The Salem School Committee Monday voted in favor of creating a task force to examine grade level configurations in the district.
The decision to examine grade configurations comes as a result of feedback the School Committee received after soliciting ideas from the public as part of the district's turnaround effort, according to Superintendent Dr. Stephen Russell.
Should Salem have all K through 8 schools or just one school serving middle schools students? Should things remain as they are?
"There were many...alternatives [to the current structure] that were discussed," Russell said. Whatever the case, the superintendent said not enough middle school aged children in the district are succeeding in the current setting.
Five schools in the district — , , , and — have K through 5 programs. Students then proceed to for grades 6 through 8 before heading off to .
Two schools — and maintain K through 8 programs.
Committee member Jim Fleming said he was interested in "getting some of the hard facts over the next six months" and developing a "coalition of people including the public" to determine where the issues currently are and to consider what should be done in terms of possible reconfigurations.
He later noted that having three schools that have middle school aged children splits up district resources.
Nate Bryant said he would rather put the School Committee's efforts into extending hours and the length of the school year to "yield better results."
Dr. Janet Crane said she was concerned the School Committee has "a lot of ideas that we're dealing with," and said she wasn't in favor of forming another group. She said she would prefer if the discussion stayed within the committee.
Dr. Brendan Walsh said he was concerned that "the makeup of the group (the task force) will determine what information will be brought to the committee…Oftentimes the parents of many of the children affected do not choose to or cannot be involved due to circumstances," he said.
"People with a vested interest will be there and will be there in force, he added. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease," Walsh said. He also made reference to "a contentious meeting a few weeks ago."
Chairperson of the Committee Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and Fleming noted that discussion about possible reconfiguration was designated as a School Committee "priority" in district turnaround discussions.
Driscoll said there were "parents who expressed concern," adding that hearing concerns, getting the facts and exploring different models to get "different perspectives" is something to which she is open.
"We need to find out what's best for us," she added.
In addition to Driscoll and Fleming, Lisa Lavoie and Debbie Amaral were also in favor in establishing a task force.
During public comment, Sean O'Brien told the School Committee he is a product of Collins Middle School and lauded his experience there.
Though there need to be changes to turn the district around, O'Brien said he wants there to be a focus on some of the positive points in the district.
"I don't want things completely 100 percent different like it's bizarro world. I don't want that for my city or for my future children," he said.
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