Stephen Zrike on Facebook Live


“Superintendents, principals, and city leaders have to think really differently about how we use our assets to serve kids in different ways.”

— Stephen Zrike, Superintendent of the Salem Public Schools


Last month, when the city of Salem, Mass., found out that it was in the “red” – meaning there had been more than 8 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over two weeks – Salem announced that all the grades in all its schools would start the school year by openly virtually.

This action prioritized safety – and it created a crisis for working parents for whom school is also child care.

So Salem Public Schools (SPS) came up with a creative solution: work with local partner organizations to run “Hub Extensions in our school buildings for groups of 13 students. These Hub Extensions will be licensed by The Department of Early Education and Care and those enrolled would be eligible for vouchers,” SPS says on its website.

That way instead of going empty and unused, school buildings would provide child care space for families and students who have the greatest needs.

“These Hubs will support remote learning during school-day hours and provide after school enrichment activities during afterschool time. All SPS cleaning and safety protocols will be followed.”

The community partners include the Salem YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem, and Camp Fire North Shore, a local afterschool program.

“We are really lucky to have a fantastic base of committed partners across this community in the North Shore, but really rooted in Salem, that have continually come together,” Emily Ullman, Salem Public Schools’ Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships, said on a Strategies for Children Zoom call. “We are working to better support community organizations, recognizing their huge value and importance in the lives of our kids.”

Salem Superintendent Stephen Zrike said on the same call, “It also helps to have a mayor who’s really nimble and willing to literally open up any space in the community to house kids,” There’s also an “opportunity to open more spaces throughout the museums and community centers. And if, for whatever reason, we have to go remote longer, we’ll continue to pursue opening more child care hubs to support families, especially, the pre-K-to-three learners.”

But Zrike added, “We’re working really hard to get kids back into school as soon as we can.”

What’s next for Salem? Zrike says the city can continue innovating and emerge from the pandemic in an even stronger position.

He also offered this advice to other communities:

“We’re fortunate in Salem to have the partners that we do, but I’m certain that every community has jewels and pockets of excellence that they can sync up with to better serve kids.”