The Lawrence Public Schools is in the midst of a comprehensive district turnaround to improve our city’s school system. The goal of the turnaround is to create high-performing schools using the following strategies: 1) shifting more resources and autonomy to the school level; 2) creating a leaner, more responsive central office; 3) ensuring all schools have great leaders and teachers; 4) harnessing the talents of partner organizations; 5) expanding the school day and adding learning time for students; and 6) increasing student engagement through enrichment opportunities.
After the first two years of the turnaround effort, LPS has seen promising performance results. MCAS test scores are up in both absolute performance and student growth in English and Mathematics. Lawrence has added new Level 1 schools each of the last two years, with a total of six Level 1 schools now in the district. Graduation rates have continued to increase, and dropout rates have continued to decline.
Many exciting initiatives are underway to revitalize the district and improve school performance under our “open architecture” model. If you would like more information about the Lawrence turnaround work, please email Chris Markuns, media specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lawrence Public Schools Receivership
In November 2011, the Lawrence Public Schools was placed into state receivership by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary & Secondary Education. Under receivership, the Commissioner of Elementary & Secondary Education appoints a receiver, who is vested with the powers of the school district superintendent and the local school committee. In addition to consolidated governing authority, the receiver also has the power to amend or suspend aspects of collective bargaining agreements in the district. No end date has been specified for receivership, though the Commissioner has stated that he expects the turnaround will take at least five years.
Jeffrey Riley, Lawrence Receiver/Superintendent
In January 2012, Commissioner Mitchell Chester appointed Jeffrey C. Riley the Receiver/Superintendent of the Lawrence Public Schools. A veteran educator with nearly two decades of experience in school and district leadership, Superintendent Riley started his career as a Teach for America corps member in Baltimore. As the principal of the Edwards Middle School in Boston, he oversaw a school turnaround effort that transformed the Edwards into the highest-performing middle school in the city. Before assuming the receivership in Lawrence, Superintendent Riley served as an Academic Superintendent for Middle and K-8 Schools and Chief Innovation Officer of the Boston Public Schools.
The Lawrence Public Schools Turnaround Plan
In May 2012, after extensive discussions with stakeholders, the Commissioner and Receiver/Superintendent released the Lawrence Public Schools Turnaround Plan. The turnaround plan governs the operations of the district under the receivership statute. The Lawrence plan sets forth a bold mission to transform the district into a high-performing system of schools, where individual schools lead the way.
District Operating Model: Open Architecture
In November 2013, Superintendent Riley presented a new way of envisioning the structure of the school system in Lawrence in a public presentation.
Under the open architecture model, the role of the district is to establish “thin walls and foundations” for some common standards across the district, while providing maximum “white space” for school design. In other words, the district establishes basic policies and flexible supports for schools, enabling educators to design and run a variety of school types within the system. This is in contrast to traditional school districts, where centralized policies dictate the nuts and bolts structure of all schools, central office support is one-size-fits-all, and there is little room to innovate at the school level.
In Lawrence, we have established ground rules that apply across all schools in a unionized district, including common enrollment practices, equitable funding, and facilities access. The district also provides basic operational and compliance supports from central office. These elements are represented in the graphic below in dark blue.
Schools that are high performing receive greater latitude to customize their school design. They receive a great deal of “white space” to innovate, and may choose to access additional supports provided by central office or outside partners (shown in light blue). Other schools on a continuum towards improvement receive more intensive interventions and support.
Let’s take a look at three examples:
Frost Middle was a Level 1 school before receivership, with a strong veteran leader and faculty. The school is highly autonomous, choosing some district supports that suit their needs while having freedom to opt out of others.
UP Leonard is Level 4 turnaround school run by UP Education Network, a proven operator of successful schools in Boston. Because of UP’s previous success, their leadership was given wide latitude to design their school model, including staffing, schedule, and curriculum—and requiring only operational support from central office.
Tarbox Elementary, a Level 3 school with declining test scores before receivership, was provided more intensive support from central office including a new leader, Achievement Network formative assessments, and expanded learning time opportunities.
Importantly, each of these schools has delivered significant results after the first two years of the Lawrence turnaround effort. While each school follows a few standard policies, open architecture provides the flexibility for individualized design of school programs—and central office support—to best meet the needs of students.
The open architecture model, as well as the district’s vision, was further codified in a short essay to all staff by Superintendent Riley in summer 2014. As part of each school’s ability to design its own educational program, each school leadership team publishes its own operational plan and annual school calendar which can be found on the LPS website.
Student Achievement Results
Lawrence has posted significant increases in student performance in the first two years of the turnaround effort. District-wide highlights include:
- LPS has tripled the number of Level 1 schools in the district from 2 to 6 over two years. Level 1 is the state’s highest accountability and assistance level and designates schools that are meeting performance targets.
- The district significantly increased student growth percentiles (SGP) on the English and mathematics MCAS, with district schools up 9 percentage points in English and 17 percentage points in math since 2012.
- Math proficiency levels have reached historic highs in the district, increasing by 13 percentage points since 2012. ELA proficiency levels are up 3 percentage points over that time.
- Graduation and dropout rates are at historic levels. The most recent data showed the 4-year cohort graduation rate increased to 66.9% in 2014 from 52.3% in 2011, and the dropout rate declined from 8.6% in 2011 to 4.6% in 2014.