Author Archives: poppysmummy2009

An Open Letter to the Salem School Committee

An Open Letter to the Salem School Committee.

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An Open Letter to the Salem School Committee

I plan to read this aloud at the next school committee meeting:

I feel very strongly that the district has turned its back on the moral implications if not yet the legal ramifications of the Brown v. The Board of Education decision. I believe that what we are seeing today in Salem is closer to what was addressed in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the court accepted segregated institutions for black people, stipulating only that they must be equal to those open to white people. While in Salem our African American children are equally represented in our schools, it is our low income, our Hispanic and our English language learners who are not. Our children who are waitlisted and asked to make 5 minute decisions about attending another school are not. Yet it would appear that this systemic duality has been unquestioned for years.

One only needs to look at the enrollment statistics over time to realize that equity has never and likely will never be achieved. In this school year that is just ending there was reported low income population of 60% yet of this 60% only 9.8% was enrolled at Saltonstall, and 13.5% at Witchcraft Heights, yet 28.1% of the low income population was enrolled at the Bowditch School. And this is not an isolated occurrence; one needs only look at the enrollment data for the past 10 years. The low income enrollment at Saltonstall and Witchcraft Heights has actually declined, even in the face of an increasing low income population within the city. When you look at the numbers of Hispanic children, even allowing for the SEI program at the Bowditch, we see a similar pattern. In this school year there was a 37.1% reported Hispanic population in these schools yet only 9.8% were enrolled at Saltonstall, 8.9% were enrolled at Bates and 11.8% at Witchcraft Heights. While I acknowledge the “bump” at the Bowditch School related to the SEI program, when you look over the past 10 years the Bowditch school has always had over a quarter of our Hispanic population, with Bentley following a close second. How can you talk about equity and balancing the schools, yet tell parents that their child may not be allowed the choice granted to others because they do not meet the demographic requirements? How can the district say there is not a two-tiered system in Salem, when the numbers quite obviously show that there is? We may have equal funding in our schools, but equal funding for unequal needs is not equality.

We speak loftily of restructuring, but all I have been able to ascertain about restructuring in the SPS is the moving of the same old furniture around the same old house and calling it new. The SEI program was set up without the necessary supports in place for it to function adequately in a school that was ignored even while parents were raising red flags about issues in the school. There was no thought to how the move of over 100 students with limited English proficiency would impact the school. The move of this population coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of RFL student in the school. The Bentley and Bowditch schools have been allowed to flounder, have been allowed to become so unbalanced and sadly underperforming that there may be no recovery possible. Letting them go “charter” is a very convenient way to divest yourselves of the problem schools, and avoid any further black marks on current and future political careers.

The failure of our schools has gone on for too long, and the remedy must be systemic, not a band aid here, and a finger in the leaking dike there. It is not working. The 2011 DESE report detailed dramatically the failings of this school district, and after reading this report, and doing a very detailed review of all the statistics myself I cannot see where things have changed. When Bowditch parents come before this committee and voice concerns about a culture of disrespect within that school, one has to ask “Is this coming from the top?”And I am afraid that to a certain extent it is. It is all too easy say this comes from societal issues such as inter-family and community violence, from drugs, from any other issues that plague our less well off neighborhoods, but if that respect is not coming from the top then how can we expect our children to show respect? Is it respectful to a child to pull a teacher out of class for a meeting? Is it respectful to leave a school without leadership for years? Is it respectful to expect a family to put their life on hold while waiting for a Kindergarten assignment? Is it respectful to cause undue anxiety to these children and their parents while they are forced to wait? Is it respectful to change agendas at the last minutes and then discuss plans for the future of an entire school without a single parent present? Is it respectful to tell parents that the focus of the district is test scores and that maybe their children would be better off elsewhere?

