Column: Salem schools are on the rise

The Salem News

Margarita Ruiz

Nearly a year ago, I was welcomed into Salem as the new superintendent of schools. As a longtime Salem resident, it is both an honor and an awesome responsibility to be superintendent of schools in the city in which I reside.

After my first full school year, I am here to say that Salem’s schools are on the rise. Together, we have accomplished so much in the district. As I travel across the city, I am always surprised by what residents and business leaders don’t know about our schools.

Many people do not know that Salem has two Level 1 schools and six of our schools increased their rankings in the state. That the district’s portfolio of schools is diversified and includes everything from innovation schools to an in-district charter, from alternative high schools and vocational certificate programs to extended day schools.

We continue to prioritize students with the highest needs by a comprehensive review and redesign of how we work with English Language Learners (ELLs). We adopted PARCC and are implementing instructional reform across the district to add rigor and consistency. This year, our principals conducted more than 500 instructional rounds where they observed classes and worked with their teachers to proactively strengthen instruction.

The Accelerated Improvement Plan (AIP) has guided our work and created cohesion on academics and resources across the district. We are seeing positive results through the implementation of coaches, teacher leaders, and the realignment of our professional development. Next year, the district will be focusing on family and community engagement as part of our AIP work. I want to ensure that our school communities are welcoming to everyone and that all families feel that they have a seat at the table in their child’s education and school life.

As your superintendent, I am committed to leveraging all of the resources, partnerships and individuals who are supporting our schools. This year’s Salem High School valedictorian, William Phu, is an example of the depth and breadth of supports available to scholars and their families.

At the age of two, William was part of the Salem Public Schools’ Parent-Child Home Program, where twice a week staff would visit William’s home and work with him and a parent on literacy and school readiness skills. William entered kindergarten ready to learn.

He gained strong fundamentals at Witchcraft Heights and Collins Middle School while he dreamed of becoming a doctor because he enjoyed helping others. However, it was Salem High that ultimately put William on his path to MIT.

The high school’s strong STEM curriculum introduced William to a wide range of mathematics and science courses and ultimately introduced him to computer programming. Thanks to the support of the Norman H. Read Charitable Trust, Salem teachers have exceptional resources and support to deliver the high-quality classes that are enhanced by hands-on learning with science labs, aquaculture and hydroponics labs, the Pabich Family Freight Farm, as well as AP courses in biology, chemistry, environmental science and physics 1 and 2.

Today, the district is involved in a number of important initiatives that will positively impact many more scholars like William. We are proud to be just one of six cities nationally participating in By All Means through the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Led by Mayor Kim Driscoll, who serves as chair of the School Committee, this initiative will create a network of private and public providers and resources that will be integrated to address critical issues that impact our scholars’ ability to succeed in school. We will also use this opportunity to leverage the work happening within the Partnership Collaborative that includes more than 40 organizations who partner with the schools on some level. The first challenge that Salem’s Children Cabinet will address is the mental health issues and access to services.

This summer we will begin the district’s strategic planning process. This will be a collaborative process that will provide for many different ways for the Salem residents to engage and influence this important work. The strategic plan will be looking at six important levers:

Vision for portfolio of schools in the district;

Teacher leadership and empowerment;

Family and community engagement;

Vision for early childhood in Salem;

The future of high school education in salem

Meeting the needs of diverse learners

Just recently, we signed a memorandum of agreement with Salem State University that will benefit students both in elementary school and college. The MOA will return the Horace Mann to a true laboratory school. And, both institutions and students will gain invaluable experience and knowledge as we work together to enhance learning and growth at both schools.

Making sure principals, teachers, parents and the district have the resources and information they need to be successful has been a priority for me in my first year. We have updated our student information system, dramatically improved the connectivity in all of our buildings and classrooms, refreshed our policies and procedures on emergency protocols and have begun the implementation of ALICE for all of our schools. We have strengthened our human resources and communications functions as well as our ability to review and act upon data analysis.

As superintendent, I am committed to working with the entire community to ensure that every Salem Public Schools scholar has access to a challenging curriculum, coupled with social and emotional support and guidance, so that they are prepared to learn and inspired to achieve. I am grateful to serve in a city where there are so many organizations that advocate for and support our public schools. Thank you to everyone who has welcomed me, provided guidance, feedback and a friendly smile as we walk together on this journey to success. Salem schools are on the rise!

Margarita Ruiz is the superintendent of the Salem Public Schools. She may be reached at superintendent@salemk12.org. This is one in a monthly series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.