The Lawrence, MA Situation
The Mayor of Lawrence, MA has invited the Commonwealth to take over the city’s school system. Chronic failure within schools was complicated by the indictment of the Superintendent almost two years ago. Despite local turnaround efforts, the system has only gotten worse. The good news? Renewal through external oversight offers an opportunity to get reform ideas out of the incubator and into practice.
State takeover of the Lawrence Public Schools sounds like a big-budget, centralized administrative challenge modeled, perhaps, after the takeover of the Chelsea schools by academics a couple of decades ago. On the other hand, why not go for a decentralized model with the big bucks going straight to the schools and a high-powered leadership team?
Suppose every school in Lawrence had…
- Leadership by a team consisting of a general manager with private turnaround experience, an instructional leader from within education, and a community outreach liaison.
- Weighted-average funding of students directly to decentralized school budgets with a small percentage paid back to the district to support overhead.
- Aggressive goal setting for student achievement with whole-school incentive pay for turnaround results
- Data support to measure student performance, longitudinal progress toward grade level proficiency, psychosocial benchmarks, and personalized learning objectives.
- Extended school days to bring all students closer to grade level achievement
- New teacher contract with annual goal-setting and performance review
- Access to health centers, counseling, and career services
- Community-based centers to support academic and extracurricular activities for out-of-school time
Students would attend either a PreK-8 school or a high school characterized by…
- Neighborhood PreK-8 schools with adjoining PreK-3 and Grades 4-8 facilities, or
- Larger regional high schools with a campus atmosphere of small learning communities and shared facilities for science and technology, the arts, sports and physical education, and culinary arts and other vocations. (See details of The New Urban Academic Campus here.)
Given the large number of English learners in the city and high truancy and drop-out rates, student re-engagement and ELL programs would be priorities across the district. Previously shared Thoughts on English Language Learning can be found here. Also, I have some ideas about re-engagement in Middle School here, and High School here. In addition, my approach to Special Education would include the children in the dialogue with school leaders and special educators by grade four as summarized here.