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Salem submits turnaround plan for Bentley School

The Bentley Elementary School in Salem would get a longer school day and new staff, including an assistant principal, under a “turnaround’’ proposal submitted Tuesday to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The plan is a response to the school being named one of six underperforming schools by state education officials in November, based on consistently low test scores. The school has three years to show improvement or face a state takeover.

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“I think it closely reflects the needs of the Bentley school and what we need to focus on at this particular time,’’ Salem Superintendent Stephen Russell told the School Committee.

The preliminary proposal presented Monday night focuses on four core areas of improvement, including instructional improvement; stronger alignment of what is taught across and between grade levels; the collection, use, and application of student data to inform instruction; and a continuation of the strong efforts already underway to improve communication between the school and the community.

The plan, which uses many components identified as characteristics of successful turnaround schools, would add an extra hour to the school day. The extra time would allow for concentrated, uninterrupted time periods of 60 to 90 minutes during which students could focus on math and English Language Arts classes.

The proposed schedule will also allow for joint teacher planning time across grade levels and schoolwide training during early-release time on Wednesdays.

An assistant principal would also be brought on board under the proposal, along with additional English Language Learner support staff and special education staff, two teacher coaches, a library/technology specialist, and a bilingual guidance counselor.

After the meeting, Russell said the additional teacher time and additional professional development time are estimated to cost somewhere in the vicinity of “a couple hundred thousand dollars’’ that the district currently doesn’t have in its budget.

He said because the state requires them to account for the extra services in the budget before they can apply for turnaround grants worth up to $500,000 a year over three years, they will find a way to raise the funds on their own if they have to.

The plan will also be submitted to the Salem Teachers Association as part of the district’s contractual negotiations. Russell said while the unions have already been briefed on the plan, the district will enter into formal negotiations with the teachers union soon about how to compensate teachers for an extended school day.

He said reaching a deal with the union would make a grant application that is due March 22 much stronger.

The final plan is due to the state education commissioner on April 27, but Russell said the school is already taking a proactive approach to the turnaround by visiting other successful turnaround schools, instituting professional development planning, and organizing summer training.

The School Committee, however, said it wanted to wait until it has a chance to digest the proposal before it signs off on it at its next meeting on Monday.

“I see no reason we wouldn’t approve it,’’ School Committee member Janet Crane said during the meeting. “This is just really a courtesy to us. We are giving support and fully expect to support it in a week.’’

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.
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