In the education catch-up game we are entrapped by teaching to the tests. We are currently a district that has made a conscious decision to abandon the practice of educating the “whole child” in the drive for “academic rigor” and improved test scores. When test scores become the primary focus of the system, we are left with children who are not educated; they are trained to be test-taking machines. By stopping the curriculum in favor of test preparation we are robbing our children of the right to be engaged, the right to learn to think independently, and we are robbing them of the right to an education. Our underperforming schools feel this pressure more intensely, and the trickledown effect from the SC and administrators, impacts teachers who are so anxious about their student’s performance it impacts their effectiveness as a teacher, and do not for one second think that the older children do not have some comprehension of their status as students at “a bad school” Have you stopped to think for one second what 30 days of testing in the academic year takes away education? How these children are in a constant cycle of test preparation. Our neighboring districts do not have this endless test cycle and their scores are higher, their children are learning, and if children are being taught the material in meaningful ways endless test prep and endless testing should not be needed. How important to society are flexible, imaginative and inventive citizens? I cannot even guess, and if we continue down this road in Salem we may never know. We will have generation of children qualified to work in the tourist industry, which is seemingly the only industry that matters in Salem.

To assume that parents are not paying attention and making choices based on the data is shortsighted. We are not going to take the advice of a “Tips for Parents” document that was lazily adapted from another district, a document that tells us not to look at test scores, when in fact we are constantly reminded that test scores are all that matters to the district. A document that tells us not to listen to “playground talk” when there is such a lack of transparency from the school committee that we have no choice but to get our information from other more reliable sources. Does the committee not understand that many parents visit the schools prior to enrolling their children, so we can see the glaring differences in educational practices? We can see that the teaching and the curricula between the schools are not equal and consistent and when we select our three choices we are doing it based on what we have seen and what we have learned. We can see which schools have more engaging curricula and which have been left to rot. To assume that we are not going to wonder what kind of system we are putting our children in to when a piece written by the superintendent is littered with spelling and grammar errors, reads more like tourist information brochure than a reason to believe in our schools. Those of us who chose to educate our children outside of the district are not being disloyal, we are being parents, and we are doing what is best for our children. Maybe, when the school committee starts doing its job then we will reconsider.

Educational Gerrymandering: Part 1

I had originally planned just one post covering the School Committee Meeting on June 16th, but the two-part meeting raised some issues that are best addressed separately, although I will discuss one in particular, that of school assignment and equity in each post, but from slightly different but equally valid perspectives.

The meeting was divided into two parts, the first part was devoted to the imminent implosion of the Nathaniel Bowditch K-8 School, and the second part was the general School Committee meeting. It was a long night, and I confess that I lasted only the first (and most fruitful half hour of the second part.) The first part was very well attended, by the community, teachers and Bowditch parents.

But, before I get to the meeting a quick piece of background data related to poverty and school performance as this will come into play in this discussion. Nationally 1/5 to 1/4 of American children are growing up in poverty, and sadly one of the results of NCLB and all this standardized testing is that we now have the stark proof that children growing up in poverty do very badly in school. By the end of middle school these children are often 2 to 3 grade levels behind their more well off classmates. Ultimately the most impoverished children face not just obstacles at school, but obstacles in their lives outside of the school environment. They are likely facing home and food insecurity, as well as all of the social issues that plague poorer neighborhoods such as drugs and violence. Statistically the children from the most impoverished homes are likely to being raised by poorly educated, never married single parent, and their caregivers are more likely to have been reported to child welfare agencies for suspicion of abuse or neglect. As the demographic picture of the USA has changed, as has the demographic picture of low income students. We have a steadily increasing Hispanic population who speak English as a second language and many now come into school from homes where English in not spoken. This linguistic disparity compounds the socioeconomic disparities. These children are not only dealing with the issues that often plague minority/low income neighborhoods but they are often facing school districts that have reduced expectations of their ability to perform.

