Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
Students & Families Educators & Administrators Teaching, Learning & Testing Data & Accountability Finance & Funding About the Department Education Board  

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Level 5 District Co-Governance Process and Requirements

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
June 22, 2011



At the March 22 meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, we presented materials outlining our early thinking on a process the Department would use to designate and intervene in a Level 5 District consistent with An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap (MGL Chapter 69, 1K) and Regulations on School and District Accountability (603 CMR 2). The purpose of this memo is to outline key features of the Level 5 District Process and Requirements we are planning.

Statutory and Regulatory Context

In January 2010, Governor Patrick and Senate and House leaders enacted An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap providing new authority to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) to intervene on behalf of underserved students in chronically underperforming school districts. The new law gave the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) the authority to designate a district as "chronically underperforming" and appoint an external receiver to manage the district. In April 2010, the Board adopted regulations (603 CMR 2) to define key features of the process for designating, intervening in, and monitoring the progress of chronically underperforming (Level 5) school districts.

A district can be placed in Level 5 by the Board based on the following criteria:

  1. Low student performance (scoring in the bottom 10% of districts statewide based on 4-year trends in student performance); and
  2. An analysis from a district review report documenting the reasons for district underperformance and the prospects for improvement; and/or,
  3. The failure of a Level 4 district to meet the goals in the District Improvement Plan.

Upon the designation of a district as Level 5, the commissioner may appoint an external receiver with all the powers of the superintendent and school committee. The receiver will report directly to the commissioner and must be a non-profit entity or an individual with a "demonstrated record of success in improving low-performing schools or districts or the academic performance of disadvantaged students." The receiver shall have "full managerial and operational control" over the district; provided, however, that the school district shall remain the employer of record for all other purposes. The receiver shall be responsible for meeting the goals of a new district plan.

In order to implement these requirements the Department is developing detailed guidance to set clear expectations about roles, responsibilities, and processes for designating Level 5 Districts, appointing a Level 5 District receiver, monitoring progress in a Level 5 District, and building local school committee capacity to "exit" Level 5 District status. The following is a summary of the co-governance process and requirements.

Level 5 District Designation

Districts are declared Level 5 by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education based on the recommendation of the Commissioner. The Commissioner's recommendation for a district to be declared Level 5 will be based on reports from the Level 4 district's DESE Accountability Monitor and the assessment of a fact finding review that a district requires stronger intervention and the district is unable to implement a Level 4 District Plan to adequately meet student needs. Progress will be deemed inadequate when the implementation of key actions from the District Plan are not timely and/or where there is evidence that the key expected goals are unlikely to be met.

Appointing a Level 5 District Receiver

In Summer 2011, DESE will release a Co-Governance Receiver Request for Response (RFR) to solicit proposals from those organizations and individuals interested in serving as a Level 5 District receiver. The RFR will require interested parties to submit their credentials, demonstrated track record, description of proposed services, and other relevant information as part of a process to become pre-qualified as a potential Level 5 receiver service provider

When a district is being considered for a Level 5 designation, DESE will release a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from among those vendors pre-qualified on the Co-Governance Receiver RFR to solicit proposals specific to the particular district for which the Level 5 designation is being considered. DESE will make appropriate district and school-level data available to inform the RFQ responses. The RFQ responses must describe plans to address the functions outlined in Section 7 of this manual.

DESE will develop a process for reviewing the RFQ responses and make recommendations to the commissioner. The commissioner will appoint the receiver. In some cases, the incumbent superintendent may be the appropriate receiver.

The Level 5 District Co-Governance Model

In order for student achievement to be accelerated in any Level 5 district, it is critical that parents, teachers, business leaders, and other community stakeholders are an ongoing part of the design and execution of the effort. The Level 5 process does not "dissolve" the school committee but removes governance functions from their charge as needed.

This shift from local governance to "ESE co-governance" is temporary - the school committee is a locally-elected governing board and their oversight of the district is vital to the sustainable improvement of any community's schools. However, while the receiver/lead partner is designing and implementing the plan, local participation will be necessary in what will likely be a politically-charged and unstable local context. Therefore, in every Level 5 district, an interim locally-based Level 5 District Board ((3 appointees from the commissioner; 2 by the local executive) will be constituted to perform three critical functions and ensure community ownership of the process:

  1. Convene publicly on a monthly basis to communicate with the local community (listen to concerns, engage local stakeholders, etc.);

  2. Serve as an objective group other than DESE to advise the receivership process; and,

  3. Report annually to the commissioner and Board about progress under the receiver, obstacles encountered, and advising next steps.

The Level 5 District Board will work directly with DESE to report progress on the implementation of the Accelerated Improvement Plan. The District Board will also meet regularly with the receiver to provide ongoing feedback on implementation.

Principles Guiding the Level 5 District Co-Governance Process

The purpose of Level 5 District Co-Governance is to rapidly accelerate improvement in student performance while building local district capacity to manage and sustain that progress. There are four principles underlying the Level 5 District Process:

  1. Students cannot wait for incremental improvement in their educational conditions - given the chronic underperformance in a Level 5 District and the lack of district systems to sufficiently respond, accelerated and rapid improvement is necessary for students to be college and career-ready.

  2. Level 5 Co-Governance is an interim turnaround solution, not a long-term strategy for district governance - the Department's goal in a Level 5 District is to build the community's capacity to sustain improvement and manage the schools while ensuring that student needs are met.

  3. Collaborating with district and school stakeholders is essential to the success of a Co-Governance district - nationally, the success or failure of state intervention in districts has been based on the relationship of the receiver with the district and school community.

  4. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to turning around schools and districts - even though an organization may have a strong track record in turning around schools or school districts, every community has a unique set of challenges and the external partner's approach to accelerating improvement must take the local context into account on an ongoing basis.

If DESE can empower a proven partner to rapidly transform district systems and school conditions for students, while engaging local stakeholders to shape and execute the plan, student outcomes will significantly improve and the district will develop the capacity to sustain that progress independent of state intervention.

Monitoring a Level 5 District

The functions, responsibilities and accountabilities of the receiver/lead partner will be clearly defined and measured through a set of Key Performance Indicators agreed upon between the Department and the organization. These indicators will focus on precise and measurable outcomes for students and the quality of educational experience they receive. The indicators will be structured so that progress can be accurately assessed and any unsatisfactory performance quickly addressed. The Key Performance Indicators will measure the receiver/lead partner's performance against the six areas set out in the Board-approved District Standards and Indicators. The process for defining actions and benchmarks toward achieving the Key Peformance Indicators will be agreed upon by the commissioner and receiver through the District Plan template the Department is using for Level 4 Districts (Appendix B).

The Department will appoint an Accountability Monitor to review monthly progress in implementing the District Plan.

The receiver/lead partner will be required to report the results of its Key Performance Indicator monitoring program to the Department on a quarterly basis through a Contract Monitoring Report. The Level 5 District Board will present and Annual Report to the state Board on progress under Co-Governance. The Board will make the determination whether the district should remain in Level 5 or if community capacity is sufficient to become a Level 4 District.

Last Updated: June 22, 2011
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search · A-Z Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact DESE