Our Schools Are Innovative, Engaged, and Personally Invested In Our Children
By Jen and Chris Bednar
While in an election year it may be more fashionable to point to one’s dissatisfactions rather than those things which one finds commendable, we would like to take a moment to express how fortunate we feel that two (soon to be three) of our children have the opportunity to participate in the Salem Public School system.
When we first moved to Salem, we heard a lot about the “poor performance” and “disorganization” of an ostensibly “failing” school district. Our concerns ran deep, but as educators, we also knew that it is nearly impossible to evaluate a school based on what others say without direct experience of one’s own. This, coupled with the fact that like so many others our financial options limited the “choices” we had available, led us to enroll our oldest child in kindergarten; we hoped for the best, and braced for the looming disaster we had anticipated coming.
Suffice it to say that a few years later, we could not be more satisfied with the education our children are receiving in Salem. We credit this to what we feel is really an unprecedented level of support for our schools from Mayor Driscoll’s office, the leadership of Superintendent Ruiz, her administrative team, and, perhaps most importantly, the leadership, expertise, and outstanding efforts we see from Salem Public School teachers on a daily basis. We offer the following as examples of what we feel makes Salem Public Schools such a vibrant, dynamic, and engaging environment for our children’s learning: (1) Two years ago, one of us volunteered to participate on a principal search for a district school. Having just recently learned of a new superintendent in the district, we wanted to get a sense of whether or not our voices as parents aligned with this new Superintendent’s vision. The search took place during a time (right before the start of the school year) where the number of applicants was limited. It yielded one excellent candidate (who took a position in another district) and a few other solid candidates who, while not overly impressive, certainly could have “done the job,” so to speak. Given the time of year, we were almost certain that the district would settle with one of the remaining candidates, and, to be certain, we wouldn’t have faulted anyone for it. To the credit of leadership, however, the search did not “settle;” instead leadership quickly developed an innovative partnership with SSU that we feel has been of tremendous benefit to students; (2) despite workload, weather conditions, or any of the other challenges administrators, teachers, and staff face each day. a group of engaged, energetic, and supportive educators stand outside our children’s school to greet each child. This small act helps create an environment where our children (and, from all outward appearances, most of the other children) seem to be truly excited about their school day–no easy feat at that time in the morning, I’m sure; and (3), the number of school-based extended learning opportunities in the district is extraordinary. Whether it be enrolling our children in a service-learning marine biology camp (at no cost to us) during the summer months, taking field trips to various museums, learning about the arts, or any of the other myriad opportunities available to our children, learning in Salem is an active, engaging, and multidimensional experience. Importantly, these extended learning opportunities are in addition to an already rich curriculum of not only reading, writing, math, and science, but also second language development, music, and the arts.
During our time in the district, we have learned much from our experience in the Salem Public Schools. To be certain, it is from this experience we speak–not to invalidate the experiences of others–but to add our story to the collection of voices engaged in deep and important conversation about the direction of the district. Our personal experience is, of course, unique to us, but in a city and district where teachers, administrators, and staff, and the Mayor’s office regularly communicate their investment in our children through learning activities, phone calls, letters, emails, extracurricular activities, and social media, we could not feel more blessed to be part of a city and district which, while certainly not perfect, remains so innovative, engaged, and personally invested in the success of our children.
Jen and Chris Bednar