In the 2011 inspection of the Salem Public School District the Nathanial Bowditch School was described as being “on the cusp” of becoming a level 4 school. It is not just a failing school it is something of an exercise in social engineering run amok. The DESE report clearly stated that there was “minimal use of Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) strategies to support ELL and other students’ learning.” More concerning and related to this in the report is that “the community has found it difficult to adjust to its changing population, particularly the increase in residents who speak other languages…..some administrators and staff do not have high expectations for students, especially ELLs” This lowered level of expectations likely stems from the fact that during interviews the DESE noted that while some staff members recognized the challenges students faces, others stated that the district does not pay attention to cultural needs and issues. More disturbing is that other staff members expressed resentment about “current students being different from what Salem students were historically.” I am going to run with the historical theme here for a moment and point out that it was this fear and dislike of the other that prompted the events for which this city is (in)famous.

While I can find no documentation attesting to this, given the timing I believe that the start of a dedicated SEI Program in the district was related to this report. However the program was set up at Bowditch and resulted in an increase in Hispanic students (the predominant ELL population in Salem) from 246 to 336. This centralization of SEI to one school however has another consequence; it puts more strain on a school that was already dangerously close to falling off the cliff. It has increased the student body by almost 100 students without an increase in resources, which was confirmed by parents and the two brave teachers who addressed the committee. This increase in overall numbers, also increased the number of RFL students enrolled at the Bowditch from 60.2 % (n=282) to 75.1% (n=427).

In the DESE report it was reported that the teachers within SPS felt that did not have the skills to deal with these children and their myriad of needs. While I cannot say that every RFL child enrolled comes from a dysfunctional home, the overall statistics nationally do support my hypothesis that this increase has negatively impacted the school a whole, while allowing the district once again to perform some creative data manipulation under the guise of promoting equity and balance.
As they looks at dismal ANet scores that fall close to 20% below target, the School Committee is shaking it’s head and wondering what went wrong at the Bowditch. They transferred 100 children with limited proficiency in English into one school and the RFL population increased by 145, and given the research that is widely available they still cannot comprehend why the test scores have decreased so dramatically.

The parent comments also reflected this demographic shift. More than one parent talked about the student on student violence and student on teacher violence, with more than one citing “the fight.” While those of us who are not Bowditch parents know nothing about this actual event it appears that it was enough to cause some children to start refusing to go outside during recess because of fear, especially as one of the aggressors was reported as having faced zero consequences. We heard about classes of 15 boys and only 5 girls, where disruption was such a constant the girls did not want to go to school, and teachers were forced to spend the majority of their time dealing with disruptive children while the other children were just neglected. We heard about teachers being pulled out of class to attend meetings, and classes then being covered by a sub or a movie, or by another teacher by opening the door between two classrooms. How is any of this helping our children? We heard about the parents who enrolled their children at Bowditch because they liked that they had a dual language program only to find that the much vaunted program was actually non-existent. We heard about a lack of communication between the school and parents about everything from academics to head lice. Many parents did praise the teachers as caring deeply and trying their best, buy they pointed out that their efforts were basically Sisyphean as there was no administrative support. This is view is also supported by the 2011 report which stated that within SPS there was a lack of motivation to change things, and a lack of follow through in improvement plans.

After the community comments the microphone was turned back over to the school committee and it was horrifying. How can the school superintendent not know that a dual language program no longer exists even though the school continues to use it as a selling point to prospective parents and talks about it on its website? How do we have a school committee that is so out of touch its members had no idea that the dual language program no longer existed, and they claimed to know nothing of the pervasive violence in the school. Dr. Walsh, the most outspoken and oftentimes divisive member of the school committee was positively apoplectic. But to me it just seemed like so much more bluster. How can a school committee not know what is happening? But then after reading the DESE report I do not think I am incorrect in saying that the school committee has not known what was happening in the district for many years. We are city that crows about its “No Place For Hate” program and its recent recognition from the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 Municipal Equality Index for LGBT-inclusive laws, policies and services, yet we cannot get rid of the inherent racism and inequality within the schools. When educators and politicians are judging children based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status I do not know how things can ever truly improve.

