Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray met with Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and other school officials yesterday to discuss the progress of Salem's Innovation school as well as the soon-to-open Salem Community Charter School.
Murray said the purpose of the meeting, one of several he is holding throughout the state, was to learn about how Salem is progressing with its innovative educational programs.
"We really try to get a sense of what the communities are doing in and around the issue of Innovation Schools," Murray said. "Part of the achievement gap legislation we passed a year and a half ago was to try to encourage more conversation about innovation indigenously among school districts among the stakeholders. Here we've two good models, 26 across the state. In the first round we want to learn about that, talk about that and encourage more districts to do the same."
Innovation schools operate with much more autonomy than traditional public schools, but unlike charter schools, which report directly to the state, Innovation
schools negotiate terms of that autonomy with the local school district, and are bound by most conditions of the district's teachers union contract.
However, Innovation schools charter schools are similar in that decisions about curriculum, staff and the school's budget are agreed on by a school-based governing board with the goal of creating programs that are tailor-made for their students.
Yesterday's discussion focused on Salem's plans for new educational methods at it's K-5 Innovation School, Carlton Elementary, and its new charter school, Salem Community Charter School.
One of the plans for Carlton Elementary, which already aims to make striking changes to grade level structure by teaching students of different grade levels together in some instances, is to break up the school year into three trimester sections. Students would enter kindergarten on a given trimester based upon when they turn age five. One of the benefits of this plan would be if a child was not ready to advance a grade, they could just repeat a trimester and not the whole calendar year.
Murray said he was impressed by the concept, and thought it could be used to meet individual student's educational needs in a more precise and efficient manner.
"What I like about it is you're not wasting learning time and you're not wasting teaching time," he said. "It's diagnostic in allowing people to pick up where they're at. You have that flexibility to plug someone in and adjust accordingly."
Driscoll said the plan showed promise could potentially work on a wider scale in the school district.
"I do think this continuous learning model could be helpful for diverse semi-urban districts like ours where you have a transient population coming in and coming out at different times and kids entering with a whole array of skills," the mayor said. "We need to educate all the kids and this model may work to serve that need that we have."
The group also reviewed plans for Salem Community Charter School, which is scheduled to open in September.
Driscoll said the school is designed for students who have dropped out of school or are in danger of dropping out and haven't had success with traditional houses of learning.
"It's based a little on the Boston Day and Evening program. It offers some one on one interaction with students, but more It's about having a chart, having a plan for what you want to do next," Driscoll said.
Driscoll said there is already a waiting list for fall admission into the new charter school.
Murray praised both of the Salem schools for reaching out to populations that other parts of the educational system have missed.
"We've had a lot of success with education reform but what we've learned is there are populations where they still have this gap," Murray said. "Salem is to be commended for having a couple of schools like this."
Stewart Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org