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TO: Salem School Committee
FROM: Dr. Herbert W. Levine, Superintendent
RE: Entry Plan
DATE: July 16, 1999
This is the compilation of the Superintendent Entry Plan Survey and Interviews from the 98-99 school year.
Superintendent received 65 responses in writing and interviewed 59 persons varied in socioeconomic and ethnic and geographic backgrounds within the City of Salem. The following is a synopsis of the data obtained through the written survey and follow-up discussions and interviews throughout the 98-99 school year. The following items were listed repeatedly as major strengths of the school system:
1. The Teaching Staff
The point that came up most often both in the written survey and personal interviews is the fact that the teaching staff is one of excellence, dedication, kindness and compassion. Overall, it was my experience this past year that the perceptions of the community are that our teaching staff is our greatest strength.
2. Diversity of the Student Population
This item came up almost as often as the excellence of the teaching staff and is perceived by the community as a great strength of the Salem Public Schools.
3. Open Enrollment Policy (Controlled Choice) Throughout the City
This was mentioned often as a strength in our public schools; parents having the right to choose to send students to schools that are attractive to them either because of program, teaching staff, or location is seen as a major plus for this community.
4. Quality of our Special Needs Program
It seems that people crossing all boundaries: parents, teachers, and the community feel strongly that our special needs program is one of excellence and truly services our children in the appropriate manner.
S. Student Population
Many folks, particularly, teachers who work daily with our students are very high on the quality of the type of student that they experience every day. They seem to enjoy them, like them, and find that for the very, very large part, our students are a pleasure to work with.
6. Creativity and Innovation
Mentioned often by parents, the community and teachers as a major strength of our school system: both the willingness to explore new avenues and the ability to implement new programs and strategies have been mentioned regularly throughout this process.
7. School Committee
The school Committee came up often as a strength of the school system, particularly, the newly elected School Committee over the past couple of years who have dedicated themselves, along with the Mayor, to improving our School system.
8. Building Program
Again, mentioned often as a great strength and one of vision for improving the public schools in the City of Salem.
9. Business and Community Partnerships
A little less mentioned, but still mentioned on a fairly regular basis. Particularly, our partnership with Salem State College, The Salem Foundation For Public Education, The Partnership, etc.
10. Extra Curricular Activities (sports, music, theater, etc.)
Mentioned, a bit less often, but still mentioned fairly regularly as a strength of our school system.
Also mentioned less often, but of particular note, would be the following:
…The Reading Recovery Program
…The Bilingual Programs throughout the system
…Overall Literacy Development efforts by the City of Salem's Public Schools
…The Salem's community willingness to embrace diversity; the special character of each individual school and school based management; all day Kindergarten and Early Childhood Programs; the successful writing of grants to fund many initiatives.
Concerns most often listed for the Salem Public Schools are as follows:
'The constant change in leadership at the top, particularly at the Superintendent's level has led to the
perception that the school system is directionless and has been for the past few years.
…Often mentioned in connection to the first concern has been the lack of good morale amongst the reaching staff, particularly, and the administrative staff as well.
…The third concern also connected to 1 and 2 poor relations between management and the Union.
…The fourth concern mentioned by a significant number of people is the concern that the class sizes are too high and that we need to continue to monitor those and do everything we can to bring them dwn to more reasonable levels.
…This fifth concern, not mentioned as often as the first four, is the issue of technology or lack thereof, particularly at the high school.
…A sixth concern the high school itself as an underperforming building with multiple areas in need of improvement.
…A seventh concern regarding the school system is the drop out rate being excessively high.
*An eighth concern is the number of kids that we lose at particular break points between grades 4 and 5 and grades 8 and 10. (grades 4 and 5 seemingly to Charter Schools or parochial schools; grades 8 and 10 seemingly to the drop out rate).
* At the high school, a concern listed often is that of not expecting enough from our students, particularly in the areas in raising the standards in our curriculum and our course offerings (Advanced Placement / Honors, etc.).
* Mentioned often, as well, as a concern for the school system is the overall perception that the school system receives poor public relations or no public relations and that we need to do a better job at getting our message out.
* Mentioned not quite as often, but still significantly, is the concern at the high school regarding counseling services and guidance services. There seems to be no coordinated effort to insure appropriate guidance services for the students at the high school.
* Some folks mentioned their concern for the general lack of direction due to lack of consistent leadership, also a concern about lack of mission (Strategic Plan?).
* Another concern is lack of tangible curriculum documents that reinforce curriculum direction for classroom teachers.
* A number of people did mention the funding issue in relation to a lack of appropriate resources for the school system.
* To a lesser degree, folks mentioned the problem of long-term teachers stagnating and not keeping up with today's demands for good educational theory and practice.
* Lack of quality substitutes in the school system has been mentioned as a concern.
