at 01:22 AM
We have a child in Salts K which happens to be in Bently this year. From my non-academic perspective, I believe the kids at Bently would benefit from a longer school day. Much to some board members' chagrin, a recent Ford Foundation study reports longer school days improve children's academic performance. We decided that the short school day is not enough learning time for our daughter, so we have a tutor work with our child twice a week. When she is not working with her, she works with us on math and reading. Since we started this in November, it has proven very effective in increasing her reading ability and math skills. As I wrote earlier, I think the kids at Bently would be better prepared if they spent more time in the classroom. I see the two board members attempts to achieve fairness (whatever that means) as more of an attempt to bring down a program that work and is the choice of most involved parents (what other school as a waiting list?). Maybe if another school mirrored a school that worked (Salts) we'd see more progress. If there was a shortage of students for Salts, I would say change it. But clearly the public wants this or there would not be a waiting list.
Pam Ryan May 24, 2012 at 02:14 PM
As a taxpayer and parent, my request to this and future administrations is this, please fund ONE model. Salem is having this divisive conversation because we are not discussing ONE model. We are discussing many different ideas that may or may not work through out the district. Testing results, whether you like them or not, do NOT show Salts as the model to emulate. There is a model that is working, Witchcraft. The school with the highest test of late comes at a smaller price tag. ANY additional money spent, be it per pupil or per school, is not fiscally responsible. That being said, there are programs at every school that are working without additional cost. All I ask is simple, find what is working and put it in play across the board. Unfortunately there is a school who is out performing Salts without the additional price tag. They are doing a lot of things better without the 10 extra days and extra hour a day. This is not divisive, it is fact. Take what is working and spread only ONE model across the district. Please stop being fiscally irresponsible with much needed education money.

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