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For Immediate Release
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Contact:JC Considine 781-338-3112

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Declares Lawrence Public Schools as "Chronically Underperforming"

Vote authorizes the education commissioner to appoint a receiver for the district to dramatically transform outcomes for all students

MALDEN - The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today voted 10-1 to designate Lawrence Public Schools a Level 5 ("chronically underperforming") district, and authorized Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester to appoint a receiver for the district.

That receiver, which shall be an individual or a non-profit group with a proven record of success in improving low-performing schools or districts or the academic performance of disadvantaged students, will have all the powers of the superintendent and school committee and will report directly to the commissioner.

"I approach the recommendation of receivership from a bias that supports local control. It is my calculus, however, that short of receivership the likelihood of accelerated educational attainment for the youth of Lawrence is slim," Chester said. "I firmly believe that all Lawrence students are as capable as students anywhere in the Commonwealth of learning and achieving at high levels. Today's vote will enable us to implement an aggressive agenda aimed to transform Lawrence into a district where strong educational outcomes are the rule and no longer the exception."

The Board's level of concern about the Lawrence Public Schools was amplified in recent months following the release of a May 2011 District Review Report that described a district with chronic underperformance and ineffective leadership and governance. That concern was underscored earlier this month when Commissioner Chester identified three additional Lawrence schools as "underperforming" or Level 4 schools.

Three-fourths of the schools in Lawrence experienced declines in student achievement from 2010-2011, and five of the 28 Lawrence schools are now in Level 4. District-wide performance in ELA and math is among the bottom one percent of all the state's school districts; Lawrence has the third lowest math Composite Performance Index (CPI) and fourth lowest ELA CPI in the Commonwealth. Less than one-half of Lawrence's students graduate from high school within 4 years, which is the lowest graduation rate of any (non-charter) district in the state.

The Patrick-Murray Administration's Achievement Gap Act of 2010 provided the mechanism for the Board's vote to designate a school district as chronically underperforming. Under the statute, Commissioner Chester and the receiver he appoints will create a Level 5 District Plan that will include district priorities and strategies to accelerate achievement with measurable benchmarks of progress that connect directly to accelerated improvement of outcomes for students in all schools. To assist in the development of that plan, the Commissioner and receiver will convene a local stakeholder group of not more than 13 individuals to solicit recommendations on the plan's content.

"My objective is to work closely with the receiver to act decisively, establish quick successes, and invigorate the district and its schools through a relentless focus on excellence in curriculum and instruction," said Chester.

The Commissioner is expected to name a receiver within the next two weeks, with the goal that the receiver will assume authority of the district in January 2012. By the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, the receiver will implement the Level 5 District Plan and provide a monthly highlight report of progress on benchmarks. Commissioner Chester will prepare an annual report to the Board on the overall progress in the district, effectiveness of the receiver, and implementation of the Level 5 Plan.

The Board's vote was informed by extensive public comment from the Lawrence community, which included written testimony and a special meeting on November 28 at which 25 individuals representing municipal, district, union, parent and community stakeholders addressed the Board directly.

Last Updated: November 29, 2011
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