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SCHOOL COMMITTEE – Questions For Candidates

Nuncio and French Answer Our Schools Question

Today and tomorrow we feature the answers that the four candidates for Salem School Committee provided to our question. There are four challengers for three open seats. No incumbents are running.  Ana Nuncio and Andrea French are featured today.  Tomorrow we will feature Manny Cruz and Amanda Campbell.

The question is.

“Salem currently has multiple charter schools, including one that is not with the Salem School System. Is this the right way to use funding for our children, or is there a better way to create opportunities for our students?

 

Ana Nuncio – No More Expansion of Charter Schools

In looking at charter schools, we need to examine when and why they first appeared in Salem. In 2007-2008, the city heard the reports of groups of parents who believed the school system was unresponsive to their children’s needs. Many parents expressed a concern that there was no hope for academic improvement from within the school system.  So they started to look for alternatives.  People took notice of the challenges facing our public schools.

I believe we currently have the right mix of traditional public and charter schools in Salem.  Salem Academy Charter School is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and it is doing good work in our community.  It reports to the state through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. All our other public schools, including Bentley Academy Charter School, report to the local superintendent and school district, in addition to being accountable to the state through DESE. All our public schools are continuing to improve, and now parents more frequently acknowledge their improvement, especially the immigrant parents with whom I work.

The people of Salem have faith in their public schools, believing in them as transformative institutions. For this reason, I believe that our funding dollars should now be concentrated on the system we have, with no more expansion of charter schools.

 

Andrea French – Salem Should Turn Interest Towards School Choice

While I do believe charters had noble intentions at their inception and filled the needs for some communities, today charters are not poised to exceed traditional public schools in academic excellence. According to the GradNation report, charters (as a whole) are actually graduating students at lower rate than traditional schools – 15% lower. There is also a study by Will S. Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer, Jr. for the National Bureau of Economic Research (2016) that finds that higher test scores out of charter students do not correlate to higher income jobs later on in life. Some charters, such as Salem Academy Charter School (SACS), collaborate with neighboring districts and share best practices. I have no doubt that SACS is a fine institution, however when Salem Public Schools (SPS) received the long awaited best practices report, according to one SPS teacher, we found the practices to be very similar to what SPS was already doing. So, while SACS might be beneficial to the students who manage to get in their program and stay, it does not benefit the district as a whole. Bentley Academy Charter School was given to Blueprint and Empower in the middle of a turn around effort as an “in-house charter,” which means the district shares in student successes and down-falls, but the school is self-governing and the teacher’s union has less influence. I’m happy that 5 years after the transition the Bentley School now has a level 1 distinction. Moving forward, I hope Bentley will go the route that New Liberty took and appeal to be an innovation school, so it can return to the fold. Schools work for families when the people who govern them have been democratically elected by the stakeholders, and when they have strong union support. However, I would not lobby for innovation status before hearing from Bentley families, through multiple avenues such as, forums, letters, and surveys, to be sure such a change would not negatively impact learning. Families deserve stability and continuity, so a change like that would need to be well thought out, and prioritize the students’ best interest.

Charter schools, especially non-profit charters, that have applied and have been approved through the state, have a right to exist and families have the right to send their children there. However, I am in full support of the charter cap. I’m pleased the ballot question to lift the cap in 2016 was defeated, and I’m happy that the deep-pocketed educational entrepreneurs who lobbied the effort were fined, sanctioned, and won’t be able to attempt this measure again for the next 4 years. The people of Massachusetts made it clear that better funding for existing schools is preferable to additional schools. It makes me furious that millionaires raised 42 million dollars for this cause, yet teachers in this state have to spend their own salaries on paper towels in their classrooms, among other amenities.

For the health and success of the traditional public schools we have now, it is not in Salem’s best interest to pursue additional charters. Carving up extra slices of pie does not magically create more pie. Salem should be turning their interests toward School Choice and securing future funding for City Connects. I’m cautiously optimistic for School Choice, which allocates up to 20 slots at Salem High School for out-of-district students. Salem will receive payment from that student’s home city or town. It’s wonderful to know that neighboring communities find getting an education in Salem so valuable. This program can offset some of the spending the district is responsible for to place our students out-of-district, such as at a charter school. But, I hope it will also help students who do not have permanent housing continue their education in Salem.

The other issue I mentioned was City Connects. I am very supportive of this program, which was established to address the needs of students beyond those of the classroom, and will help support Salem’s most disadvantaged students. City Connects is funded this year through a community benefit agreement (CBA) with North Shore Medical Center, but does not have solid additional funding thereafter. When I reached out to the Pupil Personnel Services office to inquire on this matter I was told that the implementation will be the most expensive in the first year, which was why the CBA funding was so crucial, but moving forward it should not negatively impact the budget. Again, I believe we should be looking into grants to keep this program vibrant.

SPS has shown its commitment to help all learners be “locally engaged, globally connected, and fully prepared” through this new community approach of reaching out to families and inviting them to have a voice, whether through committees or citywide conversations. That is why my three children are SPS students and why I’m a proud SPS mom. We can do more, though, as a district; and I, as a parent, can do more by lending my voice and energy to the School Committee

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