The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on the Lawrence Public Schools

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
September 14, 2012

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 M.G.L. Chapter 69, s. 1K and 603 CMR 2.00. Receiver/Superintendent Jeff Riley made a presentation to the Board on the district's turnaround plan at your June 26, 2012 meeting. The following is an update on the Lawrence Public Schools receivership since the June Board meeting.

Summer Progress

Over the summer, Lawrence facilities staff made a major push to ensure that the district's buildings would be ready for the beginning of the new school year. Many safety issues were addressed, including security and fire alarm systems, hazardous playground equipment, and dangerous stairways. Several building roofs were patched, while many others were painted. Students, families, and staff remarked about the facilities improvements when they returned to school.

The district also worked throughout the summer to bring its new partners, including educational management organizations, into the district, and to ensure that their operational plans, facilities, curriculum, procurement, recruitment, and hiring issues were addressed in time for the start of the new school year.

On August 14th, I was honored to participate in Lawrence's summer graduation event for students who had completed their high school requirements in summer school. Seventy-eight students graduated, including 10 students who had previously dropped out of school.

Opening of Schools

The weeks immediately preceding the start of school were busy ones in the district, with extensive professional development efforts for both administrators and teachers, orientation for over 150 new teachers, and Jeff Riley's address to all district staff in an event at the high school on August 23rd.

On August 27th, Lawrence began the 2012-2013 school year, one week earlier than its traditional schedule. Joining the district's existing schools are four new programs:

In addition, MATCH tutors are working on the teams of the International and Business, Management, and Finance High Schools to support students' learning in math.

In school year 2011-2012, 246 Lawrence students dropped out of school. All of them received extensive outreach over the summer, coordinated by the district's Scholar Re-engagement Manager, to encourage them to return. As a result of these efforts, early indications are that over 80 students have re-enrolled as of the end of the second week of school. Jeff Riley and his team are developing supports for these students to ensure that they remain in school and have a successful experience.

Level 4 Schools - Collective Bargaining and the Joint Resolution Committee Process

Earlier this summer, a number of contractual items were identified for negotiations between the Lawrence Public Schools and the Lawrence Teachers Union to facilitate the rapid academic improvement of students in the new programs initiated at three Level 4 schools in the district (South Lawrence East Middle School, Arlington Elementary School, and the Leonard Middle School). I requested that the parties follow the steps outlined in the district receivership statute, M.G.L. Chapter 69, s. 1K, including the Joint Resolution Committee (JRC) process. The parties met and were able to resolve some of the issues. They then proceeded to use the JRC process in an effort to resolve the remaining issues. I have received the report of the JRC and am reviewing it. The statute directs the commissioner to make the final decision on any issues not unanimously agreed to by the JRC panel. I plan to issue my determination shortly.

I look forward to discussing this progress with the Board on September 25th, and to continuing to work with the Receiver and the entire Lawrence community throughout the school year. I am hopeful that we will be able to hold one of our Board meetings in Lawrence this fall.