School Committee: Beth Anne Cornell

I am the mother of three children, including a fourth grader at the Carlton Elementary School, and I am entering my eleventh straight year as a Salem Public School parent. At Carlton, I have served as PTO Secretary, as a member of the School Council, and on principal and teacher hiring committees. Additionally, I participated as a parent representative on the initial Innovation School proposal. 

Professionally, I am a full professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Wentworth Institute of Technology, where I have taught writing, literature, and humanities courses for almost twenty years. I have been a member of the American Federation of Teachers since 2001.

During my tenure at Wentworth, I have written program curricula, participated in strategic planning, hired university leadership, and managed budgets, in addition to teaching thousands of undergraduate learners, the vast majority of whom have been the products of the Massachusetts Public School system. In addition, in 2014 I was elected by my colleagues to Chair the Faculty Senate.  As Chair I led an initiative to build a university-wide shared governance structure that now includes representation from Wentworth’s Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, and students.

In 2018, I received the university’s President’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Institute.

Why are you running for School Committee and what particular skills can you bring to the position?

I am running for school committee because I believe the hard work and enthusiasm that Salem residents bring to everything we do in this city can be channeled into improving our schools. If we work to establish consistent structures for engaging stakeholders, communicating with the community, and sharing and assessing data, we can create an exceptional school district that challenges and inspires all of our students. 

This means building structures that will outlast individual school committee members and superintendents. It means moving away from reactive decisions-making and toward proactive and informed strategic thinking.

This is where my academic leadership experience can benefit our district. I learned a great deal serving as the Chair of my university’s Faculty Senate.  I learned that I had to do a lot of listening if I was going to understand the experiences of students, faculty, and staff, and that I had to facilitate ground-up communication and communication policies if we were going to hold ourselves accountable to one another. More concretely, I learned how to initiate and assess a strategic plan; how to identify shortcomings and celebrate successes; how to balance data-analysis and best-practices with the lived experiences of community members; and how to build systems of engagement and communication where none existed.   

This is the kind of leadership experience that I will bring to the Salem School Committee. 

If you could make any change in the school budget that was recently passed, what would you change?

What I am most focused on going forward is clarity and transparency in the budgeting process. This past year was the first time principals were offered an opportunity to discuss their school’s proposed budget in a public setting. This effort at transparency should be celebrated and built upon going forward.  In addition, School Committee members must develop consistent mechanisms for assessing the needs of teachers, principals, and the Superintendent.  Again, as with all of our planning and investment opportunities, the budget should be proactive, thoughtful, and rooted in data. 

The district is beginning a search for the next Superintendent. What are three key characteristics you are looking for in the next Superintendent in Salem?

  1. A drive to create a consistent structure for engaging community members, including teachers, parents, students, support personnel, and district partners (the Salem YMCA and Boys and Girls Club, for example).  In order for the district to improve, we must put in place a consistent structure for collecting information and assessing data. 

  2. A sense of urgency with regard to establishing clear and consistent communication throughout the district. This includes guiding school leaders on effective communication techniques, leveraging existing technologies to improve communication with students and families, and advocating for the resources necessary to improve communication district-wide.

  3. A focus on teacher retention and morale.  Teachers throughout the district need to be supported, engaged, and celebrated. It is the Superintendent’s responsibility to develop a culture in which teachers are encouraged to communicate with district leaders about their challenges and successes, and in which teacher expertise are respected by principals and district leaders.

What will you do to advance the goals of a more equitable education for all students in Salem?

In education, equity means giving every student the support they need to succeed. In my twenty years as an educator, I’ve learned through professional development and personal experience that when it comes to the classroom, equity is about inclusion. It’s about celebrating the unique identities of the students in the room and creating a safe place in which to learn. Equity is also about fairness and access, providing each student with the tools they need to succeed, with special attention to students with social, economic, physical, cognitive, or language challenges.

 It is the role of the School Committee to fund and assess the structures, curricula, and personnel that support equity. Where I can be most effective is in calling for consistent community engagement and continuous assessment of district strategies for achieving equity. 

We must be strategic and research- and data-driven in how we approach equity. But we must also be personal and inclusive. As a School Committee member, I will advocate to establish clear mechanisms for researching best practices and for the continuous assessment of student data and district strategies. For these mechanisms to work, they must continuously engage diverse stakeholders including teachers, parents, students, and community partners. The School Committee and Superintendent—regardless of who holds those offices— need continuous community engagement in order to effectively fund and support equity initiatives.