Testing, testing, one, two, three

I came across this testing schedule during some of my ongoing research and it doesn’t really make that much sense to me. I have heard that ANet is an indicator as to how well children will do on the MCAS, and also that is the tests that are used to assess ability throughout the year. So I sat down and rather laboriously counted out the number of days that our children are in school over the academic year, and then I finally tracked down the entire testing schedule and came up with some numbers..

In the USA in general the academic year runs for between 170 and 186 days with the average being 180 days.

When we compare this to some other countries you can see that our children are getting less education than some other countries:
Mexico: 200 days
South Africa: 200 days
Japan: 200 days
Brazil: 200 days
Netherlands: 200 days
UK: 195 days
Finland: 190 days

In Salem there are 175.5 days in the school year broken down as follows:

September: 18.5 days
October: 21.5 days
November 16.5 days
December 14.5 days
January: 20 days
February: 14.5 days
March: 20.5 days
April: 15.5 days
May 20.5 days
June: 13.5 days

But how many of those days are “instructional days?” and how many are testing days? Let’s face it we love standardized testing. A disclaimer I am not including BAS, K/1 Inventory, SRI, Access testing or the Math mid-year and end of year common assessment (for K-1). Oh yes…we test our Kindergarteners here in MA

October
21.5 days of class time
6 days of testing for ELA and Math ANet

December
14.5 days of class time
6 days of testing for ELA and Math ANet

February
14.5 days of class time
6 days of testing for ELA and Math ANet

March
20.5 days of class time
4 days of testing for ELA MCAS

April
15.5 days of class time
3 days of testing for Math ANet

May
20.5 days of class time
4 days of testing for Math MCAS
2 days of testing for STE MCAS
3 days of testing for ELA Anet

I looked at the school calendars and 24 school days are taken up with Anet testing. When we figure in the days spent doing the MCAS it is as follows
Grade 3 – 28 days total
Grade 4 – 29 days total
Grade 5 – 30 days total

This of course does not take into consideration the shifting of class schedules to accomadate test prepartion, and there are horror stories.

“We moved here from PA to MA in the summer of 2012 so that my husband, a first year teacher could accept a position in Salem. We could not find housing in Salem in the short amount of time we had before school started, so we ended up in a neighboring district for our first year in Massachusetts. We wanted to be in Salem, so we knew it would be temporary. After our first year, we made the move to Salem and enrolled our boys at the school where my husband was teaching My husband had some concerns about the educational model at the school but knowing his first year as a teacher was their first year using this model he figured they’d work out the kinks and that the second year would be better.

The beginning half of the year was ok. I felt it was a much narrower education than the one they received in the neighboring district but nothing I didn’t feel I could supplement at home. Then February break came and went, and the entire structure of the school day changed. Time was taken away from reading and math in order to drill writing. Writing to prompts, writing essays, writing open responses from mid Feb until April. They did so much writing that my son was coming home and telling me that his hand hurt. He was asking me questions about why they were doing so much writing all of a sudden. At first, I thought nothing of it, then he began begging me to stay home from school. He began asking me if he could go back to his old school and began telling me that he hated writing, that writing wasn’t fun for him anymore (a stark difference from last year, when he would write books for fun, and was even encouraged to do so in school!). So my ears perked up, I began paying more attention and questioned Why my son all of a sudden hated going to school? The day before the ELA MCAS was administered, he did writing all day (with the exception of lunch, recess, and special). He came home drained and burned out, and then was expected to take the test the next day.

