Column: Building a collaborative for the Salem schools

The Salem News

  • Emily Ullman
  • Mar 3, 2016

On a frigid February morning two weeks ago, 37 people rolled into a conference room at Salem State University. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours together, five of them stepped on stage to communicate quality and collaboration; another five took the microphone to update on progress, shared effort and momentum; all of them left knowing they were on to something great. This coming June, the Salem Public Schools’ Partnership Collaborative is set to launch. 

The Salem Public Schools’ Partnership Collaborative is a web of members that includes Salem school employees and community-based organizations serving students and families in the schools. The collaborative will work to meet comprehensive student needs by streamlining communication and information sharing, minimizing duplication of efforts and maximizing innovative partnership building.

For more than a year, the network has grown to include representatives from all over the region who share the belief that, if we work together, all students in Salem can have increased access to high-quality, coordinated programs that offer social-emotional, academic and cultural learning opportunities to prepare them for success in school and beyond.

“What I am most excited about is making sure each and every student and family gets connected to the right resources. What’s great about this initiative for everyone in Salem is the shift in philosophy this partnership collaborative represents. It’s moving us away from thinking how each individual educator or organization can get better, and moving us toward thinking how we can improve as a team,” says Omar Longus, program coordinator with Project SAEL at Salem State University.

The collaborative is building on existing structures and systems already operating in Salem to meaningfully incorporate lessons learned and a multitude of voices in its design. We are taking our time in the planning stages so that we may be thoughtful and pragmatic in goal-setting and confronting shared challenges. To prepare for the launch of the collaborative in June, the group is currently working on three primary goals:

To establish a structure for the collaborative to ensure sustainability and structural integrity;

To collect data from stakeholders to identify needs and provide direction for the collaborative; and

To develop and launch a collaborative website database for partner, family and school use.

Accomplishing these goals is daunting, but the members currently involved have shown no shortage of enthusiasm or willingness to roll up their sleeves. Subcommittees on equity and access, family and youth voice, and communication meet regularly to lay the groundwork for what will become the Partnership Collaborative. In every meeting there is a genuine respect for the expertise and dedication that each participant brings to the table. The collective commitment to focus on what is best for kids and families helps the group put aside judgment or competition and stay firm in the belief that aligning our efforts makes all of us better.

Emily Scheinberg, student and teacher programs manager at the Peabody Essex Museum, says, “Being a part of the planning for the collaborative has already made me feel much more connected to other people working in this community, and I am starting to understand how we can better work together. The formation of the collaborative demonstrates the district’s recognition and support for the vital work community partners are doing. It has opened up new avenues of communication between community partners and the district as well as among partners.”

Focusing on a systemic shift in the relationship between the Salem school system and its community partners is a dynamic and powerful change in approach. The collaborative will work only if the district and community partners commit to transparency, mutual respect, inclusion and shared goals. We are well on our way.

“The Salem Public Schools Partnership Collaborative is developing a unique approach to school and community partnerships that will aid in growing supports for students and families across the city. The United Way is excited to be a partner in this important work,” says Josh Waxman, director of community impact for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay/Merrimack Valley.

The collaborative works toward access to high-quality, innovative programming for all Salem students, regardless of background or school. Members from environmental agencies, after-school programs, social services and cultural institutions have joined in the planning of this work, including: the North Shore Community Development Coalition, the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, the Salem YMCA, the North Shore Community Mediation Center, the Peabody Essex Museum, Playworks, the Plummer Home, Salem Community Access Television, the Salem Education Foundation, Salem Public Library, Salem Sound Coastwatch, The Salem Partnership, the United Way, North Shore Community College, Children’s Friend and Family, Salem State University, Citizen Schools, Essex Heritage, Salem Community Child Care, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem, Campfire, Catholic Charities, For Kids Only Afterschool, Girl Scouts of Eastern MA, the House of Seven Gables, Kestrel Educational Adventures, the Latino Coalition, LEAP for Education, the Museum of Science, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the New England Aquarium, and the Department of Children and Families.

The warmth in the room was palpable as participants braced themselves against the cold after that February meeting. Energy, connections and ideas abounded. There is no doubt that thoughtfully aligning and streamlining work among such diverse organizations will be difficult, but the students and families we serve deserve the best we have to give. The collaborative recognizes that we are simply better together. 

Also, Salem has recently been chosen to participate in Harvard University’s By All Means Consortium, a network of public offices, community organizations and education officials. The initiative aims to develop comprehensive child well-being and education systems to eliminate the link between children’s socio-economic status and achievement. We are confident that as each initiative takes root, we will find ways to grow together, share resources and maximize positive impact on Salem youth and families.

For questions or more information on the Salem Public Schools’ Partnership Collaborative, please contact Emily Ullman at

Emily Ullman is director of Extended Learning Programs for the Salem Public Schools. This is one in a monthly series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools