Turnaround Spotlight: Lawrence Public Schools

In May 2012, the Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) Turnaround Plan was released in response to the district being placed into state receivership by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. LPS describes their turnaround model as “open architecture” because the district provides the foundation and limits while allowing school-level flexibility to design their program to meet unique student needs. Not only have all turnaround efforts taken place within Lawrence Public Schools—outside charter networks, like Unlocking Potential, have also taken on turning around some of the lowest-performing schools in the area.

Under the turnaround plan, LPS has shown promising improvement. Two years into the initiative, student growth in English Language Arts has reached the highest level in district history and math growth is the highest of any urban district in Massachusetts. LPS has increased the number of high-performing schools from two pre-turnaround to six. In addition, graduation rates continue to increase, and dropout rates continue to decline.

The LPS turnaround model creates basic policies and holds schools accountable to rigorous standards while providing the independence to create different types of schools. This is reflected in the increased control school leaders have over curriculum and instruction, professional development, the school schedule, and program design.

Increased autonomy has also been used to extend the school year for students. Vacation academies were created to provide intensive small group instruction to students over February and April. Demand for the extended school year is considerable. Four thousand students volunteered for the vacation academies, with two thousand attending in February and another two thousand in April.

Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley attributes the district’s achievements thus far to ongoing efforts to increase school authority while supporting schools centrally to succeed. Riley has done this with a leaner central office, supporting school autonomy with flexible resources and sending increased supports out to schools. Riley has also leveraged partner organizations to support schools by providing additional school-level services and management.

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

Resources and references

 “Lawrence Public Schools’ Turnaround Plan” and case study results by Massachusetts Department of Education

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