Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not much going on, right?

It's been pretty quiet in town since election day, right? OK, maybe not so much.

The biggest news to rock Salem is the state declaring Bentley Elementary School to be a level 4 school. Level 4 schools are those deemed by the state to have performed poorly on the MCAS in both math and English language arts for a period of 4 years, with no signs of substantial improvement. Basically the state is telling us, something's broken, and you better fix it. They also make resources available, and also loosen several rules to allow reforms in level 4 schools.

The hope is to get the school turned around (not to mention the other several in danger of reaching level 4) before the state imposes level 5 status on the Salem School District, which would effectively mean state takeover. It's currently happening for the first time up in Lawrence. Might we be second? One difference is that Slick Willie Lantigua, in the ultimate failure to lead, actually asked the state to take over his school system. I can't imagine Kim Driscoll doing such a thing. If we reach level 5, the state appoints a receiver, who usurps all of the power held by the school committee and superintendent.

Anyone still miss Dr. Cameron? Still say we should have sued him for breach of contract, to cover the difference in his salary and Dr. Russell's.

A note to those out there jumping up and down screaming that they had no idea our schools were like this. Just stop. You're making yourself look ignorant. The state publishes MCAS data every year. It's your job to go read it. To those saying it was kept secret until after the election, same message. The state published Bentley's results a full 40 days or so before the election. Several school committee candidates, notably Francis Vigeant, brought up the specter of possible level 4 status. Across the board, Bentley's performance levels are twice worse than the state averages. In grade 3 math, 66 percent of students are proficient or better. At Bentley one third of students make the grade. For reading, the state average is 62 percent proficient. At Bentley that number is 30%. This isn't a sudden new trend. It's been going on for years.

So what do we do to fix this? First, when Carr steps down, which he should do soon, we should appoint Francis Vigeant to his seat on the school committee. Why him? He was only sixth on the ballot? Well, look at what the electorate has brought us. A school committee that oversaw the mess we're in now. Vigeant has proven experience in developing curriculum that help students learn better, and test better. Clearly that's a huge part of what we need. Simply put, no other candidate can make that claim.

What else do we need? Well, we probably need to balance our schools a little better. Bentley has the poorest, least English speaking population amongst Salem's elementary schools. That provides them with more challenges, none of which are being addressed with innovation programs like at Carlton, or extended day/year programs like at Saltonstall. I can't even believe I'm suggesting this, but maybe we also need to let some of those non-English speakers start out in some Spanish language classes. I'm a firm believer that not forcing them to learn English drastically limits their economic potential later in life, but I can't imagine trying to learn math in Spanish, or science or any other subject. Why not a transition model where you're teaching English in English, and other subjects in Spanish, at least until the learning foundation is there in these kids? Teaching native language classes is one of the benefits of level 4 schools. Normally it's prohibited, but at level 4 the door is open for that.

If this news had become widespread prior to the election, it may well have had some impact. In the council race, Carr and Barcikowski were separated by less than 100 votes. Might those votes have swung if voters had known that the Bentley School was about to be downgraded to level 4 status? Maybe, especially with Carr telling everyone he needed a new challenge. Was he really successful in his last one? He's clearly the winner that the news hadn't broken. I guess that makes Barcikowski, and Pinto to a lesser extent, the big loser.

Other winners were Nate Bryant and Jim Fleming. There might have been a push for a new slate if the news had come out. Maybe Bryant knew the news was coming when he said the below comment at the end of the school committee candidates forum.


One thing I left out of my election analysis and discussion of the changing Salem. Joan Lovely, yet again, was the only candidate named on more than half of the ballots. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

There's talk she'll run for Fred Berry's seat. I'd vote for her, I guess, but I hope she doesn't run. She can have a much bigger influence on Salem leading the city council as president, and waiting for Kim to vacate the corner office, than she would as a junior state senator in a body of 40. I'm betting that deep down she knows that, too.


New ward and precinct maps are out. Salem Patch has a copy here. There is no longer any downtown component to Ward 3, as Ward 2, and to a lesser extent, Ward 5, have taken it over. Let me be the first to encourage Mike Blatty to run for Ward 2 councilor next go around. You'd still represent Chestnut St, Mike, as that has made the move with you. Thrilled, I'm sure. The most odd changes are people who transferred from ward 2 to ward 6. Ward 2 grew quite a bit, but two little pieces of bridge street were tossed across the river to  ward 6. The first is the downtown side of March Street, but only once you cross over the railroad tracks. Basically, once you cross over that funny graffiti art on the bypass road, if you are on the inbound side, you're in ward 6. The other part is the downtown side of Northey Street, through the Jefferson Station apartments. They can probably see the Ward 2 polling station, but they'll all have to treck over to Mack Park to vote now. If they want to meet their councilor, they'll have to cross the water and head to North Salem. Geographically it just makes no sense. They could have grown 2 a little less to the southwest, and kept those two geographically sensical parts. If 6 needs to grow, have it head more towards 4, and have 4 pick up some of what 3 gave to 2. Confused yet? I know, who cares? I'm not sure more downtown residents helps Mike Sosnowski. Then again, he tends to be unopposed.

Justin Mattera, who was originally a candidate for Ward 3 councilor, wouldn't still be in ward 3 if he had won, as Ward 5 now stretches all the way down the needle park side of Lafayette St to Derby. Speaking of, when is the ward 5 councilor going to get needle park cleaned up? Congrats to Josh Turiel on his new acquisition? I know Mattera asked several times about redistricting and was told it wouldn't be a problem. I'd have liked to have seen how that would have worked.


Jayson Fallis is alleged to be the kind of asshole who rips off some of the neediest. I'm glad he was captured today. Fallis head.


I'm off to welcome Santa tonight. Let's hope his arrival goes better than it did at this Florida mall appearance.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Ugh, guess I need to update the Ward 2 map. http://salem.com/pages/SalemMA_GIS/NewWardsPrecinctsMap_Large.pdf

  3. Level 5 here we come. Thanks alot Kim D.

  4. Does Barcikowski live in the New Ward 2? Given the way the Washington St businesses turned out for him last time around, he'd have a good shot next election.

    Moving the Jefferson Station folks out of Ward 2 strikes me as being pretty cynical. Renters live in the city too and we should encourage them to participate, not make it so they have to trek across the river to vote.

    Gonyea Park, which shows signs of actual progress towards completion, is now under Ward 6.

  5. Barcikowski is still in Ward 1. I know that one local pol has encouraged him to move to Ward 2 to challenge Sosnowski. That was before the redistricting was announced.

    It would have to be even more attractive now.

  6. The main drivers in the redistricting (based on residency, not voter registration) are the new developments in town since 2000. The Hawthorne Commons apartments (built on a former potato chip factory site), JPI apartments, new condos downtown, and Salem State dorms are all the sources of the big population changes and shifts.

    To have an idea as to where things will go next, look at the planned developments on the table: St. Joe's, Blubber Hollow, etc. They could cause some more boundary shifts in 10 years, as could further growth at Salem State.

    In the redistricting, they try to use physical barriers like roads as dividers. I think that's how JPI wound up in 6 - it's on the north side of 107. W1P1 is a little odd in shape, too, for similar reasons.

    Overall it looks more realistic than the last map, though. It'd be nice if W1P2 could go vote at W5P2. Closer than Bentley.


Don't forget, keep it klassy!