parents and staff filled the school's cafeteria/auditorium for more than three hours Monday night to persuade the School Committee not to transfer one of its three reading specialist positions to a more needy school.
Taking advantage of the School Committee meeting at their elementary school, the staff rallied the parents to attend the meeting and support the efforts to keep the federally funded position.
The School Administration has proposed a reassignment of six reading specialists for next year, based on the reading test scores. and schools are getting additional reading specialists. Other schools, including Witchcraft Heights, are losing positions, under the current plan.
The committee voted to have its personnel subcommittee review the plan and try to find funding to keep the reading specialists at Witchcraft Heights and possibly other schools.
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, who chairs the School Committee, said, "We are trying not to hurt anyone as we are trying to do good for the entire district."
She was referring to a new policy by the committee to spread the resources of the district more equitably across all schools.
The literacy program was praised by speaker after speaker as "the flagship" of Witchcraft Heights. So many parents and staff spoke on the issue that the relatively short agenda for the school committee turned into a meeting that ended at 10:45 p.m.
"It would be a shame to lose this program," said one parent, echoing the comments of most speakers.
Others said they could not believe the school committee was "thinking about cutting something that is working."
Superintendent Dr. Stephen Russell, saying he is not the enemy, told the school committee and parents and staff in attendance that the problem is with the federal government, which funds the literacy program at Witchcraft and at other schools through its Title One funds.
The federal program requires that its money be used to help the neediest students. Other schools, notably Bentley and Carlton, have a greater need for the reading specialists than does Witchcraft Heights and other schools, Russell said.
Several school committee members said they agreed with the parents and staff that funding should be found in the school budget to replace the transferred teachers.
Vice Chairman Jim Fleming said the committee should fund a program that is working as well as Witchcraft Height's reading program is.
A majority of the committee agreed and asked the superintendent to work with the personnel subcommittee to come up with a different plan.
The parents, many of them speaking twice on the subject, alternated between thanking the committee members for considering restoring the position and cajoling them for even considering transferring one of the teachers.
"If you do this, you will have failed at your job," said one irate parent.
Twenty-four Kindergarten Kids Awaiting a School
On a separate issue, Russell explained that 24 kindergarten students for next year are still waiting to be assigned to a school under the new school assignment policy.
He blamed the large number of siblings in Salem schools. Under the new school assignment policy, younger siblings get automatically assigned to the same school as their older brothers or sisters.
At Carlton and Witchcraft Heights, there are an unexpectedly large number of siblings. After those students were assigned, then the other five-year-olds were assigned to their first, second or third choices of schools.
Twenty-four students could not be placed in their first, second or third choice of schools, the superintendent said.
"I can get you a school now, but it will not be one you want," Russell told the parents who came to complain about the delay in having their children assigned to a school.
He said he expects that the issue will be resolved within two or three weeks.
In other business, the superintendent announced that the district is re-posting the job listing for the vacant principal position at . The screening committee has interviewed seven candidates, but none had the administrative experience Russell is looking for, he said.
The search for a principal at Bowditch School is only beginning, he said.