* Poor articulation between the elementary and middle school, and, indeed, between the middle school and high school (for transition purposes).
* Although not mentioned often, difficulty in attracting and keeping quality teachers in this City.
* The size of the middle school.
* The "self-esteem" movement as wrong headed. The lack of student expectations and standards at the middle school, all mentioned by a relatively small number of people throughout this process.
* There is a concern -amongst some, particularly our own reaching staff, regarding the level of services we offer bilingual students, particularly at the high school
* There is also a concern about lack of counseling and special ed services for bilingual students.
* Also listed as a concern, on a fairly regular basis, is the issue of professional development and the sense that we haven't had enough of it in the right places.
* Lack of enrichment programs, particularly for more academically advanced students, was mentioned, significantly.
* Low test scores (I believe that is connected to low expectations and academic standards) was mentioned as an issue fairly regularly. SAT'S, particularly).
* Inequity of resources and program offerings amongst elementary schools was mentioned often.
Issues that the community feels need to be addressed in the immediate future and the long term:
- The Two-Way Program at Federal Street
- The ability of the Administrative and Management Organization to recover from the lack of direction and turnover over the past few years
- The attracting and hirig and retaining of competent staff, both teaching and administrative.
… Overall, better communication to parents and the community, particularly in the area of public relations
… A review of Pupil Personnel Services-K-12, to insure that our children are getting the very best of what they need.
…Articulation between and among levels, particularly, middle school and high school, seems to be a major issue.
… Successful challenging of our higher level students, particularly at the high school, but including the middle school level as well.
… Continuing with an updated technology plan and technology program was mentioned often.
… Strengthening the Salem Public Schools with community representatives and business leader partnerships.
… Communication to parents particularly if children are not doing well in school in a more timely manner.
… Improvement of the image of the middle school and the high school and the articulation of the transition between both levels.
… Smaller class sizes particularly in the primary grades-K-3.
… Direction for and articulation of the overall curriculum, particularly related to the Massachusetts Frameworks.
… The immediate raising of academic standards, particularly at the high school and middle school
… Better public relations regarding problem solving, particularly in the area that problems are being taken seriously and are being addressed.
… Creation of programs such as summer school to help address issues of student achievement.
… Establishing a strategic plan with a direction and articulated vision
… Addressing the substitute problem systemwide, particularly at the high school
… Choosing a site for the new Federal St. School
… Improving ESL and Bilingual services.
Issues that were concerns for the long-term, in many cases are replications of some people's concerns for the short-term.
*Facilities certainly came up often
* Direction for the system, ie. strategic planning, etc.
* A better climate and working relationship with all stake holders, such as; the teachers, the Union, the administrators, the Leadership Team and general community.
* A public relations campaign over the long-term was also mentioned often.
* Appropriate funding over the long-term, particularly in the areas of becoming more competitive with salaries and having appropriate resources to do what is needed to be done in order to bring the school system into the next century.
* District-wide coordination of curriculum and transition issues between levels were also long-term concerns.
* Stable and consistent leadership at the top-was mentioned quite often as a need for this school system.
*…Raising the expectations of students
* Raising test scores
* Increasing parental involvement
* Attracting, hiring and keeping of qualified teachers.
* Lowering class size
* Lowering the drop out rate and keeping the students in the system who would otherwise go to private, parochial or charter schools were identified as long-term needs to address.
* Updating our vocational program, particularly technologically.
* Improving our Bilingual Program and the Two-Way Program
* Improving professional development opportunities over the long-term was identified as a concern.
* Guidance services and scheduling issues at the high school
* Expanding our Art and Music offerings, particularly in the curriculum itself, was identified as a long-term need.
* Improving communication with parents
* Developing enrichment programs for students particularly in the area of those students more academically advanced as well as strengthening our AP and Honors Programs
* Overall morale of the staff has been identified by a number of people as an issue for attention over the long-term.
* Equitable distribution of resources mentioned as another issue of concern for the long-term.
* To a lesser degree, looking at Special Ed and its expense to the school system
* The K-8 issue
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
It is important to focus on and celebrate our strengths as a school district. As in any organization, the greatest strength is always found in its people. Salem Public Schools is no exception. 'The very, very strong perception from the cross section of this community is that the Salem Public Schools has outstanding teachers, competent in their subject areas, caring and compassionate and kind as individuals who care very much about our children. This is also true of administrators and support staff personnel. It has been heartening to hear of individual stories which detail the way folks have been treated in varying situations that show that the Salem Public Schools is one that cares about its people. The Salem Community celebrates diversity, and, almost without exception, sees the diversity of the student population as a great strength of the Salem Public Schools and the community in general. The student population itself is celebrated as a group of young people that are, for the very large part, a joy to work with every day. The Salem community also recognizes that creativity and innovation as well as variety and choice are great strengths in our school system. It is important to note that the community has recognized the hard work, integrity and honor of the present School Committee.
WHAT HAVE WE DONE ALREADY
In the year that has gone by oh so quickly since I have been on board as your Superintendent, we have attacked many of the issues that have been identified by the community as concerns.
First and foremost, the building project has moved forward and we have set the course for the next 50 years for the children of the City of Salem.
The issue of long-term stability in the Superintendency chair is no longer an issue, as I have committed to continue as your Superintendent through to my professional retirement. The year that I have spent here has only served to solidify that commitment.
The Leadership Team is now functioning at a solid professional level and I have implemented a two day professional retreat for all administrators on the Leadership Team to be schooled in high performance team strategies, so that we continue to build on what we have done this year and become even better in the future. The issue of a directionless ship has been at least mitigated, if not eliminated.
We now have a District-Wide Improvement Plan with set goals and objectives, and I will be contracting with a strategic planning corporation in the near future so that, beginning in September, we will embark as a school system on the development of a comprehensive strategic plan, which will insure direction for the entire school system for the next ten years, I am well into the process of selecting a company.
The issue of long-term stability among administrators will hopefully be settled within a month or so and the hiring of a new high school principal will begin to help to address all of the issues at the high school, including transition between middle school and high school, the raising of expectations and standards, the upgrading of our curriculum, the introduction of new and more challenging courses, the lowering of the drop out rate, the introduction of new programs; (both night school and summer school to increase the alternatives that we presently have for students who are underperforming, etc.) I believe that morale amongst our reaching staff is as high as its been for quite some time and I continue to work pro-actively in this area. I am doing the best that I can to put the human touch on the Superintendent's office. I believe that our public relations face is getting better, and I will continue to advance the case of the Salem Public Schools in a most positive light in every venue. I will be writing every third or fourth month a professional educator's article for the Salem Evening News beginning in September.
I am convening a committee to study the Two-Way Bilingual Program at Federal Street and I hope to expand that to study all of our bilingual services throughout the Salem Public Schools. We will begin to address the issues of bilingual special education and bilingual guidance services that up to this point have been non-existent in our school system. We have been able to secure a grant through the efforts of Julie Whitehead for Reading Recovery Training in Spanish (Descubriendo). I have committed the resources to move ahead to guarantee that three of our teachers will be trained this year in Reading Recovery in Spanish. This will provide equity of resources for our Hispanic population and a very, very important foundation for learning to read in English with the appropriate help that is needed.
The restructuring of management. I have appointed Jim O'Connor as the Director of Pupil Personnel Services. His charge this year will be to look seriously at the guidance and counseling services throughout our school system and make strong recommendations at the end of this year for the restructuring of our guidance services which will better reflect services needed by our kids now and into the future.
Our curriculum documents will be re-energized through the efforts of Dr. Chaurette and Ms. Gigliotti. I believe that we will be on a speedier track to completion of these documents in the very nearfiitiire.
Through the efforts of the School Committee and particularly the Mayor, we have received a very reasonable education budget for the fiscal year 2000. We have been able to move toward reducing class sizes at the high school and, I believe, to some extent, reducing class sizes at the elementary level. We must continue these efforts. Appropriate resources have also been provided for in the budget, particularly in the area of textbooks, and we are beginning to establish a three year textbook adoption plan at all levels so that we no longer have outdated, poor quality texts in the hands of our students.
I will be contracting with OPIS to settle the poor quality and lack of enough substitutes in our school district. I am very hopeful that this contract will settle that problem.
We have embarked on an aggressive program of attracting and recruiting quality people to come to the Salem Public Schools. I hope that some of the creativity that I have used in being able to structure financial packages for people to come here are beginning. to bear fruit.
We have also begun to attack the lack of equity and resources, particularly at the high school level, with the opening of the writing lab, the introduction of our new computer systems for the CAD Lab and general infusions of technology through the technology plan, as well as donations from a variety of different sources, have begun to significantly upgrade our technology vis-a-vis student to computer ratio and teacher to computer ration. We will continue to move in that direction.
As we move into the future, all of the items we mentioned, both the strengths and concerns need continued attention. We need to continue to -promote that which we do well. We need to continue to pay attention to those areas of concern that we are beginning to correct and make certain that they keep moving in the right direction. We need to continue to identify other areas of concern and work toward solving those issues:
Building projects over the next five years
Continued attention to student achievement vis-a-vis MCAS, and all student achievement issues
Strengthening our high school program, lowering our drop out rate
Continuing to motivate people to do the very best that they can, while maintaining high morale
A development of a long-term strategic plan for the Salem Public Schools
Strengthening of Middle School Program
My goals and objectives, which will be submitted in September, 1999, will reflect much of the work of the Entry Plan and what you have read in this final document.