Education, Local Government and Politics, News

Salem takes a virtual look at school facilities

This article was published 1 year(s) and 4 month(s) ago.

Salem community members meet virtually to discuss and review CannonDesign's Facility Master Plan (FMP) for the school district. (Screenshot)

SALEM — CannonDesign, an integrated design solutions firm, led its first round of virtual community forums this Wednesday and Thursday to hear suggestions from residents on how to improve the school district for the city’s Facility Master Plan (FMP).

In 2021, Salem Public Schools partnered with CannonDesign to facilitate the creation of a long-range FMP. The FMP will establish a roadmap for improving school facilities and building projects using predictable, data-driven research, in partnership with district, school and community stakeholders.

The completed FMP will address the physical infrastructure of the city’s public schools, along with fundamental aspects of the district such as grade configurations, educational programs and school size and location. To form a cohesive and data-driven FMP, CannonDesign has been gathering data on different elements of the public school system, such as transportation distance and costs, enrollment rates, sustainability, diversity, and resiliency for predicted hurricanes and sea-level rise. 

The FMP will be used to apply for a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

Community stakeholders have been involved in the FMP in three ways — the District Planning Committee, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee and community forums, with the first round of forums being held this past week via Zoom. The first forum focused on the community’s values and decision criteria.

In attendance at Thursday night’s virtual forum were Mary DeLai, the school district’s assistant superintendent for finance and employee engagement; Paul Mills, CannonDesign’s national pre-referendum and master planning lead in the preschool to grade 12 market; translator Camilo Belalcazar; CannonDesign team members; parents of students in the Salem Public Schools; city residents; and former city and local teachers. 

One topic discussed during the forum was building utilization.

Mills raised the idea of potentially reducing the amount of schools in the city to allow for more improvements to the schools that would be continuing to operate.  

We would focus more energy into fewer facilities but with better and newer equipment — consolidation and closure,” said Mills. 

According to research CannonDesign has completed, school enrollment in the city has been declining each year. 

Geoff Millar, a parent of students at Carleton Innovation School, said the city would have to be absolutely sure that enrollment was not going to increase again, and felt it was counterintuitive considering the high rates residents pay to live in the city. 

Another topic discussed was the criteria students use to decide whether or not to stay in Salem Public Schools throughout the course of their education. 

Catherine Miller said her family had looked at many private high schools for her daughter, but decided on Salem High School because of its size and similarity to the real world. 

“We really picked Salem High School because we felt like it was the place that was the most like the real world — with all of its aspects of the world,” said Miller, whose daughter currently attends the school.

Emily Udy is a parent of a seventh- and ninth-grader. Her oldest daughter, who now attends Salem Academy Charter School, had a hard time at Collins Middle School because of the building. 

“When my oldest daughter was at Collins, personality wise she struggled in the large building. It was difficult for her to focus in what I would consider chaoticness, which I do think plays into the physical building,” said Udy. 

The group also discussed the city’s school-choice policy. Most community members were in favor of the school-choice system because it increases diversity in each school. Miller said the school-choice system has allowed her daughter to have friends from all across the city. 

The topics discussed were based on a survey provided by CannonDesign, which Salem residents are encouraged to complete. Surveys will be accepted until Jan. 31, and are available in both English and Spanish.

DeLai and Mills thanked the community residents for attending the meeting. 

“This project is well-served and would not be successful without community engagement,” said DeLai. 

The second round of community forums which will focus on school options will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. at Horace Mann Laboratory School; Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. at Saltonstall  School; Thursday Feb. 17 at 7:45 a.m. at Bentley Academy Innovation School; or Thursday Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. at Collins Middle School. These forums may be virtual, depending on public-health guidelines as the dates arrive. 

For more information on the Facility Master Plan, visit

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