Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How do you Solve a Problem Like the Bentley?

I think (and this is really just an educated guess) there are big goings on being planned for Bentley Elementary School. Maybe even really big goings on. The conversation that took place regarding Bentley was really weird, and shrouded in behind the scenes stuff that we aren't privy to. The Committee of the Whole meeting that was scheduled for last night was canceled, and two additional meetings were set, Thursday at 6:30 and Monday at 6. I'd like to take credit for the cancellation last night, but I'm betting that Mr. Schultz inability to attend is the real reason. It was mentioned that the meeting Thursday would likely be almost entirely executive session (so feel free to stay home), but no reason was given. That alone is odd. Usually it's executive session "to discuss contract negotiations," or "to discuss a grievance."  The discussion that was on the agenda for last night's regular school committee meeting was basically punted until after the COW meetings.

I pointed out when we were designated a Level 4 district that the turnaround model that we chose (Transition) was the path of least resistance, and created the smallest amount of short term pain. It also required the smallest amount of change. I asked one school committee member when MCAS results came out this year with no real Bentley improvement, even after the large amount of effort (and money) spent when it was time to ask if we picked the right model. The response was something along the lines of "we're getting there."

The other three options were Turnaround, where all staff and administration are let go, the principal is replaced, and no more than half the teachers can be rehired. That would definitely require some executive sessions, followed by some collective bargaining. There is a Restart model, where the school is closed and reopened with a new operator, and massive staffing changes. Again, there'd be plenty to talk about in executive session. The most drastic model is Closure. Literally you padlock the school and reassign all the students. I'm not sure, but I don't think we have the capacity across the district to make that happen.

It's possible that because we already have our School Improvement Grant that we can make changes on the fly without without declaring a new model. The model has to be declared to get federal school improvement and race to the top funds. Even if we don't officially change turnaround models, I'm pretty sure we're about to see big changes proposed, and you'll see a schism between newer and older committee members. The new members will embrace more aggressive action, while the committee members with more seniority will not want to admit that a school that they oversaw for so many years reached a point of being beyond saving. If you watched last night you saw the beginnings of that already, with Walsh and Bryant pumping up Bentley, and pumping the brakes on these meetings. I agreed with Walsh's call for sunshine on these discussions, but executive session exists for a reason, too.

I don't have great personal vision into Bentley, so I'm pretty much stuck with the stats. The stats show little, if any, improvement. We're halfway through the time set by the state to get out of level 4, and that school is currently closer to going to level 5 than it is to level 3. It may well be that the time for bolder action is now. (Personally, I like the sound of the Salem Academy Charter Elementary School at Bentley.)

An agenda for the Thursday meeting should legally be posted today. Expect it to be pretty generic.

1 comment:

  1. I would also expect some significant changes in the Salem Public Schools.

    First, if the MCAS scores at Bentley haven't moved, then a new principal is likely to be hired in the fall. That would certainly explain the need for the school committee to go into executive session.

    In addition, other schools in Salem are also in desperate need of effective leadership. The staff at the Bowditch have experienced constant turnover with repeated interim principals. This has created an unstable learning environment because there has been a lack of instructional leadership, and the lack of effective discipline has contributed to disruptive classroom environments. Collins has had an ineffective leader who believes that her school is "innovative", and therefore doesn't need to change. Well, failure isn't innovative. Ms. Manning's retirement will allow the superintendent to hire an instructional leader who can lead the staff into the future by focusing on what works for students. However, both the superintendent and the school committee may find that attracting highly qualified principals so late in the turnaround process is a major challenge.


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