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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Lawrence Public Schools

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
November 17, 2017


This month's memo highlights several updates and important announcements about the Lawrence Public Schools.

Receivership Update

On November 15, 2017, Receiver Riley announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the current school year. At the same time, I announced that the Lawrence Public Schools receivership will enter a new phase with a new governance structure starting July 1, 2018. The new governance structure will consist of a non-profit board that will oversee the district and select a new superintendent.

As receiver, Mr. Riley has all the powers of the school committee and superintendent. The board will have all the powers of the school committee and some of the powers of the superintendent. The board, with the commissioner's approval, will hire a superintendent who will manage the district's day to day operations and who will report to the board.

The board's members will be appointed by the commissioner and will include local officials, community members and state education experts. The board will meet in open session regularly during the next academic year.

Mr. Riley will continue to have full authority in the district through the end of June 2018.

In the coming months, I will announce the members of the board, and they will work with Mr. Riley to review the district's performance under the first phase of the receivership and develop strategies to ensure continued academic progress.

The structure of the non-profit board is similar in some ways to the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership but very different in others. In Springfield, the Empowerment Zone Board serves as a district-appointed receiver. In Lawrence, the board will be the state-appointed receiver. However, as in Springfield, the board will include members of the local community and representatives from the state level. The press release announcing the changes can be found here: Lawrence Public Schools Receivership to Enter New Phase.

District Update

In November 2011, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education placed the Lawrence Public Schools into state receivership, the first district to be declared chronically underperforming under the Achievement Gap Act of 2010. Commissioner Chester appointed Jeff Riley as the receiver in January 2012. Receiver Riley's leadership has brought significant improvements in the district, including:

  • An increased percentage of 10th grade students scoring Proficient or Advanced on the MCAS. Between 2011 and 2016:
    • Achievement in math improved 18 percentage points
    • Achievement in English language arts improved 24 percentage points
  • In that same time span, the district's graduation rate improved 19 percentage points and the annual dropout rate fell by more than half.
  • Also during that time, the schools created more opportunities for students to participate in the arts and other activities.

However, much work remains:

  • In spring 2017, only 54 percent of Lawrence 10th graders scored Proficient or above in math, leaving too many ill-prepared for college and a career.
  • While Lawrence's annual dropout rate has improved, it is still more than double the statewide rate (4.2 percent in Lawrence in 2016 vs. 1.9 percent statewide), and the four-year graduation rate (71.4 percent) is still substantially below the statewide rate of 87.5 percent.

Lawrence Receiver Jeff Riley and Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston will join us at the November 28, 2017 meeting to answer your questions.

Last Updated: November 20, 2017
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