LAWRENCE, Mass. — On Tuesday the state Board of Education decided to take over all of Lawrence schools because of a dysfunctional central administration and tests scores in the bottom 1 percent of the state.
The news of a takeover spread quickly among teachers and students at the Emily G. Wetherbee School, a K-8 school in Lawrence. Even before she got to work, Lisa Stott had already assigned her eighth grade English class to write about it.
Nancy Salazar is 14 and says she wrote that “we worked hard to be here right now, like we worked our butt off through every single grade.” She added, the state takeover to her means that “everything that we have worked for, (is) down the toilet?”
This is not one of the five Level 4 schools in Lawrence. But with the state’s move to take over the entire district, Wetherbee, a Level 2 school, will now come under the same receivership.
But one thing the board didn’t do was come to Lawrence for a public meeting. That upsets many parents, teachers and students, including Shawn Santos, 13, who said, “They didn’t even come here and like interview the students or anything. To see how we learn. They just assumed. They don’t know us.”
Now the board says it will hold public meetings in Lawrence as it needs the community’s help to make the takeover work.
The state did not put a time limit on receivership. Instead, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester says the goal is improved achievement.
“When we leave, we will leave behind a school district where students routinely not only graduate, but graduate with the kinds of skills, education, preparation, experiences that prepare them for opportunities,” Chester said.
Currently, fewer than half of Lawrence high school students graduate in four years. This is one of the reasons Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua asked for state help. He calls the state takeover “a sign of hope.”
Gov. Deval Patrick says receivership is the “best path forward for the students.” But Wetherbee principal Colleen Lennon calls it a sad day for the city. While she understands some of the reasoning, she fears her school will be dragged down.
“I think our students and staff are a little nervous about the unknown, we worked hard to get to the Level 2 status,” she said. “And there’s a kind of a fear of who’s going to come in what’s going to happen. Are they going to take teachers from this school send them to another school?”
It’s unclear if that will be part of the intervention plan. But under receivership, the state has many tools it can use to bring up student achievement, including lengthening the school day and year. The receiver will take over Lawrence schools in the new year and changes will start to happen in the fall.
By then Ian Boutin will be out of the Wetherbee school and in high school. Right now though, he says he’s hurt his district is now labeled “chronically under-performing.”
“I don’t think it’s right, because when I go somewhere people already judge me before they know me just because I’m from Lawrence, and that just makes it even worse,” he said. “They think that I don’t do anything and that I can’t learn and that I’m stupid.”
Boutin’s teacher, Stott, sits with tears in her eyes as her students speak.
“They know that there is no other place in the world that I would rather be than right here in Lawrence with all of you,” Stott said.