WHAT IF… we could reimagine the middle school experience?

The middle school years are a time of tremendous opportunity for adolescents to find their voice, form meaningful relationships, and develop interests, knowledge, and skills. As we reckon with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including challenges with student engagement, mental health, and self-regulation, we are rethinking how best to serve our middle school students in Salem Public Schools. The district’s commitment to enhancing the middle school experience is visible in three key areas: 

  • The Reimagining Middle School Project: Launched in February 2023, an intensive community engagement process creating a “Portrait of a Middle Schooler.”
  • School-wide focus at Collins & Saltonstall: Building off of the Reimagining project, Collins and Saltonstall’s middle grades will focus on building cultures of connection and learning under the leadership of their new principals. 
  • Middle School Pilot Year 2: Originally launched in August 2022 with a cohort of 43 8th graders, the Pilot will continue for a second year and will expand to include both 7th and 8th graders in 2023-2024. Some of its most successful learning experiences will also be available to all Collins students at key points during the year. 

  7th & 8th Grade Learning Options Side-by-Side

Program CollinsSaltonstallPilot
# of Students in 7th-8th grade160 per grade (2 clusters of 80 students each)90 across 7th and 8th90 across 7th and 8th
Classroom Structure  Separate Grade LevelPart-time Separate Grade Level & Part-time Mixed Grade LevelPart-time Separate Grade Level & Part-time Mixed Grade Level
Core SubjectsMath · ELA · Social Studies · Science · SpanishMath · ELA · Social Studies · ScienceMath · ELA · Social Studies · Science · Design Studio
Choice/EnrichmentSpecialists (Art, Music, STEM, etc.), Band, and Chorus, Career Tech.Specialists (Art, Music, STEM, etc.), BandChoices within core subjects and specials, band, chorus
Leadership OpportunitiesSchool-Based: Junior Coaches · Student Voice Project · Student GovernmentSchool-Based: Junior Coaches · Student Voice Project · Student GovernmentSchool-Based & Community Based: Conferences · Community presentations
Pace & High-Quality CurriculumClasses move through curricula together; Accelerated MathClasses move through their curricula togetherCore lessons together & personalized pacing in ELA & Math
World LanguageSpanish as a core subject: Hablantes & traditional SpanishSpanish as a specialistAccess to various languages (virtual classes) 
Off-Campus Learning1-3 grade-level field trips per yearAt least 1-3 grade-level field trips per yearWeekly off-campus learning


The pilot is a small learning community inside Collins Middle School focused on three main goals for students: connection, empowerment, and growth. Key features include:

  • Community partnerships & off-campus learning: The pilot integrates community-based learning and field trips into the core experience with trips up to every week.
  • Personalized learning and project-based learning: Math and ELA are designed to have more personalized pacing while science & social studies focus on hands-on, project-based learning and place-based learning.
  • Design Studio: The pilot uses collaborative challenges to integrate creativity and design thinking into learning.

Lottery Process

The Salem Public Schools Assignment Policy (outlined here) includes two factors – sibling preference and student socioeconomic status – that inform our pilot lottery process.

Sibling Preference: If one sibling gets a seat in the lottery process, the other sibling (twin or across grades) will also receive a spot this year. This only applies to situations where both siblings are signed up in this year’s lottery process.

Socioeconomic Status: Seats in the 7th and 8th grade class will be allocated to reflect the socio economic status of the existing grade levels inside Salem Public Schools. A student’s socioeconomic status is determined through the state’s Direct Certification process, which is updated annually. Students are identified as “Not Low Income” or “Low Income” through this process, creating two buckets.

No other student information factors into the lottery process. Students are randomly assigned a number by grade level, and those numbers will be selected blindly, creating an order. After all seats have been allocated, the remaining students will go onto a waitlist in the order they were selected.

Salem Public Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, ancestry, athletic performance, special need, proficiency in the English language or a foreign language or prior academic achievement. The only factors considered when determining lottery enrollment are those considered in the Salem Public Schools student assignment policy

Due to the role of income and in order to honor privacy, particularly with the small number of individuals in the lottery and seats per grade, the lottery process is not open to the public. It is observed and the allocation of seats and wait list record kept accordingly.

A Week at a Glance






“[Studio is] really fun, really engaging, it challenges your creativity. It gives you the opportunity to be yourself and make things that you wouldn’t be able to do in a regular classroom. And you get lots of opportunity…everybody can make something … “

– Current Student


Learn more by contacting:

Chelsea Banks, Dean of Innovation, Middle School Learning Pilot