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Mass. Officials Unveil Plan To Turn Around Lawrence Schools

Six months after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to put the struggling Lawrence school system into receivership, Massachusetts education officials on Wednesday will announce a plan aimed at turning around the district.

As our Newscast unit just reported, the plan would add 160 hours of class time to the academic year, and partner under-performing public schools with charter schools to provide management and tutoring.

“As schools demonstrate their ability to move results forward for children, we will give them increasing autonomy over their staffing, over their schedules and the way in which they organize for school,” Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester told Newscast.

The proposal also calls for repairing school buildings, overhauling English as a Second Language programs, and empowering school leaders, parents and community members to initiate school changes.

Chester said that while there will be immediate changes, the state expects the plan to take several years to fully take effect.

“This is not a proposition that’s gonna play out over two or three years,” he said. “We’re here for four, five, six years before we expect to turn around results as strongly as we’ve set forward.”

A 2011 district report described “a troubled school district with chronic under-performance … a district where leadership and governance are flagging,” according to education officials.

In the 2010-11 school year, Lawrence schools had a four-year graduation rate of 52 percent — 31 percentage points below the state average. Additionally, some 75 percent of schools experienced declines in MCAS proficiency that academic year.

In late November 2011, the state education board completed the unprecedented move of voting to take over the troubled school system. In January of this year, Jeffrey Riley, Boston Public School’s chief innovation officer, was named receiver of Lawrence schools.

In an interview with WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer then, Riley said turning around the system would require “a community effort,” and that he’s “a firm believer that more time with good teachers is really the key to closing achievement gaps and increasing student achievement.”

To the Boston Globe, Gov. Deval Patrick and Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua praised the turnaround plan.

“I’m very confident in our new leadership at the Lawrence public schools with Receiver Jeff Riley, and I feel that this turnaround plan is exactly what the children of Lawrence need,” Lantigua told the Globe in a statement.

Commissioner Chester said the Lawrence plan, if successful, could be a model for other struggling school systems.

“What we do in Lawrence here will be an example for other school districts in the commonwealth,” he said, “in that we will demonstrate that it’s possible to reorganize the way we think about school.”

5/31 Update: See here for the Morning Edition feature report on the turnaround plan from WBUR’s Monica Brady-Myerov and a conversation with receiver Riley.

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