Greg Connelly dropped out of Salem High School when he was 17. For the past five years he’s worked full time for North Shore Marine Inc., building piers, seawalls, and harborwalks all over the region.
Adam Delonais left Salem High his sophomore year. The 19-year-old has spent the last two years touring the East Coast as a professional downhill mountain biker.
The common thread that holds them together with the other 44 students at Salem Community Charter School is the support they’ve found in its inaugural year.
“These are probably the best teachers I’ve ever had in my life so far,” Connelly said.
By many accounts, the first year of the school has been a success.
Just 15 months ago, principal Jessica Yurwitz was sitting on the floor in an empty unit — at one time a Social Security office — at the Museum Place Mall, trying to build a school from nothing.
Last Wednesday night, the school honored Deanna Arsenault, its first graduate, in the recreation hall at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
“It really is remarkable that we can sit here tonight and list all the things that we have as accomplishments,” said Edward Bailey, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, at Monday night’s School Committee meeting.
Arsenault dropped out before her senior year at Salem High. Since January she’s worked with the North Shore Community Development Coalition, an internship she obtained with help from the staff at Salem Community.
She’s not only receiving a high school diploma, but has plans to eventually attend college.
Staffers hope Arsenault is the first of many, with four students expected to graduate by January, and four more on track to finish next summer.
Students who attend SCCS are not graded in the same way as in other public high schools. Instead of letter grades, they must reach benchmarks in demonstrating their understanding of subjects, but the curriculum falls in line with public education frameworks.
“It’s been a year of growth and learning, and really trying to adhere to the memorandum of understanding and the charter itself, and do what’s right for the students as well,” said Alyce Davis, a member of the board of trustees.
Dottie Kiley, an English as a second language teacher at the school, is as pleased as anyone about the early success, and optimistic for the future.
“It’s going to get better,” she said. “It’s been a great year.”