As soon as the ELA MCAS was over, the principal mandated an extra hour of math for all 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders (of course, the Math MCAS is next, so why not?!). So on top of their usual 90 minute math block, they’d be receiving another 60 minute math block. This extra 60 minutes of math time took away from reading & writing. I am fairly certain my son received little to no guided reading instruction during this month that they implemented the extra math. I also know he received very little Science time as well. My husband, and other teachers, were also instructed by the principal to group the kids according to “passing”, “on the cusp”, and “won’t pass”. They were to allow the “passing” and “won’t pass” kids to do Dreambox (an online math game, that the principal says “is part of the curriculum”) for the second 60 minute math block, while the “on the cusp” kids were given the extra instruction. It was at this point that my husband came home and said that’s it, job security aside, we need to say something. So we drafted, as parents, a professional and cordial (but firm) email to the principal stating that we were not okay with what was happening. That we saw what happened with the writing and the toll it took on our son, and didn’t want to see it happen now with math. We ended the email requesting a meeting to further discuss our concerns, and signed it from the both of us. The very next morning, my husband was pulled from his classroom and berated by his principal. He sent me a text asking me to come over right away, and I did. I sat in the waiting room and could hear her screaming at my husband (and so could others.) She got the union involved because she wanted to fire him on the spot, but was told she could not. She said he crossed a personal/professional line. Our email was written strictly out of parental concern and was handled extremely inappropriately and unprofessionally.

At that time, I requested that my son be opted out of the extra 60 minutes of math and be given time to independently read or write. It was granted – after me pushing. However, it didn’t spare the other kids. I also went to the superintendent, who informed me that he “in fact supports the changes to the instructional schedule, not for the sake of testing – but to teach the standards we are responsible for teaching.” I can show you our email exchanges, I’ve saved them all. I responded back informing him that this was, in fact, for the sake of the test and that if this was the type of learning environment he supported, then I would find an alternative option for my sons. I received no response.

After this my husband went from receiving all “effective” marks on his evaluations to being marked “needs improvement” for nearly everything in his last evaluation. He was also informed last week that his contract would not be renewed. All because we had concerns about the education our son was receiving and spoke up about it.

So this morning we had a final meeting with the principal (we figured he’s already lost his job, now we have nothing left to lose). We addressed all of our concerns, we called her out on her decisions. And she has said that she stands by her decisions. We have to “agree to disagree.” She “analyzed the data and did what was best for her students.” She is sorry our son had the year he had, but she feels she did what was right. She says it wasn’t test prep, because they weren’t placing practice tests in front of them during the extra math time, it was “quality math instruction.” That’s not the point! That 60 minutes of math took away 60 minutes of something else. It made 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders endure two and a half hours of math, every single day for nearly 5 weeks! She doesn’t understand how this was wrong. She says she spoke with her math and ELA consultants and they backed her. As a parent, I am sick to my stomach that this can happen. As the wife of a teacher, I am sick to my stomach that this has resulted in my husband losing his job (though she claims it is because he is a “bad teacher”). The data she loves so much doesn’t say so.

And to make my point even clearer, the difference between the education the kids in the neighboring district are receiving and the kids in Salem are receiving (at least at the Level 3/4 schools) is not even comparable. This would not happen there. Last year my kids studied Greek Mythology. They were allowed to do creative/fiction writing (which is non-existent in the Lucy Calkins writing curriculum). I only heard the word “MCAS” the week before the tests, and that was an email from their teacher telling us that our kids were well prepared, no worries, they’ll do fine. Last year, they completed hands-on projects. I haven’t seen one project of my 4th grader’s this year. If you walk though the upper halls of this Salem school there is virtually nothing on the walls. I did a tour of other schools in Salem (except for Bentley), and even in those schools there were projects on display, artwork on the walls. I can tell more of what those kids did all year than my own. Even within the district, there is a stark difference between the education the kids are receiving at two other prominent elementary schools in Salem, and what my kids experienced this year. And these are schools within the same district! The difference is – our school has approx 75% low-income, while the aforementioned prominent schools are approx 35-40% low-income. Our kids are not free/reduced lunch, so it’s pretty much a guarantee that we wouldn’t get spots at either of those two schools. Yet if we stay where we are , our kids receive an education like they did this year. This is troublesome and I have no idea where to go from here. And judging by the way our situation was handled by the principal, and the superintendent, we have no voice or input in what happened or is happening. It’s pretty much take it or leave it, we need to get the test scores up…if you don’t like it, leave.”

