The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Lawrence Public Schools and the Paul A. Dever Elementary School (Boston)

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
March 17, 2017

This memo updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on our work with the Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) and the Paul A. Dever Elementary School in Boston.

Lawrence Public Schools

Jeffrey C. Riley has been receiver of the Lawrence Public Schools since his appointment in January 2012. I renewed Mr. Riley's initial three-year contract in 2015 for three additional years. He and I released the Lawrence turnaround plan in May 2012 and renewed it for another three years in May 2015.

As the first receiver appointed under the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, Receiver Riley has been a very effective leader for the district and the state, using the tools provided under the act to improve education for students in the Lawrence Public Schools.

On March 28, Receiver Riley will provide an update on the district's overall academic progress to date. (He last presented to the Board in June 2016.) Among the topics Receiver Riley will cover this month are: the formation of a results-oriented school-based autonomy model; the focus on a culture of high standards and high expectations; implementation of the high school redesign; the LPS special education strategic roadmap; and the Acceleration Academies and other innovative programs.

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Lawrence Public School Update


On February 8, 2017, I informed the Board that, by mutual decision, Blueprint and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) have decided to end Blueprint's management of the Dever Elementary School, a Level 5 school located in Boston, when its contract expires in June. Although there have been some positive changes, a number of challenges remain. I decided that these challenges can be met best by granting Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang the authorities of receiver for the Dever, effective July 1, 2017.

At the time Blueprint was appointed, Boston had an interim superintendent. Dr. Chang has now led Boston Public Schools (BPS) for more than a year and a half, and I believe his expertise and ability to work with the Dever as part of a larger system will serve the school well. (This is similar to the chronically underperforming Parker School in New Bedford, where New Bedford Superintendent Pia Durkin is responsible for the school.) While Dr. Chang will be responsible for operating the school and implementing the turnaround plan, the Dever will not be subject to the authority of the Boston School Committee. The school remains in state receivership.

Members of my staff, as well as representatives from BPS and Blueprint, met with teachers and staff members at the Dever on February 8, 2017 to inform them of the change and to answer their questions. Additionally, phone calls and letters were sent home to all families, translated into Spanish and Vietnamese, informing them of the change and inviting them to attend parent meetings to get more information and to share their questions. BPS, Blueprint, and DESE partnered to host four parent meetings in the past three weeks at the school, during both morning and afternoon time slots.

Since February 8, staff from BPS, Blueprint, and DESE has been working closely to ensure a smooth transition for the school, including participating in weekly meetings to discuss issues related to the transition. Additionally, BPS staff has visited the school four times since that date, to better understand the strengths and challenges with implementation of the current turnaround plan.

In terms of leadership for the school, I am pleased to report that Todd Fishburn will continue as the principal of the Dever School in the 2017-18 school year. Under Dr. Fishburn's leadership, the Dever staff has made strategic changes to ensure a safe and welcoming learning environment for all. Based on Achievement Network interim assessment data, the school is making promising academic gains. Prior to becoming the principal of the Dever in September 2016, Dr. Fishburn worked as a special education teacher for eight years and served as an elementary and high school principal for eight years in his native Delaware.

Along with Receiver Riley, Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and Ventura Rodriguez, Director of the Office of Strategic Transformation, will be at the Board meeting on March 28, 2017 to answer your questions.