Salem Public Schools continue to reap the benefits of the federal government's Race to the Top initiative, in which the Bay State has already been a big winner.
Salem State University announced this week the receipt of a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Education to be used for the training of English Language Learning (ELL) teachers. The university will partner with Salem, Lynn, and Revere to train current teachers in Secondary English Immersion (SEI) and put new SEI-certified teachers into the three school systems.
The announcement of the new program - coming on the heels of a $1.5 million grant awarded to the Bentley Elementary School, which faces the threat of a state takeover after being tagged with a Level 4 designation last fall - should bode well for Salem's overall school turnaround plan, which puts an emphasis on SEI as the district's non-English-speaking student demographic continues to grow each year.
"I think that this is great news," Superintendent Stephen Russell said in an e-mail. "These additional funds will be put to good use in expanding the number of students that we're able to work with and staff that we're training as part of this new initiative."
Salem currently has 559 students enrolled in ELL programs throughout the district, up from 386 just five years ago, with Spanish being the most widely spoken first language by far. But the city has had trouble keeping up with current requirements surrounding ELL.
According to the Department of Education, there were 69,856 ELL students statewide this past school year, up 57 percent from 12 years ago.
The new Salem State program projects to train 75 current and future teachers at all levels - from elementary to high school - of the three cohort districts over the next five years as the state expands its SEI requirements for public school teachers.
"It's coming at a really good time for us to be able to both offer some of the training that's going to be required for all teachers and also help the districts that we work with improve the quality of education for ELL's," said Julie Whitlow, the program director and a professor in Salem State's English department.
"To some extent it's the federal government's investment in education and Massachusetts kind of stepping up to the plate," said Mary-Lou Breitborde, associate dean of education at Salem State.
The program will enable Salem State to develop a baccalaureate program to prepare licensed educators in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects with specialized training in teaching English learners.
The university will also offer a new program for current teachers to obtain a graduate certificate by acquiring the necessary background knowledge and experience to effectively teach English learners in STEM content.
"The more qualified teachers that are able to work with English Language Learners in districts with high numbers of ELLs, the better it is for the district and for the kids," Whitlow said.
Salem State already works closely with the city's public schools in an effort to help raise MCAS scores and overall academic standards in the city. The university kicks off a four-week program at Bentley on July 9 aimed at using science content to help students who speak a first-language other than English improve their English literacy and communication skills.
"I'm very happy that we have the opportunity to step up what we're already doing to prepare teachers to work effectively with English Language Learners," Breitborde said. "We have a lot of faculty and several programs that are directed at working with English Language Learners. We have a real appreciation for cultural and linguistic diversity.
"However, neither the districts nor we have been doing enough to really address the needs, to figure out ways to teach English at the same time that we teach interesting subject matter to students."