I am so appalled by this. This family went from having a child who loved school to having a child who hated school. We cannot keep teaching to the test, we cannot keep narrowing the focus of our children, we need to be educating our children, we need to be allowing them to explore their interests with our guidance, not mandating that they take 2.5 hours of math a day. Hell, their class periods should only be 40 to 45 minutes max, not 90 minutes. Children are not made to sit still for that long.

As I have said I do not know how to fix this, but we need to start looking at alternatives, we need to examine what works in other countries who have way higher academic achievements than the USA. We need to do something, before we have a generation of children who only know how to respond to narrow questions and narrow parameters.

Title 1

One of the reasons I started this blog was to force myself to become educated about the US education system, and as a part of that I have found myself trying to read and understand some of the laws that surround education. Between No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top there have been many changes over the past decade, and to be honest I am not 100% sure that parents understand what it all means. There are so many acronyms and statistics to get through to understand the system when all we really want to know is “Can we trust this school district to provide the best possible education for my child?”

I have voiced my concerns that Salem has perhaps been providing some Title 1 funds to schools that may not meet the requirements for Title 1 therefore I decided to start with Title 1. Salem is described as a Title 1 School District and each elementary school is described as a Title 1 (SW) which means the school has a designated “school wide” program to work specifically with students who are from low income families and who require extra help to meet the state standards. To try to decipher all of this I went to the source and here is the actual description from The Department of Education (ED.gov):
“Title I, Part A (Title I) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. Federal funds are currently allocated through four statutory formulas that are based primarily on census
1. Basic Grants provide funds to LEAs in which the number of children counted in the formula is at least 10 and exceeds 2 percent of an LEA’s school-age population.
2. Concentration Grants flow to LEAs where the number of formula children exceeds 6,500 or 15 percent of the total school-age population.
3. Targeted Grants are based on the same data used for Basic and Concentration Grants except that the data are weighted so that LEAs with higher numbers or higher percentages of children from low-income families receive more funds. Targeted Grants flow to LEAs where the number of schoolchildren counted in the formula (without application of the formula weights) is at least 10 and at least 5 percent of the LEA’s school-age population.
4. Education Finance Incentive Grants (EFIG) distribute funds to states based on factors that measure:
a. a state’s effort to provide financial support for education compared to its relative wealth as measured by its per capita income; and
b. the degree to which education expenditures among LEAs within the state are equalized.
Once a state’s EFIG allocation is determined, funds are allocated (using a weighted count formula that is similar to Targeted Grants) to LEAs in which the number of children from low-income families is at least 10 and at least 5 percent of the LEA’s school-age population. LEAs target the Title I funds they receive to schools with the highest percentages of children from low-income families. Unless a participating school is operating a schoolwide program, the school must focus Title I services on children who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet state academic standards. Schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment are eligible to use Title I funds for schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school. LEAs also must use Title I funds to provide academic enrichment services to eligible children enrolled in private schools.
LEAs target the Title I funds they receive to public schools with the highest percentages of children from low-income families. Unless a participating school is operating a schoolwide program, the school must focus Title I services on children who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet State academic standards. Schools enrolling at least 40 percent of children from low-income families are eligible to use Title I funds for schoolwide programs designed to upgrade their entire educational programs to improve achievement for all students, particularly the lowest-achieving students.”
Title I is designed to help students served by the program to achieve proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards. Title I schools with percentages of students from low-income families of at least 40 percent may use Title I funds, along with other Federal, State, and local funds, to operate a “schoolwide program” to upgrade the instructional program for the whole school. Title I schools with less than the 40 percent schoolwide threshold or that choose not to operate a schoolwide program offer a “targeted assistance program” in which the school identifies students who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet the State’s challenging academic achievement standards. Targeted assistance schools design, in consultation with parents, staff, and district staff, an instructional program to meet the needs of those students. Both schoolwide and targeted assistance programs must use instructional strategies based on scientifically based research and implement parental involvement activities.”
Confused much? I know I am. So I went to the MA DESE page and found their nice, detailed description of the Title 1 school wide programs.

