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For Immediate Release
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Contact:JC Considine 781-338-3112

Turnaround Operators Selected for Four Level 5 Schools

MALDEN - Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester today announced the external organizations that will serve as receivers and operate three "chronically underperforming" or Level 5 schools, two in Boston and one in Holyoke, as well as the local superintendent that will oversee the Level 5 school turnaround in New Bedford. The four turnaround operators will now work closely with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to lead the schools' turnaround efforts aimed at rapidly improving outcomes for all students.

The three organizations selected by the Commissioner are Blueprint Schools Network, which will serve as receiver for Dever Elementary School in Boston; Unlocking Potential, receiver for Holland Elementary School in Boston; and Project GRAD, receiver for Morgan Full Service Community School in Holyoke. The Commissioner also selected Superintendent Pia Durkin to implement the turnaround plan at Parker Elementary School in New Bedford.

"The students in our Level 5 schools deserve an exceptional program of instruction that puts them on a pathway to high school graduation and success beyond," said Commissioner Chester. "For the schools in Boston and Holyoke, the receivers named today have a great track record in school turnaround work and are known entities to those districts."

Chester added, "I have watched Superintendent Durkin closely during her tenure in Attleboro and New Bedford and have been impressed with her ability to make the hard decisions necessary for accelerated academic improvements to take hold."


Blueprint Schools Network (receiver for Dever Elementary) is a national nonprofit organization that partners with public school districts to improve educational and life opportunities for all students. Using a research-based framework of comprehensive reform strategies proven effective in some of the nation's most successful charter schools, Blueprint works hand-in-hand with district and school leaders to plan, implement, and monitor school improvement initiatives. Blueprint works with more than 11,000 students in 62 schools located in Boston, Denver, and St. Louis.

A key focus of Blueprint's model is the daily, small group, high dosage tutoring done under the Blueprint Fellows Program. Blueprint implements daily tutoring in select grades, where Fellows work with groups of 2-3 students every day to reinforce lessons being taught in the classroom. Blueprint is currently partnered with Boston Public Schools as the turnaround partner for The English High and Elihu Greenwood Elementary.

Unlocking Potential (receiver for Holland Elementary) is a nonprofit school management organization whose mission is to rapidly transform chronically underperforming district schools into extraordinary schools that sustain high achievement over time. Unlocking Potential brings the best practices of charter schools into school districts, thereby catalyzing transformative change beyond the walls of its own schools.

Unlocking Potential currently operates four turnaround schools in Boston and Lawrence. With the addition of Holland, Unlocking Potential will serve more than 2,000 students. In spring 2013, Unlocking Potential's existing schools ranked #1 and #2, respectively, among all Massachusetts middle schools in median student growth in mathematics. While Unlocking Potential has experience operating charter schools, there is no expectation that Holland would be converted to a charter school during the duration of the turnaround plan.

"The families, students, talented teachers and staff at the Dever and Holland have redoubled their efforts this fall to ensure excellence for every child," said Boston Public Schools (BPS) Interim Superintendent John McDonough. "We are already working with Unlocking Potential and Blueprint to support other BPS schools and we look forward to expanding these productive relationships. Together, we will implement turnaround plans that will further benefit all students and allow them to achieve the academic results that we both expect and know that our students are fully capable of attaining."


Project GRAD (receiver for Morgan School) has led whole school reform efforts since 1991 in more than 130 elementary schools and more than 40 middle schools across the country. GRAD has put in place comprehensive, leading edge curricula in literacy and mathematics; built educator capacity through ambitious professional development strategies; implemented innovative short cycle formative assessments and data tracking; put in place research-based programs in classroom management and social services; and created and implemented a best-in-class model for community and parent engagement. In 2013, GRAD began its formal operations in Massachusetts by developing a management contract with Holyoke Public Schools to operate the William J. Dean Technical High School.

"We support the Commissioner's decision, and to the educators and parents at Morgan, I say that this will continue to be our school," said Holyoke Public Schools Superintendent Sergio Paez. "The turnaround work is an important piece of the district's overall transformation to ensure that Morgan and every school in Holyoke will be successful."

New Bedford

At Parker Elementary, the Commissioner will provide New Bedford Superintendent Durkin with additional autonomies to oversee the turnaround work. Prior to becoming superintendent in New Bedford on July 1, 2013, Dr. Durkin spent seven years as Attleboro Public Schools Superintendent. In Attleboro, Dr. Durkin led an ambitious PK-12 reform agenda that increased student achievement across all grades, dramatically increased graduation rates above the state average, lowered the dropout rate below 2 percent, and quadrupled the number of students participating in Advanced Placement courses.

Since arriving in New Bedford, Dr. Durkin has placed a clear focus on high expectations and high standards for all students. At Parker and another turnaround school (Hayden/McFadden), educators are implementing a new literacy curriculum called Reading Street. Dr. Durkin has filled key central office roles, including the appointment earlier this month of the district's first ever Chief Academic Officer, a former principal with a record of success at low performing schools in Southbridge and Worcester.

"I appreciate Commissioner Chester's confidence in my leadership and clear support for the direction we are taking in New Bedford," said Dr. Durkin. "At the John Avery Parker School, as is the case at every school across the district, we will strengthen the teaching and learning agenda and build momentum for accelerated academic improvement by all students."

Next Steps for Level 5 Schools

In October 2013, four schools were placed into Level 5 after they failed to make substantial improvement and meet the conditions of their three-year Level 4 turnaround plans, which had expired. A Level 5 designation triggers state governance and sets into motion a process established under the 2010 Achievement Gap Act that requires the Commissioner to convene a local stakeholder group for each school, create a turnaround plan that will rapidly improve student achievement, and direct the superintendent or an appointed receiver to implement the plan.

In November 2013, the Commissioner convened local stakeholder groups for each of the four schools. The groups submitted their recommendations to the Commissioner earlier this month. The Commissioner is now developing a turnaround plan for each school, and has 30 days from the date he received the local stakeholder group recommendations (January 6, 2014) to complete the plans. However, the Commissioner may require the local school committee and applicable unions to bargain for 30 days if he determines the need to limit, suspend, or change one or more provisions of the local collective bargaining agreement. If the Commissioner exercises this option, the date for the development of the turnaround plan would extend to 60 days.

Last Updated: January 29, 2014
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