As Massachusetts education officials develop a plan to overhaul Lawrence schools, charter public schools will play a pivotal role in restoring the ailing system.
The groundbreaking partnership, which was announced at a recent press conference, will bring together several successful charter public schools and the Lawrence schools with the goal of transforming underperforming district schools.
In November 2011, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education placed the Lawrence school district into receivership. Two months later, Commissioner Mitchell Chester appointed Jeffrey Riley, Chief Innovation Officer for the Boston Public Schools, as receiver for the district.
Four charter schools have taken on substantial roles to partner with Lawrence public schools to provide support in the areas that the charters have yielded successes, including:
- Community Day Charter School in Lawrence, which has a strong record of academic achievement, will take over the Arlington Elementary School this fall. The charter will start the process with the kindergarten and first grade in the 2012-2013 school year and expand to all grades beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.
- Unlocking Potential, which currently operates UP Academy in Boston, will be brought in to provide managerial oversight at the Leonard Middle School. Unlocking Potential is a nonprofit school turnaround organization, which rapidly transforms chronically underperforming urban public schools into extraordinary, high-performing, sustainable schools.
- MATCH Charter School in Boston, known for its exceptional tutoring program, will bring its program to two Lawrence high schools. MATCH hires about 80 full-time tutors to ease the workload on teachers, and meet the school's goal of providing round-the-clock academic help. The school will provide 50 tutors to the schools.
- Phoenix Charter Academy, a charter public high school operating in Chelsea, will start a new alternative high school targeting dropouts. Phoenix offers a rigorous academic program designed to meet the needs of students who have not been successful in traditional school environments. Currently, less than half of Lawrence’s students graduate from high school within four years, which is the lowest graduation rate in the state.
While there are currently a number of charter-district collaborations, the partnership in Lawrence is the first of its kind and is a potential model to fix struggling school systems across the state.
Additional plans include fixing deteriorating school buildings; empowering each school’s community to lead school change efforts; and revamping ELL programs for the close to 3,250 students who are currently learning English.