http://www.doe.mass.edu/apa/titlei/parta/program-design/SchoolwidePrograms.pdf

So how much money does Title 1 provide to SPS?
In 2010 and 2011 Salem received the following in Title 1 funding:

Salem 2010  

  • District Year Title 1 Allocation *: $1,472,905
  • Max Required Expenditures For Choice Related transportation And Supplemental Education Services **: $294,581
  • Maximum Per-Child Expenditure for Supplemental Educational Services *** $2,009.42

Salem 2011 

  • District Year Title 1 Allocation *: $1,503,825
  • Max Required Expenditures For Choice Related transportation And Supplemental Education Services **: $300, 765
  • Maximum Per-Child Expenditure for Supplemental Educational Services *** $1,571.39

*Actual amounts received by LEAs will be smaller than shown here due to State-level adjustments to Federal Title I allocations. States adjust allocations, for example, to reflect LEA boundary changes or the creation of new LEAs, including charter school LEAs, that are not accounted for in the statutory calculations. States also are permitted to reserve, for administration, up to 1 percent of the allocations they would receive if $14 billion were appropriated and generally must reserve 4 percent in fiscal year 2010 for school improvement activities. These adjustments will reduce the actual amounts available under all three columns of the table
**Choice-Related Transportation and Supplemental Educational Services: An LEA must use up to an amount equal to 20 percent of its Title I, Part A allocation (the “20-percent reservation”) received from the State to cover choice-related transportation costs for students who exercise a choice option and to pay for supplemental educational services for students whose parents request such services. The 20-percent reservation may include Title I, Part A funds or funding from other Federal, State, local, and private sources. The amount shown in this column is the Department’s estimate of the amount that affected LEAs—those with schools identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring—may have to spend to meet this requirement. Actual expenditures will depend on such factors as the number of students exercising a choice option or receiving supplemental educational services and the costs of satisfying these requests. An LEA has discretion to determine the allocation of these funds between choice-related transportation and supplemental educational services, except that it must spend at least one-quarter of the 20-percent reservation—or an amount equal to 5 percent of its Title I, Part A allocation—on each activity if there is demand for both from students and their parents
***Maximum Per-Child Expenditure for Supplemental Educational Services: An LEA that must arrange for supplemental educational services is required to pay, for each child receiving services, the lesser of the actual cost of the services or an amount equal to the LEA’s Title I, Part A allocation received from the State divided by the number of poor students in the LEA, as determined by estimates produced by the US Bureau of the Census. Thus the amount shown in this column reflects the statutory “cap”on per-child expenditures for supplemental educational services.

I have voiced some concerns recently that Salem has been granting Title 1(SW) status and funds to Saltonstall and apparently Witchcraft Heights for several years when neither school has met the 40% minimum for low income students. Withcraft Heights remains under the 40% cut off and Saltonstall only just reached 40% in the past academic year. So without any evidence to the contrary I am once again forced to believe that SPS has been for want of better terminology “cooking the books.”
None of this makes any sense when we have more higher needs children at Bentley, Bowditch and Carlton who would likely benefit more from this funding. Also of note is that failure to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for 4 consecutive years can result in a decrease in funding and Salem has certainly not been meeting those targets in the past few years. I do not want to see any money taken away from the neediest children, or any child for that matter, but I do want to know where this money is being spent, and how the District has managed to do what appears to be an end run around federal law.

ELA Fail….

