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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Lawrence Public Schools: Progress Report on Second Full Year of Receivership

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
November 14, 2014


At the November 25, 2014 meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Board will hear about some of the ways the state receivership is transforming education for the students of Lawrence, under the leadership of Receiver Jeff Riley. This memorandum provides background information for the presentation and discussion.


The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted on November 29, 2011, to designate the Lawrence Public Schools as a Level 5 district, pursuant to the Board's authority under the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, M.G.L. Chapter 69, s. 1K and 603 CMR 2.00. I appointed Jeff Riley as Receiver in January 2012, and per the statute, he assumed all powers of both the Superintendent and the School Committee. Receiver Riley, building on the contributions of many stakeholders, developed a district turnaround plan that I approved on May 30, 2012.

Six themes guide the vision for the plan:

  • Build on excellence in Lawrence and add capacity through talented people and partners from across Massachusetts
  • Focus on schools as the unit of change and aim to build a district of highly autonomous, high performing neighborhood schools
  • Empower the individuals closest to the students, who know how to best meet their unique needs
  • Examine investments to ensure they support initiatives that will produce the best results for LPS students
  • Move with speed, and maintain momentum to drive continued progress over time
  • Focus on results rather than processes and adjust the plan based on results

Lawrence serves a student population of approximately 13,600 students and operates 33 schools, of which 6 schools have been identified as underperforming (Level 4). We engaged a number of proven partners to assume the responsibility (subject to the Receiver's review) for operating the four K-8 Level 4 schools, including Unlocking Potential, the Community Group, and the Lawrence Teachers Union. Phoenix Foundation has been engaged to create and operate a new alternative high school. Match Tutors has been engaged to support the two Level 4 high schools. The proven partners, some of which have experience operating charter schools, have agreed to operate these schools without a charter and without a lottery system for student enrollment, while employing teachers and other staff who become members of the local unions.

You may access more information about the District Turnaround Plan on the Department's website. Further detail on the Lawrence Schools Turnaround Plan is available on the Lawrence Public Schools website.

Student Academic Performance

Students in the Lawrence Public Schools have made strong gains in MCAS performance, particularly in mathematics. In addition, year-to-year student learning progress, as measured by the Student Growth Percentiles, has improved in both English language arts and mathematics.

The four-year high school graduation rate improved from 52.3 percent in 2011 to 61.3 percent in 2013, and the high school dropout rate decreased from 8.6 percent in 2011 to 5.8 percent in 2013.

Over the past two years, student performance at four schools was strong enough to raise the schools to Level 1 status, bringing the number of Level 1 schools in the district to six.

While we recognize that there is still much work to do to ensure that all students are ready for success at the next level, these early results are strong evidence for the efficacy of the district's accelerated turnaround strategies. These positive, initial results are a credit to the hard work and commitment of the students and educators of Lawrence.

Contract Settlement with the Lawrence Teachers Union

On April 2, 2014, the Lawrence Teachers Union ratified a new contract that will be effective through June 30, 2017. The contract reinforced reforms that have been put in place over the prior two years of receivership, while providing key employment protections, fair compensation, and new opportunities for teachers.

The agreement is a tribute to the parties' collaborative work over a year of negotiation, including mediation sessions, and to their commitment to improve educational outcomes for every student in Lawrence. The agreement recognizes the Receiver's authority under the Achievement Gap Act to make rapid, dramatic changes to accelerate improvement for all students. It also reflects the terms originally outlined in the district's Level 5 Turnaround Plan, which were modified through extensive discussions with the LTU leadership. Lawrence teachers had been without a contract since the prior collective bargaining agreement expired in August 2010, more than a year before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted in November 2011 to designate Lawrence a Level 5 or "chronically underperforming" district and place it into receivership.

You may access more information about the contract on the Department's website.

At the November 25 Board meeting, the Board will hear from Receiver Riley, Deputy Superintendent Seth Racine, and others who are involved in the turnaround effort. Additional information about the Lawrence Public Schools will be distributed at the meeting.

Last Updated: November 19, 2014
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