I was browsing the individiual elementary school webpages trying to get a better feel for the schools, and I noticed that one of them has a newspaper, wirtten by the students. My first though was that this was a lovely idea, what a great way to encourage literacy skills. Then I started to read more about it including the little biographies written by the “cub” reporters. The first thing that struck me was the awful grammar such as “I talk Spanish and English” (this occured more than once), surely before publishing this a teacher should have sat down and worked with the children to make sure that their English was actually correct.

This letter which is posted on the Salem Public Schools web page has been bothering me for many months. It is littered with very basic grammatical errors, and to be honest is just very badly written. My question is this, how can we expect our students to excell English when our school superintendent obviously does not? I have bolded the grammatical errors that I noticed plus a couple of just horrifically written sentences.

A reason to believe ..,,

 Why should you send your child or children to Salem Public Schools?

 During the past several weeks, I have been asked this question by our City Councilor’s during their review of the FY 14 budget and again by a parent concerned over what kind of a future their child would have if she attends Collins Middle School. My response, “let me tell you the Salem story.”

 I tell them about …

 The diverse and dynamic nature of this city. I tell them about the 39 different languages spoken in our schools. I tell them about the Mayor and Council’s leadership, the new courthouse, the planned T-station, the arrival of Footprint Power, plans for a deep water port, Salem Prides’ downtown beautification efforts, the city’s rich history, our National Park, the Ferry to Boston, the 20 year involvement of the READ Trust in promoting science education in our schools, the Salem Rotary Clubs’ scholarship and literacy support and I tell them about the many other wonderful attributes that Salem offers.

 I tell them a out the partnerships that we’ve established with Cyberspace, the Business Partners Group, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Education Foundation,and Salem State University, to name a few.

 I tell them about the coordinated efforts underway to support students through the Latino Outreach Initiative, the work of the YMCA, the Girls & Boys Club, the House of Seven Gables, the Parks and Recreation Department’s Programs and youth & athletic activities.

 I tell them about Salems’ natural beauty, our neighborhood parks, the Commons, the Willows, the Point Neighborhood’s murals and the many opportunities to engage in a wide variety of activities available in the city and throughout Essex County.

 I tell them about what a great place this is to live and bring up children.

 And I ask them…,

 How many city’s do you know of that set a full day aside to celebrate a “Hats off to Education” day involving over 100 venues located throughout the city ? How many citys’ have recently hosted Governor Patrick in a visit to the Carlton School Innovation Program, the Early Childhood Education Center, the celebration of Bullying Prevention with students at our middle school or participated in a high school town meeting? How many school systems have had the new MA Secretary of Education Matt Malone visit the Bowditch and Bentley Schools during his first several months on the job or high schools play host to State Treasurer Steven Grossman in awarding one of only eleven statewide Financial Literacy Grants to Salem High School’s staff and students?

 I ask them how many school systems offer school choice from among their elementary and middle schools? How many have comprehensive high schools engaged in expanding their vocational programs to include “Green” facilities management, medical assistant and early childhood training planned to compliment their existing automotive and culinary arts programs? I ask them how many school committee’s partner with the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in committing to participate in an accelerated improvement process to improve their schools or successfully obtain $1.5 million dollars in 3 school redesign grants? How many school systems support an independent Horace Mann Charter School, the successful Bridge Program or Salem Prep alternative high school for non-traditional (and successful) learners?

 And I tell them about our future …,

 I tell them about our application to the national Center for Time & Learning grant proposal designed to proactively tackling the challenges of increased learning time. I tell them about the implementation of a grade 2-8 system of regular assessments designed to improve instruction with plans to extend it to grades 10-12 during the upcoming school year. I tell them about the efforts underway to pilot a summer program designed to address student’s summer learning loss and I tell them about our plans to assess the grade configuration of our schools as a means of making the best use of available tax dollars and program consistency. I tell them about the work still to be done in raising the academic bar, in helping all of our students to experience success and I tell them about the commitment that we all share in helping them get there.

 I tell them the Salem story